Book Review: Benjamin L. Gladd, From Adam and Israel to the Church

Gladd, Benjamin L. From Adam and Israel to the Church: A Biblical Theology of the People of God. ESBT 1; Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2019. 182pp. Pb; $22.  Link to IVP Academic

In the introduction to this first volume of the Essential Studies in Biblical Theology, series editor Benjamin Gladd explains the need for a new series of books on Biblical Theology. The ESBT series is dedicated to the essential broad themes of the grand storyline of the Bible. The goal of the series is to explore the central biblical-theological themes of the Bible. The series is intentionally limited to ten volumes supporting and interlocking with one another to form a cohesive unit.

Gladd, From Adam to IsraelIn this inaugural volume of the series, Gladd presents a biblical theology of the people of God within the theological framework of covenant theology. Throughout the book he emphasizes a single covenant community from Genesis to Revelation. This is in contrast to dispensationalism, which makes a distinction between the church and ethnic Israel. For Gladd, there is one people of God throughout Scripture, beginning with Adam and Eve and continuing through the new creation.

The first two chapters of this volume examine creation and fall. Following Greg Beale, Gladd argues Eden was like a cosmic temple and God gave Adam and Eve specific roles when he created and commissioned them. God commissioned Adam and Eve to serve as kings, having dominion over creation and extending God’s rule beyond the garden. Second, God called Adam and Eve to serve as priests, caring for the garden. Third, they were commissioned as prophets, communicating God’s word to their children.

Adam and Eve failed in these roles and destroyed their commission when they rebelled against God in the fall. As kings, Adam and Eve ought to have guarded the garden and subdued the serpent; as priests Adam and Even ought to have rid the sanctuary of the defilement of the serpent;  as prophets, they ought to have meditated on God’s word and answered the serpent’s words with God’s word (p. 23-24). As a result, God exiles Adam and Eve from the garden. The rest of Scripture is the story of God restoring the image of God destroyed in the fall. Gladd contrasts the ungodly line of Cain with the godly line of Seth to show the restored image of God will continue (although he does not notice the flood destroyed both lines).

The scenario Gladd describes is compelling, but it is not clear that it is grounded in what the text actually says. I am quite attracted to Beale’s suggestion that Genesis presents the Garden of Eden as a sanctuary and there are clear connections between Eden and the Tabernacle and Temple. In fact, Adam as a priest in the cosmic garden-temple is not a problem, even if it is not explicit in Genesis 2-3. However, I am not convinced Adam and Eve functioned as kings or prophets in Eden. I know Gladd is building a typology from Adam, to Israel and ultimately to Jesus and the church, but it seems to me that he started at the end (Jesus is prophet, priest and king) and read that typology back into Genesis. This is how typology often works.

The next two chapters argue God intended Israel to be a new Adam. Like Adam, Israel was to rule as kings and to function as priests and prophets. He develops a typology between Eden and Sinai and shows the Tabernacle was intentionally designed to reflect Eden. Israel is to rule the land promised to Abraham on God’s behalf. Exodus 19:5-6 describes Israel as a kingdom of priests, created to be holy and set apart from the nations so that God could dwell in their midst. This explains why Israel was to expel the Canaanites from the land; like the serpent in Eden, they must purge all forms of spiritual uncleanliness from the new Eden of the Promised Land (p. 43). As prophets, Israel ought to have confronted the idolatry of the nations, communicating the first two of the ten commandments.

However, Israel also experienced a fall, resulting in their exile from the land. The people cannot maintain the holiness demanded by the Law and worship the gods of the nations. For Gladd, “Israel” does not refer to ethnic Israel even in the Old Testament. It is only the righteous remnant that is “real Israel.”  Gladd says, “The remnant within the nation relates to the covenant community spiritually and participates in the covenant of grace (Gen 3:15)” (p. 54, emphasis original). Gladd cites Romans 9:6 here, “not all who are descended form Israel belong to Israel.”

Yet the prophets of the Old Testament looked forward to a restoration of Israel to their former place in the “latter days” (ch. 4). The nature of this restoration is where Gladd intentionally draws a contrast with dispensationalism. Although he is not wrong, Gladd cites the success of the dispensational Left Behind series as the cause of much confusion about Israel’s future. He tracks many of the same Scripture dispensationalists use but concludes these prophecies do not refer to a future restoration of ethnic Israel. Commenting on Romans 9-11, Gladd states “the Old Testament, as far as I can tell, never talks about the restoration of the theocratic nation of Israel” (p. 128, emphasis original). It is possible to argue many in the Second Temple period expected a restoration of a Davidic king and a re-gathering of the exiles to the land. For Gladd, the restoration of Israel in prophetic texts refers to Jesus as the true king, priest and prophet. Where Adam and Israel failed in these divinely appointed roles, Jesus will succeed.

Gladd argues in the next three chapters Jesus fulfills Israel’s destiny as the king, the priest, and the prophet. The Gospels present Jesus as the king, especially the Gospel of Mark. Gladd conflates king, messiah, and the divinity of Jesus in this section. Jesus is not a conquering Davidic king but rather the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 or the cut-off anointed one of Daniel 9. Jesus rules as the firstborn of creation (Col 1:15), connecting the rule of Jesus to Adam, the firstborn of creation.

Jesus as a priest is more difficult to demonstrate from the Gospels, so Gladd touches on the Temple “cleansing” and argues Jesus’s sacrifice is better than the Old Testament as he functions as the faithful high priest. For Gladd, Jesus ushers in a new age and God’s presence is among his people, so there is no need for a physical temple. Jesus is the true temple. The temple at the time of Jesus had become a place of rampant, so Jesus fulfills Old Testament expectation that God would do well with humanity and act as a faithful priest by purging evil from the temple. This chapter is not as dependent as the book of Hebrews as expected because Gladd’s focus is on Jesus as the end times temple. As Adam and Eve’s commission was to increase the number and fill the earth, so too does Jesus comission his disciples to fill the earth by going to the nations with the Gospel (Matthew 28:18-20).

The chapter on Jesus as a prophet focuses on his conflict with the devil (overcoming the devil through God’s word) and “passing on the divine image” (1 Cor 15:42-53). 1 Corinthians 15 (or Romans 5:21-21) explicitly connects Adam and Christ; where Adam failed, Christ succeeded. Adam’s body died because of sin; Christ’s body was raised to incorruptible flesh. Just as Adam passed the image of God on to Seth, Christ will pass the image of God on to believers at the resurrection.

As representatives of Jesus Christ in the world, the Church now functions in some like Jesus. Here Gladd extends his Christological typology to ecclesiology by arguing the church functions as kings, priests and prophets. He makes a distinction between divine authority represented by Jesus as Messiah and the apostolic community, and the general authority held by pastors, teachers, elders, deacons and every believer. The church does not have the same “divine authority” as the apostolic community because it is under the authority of Scripture. The church therefore functions like kings or priests or prophets, but not exactly like Jesus as Messiah or the apostolic (messianic) circle.

Gladd briefly touches on Romans 9-11 in his chapter on the church ruling as kings. He states this complex debate is outside of the scope of this book, but it seems to me to be more important enough to merit more than a single page. After all, if Paul thought Israel would be restored, then Gladd’s understanding of the prophecy is flawed. Gladd says he is not convinced the church has replaced Israel, nor does he think dispensationalists are correct when they argue God will keep his Old Testament promises to restore the nation of Israel physically by bringing them back to the Promised Land. Instead, he argues true Israel is composed of a remnant of Christian Gentiles and a remnant of Christian Jews (p. 129).

