Book Review: Andrew Streett’s The Vine and the Son of Man

During ETS and SBL this year I was able to read through Andrew Streett’s welcome contribution to Fortress Press’ “Emerging Scholars” series, The Vine and the Son of Man: Eschatological Interpretation of Psalm 80 in Early Judaism. Streett, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Redeemer Seminary in Texas, revised his dissertation (Univ. of Wales Trinity St. David) for this volume.

In the monograph Streett argues

(a) that Jewish and Christian interpreters found material in Psalm 80 pertaining to events at the end of the age, a time that some interpreters believed had already come upon them and their communities; and (b) that the meaning derived from Psalm 80 most often comes from the images of the vine (vv. 9-17) and the potentially messianic man (vv. 16b, 18), which because of the ambiguity of the text are open to a wide variety of interpretations (1).

The reader familiar with the Jewish and Christian Scriptures will recognize the potential fruitfulness of exploring the history of interpretation of Psalm 80, as it is alluded to in significant passages of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, as well as in Second Temple literature and Rabbinic Judaism. But, as Streett notes, the study of Psalm 80 and its use in later Jewish and Christian writings, and particularly a study of its eschatological interpretation, is relatively scant. Streett’s volume therefore fills a lacuna in the study of ancient Judaism and early Christianity.

The book is tightly organized, beginning with two chapters on Psalm 80 in its historical and literary contexts respectively. Over the course of the remainder of the work (chapters 3 – 7), Streett traces the use of Psalm 80 through various Hebrew Bible, Second Temple, and New Testament texts, including Daniel 7 and John 15:1-8. Streett is particularly keen to show how Psalm 80 came to be read messianically and then christologically, and how it is an exegetically feasible reading.

This type of book – one that traces the history of interpretation of a particular passage through its various stages- seems to me to be increasingly popular, and I think rightly so. While the outline of this book and others like it may appear relatively simple, the work done by Streett in this volume is important and useful on a number of levels. First, it sheds light on a comparatively understudied but still important passage in ancient Judaism and early Christianity, and one whose varied interpretations helps us to understand why Christianity ultimately departed from Judaism. The interpretation of Psalm 80, and particularly the Gospel authors’ reading of it as a reference to Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, is one of the hermeneutical tipping points for early Christianity. Streett’s careful exegesis of the passage, coupled with his nuanced explanation of how ancient Jewish and early Christian writers read it differently, is of great assistance to scholars of these ancient texts and of the history of religion.

Second, Streett provides readers with what I consider to be a robust interpretive method. He describes it as “eclectic”, drawing on both historical and literary tools. On the latter, he is most interested in describing how Psalm 80 can be read canonically and intertextually (11). This type of reading, that situates a passage of Scripture while at the same time reading it as part of a larger whole, is one that I wholeheartedly commend.

Third, while Streett does not describe his project this way, in my mind it is helpful for Christians who wish to understand better the rationale of the New Testament writers as they used the Old Testament. The Vine and the Son of Man demonstrates that, while there are other interpretive options for the passage, early Christian messianic and christological interpretation of it fits well within the realm of possibilities when considering the intentions of the author of Psalm 80.

On that note, one question I continue to have after reading the book, and after re-reading the relevant passages to this question a number of times, is what Streett means by “meaning,” “intention,” and “intentionality.” A number of times Streett uses these terms to my mind in seemingly disparate ways, so that at one point they can refer to a (single?) intent of the original author – i.e. “what it meant” – while at others they seem to refer to what later readers understood it to mean, and at still other times they appear to refer to what the passage means in a canonical context. Perhaps Streett means all three, and maybe more, but it is still not clear to me exactly what he means by meaning or intention.

I would also hope to see a subsequent article or book on the interpretation of Psalm 80 not just in the New Testament but in early Christianity and perhaps even beyond. It seems to me that these types of projects would be bolstered by looking at the history of interpretation not only in the Christian canon and its background literature but also in subsequent Christian writings.

That question and small quibble aside, The Vine and the Son of Man is a carefully argued, methodologically robust, and therefore welcome addition to the study of the Hebrew Bible in subsequent literature. I would recommend it to those interested in a rigorous study of the Psalter, the history of interpretation, or early Christian origins and exegesis.

 

NOTE: I received this book in exchange for a fair and impartial review.

 

The Johannine Split

If you were to walk into a bookstore or library with a section on the New Testament, and if you were to look for the books that discussed Luke, chances are you’d find a large number of volumes combining Luke and Acts under whatever topic. So “A Commentary on Luke-Acts,” “A Theology of Luke-Acts,” “The Spirit in Luke-Acts,” and so on. This is true also of NT Introductions, which often discuss Luke and Acts together. On one level this makes sense; Luke is the author of both books, the introduction to Acts calls it the second part of a two part work, and there are a myriad of linguistic, narrative, and theological points of continuity.

But on another level, the canonical one, it makes little sense. The fact is that John almost always comes at the end of the Fourfold Gospel corpus (see Metzger, The Canon of the NT, 296), and there are only three cases of Luke coming at the end, each of which are late (6th, 14th cents.) and regionally isolated.

