Book Review: John Goldingay, Old Testament Ethics: A Guided Tour

Goldingay, John. Old Testament Ethics: A Guided Tour. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2019. 278 pp. Pb; $28.00.   Link to IVP Academic

Goldingay describes this book as a spin-off from his popular commentary series The Old Testament for Everyone (SPCK and WJKP). Like N. T. Wright’s New Testament for Everyone these short commentaries targeted the average Bible reader looking for some guidance in personal Bible study. Old Testament Ethics has a similar goal. The book contains forty-three short reflections divided into five parts. Each chapter is a brief self-contained reflection on some aspect of Old Testament Ethics. Each contains key texts using Goldingay’s own First Testament translation (IVP Academic, 2018) and concludes with a few questions for reflection and discussion. The book is written a familiar style and lacks the sort of scholarly trappings which would make the book difficult for the non-specialist. This format makes the book ideal for personal devotional reading or in a small group Bible study setting.

The first section collects eight character traits a person needs to lead an ethical life. These include Godlikeness, compassion honor, anger trust, truthfulness, forthrightness and contentment. In the second section of the book, he examines nine aspects of life (mind and heart, wealth, violence, shalom, justice, reparation, Sabbath, animals, and work). The third part of the book deals with relationships with friends, neighbors, women, husband and wives, etc. In the fourth section of the book Goldingay comments on a series of texts: Genesis 1 and 2, Leviticus 25, Deuteronomy 15 and 20, Ruth, Psalm 72 and the Song of Songs. Like part four, the fifth section of the book reflects on a series people in the Old Testament. Some are well known (Abraham, David, Nehemiah) others are obscure (the women in Moses’s life, Shiphrah and Puah, Yokebed and Miryam).

Since each chapter contains a large amount of Scripture, it might be fair to describe this book as a sort of topical Bible. For example, the chapter on truthfulness is about five pages with about three pages of texts drawn from Proverbs. The chapter “Good Husbands, Good Wives” is similar, reprinting all of Proverbs 5:15-20, 6:28-35 and 31:10-31. This immersion on the Scripture is an important part of Goldingay’s goals for the book, even if some readers would prefer more expert commentary from him as the author.

A book on Old Testament ethics needs to deal with a few difficult problems. For example, the Old Testament is sometimes vilified for its view on women. Dealing with the unusual procedure for determining an accused adulterous woman’s guilt in Numbers 5, Goldingay observes “it’s not very egalitarian,” but there are aspects of the Torah which handle men and women in similar ways (126). He deals the troubling issue of the Canaanite genocide in a postscript. He admits “To exaggerate somewhat, the Canaanites got annihilated; and to exaggerate somewhat, the Israelites got annihilated too” (271).

There are a few topics which will be controversial. In chapter 22, “Who You Can’t Have Sex With,” Goldingay deals with rules for marriage and observes many of these commands have little to do with genetics, but with what causes disorder, scandal and disruption of the family (137). In addition, he says some of the prohibitions are based on the “built-in order about which we should adhere.”  Men, for example, are designed to have sex with women. “In Western culture we may but like that one, but it’s worth our seeing its rationale” (138). The next chapter deals with same-sex marriage under the title “People Who Can’t Undertake a Regular Marriage.” Goldingay thinks same-sex marriage falls short of the biblical vision for marriage (in fact it is “miles away from the vision that emerges from Scripture.” But Goldingay points out “but so do lots of other forms of marriage” (143).

There are a few unexpected topics for a book on Old Testament ethics. Several seem to cross over into biblical theology, but it is a fine line between a “biblical theology of friendship” and social ethics. Goldingay includes an interesting discussion of cities (ch. 27) He offers six observations about urban culture drawn from the book of Deuteronomy, concluding “if Christians want to play a part in the shaping of urban policy, we need to nurture economists, lawyers, planners, and civil servants in our churches” (168). The fourth and fifth sections of the book are engaging meditations on biblical characters are an attempt to illustrate ethical principles from the text of the Bible.

