Hebrews and the Shame of Suffering

One of the problems with reading Hebrews is identifying the date and recipient of the letter. I am convinced the recipients were in Rome, living just before the Neroian persecutions.  I think the standard arguments for this position are solid, although I realize there are other possibilities.   Karen Jobes (Letters to the Church) argues the book does not capitalize on the destruction of the Temple as a “proof” that the Old Covenant has been replaced by the New, implying a pre-A.D. 70 date. In addition, the church has “not yet suffered to the point of shedding blood” (12:4).  If the recipients are in Rome, then the letter must refer to a time prior to Nero’s persecution of Christians (A.D.64), but after Caligula expelled Jews (A.D. 49).

Given this context, the recipients struggle with the promises of Christian faith.  If Jesus is the true sacrifice and the fulfillment of the promises of the Hebrew Bible, why have they suffered so much?   As J. W. Thompson says in his Hebrews commentary, the book is written to “reorient a community that has been disoriented by the chasm between Christian confession of triumph and the reality of suffering it has experienced.”

Coptic Christians protest against the killings of people during clashes in Cairo between Christian protesters and military police, and what the demonstrators say is persecution of Christians, in Los Angeles, California October 16, 2011. Egyptians detained in connection with clashes between Christian protesters and military police that left 25 people dead should be tried in civilian not military courts, presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei said on Sunday. The former U.N. diplomat's comments reflect public frustration at the army's handling of clashes on Oct. 9, when protesters said they were attacked by unidentified "thugs" and then said military police used excessive force against them. The authorities have detained 28 people on suspicion of attacking soldiers during the protest. Trials will be held before a military court. Rights groups have criticised the use of such courts by Egypt's ruling army council. The demonstrators are rallying for Barack Obama's administration to intervene. REUTERS/David McNew (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST RELIGION)

This is not apologetics in the modern sense, it does not argue against Judaism, nor does it state that Judaism was bad or wrong in any way.  Rather, the writer constructs a positive argument for Jesus’ superiority to various elements of Judaism; he is superior because he is the fulfillment of these things. (He is the substance to which the shadow pointed).

If I am right about the context of the book and the recipients have suffered for their faith already (and are about to suffer even more so under Nero), then the readers may very well have struggled with the shame of suffering in a culture which did not see suffering as a virtue. Within a Jewish context, suffering is sometimes seen as a result of sin, or at the very least, a lack of blessing from God.  We only need to look at the discussion in the book of Job to see that there was a lively discussion of why humans suffer.  If Christians are right and Jesus has triumphed, then why are his followers not blessed?  Why are they suffering?

Within a Greco-Roman context, Christians were not seen as successful because they suffered.  Roman thinking was very much based on honor and shame, of one suffered shame and humiliation in public, one cannot be described as successful!

The book therefore addresses a very real problem.  If Jesus is already seated at the right hand of the Father, why is it that Christians suffer shame and persecution?  Christians are not “of this world,” they are part of the real, unshakeable reality which is not of this world at all.

The theological dissonance which the book of Hebrews addresses is certainly applicable to Christians living in the persecuted world. They may ask, like the recipients of Hebrews, “what good is being faithful”? There are many examples of faithful Christians who suffer frequent shame and humiliation. I am not sure it has come to this in American, where we considered a Red Cup oppressive. But it is true Christianity is becoming a minority voice in American and evangelical Christianity may soon have little or no impact on culture.

How does Hebrews help the Christian who suffers in an anti-Christian world?

Book Giveaway Winner! – Jesus Behaving Badly

Jesus Behaving BadlyToday is the day I pick a winner for a copy of Mark Strauss’s excellent book, Jesus Behaving Badly. There were 22 people signed up (I allowed only one entry per person). I took each of your names, sorted randomly and then pasted them into Excel. Random.org gave me a number between 1-22, and the winner is…..

Laura Martin

Congrats to Laura, please contact me via email (plong42 at gmail .com) or a DM on twitter (@Plong42) with your mailing address and I will pop these in the mail ASAP. Better luck next time for the rest of you. I have been cleaning and organizing my office and found a few duplicate books will giveaway in a couple of weeks.

Do not forget to enter to win a copy of Logos Cloud Premium from Logos and Reading Acts. Logos is running that giveaway until January 17, 2016.

Book Review: Eugene H. Merrill, A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles

Merrill, Eugene H. A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2015. 637 pp. Hb; $39.99. Link to Kregel.

