Take & Read: New Testament

September 26, 2017

Paul: The Pagans’ Apostle, by Paula Fredriksen. Paula Fredriksen argues that the historical Paul is best understood when seen with the sacred traditions of Israel and the world of the ancient Mediterranean city rather than the world of later Christian theology. Paul’s letters reveal a man whose convictions—about a Messiah from the house of David, hope for the nations’ inclusion within God’s people, the goodness of God’s Torah, and the ongoing election of Israel—all remain firmly planted within Judaism.

The Gospel According to Luke, Volume 1 (Luke 1–9:50), by Michael Wolter, translated by Wayne Coppins and Christoph Heilig. The joint efforts of Baylor University Press and Mohr Siebeck have made some of the most significant German research on the New Testament accessible to English readers. Michael Wolter’s multivolume commentary is a worthy choice for translation, as  it is marked by both concise clarity and a wealth of interpretive insights based on historical material and exegetical observations. Wolter is deeply attentive to the theological meaning of Jesus, Israel, and the church in Luke’s story.

Christian Women in the Patristic World: Their Influence, Authority, and Legacy in the Second through Fifth Centuries, by Lynn H. Cohick and Amy Brown Hughes. Lynn H. Cohick and Amy Brown Hughes retell the stories of significant women who shaped the Christian movement and its theology through their teaching, mothering, devotional practices, pilgrimages, visions, and martyrdom. In retelling the stories of women like Thecla, Helena, Perpetua, and Macrina, the authors recover the manifold ways women exercised authority in the shaping of Christian theology.

Paul and the Gentile Problem, by Matthew Thiessen. Interpretations of Paul that pit the apostle against Judaism are severely mistaken for failing to recognize that the apostle to the gentiles was not making universal theological statements with respect to the law but directly addressing gentiles. Matthew Thiessen shows that Paul’s negative statements about the Torah are the result of its imposition upon gentile followers of Jesus by other gentile Judaizing missionaries. The “gentile problem” is not solved through proselyte circumcision but rather by gentiles being grafted into Israel through the Spirit of the Messiah, which comes through faith.

Strangers to Family: Diaspora and 1 Peter’s Invention of God’s Household, by Shively T. J. Smith. Shively Smith offers a powerful reading of 1 Peter as diasporic literature that teaches its audience how to navigate the world as Christians. The metaphor of diaspora helps make sense of the letter’s seemingly double-minded statements that in some instances bend toward accommodating broader society (e.g., in household relations) and in other instances lean toward resistance (e.g., in the rejection of ancestral gods). In a striking conclusion, Smith reflects upon her surprising appreciation of 1 Peter as a southern African American woman. She emphasizes how the letter attempts to give the Christian communities in Asia Minor tools, scripts, and strategies to maintain their Christian fidelity and survive within an imperial setting.

The Grammar of Messianism: An Ancient Jewish Political Idiom and Its Users, by Matthew V. Novenson. Matthew Novenson’s study of ancient messianism is revisionary as well as elegantly simple. Rather than approaching primary sources with a predetermined notion of “messiah” or “messianic idea” to see how the texts conform to our expectations, Novenson argues, we are better served by recognizing messiah discourse as an exegetical project that draws upon ancient scriptural texts to speak of an anointed Jewish ruler. This simple insight has enormous implications for understanding the Jewish origins of Christianity and   a variety of New Testament texts.

Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Re­thinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King, by Matthew W. Bates. In contrast to earlier studies that suggest trust in the atonement is at the heart of the gospel message, Bates shows that the gospel climaxes with Jesus’ enthronement as king. In speaking of “faith,” the New Testament writings call us not simply to believe in or trust the gospel, but to give wholehearted allegiance and loyalty to this king. The good news of Jesus Christ is founded upon an unconditioned gift to humans. But, Bates argues, receipt of this saving gift demands discipleship, obedience, and allegiance to Christ.

Ancient Apocryphal Gospels, by Mar­kus Bockmuehl. Understanding the history, significance, and meaning of the many diverse apocryphal gospels is a challenge for laypeople and biblical scholars. Markus Bockmuehl presents a readable, sensible, and sympathetic treatment of these texts. He shows that the apocryphal gospels generally presuppose the outline of the story of Jesus from the canonical Gospels. Some of the apocryphal gospels fill in gaps in the canonical story line and thereby appear to supplement the canonical Gospels, while a few of them attempt to subvert them. All of them, however, witness to the profound influence of the early Christians’ remembrances of Jesus.

Reading Paul with the Reformers: Reconciling Old and New Perspectives, by Stephen J. Chester. Contemporary readings of Paul, including the “New Perspective on Paul” and the “Apocalyptic Paul,” often contrast their conclusions with the interpretations of Luther, Calvin, and Melanchthon without showing a serious understanding of the Reformers. In this careful study, Stephen J. Chester suggests that contemporary readings of Paul—particularly as they pertain to Pauline anthropology, participation in Christ, and christological connotations of faith—have more in common with the Reformers than is generally supposed.

A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels, by J. R. Daniel Kirk. Within the last 30 years, an increasing number of scholarly studies have argued that the emergence of high Christology, whereby Jesus is included within the divine identity, began very early after the death of Jesus. J. R. Daniel Kirk presents a powerful counterargument, showing that the synoptic Gospel authors portray Jesus’ relation to God, healing capabilities, and authority in ways that are reminiscent of Jewish depictions of priests, messiahs, and other idealized figures. Recovering Jesus’ humanity is necessary for understanding the central role that humanity plays within God’s purposes.