Finally, Gladd looks to the end of the canon by arguing the Church’s function in the New Creation. He argues the Book of Revelation presents the new creation as God’s temple, a restoration of the Edenic Temple. It is therefore not no surprise that God’s people will be priests in the new temple and function as kings in the new creation. It is certainly much more difficult to see how believers will function as a prophet in the new creation, but he suggests individuals will recall the redemptive acts of God in worship.

Conclusion. Gladd’s From Adam and Israel to the Church does indeed tell the story of the unified people of God from the Garden to the New Creation. It reflects classic Covenant Theology with its focus on a single people of God while avoiding replacement theology or an over-emphasis on covenants to unify Scripture. By using the Christological typology of king, priest and prophet, Gladd is able to unify pre-fall Eden, Israel and the Church around the work of Christ.


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: Robert E. Winn, Christianity in the Roman Empire

Winn, Robert E. Christianity in the Roman Empire: Key Figures, Beliefs, and Practices of the Early Church (AD 100–300). Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Academic, 2018. x+158 pp.; Pb.  $19.95  Link to Hendrickson Academic

Most Christians want to know more about the early centuries of the church but are often put off by highly detailed, complicated studies. Robert Winn orients this book at the general reader who is interested in early Christianity rather than the academy. In fact, he intends the book to be used in a traditional Sunday school class, small group, home group, or reading group. He chose to begin with the end of the first century and end with Eusebius, approximately A. D. 100-300.

Winn, Christianity in Roman EmpireMost of the brief chapters in the book feature a particular writer in the early church in more or less chronological order (for example, Didache, Clement of Rome, Cyprian of Carthage, Irenaeus of Lyons, etc.)  Some chapters feature a theme such as Worship in A. D. 100 or Prayer and the Spiritual Life of Early Christians. Winn provides citations along with enough context for the modern reader to hear to the voices of the early Christians. of the three parts of the book begins with a short introduction and timeline of important events in the century.

Part One describes Christianity in the year 100. Winn chose this date to begin his history because by that time the original generation that knew Jesus was gone and many New Testament books were circulating, although not in a finalized canon yet. In addition, the Jewish revolt and destruction of the Temple was a generation in the past, raising questions about the relationship of Jews and Christians.

He begins with the status of Christians in the Roman world, as illustrated in Pliny’s letter To Trajan. Pliny describes Christians as leading a moral life, although he struggled to understand their commitment to Christ. This way of living is the subject of Didache and the Epistle of Barnabas, two of the earliest post-apostolic Christian documents available. Winn uses 1 Clement, a letter sent from Clement of Rome to the Church of Corinth and the letters of Ignatius of Antioch to illustrate the core elements of “True Christianity” and to describe the worship and church order early in the second century.

The second part of the book tracks the rise of Christianity in a Hostile World (A. D. 100–250). Persecution in these years was regional As Winn observes, even though persecution was regional in the Roman empire, Christians continually faced ridicule and harassment as their numbers grew. He begins this section with a chapter on one of the chief critics of Christianity in the period, Celsus. Celsus’s but biting and sarcastic attack against Christians” were popular enough to be answered by Origen of Alexandria.

Winn focuses on Justin Martyr as an example of a second century apologist. Justin argued that Christians do not hold outlandish or strange beliefs. He compares things like resurrection and ascension to Roman myths of divinity. In fact, Christian beliefs are not alien but rather superior to Roman religion. Despite the work of the apologists, the Empire did persecute Christians an occasionally but them to death. Two chapters in this unit discuss martyrdom: The Martyrdom of Polycarp (chapter 8) and the Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity (chapter 9). The final chapter in the unit examines Cyprian of Carthage and his book, On the Lapsed. Writing after Decius’s persecution of the church, Cyprian was concerned about Christians who had recanted their faith to escape persecution. Could they be restored? If so, who was responsible for restoring lapsed Christians to the church?

In part three, Winn focuses on faith and practice in the third century. As Winn observes, by A.D.  200 Christians were “out of the shadows” (p. 93) and by 300 Christians were petitioning the Roman government to settle property disputes. During this period, it was important to define true Christianity from false. Since this required a careful reading of Scripture, Winn uses Melito of Sardis as an example of how early Christians used Scripture used typology to read the Old Testament (chap. 12). Irenaeus of Lyons, The Proof of the Apostolic Teaching (chap. 12) Tertullian response to Marcion (chap. 13) to define “true Christianity” in the mid-third century. Using Hippolytus and Origen as his examples,

Winn discusses prayer and the spiritual of early Christians. Hippolytus talk to Christian should pray throughout the day, even raising from the beds in the middle of the night to pray. Gathering at church early in the morning was necessary for Christian growth in the prevention of sin. Origen’s Treatise on Prayer encourages Christians to prayer actual words (rather than a spiritual disposition), using the Lord’s prayer as a model. In addition, he recommends kneeling in prayer when confessing sin. Finally, Winn uses Eusebius of Caesarea as a way to look back at early church history. Eusebius was born about 290 and is best known for this Ecclesiastical History.

Winn provides ample text from each of the early church writers he discusses. Endnotes will point the interested reader to English editions for further reading. Chapters conclude with a few discussion questions for a reading group or small group Bible study. Winn provides a short “what to read next” section and a brief bibliography.

Conclusion. Since the aim of the book is to trace “key figures, beliefs and practices” of the early Church for the layperson, some readers will notice a lack of detail expected in an introduction to church history. There are many church fathers missing and great controversies omitted. There is far less on the Christological controversies and development of the canon than expected. A fourth section on Nicaea, Augustine and Jerome and the post-Constantine church would have been welcome (perhaps a second book?)

However, Winn succeeds in his goal of introducing key figures and ideas for a discussion in a small group setting.

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

Published on August 11, 2020 on Reading Acts.

Book Review: Patrick Schreiner, The Ascension of Christ: Recovering a Neglected Doctrine

Schreiner, Patrick. The Ascension of Christ: Recovering a Neglected Doctrine. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2020. xvi+127 pp.; Pb.  $10.99  Link to Lexham Press  Link to Logos Bible Software

This brief volume in Lexham’s Snapshots Series edited by Michael Bird focuses on what Schreiner considers a neglected doctrine, the Ascension of Christ.

The first chapter orients the reader to the doctrine of the ascension. For Schreiner, “the ascension is the key plot moment, the hinge on with Christ’s work turns” (xvi). One reason the ascension is often overlooked is an emphasis on the resurrection in Christian worship. Although Schreiner does not put it this way, Protestant Christians who do not follow liturgical calendars rarely celebrate “Ascension Sunday.” Most evangelical pastors are back to their regularly scheduled sermon series immediately after Easter. He makes this observation in the book’s conclusion, stating that most low-church traditions considered the ascension a “forgettable event” (115).

