What is the Real Role of Women in “Pre-Fall” Creation and Why Many Evangelicals Get it Wrong

Adam & Eve - Ethiopian DepictionThe debate in evangelical circles regarding the role of women in the church still lingers with much digital characters typed as a result (the ‘much ink spilled’ idiom is losing its relevance nowadays) across the complementarian/egalatarian spectrum. When asking the question of what is or isn’t prescriptive in scripture regarding this issue, the conversation frequently refers back to the ‘original intended roles established in creation.’ Much of the argument that then follows is based on the interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2’s accounts of the creation of Adam and Eve. Gen 1:1-2:3’s version of the creation, particularly of mankind, male and female, are clearly portrayed as equal co-heirs of the creation, given the charge to both be fruitful and multiply and take dominion over the earth as kings and queens over the newly ordered cosmos. Then it was said that the order was “very good” where the previous days of ordering the creation were merely “good.” The use of “כִּי־טֽוֹב”or “that it was good” does not refer merely to “good” in the general sense, but that order has been established and life may go forth and the rule of God be manifest. This co-heirship is very important in the opening section of Gen 1:1-2:3, because it functions as the setting for the ensuing narrative of Genesis with its ten “תוֹלְד֧וֹת” or “generations” (that is, in its final received canonical form within the wider context of the Torah).

1) WHAT DID IT ACTUALLY MEAN FOR WOMAN TO BE CALLED “HELPER” (עֵ֖זֶר) OF MAN?
The first of these addresses the creation of man and woman. This is the narrative that is most misunderstood because the previous context isn’t considered in framing the story due to source critical issues, causing the Hebrew idioms to get lost in translation. One of the most important of these, for example, is what it means for the female to be called “עֵזֶר” or “helper.” In 2:18, YHWH speaks as in Gen 1:1-2:3 (his speech or word is what brings order to the cosmos out of the chaos thereby establishing his rule which brings about life and flourishing) saying, “it is not good (לּ֥וֹ עֵ֖זֶר) that man should be alone…” This is very important as to how the setting of the Genesis narrative (1:1-2:3) has established the use of “עֵ֖זֶר” or “good.” He is saying with man by himself the order of the world and the accomplishment of the dominion commanded of him cannot take place. This denotes a state of remaining chaos, a state of desperation that demands a saving work, a “עֵזֶר” or “helper.” This is when YHWH then states, “I will make a helper fit for him.”

To understand what this term means in its context, we must look at similar uses elsewhere. YHWH himself is referred to as Israel’s “עֵזֶר” or “helper” on many important occassions; it is these occasions we see the normative use of this term so that we can rightly understand the role of the women in Gen 2. In Exod 18:4 one of the two sons of Moses and Zipporah is named Eliezer “for he said, ‘the God of my father was my helper (בְּעֶזְרִ֔י), and delivered me from the sword of Pharoah.'” What is means for YHWH himself to be the “helper” of Israel was to act as the “deliver” and “preserver” in dire circumstance; as Israel was enslaved under the sword of Pharoah, YHWH’s actions as “helper” is what amounted to their “deliverer.” YHWH the God of Israel is also called “helper” to Israel again in Deut 33:7 in the important context of the last blessing of Moses before his death in a similar fashion as before: “… with your (YHWH) hands contend for him, and be a helper (וְעֵ֥זֶר) against his adversaries.” Here the title actually functions as Israel’s “defender” or “protector,” the one who again actually delivers from calamity. In a similar context in Hosea 13:9, after a brief recounting of the deliverance of Israel in the Exodus and the peoples rebellion, YHWH speaks on what it was like to turn from him: “He destroys you, O Israel, you are against me, against your helper (בְעֶזְרֶֽךָ).” In the same context, even the following verse in 13:10, it is likened to the loss of their kingship since it was contingent upon their reliance on YHWH as “helper”: “Where now is your king, to save you in all your cities? Where are all your rulers…” The point here is clear: to reject YHWH the “helper” was to lose the one who “saves” or “preserves” them as well as their kingly function and regal status.

