Judith A. Diehl, 2 Corinthians (Story of God)

Diehl, Judith A. 2 Corinthians. Story of God Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2020. 414 pp. Hb; $39.99.   Link to Zondervan

Judith A. Diehl (PhD University of Edinburgh) retired as professor of New Testament and hermeneutics at Denver Seminary. Her contribution to the Story of God series is a solid commentary on 2 Corinthians, which both explains the text well but also draws application from the text to contemporary Christian life. The Story of God series is based on the NIV 2011 and is designed to address the present generation with the word of God. As the title implies, these commentaries use biblical and narrative theology, although they are not examples of theological interpretation of Scripture. Commentators give significant attention to “living out the story” of the Bible. But this is not as much application suggestions for pastors as asking how a text, in the light of the story of God, compels us to live in our world so that our lives line up with the Bible’s story.

Diehl, 2 CorinthiansIn the introduction to the commentary, Diehl visualizes 2 Corinthians an apologia or courtroom scene with prosecutors accusing Paul of certain things (he is not qualified to be an apostle). The church is courtroom spectators and Paul makes his defense by calling witnesses (his friends and coworkers), presenting evidence and answer charges against him. After the verdict, there’s a twist: it was the congregation that was on trial the whole time!

There is very little doubt Paul wrote the letter. Regarding the background, Diehl begins with Bruce Winter’s excellent monograph, After Paul Left Corinth (Eerdmans, 2001). Winter argued the social, political, religious, and cultural background to the Corinthian letters as entirely Roman, but Paul’s theological background is Jewish. The Corinthian believers did not immediately become Christian in a single day. Following Winter, Diehl surveys the usual causes of the problems in the Corinthian letters: Gnosticism (mentioned and quickly dismissed), grain shortages, imperial cult, the promise of Pax Romana, etc. The source of the problem was Roman power, which stands in contrast to Jesus, who is the very picture of weakness, crucified like a criminal. How does Jesus “Israel centric mission,” which is characterized by weakness and humility suffering in death, shed light into the darkness of the Roman world?

With respect to the audience of the letter, she provides a sketch of 1st century Corinth. Paul’s gospel conflicted with the Roman world in every aspect. What mattered most to a Roman citizen of Corinth in the mid-50s AD was radically different from the theological, social, and ethical teachings Paul delivered. Of primary importance is the well known crusus honorum, “path to fortune and fame,” from Roman cultural studies (and easily applies to modern western pursuit of wealth). Social status was everything to a citizen or Corinth, but the pursuit of honor did not include becoming like a humble crucified Jew. Following Crossan and Reed, Diehl briefly discusses the imperial cult as it appeared in first century Corinth. The imperial cult was “the glue that held the civilized world together” (39).

Following Linda Belleville, Diehl suggests the purpose of 2 Corinthians was to establish a closer, more trusting relationship with the congregation who were “under the spell of evil and deceptive leaders.” She calls the opponents in Corinthians the “adversarial rival missionaries.” Mind, one of the key themes of the letter is Paul’s defense against these adversarial rival missionaries. Paul shows his ministry and leadership heart throughout 2 Corinthians. For Diehl, “Paul was the consummate pastor, educating, encouraging, warning, correcting, loving, and caring for his people as much as he could under the circumstances of the first century” (40).

Most commentaries on Corinthians must deal with the unity and integrity of the letter. Standard scholarly commentaries divide the letter into two major sections (usually chapters 1-9; 10-13). The smaller units circulated separately until someone finally edited together the units into a single letter sometime between AD 96-125. Following Bellville, Diehl disagrees with these partition theories. There is no manuscript evidence that any portion of the book circulated separately. As David deSilva said, every argument advanced by supporters of partition theories can be plausibly countered. Diehl concludes: “The more complicated the theory the less we perceive the composition accurately (52). But there does seem to be a serious difference between the larger units. She argues Paul composed the letter with time gap between chapters 9 and 10. In this gap, Titus returns from Corinth and reports to Paul what happened in the Corinthian church. Paul knows more from Titus’s report after he wrote chapter 9, explaining the differences in chapters 10-13. This seems like a partition theory without the complicated steps. Diehl offers a suggestion timeline, sorting out four letters written to Corinth and three visits. She observes nothing is known about the Corinthian church after Paul leaves with the collection in the summer of AD 57 until Clement writes to Corinth in AD 96.

