The aim of every political constitution is … to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of society, … and … to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous whilst they continue to hold their public trust.James Madison, 1788 as cited in Garrett Ward Sheldon, The Political Philosophy of James Madison (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins Univiersity Press, 2001), 52.
Top 10 Books Read in 2019
Bavinck, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena. Vol. 1. Edited by John Bolt. Translated by John Vriend. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003.
Bavinck, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation. Vol. 2. Edited by John Bolt. Translated by John Vriend. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004.
The best systematic theology written. Bavinck’s method is wonderful: he gathers all of the biblical data, traces the doctrine’s development through history (always with an eye to philosophy as well as theology), and draws together a dogmatic conclusion. He is writing late enough for the historical survey to capture most of church history. And even if one disagrees with a given conclusion, the biblical material he draws together is invaluable.
Leeman, Jonathan. The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love: Reintroducing the Doctrines of Church Membership and Discipline. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010).
This is not a book about the nuts and bolts of church discipline (Leeman has authored one of those as well). This is a profound study of the love of God, ecclesiology, and how the two relate. This really is one of the best books I’ve read.
Adams, Edward. The Stars Will Fall from Heaven: Cosmic Catastrophe in the New Testament and its World. Library of New Testament Studies. New York: T&T Clark, 2007.
This book is a study of whether or not the New Testament presents an eschatology in which the cosmos is destroyed and recreated. Adams argues, primarily against N.T. Wright, that the cosmos is destroyed (though not annihilated) and then re-created. He further argues that this does not entail a gnostic rejection of material creation. I think that Adams establishes this final point, but he fails to establish his thesis.
The most compelling part of this monograph is Adams’s argument that the cosmic catastrophe language of the Old Testament, which is picked up by the New Testament is not the language of socio-political changes, as Wright maintains. An examination of the language in its Old Testament context and in light of parallels in Jewish apocalyptic literature clearly demonstrates that this language is used to describe actual cosmic catastrophes at the end of the age. He clarifies (here speaking of this imagery as it appears in Mark 13), “”This is not, of course, to say that the language … is mean ‘literally.’ My claim is that like the writers of 1 Enoch 1, etc., the evangelist very probably expects the stereotypical images of catastrophe to translate into actual cosmological events of a calamitous nature” (160).
However, Adams was less successful in maintaining his thesis. He failed to recognize how many of his texts referred to the day of the Lord period that precedes the return of Christ to earth. No premillennialist can accept that those passages are talking about the dissolution of the world. Adams only recognizes that this is a problem when he discusses Revelation 6:12-27, and he does not wish to take a millennial position. He simply notes that if one is a premillennialist this passage anticipates the final dissolution of the world while if one is an amillennialists it refers to the actual dissolution. However, if he were to be consistent with this logic, then all of the other passages he looked at would similarly only be anticipations of a final dissolution. This leaves him with Revelation 21:1. However, he gives no extended treatment to this passage. While acknowledging that many interpreters do not understand this passage to refer to the dissolution of the material world, he simply asserts his position with regard to this passage.
Adams also does not interact with texts which would contradict his thesis (Romans 8:1-25 being the most notable). Rather, Adams notes in his conclusion that the New Testament, like intertestamental Judaism, presents two different views of the cosmos at the end of the age. This is, of course, not a position that can be adopted by those who hold to the inspiration and theological unity of Scripture.
While disagreeing with the book’s thesis, I found many of the exegetical discussion illuminating and worthy of detailed note-taking.
Sanders, Fred. The Triune God. New Studies in Dogmatics. Edited by Michael Allen and Scott Swain. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016.
Compton, Jared and Andrew David Naselli, eds. Three Views on Israel and the Church: Perspectives on Romans 9-11. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2018.
Vlach contributed a decent essay arguing for the future, national conversion of Israel and against the claim that Israel was a type. This is the position I began the book holding. Vlach makes many good points, but he mars his argument by making claims that are tangential to the main issues under discussion (e.g., arguing for sacrifices in a millennial temple).
Hamilton and Zaspel contributed an excellent essay arguing for the future national conversion of Israel and for the claim that Israel was a type. Hamilton and Zaspel convinced me of the latter point. However, this left them with a problem. They had demonstrated exegetically both of their points, and they granted the position that in most cases the anti-type replaces the type. However, all three of these assertions cannot be true. They suggest, “It may be that covenantally constrained institutions, such as the levitical system, fall away after the sacrifice of Christ, but we are not sure the same holds for people or events.” This may be the case, but a better approach is to recognize a time element. It is not Israel in the abstract that is a type of the church. It is Israel under the Mosaic covenant and at a given period of history.
Merkle contributed a well-written essay arguing against the future national conversion of Israel and for the claim that Israel was a type. Merkle may have been the best writer, and this may give his essay more plausibility than his arguments warranted. In fact, the greatest weakness of this essay is that Merkle did not so much argue as assert his position. I think Hamilton and Zaspel were correct to counter, “In our judgment this position depends on too many improbable interpretations of critical points of Paul’s discussion, and so, in the end, fails.”
Horton, Michael S. Lord & Servant: A Covenant Christology. Louisville: WJK, 2005.
Despite the subtitle, this book is more than a Christology. The first part deals with the first term of the title: “Lord.” Horton begins by contrasting Tillich’s hyper-immanent approach to God and Kant and Derrida’s hyper-transcendent view of God with God’s covenantal revelation of himself. Horton argues that theology should not be a study of God’s being, and that salvation is not a matter of ontological union with God. Rather, theology is a study of God’s self-revelation. From this starting point, Horton provides a brief doctrine of God (covering issues such as aseity, impassibility, immutability, the omni’s, goodness, grace, holiness, glory, righteousness, wrath, and more). This is followed by a brief study of creation (in which Horton affirms the Creator-creature distinction and denies dualism).
Part two focuses on the second term in the title: “Servant.” In this part, Horton provides a theological anthropology that covers issues such as the imago dei, personhood, and human nature and a harmartiology that deals with original sin, Adamic headship, the historical Adam, and more.
Part three makes the case that Christ is both Lord and Servant (hence the title). Here Horton deals with the person of Christ in two natures. He critiques Barth, Robert Jenson, and Kenotic Christologies. He defends the extra calvinisticum and the importance of Christ’s humanity as the Second Adam. He also defends the threefold office of Christ and penal, substitutionary atonement.
Hixon, Elijah and Peter J. Gurry. Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism. InterVarsity, 2019.
Excellent set of essays on textual criticism. I found most helpful Mitchell’s chapter on how long the autographs may have lasted, Peterson’s chapter about how many NT manuscripts exist (and why it is so hard to come to a definitive number), Prothro’s chapter on how to more accurately compare the number of NT and Classical manuscripts, Lanier on why later manuscripts can be better, Cole about how the scribes who copied the NT were not mere amateurs, Gurry about the significance of variants (some are doctrinally significant of themselves, but Scripture is redundnat; no doctrine hangs on a variant).
White, Ronald C. American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant. Random House, 2016.
A superb biography that gives a sense of the importance of Grant to the nation. He also probes Grant’s religious views and his moral sense in facing issues such as the Mexican-American War, slavery, civil rights for black Americans, treatment of the American Indian, and more. While not in any way falling into hagiography, White dismantles myths such as the idea that Grant was a drunkard or the claim that his military victories were simply due to numerical superiority. He also deals well with Grant’s presidency, noting both his achievements and recognizing how his shortcomings allowed for some of his subordinates to taint his administration with scandal. A must-read biography.
Caro, Robert A. Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing. New York: Knopf, 2019.
Caro is a fascinating writer, and this book about how he came to write his biographies is filled with fascinating anecdotes.
Other Books Read in 2019
Victorinus of Petovium, Apringius of Beja, Caesarius of Arles, and Bede the Venerable. Latin Commentaries on Revelation. Edited by Thomas C. Oden, and Gerald L. Bray. Translated by William C. Weinrich. Ancient Christian Texts. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2011.
This is a fascinating collection of patristic commentaries. The first is the earliest extant commentary on Revelation. Notably, it is both premillennial and futurist. The other commentaries were amillennial and used a fourfold sense approach to interpretation (see below). Of the other commentaries after Victorinus, I found Caesarius of Arles most insightful.
Oecumenius and Andrew of Caesarea. Greek Commentaries on Revelation. Edited by Thomas C. Oden and Gerald L. Bray. Translated by William C. Weinrich. Ancient Christian Texts. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2011.
Both of these early Greek commentaries were very interesting. They adopted a fourfold sense approach. Interestingly, Oecumenius seemed to be futurist in the literal sense and akin to modern idealism in the allegorical sense. Though not adopting their approach, I found both commentators regularly insightful.
Burr, David, trans. and ed. The Book of Revelation. The Bible in Medieval Tradition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2019.
This volume summarized medieval commentaries on Revelation and provided selected excerpts. It covered the time from Richard of Saint Victor to Nicholas of Lyra. The medieval commentators here were all decidedly historicist in their approach. The main difference between them was whether the history of the world was repeatedly recapitulated or whether it ran through the entire book sequentially. Commentators also differed in their assessment of how close the end they viewed their own day.
Edwards, Jonathan. Apocalyptic Writings: “Notes on the Apocalypse” An Humble Attempt. Edited by John E. Smith and Stephen J. Stein. Vol. 5. The Works of Jonathan Edwards. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1977.
This was a fascinating read, even though I did not find Edwards’s historicist interpretation of Revelation compelling.
Vlach, Michael J. Premillennialism: Why There Must Be a Future Earthly Kingdom of Jesus. Los Angeles: Theological Studies Press, 2015.
In addition to standard readings of Revelation 20 and the argument that certain OT texts fit neither the present age nor the eternal state, Vlach makes several compelling theological arguments for a Millennium. First, he argues that the Creation Blessing requires the Messiah and his people to successfully subdue the earth as God originally intended. This arguement is exegetically grounded and compelling. Second, Vlach argues that premillennialism in the early church was better at guarding the goodness of creation. Third, Vlach detects a pattern in which the Day of the Lord judgment is followed by the establishment of Christ’s kingdom on earth.
Joel R. White, “The 144,000 in Revelation 7 and 14: Old Testament and Intratextual Clues to Their Identity,” in From Creation to New Creation: Biblical Theology and Exegesis, ed. Daniel M. Gurtner and Benjamin L. Gladd. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2013.
A compelling argument for the Israelite identity of the 144,000 in Revelation.
Carson, D. A. “The Tripartite Division of the Law: A Review of Philip Ross, The Finger of God.” In From Creation to New Creation. Edited by Daniel M. Gurtner and Benjamin L. Gladd. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2013.
In this essay Carson reviews Ross’s defense of the tripartite division of the law into the categories of moral, ceremonial, and civil. Carson credits Ross with a careful historical survey of the issue, but he concludes that this survey actually undermines Ross’s case. A tripartite division of the law cannot be traced earlier than Aquinas. The bulk of the book seeks to demonstrate the tripartite division of the law from Scripture, and Carson finds that Ross struggles to make his case. For instance, Ross argues that within the Pentateuch, distinctions are made between the Decalogue, cultic laws, laws with punishments, and so forth. Carson observes,
Ross mounts a fine defense against the proposition that the laws of Moses are “one indivisible whole.” In fairness to his opponents, however, most who make such an affirmation are not saying that no distinctions can be made among the Mosaic laws. Rather, they are saying something slightly different: for those who are under the Mosaic covenant, the obligation to obey the entire array of stipulations under that covenant is sweeping and comprehensive. (226-27)
Carson is not opposed to finding distinctions among the laws, but he finds biblical evidence for a tripartite division lacking. He concludes that it is incorrect to claim the tripartite division of the law was something found in Scripture which should then serve as an a priori in discussions of the law. However, he grants that the division can serve as a “heuristic device if we grant it a posteriori status.” Casron explains:
In other words, we do not begin with a definition of moral law, civil law, and ceremonial law but observe (for example) what laws change least, across redemptive history, in the nature and details of their demands, and happily apply the category “moral” to them. (236)
Then, in light of our understanding of what laws are moral laws, we can discern which may fall into the categories of civil and ceremonial.
