Bibliotheca Sacra 109 (Jan. 1952): 55-62

         Copyright © 1952 by Dallas Theological Seminary. Cited with permission.    

 

 

                                                Department of

                        New Testament Greek and Literature

 

 

                        The Kingdom of God
       In the Jewish Apocryphal Literature

 

 

                                        By George E. Ladd, Ph.D.

 

                                                INTRODUCTION

 

            It is important for the thoughtful student of New Testa-

ment eschatology to possess an accurate understanding of

Jewish eschatological expectations in New Testament times.

There are several reasons for this. Scholars have often

maintained that Jesus was influenced by and shared the   

views of His contemporaries. Epoch-making in modern

Biblical criticism has been the work of Albert Schweitzer,

the famous missionary-theologian, who elaborated the view

already espoused by Johannis Weiss,1 that Jesus expected

the world immediately to come to an end by apocalyptic

intrusion of God for the establishment of the kingdom of

God on earth.2 This conclusion was achieved by "the thorough-

going application of Jewish eschatology to the interpretation

of the teaching and work of Jesus."3 Schweitzer inaugurated

a new epoch in the study of Gospel eschatology, as a survey

of criticism since his day clearly shows.4 Conservative Bible

students in America have paid little attention to this move-

ment in liberal criticism; but it is part of the theological

life of the world in which we live and has made a strong

impact upon modern theological thought. It cannot be ignored.

 

 

1Cf. Johannis Weiss, Die Predigt Jesu vom Reiche Gottes (Göttingen,

     1892, 2 Aufl. 1900). This work has not been translated into English.

2See Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (London, 1910),

     pp. 249-395.

3Albert Schweitzer, Paul and His Interpreters (London, 1912), p. ix.

4See Amos N. Wilder, Eschatology and Ethics in the Teaching of Jesus

     (Revised edition; New York, 1950), chapter II.

 

                                                            (55)



56                                            Bibliotheca Sacra

 

It is obvious that no student can criticize Schweitzer's posi-

tion without a good grasp of Jewish eschatology.

            Schweitzer's viewpoint postulates a human Jesus, a man

of His times, who was utterly deluded by vain apocalyptic ex-

pectations. This is why many conservative students who ac-

cept the New Testament teaching that Jesus was God incar-

nate have largely ignored his position. However, the fact

remains that Jesus came to Jews of the first century and of

necessity had to relate His teaching to their thinking. Sound

pedagogy must begin with the thinking of those who are taught,

and Jesus was the Master Teacher. What did the "kingdom of

God" mean in the ears of a first century Jew? What thoughts

were aroused in his mind by the phrase "Son of Man"? Why

did the Jews reject the Messiah? How did Christ's kingdom

differ from the one they expected? From our vantage point,

we interpret these phases in the light of the full New Testa-

ment revelation; it is obvious that a Jew of 30 A.D. could

not do so. The appreciation of our Lord's self-revelation and

of the response of the Jews to Him is greatly enhanced by an

understanding of the mind of first century Judaism, espe-

cially with reference to eschatological and Messianic expec-

tations.

            Furthermore, it must be recognized that there is a certain

relationship between New Testament eschatology and Jewish

eschatology. The Protestant Christian believes that the Old

and the New Testaments were inspired by the Spirit of God

and therefore represent the mind of God, while the Jewish

writings produced between the two Testaments are not

inspired but represent only human thinking. While we share

this view, we cannot deny that there are areas in which New

Testament theology is very close to, if not identical with,

contemporary Jewish eschatology where there is no ante-

cedent Old Testament teaching. So striking is this phenome-

non, that one staunch contender for the Biblical faith, Geer-

hardus Vos, was led to say, "There is no escape from the

conclusion that a piece of Jewish theology has been here by

Revelation incorporated into the Apostle's teaching. . .

 



            Kingdom of God in Jewish Apocryphal Literature     57

 

The main structure of the Jewish Apocalyptic is embodied

in our Lord's teaching as well as in Paul's."5 This raises

questions for the serious student of the Bible which neces-

sarily involve an understanding of Jewish teaching. There

is need for much scholarly study on the relationship between

New Testament and Jewish eschatology. Conservatives have      

for the most part left this area of investigation to liberal

scholars.

            There is one point where this Jewish eschatology bears

directly upon the views of conservative students, viz., the

future aspect of the kingdom of God. In both the Gospels and

the Epistles there is a uniform emphasis upon the future

eschatological aspect of the kingdom; and Revelation 20

affirms that resurrected saints are to live and reign with 

Christ for a thousand years. The natural interpretation of

these words is that after the Second Advent of Christ there

will be a period of a thousand years' duration during which

Christ and the resurrected saints will reign over this earth.

This is, of course, the position of Bibliotheca Sacra, and it

is the position of the writer and of the seminary faculty of

which he is a member. It was the position of the early

Christian church. Some premillennialists, as we are called,

have gone so far as to claim practically every one of the

early fathers of the church for this position. This affirms

more than the evidence allows, for many of the fathers have

nothing to say about a millennial kingdom-either to affirm

or deny it. They are silent on the subject, and the argument

from silence is precarious. In former days it was enough to

argue, as did D. T. Taylor,6 that if any author entertained

a vivid expectation of the second coming of Christ he must

have been ipso facto a premillenarian, for he could not have

been a postmillenarian. This line of reasoning assumes that

the choice is limited to the premillennial and postmillennial

 

 

5Geerhardus Vos, The Pauline Eschatology (published by the author,

      1930) p. 28.

