Book Review: Gordon Fee, 1 Corinthians, Revised Edition

Fee, Gordon. 1 Corinthians, Revised Edition. NICNT Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2014. 962 pp. Hb; $65.   Link to Eerdmans

Gordon Fee is one of the greatest New Testament scholars of the twentieth century. Fee was the general editor of the NICNT series from 1990 to 2012, when he was replaced by Joel Green. Under Fee’s guidance this venerable series has become one of the premier commentaries series. For example, the commentaries on Romans (Doug Moo), Hebrews (Gareth Lee Cockerill), Matthew (R. T. France), Luke (Joel Green) and James (Scot McKnight) are all among the best commentaries published in the last few years.

Fee, 1 CorThis is one of the few commentaries I have owned in three different editions, four if you include the original New International Commentary on the New Testament volume on 1 Corinthians by F. E. Grosheide (1953). When Fee’s original commentary was published in 1987, the NICNT series was printed in more compact form (8.5×6). For most of the series, this was a handy size, but for Fee’s massive commentary on 1 Corinthians, it was much too thick to be useful. The New International Commentary also had particularly ugly dust jackets, purple in the Old Testament and bright yellow for the New Testament. As replacement volumes appeared, Eerdmans moved to a larger format (6.125 x 9.25) and greatly improved the design of the dust jackets. I bought a copy of the new version from Eerdmans soon after it came out since my older copy was cracking in the center. At that time there was no new text and the type was set exactly like the original volume so references to specific pages would be the same.

What is new in this Revised Edition? The main change in this revised commentary is the use of the NIV 2011. The first edition of the commentary used the original 1978 NIV text, which Fee describes as “more poorly done in this letter than anywhere else in the canon” (xvi). Fee has been a member of the Committee on Bible Translation since 1991 and has been a major participant in the revisions of the NIV during those years. Most casual readers think revisions were made to the NIV only to make it gender inclusive, but that is not the case. There are 82 instances in the Pauline letters where the word “brothers” refers to the whole congregation and is therefore rendered by the NIV 2011 as “brothers and sisters” (twenty-two times in 1 Corinthians). But there is far more going on in the new editions of the NIV and there is no clandestine group of liberal feminists attempting to corrupt evangelicalism from within. Setting aside the gender-inclusive language, there are many places were the NIV 2011 reflects the sense of the Greek text better than the earlier incarnations of the translation.

Fee explains a second motivation for a revised edition of the commentary: in twenty-five years there have been many important studies of 1 Corinthians. This is certainly true, but in practice Fee does not thoroughly revise the commentary with insights from more recent studies. Fee includes an “addendum” of bibliographical material to this introduction to chapters 8-10 (p. 400-1) and on the very difficult problem of veiling women in 11:2-6 (p. 565-7). Both these bibliographies are offered with a short introduction and no additional commentary. Fee chose to not update his commentary on chapters 8-10 despite the growth in secondary literature on these chapters. His reason is his target audience, pastors and students as oppose to the academy. The same is true for chapter 7, where new bibliography is placed in a footnote (p. 296). There are a few other significant revisions primarily in the footnotes, especially reference to BDAG for lexical issues.

One major revision in this edition is on the controversial text in 14:34-35, “On Women Remaining Silent” (780-92). This section appears after verse 40, only a note appears after verse 33 indicating the “spurious passage (vv. 34-35) that made its way into the MS tradition at this point in the majority of surviving witnesses, but after v. 40 in the Italian church. . .” (774, n. 695). Fee made this argument more briefly in the earlier commentary, in the revised commentary he offers for evidence for the exclusion of the verse as well as some interaction with other explanations of the verses. These pages take the form of an excursus; it is set off from the main commentary by lines, the font is smaller, and the footnotes are unique to this section. While Fee states there is a substantial bibliography for these verses (presumably in the last 25 years), his interest only textual-critical and most articles are theological in nature. This is perhaps the case, but there are several important studies since 2000 simply ignored by the excursus. For example, the contribution of Jeffrey Kloha, “A Textual Commentary on Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians” (Ph.D. diss., The University of Leeds, 2006) seems worthy of inclusion here even if the final form of the study has yet to be published. He mentions Payne’s Man and Woman (2009), although he does not do much with Payne’s arguments. Since Fee’s solution to the problem of a very difficult text, namely, it is spurious and non-Pauline, I expected more interaction with alternative views.

