James F. McGrath, The A to Z of the New Testament

McGrath, James F. The A to Z of the New Testament: Things Experts Know That Everyone Else Should Too. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2023. viii+304 pp. Pb; $21.99  Link to Eerdmans

James F. McGrath is Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. His academic work includes John’s Apologetic Christology (SNTSMS 111; Cambridge, 2001), The Mandaean Book of John: Critical Edition, Translation, and Commentary (with Charles G. Häberl; De Gruyter, 2019), and The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in Its Jewish Context (University of Illinois Press, 2022). In addition, he wrote or edited many other books, including the Cascade Companions volume on Theology and Science Fiction (Cascade, 2016), Religion and Science Fiction (Lutterworth, 2012), and co-edited Time and Relative Dimensions in Faith: Religion and Doctor Who (Darton, Longman & Todd, 2013).

McGrath A to Z

This rare mix of academic scholarship and pop culture awareness is on display in his new book, The A to Z of the New Testament. The book gathers 26 crucial topics that are the things typically taught in a university introductory course to the New Testament. The chapters are aimed at beginners, whether they go on to take a university course or not. The book is designed to be fun and light-hearted. But this goes much deeper than a “simple answers to simple questions book,” and he is not dealing with trivia. These are the sorts of things that New Testament scholars know about the New Testament that anyone interested in taking the New Testament seriously should also know. McGrath invites people into a conversation about important issues for understanding the New Testament in a creative and unique way.

The chapters are (obviously) arranged alphabetically, but they are also generally chronological. The letter A is an introductory chapter; the letter B concerns the birth of Christ. The letter X concerns crucifixion and burial. McGrath generally covers Jesus and the Gospels before moving on to Paul’s letters and other issues. The chapters can be read in any order, and even within a chapter, sections can be read in complete isolation from the rest of the chapter. One could open this book to any page and read something interesting.

Some chapters deal with the gospels and Paul’s letters. For example, for the letter E, McGrath deals with “Eat Whatever is Set before You.” This allows him to deal with eating in the gospel of Luke and the messianic banquet, but also “Cooking with the Corinthians” and the difficult issue of food sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians.  It might be difficult to guess the topic from the title of the chapter. For example, the chapter entitled “Language, Please” deals with various terms for Hell, such as Sheol, Hades, and Gehenna. The chapter includes comments on Lazarus and the rich man Luke 16: 19-31. (I was quite pleased to see my own Jesus the bridegroom in the “for further reading” of this chapter. Thanks, James!)

Sometimes, topics within a chapter seem random, although this randomness is part of the fun. For example, in the chapter entitled “X Marks the Spot,” McGrath discusses what New Testament scholars know about the crucifixion, beginning with the shape of the cross. He briefly discusses the archaeological evidence for crucifixion and the Jewish custom of using bone boxes (or ossuaries). With this as background, he discusses the burial of Jesus, including the traditional site of the burial, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Strangely, this chapter also includes “What Did Jesus (and Paul and Others) Look Like?” The answer is, “we don’t know.” We have occasional hints (such as Zacchaeus was short or Thomas was a twin). Still, for the most part, there are no descriptions of the physical appearance of biblical characters until the apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla (a brief description of Paul).

Each chapter includes occasional sidebars defining technical terms such as Synoptic Problem, pericope, the “New Perspective on Paul, Pharisees, Samaritans, pseudepigraphy, synagogue, etc. Taken as a whole, these sidebars create a basic glossary of key terms for New Testament studies. Each chapter concludes with a brief section for further reading. These lists include academic bibliographies for the issue covered in the chapter.

Some people may be surprised by some of the issues McGrath raises. Some might object to McGrath’s claim that readers of the New Testament need to understand something about the synoptic problem, the hypothetical sayings of source Q, or redaction criticism. To illustrate, let me share a story from my own experience: I was teaching a class in church on the gospel of John. I addressed the issue of the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8.  I explained why most Bibles have a line indicating that the story is not included in the earliest and best manuscripts, and I tried to explain to the class how it came to be attached to the gospel of John. (If you are interested, here is my summary of why the passage is not authentic).  Most class members understood what I was discussing and accepted it with only a few questions. However, an older, retired pastor in the group was quite upset with my comments. He strenuously objected, “You can’t tell these people that!” He was adamant that by teaching a church congregation a little bit about textual criticism and variants in manuscripts, I risked shipwrecking the faith of good church people (who apparently were not to be trusted with that information).

