Moyise on Jesus and Scripture (Review)

Steve Moyise, prof of NT at Univ of Chichester, is well-known and respected for his work on the use of the OT in the NT. I recently finished his little work on Jesus and Scripture: Studying the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Baker, 2011). This book is rather unique because it focuses on Jesus’s use of Scripture. Why is that special? Well, when we look at Romans, we can be pretty confident this is Paul’s use of Scripture (as the author), but we don’t have books authored by Jesus, we have (in this case) the canonical Gospels that attest to Jesus’ use of Scripture. So, Moyise deals with two matters.

(1) How do the canonical Gospels represent Jesus’ use of Scripture?

Taking the Gospels at face value, one can say how the Matthean Jesus uses Scripture, or the Markan Jesus. Moyise spends a chapter each on the four Gospels and offers helpful summaries of Jesus’ use of Scripture according to the individual Evangelists. For example, Moyise, looking at the Gospel of Mark, concludes: “[Mark] presents Jesus as strongly upholding the law against Pharisaic ‘traditions’, while almost going out of his way to provoke them concerning what can and cannot be done on the Sabbath” (p 32). Moyise finds this tension enigmatic. For Matthew’s account, Moyise finds that his Jesus tends to prioritize moral laws over and sometimes against ritual ones, “but [Matthew’s Jesus] undoubtedly envisages his followers as law-abiding, as he himself was” (p. 50). Luke’s Jesus emphasizes the prophetic aspect of Scripture, especially as it foretells the suffering Messiah himself. Scripture tells a story and Jesus refers to Scripture in such a way as to make himself central and climactic within that story (see pp. 65-66). When it comes to John, Moyise emphasizes that John’s Jesus uses Scripture in many of the same ways as the Synoptics, but the Johannine Jesus seems to read Scripture through a thoroughgoing “Christological” lens. Overall, though, there is much concern among scholars that John provides the least historically accurate portrayal of the use of Scripture of the historical Jesus.

(2) A second matter that Moyise deals with has to do with the question – how well do the canonical Gospels actually represent the use of Scripture by the historical Jesus?

Moyise divides scholarly opinion into three types: minimalists, moderates, and maximalists. Minimalists, such as Dom Crossan or Geza Vermes, do not have much confidence in the Gospels as historical and accurate accounts, and they find that we can learn almost nothing about Jesus’ use of Scripture from the four evangelists. For these minimalists, the evangelists distorted Jesus’ teachings. Broadly, they perceive that the historical Jesus was not comfortable within normal margins of Torah obedience and Jesus spoke on his own authority and did not use Scripture as part of his teachings. Moyise finds this extreme a bit silly and driven too much by a conspiracy-theory agenda.

As for the moderates, like Ed Sanders or James Dunn, it only makes sense that if Jesus was a serious Jew, he must have made some use of Scripture, and it would be unlikely that the early church drew nothing from Jesus’ use of Scripture. Where the moderates separate from the maximalists (the latter being people like Charles Kimball and Richard France) is that the latter would argue that the OT texts have fixed meanings (like Ps 110:1) and that when Jesus applied it to himself, and also the early church, this all comes from the intentions of the ancient OT text to begin with. The maximalists would entertain no level of theological development in the interpretation of OT texts, whether by Jesus or the early church after him.

Moderates are more inclined to acknowledge that a change of meaning has taken place, but point out that this was perfectly acceptable in Jesus’ first-century context.Indeed, first-century interpreters would have been perplexed by our modern fixation with discovering the ‘original meaning’ of a text. (p. 119)

Obviously, Moyise is a “moderate” (see pp. 121). He thinks that Scripture must have been important to Jesus and that the early church did pass this on in the Gospels. However, he is skeptical regarding the maximalist assumption that Jesus said every single thing the evangelists have him say.

I really enjoyed reading this book – Moyise is a good writer and he limited the technical jargon, so this work might be useful on a broader level – mission accomplished! For all who are interested in Jesus studies and/or the use of the OT in the NT, I think you will appreciate this book.

Going to Teach a Course on Early Judaism and NT

I am preparing a course for next year on Early Judaism and the New Testament for undergraduate Scripture majors. As of yet, I have taught mostly intro courses and exegesis courses, so this will be a welcome addition.

In terms of textbooks, there is a great wealth of resources. Do you have favorite introductory books on early Judaism?? Do share!

I will share some of my own thoughts and preferences.

