New articles by Schreiner, Barrett, and Caneday

New articles by Schreiner, Barrett, and Caneday

From time to time we like to highlight contributions around the web by Credo Magazine contributors. In the days ahead we will be doing just that. Today we want to draw your attention to:

1. Thomas Schreiner’s review article of Paul and the Gift, by John Barclay

Here is the abstract:

John Barclay has written a stimulating and ground-breaking book on Paul’s theology of gift. He situates the meaning of gift in antiquity, noting that a return for a gift was part and parcel of what it meant to receive a gift in the ancient world. Barclay profiles the different conceptions of what it means to receive a gift in antiquity and explores the notion of a gift further in some Second Temple Jewish writings. He also provides a useful history of interpretation, concentrating on key figures. Finally, he explores Paul’s theology of gift, especially in Galatians and Romans. What marks out Paul’s understanding of the gift, according to Barclay, is its incongruity. Barclay’s work is a significant step forward, showing that there wasn’t a consensus in Second Temple Judaism as to what it meant to receive a gift. Different notions of grace and a gift were current. Nevertheless, some questions are raised in the review. Against Barclay, Paul’s theology of gift provides a platform by which other Second Temple notions of the gift can be criticized. Furthermore, evidence for a polemic against some form of works-righteousness is present in Galatians and Romans.

Read the full review article at Themelios.

2. Thomas Schreiner’s reviews Wesley Hill’s Paul and the Trinity and Stanley Porter’s The Letter to the Romans. 

Here is the start of his review of Paul and the Trinity: 

Wesley Hill’s book on Paul and the Trinity grows out of his PhD work at Durham University under Francis Watson. It is encouraging that a topic like this would be acceptable for doctoral research; the chances of seeing such in NT scholarship twenty or thirty years ago were almost nil. The book is nicely structured with an introductory chapter and then a chapter setting the course for the study. In chapters three and four the relation of Jesus to God is considered through an analysis of Phil 2:6–11 and 1 Cor 8:6 and 15:24–28. Hill then turns in the final chapter to the Spirit’s relation to God and Jesus before offering a conclusion.

3. Matthew Barrett’s “Goin’ Up to the Spirit in the Sky? : The Ascension Is Not What You Think It Is” at Modern Reformation. 

Here is the start:

In 1970, Warner Brothers sold over two million records of the catchy tune, “Spirit in the Sky.” A one-hit wonder, Norman Greenbaum’s song proved to be a classic. Though it was birthed in the hippie generation, you’re still bound to hear it everywhere you go. It was featured in movies such as Apollo 13 and has set the beat to Law & Order episodes and Nike commercials. The song starts with one of the most groovy guitar riffs in music history—even my Baptist brothers and sisters can’t resist making their way to the dance floor. But what many may not realize is that this chic tune has something to say about Jesus and life after death. …

The full text is available at Modern Reformation.

4. Matthew Barrett’s “What is So New About the New Covenant? Exploring the Contours of Paul’s New Covenant Theology in 2 Corinthians 3” at SBJT. 

Here is the start of the article:

Second Corinthians 3 is a hotly debated and difficult text. For example, Thomas Schreiner says 2 Corinthians 3 is “one of the most controverted texts in the Pauline corpus,”1 and is “full of exegetical difficulties and knotty problems.” David Garland believes the passage is “notoriously obscure” and Anthony Hanson says it is the “mount Everest of Pauline texts as far as difficulty is concerned—or should we rather call it the sphinx among texts, since its difficulty lies in its enigmatic quality rather than its complexity?” The result has been a hermeneutical maze of literature almost impossible to navigate.

Nevertheless, the complexity and difficulty in translating and interpreting 2 Corinthians 3 is matched by its biblical-theological depth and insight. As the growing literature demonstrates, this one chapter leaves readers with a host of themes central to developing a Pauline theology (e.g., law, ministry, Spirit, glory, covenant). However, our task is not to enter into the myriad of grammatical and interpretive debates (though we will engage some), nor is it to focus on each of the Pauline themes present (see other articles in this issue). Instead, our purpose is to analyze 2 Corinthians 3 with a particular eye on the theme of “covenant.” More precisely, our aim is to better understand the relationship between the “old covenant” and the “new covenant” through the lens of 2 Corinthians 3.

Read the rest of the article at SBJT.

5. Matthew Barrett’s “The Duty of a Pastor: John Owen on Feeding the Flock by Diligent Preaching of the Word.”

Here is the abstract:

In the twenty-first century the pastor is expected to fulfill an incredible amount of ministry responsibilities. Too often, unfortunately, the proclamation of God’s Word becomes just another duty in an unending list of ministry assignments. In order to counter such a trend, this article looks to the Puritan, John Owen, who reminds pastors that their first priority is to “preach the Word” (2 Tim 4:2). After a brief exploration of Owen’s own pastoral ministry, we will examine a sermon Owen gave at an ordination service in 1682 in order to understand why, exactly, Owen believes everything hinges upon gospel-proclamation. In doing so, we will probe four pillars Owen affirms as indispensable to such a task, as well as identify the specific tools Owen says every pastor must possess and utilize. Whether one is a brand new pastor, a seasoned shepherd, or a professor training others for future ministry, Owen sheds invaluable light upon the most important undertaking in the church, namely, feeding the people of God the Word of God.

Read the full article at Themelios.

6Ardel Caneday’s review of Gospel of Glory, by Richard Bauckhman

Here is the start of the review:

For readers who anticipate the full course meal of his forthcoming commentary on the Gospel of John (NIGTC), with this book Bauckham, senior scholar at Ridley Hall (Cambridge), presents a platter of weighty hors d’oeuvres, each one a meal in itself. The volume consists of an array of eight themes, most having been presented as conference lectures and two having been previously published. Though the chapters are self-contained essays that can be read out of sequence, some are best read in order, which the author occasionally implies with comments that anticipate subsequent chapters, especially noted in the first two chapters.

Read the rest at Themelios.


Four Views on the Historical Adam: Interview with Caneday and Barrett

Four Views on the Historical Adam: Interview with Caneday and Barrett

Over at Books At A Glance, Fred Zaspel has interviewed Ardel Caneday and Matthew Barrett who are the editors of a new Zondervan book called, Four Views on the Historical Adam (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology).

The interview is two parts: Part 1 and Part 2. Here is the beginning of the interview to get you started:

Four-Views-on-the-Historical-AdamIt seems that each generation of Christians must face its own set of defining questions, and the question of the historicity of Adam is certainly one of those questions for our day. It is an enormously important question with far-reaching implications, and so it was inevitable that this book would appear, Four Views on the Historical Adam. Here editors Mathew Barrett (Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University and executive editor of Credo and Ardel B. Caneday (Professor of New Testament and Greek at the University of Northwestern – St. Paul) bring together representatives of four leading approaches to the question. Each professes to be Christian, and each professes faith in God the Creator. But it seems that the commonality ends about there.

We are happy that Drs. Barrett and Caneday could speak to us about their work and, more importantly, about the issue it addresses.

Books At a Glance: Can you give us a brief snapshot of the current theological landscape that illustrates why a book like this necessary?

Barrett & Caneday: Thank you for this opportunity to comment on Four View on the Historical Adam. We’re delighted to be invited to feature this book, which we believe will provide readers instructive access to four competing views and does so for a time such as this when the historic faith of Christians is in need of renewed defense.

As we show within the introduction to Four Views on the Historical Adam, belief in Adam’s historicity, that Adam was the first human formed by the direct and immediate act of the Creator has been the historic Christian belief. To be sure, this belief has been significantly challenged since the rise of modern science, especially scientism. However, even though Christians, especially since the nineteenth century, have not agreed on the nature of the six days of creation as presented in Genesis, they have agreed that Adam was a historical man, the first human from whom all humans have descended. This is true of B. B. Warfield of Princeton Seminary, of James Orr (The Fundamentals), of C. I. Scofield (Reference Bible), of William Jennings Bryan (Scopes Trial), or of Henry Morris and John C. Whitcomb, Jr. (The Genesis Flood). Of these, only Morris and Whitcomb believed that the six days of creation consisted of six actual twenty-four hour days. Nevertheless, all resolutely believed in the historical Adam.

