The Lawless and Slanderous Tongue – Psalm of Solomon 12

This psalm stands in the Jewish wisdom tradition by condemning the lawless and slandering tongue. The writer uses the adjective παράνομος, a word appearing in the LXX some 73 times, most often in wisdom literature. In Proverbs 3:32, for example, every lawbreaker is impure before the Lord. The writers of the Psalms of Solomon use the word eleven times (see 4:19 for example, may “the bones of the lawless before the sun in dishonor,” a phrase repeated in 12:4). This is not some breach of a pharisaical tradition. The only appearance of the word in the Septuagint translation of the Torah is Deuteronomy 13:14, the lawless who entice people to commit idolatry. In Judges 20:13 it describes the men who raped and killed the Levite’s concubine. It is the kind of rebellion which must be uprooted and cut off from the land (Prov 2:22).

In this psalm, the lawless are known by the way they speak (12:2-3). Their words are “in diversity of twisting” (Lexham LXX). A visit from the lawless one will fill a home with a false tongue. The speech of this person is like a fire which scorches beauty. With glee the lawless one will burn down your house through their lies.

The tongue is often compared to fire in wisdom literature (Ps. 120:3; Prov. 16:27; 26:21; Isaiah 30:27; Sirach 28:12-26).

Psalm 120:3 (ESV) What shall be given to you, and what more shall be done to you, you deceitful tongue?

Proverbs 16:27 (ESV)  A worthless man plots evil, and his speech is like a scorching fire.

Sirach 28:12–12 (NRSV) If you blow on a spark, it will glow; if you spit on it, it will be put out; yet both come out of your mouth. Curse the gossips and the double-tongued, for they destroy the peace of many.

Like James 3:5-6, the tongue is compared to a fire which “scorches beauty” (PsSol 12:2). James and Psalms of Solomon both use the verb φλογίζω. This verb is rare in the LXX, but it has the sense of intentionally setting a fire to destroy something. For example, in 1 Maccabees 3:5, Judas searched out people who broke the Law and “he burned those who troubled his people.” Although most Americans know about how a careless fire can burn thousands of acres, James may have in mind a pyre, wood stacked to make burn quickly (the NEB has “a huge stack of timber” (see Sophie Laws, James, 147).

Rolling Stones TongueAlthough the psalmist began by calling on God to save him from these lawless people, in verses 4-6 he turns to cursing the slanderous and blessing the “quiet person who hates injustice.” He prays that the bones of the lawless be scattered far from those who fear the Lord. Denying someone a proper burial is the ultimate dishonor. He asks God to destroy the slanderous tongue in “flaming fire far from the devout.”  The phrase flaming fire (πυρὶ φλογὸς) appears in 2 Thessalonians 1:8: when the Lord returns with his mighty angels he will inflict vengeance on the ones who do not obey the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ with “flaming fire.”

Once again, this is not far from James 3. James says the tongue starts a fire that sets the course of one’s life. Like a bit or a rudder, misuse of one’s words steers a life one direction or another. Think of a “white like” which requires increasingly more complex lies to cover the first lie. Many political scandals are a series of cover-ups of an initial lie. For James, the person to starts out speaking foolishly will have their live altered by that lie in ways that cannot image. In fact, the tongue can start a fire that is stoked by the fires of Hell. That new trajectory for one’s life leads to Gehenna! Like Psalm of Solomon 12:4, the slanderous speech of the lawless one will result in “flaming fire.”

But the psalmist blesses the quiet person who lives peacefully at home. Paul also describes the ideal Christian life as living quiet, peaceful lives in 1 Thessalonians 5:13-14, 2 Thessalonians 3 and 1 Timothy 2:3-4. James 3:17–18 includes peacemaking among seven virtues which characterize the righteous. For the psalmist, the righteous are those who “hate injustice (12:5), similar to Psalm of Solomon 5. When I commented on that Psalm I drew the analogy to the sort of “religion God accepts” based on James 1:27. James and Paul both stand within the same stream of Second Temple Jewish wisdom literature as Psalms of Solomon 12 by contrasting a life of wisdom (quiet, peaceful, respectful) with the slanderous unthinking speech of the lawless ones.

