Reading Acts – Year in Review

It is traditional for the media to fill out their content at the end of the year with “top ten lists” and other year-in-review type stories. Part of the reason is that no one really wants to work from Christmas to New Year’s Day, so these kind of easily generated stories pad out news outlets. They do not really say anything new, although they are sometimes interesting to read. I find that reading “top fifty albums of the year” lists remind me how out-of-touch I am with contemporary culture.  But mostly these kind of articles are Shameless Self Promotion. So without further ado, allow me to flog my own blog for the final post of 2013.

Self Promotion

It was a busy year on Reading Acts, with 256 new posts, pushing the total over 1000 posts since the blog began in September 2008.  The blog had over 173,000 hits from 195 countries, with the Philippines, India and Singapore leading the non-English speaking countries) and it cross the 500,000 hit threshold in the next day or two. My first book was published in November (here is a summary of the book with links).

Reading Acts makes the “top lists” regularly now, such as the BiblioBlog Top 50, although my favorite is Peter’s Kirby’s list, since he put me at #4.  Reading Acts was the host for the March 2013 BiblioBlog Carnival and I have been cajoling people into volunteering for that honor for the last year and a half.  If you are interesting in hosting a Carnival, contact me!

I AM AWESOMESince I do not write on political / cultural issues, this is quite remarkable. I could probably generate a great deal more traffic if I made a few sharp comments about the burning issues of our day. I suppose I could do a few posts on Kim Kardashian’s strange relationship with Duck Dynasty, or Rob Bell’s new book denying the existed of Rick Warren, or Mark Driscoll plagiarizing Peter Enns’ new book on the historical N. T. Wright.  But that has not been the ethos of this blog and I probably will not change things that much.

As you can see in the left margin, I have added links to my page (facebook/linkedn mash-up for academics) and the Bible Gateway Blogger Grid. Both of these sites are excellent resources for academic study of the Bible.

My Top Seven Posts in 2013:

WordPress does a good job of letting me know the sorts of things people search to get to Reading Acts. I obviously get hits on iPad apps, especially around Christmas or the release of a new iPad/iPhone. But the top five search terms for this year were “why did judas betray jesus,”  carnival, pentecost, and judaizers. So the ultimate post would be about Judas and the Judaizers betraying Jesus at a Pentecost carnival.  I am always amazed and the hits I get from people obviously cut and pasting a question from their homework (“1. why did paul….” or “what are the three main themes of Galatians?”) I assume that these are properly cited in MLA format.

I do want to sincerely thank the many people who read this blog. I am always amazed to hear that someone follows the blog and actually reads it.

Now Available: Jesus the Bridegroom

This is some exciting news:  My book is now available through Amazon and the Wipf & Stock website. The book retails for $33, but Amazon and Wipf & Stock have it discounted. The Kindle version is only $9.99 and claims to have real page numbers. I have not seen a Kindle version yet. If you live in the Grand Rapids area, I have a few copies in my office if you want to get one directly from me.  If you do get the book, leave a nice review on Amazon, I would appreciate that.

00_PICKWICK_TemplateThe full title of the book is Jesus the Bridegroom: The Origin of the Eschatological Feast as a Wedding Banquet in the Synoptic Gospels. The book is an edited version of my dissertation. As I was working on my dissertation, people would ask what I was writing on. I usually said “an intertextual study on messianic banquet imagery in the Synoptic Gospels.” After a moment of awkward silence, I clarified: “Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven is like a Wedding Banquet – what’s up with that?”

The book attempts to study the marriage metaphor / motif in the teaching of Jesus. There are a few places in the Synoptic Gospels where Jesus describes the Kingdom of Heaven as a Wedding Banquet, Matt 22:1-14 and 25:1-13 are the most obvious texts. But there are a few places where Jesus describes himself as a bridegroom, and a marriage metaphor appears in a number of other places. My proposal is that Jesus combined the metaphor of an eschatological banquet with the common Old Testament marriage metaphor and described his ministry as an ongoing wedding banquet to which all Israel is now invited. The long period in the wilderness is over and it is time for Israel to return to her Bridegroom.