As it turns out, I agree with McGrath. It is important for Bible readers to understand how scholars do their work and how that benefits them as they read the New Testament. If understanding these things causes them to difficulties in their Christian faith, then perhaps their Christian faith was not quite as deep as they thought. McGrath’s The A to Z of the New Testament is a basic primer of key terms and ideas one will encounter in an academic study of the New Testament.

This book will be a great benefit not only for students about to take university-level classes on the New Testament but also for anyone wanting to go deeper than simple answers and Bible trivia.

McGrath regularly posts to his blog, Religion Prof (at Patheos).

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Sigurd Grindheim, The Letter to the Hebrews (PNTC)

Grindheim, Sigurd. The Letter to the Hebrews. PNTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2023. xxvi+1140 pp. Hb; $45.00.  Link to Eerdmans

Sigurd Grindheim is a professor in the Department of Pedagogy, Religion, and Social Studies at Western Norway University of Applied Sciences. His Ph.D. dissertation was published as The Crux of Election: Paul’s Critique of the Jewish Confidence in the Election of Israel (WUNT 202; Mohr Siebeck, 2005). He has published other monographs, including God’s Equal: What Can We Know About Jesus’ Self-Understanding? (LNTS 446; T&T Clark, 2011) and Christology in the Synoptic Gospels: God or God’s Servant? (T&T Clark, 2012), and Living in the Kingdom of God: A Biblical Theology for the Life of the Church (Baker Academic, 2018). This new volume of the Pillar New Testament Commentary series replaces P. T. O’Brien’s 2016 commentary after the publisher concluded allegations of plagiarism were credible.

Sigurd Grindheim, Hebrews

Grindheim begins his seventy-one-page introduction to the commentary with the observation that Hebrews is the oldest unabridged Christian sermon that has survived. It is, therefore, a window into how the Old Testament was read and interpreted in the 1st century. The book is “an artistically crafted sermon” (32). The main theme is the high priesthood of Jesus.

As most commentaries on Hebrews must, he begins with the issue of authorship. All that can be said about the author is that he was a male, second-generation Christian strongly influenced by Paul. Otherwise, his identity is unknown. “But, as far as guessing goes, Apollos best” (17). Why Apollos? Grindheim suggests the author of Hebrews uses “a text type in evidence in Alexandria” (11). He draws several parallels between the author of Hebrews and the first-century Jewish philosopher Philo, who lived in Alexandria. Although there are many points of comparison, there are no clear examples of borrowing. For example, the Christology of Hebrews compares to Philo’s Logos- Divine Wisdom which mediates divine transcendence and humanity. 13. However, these parallels show there is quite a distance between Philo’s allegorical method and the author of Hebrews.

With respect to the date of Hebrews, he observes that the latest date depends on the relationship of 1 Clement to Hebrews. Clement does not quote Hebrews, but it is clearly dependent on the letter (18). Clement is usually dated about 96 CE, but this date has been recently challenged in scholarship, so a range of dates from 70 CE to 140 CE is possible. Commentators often suggest that Hebrews must be written before the temple’s destruction in 70 CE because Hebrews assumes that the temple is still functioning. However, Grindheim points out that Hebrews does not actually mention the temple. Nor does the author argue against contemporary Judaism. Rather, the author argues for the superiority of Christ over the mosaic law (20). In fact, rather than the temple, Hebrews focuses on the Tabernacle. The mention of Timothy in 13:23 may hint at an earlier date since Timothy might possibly have lived only until the end of the first century. He also observes that the theology of Hebrews and the church structure assumed by the book is not helpful. He suggests that the audience is at a “more advanced stage of the early church history” (22).

Traditionally, Hebrews is a letter to Jews. But it is not clear that the book is even a letter. The audience seems to live in an urban setting. Grindheim suggests it may have been written to a specific congregation (25). Hebrews 13:24, “those from Italy greet you,” implies that the audience lives in Italy, most likely in Rome. This is supported by its affinities with 1 Clement (who wrote from Rome) and 1 Peter (who wrote to Rome). Although many alternative suggestions are possible, none have generated much support. He concludes that the original audience was clearly Christian and distinct from the Jewish community. For Grindheim, there is no hint of ethnicity: “We have to be content with ignorance.”

