Review of Early Narrative Christology by C. Kavin Rowe

I just sent off this review for CTQ and would post the text here, but the Greek Fonts don’t transfer from my document. So I have it as a .pdf on my church’s website. You can link to it here.

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C. Kavin Rowe on the Role of the Old Testament in the Birth-Infancy Narrative of Luke’s Gospel

I’m currently reading an intriguing book by C. Kavin Rowe, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Duke University called Early Narrative Christology: The Lord in the Gospel of Luke. The book is based on his doctoral work under Richard B. Hays, noted scholar and professor at Duke. Toward the beginning of the first chapter, I found this excellent quote concerning the use of the Old Testament in Luke’s Gospel:

The characters and events of the Old Testament are everywhere present and nowhere mentioned. For those who have ears to hear, the stories of Abraham and Sarah and Isaac, Hannah and Samuel, Sampson, King David, and the prophecies and promises of Isaiah, Daniel, Zephaniah, Micah, and Malachi echo throughout the birth-infancy narrative, thereby rendering direct citation of the LXX superfluous. The hallowed past extends into the hallowed present even as this present reaches backward into the past. The promises and their fulfillment form a single narrative grounded in the God of Israel’s act in Jesus (pp. 33-34).

This is one of the best explanations of the role of the Old Testament in the New Testament that I have come across in my reading.

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Who are the “Laborers” in the Vineyard?

The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) comes up every year in the One-Year pericopal system of our church. I have preached on it a number of times, and have always interpreted it (for homiletic purposes) in this way: just as the householder ‘hires’ those who are standing idle in the market place and sends them into the vineyard to work and agrees with them on a set wage, so also our Lord’s call into the vineyard is a call to believe, and it is an act of grace on His part that he brings us into the Church, which is His spiritual vineyard. Like the householder, our Lord does not play favorites and is impartial, and gives his blessings equally to all in the vineyard regardless of how long they have labored. The people who complain because they think they deserve more than those who only worked one hour are, on one level, the Jews and Pharisees who did not like to see Gentiles receiving the same status as them, and on another level, they represent those in the Church today who think that their status before God is a result of their works. “You have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” This I have always seen as the complaint of the Jews concerning the Gentiles. Thus, this Parable, as I have preached it in the past, teaches that our place in the Kingdom is by grace, and that the same reward is laid up for all believers. I think this is a pretty typical way this parable is interpreted and preached in our churches.

Having said that, here is another possibility I’ve toyed with. The Parable is not about the call to faith at all, but the call into the Holy Ministry. The vineyard, of course, is a metaphor for the Church (drawn, of course, from the Old Testament). This is congruent with John 15, in which the Father is called the “Vinedresser,” and Christ himself the “Vine.” Psalm 80 speaks of Israel as being the “vine” that has been brought out of Egypt. Also:

For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry! (Isaiah 5:7)

Notice, however, the language Jesus uses with regard to the workers: the ‘laborers’ are ‘sent’ into the vineyard to work. In the Old Testament, those who are ‘sent’ are the Prophets. “I did not send them, yet they ran” says God concerning the false prophets (Jeremiah 23:21). In the Gospel of Luke, the Parable of the Tenants also uses this language of ‘sending.’ The ‘servants’ are each sent to the Vineyard.

This ‘sending’ language in the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard suggests to me that those sent to work in the vineyard represent the prophets and apostles. The context of this parable is even more suggestive that the Parable is not simply speaking of the Call of faith into the Church, but the Call of the Ministry. At the end of Matthew 19, the disciples hear what Jesus says to the rich young man who did not want to part with his possessions. Peter says to Jesus: “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus answers by saying:

(28) “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (29) And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. (30) But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard, therefore, is Jesus’ extended answer to Peter’s question about what they will have for leaving everything and following Christ. They will receive the ‘Prophets’ reward’. This is Christ’s admonition to those who serve as “laborers” in the Vineyard of the Church (i.e. called ministers of Christ) not to forget that Christ called them and sent them into the vineyard to work. “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16).

I’m sure there is more that could be said, but these are my initial thoughts. I’m open to suggestions though.

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Ingathering and the Twelve Baskets of Left-Over Fragments in John 6:1-15

Long have I puzzled over the significance of the 12 baskets of left-over fragments of bread in the feeding of the 5000 (John 6:1-15). Of course, the number 12 has obvious connections to other parts of Scripture (e.g. 12 sons of Jacob, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 apostles). But what of the left-over fragments of bread gathered by the disciples?

Teaching this pericope to my Bible class today brought fresh insights to mind. For example, the theme of ingathering is strong in the Gospel of John. There seems to be a deliberate effort to show that the Feast of Tabernacles (among others) is being fulfilled in Christ (See John 7-8). Christ is the source of the living waters, and is Himself the living bread which comes down from heaven. Christ even says that when He is lifted up He will draw all men to himself. Ingathering. He is the Temple, to which all shall go to drink and not go thirsty, and eat and not go hungry.