Of course, ever since Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species (1859) many have become attracted to the theory of evolution, even embracing it and mingling it, if this is possible, with the Christian faith and calling it theistic evolution. Some, such as Denis Lamoureux, one of our contributors, prefer to identify their view as evolutionary creation. All who embraced this notion found considerable encouragement in 2006 with the publication of Francis Collins’ The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, which would be better sub-titled A Scientist Endeavors to Make Evolution Acceptable to Evangelical Christians. The next year Collins, who was Director of the Human Genome Project, founded BioLogos, an organization that is devoted to call upon “the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith as we present an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation.” Collins coined the term, “BioLogos,” as a more palatable designation for “theistic evolution.”

It is reasonable to say that BioLogos has emboldened many to emerge from the shadows to declare openly and plainly their acceptance of evolution and to do so with withering and derisive rhetoric toward Evangelicals who persevere in their belief in the historical Adam. Perhaps no one is more emblematic in this regard than Peter Enns who published in 2012 The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins. He equates Evangelicals who believe in the historical Adam with poor, benighted souls who believe that the earth is flat, a dismissive, mean, and false characterization of fellow Christians, in our estimation.

As to the current landscape that illustrates why Four Views on the Historical Adam is necessary, there is no better illustration than what is taking place at Bryan College, named after William Jennings Bryan. The fourth affirmation in Bryan College’s Statement of Faith is belief “that the origin of man was by fiat of God in the act of creation as related in the Book of Genesis; that he was created in the image of God; that he sinned and thereby incurred physical and spiritual death.” Despite the clarity of this affirmation, various faculty members have either come to embrace evolution since they accepted appointments at the college or they surreptitiously joined the faculty. President Stephen D. Livesay and the Board of Trustees have found it necessary to draft a statement to clarify for the faculty that the fourth affirmation means, “We believe that all humanity is descended from Adam and Eve. They are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life forms.” This clarification has caused no small stir among faculty and alumni and various news media. However, if Bryan College is going to maintain its very reason for existence on Bryan Hill, overlooking the city of Dayton, Tennessee, and the Rhea County courthouse where the State of Tennessee v. John Scopes trial took place in 1925, then surely the action the President and Board have taken is proper and necessary, even if difficult and painful. Scripturally sound Christian affirmation is at stake.

Read the rest of this interview: Part 1 and Part 2. Additionally, here are two video interviews with the editors:




Ardel Caneday’s advice to students

Posted by on Jun 5, 2014 in Ardel Caneday, Audio | One Comment
Ardel Caneday’s advice to students

Zondervan recently interviewed Ardel Caneday and asked him what his advice to seminary students might be. Sharing from his past experience, Caneday gives some helpful advice. Caneday (Ph.D., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is Professor of New Testament Studies and Biblical Studies at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota. He has served churches in various pastoral roles, including senior pastor. He has authored numerous journal articles, many essays in books, and has co-authored with Thomas Schreiner the book The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance. Caneday is a regular a contributor to Credo Magazine.

Here is what Caneday had to say:


Four Views on the Historical Adam – Summaries of Each View

Posted by on Apr 1, 2014 in Ardel Caneday, Book Notes, Matthew Barrett | No Comments
Four Views on the Historical Adam – Summaries of Each View

Cover3-198x3001Matthew Barrett and Ardel B. Caneday are the editors of a new Zondervan book called, Four Views on the Historical Adam (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). As a part of the Counterpoints series, Four Views on the Historical Adam clearly outlines four primary views on Adam held by evangelicals, featuring top-notch proponents of each view presenting their positions in their own words and critiquing the positions with which they disagree. You will come away with a better understanding of the key biblical and theological issues at stake and of the implications of Adam for contemporary Christian witness and church life.

Today we would like to draw your attention to the Koinonia blog where Jeremy Bouma has given his own summary of each chapter. Here they are:

  1. Four Views of the Historical Adam: Denis Lamoureux Says “No Historical Adam, Evolutionary Creation”
  2. Four Views on the Historical Adam: John Walton Says “A Historical Adam, Archetypal Creation”
  3. Four Views on the Historical Adam: C. John Collins Says “A Historical Adam, Old-Earth Creation”
  4. Four Views on the Historical Adam: William Barrick Says “A Historical Adam, Young-Earth Creation”
  5. Four Views on the Historical Adam: Pastoral Reflections by Greg Boyd and Philip Ryken

Purchase a copy of Four Views on the Historical Adam today!

Video interviews with the editors:


The Race Set Before Us: Interview with Ardel Caneday

Posted by on Dec 3, 2013 in Ardel Caneday, Perseverance | No Comments
The Race Set Before Us: Interview with Ardel Caneday

The gentlemen at Gentle Reformation podcast recently interviewed Credo Magazine contributor and blogger Ardel Caneday on his 2001 book with Thomas Schreiner, The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance & Assurance.

0830815554Here is the introduction to the interview:

“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” Colossians 1:21-23

We are quite comfortable with the above verse, until, of course, we come to that little word “if.”  It jumps out at us like a bugbear, startling us, even disturbing us.  Why say that, Paul?  Why toss in an “if.”  It sounds like you’re positing a condition to salvation?  Isn’t our salvation secure?

Even more forceful passages could be gathered from the apostolic letters, exhortations warning us of the dire consequences of committing apostasy.  The book of Hebrews certainly comes to mind.

So what are we to do with such statements?  Brush them under the rug?  Explain them away?  Perhaps we should just flip the page quickly?

In today’s interview with Dr. Ardel Caneday, co-author of the insightful book The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance, we’ll explore the biblical relationship between promise and warning, assurance and perseverance.

Listen to this interview with Ardel at Gentle Reformation.


Four Views on the Historical Adam – edited by Matthew Barrett and Ardel Caneday

Posted by on Nov 18, 2013 in Ardel Caneday, Book Notes, Matthew Barrett | No Comments
Four Views on the Historical Adam – edited by Matthew Barrett and Ardel Caneday

Matthew Barrett and Ardel B. Caneday are the editors of a new Zondervan book called, Four Views on the Historical Adam (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). As a part of the Counterpoints series, Four Views on the Historical Adam clearly outlines four primary views on Adam held by evangelicals, featuring top-notch proponents of each view presenting their positions in their own words and critiquing the positions with which they disagree. You will come away with a better understanding of the key biblical and theological issues at stake and of the implications of Adam for contemporary Christian witness and church life.

Cover3-198x3001Here is the table of contents:

Introduction: Adam, to be or not to be? Matthew Barrett and Ardel Caneday

No Historical Adam: Evolutionary Creation View, by Denis O. Lamoureux

A Historical Adam: Archetypal Creation View, by John H. Walton

A Historical Adam: Old-Earth Creation View, by C. John Collins

A Historical Adam: Young-Earth Creation View, by William D. Barrick

Pastoral Reflection 1: Whether or Not There was a Historical Adam, Our Faith is Secure, by Gregory A. Boyd

Pastoral Reflection 2: We Cannot Understand the World or Our Faith Without a Real, Historical Adam, by Philip G. Ryken

Each focuses his essay on answering the following questions:

What is the biblical case for your viewpoint, and how do you reconcile it both with modern science and with passages and potential interpretations that seem to counter it?

In what ways is your view more theologically consistent and coherent than other views?

What are the implications of your view for the spiritual life and public witness of the church and individual believers, and how is your view a healthier alternative for both?

Purchase a copy of Four Views on the Historical Adam today!

Also, each of the contributors will be presenting on their chapters at ETS in Baltimore this week. The series of presentations will take place on Tuesday from 8:30-11:40 am in BCC-337 (you can find more information in the catalog on p. 18).


Reading the Gospels Wisely (Review by Ardel Caneday)

Posted by on Sep 30, 2013 in Ardel Caneday, Book Reviews | 3 Comments
Reading the Gospels Wisely (Review by Ardel Caneday)

Jonathan T. Pennington. Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012.

Review by Ardel Caneday.

The premise of Reading the Gospels Wisely derives from Jesus’ Parable of the Wise Man and Foolish Man, who construct houses, one upon rock and one upon sand. The one who hears and does what the Lord teaches is like the wise man who anchored his edifice upon rock. “Wise people must hear correctly what Jesus teaches, but they must also respond to this grace with faith and faithful living” (xi). If such wisdom is required to apprehend and to act rightly upon Jesus’ teaching, the same is necessary for our reading of the whole of the Gospels. Thus, Pennington structures his book around orderly procedures for constructing a house and living in it. Three parts constitute the book: (1) “Clearing Ground, Digging Deep, and Laying a Good Foundation,” (2) “Building the House through Wise Reading,” and (3) “Living in the Gospels House.”

