Book Review of Elizabeth Achtemeier’s Commentary on Joel 2:28-32 in “Minor Prophets I”

Posted: January 2, 2008 by Rick Hogaboam in Biblical Studies, Book Reviews
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Minor Prophets I

The following is more of my bibliographic note taking and less of a book review. Please read as such. Thanks.

Achtemeier, E. (1996). Minor Prophets I. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson. Her rendering of Joel 2:28-32 is brief and concise. She opens by stating that, “The promise of abundant life and rescue from the judgment of the day of the Lord has been given out of the free grace of God (2:18-27)” (p. 148).  This message of salvation then shifts to the “afterward” in 2:28, which proceeds to tell of the coming outpoured Spirit and cataclysmic signs that precede the “day of the Lord”. Achtemeier notes that the New Testament witness accords with this account in Joel regarding an escalation of signs and wonders just before the imminent Day of Judgment. Of great import in this text of Joel, Achtemeier considers the outpoured spirit playing a prominent role, “Most important in this passage, however, is God’s promise that before the day comes, ‘I will pour out my Spirit’” (p. 148). 

It is pointed out that the Joeline context points primarily to Judah as the recipients of the salvation and outpoured Spirit and that it is extended in the Acts 2 account of Pentecost to apply to all the nations. It is here where various scholars and theologians differ on the extent of fulfillment on Pentecost of this promise in Joel. A truly literal fulfillment of Joel would be restricted to Judah only, whereas some would say that the Petrine application on Pentecost was truly realized for all people. There are varying degrees of scholarly hypothesis on how to synthesize this problem; however Achtemeier doesn’t engage the issue other than to state the intent of the prophecy as given to Joel to apply to Judah and how it was extended beyond Judah in Peter’s rendering of the Pentecost event. 

Achtemeier proceeds to mention the vocational role of the Spirit throughout the OT witness and how, “Such is the understanding of the gift in Acts 2. The disciples are given the Holy Spirit in order that they may be witnesses to Christ ‘to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8; 2:4)” (p. 149). Interestingly, though, Achtemeier doesn’t view the vocational role of the Spirit’s outpouring as the intent in the Joel text: “But that does not seem to be the emphasis of this passage in Joel. Rather, consonant with Joel’s entire concern, the Spirit here signifies a new revelation with God” (p. 149). 

It is then mentioned that the idea of Spirit is connected with kingdom…the bearers of the Spirit having entered into a “new age of the kingdom”, which has “…broken into human history and will now exercise its influence until the kingdom comes in its fullness” (p. 149).  This entrance is only possible as one calls on the name of the Lord as empowered by the Spirit. 

Achtemeier surprisingly does some theologizing with regards to the Holy Spirit for practical application. She offers the following:“It is quite possible to be given the Spirit of God, however, and to do nothing with it: thousands of persons in the Christian Church, who received the Holy Spirit at their baptisms, are evidence of that fact. We can stifle the Spirit, quench it (1 Thess. 5:19 RSV), do nothing with it. And if that is our response, we will not survive in the judgment on the day of the Lord” (pp.149-150). I understand the intent of Achtemeier to encourage whole hearted participation in the life of the Spirit and would encourage the same, however, I very much doubt that those who receive the Holy Spirit at their baptism can go on to be judged as outside the eschatological community of God’s people. If Achtemeier has in view a sacramental view of baptism with the understanding that the Spirit is given to all who are baptized, including children, then I would take issue with her understanding of what takes place in baptism. At the same time, I realize that the Pentecostal sermon called for repentance, baptism, and then reception of the promised Spirit.  It is my understanding that only those who sincerely repent are those who call upon the name of Jesus in their baptism and thus evidence the working of the promised Spirit within. If such is the case, then one is truly saved out of the sheer grace that Achtemeier rightly highlights. She posits then that one can quench the Spirit in such a way so as to face condemnation under the coming day of the Lord.  While one can argue for such based on theological reflection, I think it is not where she should go in her commenting on the Joeline material. Joel and Acts are in accord with a very clear message that those who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. It says nothing of some who receive the Spirit, only to later forsake the Spirit. That is not the glorious good news here offered by God in Joel and Acts, but the good news is instead to call on the name of the Lord and be saved. It is said that some will stand before Jesus, having evidenced charismatic ministry in His name and will be forced to depart from His presence because they truly aren’t His disciples. This is indeed scary and needs careful reflection all on its own, and thus should be given ample material elsewhere…but not in a commentary on Joel, in my humble opinion. 

Achtemeier concludes her thoughts on Joel 2:28-32 by reflecting on an aspect of calling on the name of the Lord that can easily be missed: being a witness. “Finally, to call on the name of the Lord means, according to the Bible, to tell others what God has done (cf. Ps. 105:1; Isa. 12:4), to be witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8)” (p. 150). It is noted that Paul reflected upon this in Romans 10 when he pleads for more heralds of the good news, stating that people can’t call on the name of the Lord unless they believe, and can’t believe unless they have heard, and can’t hear unless it is preached, and that it can’t be preached unless people go forth doing it. Achtemeier’s closing remarks summarize well the clear application that is afforded for us all: “Faith comes from hearing the gospel message…and that message is heard through our witness to and our preaching of what God has done in Jesus Christ. It is to these tasks that we are called by Joel’s Lord and our Lord” (p. 151). 

I would close by stating what I think Achtemeier was making clear, that Joel’s Lord and our Lord are one and the same.



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