Conclusion. This book does not treat Old Testament ethics using traditional categories, nor does it approach modern ethical issues through the lens of the Old Testament in a systematic way. Goldingay does deal with modern ethical issues like violence and war, animal rights, status of women and immigrants, and homosexuality, but only as they arise in the texts he has selected. Although the title of the book suggests some similarities with more systematic works like Christopher Wright’s Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (IVP Academic 2013) or John Barton’s Understanding Old Testament Ethics (WJKP 2003), Goldingay’s book is more of a meditation on the text of the Old Testament.

 

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

50% off Commentary Sale at Logos

Logos is running a great sale on their top rated commentaries. This includes both the Old Testament series and the New Testament series. Most of these are 50% off retail, I noticed a few a bit more than that. The page is arranged by book of the Bible with some easy navigation at the top. Logos selected their top five (by ratings? by sales?). There are volumes of the Word Biblical Commentary, Anchor Bible Commentary, The New International Old Testament and New Testament Commentary (NICOT and NICNT), a few in the New International Greek Text Commentary series, some International Critical Commentary volumes, a few Pillar New Testament, Tyndale Old and New Testament Commentaries, and a few NIV Application commentaries.

As they used to say on TV, “and many many more.”

Back in 2012 I did a “Top Five Commentaries” series; many of my topic picks are for sale from Logos, so check out what I said seven years ago: Matthew  Mark  Luke   John   Acts    Romans  1 Corinthians   2 Corinthians  Galatians  Ephesians  Philippians  Colossians  1-2 Thessalonians   Pastoral Epistles   Philemon    Hebrews   James   1 Peter   2 Peter & Jude     Letters of John   Revelation

For more recent volumes, have reviewed several of NICNT commentaries, so click through to the full reviews on these volumes.

If you do not have Logos Bible Software download the free Logos Basic or (for a limited time) get Logos 8 Fundamentals for only $49 With either minimal package you can download and use the free book every month and build your Logos library.

I do not see an expiration date for this sale, but I cannot imagine it will last long. Head to the Sale page and load up on excellent professional commentaries for your Logos library.

 

Book Review: René Breuel, The Paradox of Happiness: Finding True Joy in a World of Counterfeits

Breuel, René. The Paradox of Happiness: Finding True Joy in a World of Counterfeits. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2018. 95 pp.; Pb; $12.99.  Link to Lexham

This small book is about finding happiness by encouraging the reader to stop buying the consumerist model the world is selling. Instead, René Breuel suggests following the model of Jesus and focus on serving one another. He says “I wrote The Paradox of Happiness, ironically, because I felt unhappy about our current understandings of happiness.”

The book is divided into three parts. First, Breuel destroys the “Drama of Modern Happiness.” Humans hunger for happiness, but modern culture only provides a “plastic happiness” which does not ultimate satisfy. Most people either deny or redefine happiness, chase artificial ideas of what makes someone happy, or even pursue imaginary pleasures. The problem, Breuel suggest is that these are all centered inwardly. We are trying make ourselves happy.

Jesus’ “paradoxical alternative” to this mindless pursuit of happiness is the subject of part two of the book. Breuel examines Jesus’s “paradoxical call” to take up one’s cross and follow Jesus (Mark 8:24-37). The goal of happiness can only be obtained if it ceases to be the goal (45). This kind of selflessness opens us up to the “banquet flourishing all around us” (50). It rejoices in the happiness of others.

For Breuel, following Jesus’ call to self-denial opens us up to proper expression of self and even self-love. He calls this the “the Rhythm of the Liberated Life” in part 3 of the book. By “living Jesus’ happiness” we escape the plastic happiness of modern life and live a life of genuine satisfaction.

The book is rich with illustrations from Breuel’s life, church history, theology, and pop culture. Breuel presents his ideas in clear prose, but those ideas will challenge the consumerist mindset of most western Christians.

