The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Aug 30, 2022

Ruth Anne Reese's new commentary on 1 Peter: initial impressions

As a petrine specialist and the author of the Lexham Research Commentary on 1 Peter, I am excited that this is turning out to be an awesome decade for 1 Peter commentaries. Craig Keener just published his magisterial background commentary; Karen Jobes' 2nd edition of her Baker Exegetical commentary (which, in my opinion, still remains the best overall) is due out soon; Travis Williams and David Horrell's epic ICC is in production; and W. Edward Glenny's ECC with Lexham is supposed to come out anytime now.

In the midst of all that, we are privileged with another commentary that Ruth Anne Reese (Asbury Theological Seminary) just published a few months ago. As a series, the "New Cambridge Bible Commentary" has as one of its strengths a robust focus on background issues, as  well as segments entitled "A Closer Look" and "Bridging  the Horizons" which allow the author to focus  a bit more on key topics of his or her choice. The series as a whole is not, by my observation, intended to be evangelical  per se, but it actually contains a significant number of broadly evangelical authors (e.g.,  Ben Witherington III and Craig Keener both author or co-author multiple commentaries). My readers can rest assured that Reese approaches the book from a strongly confessional perspective, and she affirms Peter's authorship of the epistle which bears his name (see page 19). 

The book demonstrates a solid grasp of secondary and primary literature, especially considering its relatively smaller size. Reese cites recent petrine scholarship, such as that of Travis Williams, frequently, and even manages to fit Keener's new commentary in there (though it came out just months before hers!). Key background works are often cited (e.g., Hengel, Crucifixion; Bain, Women's Socioeconomic Status), as well as ancient sources (e.g., Plutarch, Advice to the Bride and Groom). Another strength is that Reese also cites sources outside of New Testament studies to further enrich her observations.

The commentary generally proceeds verse-by-verse or with short clusters of verses. The commentary is fairly well accessible to those without training in Greek (and Reese transliterates key Greek words and phrases). This is both an advantage  and a disadvantage. It fits well with  the  series' desire to embrace "jargon-free" language, and this commentary is definitely more accessible than those by Davids, Jobes, Keener, etc. The downside is that sometimes a difficult phrase in the Greek text will not receive the attention it receives in more technical commentaries.

The "Closer Look" sections peer  into the social and historical  background of 1 Peter (e.g., pages 134-6 and what constituted "Good Works" in ancient culture). With the "Bridging the Horizons" section, Reese is able to link her observations on the text with theology for the church (e.g., the excellent discussion on spiritual identity and suffering on pages 81-82).

A strength of the  commentary, then, is its ability to meld solid exegesis with theological and practical application. Naturally I would disagree with Reese in a few places. I am very hesitant, for example to assert that "It is clear that the church is portrayed as Israel in 1 Peter" (p. 128), and I believe she too quickly downplays the role of evangelistic vocal proclamation in 1 Peter, though without denying it altogether (e.g., page 207 fn 367). In my opinion, a more balanced treatment of the latter point can be found in Torrey Seland's excellent article, "Resident Aliens in Mission," in Bulletin for Biblical Research vol.  19 (2009). Nonetheless, Reese's treatments of the various issues are solid, well-informed, and often theologically and practically relevant.

Reese, in my opinion is one of the more readable writers out there within Petrine scholarship, i.e., regarding the ability to make it easier to plow through their book (her Two Horizons Commentary on 2 Peter and Jude is also excellent reading and quite quotable). Witherington is another one of the better petrine writers, imo, when he's not getting bogged down in the technical details rhetorical analysis (though for the most accessible treatment of Peter in general, I highly recommend Larry Helyer's The Life and Witness of Peter).

For the curious, here is a very quick tour of Reese's positions on some key topics. As already noted, she does affirm Peter as the author, suggesting that he wrote sometime between AD 65-68 (p. 17).

1. Peter was writing from Rome (p. 7; "Babylon"  = Rome; this is the  standard position  for almost all  commentators these days, regardless of theological persuasion. Somewhere in heaven John Calvin may still be objecting vociferously, unless the Apostle Peter himself has set him straight).