Another important reference to the use of “helper” to describe YHWH himself and his relationship to his people is found in Ps 70:6, “But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! You are my helper (עֶזְרִ֣י) and deliver; O YHWH do not delay!” Here it is clear that to be “helper” means to actual deliver someone from a “poor” and “needy” state, a function or role more adequately described as “deliverer” or “preserver,” acting as one who delivers from chaos or death (see also these important texts Ps 121:1-2; 124:8; 146:5). It is clear that in the rest of the Hebrew Bible (OT) that “עֵזֶר” or “helper” was predominately used as a title given to describe YHWH himself and his relationship to Israel. In no way shape or form did this mean he was subservient to Israel in any way, but rather to function as Israel’s “preserver,” “deliverer,” or “protector.” Not only was Israel completely dependent on him for deliverance, but had no regal or kingly authority in the world without YHWH functioning in the role of “helper.” It is precisely for this reason the author of Genesis uses this term to describe the function of the woman in Gen 2:18. Paired with the “not good” statement (implying pre-ordered chaos and the inability to establish mankind’s dominion in the world) YHWH regally declares that he must have a “helper”: a “deliver” or “sustainer” or “preserver” without whom there could be no regal authority and order-bringing-dominion of mankind over Gods world.

My Paper Accepted for the 2016 SWCRS Entitled, “A Neglected Deuteronomic Scriptural Matrix to the Nature of the Resurrection Body in 1 Cor 15:39-42?”

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I am excited to announce the acceptance of my paper proposal for the 2016 annual meeting of the Southwest Commission of Religious Studies on March 11-13. This paper has slowly developed out of the research for my upcoming article in the 5.2 volume of the Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters entitled “‘So Shall Your Seed Be’: Paul’s Use of Gen 15:5 in Rom 4:18 in Light of Early Jewish Deification Traditions.” I shared the idea for this paper with Matthew Thiessen of Saint Louis University two years ago at the annual meeting of the SBL in Baltimore which resulted in him citing me in his upcoming book Paul and the Gentile Problem being published with Oxford Press and due to come out in March of this year. The need for this study was apparent from the defense of my paper against NT Wright’s push back in the Pauline Epistles section last year where my friend Brant Pitre also came to my defense using the same text (1 Cor 15) and told me afterwards my paper “blew his mind” (that was very cool coming from a scholar of his caliber because his stuff has blown my mind as well).  After conversations with Michael Heiser and Daniel Streett regarding my argument, I feel confident about finally presenting on the topic. The abstract of the paper is as follows:

TITLE

A Neglected Deuteronomic Scriptural Matrix to the Nature of the Resurrection Body in 1 Cor 15:39-42?

ABSTRACT

In the Pauline discussion regarding the nature of the resurrection body in 1 Cor 15:35-49, he employs the metaphor of the sowing of the natural (or earthly) body and the raising of the spiritual (or heavenly) body. Both kinds of bodies differ in glory and are fit for different habitats. In order to demonstrate this, in 1 Cor 15:39-42 Paul enumerates a list of the creatures who inhabit the earth followed by those who inhabit the heavens, the resurrection body being likened to the later. Scholars have generally understood the background of this list to be found in the creatures from Genesis 1, even though they do not follow the same order (as recognized by Fitzmyer, Ciampa, Rosner, etc.). Other scholars have put forth reasons for this discrepancy by suggesting that the list evokes the cosmology of popular Greek philosophy (i.e. Martin). This paper seeks to propose an alternate answer to this problem. The list of earthly and heavenly creatures here in 1 Cor 15:39-42 follows the same order of creatures as enumerated in the aniconic discourse of Deut 4:15-19. If this is in fact the text Paul is alluding to, he is more than likely participating in an exegetical tradition in the Second Temple period which reads Deut 4:15-19 as part of a wider Deuteronomic scriptural matrix employed to describe the nature of the cosmos as constructed and administered by God, appointing the celestial bodies as the gods or angels in his cosmic polis as attested in Philo, Spec. Laws 1.13-19. Reading the present text within this scriptural matrix not only supplies a strong argument for this particular enumeration of creatures, but also provides a more robust reading of the passage in its wider context, connecting the language of the abolishing of the principalities and powers in 1 Cor 15:24 with the earlier discussion in 1 Cor 6:2-3 regarding the judgment of the cosmos and the angels.

Well, hope to see you there, and look forward to some critical engagement and dialogue. This will build off of a similar construct in my previous work and hopefully be a welcome contribution to the conversation of deification in Paul as well as conversations regarding Paul’s Judaism.