Commentaries on 1 & 2 Chronicles are often painful to read. Since the books begin with nine chapters of genealogy there is little for most pastors to preach or teach and a great deal of textual work to be done in a serious commentary which is frankly dry reading (For example, Gary Knoppers’s excellent commentary on 1 Chronicles 1-9 will not win any awards for spiritual formation!) Merrill’s new commentary on both 1 & 2 Chronicles in an exegetical commentary yet he attempts to keep his eye on important theological issues in which pastors and teachers are interested.

A fifty page introduction begins with the historical and cultural setting of Chronicles. Merrill traces the return from exile and the political re-establishment of the Jewish people in Yehud. Here is focuses on data from Ezra and Nehemiah as well as the post-exilic prophets describing social and religious reforms. This includes the rebuilding of the Temple as well as a refinement of Temple worship. This post-exilic community is the world in which the books of Chronicles were written. Merrill is content to simply call the author “The Chronicler” rather than try to argue for Ezra or one of the post-exilic prophets.

Merrill, ChroniclesChronicles offers a rare opportunity in Old Testament studies since the book has made use of earlier canonical material and in many instances written the history to give a more favorable impression of some events or persons than the earlier Deuteronomic History (Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings). For Merrill, the Old Testament writers thought of themselves as conveying divine revelation, so the Chronicler thought carefully about any departure from his sources (51). Yet the Jewish world in the post-exilic period was much different than that of the Deuteronomic Historian.

Merrill suggests the Chronicler was influenced by the eschatological hopes of Ezra-Nehemiah so that he attempted to answer the despair of the post-exilic community by re-writing history to point forward to an eschatological hope in a restored house of David (60). It is well known that Chronicles minimizes David’s sin, for Merrill the motivation for this positive spin is to set the stage for a succession of Davidic kings fulfilling God’s promise. David is the anticipated ruler of early canonical promises (62) and the focus of prophetic hopes for a future, eschatological kingdom (65). In fact, these hopes take the shape of a new temple as a symbol of God’s reconstituted people (68).

The introduction is supplemented by twelve excurses which conclude many of the major units of the commentary. These are brief additional comments on a historical or theological issue in the unit for example, at the end of the commentary on 1 Chron 15:1-21:30 (the exploits of David), Merrill offers a page on the Angel of YHWH, two pages on David and Royal Sonship, and a about five pages on the Theological Ethic of Holy War.

Each of the nine units of the commentary covers a section of the history. Merrill breaks the units into subsections, usually covering about a chapter each. The commentary provides the NIV translation for each subsection followed by brief textual critical notes. The text provided appears to be the 1984 text (compare 1 Chron 7:23 in the 1984 and 2011 versions).  There is nothing in the preface or introduction explaining this decision, although there are less differences in Chronicles than other portions of the Bible. A second observation is that not all textual notes are in the textual notes section, occasionally they appear in the footnotes.

After the translation and notes, Merrill offers “exegesis and exposition” of the section, usually covering several verses in each section. Given the constraints of the commentary, a phrase-bu-phrase commentary is impossible so he focuses on particular problems in the text which need explanation. He comments on differences between the Deuteronomic Historian (DH) and the Chronicler, especially where the Chronicler omits something from the DH. Where there are clear parallels he provides reference to the text in the DH. Hebrew is included in the main text, although most technical details are placed in the footnotes. Even though the Hebrew text is not transliterated most readers without Hebrew will have no problem following Merrill’s comments. The footnotes interact with major commentaries and secondary literature on Chronicles.

After the commentary proper, there is a brief theological reflection on the section of Chronicles. These conveniently indexed at the beginning of the volume. In the section on the “Exploits of David,” Merrill comments that the Chronicler describes David as an “almost impeccable super-hero who does little wrong and is triumphant in nearly every undertaking to which he puts his hands” (251). From this observation, he briefly points to various Second Temple texts which express similar messianic expectations about David, including the New Testament.

Conclusion. Merrill has contributed a solid evangelical commentary on the often ignored books of 1 & 2 Chronicles which will help pastors and teachers work through the books as they present them to God’s church. His emphasis on eschatological hopes is important since these continue to develop throughout the Second Temple period and are foundation for understanding the Gospels. This is my main criticism of the volume, the theology sections are less robust than I hoped given the introduction to the commentary. This intra-canonical reading has become popular in recent years and Chronicles is a worthy place to use the methods of canonical criticism. Nevertheless, this was not the goal of the commentary so it is unfair to consider this a shortcoming. Merrill’s commentary is a worthy contribution to the Kregel Exegetical Commentary series.

