Review: The Chosen People

9780830840830The Chosen People: Election, Paul and Second Temple Judaism by A. Chadwick Thornhill (PhD, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary) is an exploration assigned the task of carefully guiding the reader through the early Jewish literature of the Second Temple period, specifically to examine how it discusses the concept of election in relation to the people of God. Thornhill seeks to answer two foundational questions: (1) How did Jews during the Second Temple period understand the nature of their election? And (2) how does one’s understanding of Jewish idea(s) of election influence how one might understand the key Pauline texts that address election? (p. 20-21).

For Thornhill, the early Jewish literature of the Second Temple period (namely the Dead Sea Scrolls, Apocryphal, and Pseudepigraphal works) predominantly display an understanding of the concept of election that is firmly positioned both corporately and conditionally. Still, when the concept of election explicitly relates to the individual, Thornhill argues that the literature of the Second Temple period predictably emphasizes the character or role of the individual, rather than the salvation. Although Thornhill rightly acknowledges the artificial nature of distinguishing between “individual” and “collective” from the text itself (p. 28).

Thornhill does an outstanding job systematically walking the reader through the literature of the Second Temple period in relation to the concepts of election. The reader will certainly learn a lot as the framework is being built to discuss Paul. Nevertheless, as someone who is not well-read in Second Temple literature, I often found myself wondering if any literature of the period actually disagreed with the central premise of the book. Of course, this may be the very point that Thornhill is seeking to bring to light. Still, the reader does not encounter much by the way of interaction with Jewish texts that seemingly oppose the argued concepts of election, nor is much attention given to opposing interpretive positions of the literature.

Following the construction of the framework of the Second Temple period, Thornhill directs his attention towards a number of important Pauline “election” passages. If the reader is familiar with the soteriological debate that stands in the foreground of these passages, then Thornhill’s exegetical conclusions will be nothing new—how he gets there may be a different story. For example, Thornhill argues for a corporate election view “in Christ” of Ephesians 1-2 based largely on the verbal forms in vv. 1:3-12 (p. 180), as well as a corporate election view of Romans 9. Thornhill functions extremely well within the framework of first-century Jewish thought as he exegetes the Pauline passages, and argues quite persuasively for his intended position.

To be honest, I was a bit surprised not to find any references or interaction with The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23 by John Piper (Baker Academic, second edition, 1993). This was one of the main disappointments for me. The judicious exegesis of Romans 9:1-23 presented by Piper in The Justification of God is in many ways definitive in the theological community Thornhill is arguing against. Thomas Schreiner is well-represented and engaged, and to Thornhill’s credit, but not a word is given about the important work by Piper. Nevertheless, Thornhill’s work is very well-documented and his interaction is admirable.

The Chosen People has offered the scholarly community a unique and important contribution to the conversation within Pauline studies. Thornhill has effectively probed through the forest of an old theological debate with fresh and exciting lenses. Even someone, like myself, who disagrees with the many of the conclusions that Thornhill advocates will find great benefit in this book. It has helped me re-engage a seemingly stagnant discussion with a renewed perspective and desire to invest more time in the understanding of early Jewish literature of the Second Temple period for New Testament studies. Those interested in a similar fate will embrace this book with open arms. The Chosen People comes highly recommended!

 

I received a review copy of these books in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Book Review: Pauline Parallels

6947305Walter T. Wilson is Professor of New Testament at Candler School of Theology, Emory University, in Atlanta, Georgia. Wilson received a BA from Johns Hopkins University, as well as an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. He has authored a number of books, including, Love Without Pretense: Romans 12 and Jewish Wisdom Literature (1991), The Mysteries of Righteousness (1994), The Hope of Glory: Education and Exhortation in the Epistle to the Colossians (1997), The Sentences of Pseudo-Phocylides (2005), and Philo of Alexandria: On Virtues (2010). Wilson has also published articles on the Sermon on the Mount and the letter of James. Prior to the release of Wilson’s most recent work he published this present volume, Pauline Parallels: A Comprehensive Guide (2009), which aims to present a parallel journey through the Pauline epistle—a journey built largely upon the success of an earlier volume by Fred Francis and Paul Sampley.

There are a number of distinguishing features that set Wilson’s volume apart from prior works. For example, the parallels chosen for this volume are based largely on the similarity of specific terms, concepts, and/or images between passages (ix). Previous volumes focused more narrowly on the similarity of literary structure and/or form between passages. Additionally, the translation chosen for this volume is the New American Standard Bible (1995), which is particularly well suited for the task of the volume, since it is among the most literal translations available (ix). Wilson’s Pauline Parallels covers the entire Pauline corpus. Following the discussed text, which is organized canonically, Wilson has formatted the volume into four section: (1) parallels from the same epistle, (2) parallels from other Pauline epistles, (3) parallels from biblical passages outside the Pauline corpus, and occasionally (4) noncononical parallels. Apart from the overall structure of the volume, Wilson has also combed through the parallels and emphasized the key phrases, terms, and/or images drawing the parallel for the reader.

Having used this resource while teaching through the Letter to the Romans, I can attest to its usefulness firsthand. First, I greatly appreciated the format of the book, from the order of the content to the execution of the layout. It was easy to use and helpful for sermon preparation. Second, Wilson avoids passage to passage parallels and focuses more on the paragraph level. This allows the reader to gather the full thrust of Paul’s argument, and thus cultivates more usefulness for the emerging parallels. Third, the noncanonical sources, while only employed occasionally, are strategically selected to best fit Pauline thought. Source include apocryphal and pseudepigraphal works, Mishnah, Nag Hammadi Library, Dead Sea Scrolls, and many more. Fourth, the tedious work of combing through each passage and parallel passages to individually emphasize the intended correlations is worth the cost the book alone. Wilson’s labor truly becomes the reader’s reward.

If you are looking for a resource that will help you better understand the Pauline epistles then Pauline Parallels: A Comprehensive Guide is the ideal tool for you. You will be ushered into the mind of Paul like never before. In working through Romans, Wilson has truly given me a set of peripheral lenses with which I am now able to view the letter and see what is coming or had passed through my blindspots. For this, I am immediately grateful and I foresee this resource getting plenty of good use. If you are a pastor, teacher, student, or just an interested layman, this is an essential starting place for Pauline studies, and it is well deserving of a spot on the bookshelf—preferably within reaching distance.

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.