The New Testament in its First Century Setting
Dr. William Klein's review of, "The New Testament in its First Century Setting: Essays on Context and Background in Honour of B.W. Winter on His 65th Birthday," by P.J. Williams, A.D. Clarke, P.M. Head, and D. Instone-Brewer.
P.J. Williams, A.D. Clarke, P.M. Head, and D. Instone-Brewer, eds. The New Testament in its First Century Setting. Essays on Context and Background in Honour of B.W. Winter on His 65th Birthday. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 2004. Cloth. $50.00; £29.95. ISBN: 0-8028-2834-5
Bruce Winter serves as the warden of Tyndale House, a research library primarily devoted to biblical studies and located in Cambridge, England. This Festschrift honors a mentor of many and one whose scholarly contributions are significant—as evidenced by the six-page list of his publications up through 2003. The four editors, all currently working in Britain and with various connections to Tyndale House, have collected twenty-one essays under the headings: Gospels (6 essays), Acts (3), Epistles (10), and Apocalypse (2). Too often Festschriften are saddled with authors’ second-rate essays, buried as they are among a long list of the titles in the book. But with few exceptions, this is not true of this volume. Readers are treated to important articles that illuminate the backgrounds of texts and important points of exegesis.
In the Gospels section P.J. Williams pursues a study of the Aramaic background of Jesus’ cry of anguish from the cross (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34), itself a quotation from Psa. 22:1. Rikki Watts argues for an Isaianic background to Mark 5:21-43. Jesus’ miracles show that God has come in Jesus to save his people, doing awesome things that they did not expect (Isa. 64:3). Peter Head concludes that papyrological material sheds light on Luke’s reference to his predecessors in his preface. He finds that both the papyri and Papias point to the existence of earlier narratives about Jesus—confirming Luke’s mention of “many” predecessors. Alan Millard ponders the reference that the father of John the Baptizer, Zechariah, “wrote” (Luke 1:63). He uses this entré to consider various facets of the phenomena of writing in Palestine at the time of Jesus, expressing doubt that the ability to write was limited to a few élite circles. David Peterson applies some tactics of narrative criticism to the placement of several speeches in Luke-Acts—arguing for a narrative unity in these two volumes. Andreas J. Köstenberger investigates the first person “I suppose” at the conclusion of John’s Gospel (21:25). He concludes that there is no precedent for the use of such a term by later editors or a group to authenticate an earlier message.
Three articles are devoted to topics in Acts. Steve Walton considers `Ομοθυμαδóν and concludes that it points to some sense of unity of thought or action. Irina Levinskaya investigates the nature of the Italian cohort mentioned in Acts 10:1. Conrad Gempf studies Paul’s mission strategies in his work in Corinth and Athens—calling into question Ramsey’s view that Paul changed his pattern after the failure of the mission in Athens. Perhaps the Athens mission was the exception.
On the epistles, Alanna Nobbs surveys uses of `beloved’ and `beloved brothers’ concluding that it is of distinctly Christian origin though non-Christians later used it to express a communal bond. Andrew Clarke studies Paul’s use of `brother’ language. It conveys ideas of metaphorical or natural relationships, but not necessarily notions of equality. I. Howard Marshall studies Paul’s use of head and body language to illuminate the phrase “the husband is head of the wife.” Paul is the first to apply “head” language to describe Christ’s relationship to the church and a husband’s to his wife. E.A. Judge investigates Paul’s appeal to custom—what are customary practices elsewhere (1 Cor 11:16). Brian S. Rosner pursues Paul’s view of resurrection bodies. He rightly concludes that “spiritual” when describing the resurrection body does not signify something non-physical, but rather a body suited to a new mode of existence, namely life in the realm of the Spirit. Peter T. O’Brien addresses the word in Eph. 1:10 often translated as “summing up.” God will unify all things in his Son, Jesus. David W.J. Gill studies the Roman background to the Titus letter. Peter Walker seeks to identify the provenance and purpose of the sermon called Hebrews. David Instone-Brewer argues that James is structured as a sermon based on the Trials of Abraham. D.A. Carson believes an Old Testament allusion (from Jeremiah 31) lies behind the reference in 1 John 2:17. God has fulfilled the promise to write the law on his people’s heart.
Bruce W. Longenecker focuses his attention on the seven churches of Revelation 2-3 and their particularly Roman character. Finally, Paul Barnett looks at Rev. 12 and argues that it is rooted in past “Christian” history, not some combat myth.
Quite a diverse education emerges from these varying essays. Each is short enough to be read in a short span—just the kind of volume you could keep on the end table for periodic reading when you wish some intellectual stimulation. Each provides an illuminating window into some aspect of the cultural or historical background of parts of the New Testament. These are the kinds of essays that help illuminate our understanding of the texts and for that I am grateful. Now we need more help in motivating us to apply the messages of the New Testament texts! But, obviously, that is the task of other books.
William W. Klein, Ph.D.
Professor of New Testament