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: Lindsay Wilson, Job (Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary)

Wilson, Lindsay. Job. Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015. 420 pp. Pb; $28.   Link to Eerdmans

Suffering is one of the few constants of human history. The early twenty-first century has witnessed daily suffering because of war, human greed and natural disaster. Most people have wondered if some suffering is just and deserved or unfair and undeserved. It is difficult to hear stories of innocent children suffering in the media without asking how it is “fair” a child starves to death while a despotic ruler grows even more powerful and wealthy. If God is really both ultimately righteous, just and all-powerful, how can he allow such suffering in this world?

Wilson, JobFrequently Christians appeal to the book of Job for answers to these difficult questions, although Job does not always offer the answers we hope for when we study the book. Lindsay Wilson’s contribution to the Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary series is an attempt to understand the book of Job in its proper biblical context and to sketch out some possible answers to these deep questions about God’s justice and human suffering.

Wilson’s twenty-eight page introduction asks a series of questions about the book of Job. Although the story of Job takes place in patriarchal times, it was written later, probably after the exile and a significant time after Proverbs. When the book was written is not matter for Wilson, only that it is a reaction to misunderstandings of Proverbs and other wisdom literature (5). In fact, whether the story “really happened” does not matter since the book may be something like a parable, a story illustrating important theological truths. Job is a protest against a “fossilized misunderstanding of retribution that had misrepresented the mainstream wisdom tradition of Proverbs” (8). In fact, Wilson suggests that reading Proverbs is the first step in understanding Job.

The main issue in Job is retribution: Does God reward the righteous and punish the wicked? Based on their misunderstanding of wisdom literature, Job’s friends think this is the case, yet the book of Job makes it clear not all suffering is a result of God’s punishment, nor is every good thing in life a reward for righteous living. Although this is the most common theological use of Job, the book also is about God’s relationship with humanity. Why should humans fear God? Does “fear of the Lord” cancel the need to question God? Ultimately, however, the book of Job is about the character of God. As Wilson comments, the theophany and Yahweh speeches make it clear God cannot be constrained by “narrow human categories,” the “majestic picture of God’s power” is foundational for understanding the theology book of Job (10).

The Commentary is divided into four sections. Although it is minimal in the body of the commentary, Hebrew appears along with transliteration. Often difficult vocabulary is compared in various English translations (NRSV, ESV, KJV). Wilson uses footnotes for details of exegesis and interaction with major recent commentaries on Job. Occasionally textual variants appear in the notes. Although this is not a full exegetical commentary like Clines’ 1200+ page WBC Commentary, Wilson provides enough detail to help read the text of Job with insight. This commentary section is necessarily brief, treating large paragraphs in summary fashion. Occasionally Wilson will focus on a particular word or phrase (Hebrew appearing with transliteration). He interacts with major exegetical commentaries in the notes, providing the interested reader a pointer to more in-depth discussions. The purpose of the commentary is not detailed exegesis, but a discussion of the theological themes of the book.

The prologue and epilogue are treated briefly. Wilson focuses on a few key questions the prologue asks which will illuminate the dialogues. Job is a man of unblemished righteousness, but we are not sure why he serves God. Does Job have a disinterested faith? Or does he serve God because of what blessing and protection he receives from God?  The Dialogue (3:1-31:40) naturally makes up the bulk of the commentary section. As Wilson comments in his introduction, the dialogues are long and repetitive, they are in short a “talkfest” (27). Any commentary on Job must be selective in its exegesis, so this main section of the commentary summarizes larger units and only selectively comments on difficult exegetical issues. The Verdict section (32:1-42:6) deal with the divine speeches. Wilson observes “some of Job’s problems are simply resolved by the appearance of Yahweh” (180).

As with other Two Horizon commentaries, the bulk of the book is 172 page section tracing nine theological themes of the book of Job. The obvious theme in Job is of course suffering. Wilson follows David Clines in seeing three main questions concerning suffering that arise from the book: Why is the suffering? Why do the innocent suffer? What should I do when I suffer? The book offers some answers to these questions, but they are not always satisfying (especially those presented by Job’s friends). As Wilson observed, not all suffering is linked to sin nor does an individual who suffers need to know why they have suffered (219). A related theme is “Retribution and Justice,” is all suffering deserved? Does life really work like the Book of Proverbs implies it should? Wilson tracing retribution through the book and argues the book of Job ultimately agrees with Proverbs, although Proverbs does not promise peace and prosperity as is commonly assumed.

