Saturday, August 14, 2010

Review of Deliver Us from Evil

Richard H. Bell. Deliver Us from Evil: Interpreting the Redemption from the Power of Satan in New Testament Theology, WUNT, 216. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007. Pp. xxiii + 439. ISBN 3-16-149452-9. $197.50 cloth.

Richard H. Bell’s work contributes to the field of New Testament Theology by providing a densely argued case that deliverance from Satan includes Jesus’ exorcisms as well as his death and resurrection. The focus of this monograph is on “interpreting the redemption from Satan in New Testament theology” (p. 2 emphasis original). After analyzing the New Testament data on this topic, Bell provides a framework for the way this material can be considered true.

The first chapter briefly discusses the history of interpretation of the doctrine of the devil. Next, Bell surveys both Jewish and Christian texts to explain the way each of these traditions understood the work of Satan. The last half of the chapter argues for the necessity of myth to understand the work of Christ with regard to the defeat of the devil (p. 65).

The second chapter discusses Jesus’ exorcisms found in the gospels and argues that the line between “healing” and “exorcism” is quite fluid (p. 71). Bell then provides arguments for their historicity (p. 77). The significance of Jesus’ healing and nature miracles are presented as evidence of the presence of the “eschatological age” which supported the claims for “Jesus’ messiahship” (pp. 97, 107).

Chapter three describes Bell’s philosophical construct, a “Kantian-Schopenhauerian framework” closely aligned with “transcendental idealism” in which the “distinction between the phenomenal world and the noumenal world is maintained while the role of “reason” is “demoted” (pp. 125-51). This framework allows Bell to suggest that the noumenal world may be impinged upon by the phenomenal world (p. 158). Thus, by utilizing the subject-object orientation he is able to argue that Jesus’ ministry affected the noumenal realm.

Chapter four argues that the soul is “the supra-temporal aspect of the human person” and, though properly belonging to the noumenal realm, “corresponds to every stage of our phenomenal existence” (pp. 207, 224). Furthermore, Bell contends that participation in Christ means “that the believer really does participate in Christ’s death on Calvary” (p. 210 emphasis original). Likewise, he argues that humanity also participates in Adam who is understood “as belonging to the noumenal realm” (p. 215).

Chapter five surveys Paul’s understanding of the activity of Satan that suggests Paul had more to say about Satan than is often thought. Humans are under his control because “they have participated in the sin of Adam” which Bell describes by using the concept of “identical repetition” (pp. 241, 256). He also argues that, for Paul, those “participating in the death and resurrection of Christ” have been “released from Satan’s bondage” (p. 263). This is expressed ritually through baptism and the eucharist both of which are understood as “speech-event[s]” affecting “existential displacement” (p. 279).

Chapter six sets out to establish the differences between Hebrews and Paul with regard to their understanding of redemption and the defeat of the devil. Bell concludes that Hebrews lacks a Pauline concept of “existential displacement” while presenting a more “mythical conception of redemption” that includes a “pattern of identitical repetition” (pp. 315, 306). Believers “do not so much participate in Christ but share with the redeemer a common nature” (p. 299 emphasis original).

Chapter seven addresses “the truth of the myth of the deliverance of Satan” (p. 333). Bell prefaces this with seven ways in which exorcisms and the cross and resurrection, both understood as deliverance from the devil, may be combined. Then he concludes, after discussing speech-acts/speech-events, that the truth of the myth “can be discerned only through faith” (p. 340). Chapter eight closes with Bell’s reflections on the nature of demons, a critique of Bultmann’s “program of demythologizing” (pp. 341-42), and reflections on the importance of recognizing the reality of demons and Satan in theological studies and the mission of the church (p. 358).

This work is an excellent example of the way the biblical material may be placed in dialogue with the philosophical questions that emerge from its exegesis. Though some may not be convinced by his use of myth, he has shown how this concept may address the mind-body problem with regard to changes in the phenomenal realm. His commitment to moving beyond Schopenhauer’s understanding of the “principle of sufficient reason” by integrating “speech events” with regard to theology should be given due consideration (p. 43). Bell has provided a brilliantly dense reading of Paul which scholars will find both useful and thoroughly stretching.

A slightly different version of this review originally appeared as:
Review of Richard H. Bell, Deliver Us from Evil: Interpreting the Redemption from the Power of Satan in New Testament Theology. (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament, 216. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2007), Bulletin for Biblical Research, volume 19, no. 3 (2009): 465-67.

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