5 Sep 2008

In the Shadow of the Temple: A Review

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Books, Church History, Jesus, Jewish Backgrounds, Ministry

In the Shadow of the Temple

Modern Christians in general assume that the Judaism that nurtured Jesus and the early Church was simply the religion one reads about in the Hebrew Bible. And Protestant Evangelical Bibles do not contain the Apocrypha so it more or less assumed that what Paul was reared in is the same as what we read in the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. Such an assumption is, however, mistaken. Thus begins the recent work by Oskar Skarsaune, In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity (IVP 2002).

Let me begin by saying that In the Shadow is an outstanding and illuminating book. And it is not for specialists by any means but for those who simply like the Bible and reading. Every chapter sheds intense light not only on the pages of the New Testament but also on the entire faith of the early church through the second and third centuries. Skarsaune has written a work on early Christian history with special attention to the often neglected Jewish background. However he does not do this along a chronological base. Rather he develops his work thematically showing the growth of Christian thought and practice in dialog with Judaism … Judaism that still had a temple!

Skarsaune, long a recognized scholar in Jewish followers of Jesus in the pre-Nicene period, shows convincingly that Judaism is not simply “background” for the NT but is of vital interest throughout the history of the early church. His survey of the Jewish encounter with Hellenism, changing understandings of Torah, what it means to “be” a Jew and how that fits in with the Gentile mission is very rich. One of the best chapters is the called “Elder & Younger Brothers: The Second Century Debate with Judaism.”

For those from a Restoration background because of our obsession with liturgy (we never use the word) and baptism, Part 3 of the book will be of intense interest. It traces the “Persistence of the Jewish Heritage” in the “Faith & Order of the Early Church.” A chapter looks at the what books belong in the Bible and concludes that regarding the “Christian Old Testament” that there were in fact two canons. One can was basically the common person’s canon or the ‘folkish” canon which embrace the total contents of the Septuagint. The other canon is termed the “learned” or scholar’s canon which officially followed what we know as the Masoretic text. He traces Jewish lines through baptismal practices and even Christology and worship and the church calendar.

I agree with Everett Ferguson who praised In the Shadows as “surely right on the Jewishness of early Christianity and the importance of the temple” and presenting “a persuasive synthesis” in relation to our faith understanding who and what we are. There has been lots of talk on this blog and others on reading Scripture and understanding it. If you are looking for something can add significant depth to the pages of the New Testament then I recommend this fine work. We need to be reading the Scripture but we also need to read it (first) through the eyes of those who wrote it … Jews. Christianity is Jewish …

The fact that Skarsaune is an excellent writer is just a plus in eating this book.

Bobby Valentine

One Response to “In the Shadow of the Temple: A Review”

  1. Matthew Says:

    Thank you for mentioning this book, I will check it out. Loving reading stuff like this.

Leave a Reply