Book Review: Jeannine K. Brown and Kyle Roberts, Matthew (Two Horizons Commentary)

Brown, Jeannine K. and Kyle Roberts. Matthew. Two Horizons New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. 575 pp. Pb; $38.   Link to Eerdmans

This new addition to the Two Horizons New Testament Commentary series is the first on the Gospels (Scott Spencer’s Luke volume was published in April 2019). Brown and Roberts have contributed an excellent example of theological interpretation Scripture as applied to Matthew the theologian and pastor.

Brown, Roberts, THNTC MatthewIn the introduction to the commentary the authors define what they mean by a theological and interdisciplinary approach to Matthew. The commentary is interested in how Matthew’s narrative theology was derived from his literary rhetoric and was informed by the socio-historical realities of his world (4).

In the introduction to the commentary, Matthew is the implied author (whether he is or not does not matter for a theological reading of the Gospel). The gospel was written to a Jewish audience that believed the Jesus was the Messiah. The authors employ the two-source hypothesis, implying that Matthew must have been written sometime after A.D 70. They take the burning of the city in 22:7 as an allegorical allusion to the destruction of Jerusalem. Since Didache and Ignatius make use of the gospel it cannot be dated later than A. D. 90. The Gospel is divided into three parts based on the phrase Ἀπὸ τότε ἤρξατο in 4:17 and 16:20. After the preparation and identity of Jesus (1:1-4:16), 4:17-16:20 is the announcing of the kingdom of God, 16:21-28:20 concerns Jesus his trip to Jerusalem and the kingdom enacted through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The commentary proper divide Matthew into seven units covered in chapters 2-8.

  • Jesus’s Preparation for Ministry: Matthew 1:1-4:16
  • Jesus Teaches about the Kingdom: Matthew 4:17-7:29
  • Jesus Enacts the Kingdom: Matthew 8:1-11:1
  • Growing Opposition toward Jesus’s Ministry: Matthew 11:2-16:2
  • Jesus Teaches about His Coming Death: Matthew 16:21-20:28
  • Jesus Clashes with Jerusalem Leadership: Matthew 20:29-25:46
  • Jesus’s Passion and Resurrection: Matthew 26:1-28:20

In the body of the commentary Brown introduces each section with a paragraph on the narrative structure and logic followed by a fresh translation. Each pericope is treated as a whole; due to the brevity of the commentary it is impossible to do phrase by phrase or verse by verse. For example, Matthew 5:17-48 are treated in just over five pages. All Greek words appear in transliteration. Although she interacts with other major commentaries, this is done mostly in the footnotes, making for an extremely readable commentary. Brown is not particularly interested in the grammatical or syntactical problems found in the text, and there are only a few occasions when she deals with textual critical issues in the footnotes.

The second part of the commentary is a biblical theology, entitled “Thinking Theologically with Matthew.” In the first chapter of the section lays Roberts lays out his methods for theological engagement with Scripture (ch. 9). He recognizes Matthew’s theological categories are not those of contemporary systematic theology. We need to recognize our own assumptions and pre-readings before approaching Matthew’s gospel. But it is important to understand Matthew’s gospel is inherently theological (268). The gospel writer was already doing theology by working out the implications of the gospel. Each chapter in this section of the book begins with several pages unpacking a theological concept, the move into a reading of a pericope in the light of the theological issue. For example, Roberts reads the Beatitudes through the lens of Matthew’s already/not yet view of the Kingdom.

The second section of the book comprise of four chapters covering an important aspect of Matthew’s theology. First, Roberts deals with the complex and elusive problem of what the kingdom means for Matthew (ch. 10). Robert examines the Old Testament and Second Temple literature and argues Matthew picks up on these trajectories to prove Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah. Jesus’s kingly identity remains central throughout the gospel. There is an eschatological nature to the kingdom of God, and here Robert highlights the already/not yet of the kingdom in the ministry of Jesus.