When I was in seminary, I did an independent study with Sean McDonough on the Jewish World of the New Testament. He had me read James VanderKam’s An Introduction to Early Judaism. This book has the advantage of being concise (~250 pp.) and accurate. When I was working for Hendrickson Publishers (before my PhD), we published Frederick Murphy’s excellent Early Judaism: The Exile to the Time of Jesus. What I like about Murphy is that he includes a discussion of Jesus (ch. 9) and Jewish foundations for NT Christology (ch. 11). Still, at 400+ pages, it is a bit too long and also it focuses on history and culture, perhaps to the exclusion of talking about literature (like Josephus, Philo, DSS, etc…)

Shaye Cohen’s From the Maccabees to the Mishnah is a classic and very good on cultural issues, but I want something that helps make the connection between understanding early Judaism and interpreting the NT. I also considered George Nickelsburg’s Jewish Literature Between the Bible and the Mishnah. It is obviously more textually focused, but I want something that does history and literature both.

So, I have tentatively decided to go with The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism (eds. J.J. Collins and D.C. Harlow). It has the advantage of having articles on both texts (OT Pseudepigrapha, Philo, OT Apocrypha, etc…) and historical and cultural issues (Essenes, Pharisees, etc…). Additionally, it contains NT related articles (e.g., on the New Testament books individually, as well as particular articles on Jesus and Paul). I like having short(ish) articles from the dictionary to assign which make for easily digestible readings from one class session to the next. Sometimes book chapters can be unbearably long and tedious. Dictionary articles tend to be more succinct.

In addition, I am tempted to use Craig Evan’s masterful resource, Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies (again, published by Hendrickson while I was there, but I was working in sales and marketing, not editorial). This is not really a “read this cover-to-cover” kind of book, but as a go-to reference, it is unparalleled. Also, the introduction has a great little section on why background and contextual Jewish and Greco-Roman literary works are important, and also the methods for and pitfalls of doing this kind of research (see pp. 1-7). Towards the end of the book he has a helpful series of case studies called “Examples of NT Exegesis” where he briefly examines things like The Parable of the Talents, the comment “I Said, “You Are Gods,”” and Paul and the first Adam. Many would say you really get your money’s worth with the appendixes (when did we stop calling them appendices?). He offers a massive list of parallels he has discovered between ancient texts and the NT. I always take a quick peek at this list when I am doing research.

I also wanted to spend a few weeks in the class looking at particular aspects of the NT from this Jewish context. So, I think I will also assign Scot McKnight’s A New Vision for Israel: The Teachings of Jesus in National Context. Scot is such a great, great, great example of a competent exegete and I wanted to pick something that is well-written and represents a perspective within the “Third Quest.” Wright and Meier’s works are too dense for a two-week study. McKnight’s book comes in just over 200 pages and treats subjects like the God of Jesus, the Kingdom of God, and the Ethic of Jesus.

On the Paul side, I plan on using some short articles by E.P. Sanders, part of N.T. Wright’s Paul: Fresh Perspectives book, and part of Ben Witherington’s The Paul Quest. In addition, here are some other articles/book chapters I plan on using.

-Sandmel’s classic “Parallelomania,” JBL (1962) 2-13.

-In Mark Reasoner’s Documents and Images for the Study of Paul (Fortress), the introduction has a nice caveat on making too much or too little of parallels.

-I plan on drawing a bit from Silva/Jobes’ phenomenal Invitation to the Septuagint.

-In terms of the DSS, George Brooke has  a nice chapter on “The Qumran Scrolls and the Study of the NT” in his The Dead Scrolls and the New Tetament.

-Oskar Skarsaune’s book, In the Shadow of the Temple is very well-written and has a helpful chapter I might use on the city of Jerusalem and the operations of the temple.

-When it comes to setting Paul within Judaism, John Barclay has a useful JSNT article “Paul Among Diaspora Jews: Anomaly or Apostate?”. James Dunn has an article called “Paul: Apostate or Apostle of Israel?”

-What about the history of the Dead Sea Scrolls? I just finished reading Timothy Lim’s The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Very Short Introduction. There is some good information, but I think Lim did not write at an evenly basic level (he slips into technical language too often). On my shelf (yet to read) is VanderKam’s The Dead Sea Scrolls Today.

-For Josephus, Steve Mason’s Josephus and the New Testament has some excellent advice for how NT researchers can use Josephus effectively and responsibly.