In order to make this case, I apply what might be called an intertextual method to traditions or set of metaphors. The “text” in this intertextual study is the Hebrew Bible, but that text was heard by Jesus’ original listeners rather than read. They knew the metaphors because they heard them taught in their homes and synagogues. Jesus used these metaphors because they were current, but by combining them to describe himself, he created a new image of the eschatological age as a wedding banquet.

I first examine the eschatological “victory banquet” motif in the Hebrew Bible, starting with Isa 25:6-8 (ch. 3), the use of the Wilderness Tradition in Isaiah 40-55 (ch. 4), and the Marriage Metaphor in Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah (ch. 5).  I trace the development of these three themes through the Second Temple Period in chapter 6, and finally apply that database to the sayings of Jesus in chapter 7.

There are a few things that you will not find in this book. First, I did not cover John’s gospel, although there is much there that can be described as “wedding motif.” My reason for this omission are simple-the dissertation was already too long to include another major section on John’s Gospel! Second, there is nothing in this book on the application of the Bridegroom metaphor to the church. I wanted a study of Jesus’ use of the metaphor, not the (much) later theological development of that metaphor. Again, the reason for this is simply that I was writing a New Testament dissertation, doing “biblical theology” rather than “systematic theology.” I wanted to focus on the teaching of Jesus and the origin of the wedding banquet metaphor.

Obviously I would love for you to buy a copy, but that is not always possible. Here’s how you can help get the word out for me:

Of course, I would really like to hear feedback from anyone who reads the book – feel free to send me an email to continue the discussion. Thanks!

Why Did the Gospels Include the Birth of Jesus?

The gospels seemed to have been formed “backwards.” The initial preaching of the apostles was Christ Crucified and Risen. This is clear from Acts 2:23, 32, 3:14, 10:37-41, and 1 Cor 15:3-5. The teaching of Jesus (didache) was added to the “passion” of Jesus (kerygma). The last (canonical) stage of the development was to include a prologue concerning the origins of Jesus – was he simply a man?  Matthew and Luke include miraculous birth stories, John has a theological prologue announcing that Jesus is the Word who was with God from the beginning since he is God.  Notice the development taking mark as the earliest of the Gospels – there is no birth narrative and virtually nothing about his family history. The earlier one goes into the traditions of concerning Jesus, the less about Jesus’ birth we find.

Birth of JesusOne might extend this another step historically and include the infancy narratives that are created well after the end of the apostolic era. These apocryphal stories are much more fanciful and creative – and far less historically reliable. On the other hand, there are much more theological presentations of Jesus as well in the writings of the church fathers, in these Jesus becomes the Christ of theology.

Why were the infancy narratives written in the first place? Crossan thought the question should not be what Matthew and Luke tell us about the birth of Jesus, but “why they tell us anything at all?”  What would motivate the gospel writer to include an explanation of the birth of Jesus? Raymond Brown suggested three reasons (Birth of the Messiah, 29).

The most simple explaination for the birth narratives is curiosity.  Since Mark did not have many biographical details that people always seem to want to know about, the later gospels were interested in filling-in that gap.

Apologetic. One possible motivation for Luke’s presentation of John the Baptist’s birth along side Jesus’ birth is to show the superiority of Jesus over John, perhaps to answer non-Christian disciples of John (similar to those we meet in Acts 19) There is an apologetic value of the birth narrative when presenting the Gospel to skeptical Jews as well, helping to explain how the Messiah (who as to be born in Judean Bethlehem) ended up to be a native of Galilee. There is also the charge made by early Judaism that Jesus as of illegitimate birth, answer by both evangelists by the explanation of a virgin birth.

