Jesus Is Lord, Caesar Is Not: Evaluating Empire in New Testament Studies


The New Testament is immersed in the often hostile world of the Roman Empire, but its relationship to that world is complex.

What is meant by Jesus' call to "render unto Caesar" his due, when Luke subversively heralds the arrival of a Savior and Lord who is not Caesar, but Christ? Is there tension between Peter's command to "honor the emperor" and John's apocalyptic denouncement of Rome as "Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots"?

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Jesus Is Lord, Caesar Is Not: Evaluating Empire in New Testament Studies

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The New Testament is immersed in the often hostile world of the Roman Empire, but its relationship to that world is complex.

What is meant by Jesus' call to "render unto Caesar" his due, when Luke subversively heralds the arrival of a Savior and Lord who is not Caesar, but Christ? Is there tension between Peter's command to "honor the emperor" and John's apocalyptic denouncement of Rome as "Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots"?

Under the direction of editors Scot McKnight and Joseph B. Modica, respected biblical scholars have come together to investigate an increasingly popular approach in New Testament scholarship of interpreting the text through the lens of empire. The contributors praise recent insights into the New Testament's exposé of Roman statecraft, ideology and emperor worship. But they conclude that rhetoric of anti-imperialism is often given too much sway. More than simply hearing the biblical authors in their context, it tends to govern what they must be saying about their context. The result of this collaboration, Jesus Is Lord, Caesar Is Not, is a groundbreaking yet accessible critical evaluation of empire criticism.

Contributors include:
David Nystrom on Roman ideologyJudith A. Diehl on the state of empire scholarshipJoel Willitts on MatthewDean Pinter on LukeChristopher W. Skinner on John's Gospel and LettersDrew Strait on ActsMichael F. Bird on RomansLynn Cohick on PhilippiansAllan R. Bevere on Colossians and PhilemonDwight Sheets on Revelation

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Prolific author and New Testament professor McKnight (The King Jesus Gospel), and Modica, biblical studies teacher at Eastern University, edit a collection of chapters for an educated audience that introduce and evaluate the recent scholarly interest in empire criticism. This viewpoint asserts that early Christianity was deeply influenced by and fundamentally opposed to the Roman imperial system. As empire critics read it, an anti-imperial tone pervades the New Testament. After a sketch of the imperial culture of Rome and introduction to empire criticism, the authors evaluate how empire criticism scholars have approached eight books from the New Testament, including the gospels, Acts, some letters of Paul, and Revelation. Most conclude that, while the Roman context informs the writings, empire criticism overstates the importance of anti-Roman rhetoric. Because the work largely consists in questioning the claims of other scholars, those wanting clearer examples of empire criticism at work will need to look elsewhere. This work does, however, offer a glimpse into current scholarly debate and suggest empire criticism has more to do with American concerns about current empires. (Apr.)
Peter Oakes
"A series of vigorous assessments of the question, How anti-imperial are the New Testament texts? Most of these clearly argued articles come down fairly firmly on the negative side although some, such as Bird on Romans, see the texts as posing challenges to Rome. Everyone involved in these debates will want to engage with this book."
Seyoon Kim
"A valuable book. Highly recommended as both a good introduction to and a sane evaluation of the currently popular anti-imperial interpretation of the New Testament. Most of the essays clearly demonstrate that that interpretation is driven more by assumptions and modern theories of postcolonial criticism than by sound exegesis."
Ben Witherington
"Finally a book that takes a balanced approach to the issue of imperial criticism of the NT. Following the lead of careful scholars like Christopher Bryan, the contributors remind us that it is overreading the NT to suggest that the writers were preoccupied with contrasting the lordship of Christ with that of Caesar. They operated with a cosmology that suggests that the ruler of this fallen world since long before there was a Roman Emperor is Satan, not Caesar. And while the NT writers certainly critique polytheism in its many guises, the imperial cult is seen as just one form of the many gods and lords subject to the one God's judgment. At the same time, the contributors to this volume urge that in the NT human rulers are not cast solely in a bad light. Jesus' kingdom is of a different sort than Caesar's. I highly commend this book."
Paul Trebilco
"These accessible studies are exemplary in their clarity, informed by excellent scholarship and highly insightful in their argumentation. Although it is acknowledged that 'empire criticism' has given us some valuable new insight, it is clearly shown that anti-imperial rhetoric is not a major emphasis of the NT, nor was it a key purpose of the NT authors to oppose Rome in what they wrote. These insightful essays advance our thinking on this very important topic and further our understanding of the gospel and of the relationship between God's kingdom and the powers of this world."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780830839919
  • Publisher: InterVarsity Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2013
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Scot McKnight (Ph.D., University of Nottingham) is professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. He is the author of The Jesus Creed, The King Jesus Gospel, A Community Called Atonement, Embracing Grace, The Real Mary and commentaries on James, Galatians and 1 Peter, and coeditor of the award-winning Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. He is also a widely recognized blogger at the Jesus Creed blog. His other interests include golfing, gardening and traveling.

Joseph B. Modica is university chaplain and associate professor of biblical studies at Eastern University (Pennsylvania). He completed his Ph.D. in New Testament and early Christianity at Drew University (New Jersey). His current research interests include spiritual formation, faith development and historical Jesus studies.

Andy Crouch (M.Div., Boston University School of Theology) is executive editor of Christianity Today, where he was also executive producer of This Is Our City, a multiyear project featuring documentary video, reporting and essays about Christians seeking the flourishing of their cities. He served as executive producer for the documentary films Where Faith and Culture Meet and Round Trip. He also sits on the editorial board for Books & Culture and has been a columnist for Christianity Today.

His writing has appeared in several editions of The Best Christian Writing and The Best Spiritual Writing. He was editor-in-chief of re:generation quarterly and for ten years served as a campus minister with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Harvard University. He is a coauthor of The Church in Emerging Culture and a contributor to the Worship Team Handbook.

A classically trained musician who draws on pop, folk, rock, jazz and gospel, Crouch has also led musical worship for congregations of 5 to 20,000.

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Table of Contents

Foreword by Andy Crouch
Scot McKnight and Joseph Modica
1. We Have No King But Caesar: Roman Imperial Ideology and the Imperial Cult
David Nystrom
2. Anti-Imperial Rhetoric in the New Testament
Judith A. Diehl
3. Matthew
Joel Willitts
4. The Gospel of Luke and the Roman Empire
Dean Pinter
5. John's Gospel and the Roman Imperial Context: An Evaluation of Recent Proposals
Christopher W. Skinner
6. Proclaiming Another King Named Jesus? The Acts of the Apostles and the Roman Imperial Cult(s)
Drew J. Strait
7. "One Who Will Arise to Rule Over the Nations": Paul's Letter to the Romans and the Roman Empire
Michael F. Bird
8. Philippians and Empire: Paul's Engagement with Imperialism and the Imperial Cult
Lynn H. Cohick
9. Colossians and the Rhetoric of Empire: A New Battle Zone
Allan R. Bevere
10. Something Old, Something New: Revelation and Empire
Dwight Sheets
Scot McKnight and Joseph Modica
Subject and Author Index
Scripture Index
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