Conclusion. In some ways I was disappointed with the commentary since I imagined a “Second Edition” of the commentary which fully interacted with the massive number of commentaries, monographs, and articles on 1 Corinthians. There are a number of new (perhaps faddish) approaches to epistles Fee has no interest in these new approaches at all: there is nothing socio-rhetorical in this commentary! But this is not a problem since Fee is not writing a new commentary, but revising his older work.

Despite the fact this is a revision as opposed to a Second Edition, Fee’s commentary on 1 Corinthians should be among the first consulted by pastors and teachers as they treat this important letter of Paul.

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

Book Review: Michael Bird, The Gospel of the Lord (Part 3)

Bird, Michael F. The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2014. xiv + 393 pages, pb. $30.   Link to Eerdmans

[NB: This is the third and final part of my review of Bird’s The Gospel of the Lord.  Due to the length of my review, I posted it in three parts:  Here is part one of the review, and part two is here.]

In chapter 4 Bird offers an overview of the synoptic problem by examining “The Literary Genetics of the Gospels.” After a long section surveying the various solutions to the synoptic problem Bird offers a “fresh look” at this old problem. He argues synoptic research has operated naïvely on the assumption the Gospels writers had the identical text it appears in our neatly printed Greek New Testament. Matthew may have used a slightly different text than Mark or Luke. While this might be true, this objection does not seem to me to be very helpful in practice since very few synoptic parallels can be explained as a “variation” in the textual tradition.

Bird, Gospel of the LordSecond, every Gospel synopsis has a bias towards one particular solution to the Synoptic problem. In fact, Bird states the obvious: there is a great deal of subjectivity in all solutions to the Synoptic problem. Nevertheless, Bird thinks the two- or four- source hypothesis is basically correct and he is confident in Markan priority. But instead of a full-blown, layered, Q, he describes the sayings document as a “Q-lite” (162). He wants to avoid what he calls the often “schizophrenic” views of Q in scholarship. He is adamant that Q is merely a hypothetical document even if there are good reasons for thinking something existed and was used by both Matthew and Luke. While affirming Q, he is not convinced everything in the double tradition can be attributed to Q (170). He gives numerous examples of this phenomenon such as the story of the centurion in Q, which he describes as “sticking out like a sore thumb” (174).

What is unusual is in a discussion of the Synoptic problem is Bird’s inclusion of John’s Gospel. After giving a short overview of authorship and date, Bird surveys the differences between John’s Gospel and the Synoptics. He then offers nine possible explanations for the relationship of John’s Gospel to the Synoptics. He suggests we “envision the spasmodic intrapenetration of the Synoptic and John traditions” as they crossed on another other “in the preliminary stages” (212). Ultimately John’s Gospel is “truly enigmatic. . . it defies neat categorization as’ dependent on’ or ‘independent of’ the Synoptics in any absolute way” (213). The Excursus for this chapter is a collection of Patristic Quotations on the Order of the Gospels. These are offered almost entirely without comment.

Chapter 5 is a fresh discussion of the “Genre and Goal of the Gospels: What Is a Gospel and Why Write One?” Once again Bird begins by surveying the options for genre often found in Gospels introductions. Perhaps he spends more time on ancient biographies since he will be most attracted to this view: “given the specific features of the Gospels, I choose to label the Gospels as ‘biographical kerygma’” (271). Theologically, God is the main character of the gospels; Christologically the gospels promote the story of Jesus, and intertextuality, the Gospels are a continuation of the Old Testament narrative of God’s great ask toward his people in their history.