There are obvious theological motives as well. The genealogy in Matthew connects Jesus to David, Moses, Joseph, and the other great men in the history of Israel. Like Moses he survives the slaughter of children by a pagan ruler, and like Moses he goes to the mountain to dispense the Law (Matthew 5-7). There is a developing Christology in the four Gospels, Mark tells us that Jesus is already the Son of God at the baptism.  In the next two gospels (Matthew and Luke are chronological about the same time), Jesus is God from the moment of his conception, and in John he is God from the very beginning.  In fact, John tells us Jesus  is equal with God from  eternity since he is the creator (John 1:1).

I would add a fourth motivation for Matthew and Luke including the birth narratives.  More than Mark, these two gospels are interested in showing that Jesus fulfilled prophecy, beginning with his birth.  Readers familiar with the Old Testament know than God has done a number of miracles to bring special individuals into the world – Isaac and Samuel are examples of children born to elderly or barren parents.  Jesus is the ultimate “miracle child” since he was born from a virgin.

All of this highlights the uniqueness of Jesus at the very beginning of the story.  What might be a few other motives for the writers of the gospels to include the story of Jesus’ birth?  Or to think of it the other way, why did Mark and John omit the brith of Jesus?

Book Review: Nienhuis and Wall, Reading the Epistles of James, Peter, John & Jude as Scripture

Nienhuis, David R. Robert W. Wall. Reading the Epistles of James, Peter, John & Jude as Scripture: The Shaping and Shape of a Canonical Collection. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2013. 314 pp. Pb; $30.00.  Link to Eerdmans

Canonical approaches to the Bible have grown in popularity in the last two decades. While Brevard Childs is usually associated with the beginnings of this movement, there have been a number of recent books that attempt to study the “shaping of the canon” in its final form. Many of these studies are on sub-canons within the Hebrew Bible (Isaiah, Psalms), Canon studies have caught the attention of New Testament scholarship. For example, Francis Watson’s recent Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective (Eerdmans, 2013) uses the shape of the Canon as a way to get at Gospel origins. Robert Wall has written several important works on the formation of the Canon as well as commentaries on the Pastoral Epistles and James. Nienhuis contributed Not By Paul Alone: The Formation of the Catholic Epistle Collection and Christian Canon (Baylor, 2008). That book focused primarily on the formation of a Catholic canon and used James as a model. Both writers are influenced by Brevard Childs (p. 273) and this book forms a companion to Childs’s The Church’s Guide for Reading Paul: The Canonical Shaping of the Pauline Corpus (Eerdmans, 2008). In this new book, Nienhuis and Wall continue the method developed by Childs by applying it to the seven of the letters that follow the Pauline books.

Nienhuis and WallNienhuis and Wall begin by lamenting the lack of clarity in New Testament studies on the nature of the so-called Catholic Epistles. While the Synoptic Gospels, Pauline and Johannine literature are almost universally recognized as canonical units, the “other books” are less-clearly defined. Should the collection include Hebrews and/or Revelation? If the collection is to be defined as “non-Pauline,” should the deutero-Pauline letters such as the Pastorals or Ephesians be included? If the collection is defined as later representing a later, catholic Christianity, should non-canonical books such as Didache be included? Even the name of the collection varies in New Testament introductions. This book attempts to “rehabilitate” the letters of James, Peter, John, and Jude by suggesting that there is canonical coherence in these seven letters. They reflect a conscious attempt to create a “Pillars collection” that gives balance to the Pauline collection of letters in the overall Canon of Scripture.

In the first part of the book, Nienhuis and Wall devote three chapters to the formation of a Catholic Epistles canon. They trace the development of the canon in general in both the Western and Eastern churches by examining the comments on these letters in Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origin. The main motivation for mentioning the Catholic Epistles during this period is to link the mission of Paul and the “Pillars” from Jerusalem as an answer to Marcion’s claim that only Paul understood the Gospel. Paul’s letters represent a mission to the Gentiles while 1 Peter and 1 John represent the mission to the Jews. This “Acts-inspired missional logic” was used by Tertullian to “demote Paul’s authority” in response to Marcion (p. 21). It is not until Origin that there are references to James, and then primarily because the letter was a useful response to overly fideistic readings of Paul.

