Matthew Harmon


Matthew Harmon

Since 2006 Dr. Matthew S. Harmon has served as Professor of New Testament Studies at Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. He is also a member of Christ’s Covenant Church, where he serves on the Preaching Team, leads a small group, and teaches regularly in their Life Education classes.

Find out more at his blog, Biblical Theology, which is a forum for all matters pertaining to biblical theology (and some entirely unrelated).

Follow him on Twitter: @DocHarmon

Pseudepigraphy & Pseudonymity: Do You Know What They Are?

In the panel discussion I participated in... the issues of pseudepigraphy and pseudonymity were raised by one of the panelists. Since this is an important issue that challenges the inspiration, authority, and inerrancy of Scripture, I thought I would post a few thoughts.

1. First, some definitions. Pseudepigraphy (“false superscription”) refers to writings that have been falsely attributed to a well-known person. Pseudonymity (“false name”) is used synonymously to refer to the same phenomena, though as Carson and Moo point out, only the latter term can be traced back into antiquity. Examples include works like Wisdom of Solomon, 3 Corinthians, Assumption of Moses, Testament of Job, etc.

2. This phenomena encompasses a variety of motives, ranging from outright attempt to deceive to mistaken conclusions by well-meaning people. In other words, some authors intentionally claimed their work was that of someone else to deceive the audience and claim the authority of the falsely named author. At the same time, other works over time came to be associated with a figure with no intention to deceive; these were “honest” mistakes.

3. A distinction must be made between those works that are anonymous and later came to be associated with someone and those that make explicit claims to authorship. For example, the work called “Wisdom of Solomon” never explicitly claims to be written by Solomon (though 7:1–14 & 8:17–9:18 strongly suggest it); by contrast 1 Enoch directly claims to come from Enoch himself. This distinction is important when we come to the NT. It is one thing to note that Hebrews was (wrongly) thought by some in the early church to be written by Paul (it is anonymous); it is quite another to say that Ephesians was not written by Paul (despite its explicit claim).

4. Despite the fact that this was a common practice in the ancient world, there is absolutely no evidence that the early church ever knowingly accepted a pseudonymous document as authoritative. Again the discussion of Carson and Moo is instructive; they point out that even works (such as 3 Corinthians) that were highly regarded in parts of the early church were condemned when it was recognized to be falsely written in the name of Paul.

5. Therefore if any of the documents in the NT are, in fact, pseudonymous, they were accepted unknowingly. Furthermore, given the dating that many scholars give to supposedly “pseudonymous” letters, such as Ephesians and the Pastoral Epistles (usually late 1st century, well after Paul’s death), one must conclude that the recipients knew they were receiving a letter falsely written in the name of Paul. But then at some point this “knowledge” was lost. How does that happen?

6. The direct statements about pseudonymity in 2 Thess 2:1–2, 3:17 are often not fully appreciated. Paul explicitly warns the Thessalonians about being shaken by a letter claiming to be from him, and then concludes by noting that the writing of the postscript in his own hand was a distinguishing mark of his letters. Paul explicitly condemns the writing of a letter in his name. Of course, many critical scholars claim that 2 Thess is itself pseudonymous, which would mean that the real author of the letter was condemning the very practice he was engaging in! Talk about hubris!

7. Claims of pseudonymity, therefore, are usually based largely (if not entirely) on internal matters such as vocabulary, style, theology, etc. But notice how subjective such claims are! Do we really have enough of a body of writing from even Paul to emphatically state that Paul could not have written in a certain way? What about the potential role that a difference in amanuensis (secretary) would make in vocabulary and style. What about the difference in historical circumstances that Paul addresses; wouldn’t they make some difference in vocabulary, style, and theology?

8. At the end of the day, claims of pseudonymity are a direct denial of the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture, despite what some may claim. While, as evangelicals, we must not shy away from critical examination of the NT documents, we must also reject the naturalistic assumptions that frequently drive claims of pseudonymity.

This is but a brief excursion into the subject. If you want further discussion, let me once more direct you to the discussion in of Carson and Moo, pp. 337-350.