Yet there a number of reasons why a writer might have written a “gospel.” Mark, for example, appears to be an apology for the idea of a crucified Messiah (272). In fact, many scholars assume the Gospels are “fundamentally Christian literary propaganda” (citing David Aune), perhaps created only for use in a particular community.  Following Richard Bauckham, Bird thinks it is highly unlikely anyone would have considered writing something like a gospel purely for the members of a local church. What is more, the hypothetical reconstructions of communities behind the creation of the Gospels is highly speculative. The gospels are, as Bird concludes,  Greco-Roman biographies, indebted to Jewish sacred literature, written for the purpose of explaining Jesus to a broad audience (280).

Bird’s Excursus for this chapter concerns the “Other Gospels,” the non-canonical Gospels often described as “lost” or “suppressed.”  He clearly rejects what he calls “conspiracy fuel revisionist history of Christian origins” (282). He provides several useful charts summarizing the date and contents of these “other Gospels.”  These books are called gospels simply because they are about Jesus, and we ought to be wary using the term “gospel” for some of this literature. The reason these books were rejected by orthodox Christianity is that the books were simply not orthodox. It is not as though there were Christians sensors or “theological thought police” responsible for rejecting these Gospels (294). They simply represent “dissident groups” writing in a period of proto-orthodoxy, often ascetic and anti-Jewish (297). Bird is clear there still some value to studying these Gospels. But they will always remain “marginalia” to the real Gospels, imaginative retellings rather than replacements for the canonical Gospels.

In his final chapter, Bird asks why there are four Gospels. Does the “Fourfold Gospel of Jesus Christ” have significance? In order to get at the question, Bird considers the alternative: a single Gospel. Marcion, for example, favored the Gospel of Luke and other heretical groups have created their own Gospels. In the second century Christian writers tended to harmonize the four Gospels in order to create a single story. Some Gospels may have been written to create a rival Jesus book such as the Gospel of Thomas. This chapter ranges well into the second century and discusses the views of several of the church fathers. Irenaeus justified four Gospels based on his allegorical interpretation of Ezekiel and Revelation. Bird is correct this is not a very good reason to justify four Gospels! For Bird, “the four Gospels exhibit a plurality and unity that both encourages and restricts Christological reflection” (326).

In his final excursus Bird examines “The Text of the Gospels in the Second Century.” He surveys the date and contents of the papyri as evidence for the Gospels. But his main target or studies like Bart Erhman’s The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. He agrees Erhman’s basic theses as correct: changes were introduced into the text tradition, often motivated by Christological concerns. But unlike Erhman, Bird argues the vast majority of additions seem to be accidental or geared toward harmonization (333).

Conclusion. Bird’s The Gospel of the Lord would make an excellent textbook of a seminary classroom. He is thoroughly acquainted with scholarship of the last fifty years and is able to present several sides of an issue with clarity. He certainly takes the text of the Gospels seriously and offers sensible solutions to some of the more difficult problems on Gospels study (source and form criticism and genre studies).

Bird’s writing style is quite enjoyable, ranging from serious scholarship occasionally laced with pop-cultural references to some sections which are quite cheeky. For example, he indicates form criticism faded “about the same time disco died” (114), leaving me to wonder if the rise in popularity of redaction criticism about the same time is somehow akin to the birth of punk rock. He describes the differences between the Synoptic Gospels and John as like leaving The Bourne Identity for The Matrix (188). Wondering about the accuracy of the oral tradition, Bird asks if it was “Wall Street Journal accurate or Fox News accurate?” (4), and he later suggests the four Gospels were a “kind of Gospel-boy-band” (311). While most of these side comments will be understood, it is possible readers from a non-western culture will find allusions to pop-culture. I wonder if an allusion to Jesus tradition as viral like “Gungam Style on YouTube” will be understood in 20 years. (Actually I hope this does become a mystery to future readers!)