Sound the Trumpet in Zion – Psalm of Solomon 11

R. B. Wright points out this psalm resonates with Baruch 4:36–5:9 and has clear allusions to Isaiah 40-55. Since the author seems to know Sirach, Baruch cannot be dated any earlier than 180 B. C., but it could very well be written any time before A.D. 135. Doran Mendals concludes “At the present stage of research, the question of dating must remain open” (ABD 1:620). It is likely both Psalms of Solomon 11 and Baruch use material from Isaiah 40-55 in similar ways to look forward to the return of the scattered exiles to Zion.

The Psalm begins with the command to “Sound in Zion the signal trumpet of the sanctuary” (11:1). To sound a signal trumpet can call Israel to mourn over the state of the Temple. For example, when the temple was liberated the army assembled on Mount Zion and when they say the temple was desolate and the altar profaned, they “mourned with great lamentation” and fell to the ground, “when the signal was given with the trumpets, they cried out to Heaven” (1 Macc 4:36-40).

But in this case the metaphor is positive. In Psalm of Solomon 11:1 a voice is announcing the good news of the return of the exiles to Zion. This announcement of good news is a possible allusion to Isaiah 52:7. There a watchman lifts up his voice as he sees the returning captives coming back to Zion. The good news in Isaiah and Psalm of Solomon 11 is the end of the exile. The phrase “good news” appears in the New Testament as well, especially in Luke. The angel Gabriel came to announce good news to Zechariah (Luke 1:18) and Mary (2:10); John the Baptist preached good news to the people (Luke 3:18) and Jesus’s preaching is good news to the poor (4:18; 4:43; 7:22; 8:1; 16:16). Some New Testament scholars have seen a Roman background to “good news” (εὐαγγέλιον) since an announcement concerning the emperor may be described as “good news.” But it possible to read Luke’s use of good news within the world of Second Temple Judaism, the “good news” announced by the Gabriel, John and Jesus is the end of the exile.

Old Compass showing East and WestThis is the case for the few likes of Psalm of Solomon 11. Verse 2 compares the return of captives is compared to children coming from the north, east, west and “far distant islands.”  Like Isaiah 40:4, the Lord will make their paths level and Israel will be supervised by the Lord himself (verse 6). Like Isaiah 40:18-20 and Baruch 5:7-8, the Lord will make the desert bloom like a forest so that their journey will be easy and pleasant.

In Matthew 8:11 Jesus says “many will come from the east and west to recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” The identity of those who enter the kingdom in Matthew 8:11-12 is a matter of discussion in recent scholarship. Since Jeremias, the majority opinion is that the included “many” are believing Gentiles and that the excluded “sons of the kingdom” are unbelieving Jews (Jesus’ Promise to the Nations, 51). However, Dale Allison challenged this consensus opinion by arguing that the “many from the east and the west” are Jews from the Diaspora rather than Gentiles replacing Jews at the eschatological feast (“Who Will Come from East and West? Observations on Matt 8.11-12 /Luke 13.28-29,” IBS 11 (1989): 158-70). Allison points out that there is no text in the Hebrew Bible or the Second Temple Period which describes Gentiles as coming from the east and west. Isaiah 59:19 describes a pilgrimage from the east and west when the Redeemer comes to Zion for those in Jacob who have turned from transgression.  Psalm 107:3 describes Israel coming from the east, west, north and south.  Philo (Spec. Leg. 1.69) uses this language (”from the east and west”) to describe the return of Diaspora Jews from Alexandria and Babylon to Jerusalem for festival days.

While agreeing with many of Allison’s points, M. Bird nevertheless maintains that the consensus view is essentially correct (“Who Comes from the East and the West? Luke 13.28-29/Matt 8.11-12 and the Historical Jesus,” NTS 52 (2006): 441-57). Bird points out that the book of Isaiah has both a “pilgrimage of the Gentiles” (Isa 2:2-4) and an eschatological banquet (Isa 25:6-8).  Allison does not think that Jesus’ audience would have read the two texts together since there is no pilgrimage and conversion of the nations in the eschatological feast.

