The Necessity, Problems, and Promise Of Second Temple Judaism For Discussions Of New Testament Eschatology -- By: Larry R. Helyer

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 47:4 (Dec 2004)
Article: The Necessity, Problems, and Promise Of Second Temple Judaism For Discussions Of New Testament Eschatology
Author: Larry R. Helyer


The Necessity, Problems, and Promise Of Second Temple Judaism For Discussions Of New Testament Eschatology

Larry R. Helyer

[Larry Helyer is professor of biblical studies at Taylor University, 236 West Reade Ave., Upland, In 46989–1001]

1 The Necessity of Second Temple Judaism

The study of Second Temple Judaism has refrained evangelical biblical theology. The reason is the presupposition of this paper: Jesus and his apostles read the sacred Scriptures of Israel through the lens of Second Temple Judaism.1 As the world of Second Temple Judaism has become better understood, so has the background and thought of the NT.

NT writers, at numerous points, reveal that they are reading the OT in line with traditional readings derived from Second Temple Judaism. My esteemed mentor, Dr. David Hubbard, used to illustrate the point by saying that the train of revelation, at the end of the OT, enters an intertestamental tunnel. Upon reemerging in the NT period, it obviously carries additional cargo.2

For example, NT writers adopt an eschatological framework, which, though rooted in the OT, receives considerable development and elaboration in the literature of the Second Temple. Whereas the OT depicts God’s saving activity as culminating in a climactic Day of the Lord by at least the first century BC, apocalyptic Judaism views redemptive history as unfolding in a two ages framework, “this age,” inaugurated by creation, and “the age to come,” inaugurated by the Day of the Lord (1 Enoch 71:15; cf. 48:7). The distinctive Christian modification of this framework, traceable to Jesus himself,

is the notion of the overlap between the ages, whereby we have inaugurated eschatology, the concept of the “now, but not yet.”3

Already in 1930, Geerhardus Vos is alert to the importance of the two ages concept for Pauline eschatology.4 Did Paul inductively derive this concept solely from the Old and New Testaments? Not likely, since he was well aware of this strand of teaching deriving from extra-canonical Jewish apocalyptic. According to Vos, “The usage of both terms in Paul leaves the impression that the antithesis is not of the Apostle’s own coining.”5 After examining this expression in the teachings of Jesus, Vos concludes: “We would thus seem to be forced down to the Jewish period about contemporary to Jesus and Paul for reliabl...

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