2. Also with the majority of commentaries these days, Reese sees the audience as a mix of Jews and  Gentiles (certainly plausible, though I confess I am finding myself more and more drawn to the vocal minority view of Witherington's and others that the audience was primarily Jewish)

3. In 2:2, regarding what "milk" is referring to, Reese follows Jobes in seeing more christology than bibliology (p. 106).

4. Reese's perspective on Sarah calling Abraham "Lord" is complicated (177-180), and here I feel that perhaps a deeper discussion of alternative interpretive options would help. She does, however, provide a comparative analysis with Philo on Sarah, concluding that "Both idealized portraits are presented in a particular context," yet that "In 1 Peter, women who have courageously chosen  a dangerous path [Christianity], . . . are reminded  that Sarah  also faced danger when she obeyed her husband" (p. 179). Reese also wishes that this passage not be read as forcing  women  to endure abuse without recourse or help, and suggests that "Our  interpretation  of 1 Peter 3:6 need not be prescriptive for every marriage and every situation  that a Christian wife may encounter" (p. 179).

It is with  a sense of irony (because I am a complementarian) that I note that my Lexham Research Commentary was roasted over a bed of hot coals by a 1-star reviewer on the Logos website on precisely this issue (he basically accused me of caving in to feminism for daring to suggest that it is a bad thing to utilize this text to justify abuse against women,  and for citing feminist authors positively, notwithstanding my strong critique of J. Bird, which the reviewer ignored). Now,  in this case, while I would agree with Reese's concerns  against legitimizing abuse, I am much more hesitant  to downplay the  normative nature of 1 Peter 3:1-6. I think we can  "have our  cake  and eat  it too," so to speak, by seeing this text as broadly applicable in every marriage but yet allowing  a woman to seek for sanctuary and legal protection if she is abused. I have discussed this more in depth in  my LRC on 1 Peter. Nonetheless, Reese's discussion contains some helpful material.

5. Regarding "the spirits in prison" in 3:19, I think Reese holds to the view that the phrase refers to the  fallen  angels ("sons of God") in Genesis 6. At least she portrays that view more positively than the other views (p. 218, "The greater context of suffering argues for a message of triumph over enemies . . ."), though she is not dogmatic.  Notwithstanding the strong objections of Wayne Grudem, I personally feel that is the best way to understand the text (no offense to Dr. Grudem, whose Tyndale commentary is, in my opinion, the best commentary for an undergrad class or a church Bible study). 

6. For the OT background to 1 Peter 4:17a, Reese provides  an excellent discussion of the pros and cons of each suggested text before concluding that "It is best to see the background for the idea of judgment  beginning with the household of God as deriving from the generally well-known Old Testament idea that  God is the judge of all the nations and that God's judgment begins with God's own people" (p. 274).

Bottom line: this  is an excellent mid-sized commentary with good depth but also excellent practical and theological discussion. While it will not replace Jobes' BECNT as my commentary of choice for teaching a graduate class, and obviously it will not provide the massive amount of background material one finds in Keener's commentary (but then, who could?), Reese's commentary is still worth its weight in gold and possibly among the top five I would recommend for any evangelical pastor's library.

Note: I purchased this commentary with my own money and was under no obligation to provide a positive review. However, [bias alert!], since Reese cites me positively at one point, I am naturally more favorably inclined towards the commentary. Also, by that logic, Keener's new commentary (which cites me 5 times!) is the greatest commentary ever, and anything Keener writes is golden. 😊  I am being facetious, of course, but as a relatively minor-leaguer, it's nice to be noticed by both Keener and Reese, or at least by their graduate assistants.

Aug 9, 2022

Christians need the Apocalyptic! The Ethical Ramifications of a Literary Style.

The word "apocalyptic" can mean many things to many people in biblical studies. Yet John J. Collins, speaking on behalf of the "Apocalypse Group" (which, disappointedly, is merely a study group of the SBL rather than a coalition of superheroes), provided a fairly precise, academic definition in the journal Semeia back in 1979, and scholarly discussion has had to interact with that definition ever since (see the appendix at the end of this post).