Diehl argues Paul deals with more than one opponent in the letter. Along with the adversarial rival missionaries, Paul must deal with former pagans focused on worldly status and first century sophists who find Paul’s presentation of the gospel lacking in rhetorical nuance. In addition, there is Jewish opposition. Is likely some viewed their Jewish heritage as superior to the gentiles. Whoever the opponents are in the letter, they are proclaiming a deceptive theology and claiming superiority over Paul. They are false apostles because they are not preaching the gospel and building up the congregation. Rather, they are inflating their own egos for financial gain and have a desire to dominate others (64).

The body of the commentary is broken into three parts. First, “Listen to the Story” prints the text of the NIV 2011 with suggested parallel Old and New Testament passages. These cross references are often helpful. For 2 Corinthians 2:14-3:6, Diehl divides the references into categories, but this is the only place in the entire commentary with these helpful divisions. Sometimes the Scripture is followed by a quote from the Bible, a famous theologian or writer, and an introduction as an opening illustration.

The second part of the commentary, “Explain the Story,” is a traditional commentary on the unit. The commentary covers whole verses rather than words and phrases. Diehl based the commentary on the text of the NIV 2011, although she occasionally refers to alternative English translations. Although her comments reflect a deep study of Corinthians in the original language, there are no Greek lexical or syntactical comments because the NIV 2011 is intentionally the target of the exegesis in the Story of God series. This makes reading the exegetically sections easier to read for readers without Greek language skills. She makes good use of the Old Testament when Paul alludes to it and includes references to Roman cultural background to explain the text. For example, in 2:14-17, the “pleasing aroma” refers to Old Testament sacrifices (Exodus 29:18). She explains the Roman military triumph and explains the negative connotations of a peddler in the Roman world.

The third section, “Live the Story,” contains several short meditations focusing on application, or perhaps better, bridging the world of Paul to the modern western reader. This section often includes personal observations from someone involved in both academics and ministry. She sometimes cites writers like John Stott or Eugene Peterson in these reflections. For example, commenting on 2 Corinthians 2:14-3:6 Diehl addresses divisive messages and evaluating the success of a church. Is a pastor a great speaker? Is the church growing like crazy? For Paul, Jesus must be the focus of all teaching, preaching, and worship in a church. Later in the commentary, in the context of the collection, she asks “how do we translate God’s overflowing love and grace into our giving and serving in the church today?” (281; using the example of George Müller, 290).

Conclusion. Diehl’s commentary on 2 Corinthians combines solid exposition of the text with clear personal application to Christian life in a modern context. This volume should be a delight to anyone teaching or preaching the difficult text of 2 Corinthians in the local church or a small group Bible study.

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

Thomas Andrew Bennett, 1-3 John (THNTC)

Bennett, Thomas Andrew. 1-3 John. Two Horizons New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2021. 225 pp. Pb; $29.00.   Link to Eerdmans

Bennett is an Affiliate Assistant Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary, where he completed his PhD in Theology with a Minor in New Testament (2015). He previously published Labor of God: A Theology of Atonement (Baylor, 2017, reviewed here by Lindsay Kennedy).

Bennett 1-3 JohnIn the brief introduction, Bennett states we can know nothing about the authorship, date, or historical circumstances for 1-3 John. All we have are “intimations and whispers” about what might have been the circumstances in which 1-3 John were written. He therefore does not engage in any reconstruction of a Johannine Community or complicated theories of how these letters are related to the Gospel of John (or Revelation). Anything said of the historical circumstances lurking behind the text is aimed at “clearing the way for a theological engagement that nourishes Christians” (3). These brief letters still speak to us because we belong to the same church.

Nevertheless, Bennett thinks it is likely the author of these letters knew and followed Jesus, he assumes all three letters were written by the author of the Gospel of John (and maybe Revelation), although that does not matter for the theological reading found in this commentary. Not does Bennett find any specific heresy in the first letter beyond the simple denial of the son (1 John 2:22 5:12-13), nor do the letters address a clear, concrete, discernable group of Christians. “Once we have done away with the notion of a ‘Johannine Community’ we have radically democratized. The audience of the Johannine writings…casting a wider net so that these letters are written for all Christians” (8).