Carson’s approach commends itself. It allows the Mosaic covenant to stand as a unified covenant in distinction from the new covenant. The categories of moral, civil, and ceremonial are handy tags for identifying those laws which remain valid in both Old and New Covenants while identifying others as having passed away when the covenant to which they were attached passed away.
Jacobs, Alan. Wayfaring: Essays Pleasant and Unpleasant. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010.
Jacobs, Alan. How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds. New York: Currency, 2017.
Alan Jacobs is like C. S. Lewis, an Anglican layman who provides probing insights on the Christian life. As with Lewis there are points of theological disagreement (though I suspect Jacobs is closer to me theologically than Lewis was), but with both I find reading almost everything they write worth reading and thinking about. Highlights of among the essays in Wayfaring were the ones about commonplace books, Samuel Johnson, gardening and human dominion over the earth, and friendship.
Olinger, Danny E. Geerhardus Vos: Reformed Biblical Theologian, Confessional Presbyterian. Philadelphia: Reformed Forum, 2018.
An excellent biography of an outstanding theologian.
Vos, Geerhardus. Reformed Dogmatics. Edited by Richard B. Gaffin. Translated by Annemie Godbehere, et al. Vol. 1–5. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012–2016.
A helpful resource that is what the title says. It is great to have this alonside Vos’s Biblical Theology.
Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works. Volume 34. Edited by Helmut T. Lehmann and Lewis W. Spitz. Philadelphia: Fotress, 1960.
This volume contains writings from later in Luther’s life, including writings that are related to the Diet of Augsburg.
Barker, William S. Puritan Profiles: 54 Influential Puritans at the Time When the Westminster Confession of Faith Was Written. Fearn, Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 1996.
This was a good collection of accessible Puritan biographies.
Moore, Jonathan D. English Hypothetical Universalism: John Preston and the Softening of Reformed Theology. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.
An excellent historical study of English Hypothetical Universalism. I found the exposition of the views of Ussher, Davenant, and Preston fascinating. I also think Moore demonstrates that English Hypoethical Universalism is distinct from Amyraldianism and that it is within the bounds of historic Reformed theology.
Manton, Thomas. “Sermon V: Mark 9:49.” In The Complete Works of Thomas Manton. Vol. 2. London: Nisbet, 1871.
Though there are textual variants in this verse that Manton did not know about, he interprets this verse in light of its context. Thus, though he may not have every exegetical detail right, everything he draws from this verse can be drawn from the passage.
The focus of the sermon is on mortification, and it is an excellent sermon on that topic.
Hays, J. Daniel. From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race. New Studies in Biblical Theology. Edited by D. A. Carson. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003.
This is a helpful volume for drawing together biblical material concerning nations and people groups. Hays also gives good coverage to the Cushites and deals well with common mis-interpreations regarding them.
Candice Millard, Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President. New York: Doubleday, 2011.
This is an engaging history that intertwines the lives of James Garfield and Charles Guiteau with the development of medical technology. Readers come away with a high view of Garfield and the promise of his administration, and a sense of loss in the reality that he need not have died had he received proper medical attention.
Burrow, Rufus, Jr. Martin Luther King Jr. for Armchair Theologians. Armchair Theologians Series. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.
This is a very helpful volume for understanding Martin Luther King, Jr.’s theology by an author who is sympathetic to it.
Reeves, Michael. Enjoy Your Prayer Life. 10Publishing, 2014.
This is a helpful, brief book on prayer. Its brevity makes it ideal for repeated reading and meditation.
Crouch, Andy. The Tech-Wise Family. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2017.
This book contains a good bit of practical advice, but I was expecting it to be more theologically grounded than it was.
Rosner, Brian S. Known by God: A Biblical Theology of Personal Identity. Biblical Theology for Life. Edited by Jonathan Lunde. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017.
Though not at the level of Rosner’s superb book on Paul and the law, I did gain insight from several chapters. I especially found helpful this insight:
As it turns out, the Bible confirms the legitimacy of the standard personal identity markers, but denies their ultimacy. Many of them are indispensable, but they are an insufficient foundation upon which to build your identity. (42)
Rosner concludes that if any of the following standard personal identity markers become the “foundations of personal identity,” one becomes an idolater. The Bible critiques idols by noting that they “are gods that fail” (Hab. 2:18-19; Jer. 16:19; Rom. 1:21-23; 1 Cor. 12:2) and they are “gods that degrade their worshippers” (Ps. 135:18; Rev. 9:20-21) (pp. 61-62).
I see connections here with Koyzis’s treatment of political ideologies Personal identity makers can also take something good in the created order and make it ultimate in a way that is idolatrous. Similarly, certain identity markers can become demonized as the ultimate evil or cause of the world’s problems.
Warfield, B. B. “Justification by Faith, Out of Date.” SSW 1:283-84.
Warfield, Benjamin B. “On Faith in Its Psychological Aspects.” The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield: Studies in Theology, vol. 9. 1932; Reprinted, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003.
Warfield, B. B. Inability and the Demand of Faith. SSW.
Warfield on faith.
Murray, Iain. Revival and Revivalism. Banner of Truth.
A compelling historical study that demonstrates the significant distinction between revival and revivalism. Without this distinction, the church is at risk of embracing counterfeits to the Spirit’s work or to adopting an overly rationalist approach to Christianity.
Karnow, Stanley. In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines.
An engaging history of the Philippines that especially emphasizes its complex relationship with the United States.
Ortlund, Dane C. Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014.
Like the other books in this serious, Ortlund seeks to mine Edwards for guidance for contemporary Christian living. He is largely appreciative of Edwards, but he does include a chapter of critique as well.
Williamson, H.G.M. Ezra and Nehemiah. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996.
This book is overall too given to critical methodologies to be useful other than for getting a feel of the state of scholarship for those given to those methodologies. The chapter on the book’s theology and his defense of the authenticity of the letters in the book were useful.
Sanders, Fred. The Triune God. New Studies in Dogmatics. Zondervan, 2016.
1. Attunement: Gloria Patri
Sanders’s point in this chapter is that Trinitarian theology should be all about praise to God. That is the end of this doctrine. By opening the book this way Sanders signals that this book is not merely about logic-chopping. This book, though serious theology, is meant to bring us to worship God.
2. Revelation of the Triune God
The doctrine of the Trinity must be revealed. On how it is revealed in act and word. Pp. 39-40
Sanders argues that the doctrine of the Trinity is a mystery in the biblical sense of something formerly concealed, now revealed. Pp. 42ff.
The remainder of the chapter argues that denial of propositional revelation has deformed Trinitarian theology, including that of Rahner and his famous dictum. Sanders argues, following Machen and Packer (and, Vos, though he is not mentioned) that act and interpreting word must be kept together.
3. Communicative Missions
Sanders argues that the Trinity is revealed in the missions of the Son and the Spirit. Further, these missions are self-interpreting—literally—the Son has a “teaching ministry” and the Spirit speaks through the prophets and apostles. 69-70
Sanders grants the danger of reducing the Trinity to mere propositions that people must know, thus abstracting it from soteriology and the Christian life. But while the doctrine is more than verbal, propositional revelation, it is “not less.”
Sanders argues that the doctrine of the Trinity cannot be argued from experience. Schleiermacher’s deficient trinitarianism is evidence of this. However, the doctrine of the Trinity should be part of our experience.
He also has an excellent section arguing that the doctrine cannot be based on tradition. Tradition plays an important role, but its role ought to be that of pointing us back to Scripture and explaining how Scripture teaches the doctrine of the Trinity.
He then circles back around to the claim that the Trinity is fundamentally revealed in the missions of the Trinity and that Scripture testifies to the historical revelation of the Trinity. Against the concern that this is a Barthian approach, Sanders notes that it is found in Warfield with safeguards not found in the Barthian tradition. See especially the Warfield quotation on p. 89.
4. Incarnation and Pentecost
Sanders discusses the approach to the Trinity. Should one follow Augustine and “begin the exposition with the temporal missions and reason back from them to the eternal processions”? Or should one follow Aquinas and begin with the processions and work “out and down to the temporal missions.” Augustine’s approach has the benefit of following the biblical text’s way of revealing the Trinity. “The main pedagogical disadvantage of this approach is the mental effort it requires, as those who lean in this order must submit to the difficulty of revising their initial idea of the structure of divine unity in light of subsequent revelation. It may also run the risk of aligning with the modern historicist tendency to think that all meaningful action takes place in the economy and only in the economy” (94).
Sanders, while recognizing the legitimacy of either approach, take the Augustinian path in this book. This leads him to argue that the Bible must be read as a unity with attention to its storyline. He points out that Ephesians 1 provides a biblical example of this, and its telling of the biblical story has a decidedly Trinitarian bent (98-106).
Sanders claims that the working of the Trinity in the storyline of Scripture is not only a revelation of the economy of salvatio0n, but is a self-revelation of the Trinity (106-8).
Sanders notes that at the extremes Unitarians claim that the missions of Son and Spirit reveal nothing about God while Hegelians hold that they reveal everything. Others would argue that they reveal nothing other than three-in-oneness. Others hold that they reveal an order of authority. And still others would hold that it is not just the sendings that are revelatory of God but every aspect of the Son and Spirit’s work is revelatory. Thus the suffering of Christ on the cross would reveal the suffering of God. Sanders rejects all of these approaches.
He holds instead that the missions of Son and Spirit reveal the eternal begetting of the Son and the eternal procession of the Spirit. Sanders sees this as foundational to rightly seeing the Trinity in the biblical text.
I found this chapter a little lacking. I want more argumentation as to why eternal begetting and procession are the right deduction to make from the missions of Son and Spirit. The closest he came was the observation that the incarnation was proper because Christ is “Son of, Word of, image of, offspring of, wisdom of, or radiance of” the Father (115).
5. God Who Sends God
Sanders argues that the missions and processions are vital “for distinguishing the persons of the Trinity” (122). In fact, the names given to the persons are given because of their connection with the missions. The missions reveal the distinctions between the persons, but these distinctions must be eternal, so the missions must reveal the processions. It is for this reason that the concepts of eternal generation and eternal spiration are helpful. Sanders draws on Shedd to argue that these concepts are not extra-biblical speculation but are, in fact, derived from the names, Father, Son, and Spirit. For the Father to be the Father, he must have eternally begetted the son; for the Son to be the Son, he must be eternally begotten; for the Spirit to be the Spirit, he must have been eternally spiriated. Sanders said that Shedd’s observations are not purely grammatical, but recognize also the way the missions reveal the eternal processions.
Sanders also finds the concept of eternal processions helpful because it means that God is eternally active internally and not merely externally. This protects God’s aseity. If God were only active externally, he would need creation in order to be active.