6Cf. D. T. Taylor, The Voice of the Church (Philadelphia, 1856). Later

      editions of this book were published under the title, The Reign of

      Christ on Earth.



58                                Bibliotheca Sacra

 

positions; but today the view known as amillennialism7 is

a very live option and is popular in some thoroughly conserv-

ative circles. Thus it has been maintained8 that only a very

few of the early fathers were millennialists. This claim is

based on the argument from silence, assuming that any

author who does not mention the millennium did not believe

in it. It is true that only a few writers clearly mention the

millennium; but the facts are set in a clearer light when it

is recognized that every church father of the first two cen-

turies who touches at all upon the subject does so to affirm

belief in a literal millennium. There is not a single amillen-

nialist or postmillennialist in the early history of the church,9

judging from the extant records with the exception of Caius

of Rome (cir. 200; cf. Eusebius, H. E. III.xxviii.2)—who

rejected the Montanists who taught it—until the times of

Origen (185-254 A.D.) in Alexandria and Augustine (354-

430 A.D.) in North Africa; and each of them espoused an

anti-millenarian position because of exegetical or theological

presuppositions which led them to depart from the natural

interpretation of Revelation 20.

            How is this, rather uniform presence of millenarian views

in the early church to be accounted for? It is either the

natural and true interpretation of Revelation 20 and there-

fore the heritage of the early church from the Apostles; or

it must be due to an erroneous interpretation which crept

into the thinking of Christians immediately after apostolic

times. This is what the modern exponents of the anti-mil-

 

7This view, as the name indicates, maintains that there is no millennium

      at all.

8L. Berkhof, The Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids, 1951), pp. 21;133.  

      Berkhof includes as a chiliast Hermas, who makes no clear reference to

      a millennium; but he does not mention Justin Martyr, whose clear

      support of the doctrine is one of the strongest evidences of its wide

      prevalence. Cf. A. Harnack, "Millennium," Encyclopedia Britannica

      (Ninth edition), XVI, 328.

9D. H. Kromminga in The Millennium in the Church (Grand Rapids,

      1945, pp. 29-40) claims Barnabas (cir. 96-131 A.D.) for the amillennial

      position; but to the present writer, Barnabas is one of the most explicit

      of the early millenarians, and Berkhof (op. cit., p. 21) attributes the

      millennial belief to him.



            Kingdom o f God in Jewish Apocryphal Literature     59

 

lenarian interpretation affirm. ". . . Chiliastic10 views were

extensively circulated in the early church through such

Jewish or Jewish-Christian writings as Enoch, 4 Esdras, As-
 sumption of Moses, Ascension of Isaiah, Psalms of Solomon,

Baruch, writings which neither Jews nor Christians regarded

as canonical."11

            There is no question but that some of the Jewish writings

mentioned above reflect "chiliastic" views. But that is not to

admit that chiliasm is an unbiblical doctrine, because it is

Jewish. To solve such a problem one must familiarize himself

thoroughly with the Jewish views to discover what precisely

the Jews did believe about the kingdom of God, and how

their belief compares or contrasts with the Biblical teaching.

It has been the privilege of the present writer to have devoted

considerable attention to this particular area of the history

of doctrine, and it is the purpose of this series of articles to

discuss those portions of the Jewish writings which reflect

opinions about the kingdom of God.

            There are four main sources for our knowledge of Jewish

thought in New Testament times: the New Testament, Jose-

phus, the talmudic literature, and the Apocrypha and Pseu-

depigrapha. Josephus has nothing to say about the kingdom

or Messianic expectations of the Jews, and so need not

enter into our study. The talmudic literature presents a vast

field and very specialized problems. This literature is essen-

tially the written deposit of the stream of oral tradition fre-

quently referred to in the Gospel as the "tradition of the

fathers" (cf. Mark 7:3, 5, 9 etc.). These traditions were first

codified and fixed in written form in the second century in

 

10Properly, the terms "millennial" (or "millenarian") and "chiliastic" are

      strictly synonymous, the former coming from Latin and the latter from

      Greek, referring to the earthly reign which is to be of a thousand

      years' duration. The two terms are often so used. However, the word

      "chiliastic" has come to be used of any view which anticipates an

      earthly kingdom, however long its duration may be. None of the books

      to which Professor Allis refers speaks of a thousand year kingdom,

      as we shall see in later articles in this new series.

11O. T. Allis, Prophecy and the Church (Philadelphia, 1945), p. 287. Cf.

      also L. Berkhof, op. cit., p. 21.



