[K:NWTS 8/3 (Dec 1993) 36-44]
Eduard Schweizer. A Theological Introduction to the New Testament. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991, 170 pp., $18.95 Paper. ISBN: 0-687-41469-5.
Eduard Schweizer may be best known to readers of this journal as a contributor to Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. The purpose of the work being examined here is, according to the promotional note on the rear cover, to offer students of the New Testament "a combination of two standard genres: the 'introduction' and the 'theology."' My English translation of Kummel's introduction contains 554 pages and my English translation of Bultmann's theology contain 603 pages in two volumes. How is it that Schweizer can combine the genres and emerge with a 170 page production? The basic answer is that he does not argue at length (or at all) for his solutions to New Testament problems. He alludes to this in his preface adding that "the usual 'introductions' must be consulted."
This fundamental approach makes Schweizer's book difficult to use and of questionable value for those who either do not share his critical stance or his familiarity with the latest New Testament critical scholarship. The book impresses me as a kind of syllabus which a professor might hand students while intending to add details as needed during lectures. Well thought out, the book is still frustrating to read. The uniqueness of the book is best stated in the author's own words: "the following treatment differs from the usual introduction in that the historical issues serve only as a foundation for perceiving as well as possible the theologically important assertions of the New Testament Scriptures. It differs from the usual theology of the New Testament in that it is not oriented toward concepts, such as sin and grace, but toward individual writings" (p.10).
Schweizer occasionally contextualizes a thought in a stimulating manner, encouraging the student to reflect seriously on the development of the New Testament. He states: "It is a crucial theological act that Mark wrote a gospel at all, and thus took seriously the idea that narrative represents a form of proclamation of God's action that is just as necessary as the formulation of confessions and the call to a decision to believe and to live out of faith.... Mark's undertaking was essential; it resolutely recorded the beginnings of a narrative tradition, above all against the danger of a pure ideology" (p. 127-28). Schweizer indicates that Paul's faith would have been grounded in the "shocking history of Jesus" but that things changed around the year 70 A.D. The church was more remote in time and geography from the place of its historic origins. The narrative form became "the foremost contribution of Mark, and in part also of his predecessors, to the overall message of the New Testament."
The previous line of thought helps us to focus on the interrelationship of theological development and questions treated by introductions. A view about a writing's date or authorship will influence the view of the writing's theological significance. The perceived sophistication of theological development can, in turn, affect the view of a document's historical setting. Biblical theology has a special interest in historical development and its impact on the theological enterprise. One difficulty confronting the orthodox in using Schweizer's book is that historical development is less dramatically supernatural. When treating the paradosis formula of 1 Cor. 15:3-5, Schweizer has Paul receiving the gospel formula in Jerusalem and states: "Thus the community summarized in binding fashion what the core of their faith was" (p. 31). That God's direct revelation to Paul must have affected the formula is ignored and constitutes no small oversight. For Schweizer, historical development in the theological enterprise is more a function of the faith-community. This cannot help but lack the normative power to make settled, nonspeculative theological pronouncements. Schweizer's final chapter (an afterword on canon) makes this problem rather evident. Historical development lacking supernatural direction is less wisely directed and thus less organic. This may account for the disjointed sense I experienced while reading Schweizer's book.
Perhaps one value of this book is the idea of a third genre (i.e., beyond 'introduction' and 'theology'). For such a genre to work, I think it will require more focus or more length or both. Having an orthodox starting point would be most helpful.
Stuart R. Jones
First Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Thomas McComiskey, The Minor Prophets: Vol. 1 Hosea, Joel, Amos. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992, 509 pp., $34.95 Cloth. ISBN: 08010-6285-3 (v.1).
There are three commentaries in this volume: Hosea by Thomas E. McComiskey, Old Testament Professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois (237 pp.); Joel by the late Raymond B. Dillard, Professor of Old Testament Language and Literature at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia (70 pp.); and Amos by Jeff Niehaus, Professor of Old Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Massachusetts (79 pp.).
Preachers with some knowledge of biblical language, principles of exegesis and theology will welcome the word studies and scholarly exegesis. The layman will appreciate adequate English translations of transliterated Hebrew terms and explanations regarding ancient customs and natural phenomena. Each section of Scripture (New Revised Standard Version) appears in the right column with the author's own translation of the Hebrew text in the left column of the page for easy comparison. The Exegetical section runs concurrently with the Exposition section; they are separated by a horizontal line. The former consists of selected word studies from each verse and each author's discussion of the rationale for his rendition of the text. The latter section brings out cultural, sociological and archaeological facts pertinent to the passage. Related theological and hermeneutical issues are discussed with suggested practical applications.