Sanders further argues that this approach is necessary: “Our argument began in chapter 4 with the claim that the canon of Scripture is a unified story centered on the definitive self-disclosure of God as Trinity when the Father sends the Son and the Holy Spirit. We then traced, here in chapter 5, the argument that those missions reveal processions, which are internal actions of God that constitute the divine life in itself, in distinction from God’s free outward actions toward creation. Because this is the actual basis of the doctrine of the Trinity, we must clarify its character as an ultimate claim. It does not // constitute merely an angle of approach, perhaps one among others, to a doctrine that can be viewed from many angles. God sends God for our salvation, making known to us that God is the kind of God who can do so. Trinitarian theology has other kinds of arguments and analyses to correlate with this central claim, but unless this central claim is true, there is no good reason for believing that God has revealed himself as he truly is through the missions of the Son and Holy Spirit” (133-34).
Sanders then moves to a discussion of the term person. Sanders notes, “We cannot safely start any phase of Trinitarian theology by subjecting the term person to analysis and deriving information from that analysis. We must always return to the generative dynamics that resulted in our talking of persons in God” (142). He leads readers to James Ussher’s definition: “A person of the Trinity, Ussher says, ‘is whole God, not simply or absolutely considered, but by way of some personal Properties. It is a manner of being in the Godhead, or a distinct subsistence (not a Quality, as some have wickedly imagined: // For no Quality can cleave to the Godhead) having the whole Godhead in it.’ They are called ‘persons’ because they have ‘proper things to distinguish them,’ and these distinctions are made ‘not in nature, but in relation and order.'” (143-44).
Sanders closes the chapter with a critique of the terminology of economic and immanent trinity. He notes that the terminology came from an unorthodox source, that Rahner’s Rule sought to guard the terminology from being pressed in an unorthodox direction, but that it has not been entirely successful. Sanders would not ban the use of the terminology, but he seems to argue that it should be used sparingly and carefully.
6. Trinitarian Exegesis
Sanders begins this chapter by making the case that the Trinity is a biblical doctrine even though it is not articulated explicitly in Scripture. This part of the chapter is a pretty standard Christian argument that has been made, and continues to be made, since the time of the early church.
In the next part of the chapter Sanders deals with the difficult reality that the exegetical arguments of the church fathers are not always considered valid by the standards of modern exegesis. Some of the problem, as Sanders indicates, is with modernist exegetical assumptions. But some of the problem also lies with illegitimate exegetical moves made by the fathers. Sanders appreciates what the Fathers were trying to do, and he approaches their exegesis with generosity. But he does not think that that exegesis should be replicated. With this in view, Sanders rebuts the charge that Trinitarians have a preconceived doctrine that they will find Scriptural proof for in whatever way they can.
Sanders also addresses different ways that theologians can demonstrate the doctrine of the Trinity. One approach is the piecemeal proof, which is exemplified by Augustus Strong:
1. In Scripture there are three who are recognized as God.
2. These three are so described in Scripture that we are compelled to conceive of them as distinct persons.
3. This tripersonality of the divine nature is not merely economic and temporal, but is immanent and eternal.
4. This tripersonality is not tritheism, for while there are three persons, there is but one essence.
5. The three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—are equal.
6. Inscrutable yet not self-contradictory, this doctrine furnishes the key to all other doctrines. (173)
Sanders recognizes the legitimacy of this approach, but he argues that it is in danger of minimizing or obscuring the eternal processions of Son and Spirit. In fact, he notes that Warfield, who adopted this approach ended up denying the eternal processions.
7. New Covenant Attestation
Sanders points out that the Apostles’ Creed is actually a Trinitarian account of the life of Christ. He uses this as a starting point for tracing the Trinitarian shape of Christ’s earthly ministry as presented in the Gospels. He emphasizes that the Gospel of John is especially important for beginning to give shape to the doctrine of the Trinity. Though Trinitarinism is latent in the Synoptics, John “formulated the story of Jesus in ways most obviously congenial to dogmatic exposition” (193, n. 4). Sanders then turns to the importance of Jesus’s baptism and the threefold name in the Great Commission for Trinitarian theology before concluding the chapter by demonstrating that Trinitarian theology is presupposed everywhere by Paul in his letters even if it is not the topic of his teaching.
8. Old Covenant Adumbration
Sanders, in the penultimate chapter, comes to the Old Testament shadows of the Trinity. This order is deliberate. Sanders is concerned that when theologians begin their treatment of the Trinity with the Old Testament with the Old Testament evidence, they end up presenting their weakest evidence first.
Key to seeing the Trinity in the Old Testament is rereading the book through New Testament eyes. Just as when the best novels are be reread and earlier scenes have greater because of the reader’s knowledge of what will come, so also the Old Testament, read in the knowledge of the New has greater depths with regard to the Trinity. Sanders argues that one of the best ways to see the Trinity in the Old Testament is to look at how the New Testament uses the Old. Another approach is to layer up Old Testament predictions regarding the Son and the Spirit. For instance, the Old Testament creates an expectation for “a messianic son, a suffering servant, a prophet greater than Moses, and the Lord himself.” The New Testament reveals these expectations are all met in Jesus. By carefully attending to these Old Testament passages read together, evidence for the Trinity emerges from the Old Testament. Finally, Sanders commends what he calls prosoponic exegesis. That is, from the perspective of the New Testament identifying who is speaking/being spoken to in Old Testament texts (e.g., The LORD said to my Lord). One strategy that Sanders is skeptical of is Christophanies. He is hesitant to tie these appearances to only one person of the Trinity.
In an earlier post I noted that there are four major approaches to the Olivet Discourse. (1) It refers entirely or primarily to the events of AD 70. (2) It refers entirely to eschatological events. (3) It refers to events that span from the first century through the present to the eschatological return of Christ. (4) It refers to AD 70 as the type of the Day of the Lord and to the eschatological Day of the Lord itself.
The interpretation of Matthew 24:9-14; Mark 13:9-13; Luke 21:12-19 verses deals with an apparent chronological discrepancy between Luke and Matthew. Resolving this seeming discrepancy provide support to the thesis that the Olivet Discourse refers to AD 70 as the type of the Day of the Lord and to the eschatological Day itself.
These verses turn to the issue of persecution. There is a seeming discrepancy between Matthew and Luke at this point. Mathew begins this section with “then,” whereas Luke begins with “But before all this.”
Luke’s time reference is clearest. Before the false messiahs, wars, earthquakes, famines, and heavenly signs, Jesus’s followers would be persecuted by both Jews and Gentiles. Acts recounts that this persecution began as soon as the church was formed. Acts even uses the words of Jesus’s prophecy to describe this persecution:
“Lay hands on you” (Acts 4:3, 5:18; 12:1; 21:27); “persecute” (Acts 9:4–5; 22:7–8; 26:14–15); “hand over” (Acts 8:3; 12:4; 21:11; 22:4; 27:1; 28:17); “to synagogues” (Acts 6:9; 9:2; 19:8–9; 22:19; 26:11); “jails” (Acts 5:19–25; 8:3; 12:4–17; 16:23–40; 22:4, 19; 26:10); “kings” (Acts 9:15; 12:1; 25:23–28:28); “governors” (Acts 23:24, 26, 33; 24:1, 10; 26:30; see also 13:7; 18:12).
Luke’s account of the discourse affirms that this persecution will be an opportunity to bear witness to the gospel—which Acts also recounts (4:5-12, 33; 7:1-60; 23:11). Divine empowering to present this witness without forethought may be exemplified by Stephen (Acts 7). These verses, then, clearly describe the persecution of the church as described in Acts before the events leading up to the destruction of the temple in AD 70.
Mark’s account is similar to Luke’s. He adds that the followers of Jesus would be beaten in synagogues, which also occurred in the earliest days of the church (Acts 5:40; 22:19; 2 Cor. 11:24).
Matthew’s account is significantly different from Luke’s. In both Matthew and Luke, Jesus’s followers are delivered up, hated for his name’s sake, and put to death. But the wording is different, and Matthew doesn’t mention the Jewish features (sanhedrin/councils, synagogues) as Mark and Luke do. The Matthean parallel to these verses Mark and Luke occurs in in Matthew 10:19-21, not in the Olivet Discourse.
The parallel between Matthew 10:19-21 and Mark and Luke’s account of the Olivet Discourse can be accounted for by the fact that Jesus, as he traveled from place to place, probably often said similar things on different occasions.
It may be that because Matthew had already presented his readers with the content found in Mark and Luke’s version of the Olivet Discourse, he omitted that material here. The omission also allows Matthew to emphasize the eschatological aspect of the discourse. While Luke emphasized the first century aspect, Matthew presented readers with a part of the discourse not fully represented in Mark and Luke.
In Matthew’s account Jesus indicated that in conjunction with or following the initial birth pains, persecution will come. This persecution will be exacerbated as people “fall away” from the faith and then “betray” believers. Paul interpreted this part of the discourse eschatologically: “In 2 Thess 2:3 (built on the Olivet Discourse) this becomes the ‘apostasy’ or ‘rebellion’ that accompanies the appearance of the ‘man of lawlessness.’”
Contributing to this apostasy are false prophets. There were certainly many of these in the first century: “Acts 20:30: Gal. 1:7–9: Rom. 16:17, 18: Col. 2:17–end: 1 Tim. 1:6, 7, 20; 6:3–5, 20, 21: 2 Tim. 2:18; 3:6–8; 2 Pet. 2 (and Jude): 1 John 2:18, 22, 23, 26; 4:1, 3: 2 John 7.” But the work of false prophets culminates in the false prophet (Rev. 13: 11-16). In contrast to the apostates, those who endure throughout the day of the Lord will be saved (24:13 || 13:13).
To close out this section, Jesus said, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (24:14; cf. 13:10). With regard to the type, this prophecy refers to the spread of the gospel throughout the known world of that day. For instance, Paul could say that the gospel was prospering “in the world” (Col. 1:6) and even that it “has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven” (Col. 1:23).
Paul was probably indicating, with expansive language, that the Gospel had gone to all the nations and was continuing to spread among them. The expansive language was used because Paul was stating that “the gospel had in principle already been preached world-wide” even though in practice it is still in process of spreading worldwide.
However, the typological fulfillment of this saying does not exhaust its significance. The ultimate end in view is the one mentioned in 24:6–the end of the day of the Lord when the Son of Man returns to earth. Alford argues that despite the typological fulfillment, “in the wider sense, the words imply that the Gospel shall be preached in all the world, literally taken, before the great and final end come.” The Old Testament prophets looked forward to the day when then nations would be gathered to worship God, and there may be an allusion to that here. Hays says, “One suspects that Isaiah hovers somewhere in the background (passages such as Isa 2:2-4, 49:6, 57:6-8; 60:1-3; cf. Ps 22:27-28).” Revelation also predicts the world-wide proclamation of the gospel (Rev. 5:9-10; 7:9; 14:6), and the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy will come to pass during the Day of the Lord predicted by Revelation.
Matthew 10:17-22, which parallels Mark and Luke’s accounts of the Olivet Discourse, is part of a discourse that began as instruction for the Twelve as Jesus sent them out on a preaching and healing mission to the Jews. However, by verse 17 the discourse looks beyond that initial mission. In verse 5 Jesus instructed the Twelve to limit their mission to the Jews, but by verse 18 the Gentiles are in view as well. In addition, the persecution envisioned in 10:17-22 goes far beyond anything that occurred during Jesus’s earthly ministry. By verses 22 and 23 “the end” and the “coming” are in view. Thus this passage culminates on an eschatological note.