Psalm of Solomon 11 seems to be solid evidence that a biblically literate Second Temple Jewish listener would hear echoes of Isaiah 40-55. This is a call to Jewish captives in far distant lands to return to Zion at the end of the Exile. Although it cannot be said Jesus is using Psalm of Solomon 11, he certainly stands within the same traditional as this psalmist as he interprets Isaiah 40-55 (and his messianic role as the one calling Israel to gather around himself).

The One Who Does Righteousness – Psalm of Solomon 9

The writer reflects on the first destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion which followed (9:1-3). The title of the psalm is εἰς ἔλεγχον, translated as “For Proof” by Wright (OTP 2:660) but as “For Rebuke” in the Lexham LXX. The noun can have the sense of proving something to be true (in contrast to faith in Hebrews 11:1), but it is also an expression of strong disapproval, reproof or correction (BDAG; 2 Tim 3:16).

The psalmist acknowledges Israel was scattered among all the nations as a result of the righteous judgment of God. Israel had “neglected the Lord” (an articular infinitive, ἐν τῷ ἀποστῆναι). The verb can refer to a revolt (Acts 5:37) and the related noun (ἀποστασία) is often translated as a religious falling away, an apostasy. This is the sense of the word in the LXX (Deut 32:15; Jer 3:14). The writer is therefore acknowledging Israel’s guilt when they were sent into exile in 722 B.C. and 586 B.C. In Jeremiah 16:13 the Lord declared “I will hurl you out of this land into a land that neither you nor your fathers have known.” The writer of this Psalm is on the other side of that long exile and confesses the Lord to be righteous, and Israel to be lawless (ἀνομία, v. 2).

Jerusalem Jewish People going into exileThis is a significant admission from the author of this Psalm. Although it is impossible to be certain of the date of composition, the writer likely lives under Roman rule, sometime between 63 B.C. and A. D. 70. The first three verses of this Psalm are therefore evidence Jews living around the first century thought of themselves as living in a continuing state of exile. Daniel 9 expresses the idea that the exile would last not seventy years, but “seven times seventy years” (Daniel 9:20-27). N. T. Wright has promoted this idea in many of his writings and it has almost become the consensus opinion in New Testament scholarship (although see the essays in Exile: A Conversation with N. T. Wright edited by James M. Scott). Unlike Psalms of Solomon 17, there is no hint of Jewish nationalism in this particular Psalm.

It is only the Lord who can cleanse the soul from sin (9:4-7). This section of the Psalm is important for understanding the use of righteousness (δικαιοσύνη) in the first century, especially in Romans and Galatians. Psalm of Solomon 9:5 says the one who does righteousness stores up life for himself with the Lord (ὁ ποιῶν δικαιοσύνην θησαυρίζει ζωὴν αὑτῷ παρὰ κυρίῳ), and the one who unrighteousness (ἀδικία) causes his own life to be destroyed. Daniel Falk observes this verse is often cited as the “clearest example of God’s mercy earned by conduct” and he cites Mark Siefrid, “the destiny of the individual can be said to be contingent on behavior” (Justification and Variegated Nomism, 1:41).

Falk however argues Psalms of Solomon 9 intends just the opposite, only the repentant sinner will receive mercy from God. In the very next verse the psalmist describes the repentant sinner calling on God and being cleansed and restored. Verse 7 specifically states “your goodness is upon those that sin, when they repent.” The first three verses acknowledges the rebellion of Israel resulted in the exile. For the writer of this Psalm, the only solution at the present time is to pursue righteousness while recognizing even the righteous still sin and need to call upon their Lord.

Therefore the Israel of the psalmist’s day ought to recognize they are still God’s people and put their hope in God’s covenant which he made with their ancestors (9:8-11). The writer grounds this in God’s character (he is both faithful and compassionate). Israel was chosen as God’s people and God has put his name on them.