Schreiner, AscensionSchreiner argues the ascension of Christ is far more important than a brief footnote to the resurrection. It is spoken of in the New Testament more often than as soon, and it is included in the first Christian sermons. He considers the ascension to be a “canonical hinge” between the ages. The ascension is when Jesus begins to reign, and only after he has ascended all the Father’s right hand does he send the Holy Spirit to his people. “On the dime of the ascension, the Bible transitions from the age of Jesus to the age of the church” (13). It is possible another author could write a book on the importance of Pentecost and use that same language. It is important to see the entire Jesus event is including the incarnation, the death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Each of these events are important for understanding the Christ event.

The following three chapters use the rubric “prophet, priest and king” to present the ascension as the culmination of the mission of Jesus. Each chapter presents a brief description of a prophet, priest, and king in the Old Testament and then shows how Christ fulfills these roles in his ministry. The ascension is the culmination of Christ’s work since he now performs his role as prophet, priest, and king from heaven and through his church. Here Schreiner is following the popular view that Adam served as a prophet, priest, king in the garden. After the fall these roles pass to Israel and are ultimately fulfilled in Christ and are now the activity of the church.

Of these three roles, it is easiest to see the role of king in the completed in the ascension. The ascension is essentially an enthronement, Christ is returning to the right hand of the Father. Schreiner says, “Jesus rose to the Father, he was installed and recognized as Lord of all. The ascension and session were the triumph of the king” (89). As expected, the role of priesthood focus is almost entirely on the book of Hebrews. In the ascension, Jesus completes his ministry as a priest by presenting his blood in the heavenly tent. Regarding Jesus as prophet, Schreiner argues the Spirit empowered Jesus to proclaim the word of God and performed signs and wonders to demonstrate the authority of his preaching. In the ascension, Christ pours out the Spirit to empower his witnesses so that they will continue to speak the gospel. He downplays the importance of performing signs and wonders by saying that the ascension made Christ the head of the body, which is his hands and feet on the earth.

The final chapter seeks to position the ascension in relation to other doctrines. With respect to the Trinity, the Messiah’s ascent “finds its meaning, coherency, and significant from the triune God” (103). The ascension fulfills and completes the goals of the incarnation, including Christ’s work on the cross. He argues the ascension both confirms and reveals the truth of the cross (107).

By way of critique, I find the lack of Philippians 2:5-11 in this treatment of the ascension problematic. This important early theological statement concerning the incarnation, humiliation and exaltation of Christ is only mentioned in passing late in the book. It is not difficult to read “God has highly exalted him” as a reference to the ascension. In addition, the ascension is only narrated in Acts 1. Schreiner is correct that the ascension is an enthronement of Christ as king, but this point could be made more forcefully by seeing the ascension in Acts 1 in the light of imperial language at the announcement of this birth in Luke 2:8–14. Jesus is clearly described as the Lord, the Messiah at the beginning of both volumes of Luke-Acts. The birth narrative represents the incarnation; the ascension is the exaltation of the incarnate Lord.

The goal of the Snapshots series is to engage “significant issues in contemporary biblical scholarship” and make them “accessible to busy students of the word and applicable in the life of the church.” Schreiner presents the essential ideas of the ascension of Jesus in a clear and cogent manner, one that focuses on both the theological importance of the ascension and the practical application of the ascension in the church’s life today.

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: Benjamin L. Merkle, Discontinuity to Continuity: A Survey of Dispensational and Covenantal Theologies

Merkle, Benjamin L. Discontinuity to Continuity: A Survey of Dispensational and Covenantal Theologies. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2020. x+236 pp.; Pb.  $25.99  Link to Lexham Press

In 1980 Daniel P. Fuller published Gospel and Law: Contrast or Continuum? The Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology (Eerdmans), which was in part based on his 1957 ThD dissertation on the hermeneutics of dispensationalism. The book was controversial for several reasons, but it began a discussion of whether there is a unity between the Old and New Testaments. Does God have a unified plan and a single people of God? Is that plan better described in terms of a single covenant, or a series of covenants? Fuller contrasted two popular systems of thought, dispensationalism and covenant theology, to answer these questions. He argued for more unity than discontinuity in God’s plan; dispensationalism did not fare well in the book, but covenant theology was not quite right either, in Fuller’s view.

Merkle, Discontinuity to ContinuityMuch has happened in the world of biblical theology in the last fifty years later. Both dispensationalism and covenant theology been in dialogue and have both developed and matured. Biblical theology has blossomed and there are dozens of studies which argue for a unified story of redemption from Genesis to Revelation. Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen’s The Drama of Scripture (Baker Academic, Second Edition 2014) is a popular presentation of the overarching story of Scripture, modifying N. T. Wright’s metaphor of a multi-act play. It is neither covenant theology nor dispensationalism, but both resonate with the plan of God revealed in a series of stages (covenants, dispensations).

In this new book on the hermeneutics of dispensationalism and covenant theology, Benjamin Merkle’s Discontinuity to Continuity cannot simply contrast the two systems. It would be wrong to cite the Scofield Reference Bible as the last word on dispensationalism; the book is now over 100 years old! It would be equally dishonest to cite Caspar Olevian or Johannes Cocceius as examples of current thinking in covenant theology. Merkle divides dispensationalism into three sections, classic, revised and progressive, representing the continuing refinement of the theological system. Covenant theology is also divided into three sections, although the three flavors of Covenant theology are less chronological.

After an introduction and overview of the theological systems of discontinuity and continuity, the next six chapters of the book move from discontinuity (Classic Dispensationalism) to continuity (Christian Reconstruction). Each chapter begins with a chart entitled “Taxonomy of Theological Systems,” with three dispensational variations on the left and three covenant variants on the right. It is perhaps instructive that there is an unlabeled spot for a middle position. Is this where progressive dispensationalism and covenantalism will meet in the future? Another unintended consequence of this arrangement the left side represents a pretribulational rapture and premillennialism, the central views move from historic premillennialism and amillennialism, to the right side represents postmillennialism.

In his three chapters on Dispensationalism, Merkle tracks the development of the system from the classic dispensationalism of the Scofield Reference Bible to the revisions of the SRB made by the faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary in the 1960s (Revised Dispensationalism). Another important text for this period is Charles Ryrie’s Dispensationalism Today (Moody, 1965; Moody dropped “today” in a second edition, 2007). For many dispensationalists, this is still the standard introduction. Beginning in the 1980s, dispensationalists used the national meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society to continue to refine dispensationalism, resulting in several books and essay collections using the term “Progressive Dispensationalism.” This new era in dispensational thinking was in dialogue with covenant theology and sought to bring dispensationalism into the mainstream of biblical theology.

Merkle treats three variations of covenant theology in three chapters. Because it is closest to Progressive Dispensationalist, Merkle treats Progressive Covenantalism before turning to Covenant theology proper. Progressive Covenantalism is recent and is represented by Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant (Second Edition): A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Crossway, 2016) and Stephen J. Wellum and Brent E. Parker, Progressive Covenantalism: Charting a Course between Dispensational and Covenantal Theologies (B&H 2016).

Rather than using historic examples of Covenant Theology, Merkle uses Meredith Kline, O. Palmer Robertson, and Michael Horton, Introducing Covenant Theology (Baker 2006). Merkle uses Christian Reconstruction as representing the most continuity between the testaments. Representing by Rousas Rushdoony, Greg Bahnsen and Gary North. Although this position is associated with Dominion theology, Merkle limits his summary and critique to only the issue of continuity.