Grindheim discusses the letter’s occasion with Hebrews 10:36. The author wrote to encourage his audience to persevere in the faith. This implies they may abandon their faith. There are warnings against apostatizing throughout the book (for example, 3:12; 4:1; 4:11). The audience may face persecution manifesting itself by social marginalization, sometimes imprisonment, and confiscation of property. It is possible this refers to Claudius 49 CE or Nero 64 CE, Or even an anticipation of Domitian at the end of the 1st century. In a footnote, he declines to choose a specific context for these warnings (17, note 45).

The introduction also includes a discussion of canonicity and reception history. Grindheim surveys early doubts about the book, as well as suspicions in the Lutheran tradition. Because of questions of the authorship of the book, sometimes the book appears in different places within Pauline letters (sometimes after Romans, sometimes after Philemon). He traces the reception history of Hebrews from 1 Clement through a range of early church writers to the Reformation and modern commentators. The book was important to Novatianism, which appealed to Hebrews to prohibit the repentance of people who had denied their faith under persecution. Unfortunately, many early church writers cited Hebrews for abrogating the old covenant. Chrysostom, for example, went beyond the book of Hebrews and used the silence of the book to hold Jews responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus.

Grindheim summarizes the theology of Hebrews as “a theology of intimacy with God” (60). Jesus has brought God near, removing the barriers between God and humans and creating a community to which one belongs through faith. The bulk of this theological introduction to Hebrews concerns the Christology of the book.

The commentary is divided into several major units, further subdivided into exegetical sections. After a short introduction, the NIV English translation is provided, with footnotes giving reasons for some translation choices, syntactical lexical information, and occasionally textual notes. The commentary is phrase-by-phrase, with extremely detailed notes based on the Greek text, which always appear in transliteration and are used sparingly. This makes the text easy to read. Secondary literature is cited in footnotes, including historical commentaries and modern academic monographs. Occasionally, Grindheim will compare a series of interpretations found in the commentaries. For example, on the referent of the term “today” in 1:5, he gathers six different interpretations (with footnotes to the commentaries). He draws a conclusion based on the broader context of the whole book (110-13). In his discussion of the word prototokos in 1:6, he compares the views of Athanasius, Augustine, and Gregory of Nyssa.

Throughout the commentary, there is excellent interaction with primary sources, noting texts the author of Hebrews cites or alludes to, with a rich collection of Second Temple literature in the footnotes. Although there is no excursus or dedicated section summarizing how the author of Hebrews used Scripture, Grindheim is clear in his commentary to point out how this is how the writer used scripture where appropriate. For example, Hebrews 1:5-14 contains a string of quotations similar to a testimonia, but this list is too tailor-made to the author’s rhetorical purposes to be a pre-existing collection. The author of Hebrews assumes the divine inspiration and authority of scripture. The source of these quotations is usually quite clear, so Grindheim examines the original context of the quotation and other uses of the text in the New Testament. He then shows how the author employs the quotation “in an innovative way” in the overall context of Hebrews (109). He points out the use of Jewish exegetical practice, such as the principle of verbal analogy (gezerah shawah) in Hebrews 1:5b. This establishes the link between Psalm 2:7 and 1 Chronicles 17:13//2 Kings 7:14 (LXX). Grindheim often compares the use of Scripture with other Second Temple Literature (in this case, PsSol 17:4, 4Q174).

The commentary includes 11 excurses (conveniently indexed on page xi). For example, in an excursus titled “Heaven and the World to Come” (146-157), Grindheim traces the idea of the world to come through rabbinic sources, Second Temple Judaism, and the New Testament. He concludes that the heavenly realm in which Christ is enthroned differs from the “world to come.” The “world to come” is always the result of a future act of creation.