The writer does not consider the possibility God has finally rejected his people since he is confident that even after the dispersion of 586 B.C. Israel is still God’s people. Assuming the Psalm was written after Israel came under Roman power in 63 B.C., the Psalm encourages people living under yet another foreign oppressor that they are still God’s people even if they are still living in the exile.

Book Review: Paul B. Duff, Jesus Followers in the Roman Empire

Duff, Paul B. Jesus Followers in the Roman Empire. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2017. xii+263 pp. Pb; $30.   Link to Eerdmans

It is common for a modern reader of the New Testament to read their spiritual experience into the earliest Jesus followers. But words like conversion, baptism, and church have modern nuances of meaning which are sometimes quite different than the first century. For example, as the early Jesus movement moved away from Jerusalem and into the Roman world, evangelists reached out to Gentiles; Roman pagans who worshiped both local gods and imperial deities. Duff compares the ancient context of the New Testament to an alien, foreign environment (241).

Paul Duff Jesus followersin the Roman EmpireWhat would the Roman culture think when someone joined a Christian community? Since Christians worshiped Jesus exclusively, they rejected family and local gods. As Duff explains, what we call “conversion” would be seen by the Romans as a “deserting ancestral traditions as a defection from ancestral customs for foreign laws” (115-6). By accepting the gospel of Jesus Christ these “converted pagans” were challenging accepted cultural values and they put themselves in mortal danger.

Paul Duff’s Jesus Followers in the Roman Empire attempts to set the Jesus movement into the context of the ancient world. This book sets some of his previous more technical work on the churches in Revelation, Who Rides the Beast? Prophetic Rivalry and the Rhetoric of Crisis in the Churches of the Apocalypse (Oxford 2001) and his recent Moses in Corinth: The Apologetic Context of 2 Corinthians 3 (NovTSup 159; Brill 2015) into a more popular form.

In the first section of the book, Duff begins with a survey of the three competing worldviews in which the Jesus movement developed. Chapter 1 sets the stage by tracing the Hellenization of Judea and the rise of Roman power after 63 B.C. In some ways Jews were open to Greek culture, but reacted strongly against the attempt to force Jews to Hellenize by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Having set this context, Duff then gives a short account of the Jesus movement and the “quest for the historical Jesus.” He correctly observes “that all of Jesus’s teaching and actions were performed in a Jewish context” (63) and that the claim Jesus was the Messiah can be traced to Jesus’s own teaching (67). Duff then moves to the development of the movement after the resurrection (although what the disciples of Jesus actually experienced is unclear to Duff (70). He is suspicious of using Acts as a historical source since he dates the book late, written A.D. 80-120 (68) and contains “novelistic interpretations” (74).  Duff observes that Paul did not focus on the Kingdom of God as the other Jesus followers did, preferring to call Jesus Lord or Son of God (75).

Chapter 3 traces the movement from idols to the true God. Although Duff is doubtful about the historicity of the book of Acts (101), Acts 14 as a model for understanding paganism and the gods. (Duff defends his use of the term pagan in his introduction.) In the Roman world, there were many gods and those gods were like humans and occasionally interacted with people (90). Sometimes this interaction was good, and humans might cajole a god into acting on their behalf through worship and sacrifice. That Paul and Barnabas could be gods was a real possibility for the people of Lystra in Acts 14. Paul’s sermon in Acts 14 is significant since he declares he worships the “living and true” God (as opposed to the not-living and false gods of the pagan world). Thus God’s wrath is coming on all people and he will judge the world through his son, “whom he raised from the dead.” By accepting the message of Jesus even the pagans can escape this coming wrath.

This preaching was attractive to some pagans and they not only listened to the message Paul preached, but accepted it and turned from false idols to the living God (1 Thess 1:9-10). What was it in Paul’s preaching that was compelling to the Greco-Roman world? There were people throughout the empire who were already attracted to Judaism (the God Fearers like Cornelius in Acts 10) and perhaps others who were attracted to Judaism without making a commitment. For Duff, Paul was an “itinerant Judean religious expert” (136) who used the Hebrew Scripture and worked miracles in order to reach people who were already interested in religions from the “mysterious east.”