I highly recommend the book as an introduction to Gospels studies. It ought to be on the shelf of every seminary student.

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

Book Review: Michael Bird, The Gospel of the Lord (Part 2)

Bird, Michael F. The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2014. xiv + 393 pages, pb. $30.   Link to Eerdmans

This is the second part of my review of Michael Bird’s new book, The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus is a study of the origins of the New Testament Gospel. Click here for part one of the review.

In the third chapter, Bird examines the formation of the Jesus Tradition. His interest here is primarily in oral tradition, something scholars have occasionally argued is irretrievably lost. On the contrary, Bird believes he can “map the shape of the tradition in its pre-gospel form” (79). This requires attention to the “telltale signs of orality”: looking for mnemonic devices, detecting local color from Galilean or Judean settings, and identifying stereo-typical oral forms in the text. There is a spectrum of views on oral tradition from a “free, fluid and flexible” tradition all the way to “formally controlled,” like a rabbi forcing his students to memorize his teachings. To some extent there is some truth to all of the suggestions surveyed by Bird in this chapter since there is evidence some traditions were passed formal ways (1 Cor 15:3-5), and others stories may have been adapted to new situations. Like many Evangelicals, Bird is impressed by Kenneth Bailey’s “informal controlled oral tradition.” Bailey is well-known for examining how modern Middle Eastern village life is not unlike the world of the New Testament. While Bird does acknowledge some of the shortcomings of Bailey’s method, but he finds it more useful than early form critical models.

Bird, Gospel of the LordPrimary interest in this chapter is Birds discussion of social memory. This method was developed by James Dunn (Jesus Remembered) and has become a very hot-topic for Gospels scholars. Dunn sought to establish a new hermeneutic for the study of historical Jesus which avoided some of the historical skepticism of the previous generations. This “social memory movement” has produced a remarkable number of monographs in the past 10 years and is producing excellent results in Gospels studies. A Bird explains it, past memories are mounted on mental artifacts that are reconstructed in the light of the needs of the present” (99). Simply put, the people who experienced Jesus remembered what he said and did. The year 100 CE did not “cause instantaneous and widespread amnesia” since people were teaching and preaching what Jesus said and did throughout the first century.

Bird explores evidence from the early second century to support this continuity in tradition. Papias, for example, could claim that he “carefully remembered” everything he learned from the elders (103). Polycarp claimed to have remembered what he gained from eyewitnesses, and Irenaeus said he made notes about these things not on paper but on his heart (105). But as Bird acknowledges, memory is not always accurate. He cites the work of John Dominic Crossan who argued people remember things that are both fact and fiction, memory and fantasy, recollection and fabrication. However, Bird thinks that these examples of failures of memory can be fairly described as merely incidental and not tied to core beliefs. People do not misremember absolute fantasies, but they do remember accurately general facts.

Second, if one thinks Jesus closest disciples and journal supporters were inclined to create memories only a decade or two after they allegedly occurred, then the studies of memory studies are obviously of little value. However the Jesus movement was formed around networks and clusters of believers and memories about Jesus were retrieved in that “net context” (109). They remembered “as a community” not as individuals.

Third, “remembering Jesus” was not an isolated instance of remembering some fact. Key to the accuracy of memory is frequency of retrieval. If the apostles really were teaching and preaching the stories and sayings of Jesus, then memory of Jesus was constantly being recalled. Those who suggested the disciples suddenly forgot what Jesus taught a few months after the crucifixion are overly skeptical. While The Gospels are theological documents, they are based on community memories. “Consequently, the memory of Jesus deposited in the Gospels bequeaths to us both authenticity and artistry, fact and faith, history and hermeneutic” (113).