Reenacting the Council of Nicaea

THE_FIRST_COUNCIL_OF_NICEAI recently had the opportunity to participate in an undergraduate Reacting Game on the Council of Nicaea at Duke University. This game was designed by David Henderson and Frank Kirkpatrick at Trinity College. The basic premise is that each student is given a character that was either present at the council or, because class sizes can be large, given a fictional character. The students are given personalized instruction regarding their character, including a biography, a theological agenda, and tips on how their character can best achieve victory points and win the game. As far as the game is concerned, students gain victory points by reaching certain objectives or can win outright if they meet a particular objective. As far as the course is concerned, students are graded based on their participation, on their written speeches that they turned in during the course of the game, and on their final paper they turn in at the end of class. Following almost half a semester of lectures, which gives a history of the Christian movement up to the beginning of the council, the game begins and lasts for three weeks.

Having never experienced such a pedagogical apparatus, I was uncertain about what to expect. In the end, I had a blast and learned more about the council than I did during the first time I learned about this period (lecture style).

What I appreciate most about this teaching style is that it incisively portrays the political atmosphere of the historical council. In other words, with this pedagogy, the professor is not able to teach about the Council of Nicaea as if the results of the council reflected merely the pure and holy interpretations of Scripture. Indeed, reenacting the Nicaean Council problematized this conclusion on so many levels.

Because the class was so large, there were two councils playing at the same time. In the northern council, the Arian faction succeeded in writing a very Arian creed, while Athanasius was eventually excommunicated from the council. In the southern council, a more “orthodox” leaning creed won the day, while Arius bemoaned how unfair the entire council was. (Neither Arius nor Athanasius had voting power at the beginning of the council. They had to be ordained as bishops before they could vote and the southern Arius failed to do this, while the northern Arius was ordained by the second class session.) The southern Arius’ cries of foul play were justified, as he was completely marginalized by Ossius (Constantine’s favored bishop, who was of the “orthodox” persuasion), who limited Arius’ speaking time and readily dismissed his arguments (many of which were quite cogent).

In the southern council, the Gospel of John was rejected for the Gospel of Mary, a canon stating that women could hold ecclesial offices was ratified, and the date of Easter was synced with the Jewish Passover.

The political landscape of this council was an evolving matrix of power and monetary grabs, bribes, threats, aspersions, and falsehoods. On numerous occasions, the piety of bishops was unveiled to reveal sanctimonious actions and mischievous intents. Although ulterior motives were discovered, there were occasions when the bishop’s duplicity was victorious in pushing his agenda into the creed or solidifying it as a canon.

The politicking was not isolated to class time, as members of the councils engaged in secret emails, scurrilous tweets, and surreptitious meetings. The northern council was particularly active outside of class, as Constantine, Athanasius, and others bought lunch for certain bishops in order to persuade them to vote a certain way. Tweets and emails were often forged in hopes of maligning other characters.

From a pedagogical standpoint, such a learning environment forced the students to learn the agendas of all the other characters; after all, they needed to make allies, know who they might need to persuade and how to persuade them, and know how to argue against their opponents. In addition, the students had to recognize that while one person might oppose them on one issue, he might be their biggest ally on another; enemies quickly became friends and friends, enemies. This ever-changing environment demanded that students learn the material inside and out.

Each class period was full of students giving speeches to promote their agendas, counter speeches, and many impromptu dialogues where characters were digging dip into their knowledge of scripture and appealing to the desires of friends (and sometimes foes) to win the debate and get their objectives put into the creed or ratified as a canon. There were many occasions where these undergraduates impressed me with how well they knew the appropriate information and could negotiate the situations on the fly.

From my perspective (a graduate student who participated but also observed for pedagogical worth), I would say this game was a success. The students displayed an active knowledge of the material and synthesized and applied that knowledge throughout the game. The students also had to turn in their speeches to the professor, as well as write a paper, so the professor will have a better idea about how well they did. But if there is anything these students take away from this class, they will certainly walk away with the realization that the Council of Nicaea was dictated more by politics, influence, and power than by the hand of God. Personally, rather than the calm and heavenly image of the Council posted above, it seems that a more likely image would be a bit more contentious.