Since the kingdom of God cannot be separated from Matthew’s Christology, Roberts devotes the next chapter to Matthew’s Christology (ch. 11). In Matthew, Jesus is the Davidic Messiah, the Torah fulfilled, and wisdom embodied. He is the representative of Israel and by the end of the book is the full embodiment of Yahweh. Three critical moments in the gospel Matthew describes Jesus as “God with us” (1:23, 18:20, and 28:20).

Chapter 12 examines the Holy Spirit in Matthew. Although it is unusual to include the Holy Spirit as a theological theme in the Gospel of Matthew, Roberts traces Matthew’s pneumatology from the baptism through the final lines of the book (the Trinitarian formula in Matt 28:19). Since the Holy Spirit is actively involved in Christian mission, Robert is able to transition into Matthew’s understanding of discipleship (ch. 13). The burden of this chapter is how Matthew communicates discipleship. The reader will learn discipleship from Jesus his actions as well as the various characters who appear throughout the story. For example, Gentiles who have great faith or other seekers who come to Jesus. “Matthew thematizes the identification of Jesus as Isaianic servant whose ministry of teaching and healing, as well as his death and resurrection, embody mercy and justice for Israel and for the nations. This portrait of Jesus as servant sits at the center of Matthew’s meaning of “the gospel of the kingdom” (367).

Finally, Roberts discusses the “Meaning of the Messiah’s Deeds” (ch. 14). Roberts warns against narrowing the theology of the Gospel of Matthew to only the death and resurrection of Jesus. In fact, Matthew introduces the word gospel early (4:23) so that the entire book is “the gospel.” Yet it is true the death and resurrection of Jesus is the “obvious climax to the gospel.” Matthew foreshadows the Passion throughout the gospel. Robert asks whether Matthew has an atonement theology and whether this view supports later theories of atonement as expressed by systematic theology.  He concludes there are aspects of Christus Victor, substitution, and substation theories in the Gospel, but it would be wrong to reduce Matthew’s view to a single theory of atonement.

The final section of the book “Constructive Theological Engagement with Matthew.” After a short introduction to the method for the section, Robert asks “what would be missing from biblical theology if we did not have the contribution of the Gospel of Matthew?” He observes that Matthew’s place in the canon functions as a bridge between the testaments. Matthew looks back to the Old Testament to explain what Jesus does in his death and resurrection. The egalitarian values for the Christian community or a contribution of the Gospel of Matthew. Roberts describes Matthew 18 as “egalitarian in its values and practices” (396).

The last five chapters summarizes how various perspectives read Matthew (feminist Perspectives (ch. 17); Global Perspectives and Liberation Theologies (ch. 18); Reading Matthew Pastorally (ch. 19); Reading Matthew Politically (ch. 20); and Reading Judaism Ethically in the Post-Holocaust Era (ch. 21). Most commentaries would be written from the one of these perspectives. For example, there are many approaches to Matthew that read Jesus as a political activist, and that the gospel is generally anti-imperial. By including a chapter on each perspective, the reader is provided with multiple lenses to understand the Gospel of Matthew.

Conclusion. This commentary by Brown and Roberts is an excellent example of a theological commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. The commentary portion provides solid exegesis of the text without being lost in the details of grammar and syntax. The wide ranging theological articles included in the second half of the volume will stimulate readers to think more deeply about Matthew’s contribution to biblical and systematic theologies.

 

Reviews of other commentaries in this series:

 

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

 

Logos Bible Software Deals for December 2019

Logos is running their annual Christmas sale on base packages. Until the end of the year you can save 20% on one of their Logos 8 base packages, from the affordable Fundementals package (only $79.95) the pricier packages like Silver, Gold, or Gold-pressed Latinum versions. Now is time to upgrade to Logos 8 (which is a year old now…check out my review of the new version). If you do not have Logos yet, you should at least get the free basic version so you can take advantage of the free book of the month and the other sale resources. Use the coupon code READINGACTS8 at checkout and save a bit of money.