One possible omission in Merkle’s taxonomy is Gerald McDermott. He edited a collection of essays, The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel and the Land (InterVarsity Press, 2016) and published a popular presentation of his ideas as Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently about the People and the Land (Brazos, 2017). McDermott rejects replacement theology and argues for a future fulfillment of promises to Israel without any form dispensationalism. I am not sure his views fit well into progressive dispensationalism or  covenantalism.

For each of the theological systems, Merkle gives a brief historical sketch and orientation to the chief representatives of the position. He then discusses the basic hermeneutic of each position. First, Merkle asks if the system has a literal or symbolic hermeneutic. Each position claims to use a grammatical-historical method and none would claim allegorizing the text is a legitimate approach. The key hermeneutical issue is the proper role of typology and how the Old Testament restoration processes are fulfilled. Merkle observes that dispensationalists dismiss (or minimize) typology while convent theology uses typology to explain how the Old Testament prophecy can be fulfilled in the church.

Under the heading of the relationship between the covenants, Merkle gives a short synopsis of how the position understands the covenants (or dispensations). For dispensationalism, this is the classic “seven dispensations,” for covenant theology this is the six biblical covenant (Adamic, Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic and New Covenant). Next, Merkle examines whether the system sees the covenants as conditional or unconditional. He asked how the Old Testament saints were saved. Finally, he describes the approach of each system with respect to the application of the law in the present era. On one side, classic dispensationalism argues for no application, and Reconstructionism argues for the fullest application of the Law. Classic covenant theology uses a three-tiered view of the Law (moral, civil, and ceremonial), focusing primarily on the moral law as the continuity between Israel and the church. In practice, neither is completely consistent since classic dispensationalists find principles in the Law that can be applied today (especially for particular sins) and Reconstructionist do not advocate burning witches or stoning rebellious sons.

Under the relationship between Israel and the church, Merkle examines each position with respect to whether the church replaces, fulfills Israel, or is distinct from Israel. On one side classic dispensationalism makes a sharp distinction between the church and Israel and look for a future fulfilment of Old Testament restoration prophecies, covenant theology finds a typological fulfilment of Israel in the church, or in the more extreme form, the church is new Israel. This leads to a brief sketch at how each position deals with two key passages, Romans 11:26 (“all Israel will be saved”) and Galatians 6:16 (“the Israel of God”).  For more on Merkle’s view of Romans 11:26, see his contribution in Compton and Naselli, Three Views on Israel and the Church (Kregel 2019).

With respect to the kingdom of God, he examines how the position understands the kingdom of God. For classic dispensationalists, the kingdom is entirely in the future, for most of covenant theology the kingdom is typologically fulfilled in the Church, although Reconstructionism is postmillennial, so the kingdom is being built by the church. For the progressive forms in the middle of Merkle’s taxonomy, the kingdom is in some ways already present, but not yet fully present. This leads to a discussion of Jesus’s ministry. To what extent did Jesus “bring in the kingdom”? If the kingdom is still in some respect still future, how is the kingdom to be consummated? As Merkle observes, the already/not yet understanding has influenced progressive dispensationalists as well as most forms of covenant theology. George Ladd’s New Testament Theology has influenced many of the scholars in the middle of Merkle’s taxonomy.

Each chapter ends with a few pages of assessment. He points out the strengths of each system along with a few critiques. Merkle is fair in both his summary and critique of each of the systems. There are no straw-man arguments in the book. Merkle does not cite fringe representatives of positions. It would be easy to cite Darby or Bullinger as representatives of dispensationalism, or cherry pick some of the stranger ideas of Reconstructionism. He has chosen legitimate representatives of each position and presents their ideas as fairly as possible.

The last chapter is a helpful summary of the six theological systems covered in the book. Some readers may want to start with this chapter before reading the more detailed descriptions in chapters 2-7.

Something Merkle does not address in this book is the in-family animosity between the three types of dispensationalism and the three types of covenant theology. Any system self-identifying as “progressive” is asking for trouble from the classic form of the theology. There are many classic dispensationalists who look at recent developments as compromises and defections from “real dispensationalism.” Any progressive form of covenant theology (especially one that leans toward dispensationalism) will raise suspicions of straying too far from assured reformation truth. But as this book demonstrates, theological systems ought to continue to grow and develop.

Conclusion. Benjamin Merkle’s Discontinuity to Continuity is an excellent primer on the various forms of dispensationalism and covenant theology. The book would serve as a textbook for a university or seminary class on hermeneutics, but Merkle writes for anyone reader interest in how the present church relates to Israel and the Old Testament.

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: D. Clint Burnett, Studying the New Testament through Inscriptions

Burnett, D. Clint. Studying the New Testament through Inscriptions. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Academic, 2020. xxvii+218 pp.; Hb.  $23.99  Link to Hendrickson Academic

In his conclusion to this new book on using ancient inscriptions to shed light on the New Testament, Burnett acknowledges his debt to Adolf Deissmann. Deissmann was one of the first to use inscriptions and papyri in his popular book, Light from The Ancient Near East: The New Testament Illustrated by Recently Discovered Texts of the Greco-Roman World (Hodder & Stoughton, 1910). Deissmann visited Asia Minor in 1906 and immediately began a series of lectures which resulted in this book. The book appears frequently in the latest edition of Bauer (BDAG), abbreviated as LO for the German edition (Licht vom Osten) or LAE for the English translation. In the introduction to his mammoth A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, A. T. Robertson said “Deissmann is the pioneer in this field and is still the leader in it. It is hard to overestimate the debt of modern New Testament scholarship to his work” (Roberson, p. x).

As with most books written one hundred years ago, Deissmann’s Light from the Ancient Near East needs an update. To a large extent this was a goal of the New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity series (ten volumes, published by Eerdmans, 1981-2012). Initially edited by G. H. R. Horsley of Macquarie University, each volume surveyed obscure journals for publications of inscriptions and papyri of interest to New Testament scholars for a given period of time. Volume one covered journals published in 1976, volume ten covered 1988-1992. Each volume provided a summary articles with helpful transcriptions and translations of the important parts of the original journal article. For many scholars this was the best way to access this data is very hard to find in even the best research libraries. These books are a goldmine of new “light from the Ancient Near East.” Like Deissmann’s book, NewDocs appears in BDAG frequently.

Clint Burnett’s new book on studying the New Testament through inscriptions is something like a “New Deissmann,” or maybe better, “Deissmann for the people.” Burnett says he shares Deissmann’s dream “that one day more New Testament students who use inscriptions in their interpretation of his documents and the historical reconstructions of early Christianity” (p. 165). The goal of the book is to make inscriptions accessible to students and pastors and offer guidance for using inscriptions in interpretation.

The first chapter is an introduction to the study of inscriptions. Burnett begins with a basic definition, literally writing on something, whether it is on stone, bronze, floors, walls, tiles or lead sheets. This definition is broad enough to encompass both official monuments set up by civil authorities and graffiti scratched on a wall. After a short explanation of how inscriptions were made, Burnett surveys a wide range of types of inscriptions, both public and private. This section is illustrated with black and white photographs mostly provided by the author. Since most readers are not able to travel to museums or archaeological sites to photograph inscriptions, Burnett gives an overview of the publication of inscriptions beginning in the nineteenth century. These epigraphic corpora continue to expand, and many are now published online. Wise students can find the older, out of print epigraphic corpora at For example, here is a link to Sylloge inscriptionum Graecarum edited by Wilhelm Dittenberger. This section includes a helpful chart of sigla found in these collections of inscriptions.

