Most Popular Posts on Reading Acts 2012


The end of the year is the time for retrospectives, James McGrath , Bob MacDonald (Dust) and others have posted their lists. This is an easy post to write and it helps to fill space in the otherwise lazy final week of the year.  (All the big sites do it too, CNN probably has a list of the top ten fashion disasters of 2012 right now.)

So I thought I would look back at the “top ten” most popular posts in 2012.  Reading Acts had more hits in 2012 than in the first three and a half years combined, mostly from home-schoolers filling out worksheets or people writing papers for Bible Students Say (follow @BibleStdntsSay on Twitter). All kidding aside, I do hope that the posts on Reading Acts meet some needs for pastors and teachers preparing to teach the Scripture.

Omitting the Reading Acts Home Page, here is the list:

Top iPad Apps for Bible Study (Part One)
July 2012 Biblical Studies Carnival
Revelation and Apocalyptic Imagery
Was John the Disciple Whom Jesus Loved?
Acts 15 – Why is Circumcision So Important?
Acts 15:36-40 – Disagreement with Barnabas
Top iPad Apps for Bible Study (Part Two): Bible Atlases
Acts 2:42-47 – The Early Community of Believers
Paul: At the Feet of Gamaliel?
Acts 15 – Who were the Judaizers?
The Roman Cult of Emperor Worship


OK, I know that is 11, but “Top iPad Apps” is so far ahead it ought to be retired.

A few observations about the list which may be instructive to new bloggers. Carnivals generate hits.  (This is a good reason for you to volunteer to run a Carnival in 2013!) Only two other posts from 2012 made the list, “Was John the Disciple Whom Jesus Loved?” and “Revelation and Apocalyptic Imagery.”

dummies-self-promotionTop searches to hit Reading Acts include “carnival, john the baptist, who were the judaizers, why did judas betray jesus, persecution” and “domitian.” I get a significant number of hits with variations on iPad and Bible Software as well. Strangely, I get a fair few people searching for “babel fish” despite not devoting much space to Douglas Adams. The top tag on Reading Acts is “Jewish Christian Literature” followed closely by “book review.”

The top ten referrers to Reading Acts are the “usual suspects,” although number ten was the BiblioBlog Library. I was surprised by this, since I do not see that many hits on a daily basis.  I have had a few nice link-ins from Koinonia (Zondervan) and ErdWorld (Eerdmans). I appreciate anyone who links to my blog, thanks.

One of the cool additions to WordPress this year was adding stats on countries hitting your blog. After the US, UK, Canada and Australia, the Philippines, India and South Africa are the most popular countries visiting the site.  One of the things I love about this new feature is getting hits from countries I never knew existed – Niue? The Åland Islands?  I just wish WordPress would add a link to Wikipedia on the stats page.

That is enough shameless self promotion, thanks for a great year!

Top Biblical Studies Books 2012

The final week of the year is the time when the blogosphere makes there “top ten” lists for the year. I suppose this should be entitled, “top ten books I have personally read this year and found quite useful.”  If you are reading this blog, you probably have a sense that my top ten are not going to jive very well with the Amazon top religious books of the year or the top Christian best sellers. (I am just not that into soft-core Amish romance novels, sorry.)

As a result, this list is completely focused on me and my interests, and is probably “Grand Rapids-centric.” Living in the same town as Eerdmans, Baker, Zondervan and Kregel helps to expand one’s library. An additional complication is that there are quite a few books I only discovered this year but are in fact a few years old. These “new to me” books are not included on this list.

As always, these are just my opinions, read Jim West’s recent comments on these sort of “best of 2012 lists.”   There are many more of these sorts of lists cropping up around the blogosphere.  For example, here is a great of books which differs from mine considerably from Scot McKnight at JesusCreed, or Joel Watts at Unsettled Christianity.

Old_booksOld Testament

Mark J. Broda and J Gordon McConville, Dictionary of Old Testament Prophets. All of the IVP Dictionaries are worth having, this one finishes out the series. Concise introductions to all the biblical prophets, several with “history of interpretation” sections. There are excellent bibliographies at the end of each entry. One problem, there are now two dictionaries in this series which can be abbreviated DOTP.  This bothers my OCD just a bit.

Second Temple Period

A Companion to Biblical Interpretation in Early Judaism, ed. Henze. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2012. This is a collection of essays covering biblical interpretation from the Hebrew Bible through the Second Temple Period, including Qumran and the Hellenistic Judaism of Philo and Josephus.