Every month Logos Bible Software gives away a free book for your Logos library, along with a few deeply discounted books in the same series or from the same publisher. This month features the Brazos Theological commentary series published by Baker.  You can add Jaroslav Pelikan’s Acts commentary for free, Stanley Hauerwas on Matthew for $4.99 and Peter J. Leithart on 1-2 Kings for $9.99. The three books retail for just under $90, so $15 for the three is a great deal.

When the Brazos Commentary first appeared I was surprised by the authors. Stanley Hauerwas is excellent, but he is not my first thought for a commentary on Matthew. What kind of commentary would a theologian like Hauerwas write? The book blurb for this volume is an attempt to answer my  suspicions:

Stanley Hauerwas’ commentary on Matthew is not your typical commentary. Though most commentators approach a book for its theological aspects, Hauerwas’ Matthew focuses on the “how-to” of becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ. With the use of current Matthean scholarship and the wisdom of various scholars and theologians, including Augustine, Barth, and Bonhoeffer, Hauerwas is able to address relevant topics like homosexuality, politics, and abortion—not normally discussed in other commentaries on Matthew.

The same would be true for Jaroslav Pelikan. (Here is the a lengthy review via Best Commentaries)

Jaroslav Pelikan, one of the most well-respected scholars in the history of Christianity, brings you an insightful and well articulated commentary on Acts. This distinctly theological commentary focuses more on the themes and dogmas of Acts, rather than the text itself.

All three are excellent resources even if they are not the same kind of commentary as the New International Greek Text Commentary (last month’s giveaway).These valuable resources are only free (or almost free) through December 31, 2019.

Logos also does an Author’s Spotlight each month, for December they focus on the work of Craig Evans. You can save 25% or more on almost everything in the Logos Library with a contribution from Evans. Craig Evans is John Bisagno Distinguished Professor of Christian Origins at Houston Baptist University and formerly the Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament and director of the graduate program at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. He has written more than 70 books and hundreds of journal articles. Logos featured Evans in quite a few of their Mobile Course (most are 35% off).

Logos has some of his popular books on the list as well as his Word Biblical Commentary on Mark 8:27–16:20. He is a contributor to the new volume on the historical Jesus from Zondervan, Jesus, Skepticism, and the Problem of History: Criteria and Context in the Study of Christian Origins (25% off). Two other excellent academic books on the list are two edited volumes in the LNTS series from Blombury T&T Clark on intertextuality in the New Testament, ‘What Does the Scripture Say?’ Studies in the Function of Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity, Volume 1: The Synoptic Gospels and Volume 2: The Letters and Liturgical Traditions ($17.99 each).

Looks like a great time to add some excellent resources to your Logos library!

 

Book Review: Holly Beers, A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman

Beers, Holly. A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2019. 172pp. Pb; $16.  Link to IVP Academic

Like the other books in the Week in the Life series, Beers is a New Testament scholar who attempts to bring to life the world of the first century. Beers is associate professor of religious studies at Westmont College. She has previously contributed monograph The Followers of Jesus as the ‘Servant’: Luke’s Model from Isaiah for the Disciples in Luke-Acts (LNTS 535; London: T&T Clark, 2015), reviewed here. Unlike other books in the series, Beers brings a female perspective by focusing not only on a very poor woman in Roman Ephesus, but a poor woman who is pregnant. Many of the cultural and historical background featured in this book have not been covered in one of the other books.

Week in the Love of a Greco-Roman WomanThe book follows the daily life of Anthia, the pregnant wife of Philetus as they encounter the gospel in the city of Ephesus in the mid-50s A.D. Philetus is a fisherman and a couple sell their fish at a stall in the agora. Although the couple are free, they are extremely poor and rarely know where their next meal is coming from. Beers describes the kind of poverty the average person faced in first century Ephesus. The family lives in a very small room with their child and extended family. They often make do with very little food, often no more than a piece of bread each day.

The book also refers to the way individuals relied upon the gods to get them through the day. Philetus prays to Glaukos the patron god of fishing when he does not catch enough fish and praises this god when he manages to bring in a good catch. When the neighbor child is sick, the parents sacrifice to both Artemis and Asclepius hoping to heal the child’s fever. When a character in the story passes a statue of the Emperor, they utter a short prayer to the divine Emperor.