He includes two excurses on the most controversial passage in Hebrews, 6: 4-8, “God’s irrevocable judgment.” For many students using a commentary on Hebrews, this is the passage they turn to judge the theological approach of the author. The issue in these verses is the question, do people who have apostatized put themselves in a place where they cannot repent? Or does the text say that they cannot be restored by other believers? Or does this passage say that God will not accept their repentance? It is impossible because God does not grant repentance except through Jesus Christ. By rejecting the gift of repentance through Christ, these people have put themselves in a position where they cannot turn to him 310. All the qualifiers and descriptions of those who have apostatized are associated with initiation into the Christian faith. These people have fully experienced God’s intervention 313. They have understood salvation, and they have internalized it. Historically, this is how the Novatians understood this passage. If people have denied their faith, the Novatians refused to accept their repentance. But Grindheim suggests, “the author probably intended to make a different point” (315). This passage is a warning to people who are in danger of turning away from Christ after fully experiencing salvation. If they reject that foolishness, such a person has “put themselves outside the possibility of repentance” (315).

In the second excursus on these verses, he deals with the warning passages and the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints. In the Calvinist tradition, Hebrews 6:4-6 does not describe the elect since the elect cannot fall away (317). For Calvin, the people described in this passage are like the seed that fell among the rocky place in the Parable of the Sower. Since they have no roots, they fail to produce fruit. The apostates were never genuine believers. Others (Tom Schreiner, for example) suggest that this warning concerns a possible future. The author does not claim that anyone has actually apostatized yet. In fact, the author is confident that they will not (Hebrews 6:9). Grindheim suggests this explanation is compatible with a careful interpretation of the text. “It is not an explanation that emerges from exegesis” (319). Specifically referring to Schreiner, he points out that these views are produced within a Calvinist framework. If you are a Calvinist, then these explanations will work. If you are not a Calvinist, they will not. “The only verdict the exegete is able to pass is this: incapable of being proven or disproven” (319). Grindheim intentionally rejects categorization as a Calvinist or Arminian interpreter. Instead, he claims that he interprets the text and allows systematic theology to interpret these controversial verses within their own systems.

Conclusion. Grindheim’s commentary on Hebrews is an excellent example of careful exegesis of the text, focusing on the goal of understanding how this carefully constructed sermon was understood in its original context. Although clearly informed by Greek exegesis, his comments are presented in a way that will be understandable for students, pastors, and teachers studying this important book.



Other volumes reviewed in this series:

James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Luke

Colin Kruse, The Letter to the Romans

Mark A. Seifrid, The Second Letter to the Corinthians

Constantine R. Campbell, The Letter to the Ephesians

Robert W. Yarbrough, The Letters to Timothy and Titus

Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews (No longer available from the publisher)

Colin G. Kruse, The Letters of John (PNTC; Second Edition)

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.


Logos Free Book for December 2023 – Thomas Hatina, New Testament Theology and Its Quest for Relevance

Logos Free Book of the Month

It’s December, so that means everyone is trotting out Christmas sales.

The Logos Free Book of the Month for December is Thomas Hatina, New Testament Theology and Its Quest for Relevance (T&T Clark, 2013). From the book blurb:

New Testament theology raises many questions, not only within its own boundaries, but also in relation to other fields such as history, literary criticism, sociology, psychology, history, politics, philosophy, and religious studies. But, the overarching question concerns the relevance of two thousand year old writings in today’s world. How does one establish what is and is not relevant in the New Testament? How does one communicate the ancient ideas, presented in an alien language, alien time, and alien culture to a contemporary audience? This book is intended to serve as a methodological introduction to the field of New Testament theology, aimed at a range of readers-undergraduate and Seminary students, clergy, and laypersons interested in the relevance of scripture. It is a guide which aims to help readers understand how practitioners of New Testament theology have wrestled with the relationship between historical reconstruction of the New Testament, and its interpretation in the modern world.

In addition to the free book, Logos is offering deep discounts on these resources:

  • Nelson Searcy, The Greatness Principle: Finding Significance and Joy by Serving Others, $0.99
  • Donald Grey Barnhouse, Man’s Ruin: Romans 1:1-32, $1.99
  • Gary M. Burge, The New Testament in Seven Sentences: A Small Introduction to a Vast Topic,$2.99
  • Howard F. Vos, Exploring Church History, $3.99
  • Henry Alford, The New Testament for English Readers (2 vols.), $4.99
  • Gordon R. Clark, The Word “Hesed” in the Hebrew Bible (Bloomsbury Academic Collections), $5.99
  • William Edgar, Christian Apologetics Past and Present: A Primary Source Reader: Volume 1, To 1500, $6.99
  • Daniel Doriani, Matthew, 2 vols. (Reformed Expository Commentary), $7.99
  • Michael Grisanti, Eugene H. Merrill and Mark Rooker, The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament, $8.99
  • Robert Sherman, King, Priest, and Prophet: A Trinitarian Theology of Atonement, $9.99
  • David J. A. Clines, The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, $10.99
  • Pre-Order and Save: John Stott Sermon Archive, $99.99

There is a little something for everyone on the list. Clines, The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew is excellent; if you do not have a Hebrew Lexicon, this is a good start. The T&T Clark portion of the Free Book of the Month sale runs through December 15.