Parliament Fight

 

A Few Important Things to Consider before Doing a ThM at Duke

Duke ChapelOver the past three years I have been at Duke, where I completed my ThM, overcame the GRE, and applied to PhD programs at American universities. During my time here, I have watched my fellow ThMer’s go on to begin doctoral work (both in the states and overseas––the latter typically the result of not being accepted in the states and thus looking overseas to simply begin their doctoral work) or abandon their original goal of pursuing a PhD. Although there are many reasons why some have chosen to seek alternative vocations, one reason that plays significantly into this decision is the gradual disillusion that Duke’s ThM is not what one anticipates. As I meet more and more incoming ThM students, I find that we all share similar frustrations, especially when these new students are midway through their first semester. It is these common frustrations that I would like to share in this post.

Let me begin by stating what Duke’s ThM program entails and by giving a few positive remarks about it. Duke’s ThM program is advertised (I’ll come back to this) as a one-year degree, which requires the completion of eight course, one of which is the thesis or exam (you get to choose, although the thesis is recommended). For those looking to begin PhD as soon as possible (which is everyone), this short, one-year degree is quite appealing. Another appealing feature is that there are no required courses for the ThM. That means that you are free to take whatever classes you want at Duke or UNC, given that they are related to your overall degree (thus, a course on 19th century Impressionism would not be approved). Anyone who has gone through an MDiv program (or ThM at DTS) will find this to be a tantalizing draw. A third attractive feature is that you do not have to (re)take the GRE, since a prerequisite for the program is that you already have a master’s degree (and presumably would have taken the GRE for that program, although this is not necessarily the case).

Unfortunately, the advertised one-year degree, the open-course selection, and the fact that the GRE is not required comes with some significant baggage and frustrations. First, Duke’s ThM program is the cash cow of the divinity school. That means that there is no funding available (zero!) for ThM students. This is a big deal considering that it costs $20k a year to attend.

And this brings us to one of the bigger frustrations of Duke’s ThM program: although it is advertised as a one-year degree, to finish all eight course in one year is quite difficult. Of the twelve ThM students of my class, only four finished within the year; NB, none of these classmates went on for PhD work! Those who finished within the year were focused on doing ministerial work and needed to get back to or begin their ministerial jobs (this is what the ThM is for, anyway). There is a big difference between these ThM students and those who are pursuing PhD work: the latter need to take as many doctoral seminars as possible to bolster their transcript, which means that taking four classes per semester, and writing your thesis in one of those semesters, is extremely difficult because the work load for a doctoral seminar is significantly greater than the work load for even upper-level master’s courses.

In addition to the difficulty of trying to finish all eight courses in one year, there is also the issue of entering this one-year degree with the aspiration of beginning a PhD program the very next fall. It is absolutely foolish to think that in half a semester a new student can demonstrate his or her worth to a professor, who would then turn around and write a meaningful recommendation letter for PhD applications. I would say that it takes at least two courses before a professor will really get to know a student’s PhD value (there are certainly those students who would prove me wrong, but to them I wonder why they are doing this degree in the first place and why they didn’t just apply directly to PhD programs). For me, my first semester was all about trying to impress professors, whose recommendations I needed later that semester. I failed miserably. My initial semester was filled with embarrassment, depression, and an overall sense incompetence. I did not rebound from this initial defeat until partway through my second semester, at which point I stopped trying to impress (which allowed me to start enjoying what I was learning rather than fretting over it), finally realized what it means to prepare for each class of a PhD-level course, and began to attend more reading groups and colloquiums, which allowed me to get to know professors and students outside of class. My point is this: for many who come into the ThM program, the first semester is a time for learning what it takes to be a PhD quality student. This takes time! The first semester, then, is not the time to ask for recommendation letters, which means that beginning a PhD program immediately after you finish your one-year ThM degree is not a realistic goal.

Overall, then, the advertisement of the ThM as a one-year degree is misleading for two reasons: for many, it takes more than one year to finish all eight courses and it fosters the unreasonable expectation of entering a PhD program immediately after finishing the ThM in one year. If you choose to enter Duke’s ThM program, enter with the mindset that it will take you one and a half to two years to finish. It is quite reasonable to think that you can begin a PhD program immediately after that second year.

If it takes you more than one year to finish, however, it will also cost you more than $20k. (Because pricing varies on the amount of courses you take per semester, you will need to contact the school to figure out how much a part-time load will cost.) Keep this in mind!

There is also the option of doing the MTS in the Divinity School (although I’m not certain that you can enter the MTS program if you already have a masters degree) or the MA in the Religion program. Both of these degrees have available founding and both are two years. The drawback for both of these programs is that the GRE is required. Also, there are mandatory course: for the MTS, there are eight required courses (basic courses like, Old and New Testament surveys, Church History, Christian Theology, etc.); for the MA, there is only one required course, “Theorizing Religion.”