Following Richard Bauckham, Bennett suggests the Gospel of John was a trustworthy biography of an important person, written by an eyewitness, and at least partially written to those who do not believe. First John shares that audience, people who are “community-less, joyless and eternal life-less” (10). So perhaps we are reading letters written from the area of Ephesus in the years 80-90 CE (when and where John the Apostle traditionally lived), but does that really matter for doing a theological reading of the letters of John? Sometimes it does, as demonstrated by Bennett’s discussion of John’s ethics. In a section drawing a contrast between his view and Robert Yarborough’s recent commentary, Bennett suggests the difference is “interpretive fallout of rejecting historical speculation about circumstances… of an identifiable Johannine community” (202, note 80).

The body of the commentary follows typical units for the letters of John with no separate introductions for the second and third letter (although some introduction-like material appears in the commentary on the first verses of each letter). Bennett provides his own translation of the text, followed by an exposition of the text. Sometimes his translations are striking. For 1 John 2:16, he renders ἡ ἐπιθυμία τῆς σαρκὸς as “the things the body craves: rather than the traditional “lust of the flesh” and ἡ ἐπιθυμία τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν as “the things eyes long to see” rather than the traditional “lust of the eyes” and ἡ ἀλαζονεία τοῦ βίου as “overconfidence in what we have” rather than the traditional “pride of life.” He relates these phrases to Wisdom literature, going beyond the implication of sexual sins. “Overconfidence in what we have is not just a sin, it is a slippery slope that ends in heresy (47)

Greek appears along with transliteration, although Bennett’s comments are not overly concerned with syntactical issues and there are no notes on textual issues in the commentary (except for a note on 1 John 5:7-8). The translation shows that Bennett has worked over the difficult Greek syntactical issues. Frequently, he explains why he has translated a particular Greek construction as he has even if he does not reference exegetical grammars to support his decisions. Occasional footnotes point to secondary literature and contemporary commentaries when necessary. Bennett also refers to ancient voices, although less often than expected in a commentary doing theological interpretation. The result is a clear exposition of the text in readable prose with a theological edge. Sections do not conclude with a paragraph of theological insights; Bennett works his insights into his exposition throughout the commentary.

The Two Horizons Commentary series usually divides the content into two sections: exposition and theological horizons. In this commentary, the commentary on 1-3 John runs about 114 pages, the theological section 82 pages. Bennett divides his theological comments into eight broad categories. The first four deal with the Godhead (The Trinity; Christology; God and Creation; God’s Character). Bennett argues “unqualified monotheism of the Jewish and Muslim varieties cannot say ‘God is love’ truly; Johannine Christianity can and does” (135). He believes the incipient Trinitarianism of the letters of John make clear self-love is not the right kind of love, since love must go outside of itself: The Father demonstrates his love by sending his son.

For Bennett, a reader cannot rightly understand the Johannine Literature without a strong theological reckoning of Christ and the church as eschatological fulfillments of Temple Worship (135-36). This takes into account a hot topic in Johannine studies, the idea of Temple as Jesus’s body (for example Paul, Hoskins, Jesus as the Fulfillment of the Temple in the Gospel of John, W&S, 2007). Since sins are forgiven in Jesus’s name (1 John 2:1-2), 1 John and Hebrews are not far apart.

With respect to Election and Eschatology, John has a relentless emphasis on transformation (171). “We will be like him” in 1 John 3:2-3, and everyone who has this hope in him “purifies himself because he is pure.” but what does that mean? Bennett thinks this opens the door for a Protestant theology of purgatory. Believers are going to be conformed to Christ. For some, this process might be easy, for others (most) it will be difficult (painful, shameful). This is the “inner core” of purgatory, although the mechanics of this purgatorial transformation are not clear (in 1 John or elsewhere). Bennett turns to a philosophy of time to explain that believers will experience an instantaneous (from God’s perspective) purging of sin, although this purging might have a long-lasting subjective experience (from the believer’s perspective). This view has immediate theological implications for 1 John 3:4-10, a passage which seems in tension with Hebrews 6:4-6. John seems to say believers cannot sin-unto-death, while Hebrews say believers can sin and fall away, never to be restored. “If Protestantism develops a robust view of purgatory the perhaps this tension can be laid to rest” (178).

Perhaps that is true, but there are other ways to understand 1 John 3:3 which do not point towards a postmortem purification. The purification in 1 John 3:3 is in this life. The one who is in him “purifies themselves” (not, will be purified by God in the future). Purification (ἁγνίζω) refers to a ritual which makes someone “acceptable for cultic use” (BDAG 1). The background is more likely something like John 11:55, the Judeans purified themselves before Passover. The next paragraph concerns practicing sin in this life, not a purging of sin after death. This purification is part of John’s intensely practical ethics.