Duff uses Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:28 to describe the earliest churches in the pagan world. Paul’s ideal church was “neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free.” The earliest Jesus movement was a family in which women played a significant role. Similarly, Paul’s churches had a place for women as well. He surveys the list of women who Paul specifically mentions in this letters (Phoebe, Chloe, Priscilla, etc.) Duff dismisses 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 as an interpolation, although he does not argue this point (162) and does not think Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles, so 1 Timothy 2:11-12 does not represent Paul’s churches (166-7). Although there were a few wealthy members, the earliest Christians were from fairly low economic and social status (192).

The third section of the book is a pair of chapters treating the accommodations the Jesus movement made as well as the resistance to the Empire. By committing themselves to the exclusive worship of Jesus, new Christians severed ties with the culture in which they lived. Duff compares early churches with voluntary associations in the Roman world. Like a local house church, these associates met regularly and often had sacred rituals and moral expectations. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper have parallels with these associations, but the worship of Jesus as Lord sets the early church apart from any pagan counterpart (207).

Gentiles in Paul’s churches would have been under enormous pressure to participate in civic life, including festivals dedicated to various gods. In chapter 8 Duff describes some of these civic festivals or sacred meals at temples. Could a Christian attend a birthday celebration for a family member if the meal was hosted at a local temple? Modern readers are often confused by the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols in the New Testament, including Acts, Paul’s letters and the book of Revelation. Marriage to a non-believer was also a complicated issue, as 1 Corinthians 7 makes clear. Both controversies continue well into the second century; Duff cites Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho and Tertullian as an examples.

Conclusion. Duff succeeds in his goal of immersing the reader in the ancient world, teasing out the implications living in the Greco-Roman world for the early Jesus movement. In a study such as this I would have expected more on the Imperial Cult (only a few pages, 86-88). In addition, there is little on Paul’s view of the Empire (was Paul anti-imperial?) Since Duff is skeptical of the book of Acts, he does not make much used of Paul’s activity in Ephesus in Acts 19 or the challenge of the Gospel to the cult of Artemis. Nevertheless, Jesus Followers in the Roman Empire is a valuable introduction to the study of early Christianity.

 

 

 

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: Craig D. Allert, Early Christian Readings of Genesis One

Allert, Craig D. Early Christian Readings of Genesis One: Patristic Exegesis and Literal Interpretation. BioLogos Books on Science and Christianity. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2018. 338 pp. Pb. $36.99   Link to IVP Academic  

Craig Allert is a professor of religious studies at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia and an expert on early Christianity and the development of Christian doctrine. His 2002 monograph Revelation, Truth, Canon and Interpretation: Studies in Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 64; Leiden: E.J. Brill) discussed how the second century writer Justin understood Scripture.

Craig Allert book on Genesis One, Church FathersThis new book is the fourth in the BioLogos Books on Science and Christianity series published by IVP Academic. Allert addresses the use and abuse of early church writers to support certain views of Genesis 1. The main purpose of the book is to correct common misconceptions about what the church fathers meant by literal interpretation and “creation out of nothing.” Throughout the book Allert draws on material produced by Answers in Genesis (AiG), Institute for Creation Research (ICR), and Creation Ministries International (CMI). Some of this material appears in popular formats, including blog posts. These organizations generally reject any higher critical approaches to exegesis and “appropriate the church fathers as advocates of a nascent creation science position” (107).

After a preliminary chapter outlining what he means by the church fathers, Allert offers several examples of “how not to read the fathers.” He provides several examples of popular writers on the issue of creation who claim the church fathers read Genesis one as referring to literal days, usually alongside the claim the Church considered the days in Genesis 1 to be literal, 24-hour days until the Enlightenment, Darwinism, and theological liberalism. For Allert, there are several problems with the use of the fathers by most Creationists. First, they proof-text and overgeneralize. For example, Creationists cite Basil as an example of young-earth creationism in the church fathers, then assume he represents the whole of the “church fathers” (without citing any other examples). Second, among conservative Christianity, there is a general lack of knowledge about the church fathers so it is almost impossible to quote them with any helpful context. As a result, writers who claim Basil was a literal six-day creationist are pulling proof-texts out of context and not taking into consideration everything else Basil said about reading Genesis 1.

