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Fall 1994 · Vol. 23 No. 2 · pp. 130–31 

Book Review

When the Church Was Young: Studies in the Thessalonian Epistles

David Ewert. Winnipeg, MB and Hillsboro, KS: Kindred, 1993. 152 pages.

Reviewed by Devon H. Wiens

This latest volume in the series, “Luminaire Studies,” is a fine example of efforts to make the results of biblical scholarship accessible to the laity. As Ewert himself indicates, this slim volume is dwarfed by his mammoth commentary on the Thessalonian letters published by Baker. This, of course, is as it should be. In the attempt to communicate to the “person in the pew,” which is illustrated by the fact that the Thessalonian correspondence is divided into 13 units--eight on 1 Thessalonians and five on 2 Thessalonians--, as befits a quarterly study schedule. Ewert largely (and properly) ignores the raging critical questions which attend these biblical books.

Such an approach does not prevent him, however, from discussing the question of the relationship of 1 Thessalonians to 2 Thessalonians and the authorship of the latter (pp 93-95); furthermore, he frequently points out how what Paul writes in the first letter anticipates the second letter and how what Paul writes in the second presupposes what he wrote in the first. But it also means, for example, that he nimbly dodges the serious charge of anti-Semitism often leveled against Paul on the basis of 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16, by characterizing these verses “as outburst coming from the heart of an exasperated missionary” (36). Finally, it also means that he does not scruple to use the Book of Acts as a reliable source of information complementary to that which is represented by Thessalonians.

The author, in this reviewer’s opinion, succeeds in his purpose. His commentary, written in clear and readable style, is faithful to the text and brims with insight and veritable nuggets of wisdom for the reader. Indeed, Ewert’s years of diligent mining of the exegetical vein, in order to show how the biblical word pertains to the present setting of the church, has yielded great treasure. The present volume is but one example of how he has sought over the years to popularize his findings.

I wish to make a suggestion or two. On page 19, Ewert puzzles as to why Jesus’ most common self-designation according to the Gospels, namely, ‘Son of Man,’ “drops out and is not used elsewhere in the New Testament. . . .” Perhaps this is reversing the actual direction of the process. Since the Pauline letters, which do not employ the ‘Son of Man’ title, ostensibly predate the Gospels, the question might be recast in terms of why the Gospels, at a later time, added the title. Again, the statement on page 119 (to which the reviewer subscribes wholeheartedly, it might be added), “. . . there is nothing in the NT that suggests that the church will be spared tribulation or will be raptured before the last tribulation strikes,” {131} might have been further explained, especially in view of the inroads which dispensational theory has made into Mennonite Brethren circles.

In conclusion, I heartily recommend that the book be utilized in Sunday school and other Bible study forums; discussion based on a genuinely biblical agenda such as that represented by this book would perhaps help to wean us from the sort of “schlock” which often preoccupies us in those settings. The book is relatively free of mistakes; the reviewer spotted misspellings on pages 14, 30, 37, 121, 129, and 135.

Dr. Devon H. Wiens
Professor of Biblical and Religious Studies
Fresno Pacific College, Fresno, Calif.

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