IVP Sale

For the first half of December, books from InterVarsity Press UK are on sale.  Until December 15, get up to 40% off titles and collections on biblical interpretation, theology, commentaries, and more. Here are a few (40% off):

  • Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (TOTC | 27 vols.)
  • The Bible Speaks Today: New Testament (BST | 22 vols.)
  • Apollos Old Testament Commentary (AOT | 11 vols.)
  • IVP UK Biblical Theology Bundle (15 vols.)
  • Contours of Christian Theology (9 vols.)

Then starting December 15, get up to 50% off books from Yale University Press, including 40% off Anchor Yale Bible commentary volumes, the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, and the Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library.

Finally, in December 2023, you can get a free copy of Logos Fundamentals to give away when you buy a Logos 10 package for 20% off. This is a great way to give a gift to a pastor or teacher in your church who does not yet use Logos (and get yourself a nice discount on an upgrade). Current users have various upgrade paths, and if you spend more than $200, use the code CHRISTMASJOY at checkout to save $25 on your order.

You can still get Logos Fundamental ($49.99) or Basic (free) packages and take advantage of the free Logos Book of the Month promotion. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the free/cheap packages. All it takes is a Faithlife account, and you can read your books using the iOS or Android app, the Logos web app, or the (much more powerful) desktop version for both Windows and Mac. Check out my first-look review of Logos 10.

Logos Sale

These deals go away on December 31. So shop early, and shop often. All the links are Logos Affiliate links. If you are planning on buying Logos books, use this link and out Reading Acts.

Biblical Studies Carnival #212 for November 2023

Welcome to Biblical Studies Carnival #212 for November 2023. For most of 2023, Jim West and I have been trading off carnivals. We both enjoy doing the carnivals (it is hard to know what Jim thinks, he is so shy about sharing his feelings). But I really want to have a few more volunteers in 2024 to keep the Biblical Studies Carnivals going.

Bernie Biblical Studies

Old Testament

Christoph Levin at The Torah, Dinah and Shechem: A Story that Biblical Authors Kept Revising. This is a fascinating study of the growth (and interpretation) of a tradition in the Torah and beyond (Testament of Levi and Jubilees).

Contributors at A Place for Truth started a nice series on the Minor Prophets, “Majoring on the Minors.” Here is Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Micah, Jonah, Nahum. Subscribe to their blog for the rest of the series in December.

“Earliest Hebrew inscription” on Mt. Ebal is a fish weight?

Here is an incredible resource: Official Inscriptions of the Middle East in Antiquity (OIMEA).

For the entire month of November, Bob MacDonald has worked through the Psalms (starting here with Psalm 62:10). He calls these posts a “PsalmTweet.” Following his method of creating music for the Psalms, these are fascinating snippets of his larger project. Follow him on Twitter (or whatever they are calling it these days), @drmacdonald.


At the Text & Canon Institute, Pat Sanders discusses Dating Ancient Greek Manuscripts with the Help of Modern Software.

Brent Nongbri tries to sort out some confusion over The Robinson Papyri, and the Mississippi Papyri, and William H. Willis.

Over at Evangelical Textual Criticism, Peter Gurry asks, “Where should textual criticism be discussed in systematic theology?