In his excursus on the “Failure of Form Criticism,” Bird argues virtually “every single presupposition and procedure in form criticism has been thoroughly discredited” (114).  One major reason is form criticism never understood Judaism or Hellenism properly, tending to make them as separate and distinct as possible. Martin Hengel and others have called this assumption into question, eroding this important foundation of the form critics. The form critics also held erroneous views of oral tradition. They tended to see the role of Christian prophets as “creators of dominical tradition,” yet as James Dunn has pointed out, later Christian writers demonstrate a “healthy degree of skepticism towards prophecy” (120). Last, Bird discusses the unlikely link between the pre-literary forms the imagined Sitz im Leben. Form critics can justly be accused of making a circular argument when they argued the Gospels were allegories created by the church to address a current situation. But Bird says “all history telling is a mixture of fact and interpretation,” and communities do in fact retell traditions. This retelling may color the Jesus tradition, but it does not create the tradition. Every preacher attempts to contextualize Scripture for a new community, but the preacher does not create new tradition and place it in the mouth of Jesus.

Part Three of the review appears here.


Book Review: Michael Bird, The Gospel of the Lord (Part 1)

Bird, Michael F. The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2014. xiv + 393 pages, pb. $30.   Link to Eerdmans

Michael Bird’s The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus is a study of the origins of the New Testament Gospel. The first three chapters concern the pre-literary forms of the Gospels, focusing on the shape of the Jesus tradition. He includes a chapter on the Synoptic Problem and another on the genre of the Gospels, two often discussed issues in Gospels introductions. Finally, he concludes the book with a chapter on the reason four Gospels were included in the canon of Scripture rather than only single story of Jesus. Each chapter concludes with a related excursus. While most excurses are brief expansions on some technical aspect of a chapter, some of Bird’s excurses are long enough to be chapters on their own. The book was named one of Christianity Today’s top books of the year in the Biblical Studies category.

Bird, Gospel of the LordThe first chapter of this book is a short five-page introduction with a lengthy excursus (fifteen pages of slightly smaller print). The introduction sets up the book as first an examination of the “big bang” behind what eventually became the gospels—the oral tradition about Jesus. What was the purpose of preserving sayings of Jesus? Why were the remembered in the form they appear in the Gospels? A second goal of the book is to trace how those remembered traditions were transmitted, usually the domain of form criticism, although Bird rightly dismisses much of form criticisms advances. A third issue the book will address is how writers used the oral tradition in order to write their Gospels. Last, Bird wants to explore the theological rationale behind a four-fold canon. The excursus for this chapter defines many of the terms Bird will use throughout the book. “From Oral Gospel to Written Gospel” begins with a definition of “gospel” in the ancient world. Here Bird breaks with the majority view that the word gospel was derived from the imperial cult. While there might be some parodying of the language of the imperial cult, Bird thinks the word is ultimately drawn from Isaiah’s “glad tidings” of the end of the exile (13).

In chapter two, Bird discusses the purpose and preservation of the Jesus Tradition. Essentially he asks the question “why did early Christians preserve anything about Jesus in the first place?” Scholarship has occasionally argued that the earliest church had no interest in historical Jesus. Bird considers strange since there seems to be a great deal preserved about Jesus is life. There are several suggested solutions to this problem first historical Jesus is basic to Christian faith. Scholars often assume the main purpose of preserving and Jesus tradition is to connect Christian faith to the historical figure of Jesus. The second reason often suggested is simply the practical value of Jesus’ teaching. Bird suggests that the letter of James, for example, might be considered an early commentary on the oral traditions later in Q. A third possible explanation is the fact Christian self-definition required some sort of the preservation of Jesus tradition. Bird says “the struggle of the early church to remain within the web of common Judaism amid controversy over approaches to the Torah, Temple, and Gentiles by its members probably precipitated conflict between Christ believers and Jews” (31). This conflict resulted in the need for remembering what Jesus actually said and did.  A fourth often-overlooked motivation for preserving Jesus Tradition is assumption Jesus was the founder of a movement. From the earliest times the group was called Christians or Nazarenes.This alone would result in an interest in Jesus’ words.