Why don’t we follow the overwhelmingly dominate order of the NT in our interpretive practice when discussing Acts? While I would not go so far as to say we should start having “John-Acts” monographs, we ought to consider seriously the fact that Luke almost never comes immediately before Acts in any of our available lists, codices, or MSS. The arrangement of material matters in interpretation, even on a canonical level, and John splitting Luke and Acts ought to give NT readers pause in how the interpret the NT exegetically, narratively, and theologically.

4 Gospels Website

I just read over at Mike Bird and Joel Willitts’ blog that there is a new gospel website: 4Gospels. Some of the authors of the website are Peter Williams (Warden of Tyndale House, Cambridge) and Simon Gathercole (University of Cambridge). I’m sure it will be an interesting website with content on both canonical and non-canonical gospels.

STR Article Accepted

I received exciting news this morning that my article “Victory, Atonement, Restoration, and Response: The Shape of the New Testament Canon and the Holistic Gospel Message” has been accepted for publication the Winter 2012 issue of Southeastern Theological Review. This article was a fun one to write, since it was the first new project I’ve worked on using the methodological and theological foundations I proposed in my dissertation.

Here’s an abstract-like paragraph from the introduction:

The canonical shape of the New Testament aids the reader in understanding the biblical gospel as a threefold work of victory over evil, restoration of creation, and redemption from sin through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, as well as the proclamation of the church of that work both in announcing it and calling the nations to respond to it. This will be demonstrated through attention to the shape of the fourfold gospel corpus and Acts, the placement of Revelation at the end of the canon, and the shape of the epistles. In searching the biblical material, primary emphasis will be placed on demonstrating that Christ’s work, and therefore the gospel, includes victory, atonement, and restoration. Some brief concluding thoughts on the need for a personal response to Christ’s message, and that response’s part in the gospel, will also be offered.

The Cohesion of the Biblical Witness: Inner-Biblical Use of Scripture–Mark Boda

I’ve been reading through Hearing the Old Testament edited by Bartholomew and Beldman. I thought this quote from Mark Boda was worth passing along.

This hermeneutical agenda for biblical theology, which arises from the self-witness of Scripture, explains the ubiquitous interconnections between the various parts of the canon. The Old Testament canon itself displays inner cohesion through the regular use of quotations, allusions, and echoes of earlier Old Testament passages. This trend, which is observable in the Old Testament, only increases in the New Testament. It is important to take a closer look at this phenomenon of inner-biblical connectivity by looking at the ways the New Testament writers used the Old Testament and the ways Old Testament writers used other parts of the Old Testament. The biblical witness itself lays the foundation hermeneutically for Christian biblical theologians to follow as they seek to read the Old Testament as Christian Scripture.

Mark J. Boda (“Biblical Theology and Old Testament Interpretation” in Hearing the Old Testament, ed. Craig Bartholomew and Dave Beldman, Eerdmans, 2012). 135

Michael Kruger on the basis of distinguishing heresy from orthodoxy in the early church

Over at Canon Fodder (which is the best name I’ve heard for a blog), Michael Kruger has been discussing misconceptions of the NT Canon. In his latest post he discusses the basis for distinguising heresy from orthodoxy in the early church. I really enjoyed what he writes concerning the role of the Old Testament in the early church.

 Routinely overlooked by those in the Bauer camp—ironically in a Marcionite fashion—is the decisive role played by the Old Testament amongst the earliest Christians. M.F. Wiles once declared, “There was never a time when the Church was without written Scriptures.  From the beginning she had the Old Testament and it was for her the oracles of God.”[1]   Aside from the numerous examples of Old Testament usage within the New Testament itself, quotations from the Old Testament are abundant within the writings of the apostolic fathers and other early Christian texts. Thus, right from the outset, certain “versions” of Christianity would have been ruled as out of bounds.  For example, any quasi-Gnostic version of the faith which suggested the God of the Old Testament was not the true God but a “demiurge”—as in the case of the heretic Marcion—would have been deemed unorthodox on the basis of these Old Testament canonical books alone.  As Ben Witherington has observed, “Gnosticism was a non-starter from the outset because it rejected the very book the earliest Christians recognized as authoritative—the Old Testament.”[2] So, the claim that early Christians had no Scripture on which to base their declarations that some group was heretical and another orthodox is simply mistaken.   The Old Testament books would have provided that initial doctrinal foundation.

[1] M.F. Wiles, “Origen as Biblical Scholar,” in The Cambridge History of the Bible: From the Beginnings to Jerome (ed. P.R. Ackroyd and C.F. Evans; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 454.

[2] Ben Witherington, The Gospel Code: Novel Claims About Jesus, Mary Magadelene, and Da Vinci (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004), 115.

You can read the entire post here.

Book Notice: Hearing the Old Testament: Listening for God’s Address

A book to keep your eye on if you are interested in theological interpretation is Hearing the Old Testament: Listening for God’s Address (Eerdmans) edited by Craig G. Bartholomew and David J.H. Beldman. In the Preface Bartholomew and Beldman lament that the Old Testament is for the most part unknown by the majority Christians and that there are far too few books to assist Christians to feast upon it as Christian Scripture. Their response to the famine is this edited volume with the goal of listening for God’s address through the Old Testament:

At the heart of the hermeneutic advocated in this book is the belief that our love for the Old Testament and our desire for God will come together only when we make the goal of our interpretation to listen for God’s address. If Scripture is God’s Word, then any other goal is inadequate.