60                                Bibliotheca Sacra

 

the Mishnah,12 but the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds

which incorporate the continuation of this stream of tradition

were not written until the fourth and sixth centuries respec-

tively.13

            There were, however, many writings which were pro-

duced during the first two centuries before Christ and the

first century A.D. expressing views which were held by

Jesus' contemporaries. These have been collected and rendered

into an English translation in the collections usually called

the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha.14 This is not the place

to outline the history of these collections, but a few words

are necessary. These two terms do not designate collections

of writings made by the Jews. To them, all religious litera-

ture was either canonical or noncanonical; and it would

therefore be more accurate to speak of this entire group of

writings as the Jewish apocryphal literature.15 Some of

these books were included in the Greek translation of the

Old Testament used by Greek-speaking Jews in Alexandria

in the first two centuries before Christ. Through this channel,

some of them came to be cherished by the early Christian

Church and found their way into some editions of the Greek

Bible very early in the Christian era. Thence they passed

into the oldest Latin translations. It is quite clear that there

was no distinctly delineated collection at this time, for the

lists of apocryphal books found in the three oldest extant

manuscripts of the Greek Bible vary considerably from

each other.16 From the Old Latin version they passed into

 

12English translation by H. Danby, The Mishnah (Oxford, 1933).

13This mass of talmudic literature has been made available for New

     Testament students in the monumental work of Herman L. Strack and

     Paul Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und

     Midrasch (München, 1922), 4 vols.

14Cf. R. H. Charles, ed., The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old

     Testament (Oxford, 1913), 2 vols. The reader is referred to this work

     for all of the quotations from these writings which follow.

15Cf. C. C. Torrey, The Apocryphal Literature (New Haven, 1945), p. 11.

16Cf. H. B. Swete, An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek

     (Cambridge, 1902), pp. 201-2.



            Kingdom of God in Jewish Apocryphal Literature     61

 

the later editions of the Vulgate,17 and thence into some

English editions of the Bible. It is from this background

that the term "Apocrypha" has come to designate the distinct

collection of books which is found, for instance, in the

English version of the Catholic Bible. The collection, how-

ever, has no intrinsic literary, historical or religious reason

for existing as such, apart from the history of the Bible in

the Roman church.

            The books of this type which were not included in the

Apocrypha came to be known as the Pseudepigrapha. This

again is an inaccurate term. Properly, a pseudepigraph is a

writing which claims an author who did not produce it.

Enoch, the Apocalypse of Baruch, and IV Ezra are genuine

pseudepigrapha, for it is certain that Enoch, Baruch, and

Ezra were not the authors of our extant books. Not all

of the so-called Pseudepigrapha are pseudepigraphs: such

books as Jubilees, the Sibylline Oracles, Third and Fourth

Maccabees and Pirke Aboth make no claim to pseudepigraphic

authorship. On the other hand, one book customarily included

in the Apocrypha is a geniune pseudepigraph, viz., IV Ezra.

            All of the books included in the Apocrypha and Pseudepig-

rapha were probably produced between the years 200 B.C.

and 100 A.D. and provide us with one of the finest sources

for the study of Jewish thought in New Testament times.

A very difficult question is the extent to which the views

reflected in these writings were current among the Jewish

people. This is particularly difficult with reference to

eschatological expectations, for the ideas in this area found

in the talmudic literature are somewhat different. It has

been held, therefore, that these apocalyptic books represent

individual speculations, or at the most the esoteric views of

small, closely knit groups of people. However, it is quite

customary for scholars to take the expectations of this

literature as rather widely known among the Jewish people,

 

17Jerome, recognizing that they were apocryphal, desired to exclude them

     from his translation of the Old Testament. He finally admitted only

     two under pressure of friends. Cf. B. F. Westcott, The Bible in the

     Church (London, 1885), p. 183.



62                                Bibliotheca Sacra

 

and it is the writer's judgment that this is a sound pro-

cedure.18

            The procedure in the studies which follow will be to take

up each of the books which contain expectations about the

kingdom of God, to say a few words of an introductory

nature concerning the character, date, and content of each

book, to quote as completely as possible those portions which

reflect kingdom expectations, to indicate in footnotes the

most important critical literature that the advanced student

may pursue the matter further, and to conclude with a brief

evaluation. The reader will then have before him the primary

sources for the Jewish views on the kingdom of God so far

as we possess them.. Too often students have been content

with second-hand opinions on such matters. There is nothing

which can take the place of a personal acquaintance with

the primary sources, and it is the main purpose of the follow-

ing series to make this acquaintance possible in a very limited

area for students who have not had the privilege of thorough,

study of a very difficult body of literature. The books to

be considered are as follows: Jubilees, Enoch, the Psalms of

Solomon, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, the As-

sumption of Moses, IV Ezra, the Apocalypse of Baruch, the

Secrets of Enoch, and the Sibylline Oracles. These books

are arranged above roughly in chronological order.

Pasadena, California

 

                        (To be continued in the April-June Number, 1952)

 

 

18Cf. the brief but excellent remarks of Charles in The Apocrypha and

     Pseudepigrapha, Vol„ II, p. vii.

 

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:

Dallas Theological Seminary

            3909 Swiss Ave.

            Dallas, TX   75204

            www.dts.edu

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu

            Thanks to Amy Gentile for help with proofing.