“Behold! I tell you a mystery”, “I want you to understand this mystery”, “the mystery that was kept secret for long ages”, “the mystery was made known to me by revelation”. Quotes such as these are so common that Bible readers surely recognise them, but are they so familiar that we forget we don’t have a clue what they mean? One common understanding of these texts would read dictionary definitions of mystery back in to the Bible and conclude that it denotes an enigmatic idea. Another common view is that mystery refers to a novel idea entirely absent from the Old Testament. Both definitions contain some truth but the authors of Hidden but Now Revealed want to sharpen our focus. But, really, an entire book about mystery? G. K. Beale and Benjamin Gladd believe that mystery plays an important role in interpreting the whole Bible. It is both a bridge that spans the Old Testament to the New and a compass for navigating the continuity and discontinuity in the Testaments.
Hidden but Now Revealed
The structure of Hidden but Now Revealed is straightforward. In chapters 1-10 the authors trace occurrences of mystery (μυστήριον) throughout Daniel and its Greek translations, a sampling of early Jewish texts, Matthew, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy and Revelation. In chapter 11, the authors consider texts that lack the word mystery but contain similar concepts. Chapter 12 then examines the relationship between Biblical mystery and ancient pagan mystery religions; how much does the Biblical concept rely on its contemporary context?
Starting with Daniel is an obvious and fruitful choice. The first appearances of mystery are likely foundational to appearances elsewhere. The authors emphasize two points from Daniel. First, a revelation of mystery is not necessarily an ex nihilo disclosure; rather, it is something partially, but not entirely, hidden in the past. For example, Nebuchadnezzar remembered the symbols from his dream and even appeared to have very basic ideas of its meaning. So there is some continuity; not absolute hiddenness. Second, mystery is “a revelation concerning end-time events” (p30), specifically the establishment of the kingdom of God. This is confirmed in the Jewish literature also. With this narrowing in place, proper understanding of mystery in the NT is brought into focus.
Turning to Matthew, it is argued that Jesus is in line with Daniel’s understanding of mystery. Just as in Daniel, mystery (Matt 13:11) “plays a pivotal role in Jesus’ teaching on the end-time kingdom” (p57). It is common to debate how Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God relates to the Old Testament, but as the authors argue, Jesus saw his own teaching as a revelation of mystery, so He is revealing new yet hidden information. According to Jesus, the kingdom has begun in a hidden way and the righteous and unrighteous will coexist for a period before His return and the final judgment. That is to say, His kingdom is already and not-yet. In these ways, Jesus’ teaching “contrast[s] with the Old Testament and Jewish expectation of the kingdom” (p69), but does not contradict them.
The excursus on Matthew unpacks these expectations of God’s kingdom in the OT and Early Judaism, concluding that “the defeat of God’s enemies and the establishment of God’s kingdom were to occur decisively and completely at all at once at the very end of world history” (p83). This raises the questions of exactly how Jesus’ teaching wasn’t entirely novel, and how His revelation sheds new light on the OT. For example, I can understand Jesus “zoomed in” on Daniel’s four successive kingdoms vision and revealed that the transition between the fourth and the Kingdom of God is not clean cut; that God’s kingdom has already begun breaking in. This is surprising after reading Daniel, but it is not contradictory. However, how should I now re-read specifics in light of Jesus’ revelation? For example, the little horn in Daniel 7 persecutes the saints before the establishment of God’s kingdom. If Jesus is saying that His kingdom has begun to break in in His first coming, does that mean the horn has come and gone (perhaps in AD70 events)? Or if the horn remains future, how does that fit with Daniel’s timing? In other words, Jesus’ unveiling leaves one confused about specifics in Daniel’s vision that don’t seem to fit. Admittedly, addressing these implications could fill its own book, but a few suggestions from Beale and Gladd would have been welcome. Of course, this is a question for Jesus, not just the authors!