In the third chapter of the book Allert discusses what the “literal interpretation” meant in Patristic exegesis. There is a popular misconception that a Patristic writer was either literal or allegorical (or spiritual) in their exegesis of Scripture. But as Allert demonstrates, the situation is more complicated than this strict dichotomy. Patristic writers often took notice of the plain meaning of a text, but then went on to create spiritual readings in order to challenge their listeners.

The main test case Allert uses in the book is Basil of Caesarea (329-379), specifically his book Hexameron (“six days”). Written around 370, the book is a series of sermons delivered during Lent on Genesis 1. The ninth sermon in the book is often cited by creationists as proof Basil interpreted the days of Genesis 1 as six literal days. But as Allert argues in this book, Basil is not attacking allegorical readings of Scripture, but “excessive allegorization” by the Manicheans (197). On closer examination, Basil uses the same method of reading Scripture as Origen (a church father usually vilified for his allegorical method!)

In the following two chapters of the book Allert examines two doctrines often cited as foundational by creationists; creation out of nothing (creation ex nihilo) and the literal day in Genesis 1. Creation out of nothing has been challenged as a theology not drawn from the Old Testament but rather constructed to respond to the eternal universe in Greek philosophy. For the literalness of the six days, Allert examines several oft-quoted church fathers and finds some support for reading the days as literal, 24-hour days. But there is nothing in Basil (for example) which indicates he thought Genesis 1 was giving a scientific (literal) description of creation (246).

Throughout the book Allert deals with the nature of creation and time. As the church accepted creation out of nothing as doctrine, Christian theologians and philosophers began to ask what God was doing before he created the universe. A possible answer to this question is my favorite line in this book: “he was getting hell ready for people who inquisitively peer into deep matters” (269). Allert examines Augustine’s view of time and eternity more closely in chapter seven. Most Christians have a sense “God is outside of time,” although likely drawn from C. S. Lewis rather than Augustine. Augustine argued God is eternal and created the world “with time” (273), and the days of creation are no more literal than God’s “rest” on the seventh day. Augustine cited John 5:17, “my father is working until now” as evidence God’s rest on the seventh day is not a literal time of rest (278). For Augustine, creation did not happen in “a time measured way” (287).

I have several comments about Allert’s book. First, I am convinced an allegorical method is not good exegesis when the text under examination is clearly not an allegory. For example, obviously Jotham’s fable in Judges 9 is some kind of an allegory, and there are figurative elements of Jesus’s parables, especially the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13. Allert addresses this concern with an anecdote from John MacArthur who looked back on an early sermon he wrote as a “horrible” example of allegorizing a text (p. 108). I have to agree with MacArthur, that sort of exegesis is bad. Of course this opens up the question to what an ancient writer was trying to do with a text, but that is a topic for another book.

Second, Allert proves his case the ancient church fathers were not proto-creationists and current creationists ought to stop misinterpreting them. Selective citations in order to proof-text one’s view is dangerous, since there is plenty in Basil or Augustine which would not at all be acceptable to a modern conservative creation. But there is nothing in this book (or the church fathers) which anticipates other responses to Darwinism, such as progressive creationism (old earth creationism) or theistic evolution. Ancient writers read Genesis within their own worldview, a worldview which did not contend with modern science.

Third, Allert is correct to raise awareness the real problem is the nature of time and eternity. His discussion of Augustine’s view is important, but more theological and philosophical work needs to be done on God’s nature and his relationship with this universe. That creationists who hold to literal days in Genesis 1 do not worry too much about this issue is evident from the lack of citation of creationists in chapters 5-7 in this book.

This book is a necessary contribution to the ongoing discussion of Genesis 1. Allert corrects some serious misconceptions and offers a more contextual reading of Basil, Augustine and others who commented on Genesis 1 in antiquity.