Without solid foundations, structures fail. So, Pennington devotes nearly two-thirds of the book (chapters 1-8) to part 1. First, he defines “Gospel” as message: “Jesus’ effecting the long-awaited return of God himself as King, in the power of the Spirit bringing his people back from exile and into the true promised land of a new creation, forgiving their sins, and fulfilling all the promises of God and the hopes of his people” (16). “Gospels” as genre, Pennington argues, is akin to Greek biographies (Bioi), accepting Richard Burridge’s view with additions and adjustments to account for the uniqueness of Jesus who is no ordinary human but is God’s agent who brings redemption to his creation. As such, the Gospels are bioi plus—“theological, historical, and aretological (virtue-forming) biographical narratives that retell the story and proclaim the significance of Jesus Christ, who through the power of the Spirit is the Restorer of God’s reign” (35).

The third foundational question Pennington addresses is why the need for four Gospels, or why Saint Paul is not sufficient. This chapter hints that Pennington’s targeted readers have an evangelical background or orientation where the apostle Paul’s letters tend to dominate the pulpit much more than the Gospels. Pennington, Associate Professor of NT Interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville), offers nine compelling reasons why we need the Gospels.

Having Four Gospels brings both “joy and angst” for Christians even as early as the second century. Pennington addresses how early Christians realized the ways that the Gospels recorded episodes that overlapped and differed from each other and how they attempted to compile ways to compare the episodes, even efforts to harmonize the Gospels into one unified and simplified story. Pennington rejects what he calls “maximalist harmonization” because of its flawed view of retelling history, as though the Evangelists give access to the words of Jesus verbatim (ipsissima Verba) rather than an accurate accounting of Jesus’ sayings even if paraphrased (ipsissima Vox). He is “confident that the Gospels, as inspired, canonical documents, accurately reflect Jesus’ teaching, but we need not (and cannot) insist that they always contain the exact words of Jesus. . . . This is to demand too much and goes beyond what is required of historical discourse” (63-64).

Chapter 5 engages the contemporary discussion concerning how history and theology relate with regard to Scripture. Pennington situates his chapter by giving his account of an exchange in which Richard Hays challenges N. T. Wright for yielding “the upper hand to historical grounding and historical reconstruction as the basis for doing theology, even over against a canonical and ecclesial reading” (75). Pennington engages significant views—theology against history; theology through history; and theology and history—and draws the conclusion that historical criticism faces a crisis. The arrogance of the Enlightenment historian who claims objectivity and excludes God from “real” history has been exposed by the fact that “all history writing is itself an act of interpretation” (94). Thus, Pennington regards history and theology as not “distinct, unrelated areas of study” but “history in the Bible is theologically interpreted narrative retelling” (97). He finds the way forward marked out by his mentor at the University of St. Andrews, Richard Bauckham, who, without abandoning the importance of history, looks to eye-witness “testimony” of the events themselves as giving access to “historical reality” in combination with a hermeneutic of trust that displaces historicism’s suspicion.

Chapter 6 discloses Pennington’s penchant for “theological interpretation of Scripture.” He advances the idea that “wisely reading” Scripture entails a multilayered approach which he calls three avenues. These three avenues call for getting at (1) historical matters that lie “behind the text,” (2) how the literary units of the text develop themes and ideas “in the text,” and (3) how the text has been interpreted by the church “in front of the text,” the history of interpretation but also a cluster of ideas that extend beyond an author’s original design for a text. “These ways of reading focus on the placement of a text within the broader canon of Holy Scripture and Christian orthodoxy.” This “in front of the text” reading of the biblical text engages the divine authorial intention which generates what Pennington calls the “bonus meaning” in contrast to the “surface meaning,” terms he borrows from R. T. France (117). Within this category of ways of reading, Pennington places “the rule of faith,” “biblical theology,” “a redemptive-historical approach that views the canon as entailing a grand narrative, or metanarrative, that runs throughout the whole Bible” (114-15), “typology,” or what he prefers to call “figural reading,” and “biblical intertextuality.” To this I will return.

For constructing his reading of the Gospels Pennington’s toolbox includes a hermeneutic that is multidimensional. In chapter 7 he explains that he seeks the meaning of a text by identifying the author’s intention but additionally by taking into account a text’s application and the reader’s posture in the process of approaching the Bible’s text. Pennington draws upon Ricoeur and Gadamer as resources that aid in fusing two horizons—the authoritative biblical text and “the situatedness of all readers”—which is “remarkably similar” to the hermeneutical tradition exemplified by Augustine, who recognized the “bonus meaning in Scriptures’ texts without reducing the text to a wax nose manipulated by interpretive freewheeling (128-29). Pennington reasons, “Texts are inevitably recontextualized into new environments that go beyond the original situation of their creation; this new environment inescapably affects how they are understood (129). He attempts to illustrate this with, “It’s not easy being green,” from his childhood, which evoked images of Kermit the frog, a Muppet. Today, the same expression evokes different meanings, given the ascendancy of environmentalism, which may provoke competing responses, “the greater cost and hassle—but importance—of living in an earth-friendly way.” What “It’s not easy being green” may come to “mean in one hundred years is impossible to say” (130). Does this really illustrate Scripture’s later use of an earlier text of Scripture?

While Pennington embraces the text as “stable” and “authoritative,” he contends that to distinguish between “what a text meant” and “what it means” may be a noble effort to guard against manipulation of meaning, but it ultimately fails because texts yield numerous “meanings or interpretations that are constantly produced by contemporary readers” even by readers with comparable backgrounds, use of methods, and beliefs (132). Thus, Pennington turns to speech-act theory to accent how biblical texts entail three aspects: they communicate information (locution) as they appeal for a response (illocution) with a view to transforming us (perlocution).  Because to inquire about the meaning of a text is to ask for an application, Pennington argues that “the most important and determinative aspect of reading Holy Scripture well is not our method or theory but our posture and our goal” (137). Pennington endorses instructing Christians to read well and wisely, but it may surprise some that he concedes “a reading that results in greater love for God and for neighbor, no matter how poor the exegesis, is in some real sense good” as Augustine reasoned, “in the same sort of way as people who go astray off the road, but still proceed by rough paths to the same place as the road was taking them to” (141).

Chapter 8 summarizes the arguments of the first seven chapters. It is a helpful review, summary of implications, and welcomed reprieve, especially when one realizes that all the heavy lifting done thus far has prepared and constructed only the foundation. The frame and finishing of the edifice of the Gospels wise reading house awaits.

Part 2, disproportionately smaller than Part 1, comprises Chapters 9 and 10 which focus upon framing the house upon the rock foundation. Pennington uses Luke 7:1-10 to demonstrate his method of reading narrative with six procedural steps: (1) isolate the episode; (2) read the episode many times; (3) identify the setting and characters; (4) observe the episode, especially grammatically; (5) isolate the pericope into its different scenes; and (6) analyze the narrative in terms of its plotted conflict—its rising tension, its climax, its resolution, and its consequential action and interpretation. To these six steps, Pennington adds two additional steps in Chapter 10: (7) ponder the interpretive contexts that expand and radiate outward—acts, cycles, literary structures, whole Gospel, whole canon); and (8) summarize the pericope with sensitivity to the narrative flow, to its characterization, and to its many contexts that affect its meaning (meaning as already defined by Pennington).

Part 3 is where Pennington takes up residence in the Gospels house where he now catalogs the series of eight steps as subordinated under step 1—“Reading Actively.” As resident reader in this Gospels house, he engages in conversation concerning his active reading and identifies this as step 2—“Articulate the Revelation and Identification.” Conversation in his house focuses upon two things: (1) giving voiced expression concerning God’s revelation in Christ; and (2) identifying character traits both to be emulated and eschewed. This enables dwellers in the Gospels house to apply, to teach, and to preach the Gospel narrative. To this, Pennington adds one final exercise, step 3, “Use Questions that Frame (fallen condition, redemptive solution, virtue formation) to Form the Message.”