George Nickelsburg and James C. VanderKam. 1 Enoch: The Hermenia Translation. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012. This is technically not a new book since the translation appeared in the Hermenia commentary on 1 Enoch, but the publication of just the translation in a handy (and inexpensive) format is welcome. I look forward to picking up a few more in this series, 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch, for example.

New Testament: Gospels

Frederick Dale Bruner, John. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2012. Sometimes reading a commentary is a chore, but Bruner’s style makes for easy reading. I particularly like the beginning of each section where he collects a few excellent quotes from a wide range of commentaries on John.

Jonathan Pennington, Reading the Gospels Wisely. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2012. I reviewed this book for a journal and it was a very enjoyable read. Pennington describes a theological – narrative hermenutical method which could be applied to any narrative portion of scripture. He does not dismiss historical studies, but favors a reading of the Gospels which stands on the foundation of history but also attempts to apply the text to the present church.

Craig Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables, Second Edition. Downers Grove, Ill. Inter-Varsity Press, 2012. This has long been my favorite book on parables and it is good to see a “substantially revised” edition.

New Testament: Acts

Craig S. Keener, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, Volume 1. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2012. This is monster commentary with 638 pages of introduction to the study of Acts and commentary on the first two chapters of the book, for a total of 1038 pages. The volume comes with a CD-ROM containing indices and bibliography – a PDF file with another 426 pages! Since I am teaching Acts this semester, I expect to have a number of posts through the winter and spring based on my reading of this book.

While not as epic as Keener, Eckhard J. Schnabel, Acts (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2012) is worth a look. It is another huge commentary on Acts, part of the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary series. I list it here

Darrell Bock, A Theology of Luke and Acts. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2012. This forms a sort of conclusion to Bock’s BENTC commentaries on Luke and Acts and is similar in approach to Köstenberger’s Theology of John (2011).

New Testament: Paul

Colin Kruse, Romans. PNTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2012. I reviewed this commentary more in-depth in August. I have found all the Pillar commentaries I have used useful, and it is nice to see a commentary which is not over 1000 pages.

Constantine R. Campbell. Paul Union with Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2012. This is a thorough study of the idea of being “in Christ” in the Pauline letters. Large sections of this book are detailed exegetical studies of prepositional phrases like “in Christ,” “through Christ,” etc. The chapter on Pauline metaphors for union with Christ is worth the price of the book alone.

New Testament: Revelation

Paige Patterson, Revelation. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2012. This recent addition to the NAC series is somewhat unique in today’s crowded field of Revelation commentaries since Patterson attempts to read Revelation from the perspective of a premillennialist as well as a pretribulational Rapture. It is strange to say that this is unique, but most recent commentaries have dispensed with this sort of thing (Fee, for example). I include it here since I think there is a need for a pre-mil, pre-trib voice on Revelation.

December 2012 Biblical Studies Carnival – Call for Links

XMas CarnivalAbram K-J from Words on the Word is on tap for the December Carnival (coming January 1).  I know he would appreciate any nominations for the final carnival of 2012.  Feel free to visit his site and nominate your favorite posts this month – maybe even send a link or two from your own blog.

The very first Biblioblog Carnival was hosted by Joel Ng in April of 2005 at Ebla Logs.  That blog has long since closed, but the  the second Carnival still exists,  written by Tyler Williams at Codex in February of 2006. Tyler Williams was the keeper of the Carnival List until at least 2009, here is a list of carnivals at least to December 2009.  He also has an excellent description of what a Carnival ought to look like.  When last seen, Williams was hosting Christian Carnival #435, but it does not look like Codex has been active in a while.

Since this is the last week of the year, here is a list of the past carnivals for the year:

January 2012 by former Keeper of the Carnival List Jim Linville  at Dr. Jim’s Thinking Shop.

February 2012 by Amanda at Cheese-Wearing Theology.

March 2012 by Duane Smith at Abnormal Interests.

April 2012 by  Jonathan Robinson over at  ξἐνος.

May 2012 was hosted by Political Jesus.

June 2012 by Christian Brady at Targumim.

July 2012 was hosted here at Reading Acts.

August 2012 by Jim West at Zwinglius Redivivus.

September 2012 by Tim Bulkeley at Sansblogue.