This is essentially my most significant criticism: in numerous places questions of this sort were left unaddressed. There are certainly exceptions, such in the Romans excursus where the authors argue that re-reading the OT shows hints that Gentiles would in fact be saved before the Jews (e.g. Deut 32). So the mystery unpacks something there in the OT but still veiled. However, admittedly, the OT mostly teaches the opposite (e.g. Isa 49:5-6). But to their credit, the authors offered an explanation in this case: “those Jews first hearing and accepting the gospel at Pentecost and shortly thereafter in Jerusalem” (p88) as reflected in Acts are the beginning fulfillment of the “Jew first” concept.
This criticism aside, not everyone will agree with the individual conclusions reached. Traditional dispensationalists will probably find the most to be frustrated with, since the authors present different views of Romans 11 and Ephesians 2. Also, the identity of the man of lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians 2 relies on a particular (though common) interpretation of Daniel 11 that is assumed and not defended.
As one expects from Beale, this book is chock full of both intricate and overarching insights and repays close study. Gladd’s dissertation was on mystery, so his contributions are no doubt significant. Although mystery may seem like a small topic, its implications are far-reaching and it seems like every mystery text is controversial and difficult. It takes skill to thread through such difficult issues, but the authors appear to do it with ease. The book certainly succeeds in its goals of examining the mystery texts in detail and presenting an overarching theme that ties them together and I found it mostly convincing. I found Hidden but Now Revealed to be profoundly beneficial to my own study. There was certainly a lot of meat to chew on! The material on Ephesians was particularly rewarding, but the entire work is rich with detail and depth. Beale and Gladd manage to present a holistic and compelling understanding of mystery and, even if one disagrees with some of the details or convictions of the authors, it would be unwise to ignore this work. Hidden but Now Revealed certainly proves that mystery deserves an entire book after all!
- Publisher: IVP UK / Apollos
- Softcover: 392 pages
- ISBN: 9781783591763
Many thanks to IVP UK for providing a copy of this book in exchange for a review. Their generosity has not affected my review.
I used to walk a good 40 minutes round-trip to my job and to redeem the time I’d listen to a sermon or theological podcast and have built up a list of recommendations. I don’t agree with everything said, but these are informative and thought-provoking.
Logos Mobile Ed Conversations
I’m constantly impressed with Logos. I use the software regularly, the iPhone app is incredible, and they are podcasting excellent interviews with visiting scholars in the Mobile Ed program.
Subscribe to podcast: iTunes
I’ve only listened to a few episodes by this point, but virtually all of them appear fascinating. Just take a look for yourself!
Other recommended podcasts.
Jesus the Messiah in the New Testament
In a surprising turn out of step with the other sections, Bock works backward from Revelation to the Gospels. He does this for several reasons:
- The texts will be in order of least to most controversial.
- This allows the roots of Christology to be unearthed.
- The Gospels rarely use Christ for Jesus.
- [Bock’s explanation of the fourth reason on p334 was completely indecipherable to me!]
- The historical authenticity of Jesus’ own messianic claims can be addressed last.
Bock’s goals are threefold: 1) to trace how Christ is used in the New Testament, 2) to see if this can be traced to Jesus Himself, and 3) to “point out in a few key places how explicit texts from the earlier Testament are used messianically” (p335). To achieve this end, Bock primarily overviews the NT documents and comments on each use of Christ. Unfortunately this was (subjectively) tedious reading.
This “reverse” approach makes good sense with Bock’s above goals, but fits uncomfortably with the overarching goal as stated by Bateman, to “trace the concept of messianism chronologically” (p211). Instead, Bock shifts his aim to a nearby, though very different, goal. He wants to historically establish that Jesus considered Himself to be the Christ. I find this to be a significant weakness in his chapters. After Johnston and Bateman thoroughly traced messianic promises and expectations, Bock’s chapters are naturally expected to explain how the NT presents Jesus as the fulfillment of these ideas. Bock has written elsewhere on how the New Testament uses the Old Testament, and this is a natural place to see this fulfillment in action; but staggeringly, the question of how Jesus fulfils messianic expectations is mostly unaddressed. Instead, Bock turns to questions regarding the historical Jesus. In other words, Bock establishes that Jesus is the Messiah when the reader expects him to establish how. This leaves one with an anticlimactic surprise ending, where the work in the earlier chapters is practically irrelevant. In this way Bock’s chapters were a missed opportunity and better suited for a different book.
