Taught By God -- By: Stephen E. Witmer

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 58:2 (NA 2007)
Article: Taught By God
Author: Stephen E. Witmer


Taught By God1

Divine Instruction In Early Christianity

Stephen E. Witmer

This study investigates one aspect of early Christian self-understanding: the conviction of some early followers of Jesus that they had been, and were being, taught by God, in fulfilment of OT prophetic promises (most importantly, Isa. 54:13 and Jer. 31:33-34). The study breaks new ground, as it is the first monograph-length investigation of the idea of divine instruction in the NT, and yields fresh insights into early Christian eschatology, Christology, pneumatology, ecclesiology, and hermeneutics. While concentrating upon the idea of divine instruction in the Johannine corpus, a wider-than-normal approach is taken, with brief chapters devoted also to the Pauline writings and Matthew. This allows for an analysis of the way in which multiple early Christian communities understood the realisation of the OT prophetic promises of divine instruction; both the unity and diversity of NT developments of the idea are noteworthy. After a discussion of appropriate methods in ch. 1, the thesis moves forward in three sections.

Part One, ‘Divine instruction in the OT and early Jewish literature’, provides a context for understanding the NT development of divine instruction. Ch. 2 examines divine instruction in the OT. It is demonstrated that, while the idea of God teaching is ubiquitous in the OT, there is a particular prophetic emphasis in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Micah, on the promise of eschatological divine instruction. The main contribution of this chapter is twofold. First, the chapter demonstrates a distinction at Sinai between direct divine instruction (when God speaks the ‘ten words’ without an intermediary), and mediated divine instruction (when Moses teaches the rest of the Torah). Secondly, it is suggested that each of the prophetic texts promising eschatological divine instruction (Isa. 2:2-4/Mic. 4:1-3; Isa. 30:20-21; 54:13; Jer.

31:33-34) can be read as suggesting that this eschatological divine instruction is direct, and without human intermediaries.

Next, ch. 3 examines the concept of divine instruction in early Jewish literature, with special attention to the Dead Sea Scrolls and Philo. Investigation of the DSS suggests that divine instruction of the community and of certain individuals (e.g. the psalmist of the H...

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