Since 2006 Dr. Matthew S. Harmon has served as Professor of New Testament Studies at Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. Find out more at his blog, Biblical Theology, which is a forum for all matters pertaining to biblical theology (and some entirely unrelated).


What J. R. R. Tolkien Thought About Preaching

In a letter to his son, Christopher, J. R. R. Tolkien attempts to explain why from his perspective so many sermons are so bad:

The answer to the mystery is prob[ably] not simple; but part of it is that ‘rhetoric’ (of which preaching is a dept.) is an art, which requires (a) some native talent and (b) learning and practice. The instrument used is v[ery] much more complex than a piano, yet most performers are in the position of a man who sits down to a piano and expects to move his audience without any knowledge of the notes at all. The art can be learned (granted some modicum of aptitude) and can then be effective, in a way, when wholly unconnected with sincerity, sanctity, etc.  But preaching is complicated by the fact that we expect in it not only a performance, but truth and sincerity, and also at least no word, tone, or note that suggests the possession of vices (such as hypocrisy, vanity) or defects (such as folly, ignorance) in the preacher.

Good sermons require some art, some virtue, some knowledge. Real sermons require some special grace which does not transcend art but arrives at it by instinct or ‘inspiration’; indeed the Holy Spirit seems sometimes to speak through a human mouth providing art, virtue, and insight he does not himself possess: but the occasions are rare. In other times I don’t think an educated person is required to suppress the critical faculty, but it should be kept in order by a constant endeavour to apply the truth (if any), even in cliché form, to oneself exclusively! A difficult exercise… (The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, p. 75)

A difficult exercise indeed! No wonder the apostle Paul wrote “who is sufficient for these things ” (2 Cor 2:16). Yet he also wrote “it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 Cor 1:21).


Dr. Matthew S. Harmon has served as Professor of New Testament Studies at Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary.


Should Evangelicals Use the Term "Social Justice"?

As a follow up to my two posts on the Kingdom of God and social justice, I want to briefly raise the question of whether we as evangelicals should use the phrase “social justice.” Please note that the issue is not whether evangelicals should be involved in social action; my two previous posts should make it clear enough where I stand on that.

But what about the expression “social justice”? While I am not ready to say evangelicals should completely abandon the phrase (though it might be warranted), I want to raise several concerns that we must think through when using the expression.

1. What do we mean by justice? Justice is one of those terms that seems self-evident, until we begin to press a bit harder. Whose idea of justice do we mean? What does the implementation of justice look like? Does it mean the redistribution of resources to ensure each has the exact same? What does Scripture say about justice? How much can we expect our efforts at justice in this life to match God’s standards for justice.

2. The flexibility of the term. The term is used by so many people from so many different perspectives with so many different agendas that it can be used in almost any cause: ending the global sex trade, poverty relief, debt relief, providing clean water, education reform, healthcare reform, gay rights, abortion, job training, welfare, environmentalism, etc. If you are really curious, check out this link, where there are multiple definitions of “social justice” by various folks. When a term is so broad as to include so much, I wonder just how useful it is.

3. What about mercy? In the midst of an emphasis on “justice,” we must never lose sight of mercy. Strict justice in some situations would preclude the opportunity for people to experience mercy. Many of the people who need the kind of ministries that fall under the umbrella of social justice desperately need mercy. They need someone to help them even though they deserve no help because they are in a situation of their own making.

Isn’t the beauty of the gospel that justice and mercy meet in the cross (reflect on Rom 3:21-26)? So as believers we should be those who seek to show the mercy of Christ who suffered the justice that was due to us.

So should we abandon the expression “social justice”? Perhaps. In some cases it has the great potential to muddy the waters. I understand the desire to use common expressions as an attempt to build bridges. But at what cost? And can we not continue to work to show mercy and work for justice without using the expression “social justice” with its potential to mislead? At the end of the day what matters is that our actions adorn the gospel of Jesus Christ and are an outworking of the justice and mercy that we have received at the cross


The Gospel According to the Minor Prophets

This past Sunday we came to the end of my class on the Minor Prophets. In an effort to try to summarize what we covered in the previous twelve weeks, I focused on two key concepts and four key themes.