Tommy Wasserman revisits Peter Head’s 2009 SBL paper on “The Marginalia of Codex Vaticanus: Putting the Distigmai (Formerly known as ‘Umlauts’) in Their Place.” He summarizes Ira Rabin’s SBL 2023 paper. He concludes: “To come full circle, we are back to Peter Head’s paper from SBL in 2009, in which he presented a comparison of the location of the distigmai with the published text of Erasmus reflecting MSS available in his time and he had found that in the gospels there was a 92% match between Erasmus edition and the distigmai

New Testament

Ian Paul, Is the ‘coming’ of Jesus in Mark 13 all about the end of the world? Paul contrasts the traditional view with Tom Wright and Dick France. Here is a link to a video discussion of the topic. Ian Paul also discusses The parable of the ‘talents’ in Matthew 25, and The not-parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25. Come for the article, stay for the video, but have nightmares about that goat picture.

Daniel Williams at the Anxious Bench on The Philosophical Assumptions behind Historical Criticism of the Gospels.

Heather Anne Thiessen (the hermeneutrix) studies 1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1 and then reflects on the passage.

B. J. Oropeza goes Beyond What the Bible Says: How Did the Apostle Paul Die? Oropeza also posted a short introduction to his new book, Scripture, Texts, and Tracings in Galatians and 1 Thessalonians.

Brian Small posted book notices on Sigurd Grindheim’s new Pillar Commentary on Hebrews, Gareth Lee Cockerill, Craig Bartholomew, and Benjamin T. Quinn, eds. Divine Action in Hebrews and the Ongoing Priesthood of Jesus (Zondervan Academic, 2023), and Wolfgang Kraus, Studium zum Hebräerbrief (Biblische Zeitschrift – Supplements 6. Leiden: Brill, 2023.

John MacDonald asks, “Does Christ Mythicism Deserve A Seat At The Table?” His answer is in the form of a video.

Marg Mowczko collects data on the names Miriam, Maria, Mariamne, and Mary in the Bible (and Josephus).

Non-Canonical Writings

Tony Burke, “What More Do You Need? The Next Wave in Christian Apocrypha Texts and Translations”.  This is Burke’s paper presented at the 2023 Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. This paper assesses the impact of the More New Testament Apocrypha series (Volume Two, reviewed here; Volume Three, reviewed here). “Will there be an MNTA 4 or 5 or, God help us, 6?” Burke teases us with a list of possible apocrypha to appear in future volumes. Burke also posted a list of Christian Apocrypha sessions at the 2o23 SBL sessions.

The End of the Coptic Magical Papyri Project and the Beginning of the Papyri Copticae Magicae.

Did the Deuterocanonical books influence the New Testament? Spoiler: “It is probably impossible to determine definitively whether the Deuterocanonical books influenced the writers of the New Testament.”

 Theology, Church History

At Pursuing Veritas, Jacob Prahlow has been pondering The Liturgy of the Ordinary. Things like sitting in traffic, calling a friend, or drinking tea. These were originally part of a message at Arise Church where Jacob serves as lead pastor.

David Swartz celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the Chicago Declaration, the evangelical left’s founding document with many links to Ron Sider-related articles. Follow the link, read the list of signees, and ask yourself if any name on that list would be considered an evangelical in today’s America.

Thomas Albert Howard on “The Most Important Theological Work of the Twentieth Century.” Spoiler Alert: It’s Barth.

The Secular Frontier continues a long series on Kreeft’s Case Against the Swoon Theory. This goes to part 16 (Evaluation of Premise), you can backtrack for more.

Adam Renberg, Gregory of Nyssa and C.S. Lewis: On the Need to Read (and Write) Across Genres. Adam suggests, “we need to read broadly across genres in each thinker’s corpus, if we are to arrive at a fuller picture of their ideas.”

Lynneth Renberg on Israel, Palestine, and Medieval Bias in Modern Headlines. This is an excellent essay tracing medieval discrimination like blood libel and Bernard of Clairvaux. De Laude Novae Militiae, which argued Muslims were malefactors– agents of evil.

John Dickson’s Undeception podcast, hosted Michael Bird to discusses the question: “how Jesus was like and unlike the many gods of antiquity.”

Jacob Randolph has a timely two-part essay: “What About the Palestinians? Southern Baptists vs. Southern Baptist Missionaries.” Part One and Part Two. The article is on the history of Southern Baptist perceptions of Palestinians after the creation of the state of Israel.

Book Reviews

George Guthrie, Philippians (ZECNT; Zondervan, 2023). Reviewed by Jimmy Reagan.