In fact, Nienhuis and Wall state that Augustine thought the Catholic Epistles were added to the canon “in order to keep readers from falling into a Paulinist fideism” (p. 35). Paul must be understood through the lens of the canonical frame of Acts on the one side, and the Catholic Epistles on the other.

The “shape” of the seven letter canon is based on at least two factors. First, Nienhuis and Wall argue that James functions as a “frontpiece” to the Pillars collection. As such, the Epistle of James is a presentation of the theology of the collection. This necessarily means that James was composed for the express purpose of drawing the Pillars collection together, taking cues from the book of Acts and the memory of James as leader of the Jerusalem church. Whether or not the “historical James” is the source for the sayings in the Epistle of James is of no interest to this study; the book might come from the real James or not (p.62).  The function of the Letter of James in the Pillars Collection is more important than matters of authorship and history.

Second, the authors argue that these letters were shaped into a collection alongside the book of Acts.  Since Acts indicates that Peter (and to a lesser extent John) was the initial spokesperson for the Jerusalem community and James became the leader of that community, their voices ought to be heard along with Paul. The book of Acts plays “a strategic hermeneutical role in the canonical process” as an “early catholic narrative: that has only a moderate conflict between Paul and the Pillars in Jerusalem (p. 61). Acts gives shape to the Pillars collection rather than Galatians 2,

In order to demonstrate their suggestion, the authors provide a number of “intertextual readings” which they argue show that this collection is the result of an “intentional, deliberate movement” at some point in the canonical process. These intertextual connections traced in the conclusion by reading James as the frontpiece, then showing how 1 Peter takes up themes from James. The chapter steps through the letters in canonical order, attempting to connect the letters (from James to 1 Peter, from 1 Peter to 2 Peter, and so on.

This frequent use of the term “intertextual” is a serious problem, however. The book as a whole uses phrases like “clearly maker by a series of intertextual linkages” (p. 254) often, but never does the book define what an “intertextual linkage” is nor is there any real method for determining if these links are real and intentional, or simply a coincidence due to similar subject matter.

For example, the authors state that there “clear verbal and thematic linkages” between 2 Peter and 1 John that center around the motif of witness. Both 2 Peter and 1 John claim to be written by an eyewitness (p. 255). A second example is language sued to describe false teachers: they are pseudoprophetes (2 Peter 2:1 and 1 John 4:1); both letters describe the false teachers as denying Christ (using arneomai, 2 Peter 2:1 and 1 John 2:27); both describe the false teachers are deceivers (using plane and planao, 2 Peter 2:15, 18; 3:17 and 1 John 2:26, 3:7, 4:6, 2 John 7). But is any of this language unique enough to imply a conscious intertextual allusion? Witness language also appears in Acts and John, so it is possible that the intertextual allusion points to those books.

There are similar themes and vocabulary to be sure, but what is to be made of this? Is this “intertext” evidence of a common source? Perhaps one writer made use of the other to expand on an idea? Was the source of this intertext the author of the letter or at the “canonical shaping” level? As with most intertextual studies, there is uncertainty as to which direction the intertext flows, but that is not really an issue for this book. The Pillars collection s arranged as it is in order to create two intertextual relationships that were not at all in view when the letters were first written.

The two books that frame the seven letters, Hebrews and Revelation, are not covered in this book. The reason for the omission of Hebrews is that there is no evidence that the book was ever considered a part of this canonical collection in antiquity (p. 36). Hebrews was more often included in the Pauline corpus of 14 books. In fact, Childs devotes a section to the influence of Hebrews on the Pauline collection in his Reading Paul. Nienhuis and Wall follow Childs by suggesting that Hebrews serves as a canonical balance to the Pauline letters, connecting the theology of Paul its Jewish roots. Like the Pillars collection, Hebrews balances Paul in the shape of the final canon. Likewise, Revelation was always something of a loner in the biblical canon because of genre. Rather than suggest Hebrews and Revelation form some sort of a frame for the Pillars collection, the books are simply left out of the study.