Here is where the 12 baskets of left-over fragments come in. Could it be that these left-over fragments being gathered by the disciples into 12 baskets represent the scattered people of Israel and the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies concerning the return of these scattered folk from all the nations to which they were exiled? It seems to fit the general theme of the Gospel of John.

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Review of Mark Dever, The Message of the New Testament

The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept, By Mark F. Dever, Wheaton: Crossway, 2005. 560 pages $29.99

Verse by verse Bible commentaries, while helpful in unpacking the meaning of words and phrases, can run the risk of missing the theological forest for the trees. Mark Dever, a Baptist minister from Washington, D.C., offers a more thematic approach to the New Testament and, in the opinion of this reviewer, happily avoids this pitfall. Based on a series of sermons preached by Dever to his congregation, The Message of the New Testament gives a “bird’s-eye” view of the New Testament, highlighting important theological concepts unique to each document, and showing how the individual parts relate to the whole.

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Removal of Offending Body Parts: A formula for Excommunication?

The appointed Gospel for the Festival of St. Michael and All Angels is Matthew 18:1-11, no doubt chosen for its reference to the angels of little children (or, perhaps, new believers). As I was studying this pericope in preparation for preaching, I was struck once again by the way that Jesus seems to speak of the most extreme form of church discipline: excommunication. Repeating a theme found already in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that if one of your body parts (members) causes you to stumble, cut it off so that the rest of your body is not cast into hell. Rather than take Jesus literally, preachers usually use these words as a call to repentance. Gouge out your eye, that is, repent.

David Scaer has a different take, and one with which I wholeheartedly agree. He says that the use of the word “body” here could be a reference to the church, as the “body of Christ,” and the eye and the hand and the foot are different members of that Body. Cutting off the offending body part would then mean casting out the person who is leading others to sin, so that the whole body (church) is not infected and thrown into hell. This interpretation makes sense, especially considering that earlier in this pericope Jesus warns against offending against the “least of these” who believe in him. The idea here is that it is better to lose the offending member than for the unchecked sin of that member lead the whole church into sin.

Analogous to this would be a foot or limb with gangrene. Before cutting off the foot, you do everything possible to save the foot. I have seen someone go through this process before. By-pass surgeries are the most common attempts to bring blood to the limb. When all else fails, the limb is amputated in order to save the rest of the body. If it is not, then the poison spreads up the leg, and infects the whole body. So also in the church, as one finds in Matthew 18, every attempt to reconcile the erring member is made before putting him out of the fellowship of the church. When all else fails, the last resort is to “cut him off,” that is, to excommunicate him, to “treat him as a tax collector and a sinner.”

A “real life” example of this taking place might be someone who lives an openly adulterous life. Left unchecked, this person can eventually lead the rest of the church members into sin since it would appear that such a lifestyle is tolerable in the eyes of God. Better to enter life without that offending brother, than for the whole church to be cast into the pit of hell. As with a gangrenous limb, which lacks blood supply, the offending member is already dead in his sins. Excommunication is merely the public acknowledgment of something that has already happened internally.

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Paul’s Credentials and the Theology of the Cross

Mark Dever does a nice job contrasting the “Super Apostles” and their likely credentials in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, and Paul’s “credentials.” Permit me to summarize: The super apostles looked like the real thing. If anyone were to conceive of what an apostle of Jesus might be like, surely these men would come to mind: polished, artful, skilled in rhetoric, educated, and eloquent. This is also how one might imagine a Messiah and Savior of the nations. He would have to be an impressive sort, strong, influential, and in control of every situation. Then you have the apostle Paul. What were his credentials? His suffering and weakness:

Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked (11:24-27).

A similiar list is seen in chapter 6:

in troubles, in hardships, in distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger…through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything (6:4-5, 8-10).

Who best represents Christ, asks Dever? Obviously Paul. Why? Because in his sufferings he most identifies with Christ. Paul’s christological understanding of his apostleship really comes through loud and clear in this Epistle. As Christ was, so go his ministers. And, one could certainly add, so goes the Church. The Church in this life, as well as her ministers, will not be impressive and influential in a society that lives in darkness. This is always a good reminder, that we are theologians of the cross, not of glory. We don’t expect the Church or its ministry to be any more outwardly impressive in this world than the Church’s head and the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Outwardly, from a purely worldly point of view, Christ, His Church, and her ministers will be seen as weak and insignificant. By faith, however, we see in that suffering and weakness true strength. “My power is made perfect in weakness.” This theme comes through very powerfully in Dever’s section on 2 Corinthians.

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