John Goldingay, Proverbs. Commentaries for Christian Formation; Eerdmans, 2023. Reviewed by Phillip J. Long; Jimmy Reagan)

Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (2nd ed. IVP Academic, 2023). Reviewed by Gary Burnett

Jim West on Takamitsu Muraoka’s Why Read the Biblical Languages?

Megan S. Nutzman. Contested Cures: Identity and Ritual Healing in Roman and Late Antique Palestine. Edinburgh Studies in Religion in Antiquity. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press, 2022. Reviewed by Mika Ahuvia).

Christopher Watkin, Biblical Critical Theory: How the Bible’s Unfolding Story Makes Sense of Modern Life and Culture. Zondervan, 2022. Reviewed by Spencer Robinson. Here is a link to Watkin’s website with a video review of this book at SBL and at ETS this year in San Antonio.

Steven D. Fraade, The Damascus Document, Oxford Commentary on the Dead Sea Scrolls. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021. Reviewed by Tianruo Jiang).

Oscar E. Jiménez. Metaphors in the Narrative of Ephesians 2:11–22: Motion towards Maximal Proximity and Higher Status. Linguistic Biblical Studies 20. Leiden: Brill, 2022. Review by Kai Akagi.

Constantine Campbell, The Letter to the Ephesians, Pillar New Testament Commentary; Eerdmans 2023.  Reviewed by Thomas Creedy.  Creedy also overspent at ETS/SBL.

James McGrath has a new book, The A to Z of the A to Z of the New Testament, published by Eerdmans. Here’s Jim West’s comments on the book. I received a review copy just before I left for SBL, so look for a Reading Acts review soon. For now, just know it is a fun read, and you should buy a copy.

Jim West has a new book coming on Beza (here is a link to the cover so you can prepare yourself to buy several copies).

A Few Open Access Academic Resources

When Jim West isn’t making Luther memes, he posts some valuable links to open-access resources. This means you can download a PDF copy of a very expensive volume for free. Here are a few highlights from this month:

Jenny Stümer and Michael Dunn, eds. Worlds Ending. Ending Worlds: Understanding Apocalyptic Transformation. Volume 1 in the series Apocalyptic and Post-Apocalyptic Studies. De Gruyter, 2023.

Michael Bird, Ruben A. Bühner, Jörg Frey, and Brian Rosner, eds. Paul within Judaism: Perspectives on Paul and Jewish Identity. WUNT 507, Mohr Siebeck, 2023.

Anders Runesson, Judaism for Gentiles: Reading Paul beyond the Parting of the Ways Paradigm. WUNT 494, Mohr Siebeck, 2022.

Pop Culture and Other Random Stuff

Not surprisingly, James McGrath has something to say about the new Doctor Who. For those who do not know, Doctor Who celebrated its sixtieth year on November 23.

Michael Bird reviews his week at ETS and SBL. I appreciate that he overlooked me when I ran into him in a restaurant. I nearly knocked him into a table of appetizers. #SorryMichael

Jim West turns Luther into a meme.  Melanchthon gets a similar treatment.

Joel Barker and Steven D. West, Numbers (Kerux)

Barker, Joel and Steven D. West. Numbers. A Commentary for Biblical Preaching and Teaching. Kerux Commentaries. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Ministry, 2023. 477 pp. Hb. $37.99   Link to Kregel Ministry 

Joel Barker serves as Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Heritage College and Seminary in Cambridge, Ontario. He previously contributed a commentary on Joel in the ZECOT series (Zondervan, 2020).  Steven D. West is Provost and Professor at Heritage College and Seminary in Cambridge, Ontario, and the Lead Pastor of Madoc Baptist Church. His Resurrection, Scripture, and Reformed Apologetics in the McMaster Theological Studies Series.

Kerux Numbers Commentary

Given the goal of the Kerux series to produce an exegetical commentary with extensive preaching helps, a volume on Numbers presents many challenges. Most pastors or teachers would avoid large sections of the Book of Numbers and possibly even consider it “unpreachable.” As Barker observes in the introduction, many scholars see Numbers as an “unorganized hodgepodge” with a wide variety of genres, such as census lists, that do not make for good preaching texts.

As the authors acknowledge in the introduction, writers of a commentary on the Book of Numbers face the challenge of finding a balance between comprehensiveness and readability (44). Each chapter of the commentary covers large sections of text, and it will be difficult to cover everything in a half-hour sermon. Some sections simply do not lend themselves to a verse-by-verse exposition.