Two Key Concepts

  1. The Covenantal Context. After discussing things like author, date and historical context we quickly moved to what we called the covenantal context. We did this because the respective covenants were the governing structure of how God interacts with his people throughout the Old Testament. So in looking at each Minor Prophet, we paid careful attention to how they drew upon the Abrahamic (Genesis 12:1-3), Mosaic (Exodus 19), and Davidic (2 Samuel 7) covenants.
  2. Initial & Final Fulfillment. Although we tend to think of the relationship between promise and fulfillment as a simple one-to-one correspondence, we have seen that in the Minor Prophets that is often not the case. The various promises made in the Minor Prophets often have an initial fulfillment in an event in the near future of the prophet while at the same time having a final fulfillment in the distant future. Nowhere was this clearer than in our discussion of the Day of the LORD. Each of the various “Days of the LORD” are only an initial fulfillment of the final Day of the LORD at the end of human history.

Four Key Themes

Although there were a number of themes that we could have highlighted, the following four were particularly important in light of their prominence in the New Testament:

  1. Temple. As we have seen the rebuilt temple was puny compared to Solomon’s original temple, as well as the temple prophesied in Ezekiel 40. But God reassured his people that this rebuilt temple was a sort of “down payment’ on the fulfillment of his promises (Zechariah 4:8-11). In perhaps the last OT book written, God warns his people of his impending visit to his temple (Malachi 3:1-4). That promise finds its fulfillment in the NT. John the Baptist is identified as the messenger sent to prepare the way of the LORD (Mark 1:2-4). He prepares the people for the incarnate Christ to visit his temple (Mark 11:15-18). Of course, we have also talked in here about the fact that the NT identifies Jesus as the true temple of God (John 2:13-22), and we as the church are God’s eschatological temple (Ephesians 2:11-22; 1 Peter 2:4-10).
  2. Torah. Although the promise of the Law being written on his people’s hearts is found in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, we do see a related promise in Micah 4:1-8. The Law of the LORD will go out from Zion and rule over a restored people of God. To properly understand this promise we have to combine it with the promise of the gift of the Spirit in Joel 2:28-32. It is the giving of the Spirit that enables God’s people to obey God’s Law. The promise of the gift of the Spirit is fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. He enables God’s people to live in step with God’s Law.
  3. Turf. As we noted above, God promises to restore his people to the land in several places (Hosea 2:21-23). This promise is rooted in the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants. Building upon hints in the Minor Prophets this promise of restoration to the land is expanded into the hope of a new creation. In the NT this hope is most clearly articulated in Romans 4:13, where Paul claims that God promised that Abraham would inherit the world, and Revelation 21, where the new heavens and earth are described.
  4. Throne. In the aftermath of the devastation of exile, God kept alive the hope of a Davidic king. But when that royal dynasty never materialized after their return to the land, the hunger for a Son of David (Micah 5:2-5; Amos 9:11-15). Of course, in the NT it is obvious that Jesus is the promised Son of David who will rule over God’s people (Mark 10:46-52; Romans 1:2-4).

Summary List of the Theological Big Idea for Each Minor Prophet

As a final review tool, I have provided a summary chart on your handout for each Minor Prophet and the Theological Big Idea that I identified for it.

Theological Big Idea for Each Minor Prophet

Hosea God’s people must turn from their idolatrous pursuit of lovers who will not satisfy and return to the Lord, their true husband and redeemer.
Joel In the coming day of God’s universal judgment, those who call on the name of Jesus Christ will be filled with His Spirit to enjoy the new creation with Him forever.
Amos When the Day of the Lord comes, God will judge the sins of His people and reconstitute His people under a Davidic king to inhabit a new creation.
Obadiah God will soon defeat the enemies of His people and establish His rule over His people forever.
Jonah God’s extravagant compassion towards us should prompt us to be conduits of compassion to others.
Micah Because our sin has been judged at the cross and we live in the last days, we must walk humbly with our truly unique God in heartfelt obedience.
Nahum God will judge the wicked and restore His people to freedom through His ultimate Warrior-King, Jesus Christ.
Habakkuk Even when we cannot trace God’s hand of justice or providence, we can patiently trust and rejoice in His character.
Zephaniah Yahweh is a mighty warrior who brings judgment but saves the remnant who flee to him as their King.
Haggai Yahweh will renew His presence among His people and re-establish His reign over His people by sending Jesus Christ as His Messianic King.
Zechariah God’s people already participate in the restored Jerusalem through repentance and faith in Jesus as they await the consummation of God’s kingdom.
Malachi God calls his people to repent of our apathy towards his proper worship and fear his name in anticipation of the great and fearful Day of the LORD.