Since this is the middle of the first century in the city of Ephesus, it is no surprise Philetus and Anthia encounter the apostle Paul teaching outside the school of Tyrannus. Beers uses Paul’s speeches in Acts 14 and 17 to suggest how Paul may have taught the assembled crowds and the crowd’s reaction to the idea of a crucified and resurrected Jesus. When Anthia is invited to a church service, she is shocked to find Roman citizens sitting and eating with slaves. Anthia struggles to understand why a wealthy Roman woman would care about her at all, let alone give her food and clothing without expectations associated with Roman patronage.

There are several other plot points which are borrowed from the book of Acts. For example, when the neighbor’s child is dying of a fever, the mother brings a handkerchief blessed by the apostle Paul and the child is healed (Acts 19:11-12). Beers refers to magicians we have converted to Christianity burning their scrolls (Acts 19:18-19) and the failed exorcism by the sons of Sceva (Acts 19:13-16). Although she never makes an explicit connection herself, I can’t help but wonder if the wife’s prayer to Jesus to keep her safe in childbirth alludes to 1 Timothy 2:15, a woman will be saved through childbearing.

A major focus of this story is the hard life of a woman in the ancient world, a life which was much more difficult for a pregnant woman. The book begins with a tragic story of a woman who dies giving birth to her child. Anthia herself suffers a great deal in the story, often at the hand of her abusive husband. Although the woman is in the late stages of her pregnancy, she is still forced to work in the family business, care for her son, and submit to her husband’s sexual needs (even though he visits a prostitute). Beers includes infanticide and the exposure of female babies several times in the book. It is likely an exposed child would be taken by someone to be raised as a slave. On one occasion a nursing woman is sold in the slave market to be used as a wet nurse by a wealthy aristocrat.

One thing Beers communicates well in this book is the absolute filth of the ancient world. Frequently Beers describes public latrines as well as the use of a communal chamber pot in the family’s single overcrowded room. Her son publicly urinates on one of the many pots set aside to collect urine for the fullers. On a number of occasions Anthia must deal with bleeding because of her pregnancy.

As with other books in this series, the book is illustrated by occasional sidebars in photographs to help the reader understand some details of the story. I think they were less of these in this volume than in previous books in the series. This may be due to the fact that there are few physical remains left by the extreme poor of the ancient world. Nor is there a great deal of description of poverty in ancient literature. Nevertheless, Beers judiciously uses what evidence is available to paint a vivid picture of poverty in the ancient world.

Not everyone in the book is poor. At the meeting of a host church, Anthia meets Claudia, a wealthy Roman citizen who invites her to a meal in her home. Here Beers describes the terrace houses in the city of Ephesus. In contrast to the filthy, crowded one-room apartment that she lives in, her wealthy Roman patron lives in a beautiful home with multiple rooms and running water. As Anthia says, even the dog looks better fed than her family. This meal also provides an opportunity to describe what a wealthy Roman family might eat for a meal.

Conclusion. This is my favorite of the Week in the Life series for two reasons. First, since I have visited Ephesus it is easy to imagine the scenes in the agora, the latrines, or the terrace houses. Beers has succeeded in placing her story in the world of first century Ephesus as it is known from archaeology. Second, in both the ancient and modern world, these kinds of stories are rarely told from the perspective of a poor woman. Although the other books in the series have similar imagery, none capture the despair of poverty in the Roman world like this book.

Nijay Gupta interviewed Holly Beers on December 16, 2019.

 

For reviews of other volumes in this series, see my reviews of

Although not part of this series,

 

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: Barry J. Beitzel, ed. Lexham Geographical Commentary on the Acts through Revelation

Beitzel, Barry J., ed. Lexham Geographical Commentary on the Acts through Revelation. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2019. 763 pp.; Hb.  $39.99  Link to Lexham Press

Barry Beitzel has a well-deserved reputation in scholarship for his contributions to biblical geography. He edited The New Moody Atlas of the Bible (Moody, 2009; reviewed here). He edited the first volume of this projected five volume series, Lexham Geographical Commentary on the Gospels (Lexham, 2017, see my review here). This new volume is a joy to read, and will be an excellent addition the library of any student of the New Testament.