Raymond B. Dillard, who has already established a reputation for work on Chronicles (2 Chronicles [Waco, Texas: Word Publishing Co., 1987]; "The Chronicler's Solomon." The Westminster Theological Journal 43 : 289-300; "Rewards and Punishment in Chronicles: The Theology of Immediate Retribution." The Westminster Theological Journal 46 : 164-72), has written a highly academic commentary on Joel. His extensive footnotes and bibliography demonstrate intimate awareness of divergent views.
The isagogical discourse (3 pp.) on the dating of Joel portrays the debate between orthodox and liberal scholars. The date could be as early as the 8th century B.C. or as late as the post-exilic times. The date is a crucial issue as sociological, religious and political factors, and the cultural milieu of Joel's time are relied upon to deduce the interpretation of the book (i.e., "to provide additional control over the intent of the book," pp. 239, 240, 241). Mention of Phoenicians, Philistines, Egypt, Edom, Greeks and Sabeans (traditional enemies of Israel) (4:4-8, 19 [3:4-8, 19]), and the absence of any reference to the Assyrians or Babylonians (who had the greatest impact on Judah and Israel) suggests the earlier date for the prophecy. This is further reinforced by the position of Joel in the Hebrew canon, i.e., in between the eighth century prophecies of Hosea and Amos. References to the diaspora (4:1-2 [3:1-2]) indicate a postexilic date, though such scattering may not necessarily have occurred only as a result of the actions of the Babylonians (cf. Zech. 2: 1-4 [1:18-21]). The Assyrians also had a routine policy of population relocation. In view of these conflicting factors, the survey proves inconclusive and tilts towards the postexilic period, though a representative list of dates and the various scholars who propose them is provided. Dillard's postulate is that the text is liturgical in nature. Not surprisingly then, the unity of the book is questioned by means of Bernhard Duhm's position of dual authorship. The classification of the contents in 4:4-8 [3:4-8] regarding the nations as "smaller reductional additions" and the assigning of the eschatological passage of 2:1-11 to a later apocalypticist may then be plausible arguments against the unity of the text (p. 244).
On account of the text's ambiguity, the controversial and/or prevailing views deferentially discussed are selectively comprehensive. Discussion of leading principles and the historical nexus between the different viewpoints for clarification would have been beneficial for the layperson unfamiliar with theological issues. The reader gains the impression that at times the interpretation lacks intensity of conviction or indicates vacillation. Nevertheless, the impressive bibliography of 135 books supports scholarly expertise. Dillard's analytical outline of the structure of Joel is based on the main themes: the locust plague, the day of the Lord, the Lord's answer. Literary narrative art would have lent a different perspective to his understanding of the text (see my article in Kerux 7/3 [Dec. 1992]: 3, 4-24).
The prophecy is described as "a call to receive instruction" in the wider context of a summons to communal lamentation for repeated use in the history of Israel (like some psalms). "Note how the text is 'dehistorized' in reference to the confession of sin: though the text calls for repentance (1:13-14, 2:12-14), no particular sin is mentioned as causing the plight of the people" (p. 243). This opens the text to a vagueness that affords a wide range of applicability.
Liberal evangelical and radical liberal views are discussed—the subjectivizing, evolutionary, naturalistic interpretation of facts, e.g., the naturalistic viewpoint of the locust plague. Without redemptive-historical progression and the eschatological perspective, this leaves one to a large extent face to face with unillumined facts. However, Vos's biblical-theological science of exegesis is sporadically referred to, having form and promise, but it is often curtailed. For example, the imagery of Yahweh and Israel as husband and wife is perceived to be a "possible" intention of the prophet Joel. But the analogy breaks down because "Yahweh does not die". The naturalistic interpretation is then presented as an alternative possibility. It is mentioned that the unfolding revelation of God gradually disclosing the nature of his relationship to Israel formulated theological concepts which may provide evidence for the date of the composition, but the difficulty of the task is conceded and Dillard does not follow through with his suggestion.
The locust plague is linked to the plague in Egypt in the light of the redemptive act of God, but the redemptive-historical plan is not extended eschatologically. Cosmic reflexes are stated to be attendant upon the appearance of God because of its occurrences in this respect in apocalyptic literature and the description of theophany in general. Hence the description of the Divine Warrior in chapter 2:1-11 is interpreted in comparison with a number of representative positions and intermediate views: i.e., the natural, the metaphorical (of a historical enemy), and the eschatological (of the harbinger of the judgment day of the Lord).
Different representatives of these approaches and variations are sounded as reasonably coherent, plausible scenarios for understanding the relation of the two accounts because of their obscurity. Dillard asks if this is a deliberate product of the author (pp. 277-8). Theophanic language in 2:1-11 is unmistakable and obscure and the allusion to the first advent of Christ is not considered. Dillard alleges the favorite interpretation of chapter one to be a description of a recent historical plague of locusts, which is the harbinger of the eschatological judgment day of the Lord described metaphorically in 2:1-11.