Regarding the church, the letters of John think of the church as a Spirit-filled Temple, different from Paul’s Body of Christ yet compatible, “arguably more Trinitarian” (192). Like Paul, John sees the church as a family. “John relentlessly uses family language” but without the apparent misogyny of Paul’s letters (197). This leads to an exegetical discussion of the addressee of the second letter, “the elect lady and her children.” Commentaries on 2 John usually interpret “the elect lady” as a metaphor for a local church (ἐκκλησία is a feminine noun) and her children are the members of that community. Bennett argues the elect lady is the patroness of a local church and would have been well known to the readers, like the Elder or the Beloved disciple (109). When John addresses the church, he does not usually use a metaphor, and he does not seem to be in the habit of addressing the church in feminine language. Bennett observes the letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3 do not use feminine metaphors.

John’s ethics are simple: if you are in him, walk like him. There are no household codes (like Paul and Peter) nor does John re-apply the Torah (like the Sermon on the Mount). Nor are there any extended sin lists found in the Pauline letters. The only specific ethical issue in the letters of John is tis extending hospitality to traveling teachers (and the dangers of refusing hospitality) in 3 John.

Conclusion. Bennett’s commentary on 1-3 John is a theologically challenging commentary with a clear pastoral heart. He is interested in shedding light on these deceptively simple letters and drawing the out implications for being “in him” in modern church life. Although some readers will miss the extended speculations about John’s community, Bennett’s exposition of these letters is an exemplary model of theological interpretation of Scripture and will benefit more readers to understand John’s message as they teach and preach these letters.

 

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

Reviews of other commentaries in this series:

 

Published on May 22, 2021 on Reading Acts.

Herbert Bateman and Steven Smith, Hebrews (Kerux)

Bateman, IV Herbert W. and Steven W. Smith. Hebrews: A Commentary for Biblical Preaching and Teaching . Kerux Commentaries. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Ministry, 2021. 389 pp. Hb. $36.99   Link to Kregel Ministry  

This Hebrews commentary is part of Kregel’s new Kerux commentary series. Projected to be a 46-volume series, seven are available at this time. In the preface to the series, Herb Bateman explains the Kerux commentary series attempts to join experts in biblical exegesis with experienced communicators. The commentary intends to provide solid exegesis, the theological focus and preaching strategies (“big idea,” contemporary connections, and success suggestions for creative presentations). Although the commentary is intended to help a busy pastor, the pastor in mind has a knowledge of both Hebrew and Greek and spends a significant amount of time preparing to preach and teach the word of God. Each volume in this new series will have two authors and exegete and a preacher. In this Hebrews commentary, Herb Bateman IV writes the exegetical portion and Steven W. Smith writes the preaching portions.

Hebrews (Kerux)The commentary begins with fifteen pages summarizing the twenty preaching passages (units, pericopes) for the book of Hebrews. Each unit begins with an exegetical idea, theological focus, and preaching ideas and preaching pointers. These units are as few as four verses (Heb 1:1-4) but sometimes as long as an entire chapter (Heb 11:1-40). Although this is not explicit in the commentary, this section is basically a pastor’s preaching outline for a long series in the book of Hebrews.

In the twenty-eight-page introduction to Hebrews, Herb Bateman begins with his view of the authorship of the book. As is well-known, Hebrews is anonymous and there are a bewildering number of suggestions for who the author might be. Bateman argues passionately for Barnabas as the author of Hebrews. He provides several pieces of evidence and provides a two-page chart listing other advocates for Barnabas as the author of the book (from Tertullian in the third century to Albert Vanhoye in 2015). Throughout the introduction, he refers to Barnabas as the author.

The book of Hebrews is a “sermonic-midrash-like letter” written to Jewish followers of Jesus who lived in Rome either just before Nero’s persecutions in A. D. 64 or just before the Jewish war with Rome began in A.D. 66. Given his view on the date for the book of Hebrews, Bateman provides a brief sketch of the history of Jews in Rome.

A common view on the occasion for the writing of Hebrews is the danger of Jewish Christians returning to Judaism to avoid this occasion. For Bateman, the political instability in the Roman Empire and Judea may have caused some Jewish Christians to doubt that Jesus was the Messiah. The book therefore argues Jesus is, in fact, the divine son of God, who has an eternal priesthood and who inaugurated God’s new covenant.