Wilson covers several related topics concerning Job’s questioning of God (litigation motif; lament and complaint to God; preserving faith). Christians are sometimes shocked by Job’s questioning of God and his frank refusal to accept suffering as a punishment. Although he ultimately retains his faith in God, Job cries out bitterly to God and even demands his case be heard by the just and righteous God. Wilson has several pages describing the form of lament in the Hebrew Bible and wrestling with the disappearance of laments as a form of Christian worship. For Job, laments may question God, but the purpose of Job’s lament is to restore and strengthen faith. “Job’s complaints can never be understood as merely mouthing off to God” (252). Citing Tennyson, Wilson concludes “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds” (257).

The final section of the book examines Job’s contribution to biblical, systematic, moral and practical theology. Under the heading of biblical theology, Wilson sets Job in a canonical context. In order to do this, he reads Job alongside of the rest of the wisdom literature. As he observes often in the commentary, Job is a kind of protest against misunderstanding the theology of retribution of Proverbs. In some ways Job goes beyond Proverbs by describing the righteous life of Job. Wilson traces the use of the rest of the Old Testament in Job (creation, Decalogue, God’s kingly rule). He briefly examines the common view that Job is a type of Christ, concluding Job is not “all about Christ” in the sense Job prefigures Christ’s suffering. The central theme of the book is God’s kingly rule (320). Perhaps the most fascinating section in his biblical theology section concerns the New Testament use of Job. How should we read Job as a Christian? He rejects the search for Christ in every page of Job, arguing instead to focus on God as sovereign and to restore the kind of “robust, lamenting faith” demonstrated by Job (331).

Under the heading of systematic theology, Wilson rightly begins with what Job contributes to our understanding of God, especially what Job tells us about God’s relationship with evil. Yet Job does not give a direct answer to the problem of evil, rather the book “seems content to leave the question of theodicy unresolved.” (340). He also briefly discusses the contributions Job makes to a theological understanding of Satan, sin, justice, resurrection and the nature of faith.

Under the heading of moral theology, Wilson attempts to create an “ethics of Job,” both in terms of sources for the book’s ethics and the ethical content of book. Scholars who do anything like this in Job usually focus on chapter 31 since it contains a clear statement of what integrity and righteousness looks like. Wilson goes beyond this by briefly touching on Job’s social ethics, including the book’s view of the environment and wealth. He includes a fascinating discussion of suicide. Job’s wife seems to think it is possible for Job to “curse God and die” and Job longs for death. Yet he continues to hope in God for justice and possibly restoration. As Wilson observes, suicide results from the total loss of hope in God (365), Job never seems to reach this point in the book.

Under the heading of practical theology, Wilson covers several topics which will appeal to anyone who wants to teach or preach from the book of Job. It seems strange to think of the book of Job as a source for pastoral care or a guide for prayer, but Wilson shows how the book contributes to these important areas of ministry. In addition, he includes a section on preaching the book of Job. Since it is unlikely anyone would (or should?) preach a lengthy series of expositional sermons based on the book, Wilson offers some practical advice on how to relate this difficult yet important book to Christian audiences.

Conclusion. Like other contributions to the Two Horizons series, Wilson’s book is an important contribution to a Christian understanding of the book of Job. It is a solid albeit brief commentary on the Hebrew text of Job with extensive theological reflection on how Job contributes to the overall theology of both the Hebrew Bible and the whole canon. The book is an excellent support for a pastor, teacher or layperson reading and wrestling with the book Job

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: L. Daniel Hawk, Ruth (AOTC 7b)

Hawk, L. Daniel. Ruth. Volume 7B, Apollos Old Testament Commentary Series. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2015. 166 pp. Hb; $30.00.   Link to IVP

The Apollos Old Testament Commentary Series intends to accurately interpret the original text of the Old Testament but also to assist pastors and teachers present the Old Testament in a modern context. Daniel Hawk’s contribution to this series on Ruth is an excellent example of commentary writing. The book is neither too brief nor overly burdened with excessive background materials which have had a tendency to inflate commentaries in recent year.