Lexham Geographic CommentaryThis new volume contains fifty-three essays written by nineteen New Testament scholars. More than half of these articles cover the book of Acts and the remaining articles discuss locations were Paul or Peter did ministry and the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. See the end of this review for a list of chapter topics.

Each chapter begins with a list of Scripture covered in the section, so it is possible to read through at least the first half of the book alongside a reading of the book of Acts. This is not always possible since some locations appear in various parts of the book such as Jerusalem or Caesarea. For example, Paul Wright’s chapter on Caesarea Maritima (chapter 16) lists all of the occurrences of the location in the book of Acts. A text box at the head of the article offers three or four key points covered in the chapter. The text flows in parallel columns and the chapters are richly illustrated. All non-English words appear in transliteration; distances are given in miles and kilometers. Each section concludes with a bibliography citing key journal and other dictionary articles.

The articles in these volumes are highly detailed and well-documented. Several would make excellent academic journal articles. Eckhard Schnabel contributes several chapters. His two-volume Early Christian Mission (IVP Academic, 2004) and Jesus in Jerusalem: The Last Days (Eerdmans, 2018) are two of the most detailed academic works on the geography of the Gospels and Acts. David deSilva contributed articles on The Social and Geographical World of Psidian Antioch, Rome, Roman Corinth, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum and Sardis. Mark Wilson contributes several articles on locations in modern Turkey (the Geography of Galatia, Peter’s Communities in Asia Minor, the Geography of Patmos, and the Social and Geographical World of Thyatira and Philadelphia).

The chapters are illustrated with photographs, diagrams and charts. Some photographs are licensed through WikiCommons, some are from Beitzel himself, and David deSilva contributed many. A few of these are familiar diagrams found in other Logos resources or Logos map sets. I noticed some of the city maps of the seven churches in Revelation were designed by Tutku Tours. The book is printed on an uncoated paper which does not glare and is easier to make notes on compared to a book like the Zondervan Bible Backgrounds commentary.

Some chapters cover material that strictly speaking is not a part of the book of Acts or the Epistles. For example, Ekhard Schnabel has a brief article on Paul in Spain and Crete based on the very thin evidence that Paul actually did ministry in these locations. J. Carl Laney contributed an article on Paul’s travel after the book of Acts based on the Pastoral Epistles and several church traditions. Each location where Paul did ministry has a chapter, including Colossae even though he did not establish that church.

A few other highlights: Barry Beitzel has a lengthy and detailed article on the meaning of “Arabia” in classical literature in order to answer the question of what Paul meant in Galatians 1:17 when he spent time in Arabia. Benjamin Foreman has an article on the Social and Geographical Significance of Alexandria, Egypt, a location only mentioned in the book of Acts as the home of Apollos (Acts 18:24-28). He discusses the Jewish presence in Alexandria and some of the traditions associated with how Christianity came to this important city in the Roman world. A. H. Cadwallader contributes an article on Onesimus and the world of Philemon, which is more less on slavery in the Roman world. Schnabel has an article on Paul’s travel in Macedonia and Achaia, including the distance traveled by foot between different locations and suggested time to travel. This article also includes a footnote in which Schnabel disagrees with one of his earlier conclusions.

Perhaps the most unusual article concerns Philippi, Michael Thate’s “Paulus Geographicus? The Spatial (Somatic) World of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.” The article is not particularly about the geographical location of the city of Philippi, but about how bodies were understood in the Greco-Roman world, specifically in the Macedonian city of Philippi. As he puts it, this is a theo-graphical article rather than a geographical article. Unfortunately, this is the only article in the book devoted to Philippi. I would have liked an additional article on the social and geographical word of Rome Philippi as similar to other locations of Paul’s ministry.