Each unit in the commentary’s body begins with a one-page summary of this section. This begins with a single brief sentence summarizing the exegetical idea, the theological focus, and the preaching idea for the unit. Following these brief notes are two paragraphs of suggestions for taking the exegesis and making it “work” in contemporary preaching. Exposition is verse by verse, often phrase by phrase. Bateman bases his exegesis on the Greek text. Given the constraints of the format of the commentary, Bateman’s exegesis is excellent (as expected from his Epistles of John and Jude commentaries).

Following the exegesis is a brief section entitled preaching ideas. This begins with a brief exegetical and theological synthesis and a repetition of the preaching idea. The next section is “contemporary connections” and asks questions like, “What does it mean?” “Is it true?” “Now what?” Finally, there is a section entitled creativity in presentation. Here, Smith suggests connections to popular cultural artifacts such as films, TV, or contemporary news stories. Following the preaching ideas are a few discussion questions and occasionally a further reading section offering bibliography for the unit. It is unclear why this further reading section does not appear in every section. Given the goals stated for the commentary, it is surprising that the preaching section is so brief. One might have expected a balance between exegesis and homiletics, but that is not the case.

Bateman supplements the commentary with a series of extremely helpful sidebars which deal with issues of historical background or exegetical detail. For example, there are sidebars on the Jewish theology of rest, the theology of Jewish tithes, and the Qumran document Song of the Sabbath Sacrifice (4Q400-407). There is a long excursus of Psalms 2 in the context of Hebrews 1. There are several sidebars defining terms or key people, such as “Who was Philo?” “Who was Ben Sira?” Sidebars include detailed word studies of key Greek terms, and occasionally comments on the syntactical structure of Greek verses. In addition to sidebars, there are a handful of notes entitled “translation analysis,” “textual analysis” and “lexical analysis” scattered throughout the book. These are printed slightly differently than the regular sidebars, although it is difficult to see any difference in the content. I noticed that the number of sidebars diminishes later in the commentary. There are only seven sidebars for Hebrews 10-13, although early in the commentary there seven in the first chapter which on;y covers four verses (Heb 1:1-4)

The commentary includes many charts scattered throughout the volume, offering a convenient summary of key ideas. Bateman loves charts! (See my review of Charts on the Book of Hebrews, Kregel Academic, 2012). On at least one occasion, he cites his earlier book and the charts for Hebrews 11 are also similar to the Chartbook. This is not a problem, of course. Looking back at that book, I notice Bateman collects evidence for several of the potential candidates for the authorship of Hebrews but in the brief introduction to this commentary; he can only advocate for his preference (Barnabas).

Conclusion. When I first saw volumes of this commentary series, I was reminded of the venerable Pulpit Commentary. The goals are similar: to provide solid exegesis from leading scholars and teaching ideas for pastors. This volume of the Kerux series achieves the goal of solid exposition of the text and it does offer help for busy pastors preparing to teach Hebrews from the pulpit, Sunday School classes or small group setting.

 

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

Timothy Gombis, Power in Weakness: Paul’s Transformed Vision for Ministry

Gombis, Timothy G. Power in Weakness: Paul’s Transformed Vision for Ministry. Foreword by Michael J. Gorman. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2021. 168 pp. Pb; $25.   Link to Eerdmans  

Although Tim Gombis is professor of New Testament at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary and has published several academic monographs on Paul, including Paul: A Guide for the Perplexed (T&T Clark, 2010) and The Drama of Ephesians: Participating in the Triumph of God (IVP Academic, 2010). But Gombis has been involved in ministry in local churches for many years. As Gombis says in his preface, the book is “an extended meditation on the dynamics of power and weakness in pastoral ministry.” The goal of the book is to present a clear biblical description of the role of the pastor as found in the Pauline letters. He frequently illustrates this Pauline pastoral leadership model through his own experience in local churches, both positive and negative.

Gombis, Power in WeaknessA driving force for this book is Gombis’s concern that “contemporary leadership language fosters a distinction, or separation, between pastors who lead and ordinary people in the church 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 should be the antidote two leadership problems!” Pastors now pursue D.Min degrees in leadership rather than ministry. The role of a pastor is increasingly less a humble shepherd caring for the flock than a corporate CEO and “vision-caster.” What used to be called a “senior pastor” is now a “lead pastor.” Pastors measure success by the size of one’s church. Unfortunately, pastors of large churches encourage this trend toward corporate leadership in the local church by publishing books on what “worked” in their own successful ministries (usually branding and image is a prominent theme in these books). The agenda is more important than the people because the church is no longer a family but a corporation (32).