The final chapter makes a case that the Gospels are like a gatehouse that encompasses the archway into the whole canon of Scripture. The Evangelists built this gatehouse and reside there as the “Keepers of the Story,” for their Gospels provide access to the Canonical house. The Gospels, Pennington argues, hold both historical and canonical-theological priority so that they are a “canon within the canon.” Because of their location, situated immediately after the Old Testament and at the beginning of the New Testament, the Gospels hold “a privileged place and controlling position” to provide direction for how one is to read all of Scripture, both OT and NT. Ironically, Pennington’s “canon within a canon” is noticeably weighted in favor of Matthew and Luke, as the book’s index reveals, kind of a “canon within a canon within a canon.” Full disclosure: my work in the Gospels is likewise imbalanced toward Mark and John.

Such an evocative and provocative book invites challenges, some of which other reviewers have addressed. Though deserving fuller attention, space restricts me to comment on an aspect of chapter 6 where Pennington presents his multilayered interpretive approach,  “three avenues.” My reading may reflect misunderstanding, but I am uncomfortable with his three avenues idea—“behind the text,” “in the text,” and “in front of the text.” Of particular concern is the third and those elements that Pennington locates in this category, each of which warrants thoughtful engagement. Of his locating “in front of the text” the following—“biblical theology,” “a redemptive-historical approach that views the canon as entailing a grand narrative, or metanarrative, that runs throughout the whole Bible,” “typology,” or his preferred designation, “figural reading,” and “biblical intertextuality”—I will address primarily “typology,” “figural reading.”

I am puzzled by his locating these “in front of the text,” for as I read the Gospels and all of Scripture, I find all of these elements embedded deeply “in the text” by the Bible’s writers. If Pennington had located “systematic theology” “in front of the text,” I would understand. But, do we not do “biblical theology” because the Bible’s writers themselves do biblical theology? Likewise, I am confused by his locating the redemptive-historical storyline “in front of the text,” for I have always understood it to be “in the text,” integrally woven into the very fabric of the text the Bible writers have bequeathed to us (cf. Luke 24:25-27, 32, 44-47). The same is true for “typology” and “biblical intertextuality,” which entails Scripture’s use of Scripture.

Several times Pennington uses the expression, “figural reading,” yet nowhere does he explain it. He hints at his meaning when he explains that he prefers “figural reading” over “typology”: “I, along with others, prefer the term ‘figural’ because it more readily communicates the atemporal, analogous nature of such connections without tying this nature to a particular historical development (one figure or event being the historical precedent or type of another)” (115). Given Pennington’s predilection for the “theological interpretation of Scripture” movement, one might have expected a robust essay on “figural reading” in the Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, but the entry refers readers to “Allegory; Literal Sense; Typology,” none of which offers a satisfying discussion of “figural reading.” Even so, while I’m willing to have my views corrected, what I find in both the dictionary and in Reading the Gospels Wisely neither offers correction nor does it comport with my understanding of Scripture’s presentation of types or prefigurations. Prefigurations are embedded “in the text” not sitting “in front of the text” to be maneuvered by interpreters.

In other words, we surely may use the adjective-noun expression, “figural revelation,” but to speak of “figural reading” or “figural interpretation” is to dislocate the Bible’s types or prefigurements from “in the text,” as the property of divine revelation, and relocate them “in front of the text,” as the property of human interpretation. The apostle Paul is instructive concerning this, for he states, “Now these things happened typologically [τυπικῶς συνέβαινεν] and were written [ἐγράφη] for our admonition upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” If you prefer, “Now these things happened figurally and were written down. . . .” God embedded the prefigurements in history and saw to it that they were written down in Scripture. Indeed, readers are obliged to interpret the Bible’s prefigurements, but to do so is hardly properly called “figural interpretation” or “figural reading.” Readers do not cast biblical figuration. Rather, God, who reveals himself and his actions in Scripture, casts the Bible’s figurations that reach fulfillment in Christ Jesus. Not even the apostle Paul or the Evangelists, who wrote Scripture, engaged in “figural readings” of the Old Testament. They did, however, recognize divinely authorized prefigurements as finding fulfillment in Christ.[1]

The same things could be stated concerning “biblical intertextuality,” for Scripture’s prefigurements are species of Scripture citing Scripture, which is “biblical intertextuality.” How Pennington locates either types or Scripture’s use of Scripture and other features also “in front of the text” bewilders this reviewer.

Pennington’s Reading the Gospels Wisely warrants careful reading by all, but especially by all who work closely with the Gospels. This book is well-researched, well-written, academically thorough, full of breadth and depth, weighty, and dense. Because of its compactness its accessibility is probably beyond most undergraduates and perhaps many graduate students. It should provide much grist for seminars among post-graduate scholars. The author attempts to accomplish what may have been better served with two or three shorter books. Though written well, with well-turned phrases, rich imageries, and helpful analogies, Reading the Gospels Wisely is not a page-turner. Even though it is a pleasant and sometimes elegant read, at times the text becomes ponderous, even if artful, so that reading feels like slogging. Often I needed to read again whole sections to track the argument being made. Pennington leaves no reader unchallenged, repeatedly inviting one to reflect deeply upon what one has just read. So, as with Tom Schreiner’s endorsement of Pennington’s book, readers need not agree with all that he argues in order to read the Gospels wisely. For surely Pennington is correct that the most crucial aspect involved in reading the Gospels as Scripture is one’s posture and willingness to be transformed by the text.

[1] See my discussion of “typological interpretation” in “The SBJT Forum: Biblical Theology for the Church,” SBJT 12.4 (2008): 96-98

Ardel Caneday (Ph.D., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is Professor of New Testament Studies and Biblical Studies at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota. He has served churches in various pastoral roles, including senior pastor. He has authored numerous journal articles, many essays in books, and has co-authored with Thomas Schreiner the book The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance.


Keep up your Greek

Posted by on Dec 31, 2012 in Ardel Caneday, Book Notes | No Comments

Today I would like to recommend three tools that will assist busy pastors and students when it comes to learning and retaining useful knowledge of New Testament Greek. The value of these books surely exceeds their posted prices. The first was recently published in 2012. But commendation of this first book prompts me to mention two other useful books in the same genre, both of which were published earlier, 2010 and 2004, respectively.


The Handy Guide to New Testament Greek: Grammar, Syntax, and Diagramming (The Handy Guide Series) (Greek Edition). Douglas S. Huffman, my former colleague and longtime friend, now Professor and Associate Dean of Biblical & Theological Studies at Biola University, has compiled an instructive, practical, and accessible handbook for students and pastors who truly desire to put to effective use their acquired knowledge of New Testament Greek. It’s a first and second year Greek grammar compressed into a useful handbook.

Keep Your Greek: Strategies for Busy People. Constantine R. Campbell, Senior Lecturer in Greek and New Testament, Moore Theological College, Sydney, Australia, published in 2010 this instructive and practical guide concerning strategies that will result in more effective retention and use of New Testament Greek. Chapters such as “Read Every Day,” “Burn Your Interlinear,” and “Practice Your Parsing” may meet with initial guilt and blushing, but if embraced and put into practice will bear much fruitfulness in your use of the Greek New Testament.


English Grammar to Ace New Testament Greek. Samuel Lamerson, Assistant Professor of New Testament, Knox Theological Seminary, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, published in 2004 a 110 page tool which he designed especially for students of New Testament Greek who have been out of school for a few years and has let slip knowledge of English grammar and its important categories. As any college and seminary professor realizes, few students who enter into biblical language courses have an adequate grasp upon the categories of grammar that are so crucial for acquiring an effective working knowledge of either Hebrew or Greek. Lamerson’s book provides a compact review of grammar’s categories as it builds a bridge between English and Greek.

Ardel Caneday (Ph.D., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is Professor of New Testament Studies and Biblical Studies at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota. He has served churches in various pastoral roles, including senior pastor. He has authored numerous journal articles, many essays in books, and has co-authored with Thomas Schreiner the book The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance.


On the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, part 9

Posted by on Oct 12, 2012 in Ardel Caneday, Gospels, NT Use of the OT | No Comments

By Ardel Canaday–

[Editor’s Note: The previous parts in this series include: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7, Part 8]

At last, after setting the table with Parts 7 and 8 where I address the theological significance of Mark’s literary sandwich spanning 6:6b-44 wherein he makes use of many allusions to the Old Testament, I now offer comments upon Mark’s noteworthy Old Testament allusions in 6:45-52.