Secondly, it was surprising that Bock focused exclusively on Christ in the NT, when this is not the only messianic title, nor even the only kingly messianic title. Johnston and Bateman make clear that messianic expectations revolve around several titles and concepts such as “son of God”, “son of man”, “branch”, and “Lord”. These are picked up in the NT and variously applied to Jesus, but with an exclusive focus on Christ, again, Bock’s chapters leave Johnston and Bateman’s work on the cutting room floor.
There are many positives to Jesus the Messiah, particularly found in the author’s methodology and careful and fair treatment of individual texts. I have detailed some of these strengths in the earlier posts. The proliferation of color maps and diagrams is very welcome. The authors are also to be commended for attempting to allow the texts to speak for themselves. There is much excellent exegetical work on display, particularly in Johnston’s OT chapters.
However, I note two weaknesses to Jesus the Messiah beyond those in Bock’s chapters mentioned above. The first has been hinted at in the reviews of Bock and Bateman’s sections: the authors are not in complete alignment with their intended audience, methods or goals. The benefit of having three specialists devoted to their fields is sadly counterbalanced by the occasional whiplash one experiences when moving from one section to the next. The book would have been strengthened by better harmonizing the flow of the sections and allowing them to interact more with each other.
The second weakness is more foundational to their approach. The authors restrict themselves to “kingship and covenant texts” (p32), which I think is a misstep. First, by only looking at these texts, the authors are putting together the messianic puzzle with too few pieces. Second, despite the authors’ quote above, I see little to no impact of the covenants in their work. Attention to the covenants would have helped frame the puzzle, showing that messianic hope is not merely found in individual texts scattered throughout a long narrative, but rather in a faithful covenant mediator. He would be the second Adam, the Noahic bringer of new creation, the true seed of Abraham, the faithful Israel, and the greater David. The difference in this approach can be seen when we consider that Johnston begins his search of the messianic trajectories in the calling of Abraham. Not only does the promise that kings will come from Abraham (Gen 17:6) seem unexpected when we begin here, it also leads one to expect a small-scale king. But if Adam were recognized as a king (as he should be), then the story begins much earlier and promises for kings through Abraham suddenly have a vastly broader scope! In fact, Genesis 3:15 could be reclaimed from the appendix as a kingly messianic text. So while some of the individual commentary may remain the same, the entire picture would be in a different shade if situated within this covenantal frame.
Though I am ending my review on a critical note, Jesus the Messiah does have much to commend. Much of this can be seen in my other posts. I certainly recommend Jesus the Messiah as a helpful resource for someone who wants to wrestle with the question of Old Testament messianic prophecy and the intertestamental literature. It is also useful for tracing the origins belief in Jesus’ as Christ.
Many thanks to Alban books for providing a review copy of Jesus the Messiah. Their generosity has not affected my opinion of this book.
There is no doubt that Deuteronomy profoundly shaped the theology of the apostle Paul. However, what if his most famous letter – Romans – is completely structured around Deuteronomy? This is exactly what C. Marvin Pate argues in his book Apostle of the Last Days (and his Romans commentary in Teach the Text Series). In his words, “the outline of Romans matches the covenant components of Deuteronomy” (p162). It’s as if Romans is the new Deuteronomy; as Deuteronomy was the document for the Israelite (Old) covenant, Romans would be the formal document for the New Covenant.
Deuteronomy and the Old Covenant
Pate outlines and summarizes Deuteronomy’s covenantal structure as follows:
- Preamble. Deut 1:1-5.
- Historical Prologue. Deut 1:6-3:29. A description of Yahweh’s saving actions.
- Stipulations. The ten commandments (Deut 4-11) and general commandments (Deut 12-26)
- Blessings/Curses. Deut 27-30. The two paths and consequences for obeying or disobeying the covenant.
- Document Clause. Deut 31:9, 24-26. Instructions for keeping the Law written on stone inside the ark of the covenant.
- Appeal to Witnesses. Deut 31:26-32:47. Yahweh appeals to the history of His own faithfulness.