Rather than at disinterest in Jesus life, Bird suggests that the quest for the historical Jesus began soon after Jesus’ death. He gives several examples of how historical information about Jesus was preserved. These range from pedagogical and rhetorical devices,  suggested Aramaic sources behind the written Gospels, as well as notebooks used by the disciples for preserving sayings of Jesus. The fact that Bird takes seriously the possibility that some disciples kept notebooks to aid in the remembrance and transmission of Jesus teachings is unusual (46). Perhaps most significant for Bird are eyewitnesses as authenticators of the Jesus tradition. Since there were witnesses who were able to “police” the developing oral and written traditions (49), there was some control on that developing tradition. Here Bird is interested in the work of Richard Bauckham on the significance of named persons in the Gospels (59). While he certainly recognizes several objections to the role of eyewitnesses, it seems reasonable that the earliest teachers were “custodians of the Jesus tradition.” In fact, the Jesus tradition was something of “a community possession.” Quoting James Dunn, Bird wonders if contemporary scholars imagine the Jesus tradition as “stored up unused in an old box in the back of some teachers house?” or perhaps “stored up un-rehearsed, in the failing memory of an old apostle?” Jesus traditions were living traditions, taught and preached in widespread communities. Jesus tradition was so frequently taught that the memory of Jesus was preserved actively (67). Yet Bird says we must be aware of the fact that what first century authors would not understand “historical reality” quite the same was “a post-enlightenment, hermeneuticly suspicious, Jesus-questing New Testament scholar” would understand it (54).

In the lengthy excursus for this chapter, Bird attempts to lay out an agenda for an “Evangelical and Critical Approach to the Gospels.”  For some readers, evangelical and critical will sound like polar opposites. Bird deals with the problem most professors teaching New Testament Gospels course have encountered. Young evangelical students get “rather edgy and even irritated” when the professor begins to Sitz im Leben and such things as the synoptic problem or the textual problems with the “woman caught in adultery” passage in John, or Matthew “re-Judaizing Mark,” or the dreaded “criteria of authenticity.”

Like Bird, I find most of my students prefer Lee Strobel to Albert Schweitzer. A number of years ago I lectured for 45 minutes on the synoptic problem, offering clear explanations of the various solutions and arguing for some sort of a saying document like Q. A dazed student in the back of the class raised his hand and asked “What is the conservative answer?” I was less stunned by the question as I was by the non-thinking attitude from a student preparing to go into ministry. For that student, at that moment, there was nothing evangelical in what I was saying about Gospel origins; therefore it was not worth thinking about. Worse, he dropped the class later that week. (The student later apologized and confessed to me wished he had taken the class more seriously, and is currently serving in a church with distinction.)

Bird prefers to call his approach “believing criticism” (68). By this he means that he still believes Scripture is the inspired Word of God, but we will serve ourselves and the church more faithfully when we commit ourselves to studying inspired Scripture in the light of context and the processes through which God gave it to us” (68). He does not want to be judged by the standards of modern historiography, as if Jesus was followed around by hidden video camera. The Gospels are not interested in “brute facts about Jesus” but rather Jesus is the continuation of the story of God begun in the Old Testament. He offers three suggestions for “Evangelical Biblical Criticism.” First, we must begin with the hermeneutic of trust. The Gospel is in fact God’s word and they are about God’s Son. Second we need to “get our hands dirty in the mud and muck of history.” Jesus is not a religious figure separate from real historical situation. We are in fact obligated to study Jesus in his historical context. Third, Bird says we must explore the impact the Gospels intended to make on their “implied audiences” if we are to understand them fully.

