Tuesday, January 11, 2011

'Jesus the Temple' Review

Nicholas Perrin's 'Jesus the Temple' is a helpful and thought-provoking book that investigates how Jesus and the early Christian movement related to the Jerusalem temple.  The book sets up the discussion by taking passages from Paul and other early Christian writers where language of the temple is used (1 Cor 3:9-11; 6:16, 19-20), of which Perrin asks where the source of this 'Temple identity' came from.  His answer is Jesus, which he seeks to demonstrate by spending the next 185 pages arguing that Jesus' actions and teachings constituted an alternative temple movement.

For its small size (190 pages +32 pages of references and indices), this book covers a lot of ground.  Perrin sets this book in the midst of debates about the historical Jesus and his relation to Paul and the other New Testament writers (what did Paul know of Jesus?  What continuity is there between Jesus' teachings and the rest of the NT?).  However, the bulk of the book (three of the five chapters) is devoted to Jesus' words and deeds that (in Perrin's mind) ought to be seen as 'Temple acts' (my words, not his).  Let me allow Perrin to speak for himself: "Jesus of Nazareth's most distinctive activities, healings/exorcisms, and meals were public signs that he had reconstituted time, space, and a people around himself, the new convergence of heaven and earth, the new temple" (p 179).

To this reviewer, the most illuminating discussion was on the topic of Jesus and the poor (chapter 4).  Here, Perrin treats the thorny issues of Jesus' teachings on money (the rich young ruler incident, etc.) and how they relate to his temple program.  While trying not to gush too much, I urge scholars and pastors (if I must dichotomize the two) to wrestle with Perrin's understanding of Jesus' poverty ethics. He seeks to go beyond the social justice vs. spiritualizing antithesis, which helps provide a more nuanced understanding of Jesus' view of riches and poverty.

Lastly, historical Jesus scholarship is blessed with not only gifted scholars, but gifted writers as well.  Perrin joins this enviable group, with his consistently clever turns of phrase and penchant for illustrations.  Occasionally his style would impede the clarity of the discussion, but on the whole his style made this book a delight to read and engage with.

Perrin has provided New Testament readers with a fresh perspective on the mission of Jesus that does justice to material in the four gospels.  Those interested in the historical Jesus, New Testament theology, and Jesus' ethics will find plenty of thought-provoking insights here. I hope this book would be widely received, and I cannot wait for the follow up volumes from Perrin.

(NOTE: This was a copy of the review I posted on Amazon.  I'm looking to interact with this book more in later posts)

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