October 2012 by the Team at Bible*Literature*Translation.

November 2012 – an epic Carnival by Bob at Dust.

Which brings me to January 2013.  I am looking for volunteers for the 2013 Carnival Season.  Carnivals are a great way to attract attention to your site if you are new blogger, but more importantly it gives you a chance to highlight the best and the brightest in the world of bibliblogs.  If you would like to host a Carnival in 2013, send me an email (plong42), or a comment on this post and I can contact you.


Born in Bethlehem, Called a Nazarene?

One of the most secure facts about Jesus from New Testament is that he was “from Nazareth in Galilee.”  If he was  the Messiah, son of David, why was he not “from Bethlehem?”  As the readers of Matthew and Luke, we know he was born in Bethlehem and some of the reasons why he did not stay there.  But as with everything in the story of Jesus’ birth, there is more to the story.

NazarethPolitical and economic issues in first century Palestine are the main reasons that Joseph moves from Bethlehem to Nazareth. Just like laborers today, You go where there is work!  Sepphoris and Tiberias, two large cities near Nazareth, had need for stone cutters and other craftsmen.  Joseph went to Nazareth there because there was work in the area.  Bethlehem was a minor town which probably supplied sheep for the Temple.  Perhaps after the census there was simply no way for Joseph to support his growing family so he planned to return to Nazareth where there was family and work.

Matthew has a more theological explanation.  He quotes the prophet Hosea: out of Egypt I called my son, he is a Nazarene. Only in Matthew we are told that Herod intended to kill baby boys under the age of two in Bethlehem in an attempt to stop the Messiah from taking his throne.  This “slaughter of the innocent” is analogous to killing newborns in Egypt in the book of Exodus.  This leads to the “flight to Egypt,” although we are not told how long they remain in Egypt before returning to Galilee.

This fulfills the word of the Lord through Hosea, according to Matthew 2:14-15. While this does not seem like an appropriate use of the verse, the idea in Hosea is that Israel is God’s child who has taken refuge in Egypt, and after a period of time in Egypt he would be recalled back into the land of promise.  Hosea is looking back at the story of the Exodus, where Israel was in Egypt for their protection and are called out of Egypt in order to enter the land.

Jesus is, in a very real sense, the Son of God. In another sense, Jesus is re-enacting the experience of Israel by fleeing from the land to Egypt and returning again at the direction of God. There are a number of parallels to the experience of Israel in the gospels, for example, he too will be tempted in the wilderness; on the cross Jesus takes the curse of the law on himself and pays for the nations rebellion himself.

That the family should settle in Nazareth fulfills another scripture for Matthew (2:21-23). This is a bit more problematic since there is no specific text which says that the messiah should be called a Nazarite, or as the NIV translates, a Nazorean.  Nazareth was another extremely small, insignificant village, so it is unlikely that a Hebrew prophet would have predicted that he would come from this town, especially since the messiah was to come from the town of David. It is possible that the phrase does not mean that he would come from the town of Nazareth, but rather that he would be a Nazarite, someone who has taken a Nazarite vow. But again, no scripture really says that the messiah would have taken a Nazarite vow.

Another possibility is that the line in Matthew refers to Isaiah 11:1, which says that the messiah will be a “root from the stump of Jesse,” or a branch. The Hebrew word for root / branch is nezer, and Matthew is making a play-on-words with the name of the town (although these are two different words).

Another possibility is that Nazarene was slang for a person from a remote place (Blomberg, Matthew, NAC, 69 suggests this).  Perhaps it is like saying that someone is from “Hickville.”  Most regions have an “other side of the tracks,” Nazareth was proverbially on the wrong side.

Whatever the reason he was called a Nazarene, the title points to humble origins.  As with his birth in Bethlehem, Jesus’ time in Nazareth is an indication that God will do great things through the Messiah who is hidden, who is small and insignificant at first (Matt 13:31-33).

1-2 Thessalonians in ZECNT Giveaway

ZECC ThessaloniansZondervan is giving away a copy of the ZECNT volume on 1-2 Thessalonians by Gary Shogren and all you have to do is tell them who the Restrainer in 2 Thessalonians 2 is by leaving a comment on the Koinonia site.

This brings to mind a great new way to solve theological debates.  Blogs can give away a prize to whoever can solve the Synoptic Problem or explain who those people were who were raised to life in Matthew 27:52-53.  We just need to find a prize big enough to bring in the heavyweights in to leave comments.