In the end, each of these three degrees at Duke will prepare you for PhD work. There is an excellent faculty at both Duke and UNC that will work with you to help you achieve your academic goals. Yet, it is crucial that before you begin your journey at Duke that you are fully aware of precisely what it will take to reach these goals. The ThM program has been both a blessing and a curse for me––a $20k curse to be exact. I wish that I would have known these points of frustration prior to entering the program; not that it would have necessarily prompted me to look elsewhere for an equivalent degree, but that my family and I could have better prepared ourselves for what awaited us. (After spending six years completing my first ThM, it was truly a disheartening realization that I would not finish in one year, and this discouragement is shared by many other ThM students.) I share this information so that if you choose to enter Duke’s ThM program you will be better aware of what awaits you.

First Wright now Hays, HBU Continues to Impress

To all those interested in New Testament, Houston Baptist University continues to deliver conferences and lectures of interest for scholars and students alike. I had the privilege of attending and presenting a paper last week at HBU’s “Paul and Judaism” Conference. I appreciate all the support and the helpful feedback I’ve received regarding my paper “So Shall Your Seed Be: Paul’s Use of Genesis 15:5 in Romans 4:18 in Light of Early Jewish Deification Traditions” and I will be seeking to publish a revised version in the near future.

The keynote speakers at the conference included N.T. Wright, Beverly Gaventa, and Ross Wagner (you can watch Dr. Wright’s plenary sessions here).  Particularly engaging was Wagner and Wright’s conversation on the meaning of “all Israel” in Romans 11:26. It was a pleasure getting to know many of the presenters like Brian LePort and Jason Myers, as well as spend some time with some old friends like Ben Blackwell. Of the presentations I heard at the conference, I particularly enjoyed Daniel Streett‘s paper entitled “Cursed by God? Galatians 3:13 in Early Jewish Context,” arguing that Paul was not saying that Jesus was “accursed” by God, but was reckoned “a curse,” referring to a loss of social status as opposed to becoming the object of divine wrath. It was a very convincing argument as many of the scholars attending agreed (and I’m not just saying that because he’s my professor and friend). Overall, the conference was certainly a success and I look forward to their attending their next theology conference in 2015.

richard-b-haysHBU has turned right around and done it again by inviting Richard Hays as guest lecturer in the upcoming A.O. Collins Lectures on April 3-4. The two lectures are titled: “The Manger in Which Christ Lies’: Figural Readings of Israel’s Scripture” on Thursday evening and “The One Who Redeems Israel: Reading Scripture with Luke” on Friday evening. I’m excited to attend and particularly interested in the lecture on Luke. Richard Hays is an exceptional scholar on all things pertaining to the New Testament use of the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible). If you haven’t heard him lecture before and you are close enough to travel to Houston, you need to make the trip. Thanks to HBU for consistently bringing quality conferences and lecture series to Texas. You continue to impress.

Daniel Streett on “Did Enoch Die? (LXX, Philo, Hebrews)”

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Over at Daniel Streett’s blog, καὶ τὰ λοιπά, he has an interesting post on the possible “death” of Enoch. It is worth checking out. It definitely has the characteristic Daniel Streett cheekiness as seen in the photo choices (the pic here is from his post, I seriously laughed out loud when I saw this). He references many of the variegated traditions in early Judaism regarding Enoch’s end and if you are unaware of them they are pretty fascinating. I particularly think these traditions are very important if you are interested in ascension traditions in early Judaism and early Christianity.  If you don’t already subscribe to his blog, I suggest you do. Make sure and check it out here.

My Paper Presentation for HBU’s “Paul and Judaism” Conference

imagesI was delighted to hear that my paper proposal was accepted for HBU’s Conference on “Paul and Judaism” on March 19-20. The delight of course has been accompanied by a great deal of fear and trepidation seeing as how this will be my first paper presentation at an academic conference, especially amidst scholars of this calibre. The keynote speakers include NT Wright, Beverly Gaventa, and Ross Wagner. I am also honored to present alongside one of my academic mentors and friend Daniel Streett whose paper proposal was also accepted (if you are curious about his paper, see the abstract here). I am thankful for the encouragement and well-wishing I have received as of late from many of you and I’m sorry I have not had the time to entertain some of the questions regarding what my paper is about. As a result, I thought I would post a brief description here on the blog.