When teaching my Hermeneutics class, focusing on "Apocalyptic Prophecy" as a genre, I like to emphasize three things. Apocalyptic prophecy is: (1.) Epic, in the sense of representing the great conflict between good and evil; (2.) Vividly symbolic, using images, sometimes grotesque images, to represent something; and (3.) Needs to be interpreted (see Daniel 8:15-19).

I like to illustrate the difference between "regular" prophecy (like Isaiah 7:14) and "apocalyptic" prophecy by using one of my students student (we'll call him "Bubba Joe") in the following manner:

Regular prophecy: "Bubba Joe will go to Walmart, see that a 12-pack of Pepsi is half-price off, be tempted to buy it, but then remember his last experience with a dentist, and successfully resist the temptation."

Apocalyptic Prophecy: "Behold, I saw a great white tooth rising out of a sea of chlorine, and there was on top of that tooth a man, frightened and fearful and turning every which way. And there was arrayed against him a great, murky, dark substance in the shape of a "P", and it did assail the tooth, and try to overcome the man, but then a great drill of steel did come and push it away, and the man was freed and did not dissolve into the darkness."

Notice that the second type of prophecy is "epic" (something as simple as a potential trip to the dentist is turned into a cosmic conflict), uses grand images, and needs to be interpreted (you would not understand the second prophecy if you hadn't already read the first prophecy). It is important to realize that apocalyptic prophecy is still prophecy, however. The visions in Daniel and Revelation exemplify this point. The antichrist is not literally a giant beast as in an old Japanese monster movie. Yet this does not mean that he  isn't any more real in the future. The antichrist is coming, and the Spirit intended us to understand his ferociousness  and/or hideousness in terms of a giant monster (Revelation 13).

Now, the book of Jude is often described as  "apocalyptic" to some degree, partially because it seems to quote 1 Enoch, but for other reasons as well. This does not mean the entire epistle should be categorized as apocalyptic prophecy. It does mean,  however, that the situation facing Jude's audience is set within the context of end-time expectation and the ultimate judgment of God (see Richard, 2001, 241, as well as Harrington, 2003, 179; Lyle, 1998, 70). In other words, how Jude's audience reacts to the present crisis vis-à-vis false teachers and their temptations has other-worldly and eternal ramifications.

Here is why this perspective is helpful for Christians. How we react to temptation, and the stand we take for Jesus Christ, does not merely impact the "here-and-now" but rather has epic, cosmic ramifications. When Joseph resisted the advances of Potiphar's wife, in the "here-and-now" he ended up in prison, but from the perspective of eternity he set in motion a chain of events that would culminate in the Exodus, a key point in Salvation History. When the Apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 6:14, warns against "being unequally yoked together with unbelievers" (a phrase which has often been treated as if it refers to merely marriage, but surely contains broader application than just marriage), he does not characterize this as an unwise mistake, that might cause unhappiness, but rather as part of the conflict between "light" and "darkness," or "Christ" vs. "Belial" (vv. 14-15).

In  other words, apocalyptic literature helps orient us towards the eternal kingdom of God by reminding us that the decisions we make, for good and bad, must not be judged strictly on the basis of the "here-and-now." The temptations we resist and the temptations we cave in to, the activities we participate in, and the attitudes we adopt--all of these must be  understood not primarily in terms of what they mean for me or others today, but rather how they fit into the (very real) cosmic struggle between light and darkness which will only be resolved at the final judgment by Jesus Christ.

Sources cited:

The paragraph on Jude was paraphrasing some material from my forthcoming Lexham Research Commentary on Jude (Lexham Press/Logos).

Collins, John J. "Introduction: Toward the Morphology of a Genre." Semeia 14 (1979): 1-19.

Harrington, Daniel J. "Jude." In 1 Peter, Jude and 2 Peter, by Donald P. Senior and Daniel J. Harrington. Sacra Pagina. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2003.

Lyle, Kenneth R., Jr. Ethical Admonition in the Epistle of Jude. Studies in Biblical Literature 4. New York: Peter Lang, 1998.

Richard, Earl J. Reading 1 Peter, Jude, and 2 Peter: A Literary and Theological Commentary. Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2001.

Appendix: John J. Collins' definitions of "Apocalypse":
“‘Apocalypse’ is a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another, supernatural world.”