Dillard has written a multi-level commentary with a plethora of suggestions of possible interpretations. The reader must be familiar with higher critical views to comprehend the controversy and the philosophical conflict. Yet, the discussion of imagery, metaphorical language and biblical themes, and its organic connections with the rest of Scripture deserves exploration and analytical study. Would such a study have brought to light the protology and eschatology of the revelation of the Messiah? The relationship of 3:1-5 [2:28-32] and other portions of Scripture, whereby partial fulfillment is authenticated in Acts 2:14-21 illustrates this possibility. The Pentecostal prophetic endowment of men declared by Moses in Num. 11:29 is related to the investment by the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament and also to Jdg. 6:34 (cf. I Chr. 12:19 ; 2 Chr. 24:20). Much of the eschatology mentioned is considered to refer to the Lord's day of judgment and restoration in the finality of times and this is especially evident in the third and fourth chapters. At times imagery is interpreted with a naturalistic and eschatological view but falls short of Christological significance.
In the final analysis, this is an excellent commentary for an objective, deferential, mountain-top view of the opinions of the theological schools today. The implications of these views are addressed giving insight into the possible interpretations of the text. The word studies are detailed and helpful and the format pragmatic. There is a glimmer here and there of some illuminating facts and insights that would have been augmented by in-depth biblical-theological (yea, eschatological) treatment.
James M. Ward. Thus Says the Lord. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991, 282 pp., $ 17.95 Paper ISBN: 0-687-41902-6.
Myopia commonly afflicts the eyes, but more commonly afflicts the understanding. In this book Ward attempts to correct this vision problem that readers of the prophets often have. But as an ophthalmologist of the mind's eye he leaves much to be desired, for he suffers from a severe case of the very disease he is trying to treat. To alter the metaphor a bit, he is trying to extract a splinter while his own eye is log-jammed.
The splinter in question is the tendency to deal with the prophets in small pieces, missing the broader themes. We miss the forest while we focus on a lot of fascinating trees. Ward wants us to see the woods once again. He attempts to do so by identifying and describing important themes in the prophets, and by placing these themes within their historical and social context.
His clear writing is one of the chief virtues of the book. The reader feels that he understands what Ward is saying. The subdivisions in each chapter are another helpful feature. One gets the impression that the author really cares whether or not you follow his thinking, and he has not confused murkiness with depth. But content is another matter; the book is fundamentally flawed in several ways.
First, Ward starts with a low view of Scripture. He accepts without hesitation or apology the presuppositions, methodology, and many of the conclusions of the higher critics. Isaiah gets the worst of it. Sliced and diced unmercifully, his prophecy is then distributed among several authors and editors working at widely-separated times. Jeremiah and several of the minor prophets suffer a similar fate. Daniel and Lamentations are spared because they are not included in this volume, while Ezekiel is left relatively whole. Ward writes that the "strata" in Ezekiel are "difficult to distinguish," and that therefore "(a)n interpreter of Ezekiel must deal with the message of the book largely in canonical form" (p. 173). This would have been a better book if that practice had been followed more consistently with all the prophets.
Not that Ward is as radical as he could have been in his search for strands and strata, nor is such textual criticism the main point of the book. But even a little is more than enough. We can see Ward's myopia in this unwillingness or inability to assert that the canonical Scriptures are the Word of God. To the author, they are prophetic witness to revelation, not the revelation itself. He cannot see them for what they are.
Second, myopia shows itself in the book's lack of appreciation for the broad lines of redemptive history. Once the author has identified to his satisfaction the probable author(s), audience, and time of a prophecy, he seldom moves beyond that point: not to earlier prophets, not to non-prophetic biblical literature. Worse still, Ward seldom recognizes how prophecies are realized in the person and work of Christ. Nor does he seem to see that the Kingdom of which the prophets spoke is a heavenly one, inaugurated by Christ and asserting itself even now in the earthly plane by the Spirit-baptized church. Thus the reader finds himself earthbound and time-bound, dismayed and even claustrophobic in the two-dimensional landscape through which Ward guides him. Myopia here shades into a kind of blindness.
Besides these two are other, less weighty, problems: questionable concessions to contemporary feminism (e.g., Hosea's metaphor of God as husband and Israel as an adulterous wife Ward terms "doubly offensive," p. 221), the shortchanging of some of the minor prophets (Haggai gets little more than a page), and the lack of an index.
This book is not valueless. Ward raises some questions that are worth addressing and occasionally offers insightful remarks. But everything is out of focus, and the blind spots are many.