Conclusion. Nienhuis and Wall offer a way of reading the Pillars collection as a unit that teases out a consistent theology for a section of scripture that is often ignored as secondary to the Jesus and the Gospels or the Pauline literature. As an example of a Canonical Reading of the New Testament this book makes a case for an ongoing process of collecting, editing, and arranging the letters in order to create a balance to a heretical misreading of Pauline Theology.

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

Top 10 Ways to Fail a Bible Paper

While I was grading papers a couple of weeks ago, I thought it would be funny to write a few tweets with common student mistakes. This turned into a “top ten list” of things I have consistently read over my 23 years of grading Bible papers. I posted the Top Ten list using over a couple of days. (By the way, follow me @Plong42.)  The tweets were very popular, most were re-tweeted and there was a fair amount of sympathy among other Bible teachers. I thought I would post the list with a little clarification.

FailI want to make a few clarifications. There is no one student in mind for any of the Top Ten. Sadly, these are the types of things that regularly turn up in undergraduate Bible papers, from freshmen to seniors. Most of my students are very bright and write excellent papers. Occasionally even the best students slip one of these dingers into an otherwise good paper.

Perhaps I should have titled the list, “things to avoid when writing a Bible paper” since I am not sure anyone has failed for including something on this list (although for three or more of these in a single paper, I might just have to fail you!) For my present and future students: avoid these mistakes!

#10 – “My youth pastor told me that. . .” I have always been impressed with the influence that a Junior High Youth Pastor has on their students. Students really remember things they taught four or five years in the past, often clinging to that reaching tenaciously.

#9 – Pauline Lit Paper, only quote Jesus.  The opposite could also happen, although I have had more non-Jesus papers that quote the Gospels than Gospels papers full of Pauline theology. This is an understandable mistake for some students who are raised in churches that preach the Gospels far more than the Pauline letters. It is very hard to bracket out Jesus when reading Paul, but in order to hear Paul’s voice, that has to be done.

morpheus-HS Lie#8 – Any of these words: Satin, Pilot, Angles.  This is a bi-product of using Microsoft Word to write papers. These are spelled correctly, but they are the wrong word. If I had a nickel for every paper that mentioned the “Angle of the Lord” or Satin tempting Eve in the Garden, I could retire to my own private island. I could have added “Cane and Able” to this list. My all-time favorite is spelling mistake: “Matthew wrote to the Jews, Luke wrote the Genitals.”

#7 – Referring to scholars by their first name: “As Tom says in Challenge of Jesus. I get this one often, and it perplexes me when the first name is very common. I can understand this when citing Gary Schnittjer, author of The Torah Story (I cannot spell his last name right either!)

#6 – “As biblical Scholar J. Vernon McGee says….” I got some grief for this one when I posted it since McGee is still in print and respected. My point here is that McGee was a preacher, not a biblical scholar. If I have assigned a research paper, McGee is not really an appropriate source. I would include quite a few popular writers here as well: MacArthur, the “Be” Series from Warren Wiersbe, Rick Warren, Chuck Swindoll, etc.  These are all good writers and popular, but not really the sort of scholarly material I am looking for. I am also bothered by Matthew Henry, mostly because students cite a reprint of the shorter commentary on the whole Bible, without any awareness at all that died in 1714!

#5 – Comparing Jesus and Spiderman. Or Doctor Who, or Star Wars, or any other popular hero. Part of the problem here is that the student is trying to curry favor by name-checking something they know I like. These are analogies that might work if you are teaching or preaching, but they do not work as well in a research paper for a biblical studies class.

calvin-essay-writing#4 – 1000 word paper, 500 word block quote. I just ignore block quotes when judging the completeness of a paper; I want 1000 of your words. The classic example of this was from one of my first college classes. Page one of the paper was the entire parable of the Prodigal Son in quotes, page two was a slight retelling of the same story, with nothing else said about it.  I am not a fan of long block quotes; if they must be used, the student needs to interact with the quote. Introducing a block quote with “N. T. Wright says it best….” then pasting 500 words is not going to put me in a good mood.