The phrase “you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes” is obviously not true if it refers to the Twelve’s evangelistic mission during Jesus’s earthly ministry. There are two plausible interpretations that both have a long pedigree. Hilary of Poitiers proposed,
In order to show that the pagans were going to believe in the apostolic preaching, while the rest of Israel would believe only at the occurrence of his [second] advent, he said: You will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes. In other words, once the full number of pagans is added, the rest of Israel will be placed in the Church at the future advent of his glory in order to complete the number of saints.
Many modern commentators have similarly concluded that these verses indicate that the “mission to Israel” will not be complete before the Second Coming.
Another option is that these words “do not denote the mission but the flight of the disciples. This is clear from the beginning of this verse, ‘When they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another.’” Something similar to this can be found in the Incomplete Commentary on Matthew. This reading may parallel Revelations 12:13-17. In either case this passage is ultimately eschatological.
The eschatological nature of Matthew 10 casts the parallels
in Mark 13 and Luke 21 in another light. Though Luke certainly emphasizes the
typological fulfillment in his presentation, the eschatological element should
not be thought to be entirely absent in Luke and Mark. Mark in particular has
two eschatologically oriented parallels with Matthew in this section: the gospel
will be preached to all the nations (13:10), the one who endures to the end is
the one who is saved (13:13).
 Garland 2012: 830, n. 11; cf. Stein 1992: 516-17.
 Garland 2012: 831.
 Edwards 2015: 600.
 Strauss 2014: 574.
 Wright 1992: 422-23; cf. Carson 1984: 248.
 Meyer 1884: 131-32.
 Osborne 2010: 875-76; cf. Wilkins 2014: 99.
 Alford 1976: 237-38.
 Osborne 2012: 876.
 Witsius 1837: 407-8 (4.15.13); Alford 1976: 238; Blomberg 1992: 356.
 Davenant 1627: 265; O’Brien 1982: 71.
 Wright 1986: 89.
 Alford 1976: 238.
 Nolland 2005: 967.
 Hays 2016: 95.
 Blomberg 1992: 174; Davies and Allison 2004a: 179, 181-82; Luz 2001: 89.
 Carson1984: 242.
 Davies and Allison 2004: 179.
 Davies and Allison 2004: 182; Nolland 2005: 425.
 Hilary of Poitiers 2012: 119.
 Blomberg 1992: 176; Bock 2002: 573; Davies and Allison 2004: 190; Wilkins 2014: 97-98.
 Ridderbos 1962: 509; cf. Nolland 2005: 427.
 Oden and Bray 2010: 179
In an earlier post I noted that there are four major approaches to the Olivet Discourse. (1) It refers entirely or primarily to the events of AD 70. (2) It refers entirely to eschatological events. (3) It refers to events that span from the first century through the present to the eschatological return of Christ. (4) It refers to AD 70 as the type of the Day of the Lord and to the eschatological Day of the Lord itself.
The interpretation of these verses largely determines whether an interpreter will adopt view 3 or view 4 (the two most likely interpretive options).
Matthew 24:4-8; Mark 13:5-8; Luke 21:8-11
These verses were clearly fulfilled typologically in the years between Christ’s ascension and the destruction of the temple in AD 70. Many commentators document these historical fulfillments:
Various messianic pretenders arose, most notably Theudas (Acts 5:36; Josephus, Ant. 20.97–99, 160–72, 188, who describes other false claimants as well). The war of Israel against Rome began in A.D. 66–67 and was preceded by the growing hostility incited by the Zealots. Famine ravaged Judea, as predicted in Acts 11:27–30, datable to ca. A.D. 45–47 by Josephus, Ant. 20.51–53. Earthquakes shook Laodicea in A.D. 60–61 and Pompeii in A.D. 62 (cf. also Acts 16:26).
However, as is common when type is followed by its anti-type, the type only foreshadows the fuller fulfillment of the type. Luz observes that, “we should understand their ‘I am the Christ’ as a way of identifying with Jesus Christ and not as a general messianic claim.” And even if the claim is understood as general, Meyer observes,
We possess no historical record of any false Messiahs having appeared previous to the destruction of Jerusalem (Barcochba did not make his appearance till the time of Hadrian); for Simon Magus (Acts 8:9), Theudas (Acts 5:36), the Egyptian (Acts 21:38), Menander, Dositheus, who have been referred to as cases in point …, did not pretend to be the Messiah.
Thus the first century shadows point toward a fuller, future fulfillment.
Many interpreters understand these verses to describe the entire inter-advent period. Even some who in general see later parts of the discourse as concerning both AD 70 and the future, see these verses as exclusively focused on the entire inter-advent period. These interpreters think that Jesus’s statement “but the end is not yet/immediately” (24:6 || 13:7 || 21:9) indicates that this section cannot present the events of the day of the Lord. Blomberg even proposes that parallels between this section and Revelation 6 confirm this (on the supposition that the eschatological tribulation period cannot begin until the seven seals are broken).
However, it is best to understand these verses as referring typologically to the first century and ultimately to the ultimate day of the Lord. In terms of the type, the end in view is the destruction of the temple. There is a definite first-century referent to “the end” as far as the type is concerned. Regarding the anti-type, the end “must be taken as referring to the end of the dolores Messiae,” that is the end of Messianic pangs (see v. 8), which signify the time of great trouble that precede the Son’s return to earth. Vos observed,
As an infant cannot be born without pains, so too the rebirth of the entire earthly creation, which coincides with the end, will occur under terrible labor pains. The beginning of those pains consists of wars, sicknesses, famines, and earthquakes. In itself all of this would not yet be something special, but Luke 21:11 tells us that this will be accompanied by “terrible things and great signs from heaven,” thus by something absolutely extraordinary, so that it will be easy to distinguish them from ordinary disasters and distresses.
Carson provides some helpful information about the “birth pains”:
“Birth pains” (v. 8) in this context (elsewhere in the NT in Acts 2:24 [“agony”]; 1 Thess. 5:3) stems from such OT passages as Isaiah 13:8; 26:17; Jeremiah 4:31; 6:24; Micah 4:9-10. By this time it was almost a special term for “the birthpangs of the Messiah,” the period of distress preceding the Messianic age.
Though most of the Old Testament passages cited by Carson refer to Israel writhing under historical judgments, Isaiah 13:8 links the image with the eschatological day of the Lord (cf. Isa. 13:6). Significantly, Paul alludes to the birth pains of the Olivet Discourse in his description of the onset of the day of the Lord in 1 Thessalonians 5:3. Thus Paul interprets that these verses as referring ultimately to the final day of the Lord.
This distinction between the initial birth pangs and “the end” reveals that the final day of the Lord is not an instantaneous event coterminous with the return of Christ. Instead, these verses indicate that “the eschatological tribulation extend[s] over time.”
Luz captures the meaning of this section of the discourse well
when, while acknowledging first century applicability, he states, “Thus begin the ‘pangs’—that is, the
tribulations of the last days…. Thus all of that is not yet the end, but it
does deal with the beginnings of the end.”
 Blomberg 1992: 356; cf. Aquinas 2012: 764-65; Alford 1976: 236-37; Edwards 2002: 391-92
 Luz 2005: 191.
 Meyer 1884: 128.
 Carson 1984: 497; Osborne 2010: 874.
 Turner 2008: 565.
 Blomberg 1992: 353-54; cf. Cranfield 1959: 396.
 Cf. Aquinas 2012: 764-65; Nolland 2005: 962-63; Blaising 2010: 41, 45, n. 39.
 Garland 2011: 829.
 Meyer 1884: 129.
 Vos 2016: 285.
 Carson 1984: 498; cf. Blaising 2010: 45-46. Note, however, that Carson understands these verses to refer to the entire inter-advent period.
 Milligan 1908: 65; Morris 1984: 94; Best 1986: 208; Green 2002: 234; Beale 2003: 137; Davies and Allison 2004b: 340, 342; Shogren 2012: 204.
 As in Beale 2003: 144.
 Davies and Allison 2004b: 341.
 Luz 2005: 192.
Yesterday I noted that there are four major approaches to the Olivet Discourse. (1) It refers entirely or primarily to the events of AD 70. (2) It refers entirely to eschatological events. (3) It refers to events that span from the first century through the present to the eschatological return of Christ. (4) It refers to AD 70 as the type of the Day of the Lord and to the eschatological Day of the Lord itself.
In this and subsequent posts I plan to provide a brief exposition of the first part of the Olivet Discourse according to the fourth approach.
When Jesus left the temple for the last time, judgment may have been an implication of this departure. As Yhwh left the temple in Ezekiel 10, so now the Messiah left the temple. Since all three Gospels note that Jesus had pronounced judgment on the Jewish leaders, the judgment aspect of this departure may have been apparent to the disciples. Matthew records that Jesus had proclaimed “your house is left to you desolate” (23:38). The disciples’ praise of the temple buildings may have been a response to this saying. Perhaps they wished Jesus to affirm their view of the temple’s splendor—a visible sign of God’s presence and splendor. At the very least their response shows them to be out of step with Jesus’s viewpoint of the temple.
Jesus responded to their praise of the temple by predicting, “There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (24:2 || 13:2 || 21:6). This statement provoked questions from the disciples. All three Gospels record the disciples asking, “when will these things be?” (24:3 || 13:4 || 21:7). They were clearly asking Jesus when the temple destruction he spoke of would take place.
Matthew pairs this question with another, given in two parts: “and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (24:3). Here the disciples link the destruction of the temple with an eschatological advent of Christ. The same thing occurs in Mark, though with less clarity: “and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” (13:4). This phrase alludes to Daniel 12:6-7, a passage describing “a time of trouble” for Israel “such as never has been since there was a nation till that time” (12:1). In the course of this vision someone says, “How long shall it be till the end of these wonders?” (12:6). The response is that “it would be for a time, times, and half a time, and that when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end all these things would be finished” (12:7) (bold italics indicate parallel wording in the Greek text of Daniel and Mark). When Daniel inquired further, he was told, “the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end” (12:9). According to Luke, as Jesus was leaving the temple, the disciples asked Jesus, “and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” (Luke 21:7). The plural “things” may indicate that more than just the temple is in view, though it may just indicate that Luke is more focused on the temple destruction in his account of the discourse.
When the Gospels are compared Luke’s presentation focuses the reader’s attention on the typological fulfillment in AD 70 whereas Matthew’s presentation focuses on that anti-typical fulfillment in the final day of the Lord.
Clearly the disciples linked the destruction of the temple and the Son of Man’s coming at the end of the age. They expected these things to happen as a single event, and Jesus, who in this discourse states that he did not know the timing of these events (and thus whether or by how much they are separated), treats them together (24:36 || 13:32). It was appropriate for him to link the two events: “the events accompanying those judgments upon the guilty city will be the foreshadowing of the Final Judgment at His second advent.”
Perhaps this is fitting because the temple was microcosm of the cosmos. The judgment on the one symbolized the judgment on the other.
 Oden and Bray 2010: 370; Aquinas 2012: 762; Calvin 1996: 115; France 2002: 495; Strauss 2014: 568; Robertson 2004: 297; Köstenberger, Stewart, and Makara 2017: 35.
 Swete 1898: 295; Bolt 2004: 92.
 Cranfield 1959: 393-94.