 As I indicated in Part 6, when I promised to address this passage, I told of how while in the very act of teaching my eyes and ears would suddenly open to behold something in the biblical text for the first time. It was many years ago, but I remember it vividly. While teaching on Mark 6:45-52, I was teasing out some of the Old Testament allusions within the passage. One insightful student who was tracking well with me raised his hand to ask, “What about Mark’s statement, “Jesus ‘intended to pass by them,’ is it possible that this is an allusion to the same kind of statements as in passages like Exodus 33 and 1 Kings 19 when the Lord tells Moses and Elijah that he will ‘pass by them’ as he reveals himself to them on Mount Sinai?” To my shame, I had to acknowledge that while it certainly seemed likely, I would have to study the matter, for I had failed to catch the Old Testament allusion. I returned to class the next session to affirm that my student, whose name is Phil, had become my teacher and to thank him for doing so.


 In addition to literary structural features that link the episode narrated in 6:45-52 with what precedes, not to mention with what follows, Mark makes the connection explicit when he explains that after the Twelve had struggled for a long time to make progress by rowing their boat against a strong wind, Jesus came near them by walking upon the sea, announcing his presence to console them,  and then “climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened” (6:52). The disciples’ response of astonishment exhibits their failure to understand Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the multitude in the wilderness, because their hearts were hardened. For they failed to understand that by miraculously feeding the multitude in the wilderness Jesus was revealing himself as the Shepherd-King as he purposefully engaged a re-dramatization of the miraculous feeding of Israel with manna long ago in the wilderness. By this act of re-dramatizing the miraculous feeding of Israel Jesus was disclosing that he is much more than a Shepherd-King like all those who foreshadowed him, including Moses, Joshua, David, and his kingly line. Indeed, Jesus reveals himself as the messianic Shepherd-King who inaugurates the latter day exodus foreshadowed by the exodus of old, but for all who have eyes that lift upward from the shadows to see him who cast the shadows, they will understand what the disciples failed to apprehend. Those with eyes that truly see and ears to hear Old Testament echoes will recognize that Jesus’ actions, born out of compassion, of miraculously feeding the multitude in the wilderness and of treading upon the wind-tossed sea and stilling the wind upon arrival at his disciples’ boat, that these actions reveal that he is Yahweh himself. For the one who tends his flock like a shepherd and who gathers the lambs in his arms and bears them close to his heart while gently leading those who have young is none other than Yahweh (Isaiah 40:10-11). Likewise, for the one whose way, announced long ago by the prophet Isaiah (cf. Mark 1:1-3), entails re-dramatization of passage through the sea by treading upon the waters as he makes a path upon the sea, is no mere Shepherd-King like all others but is none other than Yahweh (cf. Isaiah 51:9-10; 43:15-17). This is what the disciples’ hardened hearts prevented them from understanding even after Jesus displayed right before their eyes Yahweh’s strong arm of salvation both in the wilderness feeding and in his treading upon the sea. This, then, brings us to the focal point of this installment, the various Old Testament allusions embedded within Mark 6:45-52.

 Mark indicates that Jesus purposefully bids his disciples to get into the boat and to depart for the other side of the sea over to Bethsaida, for he has his own agenda to fulfill. First, like Moses, he ascends a mountain to speak with God and then late into the night Jesus approaches toward the vessel holding the Twelve as they labor to make headway against a powerful wind in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus’ purpose on this occasion upon the sea is not to rescue the Twelve from drowning, for though the wind requires that they strain hard at the oars, they seem not to be in any imminent danger. Nevertheless, Mark indicates that Jesus makes his way across the sea on foot toward his disciples because he sees them “straining at the oars, because the wind was against them” (6:48). Because the narrative features the distress of the Twelve as the reason Jesus approaches the boat, the episode evocatively states, “he intended to pass by them” (6:48). Mark subtly indicates that Jesus intends to make his disciples eyewitnesses of his epiphany by making his authority visible to the Twelve as he passes by to assure them of his presence.

 As with his literary sandwich that immediately precedes 6:45-52, again, Mark’s narrative abounds with allusions to the Old Testament, particularly to portions of Isaiah the prophet but also to diverse portions elsewhere. Since Mark explicitly links Jesus’ treading upon the sea with his feeding the multitude in the wilderness it is fitting to take note of the prominent place held by themes emerging from Isaiah such as the wilderness (Isaiah 40:3; 43:19-20), the shepherd feeding the sheep (40:11), divine authority over the seas (43:2, 15-16), admonition “fear not” (35:4; 41:10); “I am” or “I am he” (41:4; 43:10, 13, 25) and deafness and blindness (42:16, 18, 20; 43:8) in Mark 6:53-56. Thus, if, as many have demonstrated that the evangelist is meditating upon the ancient prophet and using his text to expound the good news “as it was written in Isaiah the prophet” (Mark 1:1-2), so it should come as no surprise that Isaiah 40:11 prominently informs Mark’s understanding of Jesus’ miraculous feeding in the wilderness and that another portion of Isaiah, this time Isaiah 43:16, functions as the aperture through which diverse portions of Scripture may be seen as fulfilled when Jesus treads upon the sea as narrated in Mark 6:45-52. The verse is wrapped within a rich context.

“I am the Lord, your Holy One,
    Israel’s Creator, your King.”
This is what the Lord says
he who made a way through the sea,
a path through the mighty waters,

who drew out the chariots and horses,
    the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
    extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
    the people I formed for myself
    that they may proclaim my praise . . .” (Isaiah 43:15-21; cf. 51:10).[i]

True, Mark does not expressly cite this passage, though the prophet’s themes seem to guide the evangelist’s account concerning the Christ, especially as he inaugurates the new exodus theme of Isaiah. Nor does Mark explicitly cite any other Old Testament passage. Yet, as argued in the two previous installments in this series, Mark’s account provides numerous evocative allusions to the Old Testament. As already stated, Mark’s narratives concerning the miraculous feeding and Jesus’ trampling upon the sea are rich with allusions to Scripture. For example, anyone who knows the Old Testament reasonably well will likely hear dual echoes from Job’s reply to Bildad when he speaks of God—“He alone . . . treads on the waves of the sea [περιπατω̂ν ὡς ἐπʼ ἐδάφους ἐπὶ θαλάσσης]. . . . He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted. When he passes me [ἐὰν ὑπερβῇ με], I cannot see him; when he goes by [ἐὰν παρέλθῃ με], I cannot perceive him” (Job 9:8, 10-11). Again, Mark’s account of Jesus walking upon the sea evokes other Old Testament allusions. Subtle though Mark’s phrase surely is, “he intended to pass by them” (ἤθελεν παρελθεῖν αὐτούς) evokes allusion not only to Job 9:11 but also to two prominent theophanies: one to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 33:19-33) and one to Elijah on the same mountain (1 Kings 19:11). Mark’s account concerning Christ, who “intended to pass by” his disciples in the middle of the sea, echoes both of these accounts of epiphanies that occurred with these prominent Old Testament characters, thus allusively foreshadowing the greater epiphany which Mark later recounts in his narrative concerning the Mount of Transfiguration when the epiphanic cloud on the mountain envelopes Moses and Elijah as they speak with Jesus who is transfigured in the presence of Peter, James, and John. So, long ago, after Moses has requested, “Now show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18), the Lord instructs him, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by [ἡνίκα δʼ ἂν παρέλθῃ μου ἡ δόξα], I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by [ἕως ἂν παρέλθω]” (Exodus 33:21-22). Once again, long ago, Elijah took refuge in a cave on Mount Sinai (Horeb), away from Ahab and Jezebel, when the Word of the Lord came to instruct him, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by [ἰδοὺ παρελεύσεται κύριος]” (1 Kings 19:11).

 Such an allusion to theophanies that appeared first to Moses and later to Elijah should hardly be surprising following the earlier evocative references to Moses in the literary sandwich’s outer narrative (Mark 6:6b-13; 30-44 and the evocation of the Ahab-Jezebel-Elijah narrative within the large sandwich inset of 6:14-29. How like Mark to embed this allusive whisper, “he intended to pass by them,” as an echo of the theophany on Mount Horeb that “passed by” fearful Elijah not in the powerful wind nor in the earthquake that followed nor even in the subsequent fire but in the “gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:11-13). Likewise, given the exodus imagery of Isaiah 43:16, how fitting is the allusion to the theophany on Mount Horeb when the Lord’s “glory passes by” Moses who craves reassurance of the Lord’s presence (Exodus 33:12-23).