Want to hear more? Check out the links below:

Week 13 – Conclusion (Audio)

Week 13 – Conclusion (Handout)


Stirring the Mind to Contemplate the Glory of Christ

In his treatise “Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ,” John Owen offers six “directions” for stirring up the minds of believers to contemplate the glory of Christ (chapter 4):

  1. Let us get it fixed on our souls and minds, that this glory of Christ in the divine constitution of his person is the best, the most noble, useful, beneficial object that we can be conversant about in our thoughts, or cleave unto in our affections.
  2. Our second direction unto the same end is, that we diligently study the Scripture, and the revelations that are made of this glory of Christ therein.
  3. Another direction to this same end is, that having attained the light of the knowledge of the glory of Christ from the Scripture, or by the dispensation of the truth in the preaching of the gospel, we would esteem it our duty frequently to meditate thereon.
  4. Let your occasional thoughts of Christ be many, and multiplied every day.
  5. The next direction is, that all our thoughts concerning Christ should be accompanied with admiration, adoration, and thanksgiving.

There is a beautiful progression in these five directions. Owen begins by holding out the beauty of Christ as the highest end we could possibly pursue (1), and then directs us where to find that vision of Christ—the Scriptures (2). But he is not content to allow such a vision of Christ to remain in our times in the Word (whether through personal reading or hearing the Word preached and taught); he exhorts us to frequently reflect/meditate on the beauty of Christ that we have seen in the Word (3). Such meditation and reflection should not be limited to devoted time in the Word and prayer, but should spill over into our “occasional thoughts” throughout the day (4). He then concludes with the reminder that such reflections should not be merely an intellectual exercise, but should be joined with our affections (5).


Dr. Matthew S. Harmon is a Professor of New Testament Studies at Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. Find out more at his blog, Biblical Theology.


3 Ways to Handle False Teaching and False Teachers

All one has to do is walk into most Christian bookstores or tune into so-called Christian radio/TV to realize that false teaching is alive and well. So how should a gospel-centered church respond?

Titus 1:10-16 shows us how. But before noting what that passage tells us, it is important to note that Titus 1:5-9 provides us with qualifications for elders. Within the context of Titus, then, the necessity of biblically qualified elders is in part rooted in the need to deal with false teaching.

Having established that, in Titus 1:10-16 Paul identifies three ways that gospel-centered churches handle false teaching:

1. Gospel-Centered Churches Recognize False Teaching/Teachers (Titus 1:10-13)

When doctors are in medical school, part of their training involves diagnosing illnesses by the symptoms that present themselves. In the same way, Paul provides us with some diagnostic tools to recognize false teaching. He instructs us to observe their character (insubordinate, empty talkers, deceivers, etc.), their tactics (upsetting whole families, playing to the culture), and their motivation (shameful gain).

2. Gospel-Centered Churches Rebuke False Teaching/Teachers (Titus 1:13-14)

When Paul says “Rebuke them sharply” he uses a play on words with the false teachers’ promotion of circumcision. In effect Paul says something like, “Use the sharp knife of correction with those who wield the dull blade of circumcision.” Paul is not advocating legal action, nor is he promoting a witch hunt. But false teaching is so dangerous that it requires corrective action. The goal of that corrective action is “so that they may be sound in the faith” (1:13). The word translated “sound” can also mean healthy. True spiritual health comes from the gospel, not false teaching.

3. Gospel-Centered Churches Resist False Teaching/Teachers (Titus 1:15-16)

Knowledge of what the gospel teaches about various subjects is the preventative vaccine that enables the believer to resist false teaching. Truly embracing this vaccine produces not merely head knowledge of the gospel, but good works that flow out genuine saving faith.