 Edwards 2002: 390; Adams 2007: 140.
 Marshall 1978: 762; Bock 1996: 1663.
 Garland 2011: 828; Edwards 2015: 595.
 Bock 2016: 206.
 Geldenhuys 1951: 523.
Interpreters have understood the Olivet Discourse in at least four major ways.
Some limit the referent of Jesus’s teaching exclusively to the Fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 or almost exclusively to the Fall of Jerusalem (with the eschatological coming entering only after Matthew 24:36 || Mark 13:32). The validity of this view hangs on an interpretation of Matthew 24:29-31 || Mark 13:24-27 || Luke 21:15-27 which I find untenable. I hope to explain why in a future post.
At the opposite extreme are interpreters who hold the discourse to be entirely eschatological. Luz identifies this as the oldest view, linking it to the Didache (16:3-7), Irenaeus (AH 5.25.2), Hippolytus, Hilary, and Cyril of Jerusalem. However, given the limited nature of these citations, it is difficult to decide whether these writers held that the discourse was exclusively eschatological. Clear exponents of the completely eschatological view are Schlatter and Zahn.
It is difficult, to exclude the destruction of the temple in AD 70 from the discourse, since it was Jesus’s statement about its destruction that gave rise to the discourse. This approach thus does not best account for all of the data.
A common view takes part of the discourse to be historical (referring to the events of AD 70 and to the entire era from the destruction of Jerusalem to the return of Christ) and part of the discourse to be eschatological. These interpreters differ, however, upon where to draw the line between the historical and eschatological sections. The patristic author of the Incomplete Commentary on Matthew said he knew of an interpreter who divided the sermon at the abomination of desolation. What happened before that verse referred to the events of AD 70, but what occurred after referred to the eschatological coming of Christ. For Calvin, Matthew 24:1-8 and 24:15-22 refer to the events of AD 70, 24:9-14, 23-28 refer to the entire period from the fall of Jerusalem to the end, and 24:29-31 refer to the eschatological tribulation and coming. Lange proposed that the first part of the discourse unfolded in three cycles: from the apostles to the eschaton (Matt. 24:4-14), from “the approaching destruction of Jerusalem” to the final judgment (Matt. 24:15-28), and a final cycle restricted to the end (Matt. 24:29-44). Carson and Blomberg both take Matthew 24:4-28 to refer to the whole inter-advent period with verses 15-21 focusing on the fall of Jerusalem. Verses 29-31 concern the eschatological coming, and verses 32-35 again cover the entire inter-advent period.
This approach is superior to the preceding two, but it suffers from several defects. First the lack of agreement as to what is historical and what is future casts some doubt on this approach. Second, Blaising observes that this approach “renders the discourse somewhat confused.” Jesus is supposed to be addressing questions about the temple’s destruction and his return at the end of the age. But for Carson and Blomberg the discourse “begins instead with general remarks about the church age, abruptly returns to the intended agenda with the abomination of desolation, and then rockets forward to the topic of the parousia.” Third, these interpretations tend to neglect connections to the Old Testament passages which locate the entire discourse with the framework of the eschatological day of the Lord.
A fourth approach takes the discourse to refer to both the events of AD 70 and the the events of the eschatological day of the Lord. The events of AD 70 are a type of the eschatological day of the Lord, so Christ could speak of them together.
This view reaches back to the early church (Luz identifies Augustine, in a letter to Hesychius, as the originator of this view). The patristic author of the Incomplete Commentary on Matthew observed,
the Lord does not say distinctly which signs pertain to the destruction of Jerusalem and which to the end of the world, namely, so that the same signs may seem to pertain both the manifestation of the destruction of Jerusalem and to the manifestation of the end of the world because he did not explain to them in order like a history how the things were to be done, but in a prophetic manner he predicted to them the things that were to be done.
This view has commended itself to other interpreters throughout the ages. It was noted by Thomas Aquinas in his commentary on Matthew. Thomas is not entirely clear whether it is his view because he lists various interpretations without specifying his preference, but it may be his view.
Jonathan Edwards held this view:
In this chapter respect is had especially to two events, one the destruction of Jerusalem and the works of God that accompanied it, the other the end of the world. And some things are most applicable to one, and others to another, as is common in those parts of Scripture that have respect to various events.
It was also the view of nineteenth-century Baptist commentator John Broadus, who observed,
Every attempt to assign a definite point of division between the two topics has proved a failure. Place it after v. 28, saying that up to that point only the former topic is meant, and after that point only the latter, and at once we see that v. 34 must refer to the destruction of Jerusalem. Place it after v. 34 or 36 or 42, and we cannot resist the persuasion that v. 30f. (and v. 36) must refer to the final coming for judgment (comp. 12:41-43; 2 Thess. 1:7-10). But if the destruction of Jerusalem was itself in one sense a coming of the Lord, why may we not suppose that the transition from this to the final coming is gradual?
The English expositor Henry Alford agreed: “it must be borne in mind that the whole is spoken in the pregnant language of prophecy, in which various fulfilments are involved…, the destruction of Jerusalem and the final judgment being both enwrapped in the words.”
The Dutch Reformed theologians Geerhardus Vos, Herman Ridderbos. and Anthony Hoekema also take this view. Vos said, “In the answer of the Savior a sharp division is not made between what belongs to the one and what belongs to the other, and it is very difficult for us to make the division.” Hoekema observed,
As we read the discourse, however, we find that aspects of these two topics are intermingled; matters concerning the destruction of Jerusalem (epitomized by the destruction of the temple) are mingled together with matters which concern the end of the world—so much so that it is sometimes hard to determine whether Jesus is referring to the one or the other or perhaps to both. Obviously the method of teaching used here by Jesus is that of prophetic foreshortening, in which events far removed in time and events in the near future are spoken of as if they were very close together.
Craig Blaising defends this approach by observing that Christ himself did not know the day or the hour of his return (Matt. 24:36). Thus, “Jesus, by his own admission, does not know whether the AD 70 destruction and the parousia will be one and the same or two different events. In Matthew 24:4-35 sets out a “pattern” that links “Daniel’s time of the end” with the Day of the Lord. “The whole pattern is the parousia. However, just as was the case in the Old Testament, it is possible for a type of the eschatological day of the Lord to appear in history in advance of the antitype.” Blaising concludes,
In the case of the Olivet Discourse, the narrative structure which is itself a synthesis of the prophetic patterns—the day of the Lord and Daniel’s time of the end—references both the AD 70 destruction and the future parousia with language that may be wholly applicable to one, wholly applicable to another, or equally applicable to both at the same time.
The major weakness of this view is that interpreters do not always agree in their identification of the near and far fulfillments of specifics within the discourse. The patristic interpreters tended to allegorize the far fulfillments. Even later interpreters, who avoid allegorical interpretation, do not always agree on the particulars. Nonetheless, this view has a good heritage and seems to avoid the problems of the other views while incorporating their strengths.
 Owen 1812: 138-39; Wright 1996: 339-66.
 France 2002: 500-46; France 2007: 890-947.
 Luz 2005: 185.
 Noted in Ridderbos 1962: 489-91; Carson 1984: 492.
 Strauss 2014: 565.
 Oden and Bray 2010: 381.
 Calvin 1996: 118-51. Calvin commented on a harmony of the Gospels, The Matthew references above include the parallels to Mark and Luke.
 Lange 2008: 418.
 Carson 1984: 495; Blomberg 1992: 353-64.
 Blaising 2010: 38.
 Blaising 2010: 39.
 Luz 2005: 187. Aquinas, however, distinguishes Augustine’s view from this one. Aquinas 2012: 763.
 Oden and Bray 2010: 372-73.
 Aquinas 2012: 764-90.
 Edwards 2006: 864.
 Broadus 1886: 480.
 Alford 1976: 1:235.
 Vos 2016: 285. Though in a later writing Vos did distinguish between (a) the signs of the destruction of Jerusalem (vsss. 14-20); (b) the signs of the parousia (vss. 24-27).” Vos 2001: 33.
 Hoekema 1979: 148; cf. Ridderbos 1962: 477-95.
 Blaising 2010: 39.
 Blaising 2010: 40.
 Blaising 2010: 41.
 Oden and Bray 2010: 373.
Wolters, Al. “Zechariah 14: A Dialogue with the History of Interpretation.” Mid-America Journal of Theology 13 (2002): 39-56.
In this article, Al Wolters surveys various historical interpretations of Zechariah 14. He summarizes the view, identifies representatives of the view, elaborates on how the view was held by one of the representatives, and identifies weaknesses in that person’s approach.
“Zechariah 14 (all except the last two verses, which refer to the last days) was fulfilled in the days of the Maccabean Revolt in the early second century B.C.” (42).
Held by: Ephraem the Syrian, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Ishodad of Merv, Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), Dathius (1773), Hermen Venema (1697-1787).
Weaknesses: Grotius “compelled to depart from the literal sense in some places. … Moreover, it is extremely forced to take ‘his feet’ in verse 4 as referring to the feet of anyone but the Lord, who is the subject of the previous sentence” (44)
“Zechariah 14 as referring in general to the period of history which runs from the New Testament to the Second Coming.” Verses 1-2 refer to “the destruction of the city of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70, but in the rest of the chapter Jerusalem is taken as a type or symbol of the New Testament church” (44).
Held by: Didymus the Blind, Luther, Leupold, Lambertus Danaeus, annotators of the Dutch Statenvertaling, etc.
Weaknesses: “It seems arbitrary to espouse a literal interpretation at first, but then to switch to a symbolical one later.” Luther’s interpretation that the Mount of Olives is “representing the disciples” and the valley created by the split in the mounting is “representing the deserted synagogue, seems not only very forced but also mutually exclusive” (45).
Zechariah was fulfilled in “the time from Israel’s return from exile to the New Testament” (46).
Held by: “appears to be unique to Calvin” (46)
Weaknesses: “Not only is there a certain arbitrariness in deciding what is and what is not to be taken as ‘figurative,’ but the category ‘figurative’ seems to allow for very few exegetical controls. If the phrase ‘his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives’ has no other meaning than ‘he will be a powerful defender,’ then language has been large deprived of its semantic specificity, and the interpreter has almost unbridled freedom” (47-48).
Zechariah 14 uses figurative language in “depicting the ends times,” that is the “eschatological future associated with the rise of the Antichrist, the return of Christ, and the last judgment” (48).
Held by: C. F. Keil, A. Köhler, C. H. H. Wright, E. B. Pusey, H. Veldkamp, A. van der Woude, Thomas E. McComiskey, Jan Ridderbos.
Weaknesses: Ridderbos’s exegesis “explains the literal meaning of the text, but the conclusion says something different.… There is apparently a dramatic disparity between what the prophetic words lead one to expect, and the even more glorious reality of their fulfillment…. It is clear that this interpretation too has its palpable weaknesses. It is not fully consistent, since not every part of the prophecy can be said to refer to the last days, and the gap between the prophetic word and the eschatological reality which it purports to describe is quite dramatic. It is of course true that the fulfillment of a prophecy may well be more glorious than the prophetic words initially indicate, but may it also be almost unrecognizably different?” (49-50).
Zechariah 14 refers to the “last days” and the words should be “interpreted literally” (50).
Held by: “some antecedents in early Jewish exegesis,” J. N. Darby, David Baron, Merrill F. Unger, Charles L. Feinberg, Eugene Merrill, James Montgomery Boice (50).