The final seven chapters concern geographical locations in the book of Revelation, six of the seven churches plus an article on the geography of the island of Patmos. (Ephesus was covered in the order of the Pauline letters.) Each of these chapters gives the pre-history of the cities, as well as something of the religious and social situation at the time John wrote the book of Revelation.

The book includes with seventeen-pages of color charts and additional maps, a detailed list of the contributors, a subject index, a Scripture index and a list of image credits.

Logos Version. Since the book was published simultaneously for the Logos Bible Software library, I had the opportunity to use the book in that format. Clicking a photograph open the Logos Media library so the image can be copied and pasted into Word or PowerPoint (or any other software). The Media tool gives the description of the image as well as photo credits. Maps open in the Logos Atlas tool and can be copied and pasted. Using these tools to enhance your teaching and preaching is an added incentive to purchase the electronic version. 

As typical in a Logos resource, clicking a Scripture references will open your preferred Bible to the text, or you can float over the reference to peek at the text. This works also for ancient sources if you have unlocked them for your library. For example, I can click on a cited reference to Pliny’s Natural History and open the version I have unlocked in the Logos library. This is true for any resource, Josephus, Philo, Strabo’s Geography, etc. At the end of a chapter the Logos version as a “see also” section which does not appear in the print format of the book. This section includes links to the Logos Atlas tool, Logos FactBook places and events, other articles in the Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through Revelation and any videos in the Media Library related to the section. The bibliography sections open additional Logos resources if unlocked. The Logos version of the book is obviously more interactive than a printed book and can be updated and corrected as necessary.

One disappointment in the Logos version of the book is the lack of page numbers. Usually a Logos book is tagged with real page numbers so I can cite the resource properly. The only index available is Scripture. The original Geographical Commentary on the Gospels has a page number index, perhaps Logos will update this book in the future.

All things being equal, I much prefer a real physical book. And this is an excellent looking book. But there are some definite advantages to using this book as part of Logos Bible Software.

Conclusion. The Lexham Geographic Commentary on the gospels is a joy to read. The articles are stimulating and well-illustrated.  This book will make an excellent addition to the library of any student of the Bible. A hardback book with 763 pages illustrated with color photographs, maps and charts is worth more than the $39.95 list price. The Lexham website inaccurately lists the publication date as 2017. The Geographic Commentary will continue in 2020 with volumes on the Pentateuch, Historical Books and Poetry and Prophecy are due in 2020.

 

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.

 

Contents of Lexham Geographical Commentary on the Acts through Revelation

  • Typological Geography and the Progress of the Gospel in Acts
  • The Topography of Jerusalem in the Book of Acts
  • The Threefold Expansion of the Early Church: Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria
  • Jesus’ Missionary Commission and the Ends of the Earth
  • A Sabbath-Day’s Journey from the Mount of Olives
  • The Location of Pentecost and Geographical Implications in Acts 2
  • Early Church Demographics
  • Geography of the Nations in Jerusalem for Pentecost
  • The Jerusalem Temple in the Book of Acts
  • The Geography of Worship: From Temple to Synagogue to Church
  • The Persecution of the Earliest Christians in Geographical Perspective
  • The Theodotus Synagogue Inscription and Its Relationship to the Book of Acts
  • Samaria: Too Wicked to Redeem?
  • The Roman Road System around the Mediterranean
  • The Desert Road between Jerusalem and Gaza
  • The Geography of Caesarea Maritima
  • The Road from Jerusalem to Damascus
  • Paul’s Missionary Work in Syria, Nabatea, Judea, and Cilicia
  • Peter’s Ministry in Caesarea Maritima
  • Peter and the Centurion Cornelius: Roman Soldiers in the New Testament
  • The Geographic Importance of Antioch on the Orontes
  • Famines in the Land
  • The Death of Herod Agrippa I in Caesarea Maritima
  • Paul’s Missionary Work in Cyprus, Galatia, and Pamphylia
  • Barnabas, John Mark, and Their Ministry on Cyprus
  • The Social and Geographical World of Pisidian Antioch
  • Paul’s Missionary Work in Macedonia and Achaia
  • Paul at the Areopagus in Athens
  • What Has Athens to Do with Jerusalem? Paul’s Areopagus Speech in Context
  • The Social and Geographical Significance of Alexandria
  • Paul’s Missionary Work in the Provinces of Asia and Illyricum
  • Paul as a Prisoner in Judea and Rome
  • Paul’s Journey to Rome
  • The Social and Geographical World of Rome
  • Paul in Spain and Crete
  • Paul’s Travels After Acts
  • The Social and Geographical World of Roman Corinth
  • The Geography of Galatia
  • Paul’s Early Ministry in Syria and Cilicia: The Silent Years
  • The Meaning of “Arabia” in Classical Literature and the New Testament
  • The Social and Geographical World of Ephesus
  • Paulus Geographicus? The Spatial (Somatic) World of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians
  • The Social and Geographical World of Colossae
  • The Social and Geographical World of Thessalonica
  • Onesimus and the Social and Geographical World of Philemon
  • Peter’s Christian Communities in Asia Minor
  • Geography of the Island of Patmos
  • The Social and Geographical World of Smyrna
  • The Social and Geographical World of Pergamum
  • The Social and Geographical World of Thyatira
  • The Social and Geographical World of Sardis
  • The Social and Geographical World of Philadelphia
  • The Social and Geographical World of Laodicea

