Bryan Estelle – Echoes of Exodus – Author Interview

exodus bible study estelle coverBryan D. Estelle (Ph.D, Catholic University of America) is professor of Old Testament at Westminster Seminary California where he has taught since 2000. He is also the author of Echoes of Exodus: Tracing a Biblical Motif.

Dr. Estelle is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Prior to taking his position at WSC, he was a pastor in an Orthodox Presbyterian congregation in Maryland and was involved in planting a church in Oregon for the Presbyterian Church in America. He lectured in Hebrew at The Catholic University between 1997 and 2000. He is a member of the Society of Biblical Literature, the Catholic Biblical Association, the National Association of the Professors of Hebrew, and a Fellow of the Institute of Biblical Religion.

Dr. Estelle is the author of Salvation through Judgment and Mercy: The Gospel According to Jonah, and Echoes of Exodus: Tracing a Biblical Motif (link below). He has contributed essays to Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry: Essays by the Faculty of Westminster Seminary California; The Law Is Not of Faith: Essays on Works and Grace in the Mosaic Covenant (contributor and co-editor); and But Let A Man Examine Himself: Children and the Lord’s Supper. He has also contributed articles and reviews to The Biblical Historian, The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, The Confessional Presbyterian, Hebrew Studies, Maarav, Modern Reformation, New Horizons, Ordained Servant, Westminster Theological Journal, and Themelios. He was a contributor to and an Old Testament editor of the Reformation Study Bible. He is also a contributor to the forthcoming Baker Dictionary of Biblical Words.

Learn more about the Exodus in the Old and New Testament

Recently, Dr. Estelle graciously answered my questions about his book. Readers will learn how this book came to be, what is unique about it among other books on Exodus, and how the project edified him personally.

1. What previous research and/or personal interests helped prepare you to write Echoes of Exodus? How was this particular project born?

This project was born out of necessity. I started to work on an elective class when I first took up my teaching responsibilities at Westminster Seminary in 2000. As I offered the class several times, the project began to grow. I started to notice lots of research that had been done on the topic but no one seemed to have tied it all together. That’s what I wanted to do. I was trained in Semitic languages and literatures, Hebrew and Aramaic especially. But I also had this deep interest in biblical and systematic theology. Well, the project just kept snowballing. Then, Dan Reid at IVP Academic caught wind of it. He was very keen on doing the project. The rest is history.

2. Who is the intended audience for Echoes of Exodus? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

I wrote the book to reach a wide audience, primarily my students, Pastors, and really interested lay people. Although the first chapter and appendix are fairly “heady” and theoretical, the remainder of the book is accessible to a wide audience if they have the motivation. Although biblical languages are referenced, IVP wanted me to transliterate the Hebrew and Greek so it could be made accessible to a wider audience. In other words, although some of my arguments had to appeal to technical questions involving Greek and Hebrew, one who has not been able to study those languages can easily follow my argument and train of thought. I think the book could definitely benefit Pastors who are preaching on Exodus. Moreover, sincethe Exodus is the “grammar of deliverance and salvation” by which the biblical writers often make their claims, it has important material for any serious minded Christian. I hope that my Jewish colleagues can learn from it as well although they will disagree with some of my claims. I did try and make constructive arguments in light of recent trends in methodology in biblical studies (especially intertextual studies and canonical studies). Therefore, I hope that fellow scholars will engage my arguments especially into how “allusion competence” and intertextuality work in any literature, but especially in the Bible.

3. What is unique about Echoes of Exodus? What contribution does it make to biblical studies and/or biblical theology?

First, I think that my book ties together much of the research on individual sections of Scripture that forefront the Exodus, the “new Exodus” as described in Isaiah and other prophets, and demonstrates how those books are integral to the New Testament development of Jesus as the agent of the New Exodus, the one greater than Moses, that executes and outstrips anything Moses ever did, and who brings to fruition the new exodus which embodies his greater work as the Penalty paying substitution for our sins and as the Probation keeping Messiah who fulfills all the first Adam and Israel (as the son of God) fails to accomplish. Where Adam and Israel failed, Christ prevailed.

Second, I think (by God’s grace), I have brought together some of the most recent trends in biblical studies to bear on this very important theme and motif. Without going down the path of a “central dogma”; nevertheless, I have demonstrated that the exodus motif is very central to the biblical story and drama.

Third, I think that my argument supports the claim that a careful and detailed study of the history of salvation will support the historical presentation of the order of salvation. Therefore, biblical theology and systematic theology are not antagonistic. To be perfectly clear, the history of salvation most often supports what Systematics has been saying about the Bible.