The first three chapters of Power in Weakness surveys Paul’s “unconverted ministry” and track how his ministry imagination changed because of his encounter with the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Gombis argues Paul’s pre-Christian ministry was characterized by coercive power and a relentless pursuit of personal identity of power (which he later recognizes as worthless and an obstacle to genuine identity in Christ). Paul was seeking to bring about God’s purposes, but he did so through verbal and physical violence, and by transforming sinners into true Torah observant Jews. Focusing attention on Philippians 2:5-11, he observes Jesus acted in a radically counter-intuitive manner. Jesus did not exploit privilege or seek to gain any advantage of his rank or privilege. The resurrection completely transformed Paul’s way of thinking. The resurrection radically reorients Paul’s imagination towards living a life shaped by the cross (following Michael Gorman, Gombis calls this a “cruciform life”). After encountering Jesus, Paul no longer tries to impress people. He is a sinner (not a former sinner) who displays the victory of God in Christ through his weakness and shame (2 Cor 4:7-12).

Chapter 4 describes ministry from a cosmic perspective. Building on his Drama of Ephesians, Gombis argues cosmic enslavement to sin manifests itself as destructive patterns in Christian communities. For example, some churches struggle with divisive community dynamics and divisions along racial, ethnic, and social economic lines. Pastors are given to outbursts of anger, denunciation, and condemnation. Some community members are made to feel like second-class citizens within the church. The Corinthian church illustrates many of these destructive patterns, but it is easy enough to see the application to real church situations where pastors become the CEO of the church and the people are “giving units.”

The next four chapters apply the idea of cruciformity to aspects of ministry. In chapter 5 Gombis describes the church’s fixation on the pastor as an impressive public figure (and the pastor’s own pursuit of their own public image). Yet in 2 Corinthians 11:31-33, Paul says he could boast about his accomplishments and impress the Corinthian church. Rather than boast in his accomplishments, Paul shares his experiences which align him with the cross: his weakness and suffering. Instead of an impressive public figure, Gombis says, “ministers who have a legitimate claim to be faithful servants of Christ are those who most closely resemble a corpse on the cross” (91).

Chapter six contrasts cruciformity with the accumulation of credentials. Before encountering Christ, Paul built up an impressive ministry resume, but after Christ, none of that mattered. The only thing that mattered to Paul was his status as “in Christ.” He was a slave, even though he was an apostle. Christ appointed Paul as an apostle, but Paul is clear he did nothing to deserve his appointment. This leads Gombis to question the value of a seminary education. Does a seminary education really foster a faithful cruciform ministry vision characterized by joyful service and the cultivation of the dynamics of service and hospitality towards the hurting and the marginalized? If so, then the education is a positive experience. Don’t seek a degree just because it is an impressive credential, warns Gombis.

Chapter 7 discusses taking an initiative in a cruciform ministry. Gombis certainly has a number of negative things to say about leaders who lead aggressively, but he does not want to imply that a cruciform ministering means the pastor is a doormat. How does the pastor take initiative and lead his congregation? The primary way is through the sermon, but the pastor also must deal with church discipline and dealing with sin. This leads to cruciformity and ministry postures (Chapter 8). In one of the more shocking lines in the book: Gombis suggests Paul did not seek to impact his churches, because Paul knew he was not the active agent. God alone it determines what Paul is going to do in any congregation. This seems to be the opposite of most leadership talk in the contemporary evangelical church. Leaders intentionally (aggressively?) seek to impact their congregations and to guide them towards the goals set by the corporate mission statement.

Conclusion. Power in Weakness is a challenge to anyone doing ministry in the twenty-first century. Drawing on Paul’s ministry as described in his letters, Gombis sounds a clear warning against a secular view of leadership as not only antithetical to the New Testament vision of pastoral ministry, but also a dangerous view of leadership. Leading churches like a corporate CEO may poison one’s ministry and make it ineffective.

My copy of this book is well-marked and underlined, and I look forward to returning to it in the future as I reflect upon my ministry in academia and the local church.