Following this introductory chapter, Burnett offers five illustrations of the use of inscriptions for interpreting particular passages in the New Testament. First, Burnett examines inscriptions from the southern Levant in order to text consensus view that the development of “Jesus as Lord” language by early Christians recognized Jesus’s lordship as royal, messianic but not exclusively divine (ch. 2).

Burnett examines the translations differences in 1 Corinthians, “Devour” or “Go Ahead with” the Lord’s Banquet (ch. 3). The verb προλαμβάνω in 1 Corinthians 11:21 is usually translated “each one goes ahead with his own meal.” Based on an inscription cited in Moulton and Milligan from the Asclepieum at Epidaurus (Syll 804), Bruce Winter has suggested the verb ought to be translated as “eat” or “devour.” This suggestion appears in commentaries by Conzelmann, Thiselton, and Hays and several monographs on the Lord’s Supper. Burnett gives the Greek text of the inscription with a translation and compares the use of προλαμβάνω cited by Moulton and Milligan with several other inscriptions. He concludes the most probably translation is “go ahead with.” He argues this point by examining the usual seating arrangements at a Greco-Roman banquet. These arrangements contributed to social divisions in the church. Only about nine people could eat in the “main room,” so it is possible those invited to eat at the best tables went ahead with their meal and gave no regard to those gathered elsewhere to share meals.

In chapter 4, Burnett deals with imperial loyalty oaths and Caesar’s decrees in the background of early Christianity in Thessalonica. Interpreters of 1 Thessalonians often suggest Roman imperial loyalty oaths run counter to language found in 1 Thessalonians. Pagans (and probably Christians) would find Paul’s preaching treasonous, explaining the ongoing trouble for Christians in Thessalonica. Acts 17 indicates Paul was charged with “opposing Caesar’s decrees” (Acts 17:7). The problem, Burnett argues, is this reconstruction “overlooks the content, occasion, and contextual nature of the actual imperial loyalty oaths” (p. 101). Burnett examines a number of these loyalty oaths and concludes “opposing Caesar’s decrees” refers to imperial letters granting Thessalonica free city status in the Roman empire.

Chapter five draws together inscriptions with describe the activities of women in order to illustrate references in the New Testament to benefactresses, deaconesses, and pverseers in the Philippian Church. There is clear evidence that wealthy women gained prominence by becoming patrons of both official and unofficial cults. Burnett then suggests Lydia, Eudoia and Syntyche served in leadership roles in the Philippian church. This is not to say they exercised the authority of later ecclesiastical offices, but since so little is known about the structure of Pauline churches, there is “good reason to believe some wealthy women in the Philippian church attained leadership positions in the mid-first century CE” (p. 139). There is an assumption, however, that the Philippian church “patterned leadership after official and non-official cults in the city” (p. 136). Since Paul’s initial contact in Philippi was Lydia at a Jewish place of prayer, is it more likely the earliest leadership was patterned after the synagogue? This does not detract from Burnett’s point, wealthy women played significant roles in leadership in the mid-first century.

In chapter 6 Burnett surveys inscriptions which use numbers for names as background for interpreting Revelation 13, the number of the beast.  Most commentaries on Revelation cite the same graffiti from Pompei, “I love the one whose number is 545.” Burnett collects twenty-three examples of name-calculations from Mylasa (1), Pompei (4), Stabae (2), Smyrna (6), Ephesus (8), Messania (1) and Catania (1). These examples appear in full in an appendix to this chapter. Many use a form of φιλω with a relative pronoun, ἀριθμός and the number.  It may be surprising that so many declared their love by writing anonymously in a wall! The eight examples from Ephesus were found in Terrace House 2, indicating even the elite wrote on walls. In any event, Burnett argues this data favors the conclusion that “the practice of name calculation was geared toward a group of insiders” who produced the calculation (p. 160). For Burnett, John provided all the background required for his audience to grasp that the beast’s name was Nero Caesar.

This chapter on the use of numbers for names raises a potential omission in the book. A chapter on the importance of graffiti in the Greco-Roman world would have been an excellent addition to the book. Burnett includes graffiti here and there in the book, but graffiti looks through a different sort of window into the ancient world than an official inscription placed by civil authorities. I have spent time browsing through Graffiti from the Basilica in the Agora of Smyrna (Roger Bagnall, et al, 2016) and often thought this material represents what the common person thought about more than the beautiful inscriptions found along the streets in Ephesus.

There are three very useful appendices to the book. First, Burnett gives an overview of important printed collections of inscriptions. Second, he offers some instructions for using online search engines to navigate collections of inscriptions. Third, he has a handy guide to abbreviations used in inscriptions for titles and other common Latin words. For example, SC is used for senatus consultum, “by senatorial decree.” On graves it is common to see HSE (hic situs/sita est, “here he/she lies”) or DM (Dis Manibus, “to the deceased spirits”). This includes abbreviations for the most common Roman names (L for Lucius; M for Marcus), Greek numbers (including letters unfamiliar to most students of New Testament Greek). I would certainly purchase a laminate card with this information to take with me while leading tours. I sometimes use the app Emperors by Dan Weiner for abbreviations in imperial titles (often you can date an inscription or coin precisely with this tool).

The book includes a twenty-six-page bibliography and indices for modern authors, subjects and ancient sources. The book includes a rich collection of resources in the footnotes. Students should mine these footnotes for important secondary literature on inscriptions.

I have two important observations about what this book is not. First, this is not a manual for how to read an actual inscription. Although it will help a student who wants to transcribe, translate and interpret an inscription (perhaps from a photograph taken on a visit to Ephesus), that is not the intention of the book. Burnett does offer advice on using collections of already transcribed and translated inscriptions.

Second, the book is focused solely on reading inscriptions to shed light on the New Testament. Inscriptions are important for understanding the whole of the Greco-Roman world, but Burnett’s focus is on using this material to unknot a particular exegetical problem in the translation of the New Testament or to illustrate some cultural practice to better understand the early church. Although readers outside the world of biblical studies may benefit from this book, it is clearly targeted at a Christian audience.

Conclusion. This is an excellent introduction to the study of inscriptions with the specific goal of shedding light on the New Testament. For most New Testament scholars (including teachers and pastors), this book demonstrates the importance of understanding the historical and cultural context of the New Testament. He illustrates the value of studying inscriptions with five specific examples, but these examples can be multiplied many times over.

Burnett blogs on inscriptions and the New Testament (his personal blog) and he hosts a podcast, Bibl·e·pigraphy. He is active on twitter and occasionally posts inscriptions of interest to New Testament students, follow him: @DClintBurnett1.