I know all this sounds like a lot, but I plan on having students read mostly short articles (perhaps 3-4 between meetings). they will also read healthy portions of primary texts. Fun, fun, fun!

Again, if you have article/essay/book suggestions, I am all ears…

Bulletin for Biblical Research 22.1 (2012) – just released

Yesterday, I found the latest issue (22.1, 2012) of Bulletin for Biblical Research in the mail. I was pleased to see articles by my friend Joel Willitts and also my buddy Aaron Sherwood, who studied at Durham when I was there.

Joel’s article is a fascinating piece on “Messianism” in Matthew and the Psalms of Solomon. While many NT scholars are quick to contrast the two texts, Joel shows care in recognizing the similarities as well.

Aaron offers a discourse analysis on Eph 3:1-13 and demonstrates that Paul shows a very positive perspective concerning his imprisonment in these verses.

I am partway through reading Preston Massey’s article, “Disagreement in the Greco-Roman Literary Tradition and the Implications for Gospel Research.” If I understand his argument correctly, he shows that there are many examples of GR texts where the authors are explicitly trying to correct the historical errors of another text. Gospels scholars have long argued that when discrepancies in the Gospels appear, it is one Evangelist contesting another (like Matthew correcting, or disagreeing with Mark, Luke with Matthew; John with everyone). However, Massey (convincingly, I think) shows that we are missing explicit discussion in the canonical Gospels where one Evangelist says another one is wrong – and such overt statements are rather common in GR texts. That does not mean that we must conclude the Evangelists never disagreed, but Massey ends the article by advising caution. Do not use statements that imply “blantant” and “sharp” disagreement among the Evangelists, he advises. When the Evangelists have different information on a given historical detail, Massey refers to this as “variation” and not “contradition” or “disagreement.” The semantics are important!

Also, I have an article in this issue called ” ‘What Mercies of God?’ Oiktirmos in Romans 12:1 against Its Septuagintal Background.” I had long felt that, while Romans 12:1b is quite popular (“Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice…”), scholars miss the importance of 12:1a, “In view of God’s mercies…” It is the basis for this living sacrifice – but what does Paul mean by “mercies of God”? We would expect him to talk about grace or love. Why “mercies”? When  I set out on a study of oiktirmos in the Bible, the LXX yielded a rich resource of Jewish meaning based on God’s mercies for Israel. I identify three types of “mercies” of God in the LXX: the “mercy” of divine self-revelation, the “mercy” of covenantal forgiveness, and the “mercy” of deliverance from enemies. Paul seems to draw from these types (not rigidly, but they are a good starting place) and to address the issues the early Christian churches in Rome were facing by accessing this fund of theological meaning from the LXX. Because Romans 12:1 was a major focus in my dissertation, this article grew out of that research.

There are also some good reviews, especial strong praise for fellow blogger John Anderson and his monograph Jacob and the Divine Trickster.

Patrick Gray Opens Paul’s Letters for Us (Review)

There are many introductions on Paul – perhaps too many! However, Patrick Gray (assoc. prof. @ Rhodes College) has a specific interest in his book Opening Paul’s Letters which is revealed in the subtitle: A Reader’s Guide to Genre and Interpretation (Baker, 2012). Personally, I agree with Gray that much bad interpretation happens because readers are not attentive to the roles and purposes of the various genres of NT books (and OT ones for that matter!).

It is a short introduction (~150 pp.), but covers almost all the necessary areas: Paul’s cultural contexts (ch 1), Letter Genres (ch. 2), How Paul Writes: Organizing a Letter and Making an Argument (ch. 3), Paul’s Audiences (ch. 4), How Paul Reads the OT (ch. 5), Pseudonymity: Did Paul Write Paul’s Letters? (ch. 6).

Gray is very up-front that this is an exercise in studying the historical Paul and his literary works as a historian. So, he might offend canonical interpreters and proponents of theological interpretation of Scripture when he says, “This volume will focus on making sense of the letters by reading Paul as he wanted and expected to be read and understood, with only occasional forays into the world in front of the text” (p. 7). I am OK with Gray’s more traditional approach, because sometimes genre gets blurred or neglected without this kind of specific focus of attention on the ancient context (only, as a first step).

Here is Gray’s thesis: “Identification of genre is absolutely essential when attempting to make sense of a text, and Paul’s letters are no exception…Once a genre is known, it is easier to gauge the relative importance of questions about the author’s identity, purpose, and so forth” (p. 10). He goes on to say that genres give the reader expectations. Thus, we can compare what Paul does in terms of “distinctive conventions, forms, and purposes” (p.13) in view of other ancient letters.