Regardless of whether you are an elder or not, every believer is responsible for being so familiar with the true gospel that false teaching is immediately obvious. The gospel is the only way that we can be made pure, because it points us to the only one who is truly pure-Jesus Christ. And everyone who has their hope set on him purifies himself in anticipation of his return (1 John 3:1-3).


A Biblical Theology of Servanthood

One of the things I most enjoy in teaching is tracing a biblical-theological theme from Genesis to Revelation. So when Brian McCrorie, the pastor of Heather Hills Baptist Church, invited me to come to his church’s leadership retreat and teach on a biblical theology of servanthood, I eagerly accepted.

So in the 75 minutes I was given, I attempted to show that because we failed to serve God in the way we were created to, God raised up servants to point forward to the ultimate servant Jesus Christ. Throughout redemptive history God gives the title “servant” to key figures such as Adam, Moses, Joshua, David, and the Isaianic servant, each of whom anticipates some aspect of Jesus’ identity.

Want to hear more? You can listen below and follow along with the handout:

MP3

A Selective and Necessarily Brief Biblical Theology of Servant (Heather Hills Study Retreat 01-09-2015)


Dr. Matthew S. Harmon is a Professor of New Testament Studies at Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. Find out more at his blog, Biblical Theology.


TGIM – Thank God It’s Monday?

We are all familiar with the abbreviation TGIF – Thank God It’s Friday. It has become such a part of our culture that there is even a restaurant named T.G.I.Fridays! We live in a culture that often lives for the weekend, or the next vacation. According to a recent study, only about 45% of American workers are either satisfied or extremely satisfied with their jobs. A different survey suggests that the number may be as low as 33%. Only 20% of Americans feel very passionate about their jobs. Perhaps most telling was the fact that 33% of those surveyed believed they had reached a dead end in their career.

In light of that reality, a good number of us do not look forward to Monday and the start of the work week. But what would have to happen in our hearts to make us actually look forward to going to work no matter what kind of job situation we are in? To get us to the point where we might actually find ourselves saying TGIM – Thank God It’s Monday?

Only something as powerful as the gospel can transform our work from drudgery to delight. Curious? At this link you can listen to a recent sermon I gave from Ephesians 6:5-9. It was part of our church’s series entitled “The Gospel Changes Everything,” in which we walked through the entire book of Ephesians.


Dr. Matthew S. Harmon is a Professor of New Testament Studies at Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. Find out more at his blog, Biblical Theology.


Idolatry in Christian Ministry

In my continuing study of Philippians, I have been working my way through Markus Bockmuehl’s The Epistle to the Philippians in the Black’s New Testament Commentary. In speaking about some of his Christian brothers in Rome who were preaching Christ more boldly because of Paul’s imprisonment, Paul writes in Philippians 1:17:

“the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.” (NASB)

Sometimes one finds a one-liner that captures the essence of what the biblical text says. I found that statement in Bockmuehl’s commentary when he writes:

“The robe of ‘Christian ministry’ cloaks many a shameless idolatry” (p. 80).

In this concise one-liner Bockmuehl identifies one of the most acceptable forms of idolatry in evangelicalism: ministry. In the name of serving the Lord far too many pastors, missionaries, professors, and lay people are, in fact, furthering their own agendas for personal fulfillment and success. In a word, that is idolatry. It is placing ministry ahead of God himself, and it is so dangerous because on the outside it looks good.

Here in the context of Philippians 1:12-26 Paul provides the necessary corrective: to have as our highest aim the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So the question for each of us involved in ministry is this: do you care who gets the credit? Are you fine with others being recognized for their faithful gospel ministry while your own proclaiming of Christ remains under appreciated or recognized? What happens in your heart when someone else receives credit for something YOU did? Can you be content with rejoicing in the progress of the gospel rather than nursing resentment that you did not receive the recognition?

May we take seriously the admonition with which John closes his first letter:

Little children, guard yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:21)


Dr. Matthew S. Harmon has served as Professor of New Testament Studies at Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary.


What Does It Mean to be a Citizen of God’s Kingdom?