Anyway, Zondervan is kind enough to give away a copy of this fine commentary, leave a comment and / or retweet the page for a chance to win. Fortunately I posted by thoughts on this passage a few weeks ago, so Reading Acts subscribers have an inside track.

Matthew 1:19 – Joseph, a Righteous Man

In Matthew 1, Joseph and Mary are described as “betrothed,” a legally binding contract which was something like a “pre-marriage”  arrangement.  Since Mary is found to be pregnant, she must have been unfaithful.  This sad situation almost requires a breaking of the marriage contract, so Joseph decides to divorce her “quietly.”

Joseph and the AngelJoseph does not want to shame her. The verb δειγματίζω is used for the shaming of a woman caught in adultery. It appears in John 8:2 with this sense, and in Dio Chryssostom 47 there is a reference “a Cyprian law, according to which an adulteress had to cut her hair and was subjected to contempt by the community” (BDAG).

This form of the verb does not appear in the LXX, but the compound verb παραδειγματίζω appears 6x. There is little difference in meaning, TDNT 2:31. In Heb 6:6 the compound form is used for shaming Christ by publicly recanting one’s faith. In Col 2:15 uses the verb for the shaming of the “authorities” after when Jesus triumphed over them in the resurrection. In Num 25:4 it describes the public hanging of those who fornicated with the prostitutes from Baal-Peor (compare PsSol 2:12-14, a possible allusion to that story).

The divorce (ἀπολύω) is to be “quiet,” an adverb (λάθρᾳ) often meaning “in secret” or “in private.” In Matt 2:7, for example, Herod summons the wise men “in secret.” It is occasionally used outside of the New Testament with the sense of “not going through proper channels.” It is possible that Joseph, being a poor man, did not feel it necessary to spend the money and time to properly punish her, so he would dissolve the marriage without bringing it before proper authorities who would (perhaps) insist on a shaming of Mary and (undoubtedly) money from Joseph.

Since Joseph was described as a “righteous man,” it is possible that he thought he was obligated by the Law divorce Mary. (John Nolland makes this suggestion and he offers a number of mishnaic sources which indicate that the situation described here may require a divorce. Nolland, Matthew, 95) Numbers 5:11-31 may indicate that if a man discovers his wife in adultery a divorce is required, as well as a public shaming.

While I am not sure that it is correct to connect the “righteousness” of Joseph to keeping a legal tradition requiring the divorce of an adulteress wife, I do think that it is important to read righteousness in a Matthean context rather than importing the Pauline idea into this text. Matthew is not saying that Joseph was “justified” before God, but rather that he was a Jew who was keeping the Law as best that he could. It is possible to read this Greek word as reflecting the same idea as the Hebrew צַדִּיק, “conforming to the laws of God and people” (BDAG).

It is also possible that Joseph did not want to shame himself by declaring to the public that his betrothed wife had been unfaithful. While the text says that it is Mary’s shame that is in mind, Joseph would have a certain level of humiliation when the news became public.

Whatever his motives, Joseph is describe as “doing the right thing” and preserving Mary from a public disgrace and potential execution for adultery.

The Nash Papyrus Online

Nash PapyrusThe Cambridge Digital Library has published The Nash Papyrus online.  This is a famous fragment containing the Ten Commandments and the Shema. This document was discovered in 1898 and likely dates to 150-100 B.C. F. C. Burkitt described the text in a 1903 article in the Jewish Quarterly Review as a “Hebrew document based upon a text which is not the Masoretic text, but has notable points of agreement with that which underlies the Septuagint” (399).  After providing a plate of the manuscript, a transcription and translation, Burkitt says “I greatly rejoice to learn from the Nash Papyrus that the ancient Greek translation was even more faithful to the Hebrew which underlies it than some of us dared hope” (403).

Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, this fragment was the oldest example of Hebrew writing.  It is interesting to read Burkitt’s article since he writes well before the DSS were discovered.  He is elated at being able to study pre-Herodian biblical Hebrew.  This make me think how rich biblical scholarship is 100 years later.  Not only do we have the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, but much of this material is available in extremely high resolution.

While photographs of this text have been available for over a century, the Cambridge site allows the scholar see the manuscript in high resolution.  The site provides a brief description along with a bibliography.  There are hundreds of other manuscripts of interest on the Cambridge site, well worth spending an afternoon browsing!