Romans and the New Covenant
- Preamble. Rom 1:1-15
- Historical Prologue. Rom 1:16-17
- Stipulations. Rom 1:18-4:25. Faith in Christ, not the law of Moses.
- Blessings. Rom 5-8. Covenantal blessings on believers.
- Curses. Rom 9-11. Covenantal curses on unbelieving Israel
- Appeal to Witnesses. Rom 12:1-15:33. “Renewal of the covenant ceremony” (p164).
- Document Clause. Rom 16. “on a letter not on stone” (p164).
By following a similar structure, Paul, in Pate’s words, “subverts the old covenant of Moses by replacing it with the new covenant of Christ” (p164).
I’d love to hear comments on this proposal, but here are some initial thoughts of my own.
- It doesn’t force Romans into an unnatural shape. That is, most scholars agree that Rom 1:16-17 is the “thesis” of the letter and that Romans has four large movements, found in Rom 1-4, 5-8, 9-11, and 12-16. This structure is maintained in Pate’s.
- If it’s true that Paul consciously intended this structure, then the currently out-of-fashion idea that Romans is Paul’s “systematic theology” should be reconsidered somewhat, and harmonized with the other theories for Paul’s purpose in writing.
- Pate doesn’t acknowledge it, but for this structure to work, he has switched the Appeal to Witnesses and Document Clause sections. What’s more, these headings don’t really jive with the content in my opinion.
- The heart of the structure is in Rom 1-11. The blessings and curses headings make sense of the material in 5-8 and 9-11, and particularly highlight the important element of covenant blessings and Israel remaining under the curse. However, one need not recognize this structure to have more of a covenantal reading of Romans.
All in all, while I admire Pate’s intentions, I remain unconvinced by his structure. Could Paul have been dictating Romans with Old vs. New Covenant ideas in the back of his head? Yes, and I think he was. He could have even considered the basic flow of Deuteronomy while he dictated Rom 5-11. However, such a point for point structure does not hold. That said, reading Romans with the new covenant in the background is certainly the way to go, and Pate helps bring that into focus.
Many thanks to Alban books for providing a review copy of Apostle of the Last Days. Their generosity in no way affected my review.
This is the third post working through Jesus the Messiah by Gordon Johnston, Herbert Bateman and Darrell Bock. Read the introduction post to get the gist of their approach to Messianic prophecy, and Johnston’s chapters on the Messiah in the Old Testament. The next section is by, Herbert Bateman on the messianic expectations (or lack thereof) in the intertestamental literature.
Jesus the Messiah in the Intertestamental Literature
Jesus the Messiah intends to “trace the concept of messianism chronologically” (p211), so it makes sense to survey what the Jewish literature between the Old and New Testaments had to say about the Messiah. Bateman has two goals in his section: 1) identify four obstacles that obscure our study of messianism in the second temple literature, and 2) observe the variety of messianic portraits in this literature.
In his first chapter, Bateman points out four obstacles (or as he says, three and then one) that must be overcome to understanding messianic expectation in the second temple period. These obstacles are:
- Limited resources. Despite much being written during the 550-year-long second temple period, the literature that’s useful for reconstructing messianic expectations is limited. Until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), there were only thirteen relevant documents from this time. The DSS adds nineteen texts or fragments to this list, but it still remains limited.
- Blurred vision. Our understanding of these texts is hindered by two elements: a) our familiarity with the New Testament and b) our distance from Judaism and its way of thinking. In regards to the former, we can read NT teaching about Jesus anachronistically back in to the literature. In regards to the latter, from the early days of the church we have become unfamiliar with Jewish thinking. The early church’s increasing Gentile presence, influence and “polemic against Judaism created a wedge between Christianity and Judaism which resulted in an even greater lack of familiarity with second temple period Messianic expectations” (p215).
- A lack of second temple historical and social sensitivities. In the longest section of the chapter, Bateman reveals that, contrary to common misconceptions, not every Jew yearned for the coming of the Messiah. To understand messianism, we need to know our history. When one surveys the texts and history of the second temple period, it becomes clear that many were indifferent to messianism and expectations became mostly dormant under the rule of the Persians and Greeks (539-164 BC). It wasn’t until dissatisfaction with the rule of the Hasmoneans that messianic expectations flared up again. In fact, “the earliest literature that speaks of an expected ‘messiah figure’ dates from after 150 BCE when Jonathan, the first Hasmonean, came to power” (p241). Next came the Romans, and in a great line from Bateman, “though Hasmoneans evoked the flames of messianic expectation, Rome managed to create a full brush fire.” (p241).
