Render to Caesar – Christopher Bryan

I’m writing a chapter on Matthew and Empire for a book Joe Modica and Scot McKnight are editing for IVP called Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not! Evaluating Empire Studies Today. Besides myself other contributors include Mike Bird (Romans) and Lynn Cohick (Philippians), Allan Bevere (Colossians-Philemon), Drew Strait (Acts), Dean Pinter (Luke), Dwight Sheets (Revelation), Andy Couch (Conclusion), Judith Diehl (Scholarly survey) and David Nystrom (Roman Empire Ideology). We hope it will be an accessible evaluation of the popular trend in New Testament studies.

In the process of research, I’ve found a great book that evaluates post-colonial readings of the New Testament by Christopher Bryan called Render to Caesar: Jesus, the Early Church, and the Roman Superpower.

In his final chapter, he does a great service to us by asking the fundamental question:

We are bound to ask how far techniques that were developed for social analysis, as frameworks for collecting and reflecting upon data, may properly be used in historical research, where inevitably they function not really as analytic tools but rather (and perhaps primarily) as a means of reconstruction through which we try to make good the enormous holes in what we actually know . . . How far can techniques of analysis that were developed in connection with the post-Enlightenment colonial–to be precise, postcolonial–experience of cultures formerly subject to nineteenth- and twentieth-century Western domination be applied at all to the ancient, largely Mediterranean world of the Roman Empire? (113-14)

The single most important insight in the book is Bryan’s recognition of the scriptural heritage that Jesus and the early Jewish believing author’s share. What he observes about interpreters like Horsley who use post-colonial approaches is the absence of consideration of the Bible’s position on Empire. He concludes rightly that the OT has little problem with Empire as a concept or reality. Empire is not the problem. Rather the issue is how that Empire understands its relationship to Yahweh. I would quibble with aspects of his interpretation of the OT, especially I think he totally ignored the Davidic covenant in his analysis, which is a fundamental error when assessing Empire in the Bible. Still, this is a criticism that post-colonial readings of Jesus and  New Testament authors need to seriously consider.

I asserted in Matthew’s Messianic Shepherd-King: In Search of ‘The Lost Sheep of the House of Israel’ that Matthew expected a future Davidic empire that would replace the kingdoms of this world (230), and I will probably make the same point again in the chapter for the IVP book. Although apparently some, like Don Garlington in his review, thought that this view was inappropriate for Matthew–even citing Bryan’s book–I think his analysis slightly misses the mark because Bryan overlooks the role of the Davidic covenant.

  • Dongarlington

    Dear Joel

    I agree that ultimately or eschatologically the kingdom of Christ will displace the kingdoms of this world. My point in the review was that given Matthew’s use of the OT and his eschatology generally, prior to the eschaton there will not be a Jewish political entity that replaces Caesar’s empire.

    Look forward to the book and best regards,

    Don

  • Dongarlington

    Dear Joel

    I agree that ultimately or eschatologically the kingdom of Christ will displace the kingdoms of this world. My point in the review was that given Matthew’s use of the OT and his eschatology generally, prior to the eschaton there will not be a Jewish political entity that replaces Caesar’s empire.

    Look forward to the book and best regards,

    Don

  • Anonymous

    Don, thanks so much for your comment and for the clarification. It appears we agree. I concur with your “prior to the eschaton prior to the eschaton there will not be a Jewish political entity that replaces Caesar’s empire”. So what’s the problem? Did not not make that qualification clearly enough?

  • Anonymous

    Don, thanks so much for your comment and for the clarification. It appears we agree. I concur with your “prior to the eschaton prior to the eschaton there will not be a Jewish political entity that replaces Caesar’s empire”. So what’s the problem? Did not not make that qualification clearly enough?

  • Don Garlington

    Hi Joel,

    When I can spare a few moments, and when the heat subsides a bit here, I’ll go back and have another look. I understand the Midwest is even hotter than Ontario at the moment.

    Don

  • Don Garlington

    Hi Joel,

    When I can spare a few moments, and when the heat subsides a bit here, I’ll go back and have another look. I understand the Midwest is even hotter than Ontario at the moment.

    Don

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  • Don Garlington

    Hi again Joel,

    In looking over the review once more, “the problem” is not that of a “replacement empire” but of the character of that empire. On p. 230 you state: “It is an Empire of a different order certainly, but no less an Empire in political-national terms.” It is in this regard that I called attention to hermeneutical issues, in particular Matthew’s typology, and sided with Joon-Sik Kim’s assessment of the land in Matthew as a symbolic/typological entity. This is not to denigrate the book’s value as a whole, which I believe I stated, but to take issue with this particular reading of the Messiah’s kingdom as “political-national.” In my view, the kingdom transcends such categories.

    I’ll be on the watch for the book.

    Best regards,

    Don

  • Don Garlington

    Hi again Joel,

    In looking over the review once more, “the problem” is not that of a “replacement empire” but of the character of that empire. On p. 230 you state: “It is an Empire of a different order certainly, but no less an Empire in political-national terms.” It is in this regard that I called attention to hermeneutical issues, in particular Matthew’s typology, and sided with Joon-Sik Kim’s assessment of the land in Matthew as a symbolic/typological entity. This is not to denigrate the book’s value as a whole, which I believe I stated, but to take issue with this particular reading of the Messiah’s kingdom as “political-national.” In my view, the kingdom transcends such categories.

    I’ll be on the watch for the book.

    Best regards,

    Don


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