Breuel (MSt, Oxford; MDiv, Regent College) is the founding pastor of Hopera, a church in Rome, Italy. Many of his illustrations in this book are draw from his like and work pastoring in Italy. Breuel blogs at renebreuel.com, is a contributor for Evangelical Focus, and is the editor of Wonderingfair.com.

 

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

Book Review: Adrio König, Christ Above All: The Book of Hebrews

König, Adrio. Christ Above All: The Book of Hebrews (Transformative Word). Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham, 2019. 100 pp.; Pb; $12.99.  Link to Lexham

This short book is the third in a new series of Bible study books from Lexham. The Transformative Word series is edited by Craig Bartholonew and David Beldman and intends “identify a key theme in each book of the Bible, and each volume provides careful Biblical exegesis centered on that gripping theme.” Lexham has published Carolyn Custis James, Finding God in the Margins: The Book of Ruth and Dru Johnson, The Universal Story: Genesis 1–11.

König begins with a short overview of the book of Hebrews and an outline of the main themes of the book (the magnificence of and humanity of Christ, chapters 2-4). This first chapter also briefly introduces a few problems for the reader of Hebrews, namely the use of the Old Testament (chapter 5), the six warning passages (chapter 6) and the unforgiveable sin (chapter 7).

He begins his three chapters on Christ with a close look at the first three verse of Hebrews, followed by a chapter on the humanity and sinlessness of Christ. The longest chapter in the book is devoted to the magnificence of Christ (ch. 4). Here König tracks how Hebrews describes Jesus as “greater than” a wide range of things from the Old Testament. He concludes this section by suggesting the recipients of this message were Jewish Christians in danger of returning to the synagogue as a result of persecution.

König then examines both the positive and negative uses of the Old Testament in Hebrews (ch. 5). Even a cursory reading of Hebrews will demonstrate the writer’s knowledge of the Old Testament. In many places his argument hinges on a particular detail, such as his allusion to Melchizedek. To illustrate the negative, he points to the several statements in the book in which “it is impossible” for a sacrifice to take away sin, etc.

One of the more difficult aspects of Hebrews are the warning passages. König deals with these in two separate chapters, the first asking if grace can be lost. After a short survey of the six warning passages, he offers evidence for both yes and no. He includes short lists of biblical support for both sides of this troubling issue and concludes “we have to accept this open situation” (80). He then focuses specifically on the warnings in 6:4-6, 10:26-27 and 12:14-17 as “The Unforgivable Sin.” He draws the analogy to Matthew 12 (where the language is “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit) and suggests “we have more or less the same depiction of this sin” in Hebrews (88). I am not convinced the sin in Matthew 12 is what the writer of Hebrews has in mind. König does not take into account real possibility the readers of Hebrews are warned against recanting their faith in the face of persecution. In addition, there is more exegesis to be done in Hebrews 6 to decide whether this is “unforgiveable sin” is a real possibility. This is impossible given the limits on this brief book.

Within each chapter are short sidebars explaining some detail in the text (Marcion, the Historical Trustworthiness of the Gospel) or a list of Scripture on a theological point (Christ Called God; Jesus is Greater Than, etc.) Each chapter ends with a collection of parallel biblical texts for further study and a set of reflection questions. These questions are designed to facilitate a small group Bible study. In addition, König introduces a discussion without necessarily answering all the questions. This should lead to a lively discussion.

 

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

The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew by Brandon W. Hawk and The Protevangelium of James, by Lily C. Vuong

Tony Burke announced the first two volumes of the North American Society for the Study of Christian Apocryphal Literature series are now available. Along with Brent Landau, Burke edited New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 1: More Noncanonical Scriptures (Eerdmans, 2016, reviewed here). The two serve along with Janet Spittler as the editors of this new series. As Burke points out, these two new volumes are numbered volumes 7 and 8 because NASSCAL is continuing a series, the first six volumes of texts for Polebridge Press. Burke explains the relationship of NASSCAL and the More New Testament Apocrypha series on his blog if you are interested. For a short readable introduction to the New Testament Apocrypha, see Burke’s Secret Scriptures Revealed: A New Introduction to the Christian Apocrypha (Eerdmans, 2014).