Weakness: “the hermeneutical assumption that Old Testament Jerusalem (and Israel) cannot, indeed must not, prefigure the New Testament church … is the great Achilles’ heel of [Unger’s] interpretation” (52-53).
“Assuming a pre-exilic date, a number of German scholars, including Bertholdt, Hitzig, Ewald, and Bertheau, interpreted Zechariah 14 as the work of a prophet who foresaw the fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C., and predicted that God would intervene on Israel’s behalf after an initial defeat” (53). The prophecy did not come to pass; God did not intervene.
Held by: Bertholdt, Hitzig, Ewald, and Bertheau
Weaknesses: “The weakness of this position, both from a historical and a confessional point of view, are too obvious to require elaboration” (53-54).
“takes Zechariah 14 to be an example of apocalyptic language—a kind of language which in the nature of the case tells us nothing about the future” (54). To raise the question of fulfillment “is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of apocalyptic literature.”
Held by: “Paul D. Hanson (1975), Wilhelm Rudolph (1976), Carol and Eric Meyers (1993), Paul Redditt (1995), David L. Petersen (1995)” (54)
Weaknesses: “Quite apart from the confessional issue of methodologically excluding the possibility of predictive prophecy, Hanson’s approach is speculative in the extreme” (55).
“The prophecy of Zechariah 14 is fulfilled in subsequent history, but not only in certain phases or events of subsequent history. It is fulfilled in every phase of the history of Jerusalem, both the history of Jerusalem as the geographical capital of the Old Testament nation of Israel, and the antitypical prolongation of that holy city in the New Testament church of God in every phase of its history from Pentecost to the eschaton. It finds its fulfillment in the Maccabean struggle in the second century B.C., and in the persecution and deliverance of Christians in the Sudan today, and in the time of the Antichrist and Christ’s return. In a sense the first five interpretations are all right, but they are also all wrong to the extent that they deny the validity of the others…. My own position would be that a literal interpretation is certainly possible, referring to events either in the last days or in world history before the Second Coming. A literal interpretation is possible, but certainly not necessary. We need to reckon with the possibility that apocalyptic language allows for a whole range of kinds of fulfillment. Perhaps the dramatic descriptions of Zechariah 14 are best understood as examples of concrete universals, imaginative constructs which demonstrate their truth in a wide variety of specific historical embodiments” (56).
It is notable that Wolters’s identifies significant weaknesses for each view except view 5. The assumption that Old Testament Jerusalem must not prefigure the New Testament church is not necessary to view 5. Indeed, I doubt that James Montgomery Boice held to that position. The question is whether in this particular passage Jerusalem is meant to prefigure the church. Wolters himself opts for an idealist approach, but the difficulty with this approach is that idealism is a modern approach to dealing with apocalyptic literature. I’ve not yet seen it demonstrated that the ancients understood that the apocalyptic genre was to be interpreted in an idealist manner. Further, when the apocalyptic visions of Daniel are interpreted within that book they are interpreted according to a historicist or futurist paradigm. It seems, then, that the only interpretation to withstand Wolters’s critique is view 5.
Ezra 10 continues the narrative begun in chapter 9. Chapter 9 concluded with Ezra’s prayer of confession. Chapter 10 opens by telling us that Ezra was “weeping and casting himself down before the house of God” while he was praying. This shows the emotional depth of Ezra’s confession. It also may link Ezra back to Moses. The verb translated “casting himself down” occurs in this form four other times in the Old Testament (Gen. 43:18; Deut. 9:18, 25[twice]). The three occurrences in Deuteronomy 9 are part of Deuteronomy’s account of the golden calf incident. Moses “lay prostrate” before Yhwh for forty days and forty nights to intercede for the people. Here Ezra is taking the same position before Yhwh because of the people’s sin (Steinmann 2010: 344).
This parallel also places the people in the position of idolatrous Israel in the exodus. Notably, the golden calf incident put the construction of the tabernacle in doubt. Here the temple is built, but whether it will be a place of true worship where the people will meet with God or any empty symbol as it became in the days before the exile is now an open question.
The people responded to Ezra’s prayer as they ought. Many people—men, women, and children—gathered in the temple, and they wept because of their sin. Sorrow for sin is a key component of repentance.
But sorrow alone is not sufficient for true repentance. True repentance involves confession and turning from sin. This is what begins to happen in verses 2-3. Shecaniah the son of Jehiel speaks for the people. Notably, it possible that his own father may have been party to one of the sinful marriages (10:26). Shecaniah could have been the fruit of this marriage, but one who fully embraced Israel and Israel’s God. Or his father may have left his Jewish mother to marry a foreign wife (cf. Mal. 3:14-16)(Williamson 1985: 150; Shepherd and Wright 2018: 44).
Shecaniah echoes the report of the officials in 9:2 that these mixed marriages constituted unfaithfulness. Again, this is a term that indicates a covenant breach, and it is a term used to describe why Israel went into exile (Brown 2005c: 452). The breach of faith, Shecaniah says, consists in marriage to foreign women.
However, the term translated married is not the normal term for marriage. It could be translated “given dwelling to” (NASB margin), “give[n] a home to” (Williamson 1985: 150), or “have established households (with)” (Steinmann 2010: 345). In addition, the identification of the women as foreign may have evoked Proverbs depiction of the adulterous woman as a foreign woman.
Proverbs 2:16 says that the purpose of wisdom is “to deliver thee from the strange woman, even from the stranger which flattereth with her words” (KJV). Strange and stranger in this verse translate two different words for foreigner, the latter of which is the same word used in Ezra 10:2. Modern translations render the first as “forbidden woman” (ESV, CSB) or “adulterous woman” (NIV) and the second as “adulteress” (ESV, NASB, NRSV) or “wayward woman” (NIV CSB). The translations recognize that Solomon is speaking figuratively here, rather than literally of foreign women (Prov. 2:17 indicates that an Israelite woman is in view since she broke a covenant with God; Steveson 2001: 30; Longman 2006: 124). “[H]e is indicating that the woman is not his son’s wife and so is ‘foreign’ to his son” (Steinmann 2009: 97). She may also be described as a “foreigner” because she “stands outside the community of the wise” (Waltke 2004: 122) or because she “lives like a heathen even though she dwells among the people of God” (Steveson 2001: 30).
Even though the strange woman in Proverbs is not literally a foreigner, she may be alluded to in Ezra 10:2 as a way of highlighting the illegitimacy of the marriages the Israelites had made with foreign women.
The prophet Malachi pronounces judgment on the people because they divorced Jewish wives in order to marry pagan wives (Petterson 2015: 346, 350-51, 354-55). Malachi may be dated to the time of Ezra, which might strengthen the case that these marriages Ezra is dealing with were adulterous (cf. Steinmann 2010: 358-59). However, Malachi could also be dated to during or after Nehemiah’s ministry (Brown 2005c: 454, n. 57).
Shecaniah still offers hope to the people. He proposes a covenant renewal in which the people “put away all these wives and their children.” Brown observes, “Shecaniah’s proposal is essentially one of repentance. The people must turn from their wrongdoing and renew their covenant to be wholly separated to Yahweh” (Brown 2005c: 453).
Shecaniah’s proposal raises the question of whether it was right for Shecaniah to propose, and later for Ezra to order the Jewish men to divorce their foreign wives. The answer to this question should be shaped by the book’s presentation of Ezra: “This Ezra … was a scribe skilled in the law of Moses that Yhwh, the God of Israel, had given” (Ezra 7:6). In addition, this section of Ezra is focused on bringing the returned Israelites into obedience to the Law. With this orientation in place, Shecaniah’s proposal and Ezra’s subsequent actions can be evaluated in ten points. The first five show the gravity of this sin. Points 6-8 show the biblical basis for the actions taken. Points 9 and 10 address potential objections.
1. The sin of the people is reported in 9:1-2 as a violation of the Mosaic law. The peoples of the lands with whom the Israelites intermarried committed the same abominations as the nations the Israelites were forbidden to marry (Ex. 34:11-16; Deut. 7:1; 20:17) (Brown 2005c: 447). The Ammonites, Moabites, and Egyptians are not mentioned in the original lists, but are mentioned in Deuteronomy 23:3-8, and the combination indicates that the list is representative, not exhaustive. Deuteronomy 7:4 warned that if the Israelites turned to idolatry the Lord would destroy them.
(Importantly, the problem is not with the ethnicity of the wives but with their religion. Rahab and Ruth are examples of acceptable marriages to foreign wives [Brown 2005c: 449; Steinmann 2010: 348-49] and also are demonstrations that foreign wives are honored by being placed in the Messianic line.)
2. The concern that “the holy seed has intermingled with the peoples of the lands” (9:2, NASB, margin) alludes to Isaiah 6:13 and the hope that even in exile the holy seed was in the stump that remained. The returned remnant probably saw themselves as the holy seed in that prophecy. If they as the holy seed became corrupt, what remaining hope would there be for the nation?
3. The intermarriage is characterized throughout these chapters as “unfaithfulness” (9:2, 4; 10:2, 6, 10). In the Old Testament, “[t]he term used most frequently in explaining why the Exile took place” is this term (Brown 2005c: 452). In other words, the intermarriage threatens to place the people back under the curses of the Mosaic covenant, including the judgment of exile.
4. Ezra’s prayer of confession alludes to many earlier Scripture passages, especially Deuteronomy 7 and Leviticus 18:26-30. Leviticus 18 indicates that the “men of the land” (cf. the similar “peoples of the lands” in Ezra) were driven out of the land because their abominations defiled the land. The implication is that by marrying the peoples of the lands, the Israelites were allowing the uncleanness to spread. Exile would be the result (cf. Isa 1:19-20; Eze. 36:17-18). Ezra seems to have been concerned that the sin of intermarriage with pagan wives would lead to the destruction of the remnant (Ezra 9:14-15).
5. The description of the wives as “foreign women/wives” (10:2, 10, 11, 14, 17, 18, 44) is an allusion back to 1 Kings 11:1 (Brown 2005c: 449). The book of Kings presents Solomon’s violation of Deuteronomy 7 and its parallels as placing Israel on the path to exile.
6. The action of divorcing the foreign wives is said to be according to the counsel of Yhwh (10:2, NASB, mg.; KD 4:79) or according to the counsel of Ezra, referred to by Shecaniah as “my lord” (Williamson 1985: 143; Smith 2010: 96; Steinmann 2010: 346). (The difference has to do with how the vowel points are understood.) Clearly, however, the divorce was to be done according to the law (10:2). Ezra said the divorces were God’s will (10:11). Given that intermarriage with pagans placed the covenant community was in grave danger of judgment, Ezra and the leaders may have discerned that divorce was the proper way to repent and turn from this sin. The divorce was the means of turning from the sin in repentance (Brown 2005c: 453).
7. The legitimacy of divorce in this situation could have been discerned by linking together several OT passages. Deuteronomy 13:6-11, a passage about freeing the land from those who would lead the people into idolatry, taught that family members, including wives, who tempt their husbands toward idolatry were to be executed. Divorce may have been an alternative to execution, especially at a time in which the Jews were under foreign rule (cf. Matt. 1:19; Brown 2005c: 456-58, though Brown observes that Ezra was authorized to carry out the death penalty [cf. 7:26] and that he opted for divorce as a merciful alternative). The Mosaic law did allow for a husband to divorce his wife if he found “some indecency in her” (Deut. 24:1), and “indecency” could include idolatry (Howard 1993: 296; Kidner 1979: 80; Steveson 2011: 86; cf. Williamson 1985: 151).