 

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

 

Book Review: John M. Frame, Christianity Considered: A Guide for Skeptics and Seekers

Frame, John M. Christianity Considered: A Guide for Skeptics and Seekers. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2018. 140 pp.; Pb.  $12.99  Link to Lexham Press

This short book covers a wide range of issues which may be raised by someone who is interested in Christianity but has some intellectual reservations. Although Frame usually writes lengthy works on theology and philosophy from a Reformed perspective, this book is designed to reach most readers. Chapters are short (usually three or four pages) and there are only limited notes (three pages of endnotes for the whole book). For a more in-depth discussion of many of the issues in this book, interested readers should read Frame’s Apologetics to the Glory of God (P&R Publishing, 1983) or the more recent Apologetics: A Justification of Christian Belief (P&R Publishing, 2015).

John Frame, Christianity Considered, Lexham PressComing from a Reformed background, it is not surprising the first two chapters of the book concern the rational basis for Christian belief and the following four chapters flesh out what Frame means by belief. Frame observed the success of early Christian preaching was not based on rational arguments for the existence of God or detailed theological arguments, yet apostolic preaching was accepted as credible. Although this is true from the perspective of modern theology, Peter did amazed the religious Jewish leadership by speaking boldly even though he was an “uneducated, common man” (Acts 4:13) and Paul certainly held his own among both Jewish (Acts 13) and Gentile (Acts 17) intellectuals of his own day. Nevertheless he is correct this process “may seem somewhat mysterious” to the modern intellectual.

What Frame does in this book is to present a biblical apologetic which is grounded in the Bible’s own epistemology (3). In doing so he is rejecting relativism (does Christianity have the right to assert truth?) and the skeptical conclusions of the Enlightenment (does Christianity have enough evidence to support its claims?) What Frame wants to do in this book is place the argument into the world of the Bible and to challenge readers to reconsider their “web of commitment,” the wide variety of things which push and pull people to believe what they believe. There are feelings involved in a belief in God, but there are rational reasons as well. Some beliefs are more satisfying to both and are chosen. Once this “new mind” begins to develop, other strands of the web may be challenged.

Frame then presents the core of Christian belief over the next ten chapters (the existence of God, the nature of the Bible, Jesus’s death and resurrection, and the Holy Spirit). Unlike most apologetic books, Frame does not offer complicated arguments, partly because a “web of belief” is unlikely to change by considering that sort of argument. He does devote a chapter to the problem of evil, one of the most difficult problems for non-theists. Remarkably Frame considers the existence of evil to be an argument in favor of the existence of God (52).

The next four chapters develop what a Christian life might look like. Here Frame covers Reading the Bible, Praying, Going to Church, The Church in the World (evangelism) and religion as a personal relationship with God. There is nothing surprising in these chapters, but some seekers may be puzzled by the lack of emotional or ecstatic worship found many evangelical churches these days. Church is not a long speech preceded by a rock concert in the New Testament, but rather the place where Christians gather to support one another (90).

The final group of chapters develop out of Frame’s view of the relationship of the church and world (Philosophy; Morality; Politics; Science; The Return of Jesus). Although philosophy is not controversial issue, Frame argues philosophy is a reasonable pursuit for Christians since he understands it as a defense of a worldview (97). Again, a seeker may be pleasantly surprised by Frame’s positive view of science and lack of “silly predictions” concerning the return of Jesus (111).

In a book this brief, there is the risk of under-arguing a point. For example, while discussing the nature of the Bible, Frame says “if someone objects to a Bible story on the grounds that it is a miraculous or supernatural event, we can dismiss that objection quickly. We know that the miraculous is possible because God exists, and the evidence for his existing is overwhelming” (62). This is the reverse of saying “I do not believe in miracles because I know miracles do not exist.” There is far more to the objection to miracles going on; even if God does exist, there is nothing in his existence which demands he do the occasional miracle. This is a matter of dealing with a problem with a three page chapter rather than a book, but sometimes brevity undercuts the argument of the book and put off a genuine seek.

On the other hand, this sort of book is idea for someone who has been a Christian for some time and needs to be assured this is a rational faith. Given the sheer lunacy associated of some who claim to be Christians, a book like this will offer assurance to the believer that biblical Christianity is not at all what the media says it is.