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

Book Review: Scott Bashoor, Visual Outline Charts of the New Testament

Bashoor, Michael Scott. Visual Outline Charts of the New Testament. Revised and Expanded. El Cajon, Calif.: Southern California Seminary Press, 2020. 110 pp.; Pb.  $23.99 Link to SCM Press

There have been several series of “chartbooks” in recent memory, including many edited by H. Wayne House. I often used House’s Chronological and Background Charts of the New Testament early on in my teaching career (it is now in a second edition, Zondervan, 2009). His charts on Systematic Theology: Prolegomena (Kregel, 2006). In his forward to this new edition of Visual Outline Charts of the New Testament, House says charts bring together information into a short, organized format that introduces a reader to the basics before they begin working through the subject.

Bashoor, VOCNTScott Bashoor draws on his experience in teaching at The Master’s Seminary as well as more than twenty years of teaching in local churches to create seventy-two charts covering each book of the New Testament. This book was originally published in 2016 by B&H Academic digital (available through WordSearch) and a second edition was published in print through Amazon in 2017 (now unavailable). SCS Press revised the format of the book and the color schemes, but more importantly the introductions to the books have been expanded and revised.

In the introduction Bashoor suggests four uses for his book. First, he wants to provide support for pastors preparing to preach or teach a section of scripture. Second, as a supplement to Bible reading in a seminary classroom, this chart book will help orient students to the main ideas of each book of the New Testament. Third, the chart book will help a believer reading the New Testament in their personal Bible study. Finally, Bashoor sees this chart book as a discipleship tool, introducing new readers of the New Testament to the basic structure of the biblical books. Bashoor describes his work as a reference book born out of exposition of the text in the local church and it will serve others as they preach and teach expositional sermons on New Testament books.

The introduction also explains the limitations of the book. First, the outlines are his own, although he has compared his structure to other scholarship. Second, there is usually a wide range of views for the purpose of a book. Bashoor offers his own view without comparison to other introductions and commentaries. For example, the purpose of the book of Romans is hotly debated in the commentaries, Bashoor simply states his own view of the purpose of the book without offering a range of views typically founding eh commentaries. Third, he recognizes there are controversial issues in New Testament background. For example, Bashoor considers Mark the third gospel written (A.D. 64-68) although the consensus view in scholarship is Mark was written first. He does not enter into this debate or offer alternative views because of limited space. Since his purpose is to give a graphic overview of the books of the New Testament it is not necessary for him compare his views to other scholarship.

Bashoor briefly introduces each book before presenting his chart outlining the books. These introductions are no more than a page of text and he often group books together (1-2 Thessalonians, for example). For Paul’s letters, he places the letters into the context of the book of Acts and offers a brief reconstruction of the circumstances of the letter. There are bonus mini-charts on the percentage of each Gospel devoted to Jesus’s passion (p. 6) and for Paul’s interactions with the Corinthians (p. 48). The latter is very helpful for sorting out the various communications between Paul and the church as Corinth. Adding additional smaller charts on the introduction page would add additional value to this book as a classroom tool.

The charts visually present an outline of the biblical book. Bashoor explains his method in the introduction. The top of the chart summarizes the purpose, date, recipients and author. On the far left or right a series of columns present the main sections of the book, the upper parts of each chart track the major sections of the book with the bulk of the page devoted to a detailed outline of each section. For most books, this is essentially a three or four-level outline of the book. Shorter books fit conveniently on a single page, longer books like the Gospels are presented in major units over several pages.

By way of example, the first chart on Matthew presents a five-part outline for the main body with an introduction (The King’s Birth, 1:1-2:23) and conclusion (The King’s Death, 26:3-28:20). The second chart collapses four of the five main body sections and divides “The King Formally Introduced to Israel” (3:1-7:29) into two units (3:1-4:25 and 5:1-7:29). The First Discourse (the Sermon on the Mount) is further divided into four main units and a transition. Each of these subunits is a column with a detailed outline. For a long book like Matthew, this is a helpful method for visualizing the whole book on each page.

Bashoor takes conservative positions on the date and authorship for every book. He considers Galatians the earliest of Paul’s letters, written in A.D. 49; James was written prior to Galatians (40-45). Matthew is the earliest gospel, written about A.D. 50. He dates Luke to A. D. 60-61 (followed by Acts in 63), Mark (64-68) and John (80-90; followed by the epistles, 90-95 and Revelation, 94-96). Paul is the author of all thirteen letters. He includes Philemon with the Pastoral epistles, although it is normally included with Colossians as a Prison Epistle (his chart on page 93 has Philemon as both a Prison Epistle and a “Letter to Leaders”). Hebrews was not written by Paul, but by an unknown author to Jewish Christians facing persecution under Nero, written A.D. 68-70. James and Jude are the half-brothers of Jesus; 1-2 Peter and 1-3 John and Revelation were written by the apostles Peter and John.

There are four charts in an appendix covering the traditional order of the New Testament books (including a word count for each book), a suggested chronological order of the New Testament books, a select timeline of Paul’s life and letters and the Gospel according to Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Compared to other similar chart books, there is far less of this kind of material. For example, Bashoor could have included charts giving a visual guide to the Pauline letters or the Jewish Christian letters at the introduction to those units. A single chart comparing the main themes of the four gospels would give an overview of that unit of the book. I would have enjoyed a chart comparing his dates for the composition of the Gospels with other New Testament introductions. Seeing data from several introductions across a wide spectrum would have been instructive. Despite his caveat in the introduction that his space is limited, these kinds of charts would have made this book more valuable as a classroom textbook.

This raises an important caveat about outlines for biblical books. Commentaries on Revelation differ greatly on the structure of the book and Bashoor’s scheme is no less valid than others. This is true for every book of the New Testament, even if there is a general consensus on some major structural clues. Any attempt to outline a biblical book must always be tentative since there is no way to know with certainty what the original author had in mind when they wrote the book. For example, Ephesians 3 ends with a doxology, leading most biblical scholars to divide the book into two sections (essentially chapters 1-3 and 4-6). This seems logical and is not at all controversial. But we cannot know if Paul thought of himself as writing a letter with two parts, divided by a doxology. This is especially true for the smaller units of an outline. Nevertheless, Bashoor’s outlines will help a teacher, preacher, or Bible reader to navigate a biblical book.

The color scheme uses shades of green (Gospels and Acts), blue and grey (Pauline epistles) and brown (General Epistles) with black and white for text. Sometimes the charts have too much text in a narrow column, resulting to one or two letters on a line (p. 44, for example). Perhaps turning the chart to landscape would improve the readability. The copyright page indicates the book is not to be photocopied except for brief quotations in printed reviews. This means a teacher would not be permitted to photocopy pages for use in a classroom or Bible study. This is the standard practice for other chartbooks from Zondervan or Kregel.

NB: Thanks to SCS Press for kindly providing me with pre-release PDF review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.


Book Review: John D. Schwandt, An Introduction to Biblical Greek

Schwandt, John D.  An Introduction to Biblical Greek: A Grammar with Exercises (Revised Edition). Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2020. 497 pp.; Hb.  $23.99  Link to Lexham Press

This new Introduction to Biblical Greek is in many ways not new. Schwandt bases his introduction on H. P. V. Nunn, The Elements of New Testament Greek (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1913). This has been done before: J. W. Wenham published an update of The Elements of New Testament Greek in 1965 for Cambridge University Press. Elements is now in its third edition by Jeremy Duff (with a forward by David Wenham, J. W. Wenham’s son) in 2004. The third edition is considerably different in sequence than Nunn’s original text, compressing the original thirty-seven lessons into twenty chapters. Although the new edition included a few composition exercises, these exercises are greatly reduced from Nunn’s Elements.