This, he believes, is an evangelical approach to the Gospels. I find this inspiring and heartily agree, although there are times when I am participating in an evangelical scholarly meeting when this does not seem to be the practice. I suspect this kind of evangelical, trusting scholarship is easier to maintain outside of the United States, where evangelicalism has drifted considerably to the right theologically and politically. Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly agree a biblical scholar can have a faith-based approach to Scripture and interact with it on a fully “critical” level without compromising either faith or reason.

Part Two of the review appears here.

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.

BethlehemPolitical 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).

Book Review: Greg Forbes, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: 1 Peter

Forbes, Greg. Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: 1 Peter. Nashville: B&H, 2014. 202 pp. Pb; $24.99. Link to B&H Academic.  Click here for a 21-page sample from the book in PDF format, including front-matter and first chapter.

Forbes, 1 PeterThis new volume in the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament series is a handbook for reading the text of 1 Peter. Following the same format at previous volumes in the series by Murray Harris (Colossians and Philemon, 2010) and Chris A. Vlachos (James, 2013). Greg Forbes, head of the Department of Biblical Studies at Melbourne School of Theology in Australia, is better known for his work on Luke (The God of Old: The Role of the Lukan Parables in the Purpose of Luke’s Gospel, JSNTSup 198; Sheffield, , 2000), but has contributed a few journal articles on 1 Peter.

The purpose of this book is an “exegetical companion,” meaning anyone working on teaching or preaching from 1 Peter can use this guide as the read the Greek New Testament. The handbook does not “give all the answers” by parsing every verb. In fact, it rarely parses forms fully. What is provided is a running commentary on syntactical categories and lexical data intended to illuminate the text for teaching and preaching. This means Forbes only comments on the nuance of a particular case or verb tense if it sheds light on the meaning of the text. He assumes a great deal from the reader, especially knowledge of Greek syntax. The guide makes use of abbreviations for standard works and syntactical categories. These are all families to scholars, but frequent consultation of the abbreviations page will be necessary for beginners. It does not help much to be told a genitive is “partitive” if one does not know what a partitive genitive is! This of course is no different than any tool used in exegesis, whether in a guidebook like this or a computer program which parses all forms with a single click.

The book follows a set structure found in the other volumes in this series. First, Forbes produced a detailed exegetical outline for the entire book. The guide then proceeds through each unit of his outline by providing the Greek text arranged in a syntactical display. Forbes briefly explains the structure of the passage and then moves phrase-by-phrase through the section. He comments on syntactical and lexical issues that bear on the meaning of the text, offering options when syntax may be nuanced differently in the commentaries. For example, in his discussion of 1 Peter 3:10, the ὅτι clause can be translated in three ways. Forbes lists the options along with support for each from various translations, lexicons and commentaries. He comes to a clear decision and demonstrates how that decision impacts his pastoral concerns (p. 109).

Rather than provide glosses for every word, he focuses on the more rare words and provides pointers to more detailed lexicons and theological dictionaries. These are not full word studies since the exegete will still need to look up the cited texts and read the details before making a decision on the meaning of a particular word.

Textual variants are briefly described based on the UBS 4 text, with the addition of eight additional variants found in the 5th edition (which was forthcoming when this book was published). Forbes gives a brief summary and evaluation of the textual evidence and offers an opinion on which variant is preferred.

Homiletical suggestions for preaching the pericope. Like most works of this kind, these outlines are not to be followed slavishly, but are hints for preachers who ought to compare their own work to Forbes’s outlines. While these outlines are brief, they are clearly drawn from the exegesis of the text and are an excellent model for text-based preaching.

Perhaps the most helpful sections of the book are the forty-two appendices scattered throughout the text on topic. After each section Forbes offers a short “for further study” section with monographs, book sections, journal articles and other resources bearing on that particular pericope. Some of these are book sections an exegete might overlook simply because it is embedded in a systematic theology. Others are mini-bibliographies for very specific topics. For example, after the section in 1 Peter 1:22-25, Forbes offers a collection of nine resources on community ethics (list 20; p.52-3). Every resource on the list is excellent and worthy of consideration. While some of the lists are cross-reference to others, there is no master index of all the “for further study” sections in the book. This would be a valuable addition to the series in the future.