#3 – “In The Message translation it says….” This problem is more serious because the Message is not a translation, but a devotional interpretation of the Bible from a single individual. I happen to enjoy reading Eugene Peterson, and I find his paraphrase refreshing and often it accurately catches the gist of a passage. But it is not a translation and should not be cited as Scripture. While this rarely happens in a Bible paper in my classes, I am equally annoyed by changing translations in order to find one that says what you want it to say. Yes, I am looking at you, Rick Warren.

#2 – “ defines justification as….” This is the most serious problem on this list. Online dictionaries are usually out of print, so the definitions do not necessarily reflect current usage. The real problem is that the meaning of the English word “justification” is not really what Paul had in mind, since he was writing in Greek 2000 years before existed. Biblical words must be defined using appropriate Greek and Hebrew lexicons, not modern dictionaries. By “appropriate” I am disqualifying Modern Greek resources (Google Translate, for example) and Strong’s numbers.

#1 – “For many thousands of years people have debated….” This is by far the most common silly way to start a paper. To state in the opening sentence of a paper that people have been debating Paul’s view of justification for many thousands of years is untrue since Paul wrote only two thousand years ago, and that for most of that period people did not debate the topic. Maybe “for the last few centuries” or “since the mid-twentieth century,” but not since the dawn of creation.

That is my top ten, I am sure there are more that could be added to the list. Some of these are serious, some of these are just silly.  Please add to the list in the comments, I would love to hear your experiences!

Book Review: Daniel B. Wallace, A Reader’s Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers

Wallace, Daniel B. Senior Editor, Brittany C. Burnette and Terri Darby Moore, Editors.  A Reader’s Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers.  Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2013. 250 pp. Hb; $34.99. Link to Kregel

A Reader’s Lexicon is different than a traditional lexicon. Rather than sorting the words alphabetically, a reader’s lexicon glosses words by chapter and verse so that someone trying to read through a particular text can get a quick gloss for a word rather than looking it up in a traditional lexicon. This makes for a faster reading an unfamiliar text. When I was taking Greek in College some students (certainly not me!) cribbed their assignments with Sakae Kubo’s A Reader’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. While that book is still available through Zondervan, it has been supplanted by Reader’s Editions of the Greek New Testament from the United Bible Society and Zondervan. Words appearing less than 40 times in the Greek New Testament are glossed at the bottom of the page, allowing a person with a year of Greek to read quickly and make sense of the text.

Reader's LexiconThis new book edited by Dan Wallace is a companion to Michael H. Burer and Jeffrey E. Miller’s A New Reader’s Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Kregel, 2008).  Wallace is clear that the hard work for this Lexicon was done by two former students, Brittany C. Burnette and Terri Darby Moore. In fact, they are listed as editors on the cover the book, Wallace is the Senior Editor of the project.

The Reader’s Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers offers a running glossary of words thirty times or less in the New Testament. Wallace explains that most students who approach the Apostolic Fathers have already done work in the New Testament and should better grasp of the vocabulary than users of most New Testament Reader’s lexicons.

A Reader’s Lexicon is an important tool for gaining experience as a reader of Greek. A native English speaker can read through a book worrying too much about the definitions of words. When we encounter words we do not know, we infer the meaning from context or by parallels to other words we do know. For a beginning Greek reader, reading a paragraph of Greek can be frustrating since there are so many words that are unknown and sometimes un-guessable from context. A Reader’s Lexicon’s purpose is to facilitate faster reading so that the meaning of the whole document becomes more clear.