 Similar to the theophanies that Moses and Elijah experienced long ago, so Jesus presents a theophanic revelation of himself by treading upon the waves of the sea tossed about with a violent wind. This theophany brings to mind an earlier epiphanic revelation when Jesus, who was being rocked while sleeping upon a cushion, was awakened from his slumber to calm the wind and waves with a rebuke aptly cast to demons (cf. Mark 4:39 & 1:25, ἐπιτιμάω, φιμόω). On that occasion Jesus’ divine action terrified Twelve who were already frightened by the wind, for they asked, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (4:41). Now, when Jesus provides a clear answer to his disciples’ question about his identity in the theophanic act of passing by the Twelve in the boat as the strong winds howl and impair their rowing, instead of recognizing him when they see him, again they cry out in terror. Out of the wind and as he treads upon the wind-tossed waves of the sea Jesus speaks words tailor-made for a theophany: “Take heart! I am! Fear not!”

 Because the emphatic “I am” (ἐγώ εἰμι, 6:50) is ambiguous, it is conceivable that it may bear its normal sense, “It is I, Jesus.” Yet, because of his earlier mention of Jesus’ communication with God on the mountain (6:46) and that Jesus discloses himself to the Twelve in keeping with theophanic revelations of the Old Testament, it is likely that Jesus’ “I am” is an echo of the “I am who I am” of Exodus 3:14 refracted through the prophet Isaiah on whom Mark is meditating. For Jesus’ admonitions—“take courage” and “fear not”—which bracket “I am,” are regular elements of divine self-revelation (see Isaiah 41:4-6; 43:1-3, 10-13; 44:2-851:7-11). Suddenly the wind goes calm when Jesus climbs into the boat. Jesus’ actions astonish the Twelve (cf. 5:42). Because they fail to observe in Jesus’ actions as foreshadowed by dramatizations embedded within the Old Testament Scriptures, they do not have the framework or categories for comprehending Jesus’ presence within the boat in the middle of the sea and the wind’s sudden cessation.

 Mark explains that the disciples  “were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened” (6:51-52). This explanation itself, more evocative and enigmatic than explicative, preserves for Mark’s readers in literary form the need to puzzle out the connection between Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the multitude and his trampling upon the wind-tossed waves of the sea. Mark’s linkage requires readers to recognize that Jesus’ miraculous actions function symbolically as much as his parables do. Thus, if the disciples had recognized that Jesus’ miraculous multiplication of the loaves in the wilderness revealed him as the Shepherd-King foreshadowed by Moses, by Joshua, by David and by Israel’s line of kings, they would have acknowledged Jesus as Yahweh-Shepherd when he was about to pass by them while walking upon the sea.

 Consequently, that Mark attributes their failure to “hardness of heart” indicates that at this point in Jesus’ ministry his disciples, though devoted to following him, are not substantially different from opponents who are allied against him, particularly Herodians and Pharisees (3:6), which accounts for Jesus’ urgent warning: “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod,” a rebuke that triggered another expression of misunderstanding (8:14-16) to which Jesus responds with his series of interrogatives: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”  (8:17-21). So, when the Twelve persist in their misunderstanding concerning the loaves, even after a second miraculous multiplication of loaves for a large multitude (8:1-13), once again when they are in a familiar setting, within a boat upon the sea, Jesus’ interrogatives expose the fact that their misunderstanding is not a matter of intellectual memory but of faith (8:14-21). For the disciples correctly recall that from five loaves Jesus fed the vast multitude and that they gathered twelve basketfuls of bread pieces after the first wilderness feeding (8:19) and seven basketfuls after the second miraculous feeding (8:20). Their misunderstanding is failure to believe that Jesus is Yahweh, God’s Son.

 Mark 6:45-52 is instructive for us today because if we would see Jesus correctly and acknowledge him rightly, our faith must transcend that of the Twelve who failed to consider his parabolic miracles and deeds within the proper framework, namely, the Old Testament Scriptures. Indeed, Jesus is God, but if we desire to acknowledge him rightly, we are obliged to recognize him as the one who fulfills Old Testament foreshadows, even as Yahweh himself who alone, has the power to rain down bread from heaven or to multiply five loaves large enough for a young lad to feed a multitude of 5000 and still have twelve basketfuls of leftovers and has authority both to tread upon wind-swept waves of the sea and to order the sea to be suddenly calm. Indeed, Jesus is Yahweh, the “I am” who fulfills the latter day exodus foreshadowed and foretold by the Law and the Prophets, distinctively so by Isaiah.

Ardel Caneday (Ph.D., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is Professor of New Testament Studies and Biblical Studies at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota. He has served churches in various pastoral roles, including senior pastor. He has authored numerous journal articles, many essays in books, and has co-authored with Thomas Schreiner the book The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance (Inter-Varsity, 2001).

1 Allusion to Psalm 77:16-20 is also likely: “The waters saw you, God, the waters saw you and writhed; the very depths were convulsed. The clouds poured down water, the heavens resounded with thunder; your arrows flashed back and forth. Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked. Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.”


On the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, part 8

Posted by on Sep 21, 2012 in Ardel Caneday, Gospels, NT Use of the OT | No Comments

By Ardel Caneday–

[Editor’s Note: The previous parts in this series include: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7]

The last contribution to this series (Part 7) is incomplete apart from this entry because that installment considers Old Testament allusions within only the outer episode of Mark’s literary sandwich in Mark 6:6b-44 which consists of three segments: (1) Jesus sends out the Twelve in pairs; his reputation greatly increases (6:6b-13); (2) King Herod hears of Jesus’ burgeoning fame and is haunted with fear that John, whom he beheaded, has been resurrected (6:14-29); and (3) when the Twelve return from their apostolic mission Jesus takes them to the wilderness for rest (6:30-44).[i] As demonstrated, the episode of Jesus’ sending the Twelve on a mission to multiply with six teams his own proclamation of God’s reign accompanied by healings and his welcoming them upon their return, which wraps around the episode concerning King Herod’s haunted fear concerning his execution of John the Baptist, oozes with numerous OT allusions fulfilled by Jesus as he presents himself as Israel’s true shepherd-king. What remains to be shown is how Mark 6:14-29—the episode concerning King Herod, Herodias, and John the Baptist—relates literarily and theologically to the episode that frames it (6:6b-13; 30-44).

 Mark’s penchant for framing one episode with another signals readers that he intends that the accounts are not to be disconnected from one another but read together because the two episodes, inseparably conjoined, mutually explain each other. Wherever he sandwiches two episodes together, surely his method is literary in that he exploits verbal connections. Yet, his objective is theological.[ii] Therefore, readers are obliged to tease out Mark’s literary hints from each episode that link the sandwiched accounts theologically. Of course, given the evocative nature of Mark’s Gospel, no informed reader expects that the theological interrelationship between Mark’s two intertwined episodes should lie limpidly on the surface to be easily perceived with the eyes, even though the evangelist even goes out of his way to make his literary links heard.

 In response to Morna Hooker’s stymied puzzlement concerning the theological point of the sandwich in 6:6b-44, nowhere does Mark offer his readers a literary sandwich in which the inset episode simply establishes for hearers or readers the sense of the passage of time.[iii] Indeed, sometimes his literary sandwiches may prominently provide the effect of time’s passing as when Mark recounts the episode concerning Jairus’s dying daughter (5:21-24a; 35-43) wrapped around that of the dying “daughter” whose faith in Jesus brought her healing that reversed her hemorrhaging with which she would otherwise die (5:24b-34). Yet, even here the interlude does not merely signal Jesus’ delay that results in the girl’s death before he arrives at Jairus’s home. Jesus’ delayed arrival could have been signaled easily enough as in the case of Lazarus (see John 11:1-6). Instead, while Mark’s literary sandwich provides for time lapse, it also signals many verbal interconnections that inseparably conjoin the two episodes as mutually elucidating theologically.[iv]

Mark’s verbal and literary linkages that tie his sandwiched episodes together should be fairly evident. Yet, while pondering Mark’s literary genius, which has been gravely devalued historically but significantly recovered during the past few decades, readers must remember that the purpose of the evangelist’s sandwiches is not to display his literary genius but to evoke worthy theological connections. The verbal brilliance and literary genius of Mark’s story telling always serve his theological purpose which is to present Jesus Christ who is God’s Son and do so as he meditates upon the beginning of the good news as it is presented in advance particularly in Isaiah the prophet.