Conclusion. The main competition for this book is the Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament. Mark Dubis contributed the 1 Peter volume in that series. Forbes uses Dubis occasionally, but the B&H series has more homiletical goals than the Baylor series. For the most part, the Baylor Handbooks are reading guides, providing far more parsing information than the B&H series. The EGGNT series will assist busy pastors and teachers who want to do quality exegesis by providing them with a quick overview of the major issues of their passage. This strength is also a potential drawback, since this book can become a crutch replacing the necessary exegetical work required to know a passage well. As with all such projects, the reader must know what to do with the information. The exegetical information in the book needs to be used properly in a lecture or sermon, that is the task of the well-trained teacher and pastor.

I recommend this book for anyone who is preaching or teaching 1 Peter, but also to students who want to develop their exegetical method. I see this book being used as a textbook in an intermediate Greek exegesis class. I look forward to future contributions to this series!


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

Richard J. Mouw, Called to the Life of the Mind

Mouw, Richard J. Called to the Life of the Mind: Some Advice for Evangelical Scholars. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2014. 80 pages, pb. $10.  Link to Eerdmans

This little book is a series of personal reflections from Mouw’s long career first as philosophy professor and later as president of Fuller Seminary. Since Mouw has been at the forefront of evangelicalism for more than fifty years he offers unique insights into being an evangelical who genuinely pursues a life of the mind.

The subtitle of this book is “some advice for evangelical scholars,” although it reads more like a series of short devotionals about academics the idea of a Christian College and University as well as how to be an educated person. Calvinists like Mouw have always been leaders in evangelical circles (Calvin Theological Seminary’s Clarence Bouma was the first president of the Evangelical Theological Society (1949-50) and the Seminary hosted the ETS in 1955 and 1963). While the center of evangelicalism has shifted south geographically and to the right politically, Reformed thinkers are still very much at the forefront of intellectually honest evangelicalism.

Mouw, Life of the MindMouw struggled early in his career with being an evangelical and an intellectual at the same time. In his formative years he was warned against straying from the simple Gospel by scholarship. He recalls hearing “we don’t need exegesis, we just need Jesus” on more than one occasion. Yet Mouw says he was called to life as a scholar and he does not regret his pursuit of an intellectual life, a calling more young evangelicals need to heed!

When evangelicals began founding colleges and seminaries, there was a tension between intellectual rigor and practical training for ministry. As someone who teaches Greek in a conservative Bible College, I have had to defend the value of learning to read the Greek New Testament on several occasions. Mouw says “there is a danger of allowing a concern for the practical value of learning to merge with lingering tendencies toward anti-intellectualism in the Evangelical movement” (16). This observation is as true today as it was a hundred years ago. Within Evangelicalism there are certain sacred cows which are rarely questioned because they imply liberalism.

The book is filled with numerous insights into what Evangelicalism looked like some 50 or 60 years ago. For example, he relates his first experience reading Bernard Ramm’s 1954 book The Christian View of Science in the Scriptures (p. 57), a book influential in his dismissal of young earth creationism while still in high school. For a Christian teenager in the 1950s, reading Ramm’s book was like sneaking off with a copy of Playboy! What is shocking is that sixty years later, this is still the case.

In another part of the book he describes the ideal Christian College environment as a safe space for “playing around” intellectually. Safe spaces are crucial, Mouw says, for intellectual exploration. This would be true both for a bright student who is questioning his faith as well as a college professor honestly seeking a deeper understanding of an academic field. There should be no safer place for these sorts of explorations in a Christian College, but I suspect that is not always the case.

Called to the Life of the Mind is a book everyone who works in academia should read. It is simple and concise, yet deeply challenging. I would encourage students to purchase copies of this book for their professors as a Christmas gift at the end of a busy semester!

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