One thing you realize very quickly when you travel internationally is the value and importance of a passport. As you enter and leave a country you need to be able to show that passport, or you aren’t going anywhere. That passport is tangible proof of your citizenship, the place you call home. Indeed, in the past it was even common to refer to the country you were from as your homeland.

When we talk about citizenship, we are at some level also talking about our identity. Our citizenship plays a role in shaping who we are, what we value, what is important to us, and how we live. Since as believers we are citizens of God’s kingdom, that reality should shape the way that we we live as sojourners and exiles in this world.

What does it mean to live as a citizen of God’s kingdom? What is it that governs our lives as citizens of God’s kingdom?

This past Sunday I had the privilege of answering these questions as I preached on Philippians 1:27–30. You can find the audio here, and read even more about it in my Philippians commentary.


Dr. Matthew S. Harmon has served as Professor of New Testament Studies at Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary.


5 Foundations for Unity in the NT

One of the perennial issues when discussing NT theology is the tension between the diversity of the individual documents and the claim that they contain a unified message. When reading through the NT, it does not take long to realize, for example, that Luke sounds different than John, and Paul different than both of them.

So what basis is there for seeing unity in the midst of such diversity? I suggest the following five foundations, offered in approximate order of significance in my mind.

  1. The various NT authors explicitly or implicitly work from the same basic kerygma. A comparison of the Gospels with the speeches in Acts as well as the teaching in the epistles reveals a basic sequence of events and actions pertaining to Christ that unify their message and establish parameters for true in contrast to false doctrine. Especially helpful in this regard is the work of C.H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and its Development.
  2. The various NT authors all wrote in the context of the mission of Jesus and the extension of that mission through the church. Each of the NT documents arose in the context of missionary expansion of the church. The Gospels testify to the mission of Jesus, Acts connects the mission of the church to the mission of Jesus, the Epistles address issues arising in the advance of mission, and Revelation describes the consummation of Jesus’ mission in a new heaven and new earth. Particularly noteworthy on this point is the work of David Wenham, “Unity and Diversity in the NT,” in G.E. Ladd, A Theology of the NT, 712-713.
  3. The various NT authors all claim continuity with and fulfillment of the OT hope. Although done in a variety of ways (promise/fulfillment, typology, salvation-history), all of the NT authors see the person and work of Jesus as the realization of what the OT promised. Note here should be made of C.H. Dodd, According to the Scriptures: The Sub-structure of NT Theology. The OT supplies the conceptual framework for their understanding of Jesus and significance of his actions.
  4. The divine inspiration of the various NT authors produces a demonstrable unity of thought. I have placed this one fourth for the simple reason that I want to show that arguing for unity in the NT does not exclusively hinge on accepting the inspiration of the NT. Of course, as one who firmly believes in the inspiration of both the OT and NT, it makes sense that there would be unity in the various documents if He was in fact responsible for their production. In one sense then we could argue that the diversity of the NT documents is a product of the individual human authors and their peculiar modes of thought/expression, while their unity is the result of the one Spirit inspiring those different authors to produce exactly what God wants said exactly how he wants it said.
  5. The recognition by the church of these NT documents as inspired and authoritative led them to organize them into the canon. The very fact that the church recognized some documents as authoritative and others as not demonstrates a conviction that there is in fact a core to the apostolic message. While not denying that this was a process not without dispute, the church’s recognition of these documents indicates a perceived unity among the 27 documents that should not be dismissed lightly.

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list; no doubt others can think of other reasons for seeing unity in the 27 diverse NT documents. As to the order, I have chosen to prioritize the first three in order to stress that claiming unity in the NT does not rest solely on one’s belief in divine inspiration and the acceptance of the canon.


Why Teach the Storyline of Scripture?

In anticipation of a one-week biblical theology course that I am teaching with Jim Hamilton at Northland International University in January, we were asked why it is important to study the storyline of Scripture. You can see our responses below:

Jim and I are excited to be working together in this class, and would love for you to join us. The course applies to the degrees for Master of Arts, Master of Ministry, and Doctor of Ministry. The great thing is that Northland will scholarship the cost of tuition for any first time student. You can find more information on the course here.