4. In your book, you help the reader identify and understand the exodus motif as it’s found throughout the Bible. What is it about the exodus narrative that the biblical authors after Moses found so alluring that they would employ the event in their own message even though they were writing to different audiences, at different times, and even in different literary genres?

Great question! I’m not sure because it is hard to enter into their mindset except through the texts and words that they have left behind for us. First, I think the Psalms and Isaiah (not to mention the other subsequent writers/narrators) think that the Exodus really did happen in space and time. That may not sound so radical or earthshaking if you are not familiar with the scholarship on the Exodus; however, it is! These subsequent authors/narrators in Scripture think that one can bank on these past deliverances because God really did act powerfully to vindicate his people. Moreover, since the narrative of the Exodus really does broker truth, one can hope for the future as well. That is one reason why the Exodus has become such a powerful metaphor in the rhetoric of liberators throughout the centuries.

5. You describe Jesus as “the agent of the eschatological new exodus” (p. 208) and propose that this reality has implications for Christians today (p. 322-326). Can you please suggest an application for Christian living as an example?

This too is also a great question. Forgive me ahead of time for the personal reflection, but the person framing these questions seems to have connected with my deepest intents. Yes, I am convinced from my painstaking research in the Old and New Testaments, that Jesus is the Messiah, the second and greater Moses, who fulfills once and for all the “exodus grammar” describing deliverance from Satan and sin.

My reading of the Exodus is definitely not “political”. That doesn’t mean I don’t think there is such a thing as “political theology.” Just look at the debate between John Collins and Levinson (it can be found in the footnotes). However, to politicize the exodus story is to miss its main point. As much as the Scriptures are concerned about social justice and righteousness (and they are), they are especially concerned to describe the remedy for the greatest cosmic injustice that has ever occurred; namely, the affront to God that sin really is. As one American theologian once said, “Who, at the foot of Calvary, can pronounce sin to be a slight matter?”

Jesus, as the agent of the eschatological new exodus, has made a perfect satisfaction for sin and the problem of estrangement between the Creator and the creature as the human and divine mediator between God and humans.

Moreover, it struck me during my research (and I did not set out to prove this from the beginning) that the debate (often filled with rancor sadly), between those who emphasize union with Christ vis-à-vis the legal or forensic foundations of salvation is really a false dilemma. The two are complementary, not antagonistic.

6. What section or passage of Echoes of Exodus was particularly memorable to research and write? What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

Wow, that’s a hard question to answer. I think I learned something new and exciting at every turn and that is why I am so grateful to God to do what I do: applying my skills and training to serve him and his church. It is so fun when you are researching and writing to learn something new, almost every day.

I was involved (as a “Hebraist”) in developing a new Psalter/Hymnal for my church, so this work overlapped for which I am thankful. I was particularly struck by God’s providence working through the Prophet Isaiah to prepare the way (no pun intended) for the New Testament revelation. I did enjoy engaging NT Wright and R. Hays (with whom I disagree at many points but also appreciate their erudition) and feeling as though I had legitimate critiques for them to think about. I especially appreciated learning about what John, who wrote the Apocalypse, meant when he said “The sea was no more.” I look forward to the world-to-come all the more because of that statement and (I think) my deeper understanding of it now.

I REALLY loved seeing Christ in the Gospels fulfilling all that the first Adam failed to do and moreover, what Israel (as the true son of God) also failed to do. In my own denomination, this kind of typology was under attack, I’m so thankful for what the Lord showed me during this time of research and writing. I’m utterly convinced that our Lord fulfilled all that Adam failed to do and also fulfilled all that Israel (as the son of God) failed to do when she recapitulated the story of Adam and Eve in the garden.

7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

Well, I finished a manuscript on the Psalms of Asaph this last year (Ps. 50 and 73-83). There I deal with the topics of “Sacred Doubt and the ‘Silence’ of God.” The “absence” or alleged “silence” of God is a central concern of many in our culture and in modern times. It is evident in novels, plays and theater, film, and even in dance.

Thankfully, it is also a major concern in the Psalms of Asaph. Similar to my work on Echoes of Exodus, where I did not expect to stumble into certain areas that I did, so also my work on the Psalms of Asaph have lead me down new and surprising paths. That work is currently before a publisher that is demonstrating some enthusiasm about the project.

This last Semester (Spring, 2018), I was granted a Sabbatical to work on a project in the R.E.D.S series, a project by Mentor Press on “Reformed, Exegetical, and Doctrinal Studies” on The Primary Mission of the Church. This is a doctrine (essentially, “the Spirituality of the Church”) which is of utmost importance to the health of the church in my view, even though in certain times in the past it has been subject to abuse. I’m hoping (God willing) to complete this project this August (or September) and submit it to the publishers. My hope is that this book may revalorize this important teaching about the primary responsibility of the Church.

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