I read II Baruch recently for my daily quiet time. Scholar A.F.J. Klijn in my Charlesworth Pseudepigrapha dates II Baruch to the early second century C.E. It is a Jewish work. I have two items about II Baruch: one about “soon” or “near” eschatology, and the other about grace and works. My quotations of II Baruch will be from Klijn’s translation.
1. Many New Testament scholars have maintained that early
Christians, and even Jesus himself, believed that the end was near.
This can pose a challenge to Christian believers because, two thousand
years later, the world continues to go on. A question that I would ask,
though, is “How near is near?”, or “How soon is soon?”
In II Baruch 82, Baruch, the scribe of the prophet Jeremiah, is
writing to the lost tribes of Israel. Baruch affirms that “the end
which the Most High prepared is near,” and that “the fulfillment of his
judgment is not far.” In II Baruch 83, Baruch states that “the Most
High will surely hasten his times.”
Here is the problem: Baruch lived in the sixth century B.C.E., during
the ministry of Jeremiah and the fall of Jerusalem. II Baruch was
written in the second century C.E., about eight centuries after the time
of Baruch. II Baruch depicts Baruch, during the sixth century B.C.E.,
telling fellow Israelites that the end is near, when the author of II
Baruch knows fully well that the end will not occur for at least eight
centuries. How near is near, in II Baruch? Well, at least eight
There are a variety of considerations when it comes to II Baruch.
Could the author of II Baruch have actually been addressing his own
contemporaries in the second century C.E., encouraging them that the end
was near? Well, he was, but, in the story that he tells, Baruch in the
sixth century B.C.E. is telling fellow Israelites in that time that the
end is near. Eschatology in II Baruch should probably also be
unpacked. I will not do so here, but it does seem to me that II Baruch,
in some sense, treats the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E. as
connected with the end times.
Then there is the question of the relevance of my observation to the
New Testament. When Jesus and Paul appeared to preach imminent
eschatology, did they believe that “near” or “soon” could encompass a
lot of time? I have my doubts that this was the case, but I do admit
that, later in the New Testament, there was some attempt to redefine
“soon” in light of the passage of lots of time. II Peter 3 seems to
explain the delay in the Lord’s coming by saying that God is not slack,
but that a day in God’s eyes is like a thousand years. According to II
Peter 3, what is “soon” to God is not necessarily what is “soon” to us.
2. In II Baruch 63, we read that grace came upon King Hezekiah of
Judah. Yet, the chapter also says that “Hezekiah trusted upon his
works,” and that God “paid attention to [Hezekiah’s] prayers for he was
Hezekiah received God’s grace, yet he was trusting in his own good
works, plus God heard Hezekiah because of Hezekiah’s righteousness.
This would probably puzzle evangelicals, especially the ones who define
grace as God’s unmerited favor, or who distinguish receiving God’s free
grace by faith from trusting in one’s own good works for salvation. In
my opinion, these evangelicals are faithful to the spirit of Paul, who
drew a firm distinction between grace and reward for good works. For
Paul, trusting in one’s good works to become right with God is trying to
make God indebted, and it is conducive to boasting (Romans 4:2, 4).
Grace, however, is something that God gives to people, even though they
do not deserve it. That’s what makes it grace.
How does II Baruch hold together a belief in God’s grace with a
belief that God heeds the righteous? Well, II Baruch may hold that even
the righteous need God’s grace because they, too, sin: they are not
perfect, but they try to do what’s right. Another explanation may
simply be that II Baruch defines grace differently from how Paul does:
that II Baruch simply sees God’s grace as God’s favor. This is not
necessarily undeserved favor, but it is favor. And why, in this
scenario, for II Baruch, would God favor a person? On account of that
person’s righteousness and good works.
I remember a slight disagreement that I had with people in an
evangelical Bible study group that I attended. Genesis 6:8 states that
Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD (KJV). Some of the
evangelicals in this group were interpreting that passage in light of
the Protestant teaching that we are saved by God’s grace through faith,
not on account of our good works, or righteous deeds. One person in the
group may have even suggested that Noah was no better than his wicked
contemporaries—-that Noah was saved on account of God showing him
undeserved favor, not on account of anything in himself morally. But
what stood out to me was Genesis 6:9, which states that Noah was just
and perfect in his generations. Noah, I thought, stood out as a
righteous man in his violent, corrupt time.
Someone else in the group suggested that Noah was saved through
faith, which Noah manifested when he trusted God’s word and built the
Ark. I am cool with that. I just have issues with the idea that there
was nothing about Noah himself that persuaded God to save him and his
family. I do not think that such an idea is consistent with what the
text is actually saying. A lot of evangelicals, in my opinion, like to
beat people over the head with what “the Bible says,” when they
themselves are projecting their own theology onto biblical passages,
even though those passages probably meant something different. “Grace”
in Genesis 6:8, in my mind, probably just means “favor,” without all of
the trappings that Paul applied to the term.