The Lexicon uses the Greek text of the Apostolic Fathers found in the popular edition by Michael Holmes (Baker, 2007), but will be useful for any Greek text of the Fathers (Loeb editions, etc.) The editors of this lexicon have used Bauer’s Greek-English Lexicon (BDAG; Third edition, Chicago, 2000), Lampe’s Patristic Greek Lexicon (Oxford, 1961), Liddel and Scott’s Ninth Revised edition (Oxford, 1968), the revised five-volume edition of Lightfoot’s Apostolic Fathers (Baker, 1981), and Michael Holmes’s translation of the Apostolic Fathers (third edition, Baker, 1999).

A word about glosses: A gloss is not a definition. If someone is studying a text in detail, there is no excuse not to go to the lexicons and do a proper study of the word. A gloss is simply a quick hint at the word’s meaning without any other comment. This is the difference between “what you learn for your vocabulary quiz” and reading an entry in BDAG.  As most second year Greek students learn, there is far more to a word that the brief line from the back of  a vocab card.

The Lexicon format is simple. Under the chapter and verse, the reader will find glossed words in bold, followed by a series of numbers and a brief gloss. The numbers refer to occurrences in the book, in the author and in the Apostolic Fathers collection. For a single author, only the book and total appear. So for the Didache 1:1, the word διαφορά is followed by 1, 3 and the gloss difference. The word appears only once in Didache and three times in the Fathers. For Ignatius’ Letter to the Philadelphians 1:1, ἀνήκω is followed by 1, 3, 11 and the gloss to exult. This means the word appears once in this letter, three times in Ignatius, and eleven times in the collection. All words appear in their lexical form, not the form that appears in the text. In the case of Ignatius’ used of ἀνήκω, the letter has an aorist participle (ἀνήκουσαν). The student ought to be able to connect inflected form to the lexical form in the glossary in most cases.

Conclusion. This Lexicon does exactly what it claims to do, provide enough vocabulary for the intermediate Greek student to read the Apostolic Fathers in Greek. It is not a full lexicon nor does it claim to be. It is an excellent companion to any edition of the Apostolic Fathers. One potential objection to the need for such a book is the proliferation of lexical aids on the computer. Logos and Accordance provide not just glosses for the Apostolic Fathers, but links to BDAG and other lexicons. The computer based texts not only offer glosses but the texts are full tagged with parsing information so that even a beginning Greek student can crib their way through the text of the New Testament or Apostolic Fathers. What need is there a physical book containing this information?

In my opinion, computer programs can cheapen reading Greek (or Hebrew) to decoding a secret message. Certainly anyone can click on a word and see a lexicon or a syntactic description of a word. But that is no guarantee that there is any understanding of what the word means in context or how a syntactical construction ought to be understood.  A generation ago people decoded Greek using Strong’s numbers, but that is not reading Greek and it surely does not yield a good understanding of the text. A Reader’s Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers will help a student really read a text with understanding so that they can begin to make sense of this wide range of literature. If you really want to read the text, A Reader’s Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers will help you with that goal.

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

Book Review: Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms. Volume 2 (Psalms 42-89)

Ross, Allen P. A Commentary on the Psalms. Volume 2 (42-89). Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2013. 841pp. Hb; $44.99. Link to Kregel.

Over the years I have had the opportunity to preach through sections of the Psalms. One of my ongoing frustrations is that there are very few useful commentaries on the Psalms. Either they are so brief that there is little exegetical insight, or they are overly interested in form-critical matters that do not provide much clarity for the interpretation or application of the Psalms. Some commentaries are only interested in the New Testament use of the Psalms, or in finding veiled references to Jesus in every line.

Ross, Psalms 2Allen Ross’s contribution to the Kregel Exegetical Library is a welcome exception to this pattern. The commentary is attentive to the Hebrew text and historical contexts without sacrificing expositional comments to help a pastor or teacher present the Psalms in a contemporary context. The first volume of Allen Ross’s commentary on the Psalms was published by Kregel in 2011.  That 887 page commentary covered Psalms 1-41 with an additional 179 page introduction to the Psalms. Since the first volume contained the introduction to the Psalms and bibliography, those items are omitted from volume 2.  It is obviously impossible to reprint the introduction in volume 2, but someone could potentially purchase just volume 2 and miss out on that material.