 Within the sandwich inset of 6:14-29, among his literary and verbal hints juxtaposed with clues garnered from the outer episode (6:6b-13; 30-44), most noteworthy is the designation Mark gives to Herod. Unlike the parallel accounts where both Matthew (14:1) and Luke (9:7) refer to Herod with his official title, “tetrarch” (of Galilee, Luke 23:6-7), Mark calls him “King Herod” (6:14) followed by no fewer than four more uses of the designation “king” (ὁ βασιλεύς; 6:22, 25, 26, 27) within the episode and one use of “my kingdom” (ἡ βασιλεία μου; 6:23) spoken by King Herod to Herodias’s daughter whose sensual dancing overpowered the king’s lust, just as Herodias schemed in order to have the king execute her revenge against John.[v] Given Mark’s designation, it seems fully reasonable to infer that he designs his literary sandwich principally to contrast two kingdoms or dominions. God’s reign, shadowed and prefigured by the long succession of kings including wicked kings and promised to Israel as revealed in the Shepherd-King who miraculously feeds the multitude in the wilderness, stands in sharp contrast with Herod’s reign. King Herod, a poseur who was neither an Israelite nor of David’s lineage, reigned over Israelites in the same manner as a long succession of wicked kings did. As with their kingdoms, so King Herod distinguished his reign with opulence, moral depravity, extravagant banquets, excessive boasts, raw power, and murder, for like Israel’s kings of old Herod also murdered the Lord’s prophet and subsequently became haunted with paranoia at the burgeoning popularity of another prophet whom he mistakenly thought was the return of John whom he beheaded. Yet, it seems rather evident that the juxtaposition of God’s reign through the Shepherd-King and of King Herod’s reign by way of Mark’s literary sandwich entails much more than a simple contrast between God’s kingdom, characterized by humble simplicity with miraculous provisions, and Herod’s kingdom, marked by extravagant opulence with abuse of power. This is so because allusions to the OT that reverberate throughout the framed episode evoke strong resemblances between this narrative concerning King Herod, Herodias, and John the Baptist and the narratives concerning King Ahab, Jezebel, and Elijah (1 Kings 16:29-19:3 and 21:1-29).[vi]

 Mark’s literary and theological interests which inseparably bind the two episodes together for readers are complex, not simplistic. Certainly his account features Jesus Christ as the Shepherd-King who stands in antipodal contrast to the line of Israel’s kings, especially vile kings climaxing with non-Israelite Herod, even as Jesus, not Joshua nor even David, fulfills Moses’ petition for God to “appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd” (Num. 27:16-17), a petition that becomes a lament because, with occasional exceptions, Israel’s shepherd-kings fed themselves as they devoured the flock (e.g., 1 Kings 22:17; Ezek. 34:5-10; see Part 7).

 So, the inset of Mark 6:14-29 serves many literary and theological functions. It clarifies the true and proper identity of Jesus by distinguishing him from John who was the Christ’s forerunning herald and whose murder by order of King Herod puts John in the stream of martyred prophets before him, foreshadowing Jesus’ impending passion and death.[vii] The preaching mission of the Twelve, which included exorcisms of demons and healings, exponentially increases Jesus’ renown and prompts a variety of misconstrued identifications. Chief among these is the circulating rumor that apparently reaches the King’s palace: “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him” (6:14). While Jesus’ burgeoning popularity generates other rumors also, including that he is Elijah or a prophet like those of old, one morsel of hearsay seems particularly persistent, for the Twelve mention it first when Jesus asks, “Who do people say that I am?” (8:28). This rumor captures King Herod’s imagination and does not relent but torments him with the thought, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised” (6:16). Mark explains, “For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife’” (6:17-18).

 The sandwich inset now resumes where the brief account of John the Baptist’s ministry abruptly ended with the comment—“Now after John was arrested . . .”—at which point Jesus began his public preaching of the good news of God: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (1:14). Until chapter 6 Mark’s Gospel suspends further mention of John whose message Jesus takes as his own as he sustains the call for repentance. There is only one brief mention of John to indicate that his disciples fast, associating them with the Pharisees in distinction from Jesus and his disciples who are not fasting (2:18). Given the point he makes with his three parables—Fasting and the Bridegroom, Unshrunk Cloth on an Old Garment, and New Wine in Old Wineskins—Jesus is not severing ties with either John or his disciples any more than he is severing his continuity with the law covenant, for even his own disciples who follow his lead by not fasting act significantly better than their understanding of Jesus’ identity. Because it seems that it was a time for fasting in keeping with the law covenant, Jesus does not respond to the question with a rebuke. Rather, he presents himself parabolically as the one to whom the law covenant points, as the one in whom the law covenant terminates, for he is the one who supersedes the law covenant, a point he makes clear when he says, “So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (2:28).

Now that the evangelist resumes, by way of the sandwich inset, his account concerning John who “was arrested,” Mark is making the crucial theological point that unites the preaching done by the Twelve with John’s preaching. As John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (1:4) and Jesus preached the gospel that requires repentance (1:14-15), so Jesus sent the Twelve so “they went out and proclaimed that people should repent” (6:12). Thus, Jesus does not break with his forerunning herald but preaches a message in continuity with John’s, even though he does not have his disciples fast while he, the bridegroom is with them, when the law covenant (old cloth, old wineskins) calls for fasting, because the one “mightier” than John has such authority for he brings about the time of fulfillment (1:15). Mark makes the point that John fulfilled his role in preparing for “one who is mightier than” he and that his arrest, which terminated his prophetic ministry and eventuated in his execution carried out by King Herod, signals at least three significant aspects concerning the relationship between John and Jesus.

First, John’s execution unmistakably links him with the Lord’s “servants, the prophets” (2 Kings 17:13; Jer. 26:5; 44:4). While descending the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John, Jesus obliquely confirms John the Baptist as Israel’s most recent prophet who had been subjected to unrestrained tyranny when he said, “But I tell you Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him” (Mark 9:13).  Again, Jesus confirms the same first when he poses his question to the religious rulers in Jerusalem who refuse to answer—“Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me” (11:30)—and then he designs his Parable of the Tenants to provoke them to understand that he spoke of them as beating, abusing, and murdering the vineyard master’s servants sent to harvest the vineyard’s fruit (Mark 12:2-5; cf. the cursing of the fig tree, 11:12-25).

Second, if one has ears to hear evocative allusions to 1 Kings 16:29-19:3 and 21:1-29 in Mark 6:14-29, then John’s identity, hinted at early in the Gospel where Mark describes him—“clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist” (1:6) echo the description of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8)—now becomes even clearer as the latter day Elijah.[viii] In keeping with his provocative literary manner and his allusive uses of the Old Testament, at the outset Mark’s Gospel (1:2-3) melds Malachi’s more oblique promise of the latter day Elijah (Mal. 3:1) as fully integrated with Isaiah’s prophecy (Isa. 40:3) rather than incorporate the explicit, “Behold, I will send Elijah the prophet” (Mal. 4:5). By doing so, Mark’s evocative literary approach educes but shrouds John’s identity as Elijah until he provides additional hints now in the account concerning John’s execution. Yet, even here, as already noted, the allusive use of extended OT narratives concerning Elijah with wicked King Ahab and his vile wife Jezebel calls for unimpaired hearing. For then the narratives concerning Elijah’s abuse at the hands of Ahab and Jezebel and the account of John as the latter day Elijah whose message receives rejection from the king who does the bidding of his unlawful wife rather than of God find recurrence that links Elijah, the remarkable early prophet in Israel, with John, the last of the prophets who is the herald of the Christ. Thus, when Moses and Elijah meet with Jesus in the cloud on the Mount of Transfiguration they respectively signal that the Law and the Prophets reach their culmination in Christ Jesus. Hence, once again, Jesus’ response to the query of his three disciples on the descent from the Mount of Transfiguration evocatively identifies John as the last of the great prophets, as the promised Elijah, who precedes and shares in the sufferings of the coming Son of Man: “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I tell you Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him” (Mark 9:12-13). 