Again, perhaps, stepping on the toes of some recent theologians, Gray refers to interpreting Paul’s letters as “reading other people’s mail” (p. 17). Joel Green, though, is emphatic that when this view is pressed too far, the NT loses its value as Holy Scripture with a message for the church (of every age). I think that what Gray proposes is not necessarily at odds with what Green cares about. I think we can have both, but attending to “original meaning” is critical. This same conversation goes round and round with Jesus studies, and I am with the “Third Questers” who want to ground Jesus in the Jewish background and Greco-Roman world of the first century, all-the-while pursuing the impact and importance of the “living Jesus” as a true purpose and goal of engaging with Scripture. The same goes for reading Paul, I think (but Paul is, of course, dead).

So, back to genre. What types of letters were there in Paul’s time? Pseudo-Libanius mentions 41 types (e.g., parenetic, commending, ironic, insulting, praising, diplomatic, erotic, declaratory). There are all kinds of handbooks that talk about how one should write a letter. When it comes to Paul, Gray gives an appropriate caveat

It would be a mistake to think that all letter writers consulted these technical handbooks as they put quill to papyrus. While the advice they contain represents generally recognized protocols, there would be no point in writing them if everyone were already writing letters according to standard operating procedure or “best practices” (p. 43).

I think Gray is right. Paul did not constrain himself into a specific form. None of his letters fits any one “letter type” perfectly.

Elements of most of the letter types listed in the handbooks are…present in his letters…Paul [was]…fluent in the fundamentals of letter writing (p. 52).

I could go along with this. My concern with the amount of coloring outside the lines Paul does is that once he deviates from the genre or form too far, how much does genre criticism help?

One useful insight Gray gives is that, when his letters are closely compared to other ancient letters, we see that they resemble Greco-Roman letters much more closely than Jewish epistolary conventions (p. 63). It is hard to say what this means for interpretation, I think.

Gray also recognizes that ancient rhetorical techniques are found in Paul’s letters, as if they were speech transcripts. Again, he cautions readers against being too rigid in identifying one particular letter as only one particular type of rhetorical speech.

Overall, I was not blown away by this book, but Gray has the advantage of being a very good writer – he has an interesting and lucid style. He uses loads of anecdotes and modern illustrations of concepts. He leaves out non-essential information. There are great sidebars with helpful definitions and additional information. At the end of each chapter you will find discussion questions and a short topical bibliography.

I spotted a few weaknesses – very little discussion of letter-carriers and their roles (see only short discussion ~p. 136). It would have been nice to have more examples of real ancient letters compared to Paul’s letters. Perhaps most importantly, at the end of it all, I was still not clear what the “ancient Greco-Roman letter genre” actually looked like. There was so much variety and disagreement (or non-conformity) that I missed the big pay-off. Perhaps the appendix could have included a sample “genre-based” analysis that walks the reader through doing genre-interpretation.

I would probably not use Gray’s work as a textbook for a Paul course (I use Gorman’s fantastic Apostle of the Crucified Lord), but I enjoyed reading it and I did learn a few things from it.

Latest Interpretation Issue (April 2012) on Book of Joshua

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- I really enjoy reading the journal Interpretation (now published by Sage). It is theologically rich, and I appreciate how often they devote an issue to a biblical text (or set of texts). The April 2012 issue is on the book of Joshua and boasts heavy-hitting contributors such as Dan Hawk and Walter Brueggemann.


Also, I found interesting Frank Matera’s very high praise for Arland Hultgren’s new Eerdmans commentary on Romans – Matera says it is a must-have Romans volume and he rates it in the top 5-6 Romans commentaries of all time!!! Wow! There are a number of other helpful reviews.


Feb 2012 issue of Currents in Biblical Research online now

Check it out.

Charles Trimm, “Recent Research on Warfare in the Old Testament”

 Judy Diehl, “Empire and Epistles: Anti-Roman Rhetoric in the New Testament Epistles”
Hellen Mardaga, “Hapax Legomena: A Neglected Field in Biblical Studies”
Travis B. Williams, “Suffering from a Critical Oversight: The Persecutions of 1 Peter within Modern Scholarship”
David M. Miller, “Ethnicity Comes of Age: An Overview of Twentieth-Century Terms for Ioudaios”