This volume continues the exegetical method developed in the Introduction (1:169-79). First, Ross begins by “paying attention to the text.” He provides his own translation of the psalm with copious notes on textual variations, emendations, and lexical issues. Ross weighs evidence from the versions (Greek, Syriac, etc.) and does not shy away from the syntactic difficulties one encounters reading Hebrew poetry. There are notes on textual variants in the Masoretic text and alternative translations based on Hebrew syntax.  Frequently the Greek translation appears in footnotes. For example, in Ps 69:32, the Hebrew text has a perfect verb which Ross takes as “when they see,” while the Greek has a subjunctive, “let them see.” Ross rejects emending the Masoretic text to reflect the subjunctive in this case.

Second, following the translation Ross comments on the composition and context of the Psalm. This section takes headers seriously if they are present and attempts in most cases to place the Psalm in the history of Israel. For Psalm 72, for example, Ross has no trouble with a Solomonic background (which he also recognizes as messianic), despite various suggestions that the psalm dates to the time of Hezekiah. These contextual decisions are usually conservative, favoring a pre-exilic date often. This section will also identify any New Testament use of the Psalm, although this later interpretation does not drive his reading of the text.

Third, after the context is set Ross provides an exegetical outline for the psalm, beginning with a short summary of the Psalm (usually a single sentence). This outline is based on the English text but takes into account exegetical decisions made in the translation. There is nothing unusual about these outlines, In fact, they are excellent resources for pastoral use since they could be adapted into an exegetical sermon very easily.

Fourth, Ross comments on his translation of the Hebrew text of the psalm. Throughout the book Hebrew appears in parenthesis without transliteration. The method is more or less verse-by-verse, although he occasionally groups verses under a single header. He interacts with a broad spectrum of scholarship, although there is preference for more conservative writers. But the commentary is not overly burdened with external references, making it easier to read. Most of the commentary focuses on the vocabulary of the Psalm, with special attention to the main point of the metaphors chosen. When a Psalm refers to some historical even in the life of Israel, the commentary attempts to use the allusion to understand the text of the Psalm.

Last, the chapter ends with a short “message and application” of the Psalm. It is here that Ross attempts to bridge the gap between ancient Hebrew poetry and contemporary Christian worship. These sections are not at all typological or generic. Since Ross began by “paying attention to the text” and done his exegetical work, the “message” of the Psalm is tied directly to the text. Usually there is a single line in italics that functions as a kind of one-sentence application for the psalm.

If there is any messianic element in the Psalm, it appears in this “message and application” section. For example, for Psalm 45 Ross develops the wedding song of a king into a reference to Jesus and his bridegroom, applying the psalm to the church today as the “bride of Christ.” He briefly mentions the use of the Psalm in Hebrews 1 (although this merits more than a line) and the potential allusion to the Psalm in Rev 19. Likewise Ps 72, where application is made to the Messiah’s rule over all the earth “fulfilled in Jesus Christ when he returns to the earth at his second coming” (2:546).

I think that this commentary might be improved with an occasional excursus on various topics. For example, at Psalm 73 there is a need to explain “a Psalm of Asaph” and the possibility that Psalms 73-83 are a sub-collection that develops a unique set of themes. The same is true beginning in Psalm 84, the “Sons of Korah” merit more explanation that the brief note in the commentary. These short articles would be helpful to the reader and are not well-covered in the introduction to the commentary.

Conclusion. I used Allen Ross’s Creation and Blessing in a seminary class on the Pentateuch and very much enjoyed the style of that book since it was intended as an exegetical guide for the pastor or teacher as they approached the text of the Bible.  Ross’s commentary on the Psalms follows a similar pattern. In some ways, this commentary is a model for how to read any section of scripture. Ross’s method is clear and yields fruit that will enhance any sermon or lecture on the Psalms.  This commentary would make an excellent addition to any pastor’s library.

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