Schwandt’s Introduction is a return to the original spirit of Nunn’s Elements. Schwandt says in his introduction that the structure of his book is essentially the same as Nunn’s Elements, as are the vocabulary lists and exercises. He was attracted to Nunn because of its diachronic approach and emphasis on composition. Schwandt believes composition will help the student master the “grammatical fountainheads” like spelling and grammar. In fact, Schwandt argues passionately for composition of Greek sentences as essential for mastering New Testament Greek. Although this method was standard in Greek primers a hundred years ago, few modern introductions to New Testament Greek include composition. Even if a primer does include composition exercises, most Greek professors skip them if they are included (mea culpa).

For comparison purposes, I used the 1923 edition of Nunn’s Elements since it is included my Logos Library. Lesson titles have been updated. For example, lesson 10 on adjectives is now entitled “2-1-2 pattern adjectives” rather than “adjectives of the second declension.” Schwandt calls the second aorist the “thematic aorist” rather than the second aorist. Other lessons are re-titled to better reflect the content. Paradigm charts are clearer in Schwandt’s text, with effective headings and shading. The book has a brief summary of paragraphs in wide margins. These modernizing features are more than just cosmetic updates, the will enhances the student’s ability to navigate the textbook.

In almost every case Schwandt’s explanations follow Nunn’s basic outline but are greatly expanded. For example, he has an expanded discussion of deponent verbs and verbal aspect. In most cases, what Nunn explained in a single line, Schwandt explains in a paragraph. This further explanation will help students grasp the details of Greek grammar. As most Greek professors know, most New Testament Greek students do not have a good grasp of English grammar. Nunn’s original textbook assumed mastery of English grammar (and likely several years of Latin). Schwandt offers more explanation of English grammar than Nunn, and often provides a footnote for details or further discussion in other grammars. The exercises are taken from Nunn, with the slight modification dropping the use of “thou” for the second person pronouns.

One frustration with many older grammars is the use of made-up Greek sentences. On the one hand, creating a sentence in order to give a clear example of a grammatical concept makes sense, especially at the beginning of a Greek class since the student does not know enough to read the New Testament yet. But on the other hand, reading the New Testament from the beginning is encouraging for a student since they see the exegetical payoff for all their hard work. Schwandt therefore adds grammar exercises and biblical translation exercises with footnotes for vocabulary and unusual grammar.

Schwandt introduces the present active indicative verb in lesson 3 using λύω rather than λέγω, Nunn’s paradigm word. This was an unfortunate choice because λέγω is so different in the future, aorist, and perfect tenses. For anyone teaching Greek with Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek, introducing the verb this early is shocking since Mounce holds off on the verb until lesson 16. However, this is the way Greek grammars were written in 1913. By introducing the verb early students are able to work on full sentences from the very beginning of their Greek studies.

One observation: despite the association of Lexham with Faithlife and Logos Bible Software, there is nothing in the book on using Logos as an aid for reading the Greek New Testament. Schwandt himself was Executive Director of Mobile Education for Faithlife. Schwandt wrote a Biblical Greek course for Logos Mobile Education as well as two exegesis courses based on 1 John (both exegesis courses are still on pre-order at this time). I would have expected more connection to the Logos ecosystem, but that is not the case at all.

The book has seven appendices: All vocabulary lists appear in the first appendix and the answer key for all exercises in the second. Schwandt has a short appendix on both accents and prepositions, followed by morphological reference tables, an English-to-Greek glossary, and a Greek-to-English glossary.

Conclusion: Schwandt has indeed revived the original Elements and modernized aspects of the book for use in college and seminary New Testament Greek classes. If a return to the old-school style represented by Nunn (or Machen, Summers, or even Chase and Phillips) is desired, then Schwandt’s An Introduction to Biblical Greek will be a welcome addition to the classroom. For many Greek professors, they might want all the bells and whistles (and teaching aids) found in Mounce’s ubiquitous Basics of Biblical Greek (fourth edition).

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: Daniel Zacharias, Biblical Greek Made Simple: All the Basics in One Semester

Zacharias, H. Daniel.  Biblical Greek Made Simple: All the Basics in One Semester. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2018. 329 pp.; Hb.  $19.99  Link to Lexham Press

Danny Zacharias wrote this textbook to cover the basics of biblical Greek in one semester. In the conclusion to the book he says, “if you made it this far, your brain probably hurts” (p. 271). Anyone who has taken an intensive introduction to Greek or Hebrew knows this particular quality of pain.

There are two schools of thought on the “hell week” practice of teaching a biblical language. Since much of the first year of Greek is rote memorization of paradigms and vocabulary, some feel it is better to immerse as deeply into the language as possible in order to get to second year exegesis classes sooner. Sometimes the intensive is supplemented with a “how to use Bible software” seminar so that students can start exegesis right away. Others observe the students have trouble retaining the information that they have smashed into their heads in the intensive format, they need to be retaught basic concepts when they take an exegesis class. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Gone are the days with incoming college freshman have knowledge of English grammar (let alone two years of Latin!)

Another difference of opinion among people who teach biblical languages or write Greek textbooks is the amount of memorization required. For example, in Bill Mounce prefers to introduce concepts and rules and then observe how those play out in various paradigms and declensions. Several times in his Basics of Biblical Greek Mounce says something like “don’t memorize this yet.” Zacharias has the opposite approach: there are a number of occasions where he says, “memorize this.” He provides repeated drills and tools (apps or Quizlet) to help hammer vocabulary and paradigms into the heads of students and firmly embedded them in their memory. I’ve often thought of this is a difference in personality. As a student I preferred to memorize and reproduce charts and I loved making vocab cards by hand. But many of my students prefer to see the big picture and want to know the “whys” for various grammatical concepts and resist memorizing anything.

Zacharias’s textbook claims to cover “all the basics in one semester.” This is exactly what is delivered. Over eleven chapters Zacharias presents each major element of the Greek language.  After a chapter on the alphabet, pronunciation, and all the “jots and tittles,” Zacharias covers nouns in two chapters, first declensions and case endings, then case functions. These two chapters constitute more or less everything said about nouns in the whole textbook. Chapter 4 covers all tenses, voice in the indicative mood (chapter 10 deals with non-indicative moods, subjunctive, imperative and optative). Chapter 5 completes verbs by introducing principle parts, deponent, contract, compound, second aorist and -μι verbs. Although -μι verbs are not difficult, they usually are left until the end of a two-semester textbook. Chapters 7-8 deal with articles, pronouns, numbers, adverbs, prepositions and clauses. Chapters 9-10 cover participles, infinitives in chapter 11.

Each chapter begins with a short statement, “What’s the Point?” Here Zacharias gives a brief reason why it is important to master the grammar presented in the chapter. He is necessarily concise in their presentation of the grammatical topic given the goal of covering everything in a single chapter. For example, he covers the present, imperfect, future, aorist, perfect, and pluperfect tenses in about three pages. For most Greek introductions, each of these tenses require a chapter with exercises focused on just that tense.