8. Nehemiah followed Ezra’s example in this matter. Nehemiah, when faced with the same problem in subsequent years, says, “I purified them from everything foreign” (13:30), which seems to be an indication that Nehemiah followed Ezra’s example of separating the men from their foreign wives (Schultz: 58).
9. Some object that since God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16) and since Jesus said that man should not separate what God has joined (Matt. 19:6), Ezra was wrong for requiring divorce. Apart from debate over the translation of Micah 2:16 (“‘Indeed, [He] hates divorce!’ Yahweh the God of Israel, has said” [Hill 2008: 221, 250; cf. NKJV] vs. “‘The man who hates and divorces his wife,’ says the Lord the God of Israel [NIV 2011; Petterson 2015: 354]; the NASB reading relies on a textual emendation), the divorce in view in Malachi is the divorce of Jewish wives in order to marry pagan foreign wives—something that Malachi says should result in their excommunication (Mic. 2:13) (Petterson 2015: 346, 350-51, 354-55). The possibility that Malachi 2 is about the same situation that Ezra was dealing with at best casts doubt on whether the separation that Ezra effected was separating people that God had joined. These doubts are strengthened by the way Ezra 10:2 uses terminology that raises questions about the legitimacy of these marriages.
10. Ezra’s actions seem at variance with the apostle Paul’s teaching that in the case of a believer married to an unbeliever, divorce should only occur if the unbelieving spouse leaves the marriage (1 Cor. 7:15). However, Paul was addressing people who were under the new covenant, rather than the Mosaic covenant. Since the new covenant community is no longer organized as mixed multitude of regenerate and unregenerate people, and since it no longer functions according to a genealogical principle (that is, people no longer enter the covenant community by birth), the dangers faced by the new covenant community are different. Nor does the new covenant people face the same requirements regarding foreign peoples in the land. Finally, the permission for divorce given in the Mosaic covenant due to hardness of the people’s hearts, is greatly restricted in the new covenant (on any reading of the exception clause).
Shecaniah then encourages Ezra in terms that were reminiscent of God’s words to Joshua: “be strong and do it” (Ezra 10:4; cf. Josh. 1:7; Breneman 1993: 158). Since Yhwh commanded Joshua to “be strong” in order to “do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you,” implied in Shecaniah’s statement is that Ezra’s leadership of the community will be for them to do according to all that the law of Moses commanded. Ezra’s first step was to have “the leading priests and Levites and all Israel take an oath” that they would act according to Shecaniah’s proposal.
Ezra then went into a temple chamber. There in private he fasted and mourned over the exiles’ faithlessness. This private mourning shows the genuineness of Ezra’s distress (Williamson 1985: 151). Steinman observes:
Ezra’s fast was total—he did not eat or drink. Such stringent fasting is rare in the OT and is only mentioned in a few cases. Moses twice fasted this way (Ex 34:28; Deut 9:18). The people of Nineveh fasted this way when repenting (Jonah 3:7). And Esther, Mordecai, and the Jews of Susa fasted this way for three days before Esther approached Xerxes (Esth 4:15–16). That Ezra went to this extreme with his fast underscores the seriousness with which he regarded the Judeans’ sin. (Steinmann 2010: 354)
The passage most in view may be Deuteronomy 9:18. It was alluded to in Ezra 10:1, and it (along with Ex. 34:28) refers to Moses’s intercession after the golden calf incident, which intercession Ezra’s own seems modeled upon.
After his fast, Ezra made use of the authority given to him by the Persian king to summon the Jews to Jerusalem on pain of loosing his property or being banished (see Ezra 7:26; Steinmann 2010: 351). The verb “should be forfeited” (Ezra 10:8) is used repeatedly in Deuteronomy and Joshua for devoting the Canaanites (and, at times, their property) to destruction (cf. Deut. 20:17; Josh. 6:18, 21; 10:40, etc.) (Steveson 2011: 87). If this is an allusion back to the exodus and conquest, it is no longer an allusion to the hope the prophets had of a second exodus. Now the exiles are in the place of the Canaanites.
Within the three specified days, the people assembled before the temple, the house of God. They came in the right spirit, for they “trembled because of this matter” (10:10). Ezra restated their sin, and he called on them to “make confession” (lit. “to give praise”) and to repent of it by separating from the peoples of the land, including from their foreign wives. The verb “to give praise,” in the sense of making confession to God alludes to Joshua 7:19, where Joshua tells Achan to make confession using the same phrase. Shepherd observes:
This further resonance with the exodus/settlement/conquest tradition foregrounds the conviction that the returnees’ sin, like Achan’s, has the potential not only to compromise the divine intention to install his people in the land, but also, as Ezra’s prayer indicates, to undermine the very existence of the community. (Shepherd and Wright 2018: 45)
The people responded well. They agreed with all that Ezra proposed, though they proposed a process for how to proceed since they are standing in the rain and to do what needed to be done would take many days. The proposal was accepted with opposition from only four men.
Commentators are unsure of whether these men wanted a stricter proceeding or a more lenient one (Williamson 1985: 156-57; Steinmann 2010: 360).
Ezra selected men to handle this issue, and over the course of three months 113 men were found to have married foreign women. Given the number of people that Ezra 2 reported as returning, this is not a large percentage of the population (Steinmann 2010: 365). This observation should not be used to minimize the problem. Steinmann comments:
the problem was not the number or percentage of the marriages that were exogamous. Instead the problem was that this sin caused the corporate people to be “unfaithful” to God (Ezra 10:2). They had failed to keep themselves separate from the pagans with their detestable practices, and they “thereby mixed the holy seed with the peoples of the lands” (Ezra 9:1–2). Moreover, “the leaders and officials have taken the lead in this unfaithfulness!” (Ezra 9:2). (Steinmann 2010: 367)
Much of the book of Ezra is hopeful. The exiles returned according to the prophetic word. The temple was rebuilt despite opposition. Ezra taught the people the Law of Yhwh and led them to repentance. But the final verse of the book does not end on this hopeful note. At the end of the list of those who had been unfaithful, we read, “All these had married foreign women, and some of the women had even borne children” (10:44).
Ezra closed his book to reinforce the idea, present throughout, that the return from exile was only partial in his day. The prophets had predicted the new covenant along with the second exodus. But the new covenant had not been established. Instead of living in the land with hearts that had been made new, the people had returned to the same sins they had committed before the exile. They still needed to look forward to the new covenant.
Ezra is about the return from exile. However, as the book repeatedly indicates, the return is in many ways only partial. Many of the prophecies of return looked forward to the establishment of the new covenant in which God’s Spirit transformed God’s people to live according to God’s law.
Ezra 9-10 reveals that these prophesies had not yet come to pass. “Chapter 9 is central to the whole book because of the sharp contrast which it draws between the people of God as it ought to be as it actually is” (McConville 1985: 60).
More than four months after Ezra arrived in Jerusalem, some of the Jewish leaders made Ezra aware that the Israelites had broken the Mosaic law by intermarrying with the peoples of the lands (on the timing, see Steinmann 2010: 325). Since Ezra was sent to teach the law, it may be that the leaders came to him as a result of his teaching (Smith 2010: 89; Shepherd and Wright 2018: 40).
Ezra’s duties involved the whole providence, so it is also possible that he was not in Jerusalem all four months. This absence could have contributed to his lack of awareness of this problem until it was brought to his attention (Steinmann 2010: 325; Smith 2010: 88).
The problem was that “the people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands.” (9:1). The nations that follow are not necessarily the nations that the people of Israel were currently failing to separate from. The point is that they had not separated themselves form the peoples of the land “whose detestable practices are like those of the Canaanites,” etc. (CSB; cf. NIV; Brown 2005c: 447).
By listing the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites” Ezra alluded to the Mosaic law. Exodus 34:11, Deuteronomy 7:1; 20:17 each contain lists with five of these eight names.
Exodus 34:11-16 occurs as part of the covenant renewal that took place after the golden calf incident. In the wake of having reverted to Egyptian idolatry while Moses was on Mount Sinai, God warned the Israelites against becoming ensnared in the idolatry of the “inhabitants of the land” (note the similarity to “peoples of the lands in Ezra). At stake was obedience to the first commandment (Garrett 2014: 659). To protect the first commandment, the Israelites were not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land. This would include a marriage covenant. Indeed, this passage “portrays the intermarriage of Israelites and pagans as illicit, on a level with going to a prostitute” (Garrett 2014: 660).
Deuteronomy 7:1-6 makes explicit what was implicit in Exodus 34:12’s prohibition on making a covenant with the inhabitants of the land. It not only repeats the ban on covenants but it specifies: “You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons” (7:2-3). At the root of forbidding intermarriage with pagans is the concern that the Israelites not follow the gods of these nations. Verse 6 also indicates that the Israelites were not to intermarry with pagans because God chose Israel to be a holy people to the Lord (cf. Ezra 9:2). The rest of Deuteronomy 7 links obedience to the Mosaic covenant with blessing. The implication is that disobedience will, at best, deprive Israel of the blessing.
Deuteronomy 20:16-18 teaches that all the inhabitants of these nations were to be put to death lest they “teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods.” Clearly the concern in the Mosaic law was that intermarriage with pagans would lead the Israelites into false worship. The people of the land were to be driven out or killed; they were not to be married.
These instructions clearly did not apply to people who converted to become followers of Israel’s God. For instance, Rahab was rightly spared execution, married an Israelite, and became part of the line of the Messiah. Moses had married a Cushite (Num. 12:1; though this marriage may have been prior to the giving of these laws, the concern about inter-marriage was present even among Abraham and Isaac; cf. Gen 24:3-4; 28:1-2), and God rejected criticism of this marriage. The book of Ruth presents positively Boaz’s marriage to Ruth, the Moabitess.
The Bible does have ethnic categories, and it sees nations as a significant part of the created order. But it does have a pours view, rather than a strictly genetic view, of how someone from one nation can become included in another. Any foreigner could proselytize and become an Israelite by submitting to the Mosaic covenant and to circumcision.
Thus the problem with these marriages is religious, not ethnic.
Not included in Exodus 34:11, Deuteronomy 7:1; 20:17, but included in the list in Ezra are the Ammonites, Moabites, and Egyptians. Ezra’s inclusion of these three nations might be an allusion to Solomon. 1 Kings 11:1 notes that he “loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharoah,” and lists Moabite and Ammonite at the end of the list. The Amonites and Moabites were also prohibited from entering the assembly (Deut. 23:2-4). The assembly is typically taken to refer to the people of Israel at worship (Block 2012: 534), though Aquinas takes it to refer to citizenship since Exodus 12:48 “excluded the men of no nation from the worship of God” (ST I-II q.105 a.3 resp.; ad. 1).
Notably, those excluded from the assembly were those “born of a forbidden union,” which would have included the intermarriages proscribed in Exodus 34 and Deuteronomy 7. In addition, the Ammonites and Moabites were forbidden from entering because they sought Balaam to curse Israel. Notably, though Balaam found he could only speak blessing on Israel, he did try to bring God’s judgment on Israel by having Moabite women seduce the Israelites.
Ezra 9:2 specifies that this failure to separate from the peoples of the land specifically involved taking “wives from their daughters for themselves and for their sons” (loosely quoting Deut. 7:3; Steinmann 2010: 327). The result is that “the holy seed is mixed itself with the peoples of the lands” (LEB).