Hearing the Old Testament boasts an impressive collection of contributors beginning with Bartholomew’s opening chapter, “Listening for God’s Address: A Mere Trinitarian Hermeneutic for the Old Testament.” Part II of the volume concerns methods in interpretation and is appropriately named, “Learning to Listen.” Essays from Part III are involve listening to the different sections of the Old Testament.  Part IV concludes the volume with, “Hearing and Preaching the Old Testament.”

What stands out about this volume is the careful editorial process. Contributors to Part II, “Learning to Listen” first read Bartholomew’s chapter on Hermeneutics and then were invited to interact either positively or negatively with his essay. Contributors to Part III were asked to write their chapters after reading Bartholomew’s chapter and the chapter’s on “Learning to Listen.” Part IV was then written in light of the Parts I-III. This type of editorial planning should bring a certain type of cohesion that normally lacks in an edited volume. I only hope that future volumes may follow suit.

The List of chapters and authors:

  1. Listening for God’s Address: A Mere Trinitarian Hermeneutic for the Old Testament by Craig G. Bartholomew
  2. History of Old Testament Interpretation by Al Wolters
  3. Philosophy and Old Testament Interpretation by Bartholomew
  4. Literary Approaches and Old Testament Interpretation by David J.H. Beldman
  5. History and Old Testament Interpretation by Tremper Longman III
  6. Biblical Theology and Old Testament Interpretation by Mark J. Boda
  7. Canon and Old Testament Interpretation by Stephen G. Dempster
  8. Mission and Old Testament Interpretation by Christopher J.H. Wright
  9. Ethics and Old Testament Interpretation by M. Daniel Carroll R.
  10. Hearing the Pentateuch by Gordon J. Wenham
  11. Hearing the Historical Books by Iain Provan
  12. Hearing the Psalter by J. Clinton McCann Jr.
  13. Hearing the Old Testament Wisdom Literature by Bartholomew
  14. Hearing the Major Prophets by Richard Schultz
  15. Hearing the Minor Prophets by Heath Thomas
  16. Hearing and Preaching the Old Testament by Aubrey Spears

Ehrman, Canonization, and the OT Prophets

After teaching through the Latter Prophets and Writings this past quarter, I was continually struck by two things – the fact that the prophets were generally ridiculed, persecuted, and ignored, and the fact that the entire Old Testament canon is a coherent whole, continually tied together textually. Each author appears to relate his work to previous material in the OT and especially to the Torah.

Couple that with the fact that Bart Ehrman has been on my mind recently (I blame Dan Wallace and the Mark fragment), and you know why I’ve been thinking about canonization. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the entire worldview Ehrman has attempted to construct (or, rather, glom off of Walter Bauer) concerning the formation of the biblical canon. Ehrman would have us believe that the canon is the product of the “orthodox” winning against Gnostics and others whose writings were of a completely different character from what we find in the New Testament. Of course, Ehrman’s focus is on the NT but I would imagine he might say something similar of the OT canon’s formation.

Back to the Latter Prophets – I just don’t see how Ehrman’s view of canonization fits, especially with the prophets. The prophets were not popular, and even after the exile their message probably would not have been especially well received. This doesn’t fit with Ehrman’s view that the “popular crowd” wins out in canon battles.

More importantly, though, I simply don’t see how Ehrman’s view fits given the organic growth of the canon. Scholars like Brevard Childs, Stephen Chapman, and Christopher Seitz have demonstrated again and again that the Old Testament was formed through continually re-appropriating the received text in light of new situational circumstances. The people of God continued to receive a fresh word, but it was always a fresh word tied to the word that had already been received.

Furthermore, I don’t see why we shouldn’t view the New Testament’s formation this way as well. It wasn’t as if the NT authors’ message was wildly popular among the larger Roman population, and though it was much more accepted by the time of Athanasius’ festal letter, evidence suggests that the canon was quite stable well before that point (see David Trobisch, The First Edition of the NT).

Additionally, I understand that Seitz argues that the New Testament canon was formed in much the same way as the Old in his new book (although I haven’t been able to get to it yet). And by studying the way the New Testament uses the Old I think this makes abundantly more sense than saying that a council 400 years (or 600 if you want to take Ehrman’s most ridiculous proposal) after the fact chose the 27 books of the NT. The NT clearly uses OT texts, narratives, and themes to interpret Christ’s life, death, resurrection, ascension, commissioning of the Church, and eventual return. The books of the NT were written for the same reason and using the same approach as the OT. God had done something new, this time decisively and finally, in Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit inspired the authors to interpret that event in light of the received word of the Old Testament.

So the fact that both the OT and NT are the products of organic growth flies in the face of Ehrman’s assertion that the canon is a disparate group of writings that fit with what the “orthodox” felt needed to be included.