 

Book Review: David L. Turner, Interpreting the Gospels and Acts: An Exegetical Handbook

Turner, David L. Interpreting the Gospels and Acts: An Exegetical Handbook. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Academic, 2019. 358 pp. Pb; $21.99.   Link to Kregel

This is the final contribution to Kregel’s Handbooks of New Testament Exegesis covers a large section of the New Testament, the Gospels and the book of Acts. As with each volume of the exegetical handbook series, this new volume combines a scholarly introduction to the study of the Gospels and Acts with an exegetical method designed to help pastors and teachers present their interpretations as Gospel-oriented sermons. 

The first part of this book is a general introduction to the study of the gospels and the book of Acts. Each chapter discusses a topic followed by an application of that topic for each of the four Gospels and Acts. Chapter 1 discusses the genre and structure of the Gospels. After surveying a wide range of suggestions, Turner suggests biography is the best way to approach the genre of the gospels. He would include the book of Acts as biography because the disciples continue to teach and do what Jesus commanded. He also briefly explains several embedded genres found in the Gospels. He has a lengthy discussion on parables along with briefer description of intertextuality, apocalyptic, and wisdom sayings. For Acts he briefly describes Psalms quotations, speeches, and letters. Although the chapter discusses the four-fold gospel tradition, Turner does not cover source or redaction criticism at this point. He discusses them later in the book in the chapter on preparing to interpret the Gospels. Concerning form, source, and redaction criticism, Turner says “understanding the historical process of the gospel origins in divine providence is a worthy scholarly endeavor, but edification of the church is a matter of expounding the gospel in its final canonical” (188). 

Chapter 2 provide sufficient background material to read the Gospels in their historical context. Before his brief survey of Second Temple period literature, Turner observes the chief background for the New Testament is in fact the Old Testament. He has a section on archaeology as a resource for background material. What follows is a collection of short descriptions of important groups in the New Testament, he defines the importance of temple and synagogue but then also covers the usual groups within the second temple, including Pharisees, scribes, elders, Sadducees, the Sanhedrin, the Essenes, and what he calls the “politically oriented groups,” the zealots. The section also includes a short survey of Jewish feasts as a background for reading the Gospels. In the second part of the chapter Turner offers the setting for each of the four Gospels, including authorship, occasion and purpose, and date. In general, Turner’s conclusions are conservative and traditional. 

Turner’s third chapter begins with an excellent discussion of what biblical theology is. He contrasts biblical theology with systematic theology and offers an assessment of the limits of biblical theology. In constructing an overall theology of the Gospels, Turner settles on “Jesus in the Spirit.” Although he covers kingdom of heaven under his specific discussion on Matthew, remarkably, he does not consider the Kingdom of God as the overall theme of the gospels as is often the case in Gospels introductions. Since he is tracing the overall theology of both the Gospels and Acts, perhaps he is more motivated to include the activity of the Holy Spirit as a key theme. He begins with the activity of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, traces this into the ministry of John the Baptist, Jesus, and then the ministry of the apostles in the book of Acts. In a footnote, he considers this approach to be a kind of inaugurated eschatology as creation renewal, citing the work of Greg Beale in his New Testament Biblical Theology (Baker 2011).  

