Angels in Romans 8:28 and Matthew Barrett’s Canon, Covenant and Christology

Here is my Church Write-Up for today, followed by a brief write-up of an IVP review book that I received.

A. The Bible study finished up Romans 8. One topic the pastor addressed was v 38’s statement that neither angels nor demons shall be able to separate believers from the love of God in Christ. Why does v 28 mention angels? Aren’t angels the good guys? The pastor referred to Galatians 1:8, where Paul instructs the Galatian Christians to reject another Gospel than that proclaimed by Paul, even if it be preached by an angel from heaven. But why would an angel from heaven preach another Gospel? The pastor cited Daniel 10:13, 20, where Michael the archangel refers to his struggles against the prince of Persia and mentions a coming prince of Greece. Each nation was headed by a spirit being, to whom God allotted that nation (Deuteronomy 32:8). These spirit beings, or angels, over the nations could be at odds with God; therefore, there was a very real possibility that an angel from heaven could preach a different Gospel. The “angel” was not merely a demon pretending to be an angel but was an actually an angel from heaven. According to the pastor, there were Jewish traditions that the soul needed to interact with various heavenly personalities on its way to God in heaven. Jesus, however, eliminated that. No angel can separate believers from the love of God in Christ.

B. The pastor in his sermon showed a picture of his father when the father was young, vibrant, and happy. The father had just completed a play-set at the backyard and was ready to play with his kids! That is the pastor’s favorite picture of his father, but the pastor said that his family had a lot of problems. One time, his father told him that, through all of his family’s problems, his faith gave him some cause for joy.

C. Matthew Barrett. Canon, Covenant and Christology: Rethinking Jesus and the Scriptures of Israel. IVP Academic, 2020. See here to purchase the book.

Matthew Barrett teaches Christian theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

In part, this book is about what Jesus thought about the Scriptures. Barrett argues that Jesus considered them divinely-inspired and historically and theologically accurate. Barrett believes in verbal and plenary inspiration and thinks Jesus did so, too. At the same time, looking at the Gospels of Matthew and John, Barrett contends that Jesus viewed himself as the object and goal of Scripture and even, in a sense, above and beyond the Scripture.

But the book is also about how the Old Testament anticipates, prefigures, predicts, and sets the stage for Jesus. The Old Testament authors may not have seen this clearly (sensus plenior), but they still had a sense that there was more to what they were writing than they understood. Jesus was the fulfiller of the Old Testament. Types pointed to him, prophecies predicted him, and Jesus was the goal of God’s calling of Israel and encapsulated its mission in himself.

I have heard much of this before in some way, shape, or form. There were few insights in the book that floored me. But reading the book and these familiar themes was still an edifying experience.

There were discussions in the book that I especially appreciated. Barrett lists and evaluates different interpretations of Jesus’s statement in Matthew 5:17 that he came, not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. He does the same with Jesus’s appeal to Psalm 82:6, “ye are gods,” in defending his own conceptualization of his identity (John 10:34). Barrett briefly discusses Jesus’s quotation of Isaiah 29:13 in Matthew 15:9 and how Isaiah 29:13 could relate both to the times of Isaiah and Jesus. Barrett also manifests awareness of alternative interpretations, both traditional and scholarly, and the introductory part of the book clarifies and refines such concepts as sensus plenior and typology.

And, as is usually the case with this series, the views that the book refutes are sometimes more interesting than the book’s own positions! I think here of Barrett’s argument against the idea that the commandments of God that Jesus defends in Matthew 15:19 are Christ’s commandments rather than the Torah command. Barrett effectively refutes that, but the point is still intriguing.

The best part of the book is the final chapter, where Barrett relates his Christological interpretation of Scripture to contemporary theological debates about biblical inerrancy. At the 2017 Evangelical Theological Society, a question was asked: do the latest books defending inerrancy reflect a last gasp and preaching to the choir or instead mark a wave of the future, with fruitful possibilities? Barrett attempts to point a new way forward in the inerrancy debates. In the past, fundamentalists have sought to defend inerrancy by reconciling biblical contradictions and showing that biblical “errors” actually are not such. Barrett prefers a different focus. Barrett finds Karl Barth’s Christological focus to be refreshing, even if he deems Barth’s conception of Scripture to be inadequate. Perhaps the way to affirm biblical inspiration is to appreciate the Christological focus of the Bible. Barrett believes such an appreciation addresses theological objections to inerrancy, such as the annoying objection that inerrancy makes the Scriptures static. According to Barrett, the Scriptures point to Christ, who is far from a static word!

Is this book, by itself, adequate? Not really. Barrett’s conclusion to his discussion of Matthew 5:17 was rather “ho-hum,” though, to his credit, he was trying to resolve a complex issue. At times, his tendency was to assert rather than to demonstrate. He is dismissive of the argument that Jesus in the Gospels is functionally rather than ontologically divine, for example; maybe a rereading would change my perception here. Barrett’s approach to the inerrancy debates seems to be to focus on patterns in Scripture, the theological big picture, and the creative effects of Scripture rather than minute details in the text, yet he himself embraces a rather fundamentalist approach to Scripture because he believes that was what Jesus held. Barrett acknowledges that this book, by itself, is not adequate and refers to other books he has written. Maybe they are worth checking out, but are they similar to this one: having edifying insights while dodging tough challenges?

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest!

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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