God had set Israel apart to be “a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6; 19:2; Deut. 7:6; cf. McConville 1985: 60; Brenneman 1993: 149). To mix with other nations was to violate this calling. Notably Psalm 106 speaks of Israel mixing with the nations in the pre-exilic period (Breneman 1993: 149). The Psalmist writes, “They did not destroy the peoples as Yhwh commanded them” (106:34). These commands were given in the passages where God forbade them to intermarry with the inhabitants of the land (Deut. 7:2; 20:16-17). But instead of destroying the peoples, “they mixed with the nations” (Ps. 106:35), which certainly includes the forbidden intermarriages. God warned that intermarrying would lead to idolatry (Dt. 7:4; 20:18), and Psalm 106 reveals that this is exactly what happened: they “learned to do as they did. They served their idols, which became a snare to them” (106:35-36). As a result, Yhwh was angry with his people and sent them into exile (106: 47; cf. vv. 40-46).
By committing the same sin as their forebears, the Israelites who returned from exile were setting the nation back on the path toward exile.
The dire situation is emphasized by Ezra 9:2’s allusion to Isaiah 6:13 (McConville 1985: 60; Steinmann 2010: 328-29). In the preceding verses God revealed to Isaiah that the people will remain hardened until the land is destroyed and they are sent into exile (Isa. 6:11-12). But there was hope. In the stump that remains is the holy seed. It may well be that the returned remnant saw themselves as the holy seed. And if the holy seed became corrupt, what remaining hope would there be?
There may be something ultimately eschatological in the reference to the holy seed (Rom. 11:16).
The intermarriages and the mixing of the holy seed with the peoples of the lands is characterized by the Jewish leaders as “faithlessness.” This is ominous, because Brown notes that “[t]he term used most frequently in explaining why the Exile took place” is this term (Brown 2005c: 452; cf. Steinmann 2010: 324 for the observation the Israel’s faithfulness tended to “result in corporate guilt and sometimes corporate punishment”). To make matters worse, it was the leading men who had taken the lead in this unfaithfulness.
If much of Ezra has been modeled on the exodus and the people’s entrance into the promised land, chapter 9 plunges the reader into the days of the judges and the wicked kings who led the nation into exile. It is difficult to over-emphasize the dire turn the book has taken.
Ezra responded by tearing his clothes and pulling hair from his head and beard (9:3). Steinmann observes, “Pulling out tufts of his hair and beard was a way of showing deepest grief while still adhering to God’s Word, since the next step—shaving one’s head or beard to grieve a death—was forbidden” (Steinmann 2010: 330, referencing Lev 19:27–28; Deut 14:1; cf. Is 22:12; Jer 16:6; 41:5; 48:37; Ezek 7:18; 27:31; Amos 8:10; Micah 1:16; Job 1:20).
Some interpreters have suggested that Ezra already knew of this problem, that he was making a demonstration to make a point. But the text indicates points to Ezra being shocked at this news. His actions of grief are genuine (Steinmann 2010: 325; Smith 2010: 88). Indeed, the text says that he was “appalled.” The CSB translates this as “devastated.” The word has been defined as “reduced to shuddering” (CHALOT, s.v. שׁמם).
There remained a remnant of those who “trembled at the words of the God of Israel.” These would be people who feared Yhwh. But in this particular case they tremble because they know the faithlessness of their fellow citizens leaves them open to God’s judgment.
Ezra sat appalled with his torn clothes until the evening sacrifice, which was offered at around 3:00 pm (Steinmann 2010: 330). At that time he offered up a prayer of confession to God.
Once again Ezra’s actions should remind readers of Moses, who interceded for the people of Israel when they sinned by creating the golden calf (Fensham 1982: 125; McConville 1985 63; Levering 2007: 103). And yet, Ezra did not actually intercede in this prayer. Rather he confessed the people’s sin and confessed God’s grace to the people (Smith 2010: 90; Steinmann 2010: 334).
Ezra began the prayer by confessing the enormity of the people’s sin and guilt: “higher than our heads,” “mounted up to the heavens.” Though the natural human tendency is to minimize our guilt by comparing ourselves among ourselves, the spiritually-minded man recognizes that we never can recognize the enormity of our sin and guilt the way God sees it.
Notice also that Ezra acknowledged the sin and guilt as is own—even though he has not committed this sin and is appalled by it (Steinmann 2010: 335). Ezra was part of a nation in covenant with God. He stands in the temple praying as a priest, a representative of that nation before God.
Finally, notice that Ezra’s awareness of this sin led to shame. Sin should always lead to shame before God. Pride is the sin of the antichrist that keeps the sinner for God. Shame for sin is one of the first steps in repentance.
In verse 7, Ezra looked into Israel’s past. Israel has “been in great guilt” since “the days of our fathers to this day.” That is, from the time of the exodus when the nation was founded, the people were continually guilty of sin. Even while God was establishing the covenant with them, Israel was turning away from him to worship the golden calf. After God brought Israel into the land, the people turned away from God in the days of the judges. After God gave them a king, they turned to worship false gods. Truly, from the days of their fathers until Ezra’s own day they were in great guilt.
As a result God gave the people over to “sword” (Jer. 9:16; 15:2; 21:7; Eze. 5:12; 7:15; Amos 4:10), “captivity” (Jer. 9:16; 15:2; 20:5; Lam. 1:5; Eze. 12:11), “plundering” (Judges 2:14; 2 Kings 17:20; Jer. 20:5; Lam. 1:4) and “utter shame (Jer. 2:26; Lam. 1:4; Eze. 7:18)” (references gleaned from Goldingay 2003: 705-6; Steinmann 2010: 335-36).
In verses 8-9, however, Ezra turned to consider the grace that God had given to Israel under the Persian rule: “But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by Yhwh our God.” First, God left a remnant. In the midst of prophecies about judgment, the prophets also promised that Yhwh would preserve for himself a remnant that he would return to the land (Isa. 10:20-22; 11:16; Jer. 23:3; 31:7; 42:2; Zech. 8:6, 11-12; Breneman 1993: 152-53). Though some of these passages are eschatological, Ezra would not have known how far off the eschaton was an whether or not the remnant that returned to the land his day would be the beginning of the fulfillment of those eschatological promises or not.
Second, Ezra said that God gave them “a peg in his holy place.” The peg in God’s holy place draws on tabernacle imagery. The peg, or tent stakes, were used in the tabernacle. This imagery is drawn on by two passages from Isaiah (33:20; 54:1-4) which look toward the eschatological restoration of Israel. But Ezra saw at least a preliminary fulfillment in his day (Steinmann 2010: 336-37).
Third, even though the Israelites are still slaves—they were still under the rule of Persia—God showed his steadfast love to Israel by having those kings allow them to rebuild the temple and by protecting them in Jerusalem. Ezra saw here a little resurrection of Israel (perhaps an allusion to Ezekiel 37) (cf. Steinmann 2010: 333).
And yet after all this grace after judgment, Israel has turned again to sin. So Ezra can only ask, “what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken your commandments” (9:10).
Ezra then described what God commanded Israel through God’s “servants the prophets.” In verses 11-12 Ezra had Deuteronomy 7:1-5 primarily in mind. That passage forbids intermarriage with the peoples of the land lest they turn Israel to idolatry and Yhwh in his anger destroy Israel. But Ezra drew on a wealth of Scripture passages as he summarizes God’s commands (see Fensham 1982: 131; Williamson 1985: 137; Breneman 1993: 154; Brown 2005c: 451; Steinmann 2010: 340-41).
When he spoke of “the land that your are entering to take possession of it,” Ezra was clearly alluding to Deuteronomy 7:1 which begins, “When the Yhwh your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it.” But that phrase is also common throughout Deuteronomy (4:5; 11:10, 29; 23:20; 28:21; 28:63; 30:16, 18). In a number of these passages the message is that if Israel is to remain in the land, they must obey God’s law.
When Ezra spoke of the land as “a land impure with the impurity of the peoples of the land,” he was alluding primarily to Leviticus 18:24-30. This passage indicates that the “people of the land” (an important phrase in Ezra) were driven out of the land because of the abominations that defiled/made the land unclean. That these people were driven out of the land relates Leviticus 18:25 to Exodus 23:31-33 and 34:11-16, which command the Israelites not to marry those whom God was going to drive from the land. The implication is that by marrying the people of the land, the Israelites will allow the uncleanness to spread and will be exiled as a result. This is exactly what the prophets revealed happened. God therefore contends with Israel for defiling the good land that he brought his people to (Jer. 2:7). The result of Israel’s defilement of the land, Ezekiel observed, was judgment and exile (Eze. 36:17-19).
When Ezra referred to the “abominations that have filled the land from end to end,” he is still referring to Leviticus 18, which speaks of the abominations of the people of the land (18:26, 27, 29). Sadly both the former and the latter prophets repeatedly refer to Israel also perpetuating these abominations (1 Kings 14:24; 2 Kings 16:3; 21:2, 11; Jer. 7:10; 16:18; 44:22; Eze. 7:20). But Israel was worse than the nations: “Not only did you walk in their ways and do according to their abominations within a very little time you were more corrupt than they in all your ways.” Indeed, Israel too filled the land, “from end to end” with abominations (2 Kings 10:21; 21:16).
It was for this very reason that God commanded the Israelites to “not give your daughters to their sons, neither take their daughters for your sons” (Ezra 9:12, quoting Deut. 7:3).
Ezra then alluded to Deuteronomy 23:6 when he said, “never seek their peace or prosperity.” This is the passage that excludes the Ammonites and Moabites from the assembly of Israel. Of course, if one married into these nations, one would seek their peace and prosperity. That was one of the reasons leaders contracted marriages with people of other nations in ancient times.
Ezra then observed in his prayer that obedience to this command will result in the Israelites “being strong and eating the good of the land.” This is an allusion to Deuteronomy 11:8 and Isaiah 1:19. In Deuteronomy, Moses said, “You shall therefore keep the whole commandment that I command you today, that you may be strong and go in and take possession of the land that you are going over to possess, and that you may live long in the land” (Deut. 11:8-9). In Isaiah 1:19, Yhwh said, “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land.”
When David charged Israel before his death, he commanded them to “observe and seek out all the commandments of Yhwh your God, that you may possess this good land and leave it for an inheritance to your children after you forever” (1 Chron. 28:8).
Ezra 9:11-12 reveals Ezra to be a Bible-saturated man. When he prayed, applicable words and phrases from all over the Old Testament Scriptures, came to his lips, and he was able to pray them in the sight of all the people. These verses, however, also imply that if Israel was going to go down the path of disobedience once again, they would once again face exile from the land.
Ezra’s recitation of what God commanded, contained allusions to Israel’s past disobedience, as recorded in Scripture. With this in mind, he confessed that, even considering all of judgments Israel had received, the punishment was less than was deserved (9:13). Given God’s grace, how can Israel then turn and “break your commandments again and intermarry with the peoples who practice these abominations?” (9:14). He could only ask, “Would you not be angry with us until you consumed us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape?” (9:14).
At this point Ezra could only confess that God is just and that they cannot stand before him in their guilt (9:15). There was no plea for mercy. How could there be? The people had not yet repented. Ezra left them standing before a just God in their guilt. They must repent or face the wrath of God. The grace that God has shown in the past now made their sin worse than ever. But it also implied that there may be hope for the future.