Hawk, RuthHawk begins his twenty-six page introduction to the book by surveying suggestions for the purpose and form of the book. Since the book is somewhat unique in the Hebrew Bible, scholars have suggested a variety of narrative forms for the book (short story, novella, folk-tale) as well as a range of possible purposes for the book (apology for David’s Moabite ancestry, a kind of resistance literature against narrow views of Jewish identity, etc.) Hawk concludes Ruth “resists classification” and “invites the readers to understand its story in conversation with a variety of other texts in the biblical canon” (20). In fact, it is Ruth’s ethnicity which drives the plot of the book. Hawk argues “Ruth takes aim not only at the Deuteronomic legislation that forbids includes of Moabites but also the ascriptions behind it” (23). For example, Ruth 3 reverses the archetypical Moabite woman stalking a Judean male. Ruth is not a threat, but acts faithfully and is eventually incorporated into the Jewish community which eventually leads to Israel’s Davidic monarchy. The marriage of Boaz and Ruth assures the reader that embracing the foreigner can open the possibility of restoration and blessing (31).

With respect to composition, Hawk weighs various suggestions (Solomon’s reign; early in David’s reign; Josiah’s reign, during the exile). He observes the apologetic purpose of the book is speculative and does not necessarily support an early date. In fact, Hawk argues there is a direct textual connection rhetorical agenda of Ruth and “the anxiety about the threat of foreign women as reflected in Ezra and Nehemiah” (33). Hawk follows several recent commentaries on Ruth by concluding the book is “a narrative of dissent” written in response to the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah” despite the last of polemic (36). Although the book was not written until well after the events it narrates, Hawk things the traditions represented by the book are authentic (39).

Hawk offers a brief summary of the theology of Ruth (39-43).  He begins by examining the standard theology of Ruth which focuses on God as active in the background of the book, providentially causing various events in the story. He suggests are more nuanced view of Ruth’s theology by focusing on the theme of hesed, which Hawk defines as the “passionate devotion, an unqualified decision for someone else expressed by specific and tangible actions” (41). The book of Ruth portrays God as responding to humans who demonstrate hesed rather than being the cause of their human actions.

The commentary begins with a new translation of Ruth followed by notes on the Hebrew text. Hawk comments on the qere and ketiv readings in this section. All Hebrew appears in transliteration and notes to secondary literature appear as in-text citations rather than footnotes.

Following the notes on the Hebrew text, Hawk offers observations on form and structure. This section traces the flow of a pericope, going beyond a simple outline but falling short of discourse analysis. Hawk breaks the commentary on Ruth into large, chapter length units so this attention to the flow of drama of Ruth is important step in the commentary.

After his comments on the structure of a pericope, Hawk offers a commentary on each sub-pericope within the chapter. This section is a running commentary on the story, including cultural and historical context, insight into the Hebrew words and syntax, etc. Although reference to secondary sources are minimal (using in-text citations), Hawk demonstrates a clear understanding of the Hebrew text of Ruth as well as the Ancient Near Eastern context which illuminates the story.

The final section in each section of the commentary is an explanation of the text. These are theological and practical observations based Ruth. For example, in the explanation for chapter 1, Hawk discusses the problem of resident aliens and suffering in the Old Testament. For chapter 2 his focus is on hospitality and the foreign woman (Boaz’s kindness toward Ruth), oppression of the poor for chapter 3 and finally a few comments on the flexibility of the law for chapter 4 (Boaz marries a foreign woman yet is blessed). Each of these brief sections are tied directly to the story of Ruth and are reasonable and clearly based on his reading of the text of Ruth. Hawk does not take the opportunity to draw application to specific, real-work situations to which the book of Ruth might speak. For example, treatment of the poor and immigration are modern issues which Ruth directly applies, I would have expected a more specific attempt to “bridge the gap” between Ancient Near Eastern practice and modern problems Christians face.

My second observation is a positive benefit of this commentary, although not all readers will necessarily agree. Although he recognizes Ruth is an ancestor of Jesus, this commentary is not overtly theological or Christological. Recent theological readings of Ruth can overplay inter-canonical theology and potentially miss the rich theology of hesed Hawk develops in this commentary.

Conclusion. Hawk’s commentary will serve scholars, pastors as well as laymen as they read and study the book of Ruth. Although it is faithful to the Hebrew text of Ruth, it is not overly technical nor is it distracted by social issues Ruth extraneous to the theology of Ruth.