Now available are The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew and the Nativity of Mary, by Brandon W. Hawk, and The Protevangelium of James, by Lily C. Vuong. Pseudo-Matthew was ” a bestseller of mainstream medieval Christianity, this Latin apocryphon is a keystone in the explosion of apocryphal literature in the Middle Ages.” Matthew Hawk discusses some of the details of the document on his blog.  The Protevangelium of James is perhaps more well-known; it collects legends and stories in life of the Virgin Mary.

The new volumes are now published by Wipf & Stock and are available as inexpensive paperbacks. Forthcoming Volumes in the Series include:

  • The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, by Tony Burke
  • The Ascension of Isaiah, by Catherine Playoust
  • The Apocryphal Epistles of Paul, by Philip L. Tite
  • The Gospel of Peter and the Preaching of Peter, by Ruben Dupertuis
  • Legends of the Holy Rood Tree, by Stephen C. E. Hopkins

Earlier volumes published by Polebridge Press:

  1. The Acts of Andrew, by Dennis R. MacDonald
  2. The Epistle of the Apostles, by Julian V. Hill
  3. The Acts of Thomas, by Harold W. Attridge
  4. The Acts of Peter, by Robert F. Stoops Jr.
  5. Didache: The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, by Clayton N. Jefford
  6. The Acts of John, by Richard I. Pervo with Julian V. Hills

 

(Another) Logos Free Book of the Month – Saint Augustine: On Genesis

Faithlife publishes Logos Bible Software in a wide range of flavors and packages. Quite a while back they were putting out a free book of the month for Verbum, a version of Logos targeting Catholics. This month the have revived the Verbum free book of the month with Saint Augustine: On Genesis: Two Books on Genesis against the Manichees; and, on the Literal Interpretation of Genesis: An Unfinished Book (2001). The is book 84 in the Fathers of the Church Patristic Series from The Catholic University of America Press.

This is the first two of five explanations of the beginning of the Book of Genesis Augustine wrote between 388 and 418. The first book is a commentary on Genesis 1-3 attacking Manichees, a sub-Christian cult in which Augustine worshiped for nine years.

From the blurb:

Although Augustine agrees that many things in Scripture may seem absurd to the unlearned, he holds that they can produce great pleasures once they have been explained. It was this tenet, realized in his spiritual rather than corporeal interpretation of Scripture, that led him to counter the impious attacks the Manichees used to attract those who sought a more intellectual understanding of God over and against an anthropomorphic view. Augustine’s brilliant assimilation of Christian revelation and the intellectual faith of the Neoplatonic circle around Ambrose in Milan gave rise to his “spiritual” interpretation of Genesis 1-3 in the Two Books on Genesis against the Manichees.

The third part of this book is On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis. The book provides “fascinating and invaluable examples of Augustine’s developing thought on significant philosophical and theological issues in the interpretation of Genesis.”

