Book Review: The Promises of God

promisesofgodTitle: The Promises of God: The Background of Paul’s Exclusive Use of ‘Epangelia’ for the Divine Pledge

Author: Daniel J. Brendsel

Series: Beihefte Zur Zeitschrift Fur Die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft

Bibliographic info: xviii + 235 + 61 (indices and bibliography)

Publisher: Walter De Gruyter, 2014.

Buy the book at Amazon or direct from the publisher

With thanks to Walter De Gruyter for the review copy.

Part I of this study attempts to answer the question of whether Paul’s usage of the ἐπαγγελία word group for the divine promise is exclusive to him (used twenty-two times in the undisputed Pauline writings). This section consists of five chapters. Chapter One is the introductory chapter which tackles the expected topics like method and so forth. Chapter Two looks at the language used for the divine pledge in Classical and Hellenistic literature from the eighth century BCE to the first century CE. Chapter Three looks at terms used for the divine promise in the Septuagint and the counterparts in the Masoretic text. Chapter Four then moves on to the Old Testament apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, while Chapter Five then looks for formal divine promise terms in Philo and Josephus.

The literature examined in this part is all found in Greek, whether it be by Classical, Hellenistic, or Jewish authors, with the Jewish literature of course comprising the bulk of the research due to the fact that more references to divine promises are found therein. From the writings the author examines, he concludes that Paul’s usage of ἐπαγγελία is indeed unique, with no one else contemporary with Paul or predating him exclusively using ἐπαγγελία for the divine promise. Another notable finding of the author’s is that Paul neglects to use the dominant term in the Septuagint for the divine promises in the Abrahamic covenant (the ὅρκος/ὄμνυμι lexemes). However, Paul opts to use the Septuagint’s least favored term for divine promises, the ἐπαγγελία word group (with usage of this group in the LXX with God as the source/subject being a rarity). Because of this, the author devises a method for identifying synonymous terms for divine promises. Doing so produces the ὅρκος/ὄμνυμι lexeme, as well as the ὑπόσχεσις/ὑπισχνέομαι and ἐπαγγελία/ἐπαγγέλλομαι word groups.

Part II then scrutinizes the reason for why Paul exclusively used ἐπαγγελία for the divine promise. Was it a conscious or unconscious decision on his part? If it was a deliberate decision to use ἐπαγγελία, then what is the reasoning behind it? The author attempts to answer these questions in the final four chapters. Chapter Six looks at the connection between ἐπαγγελία and εὐαγγέλιον. Chapter Seven then takes this further by specifically looking at this relationship in Romans. Chapter Eight then examines this connection in Galatians, 2 Corinthians, and some other New Testament writings (Luke, Acts, Ephesians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, and 1 John). And Chapter Nine provides the authors concluding thoughts.

The author finds that other than the authors of the Testament of Abraham and 2 Peter, the only writer examined who consistently uses ἐπαγγελία in a sense similar to Paul is Josephus. The author finds that Paul’s usage of ἐπαγγελία for the divine promise is invariably a reference to the promises that God made to Abraham in Genesis (seen especially in Romans and Galatians). This language choice was a conscious decision on Paul’s part, being an intentional rhetorical choice due to the lexeme serving Paul’s communicative needs better than any other. Ἐπαγγελία was employed due to its close conceptual and linguistic correspondence with εὐαγγέλιον. The linguistic correspondence is found in the assonantal wordplay that arises due to both terms having the –αγγελ stem, while the conceptual correspondence has to do with the promises of the Abrahamic covenant which is associated with Paul’s proclamation of the Christian gospel (despite the fact that εὐαγγέλιον does not appear in the Abrahamic narrative in Genesis).

So what I ultimately gathered from this study is that, on a conceptual level, Paul’s εὐαγγέλιον–the good news of Jesus’ death and his resurrection by God–establishes the realization of the ἐπαγγελία that God made to Abraham back in Genesis. And this I found to be a believable and satisfying solution to the peculiarity of Paul’s exclusive use of the ἐπαγγελία word group for the divine pledge.

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