What Was Chronicles for the NT Authors?

As I’ve finished off a couple of writing projects but am anticipating some big Spring-term items on the agenda, I’ve pulled out of my archives a study I started a couple of years ago on the uses of Chronicles in the New Testament. It’s mostly scattered thoughts and a spreadsheet of references, but I’m putting out here what I have so far, and where I think it might go from here.

I have not run across any broad studies of the overall usage of Chronicles in the NT. If you have any references to send me, they would be most welcome.

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Background to the Research Question

What did the New Testament authors and the earliest Christians think of the book of Chronicles? How could we possibly know, and why should we care?

The earliest Christians understood themselves as the spiritual heirs to the faith of Abraham, Israel and Moses, as well as heirs to the Jewish scriptures. Ever since the “parting of the ways” between Judaism and Christianity, Christians have debated the proper role of the Jewish scriptures[1] in faith and practice. The New Testament authors’ handling of the Jewish scriptures, though it is by no means uniform, has usually served as a starting point for wrestling with the Old Testament’s meaning in the church. For Christians, then, understanding the New Testament authors’ views of Chronicles may be valuable for interpreting the book of Chronicles.

Chronicles is unique in the Hebrew Bible in that it is retelling of a grand narrative that exists entirely in other biblical texts: though it incorporates some materials that are not in the narrative of Genesis through Kings (and the beginning of Ezra), it spans the same period (Adam to exile to Cyrus). There are at least three ways of approaching Chronicles in this respect. One approach, reflected in the name given to Chronicles in the LXX (Τα Παραλειπόμενα), is to think of Chronicles as a source of data about the history of Israel that were “left out” of earlier books. Another approach is to consider Chronicles as part of the phenomenon of “rewritten Bible,” like Jewish expansions such as Jubilees.

From the standpoint of post-Enlightenment biblical criticism, the book of Chronicles has enjoyed something of a “Cinderella” story.[2] Whereas critical scholarship of the nineteenth century considered Chronicles to be a midrash on earlier traditions but of little value for reconstructing the history behind the biblical texts, the focus has shifted in the last half-century toward “the Chronicler’s own engagement with his sources and his contribution towards the socio-religious discourse in his own time, most probably towards the end of the Persian era.”[3] Thus, a third approach is to consider Chronicles in order to understand the Chronicler’s own context, rather than the events about which he wrote.

The New Testament authors’ uses of Chronicles may also give historical insight into the earliest Christians’ views of canon, text and scripture. If we can discern a pattern or patterns in the ways that Chronicles is used in the New Testament writings, this may help us explain how other scriptures are used in the New Testament, and why certain scriptures were not used at all.

The Question

We are starting with the premise that a significant goal of the NT is establishing the continuity of the church with Israel—specifically, Jesus and the church as the fulfillment of Israel’s story. Two questions present themselves before we consider Chronicles and the NT. First, what are the possible ways in which Chronicles could function canonically in relation to the NT? Second, how would we know or measure whether the NT authors are using Chronicles in these ways?

The first sort of NT usage of Chronicles would be the “paraleipomena usage”: as a source for narrative information not found in the Chronicler’s Deuteronomistic sources. We might discern “paraleipomena usage” if the NT writings exhibit reliance on the Chronicler’s Sondergut.

The second sort of NT usage of Chronicles would be as “rewritten scripture.” Some scholars suggest that when a narrative and a shorter retelling of that same narrative coexist in the Jewish scripture, the NT exhibits a preference for the latter—e.g., Deuteronomy over Exodus through Numbers. Chronicles does appear to be intended as a rewriting of Israel’s entire history, beginning with Adam and ending with the Chronicler’s own historical era: the Persian period. We might discern a “rewritten scripture usage” if there were a heavy reliance in the NT on the Chronicler’s reworking of his Vorlage.[4]

A third sort of NT usage of Chronicles would be more conceptual and difficult to prove. This could clumsily be termed a “biblical theological trajectory usage” of Chronicles, and could take two forms: Chronicles as a model for the church’s retelling of Israel’s story toward its own community; and Chronicles as the conclusion of a tripartite Hebrew canon.

In the first form of this usage, we might see—for example—similarities between the way in which the Chronicler uses genealogy (1 Chr 1-9) to replace seven-and-a-half books of the Enneateuch (Gen 1 through 1 Sam 30!), and the ways that Matthew and Luke establish Jesus’s Israelite identity using genealogy. The Chronicler uses preexilic, monarchic Israelite adherence to “the law” (including a perhaps recently-added Priestly component) as a map for community renewal in his own day; might not Matthew be recasting “the law” for his community in a similar twist? The speeches of Acts also concisely retell Israel’s story so as to establish continuity between Israel and the author’s community (the church).

The second form of the “biblical theological trajectory usage” of Chronicles would consider allusions to a tripartite Hebrew Bible as subtly highlighting Chronicles as the conclusion of the Writings collection. The LXX/Christian arrangement of the OT books certainly fits the Christian project well.[5] But Chronicles also provides a fitting conclusion to the OT for the purposes of Christian biblical theology, for a variety of reasons.[6]

This third sort of NT usage of Chronicles might be the most difficult to discern. We could discern a “biblical theological usage” if there were linguistic echoes of Chronicles in the writings of the NT that seem to have some conceptual affinities with Chronicles. Perhaps Richard B. Hays’s criteria for “echoes of scripture” will dictate the terms of this inquiry.

[1] I prefer the term “Jewish scriptures” over “Hebrew scriptures” so as not to prejudice the inquiry in favor of the MT and against the LXX.

[2] Louis C. Jonker, “Within Hearing Distance? Recent Developments in Pentateuch and Chronicles Research,” OTE 27(2014): 126.

[3] Jonker, “Within Hearing Distance,” 125.

[4] Textual criticism might be necessary to determine whether the NT is quoting Sam-Kgs vs Chr, and also to determine whether there is a true difference between Sam-Kgs and Chr (the MT of Samuel in particular is a mess, so we cannot always attribute differences between MT Sam and MT Chr to the Chronicler’s Tendenz).

[5] The Latter Prophets give way to the Gospels; Malachi 4:5-6 predicts the coming of Elijah, and John the Baptist comes on the scene in Mark 1:4 (cf. Mk 9:13).

[6] Chronicles retells the story of all that comes before it (Genesis to Ezra-Nehemiah), but ends expectantly, mid-sentence. It concludes with the words of Cyrus, whom Deutero-Isaiah calls “the anointed” (messiah) of YHWH (Isa 44:25-45:13).

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About Benj

I’m a native North Jerseyan, exiled to the land of Phillies fans…an Old Testament professor and former liturgist…husband to Corrie…father to Daniel and Elizabeth…eldest sibling to three, brother-in-law to Josh and Hannah…uncle to Marshall.
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