The title of my paper is So Shall Your Seed Be: Paul’s Use of Genesis 15:5 in Romans 4:18 in Light of Early Jewish Deification Traditions.” The following is the abstract I sent in: 

In Romans 4:18 Paul cites verbatim the “promise” to Abraham in the LXX of Genesis 15:5 “so shall your seed be” in relation to what it means to “become the father of many nations (Genesis 17:5).” It is widely recognized that Paul reads the promise to Abraham of becoming “the father of many nations” synonymously with Genesis 15:5 as his seed becoming as the stars of heaven. Modern scholars have traditionally understood the relationship between these two texts quantitatively, both promising a vast multitude of descendants. Conversely, early Jewish interpreters of Genesis 15:5 such as Philo, Ben Sira, and the author(s) of the Apocalypse of Abraham understood the promise qualitatively, to be transformed into the likeness of the stars of heaven. This paper will argue that this early Jewish interpretation could provide a better explanation of the relationship Paul sees between these two texts. This would place Paul in context of already well-established deification traditions in early Judaism that see the destiny of the seed of Abraham as replacing the stars as the gods (or angels) of the nations. This will be demonstrated first by considering the promise of becoming as the stars as it is repeated to Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22:17 and 26:4 in the broader framework of the Hebrew Bible in its cosmological context. Secondly, it will be demonstrated that this particular interpretation of the promise as seen in early Jewish literature contemporary with Paul should be understood in terms of early Jewish deification traditions. Thirdly, it will be demonstrated that this interpretation applied to Paul’s use of Genesis 15:5 makes clear the relationship between a nexus of complexly related concepts in Romans 4 such as what it means that the “promise” to Abraham was to “inherit the kosmos,” “become the father of many nations,” and his seed to be as the stars of heaven. 
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I look forward to seeing old friends and new ones in Houston next month. If you are interested in this topic and want to hear more, unfortunately you will have to wait until Thursday March 20 sometime between 2:00-4:30pm. To register for the conference, you can pay online here. It is only $40 for both days which is a steal considering the nature of the conference. A big thanks to Ben Blackwell and the HBU crew for putting this together. Hope to see you there!

Review of Bruce Metzger’s “The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance.” Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987

9780198269540_p0_v1_s260x420Bruce Metzger’s, The Canon of the New Testament, is an examination of the development of the New Testament canon from the first century to the twentieth century. Yet, this book is more than a historical treatise on the canon; it also speaks to theological interests invested in canonicity (v). The book is structured in three parts: Part One is a survey of scholarly literature on canon formation; Part Two is an investigation through primary sources of canon formation; and Part Three is an exploration of the historical and theological issues surrounding the concept of canonicity.

In Part One, Metzger offers a detailed survey of the scholarly literature on canon formation from the seventeenth century through the twentieth century. He provides a sufficient review of the major scholars and their works and does a thorough job in highlighting the pressing topics regarding canonicity as they varied throughout the centuries.

Part Two of this book is a cache of valuable information. Although Metzger’s historical survey covers an expansive time frame, beginning at the end of the first century and ending at the twentieth century, he focuses his attention and fastidious research on the first four centuries.

Beginning with the Apostolic Fathers, Metzger considers this collection to represent a period of canonical preparation, where authority is not placed on a certain collection of books but rather is ascribed to the Law and the Prophets, sayings of Jesus, and apostolic sayings. Despite a few references to “the Gospel,” the majority of Jesus and apostolic saying are allusions, lacking clear and authoritative references to any particular text. Many of the allusions, nevertheless, can be traced back to canonical Gospels and Epistles, which leads Metzger to conclude that the authors of the Apostolic Fathers regard the books that would later become canonical with an “implicit authority” (73).

Before tracing the development of the canon beyond the period of the Apostolic Fathers, Metzger examines the possible reasons that precipitated the need for an authoritative collection of Christian writings. He views the conflict between the “Great Church”––as he calls it––and other Christian groups as the principal impetus for the future establishment of the canon. For example, Marcion’s rejection of Jewish scripture and Jewish contexts in the Gospels and Pauline letters caused the Church to “recognize the breadth of the written corpus as authoritative” (106). He further suggests that canon formation was influenced by persecution, during which Christians would likely be forced to choose with little delay which books they are willing to hand over to authorities and for which ones they are willing to suffer. He also mentions book making as well as Jewish and pagan constructions of lists of (authoritative) books as other possible influences perpetuating the development of the Christian canon.