Extras: Eerdworld sat down with Tim Gombis and asked him nine questions about Power in Weakness. Here is a summary of David Turner’s Conversation with Tim Gombis about Paul’s Vision for Ministry, watch the full 35 minute interview on YouTube.

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

S. D. Snyman, Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah (Tyndale Old Testament Commentary)

Snyman, S. D. Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah. Tyndale Old Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2021. xxii+139 pp. Pb. $20.00   Link to IVP Academic  

This new volume in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary series replaces the original 120-page volume by David W. Baker, originally published in 1988. S. D. Snyman is research associate in Old and New Testament studies at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa. He previously contributed a commentary on Malachi in the HCOT series (Peeters, 2014).

Snyman, Nahum, Habakkuk, ZephaniahThe commentary has a brief general introduction to the prophets. Since these prophets were well acquainted with the political world beyond Judah, the reader must be informed about the world situation and the internal politics and cultural practices in Judah. Although much of the prophecy in these three short books concerns the future doom of the nations, they are theological and part of the overall canon of scripture. Despite this observation, Snyman does not connect these three books intra-canonically, and he has little to say on how these three obscure prophets contribute to the overall canon. The major exception is a brief note on Habakkuk 2:4 in the New Testament.

Nahum (thirty-nine pages) is all about bloodthirsty revenge on the Assyrian Empire and the fall of Nineveh. He suggests a range of dates after 663 B. C. and before the fall of Thebes in 612 B.C. based on Nahum 3:8-10. Snyman sets the historical context from Tiglath-Pilesar III through the reign of the Judean king Manasseh. He suggests the book has a high literary quality and only briefly deals with occasional challenges to the unity of the book. With respect to theology, Nahum presents a God who is a God of justice, manifest in wrath and vengeance. Snyman suggests the book is written for the individual who is on the brink of losing hope in the midst of violence and oppression.

The style of Habakkuk (forty-six pages of commentary) suggests a liturgical setting. Nothing is known about the prophet, although there is a legend Habakkuk was the son of the Shunamite woman (2 Kings 4:16) or Isaiah’s watchman (Isa 21:6, cf., Hab 2:1). Habakkuk is also mentioned in the apocryphal story of Daniel, Bel and the Dragon. As Snyman comments, “none of these have historical value” (46). He dates the book to the rise of Babylon and the first deportation of Judeans, between 605 and 597 B.C. He only briefly mentions Bernhard Duhm’s fourth century B.C. dating based on the Chaldeans as the Kittim. Although chapter 3 is a different genre than the first two, Snyman does not see any evidence for multiple sources. If a later editor added the poem in chapter three from another source, it was “skillfully done” and the book is still a literary unit with a “climax of a confession of faith and a renewed trust in God” (49).

Regarding the theology of Habakkuk, the book does indeed address theodicy, the question of why God permits evil. Habakkuk receives a complicated answer. First, humans are incapable of understanding God’s way of handling world affairs. Second, the righteous must “keep faith.” Although there is a promise the wicked will not endure, this may not be a satisfying answer for a contemporary reader.

Snyman dates Zephaniah (forty-six pages of commentary) to the reign of Josiah, 639-609 B.C. He sketches that history and attempts to narrow the date further by pointing to Zephaniah 1:8 (the royal household wears foreign clothes). There is no reference to Josiah’s reforms in the book, so “it might even be the case that Zephaniah’s prophecies prompted Josiah to begin his reforms even before the discovery of the book of the Law” (95).

For Snyman, Zephaniah is “thoroughly theological in nature” (96). The book presents the Lord as the God of creation who is about to destroy the earth because of the sins of Judah and Jerusalem. Judah is indifferent to God, and Zephaniah accuses Judah of idolatry and worshiping the Lord in inappropriate ways. God will execute his judgment on the “day of the Lord,” the most important theme in Zephaniah. In this case, the Day of the Lord refers to the soon destruction of Jerusalem. Yet in all of this, there is a glimmer of hope because the Lord is also the God of Salvation. In the final section of the book, the Lord declares his love for his people and promises to gather them and deal with all their oppressors (3:14-20).

Like other Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, the body of the commentary focuses on the English text, only rarely referring to the Hebrew text (in transliteration). All secondary sources are cited in-text and there are no footnotes. Nevertheless, Snyman’s commentary is a model of careful exegesis and analysis of the text presented in clear prose which illuminates the text of these three obscure prophets for both profession and laypersons.

 

Other reviewed commentaries in third Tyndale series:

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.