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

Book Giveaway – Mark Strauss, Jesus Behaving Badly

Jesus Behaving BadlyI happen to have an extra copy of Mark L. Strauss, Jesus Behaving Badly (IVP 2015), so I thought I would pass it along to a Reading Acts reader. I reviewed the book in November, concluding that it is a readable introduction to some of the issues one faces when they begin to read the Gospels seriously. Strauss writes the book on a non-academic level with a great deal of humor as well as plenty of pop-culture references. Although academic, it is written with a pastor’s heart.

The book includes a few study questions which could be used as discussion starters for a small group Bible study. In fact, I think this book would make an excellent read for a small Bible Study group interested in going a bit deeper into who Jesus was than the typical curriculum normally goes. The book might make a good auxiliary textbook for a Gospels college course, supplementing a more thorough textbook. Strauss challenges his readers to think more deeply about who Jesus is by stripping away some of the pre-conceptions about Jesus passed along by tradition and the Church. The result is clearer view of who Jesus was and more importantly, why Jesus still matters to his disciples today.

To have a chance at winning these books, leave a comment suggesting other titles in a biblical “behaving badly” series IVP ought to consider. Or at the very least, just leave your name.

Do not forget to enter to win a copy of Logos Cloud Premium from Logos and Reading Acts. Logos is running that giveaway until January 17, 2016.

I will announce the winner of Jesus Behaving Badly on January 15, 2016.

Logos Cloud: A Review and Giveaway

logos1

Click here for a chance to win a free subscription to Logos Cloud!

I have been using Logos Bible Software since the early 1990s when I purchased a “Scholars Package.” This came on four 3.5” floppy discs and included a handful of resources. At the time, CD-ROMs were not yet standard on PCs and the average computer user had no idea what the internet was. I recall the thrill of purchasing the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon in a “facsimile” edition since it was the first serious Hebrew lexicon I had access to in the Logos Library. My Logos Library at the time was only a few megabytes, although that stretched my PC to its limits.

Obviously the power and capacity of computers have grown exponentially, and so has the Logos Library. I have upgraded my library countless times, purchased way too many pre-publication specials on classic commentaries, added numerous free (and almost free) books each month, and with the Perseus Collection I expanded my library with thousands of Greek and Latin classical texts (see my review of the Duke Papyri Collection, for example). There are large collections of books for the average Bible reader, pastors preparing to preach and teach the Bible, and for the professional scholar (for example, the “Second Temple Period Collection” from T&T Clark).  Even my own book is available in the Logos Library!

Logos books have always been available across platforms. If you purchase a book you can read it on your desktop computer, a tablet or mobile phone. Any notes or highlights made while reading a book on your iPad will be available on your desktop, and vice versa. I have always argued the iPad Logos app is the best reading environment since the books have real page numbers and downloaded books place footnotes at the bottom of the page you are currently reading. This means you are reading a “real book,” unlike other eReader apps. For example, Kindle cannot do any of this, although some books now come with real page numbers. The downside is the Logos App only works with Logos books.

Logos Web App

Logos Web App (Beta)

Logos Cloud is a new service from Faithlife. Rather than buying expensive resources, users pay a month service fee and get access to a wide range of books which are accessible from any Logos platform. This include both the classic Desktop software installed on a computer (PC or Mac) and the Logos Mobile App (iOS or Android). A new feature is the Logos Web App (still in Beta). Here is a short promo video which explains some of the features of this new Cloud service. Faithlife sells an Annual plan which discounts the monthly rate and every plan has a “free month” to test-drive the service for thirty days. There are plenty of training videos on YouTube to help the beginner get the most out of their Logos library.

Click here to enter a contest to win an annual subscription to Logos Cloud premium!

The name Logos Cloud might sound as though it is intended as a web-based service, but it is not. It is analogous to buying a subscription to music streaming service. You pay a monthly fee in order to access to a huge library for as long as you need it, whether that is for a two-year seminary program or a month or two of intense study. But Logos Cloud is more than a “rent a book” service similar to the Kindle lending library. All the features of Logos on all platforms are available to subscribers. This includes highlighting, note-taking and many of the other features from the Logos Bible Software collection of tools. Of course users are always free to purchase other resources (or add “free books” from Logos, Vyrso, or Noet since the Logos Cloud subscription is added to your Logos account.

