Monday, December 28, 2015

Book Write-Up: Milestones to Emmaus

Warren Austin Gage and Leah Grace Gage.  Milestones to Emmaus: The Third Day Resurrection in the Old Testament.  Fort Lauderdale: St. Andrews House, 2015.  See here to buy the book.

The title of this book alludes to a story in Luke 24.  Two disciples of Jesus are walking to Emmaus three days after Jesus’ death.  A stranger joins them, and they all three talk about Jesus.  The two disciples express disappointment that Jesus, the one they had hoped would redeem Israel, had been put to death.  The stranger then shows them from the Scriptures that this was supposed to happen.  The stranger turns out to be Jesus.

According to that story in Luke 24, Jesus’ death and resurrection were predicted in the Hebrew Bible.  Similarly, the apostle Paul in I Corinthians 15:3-4 states that he received the tradition that Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection on the third day were in accordance with the Scriptures.

Are they, though?  Is there any place in the Hebrew Bible that explicitly says that a coming Messiah would die for people’s sins and rise from the dead on the third day?  Not really.  Many critical scholars, including evangelical critical scholars, would answer “no” to that question.  Why, then, is there a belief within the New Testament that Christ’s death and resurrection on the third day were in accordance with the Scriptures?  On what basis would the New Testament authors make such a claim?  Did they have specific passages of the Hebrew Bible in mind?

Warren Austin Gage and Leah Grace Gage tackle this question by exploring the use of the third day and three days within the Hebrew Bible.  They also consider passages in which “three days ago” is an idiom for “ago.”  The Gages find that something significant often happens on the third day: exaltation, the completion of the Temple, punishment, satisfaction of one’s needs, deliverance from impending death, etc.  Not only is this the case in the Hebrew Bible, but such usage of the three-days motif is also present in the New Testament (in addition to the passages about Jesus’ resurrection on the third day).

The Gages’ approach to the Hebrew Bible is largely typological.  That means that they believe that stories in the Hebrew Bible foreshadow the ministry, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus Christ.  These Hebrew Bible stories contain themes that resemble Christian themes about Jesus.  For example, many Christians believe that Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son Isaac in Genesis 22 foreshadows God sending his Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins.

There is not always a perfect fit between type and antetype.  Sometimes, the Gages believe that the antetype has a more positive outcome than the type.  In some cases, common themes may exist between the type and the antetype, but there are also differences.  Jonah is thrown overboard so that God will preserve the people on his ship, and King David offers to die in place of Jerusalem.  That resembles Jesus dying to save others.  The difference, as the Gages note, is that Jonah and David were sinners, whereas Jesus was not.  In Genesis 40, Joseph predicts (under divine inspiration) that Pharaoh’s baker will be hanged in three days, whereas the butler will be restored to his previous position.  For the Gages, this foreshadows the crucifixion of Jesus, and Jesus’ exaltation after his resurrection.

I have not always been a fan of typology.  It strikes me as rather arbitrary.  The smug attitude of some Christians who use it has long been a turn-off to me: “Oh, why can’t those Jews see these clear references to Jesus in the Old Testament?”  (The Gages do not say that, but I have heard Christians say that.)  I prefer the historical-critical method of reading the Bible: interpret a passage in light of what it meant to its original audience.

At the same time, I did find the Gages’ use of typology to be impressive and somewhat compelling.  Can one account for these parallels between Old Testament and New Testament stories from a non-Christian perspective?  Perhaps.  One can say that New Testament authors modeled their stories after Old Testament stories and themes.  One can say that such themes are present in all sorts of literature—-suffering, exaltation, powerful enemies, dying to save others, injustice, etc.—-so it is not particularly remarkable that they appear in both the Old and the New Testaments.  Even if typology does increase the likelihood that the Hebrew Bible is a divinely-inspired document that foreshadows Christ, there are still compelling arguments to the contrary.  And yet, one can ask: Did the New Testament authors interpret the Hebrew Bible as the Gages do, particularly when the New Testament authors claimed that Jesus’ resurrection on the third day fulfilled the Scriptures?  Quite possibly.

The Gages also have sections about other topics, such as the good and bad trees in the Hebrew Bible.  In one place in the book, they make connections between the Passover and biblical Flood chronology, which I found particularly interesting.  The Gages also make the interesting point that Jesus escaped corruption (a la Psalm 16:10 and Acts 2:27, 31) by rising on the third day, since corruption of corpses occurred on the fourth day (John 11:39).

In terms of criticisms, I was hoping that the book would be more scholarly.  Warren Gage has a Ph.D. in philosophy and literature from the University of Dallas, and he teaches Old Testament at Knox Theological Seminary.  Leah Grace Gage has an M.T.S. in Hebrew Bible-Old Testament from Harvard.  Bruce Waltke, a renowned Hebrew Bible scholar, recommends this book.  In light of all that, it would have been nice to have seen more references to secondary literature, more discussion of Second Temple biblical exegesis, more interaction with contrary ideas.  The book is a helpful encyclopedia of the use of the three-days motif in Scripture, but I could have heard a lot of its ideas in an evangelical Bible study.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book through Bookcrash, in exchange for an honest review.

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