After expounding on these polemical relationships and circumstances, Metzger then surveys canon formation through the Eastern and Western churches and discusses at length two early Christian book lists: the Muratorian Canon and Eusebius’ list. The results of his investigation show that it is only near the end of the second century that we first find, in Clement of Alexandria and Ireneaus, a four-fold gospel standard. According to Metzger, one exception to this later date is Tatian’s early second-century Diaterssaron, which shows that Tatian viewed Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as the only authoritative Gospels; a conclusion he maintains despite his acknowledgment of extra-canonical material in the harmony (115–16). Apostolic writings, on the other hand, are still fluid as late as the early fourth century, as there is yet no consensus of which writings are to be considered authoritative and which ones are to be eschewed.

Metzger devotes two chapters to Christian attempts at finalizing a determinative canon. By adducing an extensive array of evidence from the fourth century to the present, he shows that in the East the concept of canonicity is still, as of the twentieth century, a fluid idea, while in the West the canon eventually found more stability in the sixteenth century––at least as it concerns the books of the New Testament.

In accord with his stated intent given in the preface, Part Three incorporates the theological results of the historical endeavor thus far. He begins by laying out three criteria used by the church fathers to determine which books would be considered canonical: those that attested to a “rule of faith” (defined by Metzger as those which adhered to the Christian tradition “recognized as normative by the Church” [251]), those perceived to be of legitimate apostolic authorship, and those that were generally accepted as authentic (251–254). Notably, a criterion of inspiration is omitted from this list; Metzger concludes that inspiration was not used to ascribe canonical status because the early church leaders frequently viewed anyone––even their contemporaries––who wrote or spoke under the guidance of the Spirit to be inspired. He ends the book with a discussion on current issues regarding canonicity, including: whether today the canon can considered open or closed, whether it is appropriate to speak of a canon within a canon, and whether the canon is a collection of authoritative books or an authoritative collection of books.

Metzger does include a discussion on canonicity and apocryphal literature, but it is one of the more curious parts of his book. In this chapter he gives adequate attention to apocryphal Gospels, Acts, Epistles, Apocalypses, and a few “Miscellaneous Writings”––which is largely made up of writings from the Apostolic Fathers. The attention given to these works is that of illustrating why the “Great Church” eventually rejected them. The reason: they contain aberrant theological views, possess little, if any, historical veracity, and are unable to convincingly demonstrate apostolicity.

For all the astute historical examination and detail that permeates this fine book, this chapter on apocryphal literature is indeed odd. It appears that instead of merely illustrating why the “Great Church” rejected certain Christian writings, Metzger uses this chapter to defend the position of the Church by traducing those writings that stand beyond the limits of a later orthodox standard. Thus, he argues that the apocryphal works are “romantic,” “fanciful,” “strange,” and “entertaining” (168–69, 174, 175, 177, 178) writings for a “popular” audience (168, 175, 178) that belie their own historicity and apostolicity (168–69, 173, 174, 175, 177, 179). This rhetoric is problematic for a number of reasons, not least that these pejorative claims are one-sided and never fall against those writings more widely accepted by the “Great Church,” like the Shepherd of Hermas, or even those writings which eventually received canonical status, like the Acts of the Apostles or Revelation. This selective use of derogatory rhetoric enables Metzger to appeal to textual agency and conclude that “certain books exclude themselves from the canon” (286) while the canonical books “established themselves” (173). Metzger’s appeal to an absolute claim against apostolic and historical authenticity of apocryphal literature is also problematic, as it does not allow him to convincingly defend the pseudepigraphical nature of some canonical material when he argues that canonicity “is not affected by features that are open to adjudication, such as matters of authorship and genuineness” (284). Unfortunately for his argument, false authorial claims and suspect genuineness are precisely the grounds by which he adjudicates that apocryphal literature is to be rejected.

Despite this peculiar examination of apocryphal literature, Metzger’s book is nevertheless a thorough and erudite investigation into the development of the New Testament canon. This is indeed a volume that should appear on the self of every student of early Christianity, who will no doubt return to it again and again to retrieve its valuable information.