Cloud Essentials, Plus, Premium or Professional?

Logos Cloud EssentialsFaithlife offers four subscription levels. All levels include access on all platforms including the new Web based Logos app. In addition, there are a number of resources created by Faithlife and included in all collections, such as books from the Pastorum Series from Lexham Press (300 Quotations from the Early Church, for example) and commentaries in Lexham’s Not Your Average Bible Study series (for example, John D. Barry, 1 Peter: We Are Refugees) and in their High Definition Commentary (for example, Steven E. Runge, Philippians).

This also includes the Faithlife Study Bible and all the resources associated with that resources. I reviewed the Faithlife Study Bible when it was released and concluded that it was an excellent tool for the layperson who needs a good resource for Bible study or preparing lessons for a Sunday School class. It provides articles and illustrations on a par with the ESV Study Bible.

The Essentials level is exactly that, 150+ volumes. This includes the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary (seven volumes at present), Lexham Bible Dictionary (see my short review here) and Theological Lexicon, Baker’s Encyclopedia of the Bible. For original languages, the Essential level includes the Lexham Hebrew Bible, SBL Greek New Testament, the Lexham Theological Dictionary, Dictionary of Biblical Language for Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, Thayer’s Greek Lexicon and Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon are the only original language resources included.

The Plus level includes 900+ volumes, including three older large sets: Schaff’s Early Church Fathers (27 vols.), Calvin’s Commentaries (46 vols.) and Spurgeon’s Sermons (63 vols.). The Plus level also includes the journal Themelios from the Gospel Coalition (40 issues) and Qumran Biblical Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Premium level includes 2000+ volumes, including the International Critical Commentary (33 vols.), Barth’s Dogmatics (14 vols.) and Black’s New Testament Commentary (13 vols.). For Greek, the Premium version adds the four-volume Greek Grammar by Moulton, Howard, and Turner (the website lists this as five separate books, but it is only four volumes in print).

Dale Allison's ICC Commentary on James on an iPad

Dale Allison’s ICC Commentary on James on an iPad

The Professional level is quite pricey, but includes all the Old Testament volumes in the International Critical Commentary, a remarkable 382 volumes of the Library of Hebrew Bible / Old Testament Studies and 85 volumes of the Library of New Testament Studies (LNTS/JSNTS), plus another 800+ “classic commentaries” not included in lower levels. In addition the professional level pads out the library with Sehnsucht: The C.S. Lewis Journal, The Works of Dwight L. Moody (24 vols.), P. T. Forsyth Collection (24 vols.), J. A. Broadus Preaching Collection (3 vols.), The Works of Aristotle (12 vols.), The Works of Plato (24 vols.). There are literally thousands more resources in this collection. The addition of the JSOT/JSNT volumes makes this a serious, seminary level collection. It is possible most seminary libraries will not have all these volumes available in their collection.

Buy or Rent?

When I first heard about Logos Cloud, I was a bit unimpressed since most of the books in the lower levels I either already owned or had little interest in adding to my library. In fact, if you are a long-time user of Logos and have already made a significant investment in books, Logos Cloud may not be for you. Here are three possible scenarios where the Logos Cloud will be a great benefit (although there are others).

First, for a student going to Bible College or Seminary, it might be more economical to invest in the Plus or Premium levels rather than purchase the same resources in a Logos collection. There are many people going back to school to prepare for ministry as a “second career.” Even at the basic level Logos Cloud provides professional Bible software and some of the essentials for doing serious Bible study beyond simple word searches.

Second, Logos Cloud provides any layperson a collection of tools for their exploration of the Bible as they read the Bible, participate in Bible studies at church, or prepare to lead small groups. Some of the interactive features Faithlife has included in the Logos software could be used for all kinds of fellowship groups in a church context.

Third, it is possible a church might pay for a Logos Cloud subscription for their pastor and pastoral staff. Even at the basic level, pastors will benefit from high quality tools and resources for sermon preparation, Sunday school lessons, youth group Bible studies, etc. In the short term it would be less expensive than buying one of the larger packages for each member of the staff, and subscription could be stopped if the staff member moves on to a new ministry. In addition, specific books can be purchased as a pastor begins a new study.