Nevertheless, the authors divide the book into forty-one preaching units (summarized on pages 13-40). Each preaching unit includes an exegetical idea, theological focus, and a preaching idea (one sentence each). Each preaching unit includes two paragraphs of preaching pointers. These forty-one units are divided into four sections:

A Shaping the Community at Sinai (1:1-10:10)

B Travels and Travails in the First Generation (10:11-19:22

B’ Sin and Redemption for the Second Generation (20:1-25:18)

A’ Shaping the Community on the Plains of Moab (26:1-36:13)

In the introduction to the volume, Barker and West argue that Moses is the book’s primary author. For example, in Numbers 33:2, Moses was commanded to write. But Moses was a supervising author, overseeing a collection of legal decisions, etc. The Book of Numbers is, therefore, “essentially Mosaic.” What sections are non-Mosaic? Numbers 12:3 describes Moses as the most humble man ever. Would the humblest man ever write something like that?

The date depends on the date of the Exodus, an issue too complex for this short introduction. Barker declines to say for certain whether the Exodus is early (15th century BC) or late (13th century BC). The context of the Book of Numbers is just after the redemption of god’s people from slavery comma during their time in the wilderness (the first word of the book). This commentary does not engage with the documentary hypothesis, nor are they interested in arguing for or against the historicity of any particular tradition found in the book of numbers. Other commentaries are available that engage in this sort of academic pursuit. The Kerux series aims to help pastors and teachers present the Book of Numbers to their congregations and classrooms, so much of this material is omitted (see, for example, Timothy Ashley’s recent NICOT volume, Eerdmans, 2022, reviewed here).

The body of the commentary is divided into 41 chapters of about ten pages each. Each chapter is about 75% exegesis and about 25% preaching tips. This means that large sections are often covered in short paragraphs. Exegesis is necessarily brief and focuses on the meaning of words, especially if there is a difference in English translation. Hebrew is not transliterated, and the commentary only rarely interacts with matters of Hebrew syntax. Major commentaries are cited in-text with additional interaction with secondary sources in footnotes.

Most Hebrew exegesis appears in boxes identified as translation analysis. These sidebars deal with Hebrew lexical issues and occasionally explain Hebrew syntax, especially when these generate differences in English translations. Barker’s goal here seems to be giving the preacher information to explain different English translations while preaching the passage.

As with other volumes in this series, the commentary is illustrated by frequent sidebars that expand on the text’s historical, cultural, and theological themes. For example, in Numbers 13:32-33, Barker deals with the Nephilim. “This may be a sheer exaggeration,” the people intentionally exaggerate the threat. He discusses Moses’s Cushite wife and suggests that she may be Zipporah (he concludes the question is unresolvable).  A sidebar discusses the translation of “bitter water” in Numbers 5:15-28.

After the exegetical section of the chapter, the writers summarize the theological focus of the unit. These observations make canonical connections within the Old Testament and occasionally tie the passage to New Testament themes. They are working with a canonical biblical theology in this section.

Each chapter concludes with preaching and teaching strategies. This section attempts to move from exegesis to a preaching idea that basically describes “what this sermon is about” in a brief single sentence (Haddon Robinson style). West Then provides some contemporary connections (What does it mean? Is it true? Now what?) This is followed by suggestions for creativity in presentation. These include analogies and illustrations often drawn from contemporary culture. There are the usual suspects (C.S. Lewis, Lord of the Rings, Pilgrim’s Progress), but also a few classic hymns and a few historical documents (The Heidelberg Catechism). Providing illustrations for sermons on the Book of Numbers must be difficult for any writer. How do you preach a sermon on corpse contamination from Numbers 19? Or perhaps the question should be, should you preach on corpse contamination?

Conclusion. If scholars attempting to write a commentary on the Book of Numbers face challenges, so do preachers and teachers who attempt to work through the wilderness period of Israel’s history. Yet rich traditions in the Book of Numbers resonate with the rest of the Old Testament and even in the gospels and Pauline literature. It is my hope that a commentary like Barker and West’s will encourage local pastors to teach this often-ignored book of the Old Testament.

NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.


Other volumes reviewed in this series:



Published on Reading Acts, November 30, 2023