 

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

Book Review: John Glynn, Best Bible Books: New Testament Resources

Glynn, John. Best Bible Books: New Testament Resources. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2018. 318 pp. Pb. $27.99   Link to Kregel

Best Bible Books is an annotated bibliography for the study of the New Testament. There are listings for each New Testament book. The commentary lists are divided into Technical/Semitechnical and Exposition and rated in three categories: good, better and best. The first footnote of each section lists a few forthcoming commentaries. Following the commentary list is a section labeled “special studies.” These are monographs devoted to issues for a particular biblical book (Theology of Luke-Acts, Women in Ministry, etc.) Some titles in these lists are highlighted as better than the rest. At the end of the book Burer offers his “ultimate New Testament commentary collection” by listing the top two commentaries for each book of the New Testament. The volume includes a name index so readers can quickly check their favorite writers.

John Glynn, Best Bible Books for New Testament studiesA short chapter at the beginning of the volume offers some advice for building up a “must have” personal reference library. This chapter is divided into advice for the lay-person, Bible College or seminary student, and the pastor. At the end of the book Burer offers his “ultimate New Testament commentary collection” by listing the top two commentaries for each book of the New Testament. Burer also contributes a short list of one-volume commentaries.

There are a number of specialized bibliographies. Darrell Bock offers lists including New Testament Introductions, Surveys and Theologies, New Testament Introductions cover issues of authorship and destination, material also included in a good New Testament survey. A New Testament Theology may offer a summary of the teaching for each book of the New Testament or for each author. Two lists are devoted to Paul, one on Paul and the Law and another on Pauline Theology. Bock also contributes a nine-page bibliography for Jesus and the Gospels divided into sections on Historical Jesus in three lists, one for evangelical studies and another for the Jesus Seminar and a third for background studies. There are five short lists on the Synoptic Problem divided into the various solutions to the problem and a sixth list for general books on the synoptic problem.

Joseph Fantin provides two lists of books on New Testament Background, Jewish Background and Burer has lists of both popular general references (both chapters cover atlases and Bible dictionaries), New Testament Greek Resources, Exegesis, Interpretation and Hermeneutics. These sections are divided into a number of helpful subcategories although these subcategories do not appear in the table of contents so readers may not be able to find them quickly.

This is the eleventh edition of Glynn’s original Commentary and Reference Survey. When Kregel last published the Survey in 2007 it included Old and New Testament commentaries as well as a section on theological resources. Sadly John Gynnn died in 2007. The current editor and Dallas Theological Seminary professor Michael Burer indicates in his introduction to this new edition that “subsequent volumes will address Old Testament and theological resources.”  Burer has enlisted several additional scholars to create the lists in this new edition of the book, each section has an author. There are new sections on computer based resources (although this was less evident as expected). The new edition also drops Glynn’s assessment of the “theological stance” of the commentator.

The various contributors to these bibliographies come from conservative, evangelical institutions (mostly Dallas Theological Seminary). It will be no surprise their “best” commentaries tend to be published by evangelical publishers. The introduction lists commentary series as evangelical, mixed and liberal. However, the authors do include a broad range commentaries and writers who are “middle to left” on the theological spectrum. The specialized studies lists include titles from dissertation series and journal monographs.

One might question the value of a printed commentary survey like Best Bible Books in a world dominated by the Internet. A website may be a better platform since it can be updated quickly. For example, Best Bible Commentaries aggregates commentary reviews from many sources (including Reading Acts) and is able to place new commentaries on the list as they are published. In fact, any blogger can set up their own “top five commentary” list.

Even though there are advantages to an online format for this kind of book, many readers prefer a printed book to a webpage. This is the kind of book which needs to be used and marked up. It ought to be carried into the book store and worn out with constant reference. When a particular blogger decides they no longer care to maintain their list or take their blog down for some reason, their lists are gone. Ironically, Burer recognizes this shortcoming and cites a website in a footnote which no longer exists (page 17, note 1).

Best Bible Books will serve as a critical resource for students of the Bible for many years to come. I look forward to the Old Testament and Theology volumes of the 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.