Third, John’s execution by King Herod followed by his disciples’ retrieval of the body for burial (6:29) foreshadows Jesus’ own death by execution at the hands of the Sanhedrin, of King Herod, of Pilate, and of the Roman soldiers led by the centurion followed by burial of his body by Joseph of Arimathea (15:42-47). This role of John’s passion as a foreshadow of Jesus’ own passion finds reinforcement in portions of Mark’s Gospel already mentioned. Jesus purposefully requires the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders to ponder his relationship with John when he poses his question concerning the source of John’s baptism after they inquire, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you authority to do them?” (11:28). Like Herod who grasped power even as he was manipulated by the wiles of Herodias and her daughter’s seductive dance to do their bidding, these religious rulers cling to their positions of power defiant against the Lord’s prophets even as they refuse to declare their rejection of John because the crowds which have no official authority intimidate them. To his query that unmasks the religious rulers’ imitation of weak-willed but power craving King Herod, Jesus adds further provocation as he tells his Parable of the Tenants, constructed on the song of Isaiah 5:1-7, to expose their murderous intentions to preserve their positions of power in Jerusalem by putting him to death in keeping with the nefarious tradition of their forebears who held positions of power as they also murdered the prophets. Again, as noted earlier, while Jesus descends the Mount of Transfiguration, he conjoins John’s suffering and death with his impending passion when he responds to his three disciples whose minds fasten upon time relationships rather than the promised one who brings salvation when they inquire, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” (9:11). To this Jesus responds, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him” (9:12-13).

Now, after taking up two installments to ponder OT allusions throughout the literary sandwich of Mark 6:6b-44, I am prepared to return in the next entry with consideration of OT allusions in Mark 6:45-52 as promised in an earlier posting. By way of anticipation, the reason I took what may seem to be a detour, is that the evangelist inextricably ties the episode of Jesus’ Walking on the Sea with the account concerning the Feeding of the Multitude (6:52). Given this plainly stated continuity, it was rather presumptuous to suppose that I could address the OT allusions of the latter episode without doing so for the former. And once I committed attention to the former, I would have done violence to Mark’s literary and theological sandwich if I had not also addressed the sandwich inset. Hence, my delay.

Ardel Caneday (Ph.D., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is Professor of New Testament Studies and Biblical Studies at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota. He has served churches in various pastoral roles, including senior pastor. He has authored numerous journal articles, many essays in books, and has co-authored with Thomas Schreiner the book The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance (Inter-Varsity, 2001).


1 On Mark 6:14-29 as the middle portion of a Markan literary sandwich, see James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Mark, PNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 183. See also Larry W. Hurtado, Mark, NIBC (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1983, 1989), 94. On the pervasiveness of literary sandwiches throughout Mark’s Gospel see James R. Edwards, “Markan Sandwiches: The Significance of Interpolations in Markan Narratives,” Novum Testamentum 31.3 (1989): 193-216; and Tom Shepherd, Markan Sandwich Stories: Narration, Definition, and Function, AUSDDS 18 (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 1983).

2 See James R. Edwards, “Markan Sandwiches: The Significance of Interpolations in Markan Narratives,” Novum Testamentum 31.3 (1989): 196. Concerning the sandwich in Mark 5:21-43 Edwards observes, The insertion of the woman with the hemorrhage into the Jairus story is thus not an editorial strategem [sic] whose primary purpose is to create suspense or ‘to give time for the situation in the main incident to develop’. The woman’s faith forms the center of the sandwich and is the key to its interpretation. Through her Mark shows how faith in Jesus can transform fear and despair into hope and salvation. It is a powerful lesson for Jairus, as well as for Mark’s readers” (p. 205).

3 Even though she acknowledges that the episode concerning Herod’s reaction to rumors about Jesus along with the story concerning John’s beheading (Mark 6:14-29) is an inset episode sandwiched between Jesus’ sending out of the Twelve (6:6b-13) and their return (6:30), Morna Hooker complains, “There seems no logical connection between the two themes, but the somewhat artificial insertion provides an interlude for the disciples to complete their mission” (The Gospel according to St. Mark, BNTC [London: A. & C. Black; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1991],  158).

4 Besides the expectation that Jesus’ touch would bring healing (Mark 5:23, 28) and other conjoining features, two noteworthy verbal linkages are (1) use of “daughter” to describe the girl (5:23) and to address the woman (5:34) and (2) Mark’s notation of the girl’s age as “twelve years” by way of parenthetical insertion which corresponds to the “twelve years” the woman suffered from her hemorrhage.

5 It is also worthy of note that elsewhere both Matthew and Luke refer to Herod as “king” (2:1, 3; and 1:5 respectively; see also Acts 12:1 and 20). In fact, after designating him “Herod the tetrarch” in 14:1, Matthew refers to him as “king” in 14:9.

Some think that Mark’s designation, “King Herod,” entails irony, even mockery of Herod’s vain craving for the royal title which he thought should be rightly his. See, e.g., Hurtado, Mark, 97; and William L. Lane, The Gospel according to Mark, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 211.

If Mark’s designation does entail mockery or irony, its full sardonic measure does not emerge until the Sanhedrin finally contrives the formal charge of treason against Jesus which Pilate orders to be inscribed on the placard bearing the charge: “The King of the Jews.” Certainly, the crucifixion narrative itself entails profound irony by all who exploited the criminal charge that Pilate had inscribed. First, in their sporting fun Roman soldiers heaped mockery upon Jesus as they hosted a mock coronation and saluted him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (Mark 15:18). Then as Jesus hung upon the cross passersby but especially the chief priests and the scribes inadvertently spoke profound truth as they viciously mocked him, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe” (15:31-32). For, as Mark narrates Jesus’ crucifixion, it becomes evident that the cross entails his enthronement as “King of the Jews” following his impromptu coronation sportingly put on by the soldiers.

So then, the full sardonic measure of Mark’s deliberate designation “King Herod” in 6:14 begins to emerge when juxtaposed with the crucifixion narrative. Who, upon a first hearing or reading of the Gospel would catch Mark’s mocking irony, except those with exceptionally perceptive hearing coupled with a keen memory and with incisive literary and theological instincts? Others, such as myself, require many readings of the Gospel to ferret out the literary and theological subtleties of Mark’s masterpiece. If I am correct to follow the lead of Hurtado and Lane, then, it seems that Mark’s crucifixion account underscores that the Jews in general but the Jewish religious rulers of Jerusalem in particular indulgently endured the Roman appointed Herod, the pretentious King of the Jews, but in sharp contrast impatiently connived how to seize by stealth and to kill Heaven appointed Jesus, the rightful King of the Jews.

6 The OT allusions within this inner episode of Mark’s literary sandwich that concerns John the Baptist, Herod, and Herodias as linked back to Elijah, Ahab, and Jezebel in 1 Kings 16:29-19:3 and 21:1-29 receive helpful exposure by David M. Hoffeditz and Gary E. Yates, “Femme Fatal Redux: Intertextual Connection to the Elijah/Jezebel Narratives in Mark 6:14-29,” Bulletin for Biblical  Research 15.2 (2005): 199-221.

Despite what seems obvious to many, some are not convinced that Mark’s account in 6:14-29 alludes to the narratives in 1 Kings. For example, see Robert A. Guelich, Mark 1-8:26, WBC 34A (Dallas: Word, 1989), 331; Robert Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 313. Others suppose that the principal OT backdrop for Mark’s episode is the story of Esther. See R. Aus, Water into Wine and the Beheading of John the Baptist (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988), 39-74; and A. Bach, “Calling the Shots: Directing Salome’s Dance of Death,” Semeia 74 (1996): 110-113.

Contrast Hurtado’s observations: “The similarities between John the Baptist and Elijah help to explain the way John’s death is narrated in Mark. Herod, who both fears John and resents him, is made to resemble Ahab, the king of Israel, in his attitude toward Elijah; Herodias, who schemes to kill John, resembles Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, who had a special hatred for Elijah (see 1 Kings 16:29-19:3; 21:1-29 . . .). Thus, several characteristics of Mark’s account help the reader see that John is the prophet like Elijah predicted in Malachi 4:5” (Mark, 95).

7 Lane observes, “The Gospel of Mark contains two ‘passion narratives,’ the first of which reports the imprisonment and death of John the Baptist. The detailed narration of the circumstances resulting in the death of John stands in sharp contrast to the brief description of his mission in Ch. 1:4-8. It is probably that the present narrative reflects a special source which circulated among the disciples of John. It is included here by Mark both to clarify the statements in Ch. 6:14, 16 and to point forward to the suffering and death of Jesus” (Mark, 215).

8 The wording of Mark 1:6—“he wore a leather belt around his waist” (ζώνην δερματίνην περὶ τὴν ὀσφὺν αὐτοῦ)—is almost identical to that of 2 Kings 1:8—“he wore a belt of leather around his waist” (ζώνην δερματίνην περιεζωσμένος τὴν ὀσφὺν αὐτοῦ, NIV).