In addition to the free book you can add Tractates on the Gospel of John 1–10 ($4.99) and Tractates on the Gospel of John 11–27 ($6.99). These are the first two of five volumes collecting Augustine’s 124 tractates on John in the Fathers of the Church Patristic Series. The rest are full price in the Logos Library, sadly. In his introduction to the volume, John W. Rettig explains, “The term “Tractate” (tractatus) in Latin Christian writings was a technical designation for a specific type of sermon, one which combined scriptural exegesis, preaching, spiritual commentary, and theological reflection, and which was intended to be delivered by the bishop to his congregation.” From the introduction to the series:
John the Evangelist was an eagle, soaring high in the sky into the sun; Augustine was the Lord’s trumpet, proclaiming the gospel and blaring forth its meaning. John’s Gospel is a profound theological study of Christ’s divinity; Augustine’s In Ioannis Evangelium Tractatus CXXIV are a prolonged pastoral investigation of that profundity. In them, Augustine, the world-renowned bishop of Hippo Regius, the humble pastor of souls, seeks to peer into the depths of Johannine theology and rise to the heights of Johannine illumination, that the shepherd might reveal to his sheep, as far as God granted, the meaning of John’s Gospel. For Augustine, however, preaching, and the scriptural exegesis that was a necessary part of preaching, were the truly important theological activities, more important, perhaps, than the more formal treatises.
If you do not have Logos Bible Software download the free Logos Basic or (for a limited time) get Logos 8 Fundamentals for only $49 With either minimal package you can download and use the free book every month and build your Logos library. These free and almost free books of the month are only available through the end of July, so head to the Logos site and get them before the offer expires.

My New Book: Galatians: Freedom through God’s Grace

My new book, Galatians: Freedom through God’s Grace, is now available through Amazon with the Kindle version coming soon.

I have been working on this book for a long time, and I am glad to have it in print.You can also order it through the Wipf & Stock website (it is a little less expensive there, they will charge shipping so it is about the same as Amazon Prime). If you are a blogger and want to review the book Wipf & Stock has a “Request Review Copy” on their page and they can send you a copy.

Craig Keener’s commentary on Galatians also came out recently and I am happy to say at 156 pages, my book is almost as long as his bibliography.

I intended this book as a basic introduction to Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. I divided the book into fourteen chapters (plus one chapter for the introduction). I think it would fit nicely into a Sunday School or small group Bible Study for a quarter. In fact, the book has its origins as a Sunday Evening Bible Study at my church.

Here are my goals in this book in contrast to other styles of commentaries already on the market.

First, this is not an exegetical commentary. I do not comment on the Greek text nor do I try to solve every difficulty in the text. Perhaps I will return to the text of Galatians and produce a more formal and scholarly commentary in the future, but the goals of this commentary preclude me from dealing with more technical aspects of the letter. I rarely comment on Greek grammar except where it is critical to the meaning of a verse. While I do include some cultural and historical background in order to illuminate the text, I do not claim to be comprehensive in this area. There is far more to say about the background to Galatians than I cover in this book. There are several places in the book where I reflect some insights of the so-called “new perspective on Paul,” but this book is neither a critique nor a defense of this view of Paul’s letters.

Second, I do not intend for this book to be an expositional commentary, although that is the closest model. Expositional commentaries focus on an English translation and attempt to explain the details of the text. My goal is not necessarily the details but the overall point Paul makes in the letter. I will therefore move through Galatians in sections and comment on the most important aspects of each section to understand what Paul is trying to say both to the original readers and to Christians living in similar situations in the twenty-first century. I have attempted to ground this contemporary application in the text of the Bible.

Third, I intend this book for laymen, Bible teachers, and busy pastors who need an overview of the main issues in the book of Galatians. I envision this book being used in a small group Bible study or Sunday School class as a supplement to reading the letter to the Galatians. No book should ever be used to replace reading Scripture, but perhaps this book will help readers to better understand some nuances of Paul’s thought in his letter to the Galatians.

Here is how you can help me out. First, buy a copy of the book for yourself (I do not mind if you want to wait for the less expensive Kindle version). Second, recommend your church library purchase a copy; if you attend a Bible College or seminary, request the book for your library.

If you do buy the book please leave a review on Amazon. You can even review the book if you did not buy it from Amazon. Just a few kind words would really help others to purchase the book. It is incredibly important to have good reviews on Amazon these days, so please leave your comments and rating at Amazon and I will be eternally grateful.

In old news, Jesus the Bridegroom is only $10 for Kindle, and I see a few cheaper copies both new and used if you want a print copy. Again, please consider leaving a review for that book as well.

So what’s next? I have two or three similar books in process, I hope to have Ephesians finished this fall.