Fourth, I would highly recommend anyone doing theological education in a cross-cultural context to consider subscribing to one of the higher-end levels. My own denomination has several pastoral training centers in Africa and the cost of getting quality books to these schools is prohibitive. Worse, books are often damaged or stolen and difficult to replace. But a subscription to the professional level would give a missionary teaching at a school like this thousands of university level resources which are kept safe on Logos servers. When I travel, I carry my iPad with hundreds of essential reference books, something impossible with physical books. I recall looking up the article on Mount Carmel in the Anchor Bible Dictionary to refresh my memory on the details of the site while our tour bus was driving to the location.

tsundoku - My current pile

tsundoku – My current pile

Real or Digital Books?

I admit I am far more likely to buy a real, physical book than a digital book on any platform. I will also freely confess I am afflicted with tsundoku (a Japanese word for people who buy too many books and let them pile up). All things being equal, I prefer reading a well-bound hardback copy of a book to staring at my iPad (or worse, my iPhone!) But there are reasons why some books are “better” on a digital platform than physical.

I think concordances ought to be the foundational tool for any Bible study, yet I do not own one anymore because the function of looking up every occurrence of a particular word in the Bible is easily done by the software. What is more, I can search for a particular word in any book in the Logos library. For example, I have often search for a word or phrase in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament and found valuable references to my topic in articles I would have read in my physical copy. There is no concordance for TDNT, but my digital copy functions as a concordance.

Word Study Tool

Word Study Tool

A second advantage of a digital library like the Logos Cloud is the ability to search through my entire library for a reference or topic. This means a topic may appear in a systematic theology, a commentary, a journal article and a devotional guide. It is possible to find insights in places where you might not ordinarily look.

Logos has developed a nice set of tools which do in fact save time. For example, the Bible Word Study tool scans your library for resources normally used in a Word study. By selecting a Greek word and running the Word Study tool, a window with clickable links to lexicons, charts showing how the word is normally translated in your favorite translation (and for Greek words, how the word translates various Hebrew words in the LXX), numerous syntactical observations and links to the word in any other associated resources in Greek (LXX, Josephus, Philo, Apostolic Fathers, Greek Classics, etc.) All this is quite easy to do with a professional seminary library, but it is much faster using the tools created by Logos.

Some Frustrations

One criticism which any Bible program like Logos must face is that many of the resources not particularly valuable. The claim of thousands of resources sounds great, but in reality I will use only a very small percentage of these “thousands.” For example, I have ninety-four books in my library from Charles Spurgeon, including all sixty-three volumes of The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons and another eighteen volumes of The Sword and Trowel, a monthly magazine published between 1865 and 1884. It is possible someone else may be very excited to have these huge collections, but I will probably never open these books. I could add the works of Wesley, John Owen, the Pulpit Commentary, The Numerical Bible, and quite a few other larger collections.

A related criticism also is the bloated “print price” associated with these books. For The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Logos claims the print price is $2268.00, they offer it for $249, although at the time I wrote this it was on sale for only $199. While that seems like a savings of 90% or more, who actually buys the The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons at all, let alone for over $2000? This strikes me as a smarmy marketing tactic and I really wish Logos (and other digital book companies) would simply drop the pretense and sell books for what they are actually worth.

Many readers will no doubt point out that Spurgeon is out of copyright, so all this material is available on the internet for free. This is true for hundreds (if not thousands) of the resources Logos includes in the larger packages to inflate the number of books and the “print price” of their collections. This is a fair criticism, although I will always point out that reading a digital book in the Logos apps is a far better experience than reading it in a PDF reader, or on a Kindle, iBooks, or just about any other app I have used. What you are paying for is the conversion of these free books to the Logos library so all the Logos tools for reading, note taking, and searching are available to you. If you wanted, you could search the massive The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons for every reference to a particular biblical text or key word. This is impossible in freely available PDF versions of the books.

For me, these criticisms do not detract from the value I get out of the Logos library. Even if I do not use 90% of the library because it is old, out-of-print shovelware, the 10% I do use is so valuable to me on a daily basis it is worth what I have paid. Quality tools are valuable and will cost more than free/old resources. If you are looking for cheap/free resources, you will have to settle for the out-of-copyright sermon collections.

Conclusion

These criticisms aside, I think the Logos library is essential for the pastor or Bible teacher and extremely valuable to the layperson who wants to dig deeper into God’s Word. Be sure to enter the contest to win a Logos Cloud Premium Annual Subscription from Logos.

I appreciate Faithlife’s willingness to partner with Reading Acts for this contest! The contest ends on January 18, so enter right away.