- The final obstacle is left until a final paragraph. It is a lack of interest in the literature and mindset of second temple period.
With all this in place, in the next three chapters Bateman surveys “anticipations of the one called messiah” (ch. 9), “anticipations of the one called branch and prince” (ch. 10), and “anticipations of the one called son” (ch 11). It is impossible to survey the content of these chapters, but the takeaways are as follows.
First, Bateman does an excellent job of introducing the reader to (probably) unfamiliar texts, showing their importance, and explaining what it is they are contributing to messianic expectation. Scattered throughout these chapters are numerous tables, graphs and maps that really help keep things clear. These chapters would serve as an excellent textbook introduction to the second temple period.
Second, it becomes clear that there is no one messianic expectation; instead it is almost as if these texts take Old Testament ideas and branch them off into different paths that lead to very different destinations. Some expected a heavenly figure. Some expected multiple messiahs (priest and king, for example). Others didn’t expect a messiah at all.
There are some shortcomings in these chapters, however in approachability and editing.
First, while these chapters are very well laid out, at times the content calls into question whether Jesus the Messiah is “not intended to be an overly technical work” (p35). For example, while the history in Bateman’s first chapter was essential for what followed, there is a lot of detail that seemed irrelevant for the later chapters. Also, on page 236 there are a few sections of Greek. While the Greek is translated, it is unclear why its there in the first place, given the intended audience. All in all, Bateman’s laudible thoroughness may work against his good intentions for accessibility.
Second, I mentioned numerous typos in Johnston’s chapters and unfortunately the same is the case with Bateman’s. For the sake of space, I will only draw attention to what is perhaps the “best” editing mistake I’ve ever come across! A sentence on page 303 reads as follows.
Nevertheless, second temple reflections of Should this be capitalized?scripture and longings for a messianic “son” […]
Unfortunately, this happens again on page 327!
Yet equally grounded in Should this be capitalized?scripture is one debated and contradictory element.
Aside from the quirky editing issues, these chapters are an excellent survey of messianism in the intertestamental literature. Both those familiar and those unfamiliar will get something from these chapters.
Many thanks to Alban books for providing a review copy of Jesus the Messiah. Their generosity has not affected my opinion of this book.
I’m working through Heiser’s The Jewish Trinity (other posts) Logos Mobile Ed course. So far Heiser argued that the Old Testament teaches the existence of multiple elohim (“gods”) and that this is not incompatible with monotheism. Recognizing divine plurality in the OT is one step closer to recognizing plurality within God Himself, which sets a foundation for the NT doctrine of the Trinity.
However, a objection should have arisen by this point: the Bible denies the existence of other gods. This is the subject of Unit 3, which is made up of 7 segments (5 lectures and 2 trainings).
Deut 32:39 seems clear that all other elohim in the Bible are nonexistent; that is, there is no other god besides YHWH. At face value, this destroys Heiser’s thesis so far. However, should we read this verse at face value? According to Heiser, this phrase teaches incomparability, not exclusivity. “None like me” is a rhetorical overstatement that has the same effect as saying “no one even comes close”. Two points are used in his favour:
- Since the Bible elsewhere holds to the existence of multiple elohim – and even in Deuteronomy 32:17, the same chapter! – we must look for a deeper answer.
- Babylon was not the only city in the world, and yet it claimed that “I am, and there is no one besides me” (Isa 47:8, 10). This is the same for Nineveh (Zeph 2:15). These cities are boasting about their greatness, not making claims about the existence of other cities.
Therefore, this “none like me” phrase is about incomparability and not existence. Other elohim can exist but there is no other elohim like YHWH.
Check back soon for the next part of my walk through Heiser’s The Jewish Trinity Mobile Ed course. Read other parts in this review series.