Thursday, March 11, 2010

LHP Review: Scriptures & Confessors

Skarsaune, Oskar and Reidar Hvalvik, editors. Jewish Believers in Jesus: The Early Centuries. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007. 930 Pages Cloth. $49.95. (LHP)

McDonald, Lee Martin. The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007. 549 Pages. Paper. $29.95. (P)

Ancient texts. Ancient people. Both come together in these two books from Hendrickson.

Before you adjudge either or both to be overpriced, consider the page counts and the intended audiences of each. And you may have been wondering why we hadn't posted large numbers of our own original reviews in the opening months of 2010! We were reading these...

Lutheran readers may recognize the name Oskar Skarsaune from at least one book published by Concordia. He and Reidar Hvalvik edit and co-write Jewish Believers in Jesus, an account of "Jews by birth or conversion who in one way or another believed Jesus was their savior" (3) with over one dozen other co-authors.

Surveying Biblical and extra-Biblical ancient literature, the authors cover nearly every imaginable aspect of their topic. Beliefs of individuals and groups varied widely. Some we would deem orthodox. Others faded from few quickly.

A set of photographs early in the book (216) reminded me that the one, holy Christian Church is the new Israel of God, the Body of Christ, made up of both Jew and Gentile "together in one man."

I was fascinated to read of a "complete text of Matthew in Hebrew" (267, 545) and obvious and not-so-obvious Jewish influence on Liturgical Texts (Chapter 20, 640ff) and perhaps on Tertullian (364). Thrdome timing of the Easter/Passover celebration was a major topic for debate (521, et al). How and why did the Jews react to the impending martyrdom of Polycarp? See 523. Who wrote the book of Hebrews? Apollos, possibly (Luther, 159).

One of my best Spring Breaks was spent with Apple of His Eye, an LCMS outreach ministry, just after studying Hebrew for the first time. Since them I have been fascinated by the similarities between the Synagogue liturgy and our Service of the Word as well as the Service of the Sacrament and the Passover Seder. (See 657ff. Thanks also to Arthur Just.)

"This survey can make no claim to completeness" (505). No? At a count of 930 pages with extensive notes, it sure does a good job of comprehensively and respectfully covering the topic.

Lee Martin McDonald, "Professor of New Testament Studes and President of Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia, Canada" (back cover), has given a lot of thought to the development of the Christian canon of Scripture. He wants his readers to think, to re-examine prior assumptions, to reconsider assertions made without support, and to open they eyese of the willing to the long and complicated process of combining sixty-six books (plus or minus) under one cover.

In our modern terminology, we use language that assumes the use of a book, a codex. This has not always been the case. Christians had a preference for the codex (353).
Among the controversial assertions of the author are those found in his concluding reflections. Judge for yourself:
There should be no fear, however, of allowing other ancient literature to inform our faith since some of that extrabiblical literature (the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, and other early Christian literature) informed the faith of the earliest Christians and even later ones. And some of the noncanonical gospels may indeed contain a few authentic strands of the teachings and sayings of Jesus. [These are called agrapha.] If that is the case, why should Christians avoid listening to them, at least in a careful and critical manner? (428, cf. 8ff)
As a matter of pastoral care, it is challenging to address Martin Luther's one-time opinions (later reversed) regarding James, Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation. It is unfortunate that the author only gives part of the Luther story (383).

The basics of criteria for inclusion are reinforced near the end of the text (405ff).
  • Apostolicity
  • Orthodoxy
  • Antiquity
  • Use
  • Adaptability
  • Inspiration
The Biblical Canon may serve a valuable role as a supplementary or reference text in a seminary-level isogogics course in our church body. Reading should initiate a conversation and debate within the reader to test what is written, inspire one to study further, and either confirm or refute the author, or else struggle with him in a lifelong study in search for an answer that edifies the Church.

Rather than reading either of these major textbooks in one prolonged study, I may recommend that busy parish pastors alternate study of these with other theological disciplines. This is a lot to soak in. Take your time and don't rush through.


The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.