Jonah And Mission: Missiological Dichotomy, Biblical Theology, And The “Via Tertia” -- By: Daniel C. Timmer

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 70:1 (Spring 2008)
Article: Jonah And Mission: Missiological Dichotomy, Biblical Theology, And The “Via Tertia”
Author: Daniel C. Timmer

Jonah And Mission:
Missiological Dichotomy, Biblical Theology,
And The “Via Tertia”

Daniel C. Timmer

Daniel C. Timmer is Professor of Biblical Studies at FAREL, Faculté de théologie réformée in Montreal, Quebec, and Visiting Professor of Biblical Studies at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Despite its small size the book of Jonah continues to attract scholarly interest, not least by virtue of its import for missiology.1 The integration of the book’s message in a coherent biblical theology of mission, however, has proven particularly vexing for theologians. Thus, while a recent biblical theology of mission pointedly denies that the prophet Jonah is “presented as a missionary whose preaching to Nineveh … is intended to serve as a paradigm for Israel’s outreach to the nations,” another recent monograph on OT mission counters that “all expostulations against Jonah being a missionary book are vain in light of the force of the the end of the book.”2

These divergent interpretations hint at some thorny questions that face interpreters of Jonah. If the book really does advocate missionary activity on the part of OT Israel, what is one to make of the clear transition in the NT from mission tightly focused on Jews to mission that explicitly includes the Gentiles after Pentecost? And why did God not chide OT Israel for her passivity in the face of that task? On the other hand, how can claims that the book in no way inculcates a missionary disposition on Israel’s part be sustained when the book so effectively disabuses the nation of her supposed spiritual superiority and relishes the (surprising?) conversion of non-Israelites to faith in Yahweh? Is the

book of Jonah as much a rogue as its main character, playing havoc with the theological expectations of the canonical reader?

This article suggests that a re-examination of Jonah’s missiology will show that a via tertia exists between these two extremes, one that is consistent both with a careful reading of Jonah by itself and with a redemptive-historical approach to biblical mission.3 While further study must be done to fully integrate Jonah’s teaching on mission with the rest of the OT, this study’s findings can refine and deepen a coherent canonical understanding of the subject.4

I. Mission in the Old Testament

God’s plan of redemption has, by his grace, always been...

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