The chapter then outlines the distinctive theological emphases of each gospel. For Mathew, Turner highlights Matthew’s use of the Old Testament, the theme of the kingdom of heaven and Matthew’s interest in Gentile mission. Mark is a passion narrative with an extended introduction. He briefly discusses the so-called messianic secret in Mark and the failure of the disciples to understand the resurrection at the end of the gospel. For Luke-Acts, Turner traces the geographical shift from Jerusalem to Rome and briefly discusses Luke’s interest in evangelizing outcasts. For the gospel of John, he examines the relationship of signs and faith. But Turner also discusses the future in John. As is often observed, the gospel of John has very little eschatology. For example, the Olivet Discourse appears in all three Synoptic Gospels but is missing from the Gospel of John. Scholars have often described this as “inaugurated eschatology.” Since John’s Gospel presents the kingdom of God as present in Jesus’s ministry and in the disciple’s life, Turner asks “what does an eschatologicalized life look like”? 

In the second part of the book, Turner suggests several steps in moving from exegesis to sermon. These three chapters together form exegetical methodology which recognizes the end goal of exegesis as preaching the gospel. He begins with preparing to interpret the Gospels, a task which begins with identifying the text. This takes the form of a lengthy overview of textual criticism. He then discusses translating the text, including an overview of translation method. He briefly surveys critical methods of studying the Gospels such as form criticism, source criticism, redaction criticism and narrative criticism. Although he recognizes each of these has their place, only narrative criticism is seen as providing much fodder for the preaching of the text.

Under the heading of interpreting the text, Turner encourages the student to begin by translating the text and doing some sort of segmenting exercise. He gives examples of phrasing and sentence diagramming in English. This practice will help the student to work through the text and better understand the grammatical relationships between the various parts. This will inform how the student preaches the text. Although most students find this tedious, it is helpful for putting together a sermon. 

In his chapter on communicating the text, Turner encourages the interpreter to find the original point of the passage, but also the current point, using such things as speech act theory understanding how the genre affects the meaning of the passage, and then drawing out significance for the modern church. He also discusses his description versus prescription in this section and lectio divina. He uses the phrase “homiletical packaging” to discuss the theory and practice of preaching a sermon. He offers several examples of “bridging the gap” drawn from the gospels as a demonstration of how to apply the text to a modern situation.

The seventh chapter of the book contains two examples drawn from the Gospels of how this method works in practice. Turner works the steps of his exegetical method using Mark 4:1-20 and John 1:1-18. 

The final chapter of the book is a list of suggested resources for doing exegesis. Although he recognizes a few online resources, this list of resources is less interested in using a computer for interpretation than other handbooks in this series. 

Conclusion. Turner there is a wide range of topics for interpreting the gospels and the book of Acts. Although some readers may be overwhelmed by the material in the first three chapters, Turner does an excellent job describing how this material can be used in preparing sermons and Bible lessons. This book will make an excellent textbook for a New Testament exegesis class which focuses on the Gospels, but anyone interested in studying the Gospels on a deeper level will find much value in this handbook. The material on the book of Acts is satisfying, since it seems like it is simply tagged to the material for Luke. If the book was limited to the Gospels and a separate handbook written on exegetical issues in the book of Acts, then this book would have been even stronger.

 

See my reviews of previous volumes in this series:

Gary Smith, Interpreting the Prophets

Richard A. Taylor, Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature

Edward M. Curtis, Interpreting the Wisdom Books

Herbert Bateman, Interpreting the General Letters

John D. Harvey, Interpreting the Pauline Letters

C. Marvin Pate, Interpreting Revelation and Other Apocalyptic Literature

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