Douglas Campbell’s Deliverance of God has generated lots of discussion, especially on Romans 1:18-32. The γαρ in 1:18 has been a problem for interpreters long before Campbell came to it. But Campbell’s work is making folks take another look at the particle in this verse.
Koine “traditionalists” (is there a better word?) assert that γαρ is a discourse connector which logically joins two parts of a discourse, normally in an explanatory way. This sense is typically translated “therefore”. Example: I have a broken leg, therefore I will not be playing football. If one only reads the NT, then clearly this is the most frequent usage.
But there is other Greek literature out there. Consider Euripides’ Bacchae. In places like lines 477, 483, and 612, γαρ is used to signal a switch in speaker (like from Dionysus to Pentheus or the Chorus leader to Dionysus). This is evidence for how the particle could function in rhetoric, particularly in a Socratic dialogue. To be fair, just because Euripides used γαρ this way sometimes does not automatically mean that’s what Paul did in Romans 1:18. However, it is evidence that I don’t see many people consider before they dismiss it. A better question for the traditionalists might be Why can’t the γαρ in Romans 1:18 indicate a speaker change?
In addition to Euripides, there’s biblical evidence as well. Consider the translation Greek of the LXX. In Job, when he converses with his “friends”, γαρ is twice used in a change of speaker (Job 6:2; 25:2). Also, by my count there are over 45 instances of γαρ symbolizing a speaker change in LXX Isaiah (tweet me if you want the list and begin discussing who is speaking where in Isaiah). (Maybe this requires an intro to the various voices in Isaiah, but…) One of the clearest examples is Cyrus talking to Yahweh in Isa 45:15— συ γαρ ει θεος, και ουκ ηδειμεν, ο θεος του Ισραηλ σωτηρ (You are the God people cannot see. You are the God who saves Israel. ERV)
Long story short: γαρ is a very small form that gets used in lots of contexts. Identifying what the form means from context-to-context should be determined by those contexts, not by a lexicographic straight-jacket.
So does the γαρ in Romans 1:18 signal a switch from Paul’s voice to the Teacher’s voice? I think the evidence suggests so.
The ancient prophet Isaiah predicted the coming of a servant of the Lord, a deliverer for the nations, with graphic detail about the servant’s appearance and mortal suffering. Join Dr. Michael Rydelnik, Dr. Michael Brown, Dr. Walter Kaiser, and Dr. Darrell Bock as they engage in a captivating discussion to unlock the mysteries of one of the most fascinating passages of Scripture, Isaiah 53. You’ll gain insights from the Jewish and Christian perspectives as you examine the interpretations and implications. Discover and explore the clues that help to reveal the mystery of this passage of Scripture.
Here’s the thing… I do not necessarily believe Jesus referred to himself as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53; however, I do believe his biographers/theologizers understood him to act as a final fulfillment of that role. Does this mean that Isaiah 53 is about Jesus? No, but Jesus is about Isaiah 53. Anyway, I still encourage you to get the book and tackle this issue yourself.
Isn’t that the point of this academic theology? That we take, eat, break, and drink?
I am not opposed to reading books such as this one. It is more difficult for those who are more academically inclined than they are evangelically inclined, but if we separate the Church from the Academy, both will perish. Bock’s book is a collection of essays by those who believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and more, that Jesus is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. Most, if not all, come from a more evangelical approach to Scripture than I am used to (Isaiah was written by one author, prophecies are about future events), but where this remains controversial for some, the scholarship rarely fails to satisfy.
The book is the child of a campaign created by Christians and Jews believing in Christ to teach the Christian interpretation of Isaiah 53. A conference was held in 2009, with a summer 2010 campaign devoted to Isaiah 53 Explained, a traditional print media campaign including booklets, newspaper ads, and one on one communication. The book follows that. It is Evangelical, evangelistic, and apologetic in focus. One important point is that the essayists make an effort to discover the Jewish interpretation of the passage, even if they disagree with it. It is divided into three parts. Part I includes Christian and Jewish interpretations. Part II places Isaiah 53 in biblical theology, examining the chapter first in Isaiah and then in the New Testament. The final two chapters in Part II deal with the role of salvation in Isaiah 53 – how salvation is accomplished, and if that method is in line with the view of substitutionary atonement. Part III is evangelistic. It aims to convert the postmoderns, the Jews, and the Mainlines, it appears. The appendix includes two sermons to show the reader how to preach Isaiah 53.
While this book is unashamedly Evangelical, it could have helped itself by first defining some of the key terms, such as prophecy. The concept of prophecy is, understandably, one that causes controversy. Depending on where the reader falls on the spectrum, prophecy is either an explanation of a past event or the forecasting of a future action, albeit rather unclearly. Yes, all of the essayists, and even this reviewer, agree that Isaiah 53 does include the clearest prophecy of Jesus in the Hebrew Scriptures, but the issue here then becomes what is prophecy. To the credit, and this is important to Christians, Evangelical and Mainline alike, the Jewish interpretation is examined almost independent of the Christian interpretation. I say almost because it is still examined alongside the Christian interpretation. Instead of simply pointing to Jesus and saying “See,” the essayists get into the underbelly of Isaiah 53. They examine the context, the various uses of “Servant of the Lord,” and the Hebrew terminology. They also examine what the great Rabbis of the past ages have said. Some of them lean to a Christian interpretation, while some do not. This should be appreciated. The only unpalatable part of the book, however, is the evangelistic message to the Jews. Not to the Evangelicals but to Jews and the Mainlines. The book is essentially valuable because of the Jewish interpretations and the Christian interpretations given without polemical pogroms, but it may turn off some readers due to the evangelistic nature of the book.
Let me recommend this book, but with a few caveats. First, the scholarship if terrific. The essayists include Darrell Bock and Craig A. Evans. Other names like Averbeck, Chisholm, Feinberg, Wilkins, and Sunukjian appear as well. These are well known and trustworthy scholars providing what their students have come to expect, solid and competent scholarship. Second, the Evangelical side of some of the authors do make an appearance, especially when discussion the historical critical approach to Isaiah. Third, the evangelistic aim of the book will be disconcerting to some; however, all academic, theological, or mundane pursuits aim to convert. That is the human nature of conversation. When God told the human species to go and rule, to have dominion, this was the first order of conversion. Simply put, do not be offended if you read Christians attempting to convert Jews to Jesus. Do not be offended if Jews use this same work to convert Christians to Jews. The scholarship is itself converting, in one way or other.