The chapters include various tables and charts for paradigms and other concepts, there are 72 tables in the book not counting the appendices. One helpful feature of these charts is the use of colors to indicate roots and endings. Occasionally the grammatical lesson includes a link to a YouTube video to help reinforce the chapter’s concepts. Zacharias has a collection of videos on Greek syntax and many paradigms set to music (these also turn up without links).

Following the presentation is a section of exercises, including re-reading the text and memorize the vocab lists, followed by short phrases to parse, translate, identify grammatical function, etc. There is usually a learning activity using Bible software. Finally, each chapter includes this series of advanced exercises. Zacharias estimates the time required for each of these activities, usually about 10 hours total if one does the advanced exercises.  Some of the exercises introduce students to basic lexical resources such as the Dictionary of Biblical Languages: Greek (James Swanson, Logos Research Systems 1997, second edition Faithlife, 2001).  This lexicon is based on The Greek-English Lexicon by Louw & Nida and included in many Logos base packages; Zacharias gives instructions on using the lexicon along with Strong’s numbers and Louw and Nida’s numbers (p. 46-48). There is an appendix with instructions for using BDAG. Occasionally he refers students to an exegetical dictionary (NIDNTTE, EDNT, etc).

Each chapter ends with a section entitled “The Least You Need to Know.” This is a series of questions the student should be able to answer having completed the presentation of grammatical concepts. Zacharias includes a Quizlet link for these questions to help students review. There are brief sections entitled @Logos which seem to all refer the reader to Logos support. This is disappointing; I expected since Zacharias produces tutorials on how to use Logos. Finally, in each chapter is a section entitled “Second Time Around.” This provides further practice with the grammatical concepts in each chapter, including encouragements to re-read and memorize the paradigms. The sections also include translations of biblical texts with glosses.

There are several appendices. There are a vocabulary lists based on word frequency, principal part lists, a rubric for preparing sermons (essentially an exegetical method), a section on how to use BDAG, a glossary for Greek vocab in alphabetical order, and example of a syntax sheet based on the First John 1:1–14.

In the conclusion to the book, Zacharias offers for some advice on how to continue developing one’s Greek skills after completing a basic introduction. He says, “STOP using your Bible software and start the practice of reading.” I cannot agree more. Are usually recommend students begin carrying their Greek New Testament to church with them sometime during the first semester. Even though they don’t understand all of the words yet, students can pick out grammatical features and vocabulary words they know. He also recommends purchasing a Reader’s Greek New Testament. There are a number of these available from different publishers. These books usually print vocabulary that appears less than 40 times in the New Testament at the bottom of the page. This is very helpful since a first-year Greek students words used more than 40 times. These types of New Testament are crutches, but they can be tools to encourage newer students find success in daily reading.

Conclusion: Zacharias’s textbook covers the content of a typical two-semester Greek introductory course. It should be obvious this is an aggressive goal for most students given the necessary time to complete the work each week along with continual review of previous vocabulary and concepts. Even with apps and Quizlet to help review, it would be difficult for a student to complete a one semester class unless they were only working on Biblical Greek. However, for someone who intends to refresh their Greek or teach themselves without the constraints of a college semester, this textbook will be useful. The pedagogy reminds me of David Allen Black’s It’s Still Greek to Me (Baker 1998), a book I used as a third semester grammar review for several years.

NB: For additional material on this textbook, videos and links to mobile apps, visit Danny Zacharias’s website. 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: David deSilva, A Week in the Life of Ephesus

deSilva, David A. A Week in the Life of Ephesus. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2020. 169 pp. Pb; $17.  Link to IVP Academic

The Week in the Life from IVP Academic asks New Testament scholars to imagine a story illustrating various aspects of Jewish or Greco-Roman culture. In this case, David deSilva sketches life in Ephesus in the final years of the first century. Domitian is the emperor and the city is building an imperial cult center dedicated to the emperor.

deSilva Week in EphesusdeSilva’s has a wide range of scholarly publications which form the background to this novel. For example, his 1991 Trinity Journal article on “The ‘Image of the Beast’ and the Christians in Asia Minor” examined the imperial cult as background for Revelation 13. His Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (IVP Academic, 2000) is a detailed study of the pursuit of honor (and avoidance of shame) which motivates the characters in this novel. In addition to these, deSilva published Introducing the Apocrypha (Second Edition; Baker 2008), New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation (InterVaristy, 2004), Seeing Things John’s Way: The Rhetoric of the Book of Revelation (WJKP, 2009) and commentaries on Hebrews (Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, Eerdmans, 2000) and Galatians in the NICNT series (Eerdmans, 2018). Finally, he wrote a novel published by Kregel, Day of Atonement: A Novel of the Maccabean Revolt (2015).

Both John Byron’s A Week in the Life of a Slave and Holly Beers’s A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman featured Ephesus, but during Paul’s time in the city (Acts 19). James Papandrea’s A Week in the Life of Rome took place before Peter’s arrival in Rome. deSilva’s book focuses on the struggles Christians in Ephesus faces to remain loyal to the one God who sent his son Jesus in a culture thoroughly dedicated to other gods.

deSilva sets his story just prior to Ephesus receiving the title neokoros, temple warden. The city rulers are finalizing plans to dedicate a temple to Domitian. The artificial plateau for this temple is just inside the Magnesian gate, only the foundation and stairs remain at the site today. The base of the altar and parts of the colossal statue of Domitian are in the Ephesus museum. Although some suggest the massive head and arm is actually Titus, the image serves to illustrate the awe-inspiring architecture of an imperial cult center.

The story begins with Serapion, a priest of Artemis, leading a sacred procession through the streets of Ephesus on the holy birthday of the divine Caesar Augustus. To be the priest of Artemis was a great honor for Serapion and his family, an honor Serapion has paid well for. Christians absent from the procession, including Serapion’s slave (who later received a severe beating for shaming his master in this way) and Amyntas, Serapion’s neighbor.

Both Serapion and Amyntas both in the terrace houses. Visitors to Ephesus ought to pay the extra ticket to visit these restored and preserved homes in order to understand how the wealthy citizens of Ephesus lived. There are several photographs in the book illustrating the design of these townhouses. When I first visited Ephesus with Mark Wilson, he pointed out the closeness of the homes meant the activities of a Christian congregation would be known to the neighbors. He suggested this may explain Paul’s reaching on tongues in 1 Corinthians 14. In deSilva’s story, Serapion knows his neighbor Amyntas is hosting a church since the meeting could not be hidden from the neighbors.

Serapion’s hatred for Christians leads him to a plot to shame publicly Amyntas. Serapion nominates Amyntas to serve as a neopoioi, an official of the imperial cult responsible for the administration of the cult center. This is an exceptional opportunity for Amyntas and would result in additional wealth and honor for his family. Amyntas has a tough decision to make. If he turns down the offer, he would dishonor Ephesus, the emperor Domitian and the imperial cult, putting his life in danger. Could he accept this honor as a Christian, knowing the gods are nothing?

deSilva introduces Nicolaus of Pergamum, an elite citizen who serves in the imperial cult in that city. Although it is not explicit in this novel, perhaps deSilva wants us to think of Nicolaus as the target of John’s condemnation of the Nicolatians in Revelation 2:6 and 2:15. Nicolaus encourages Amyntas to accept the position since it would give him great opportunity to share the gospel with other wealthy people. However, when Nicolaus visits the church in Amyntas’s home he is soundly condemned by many in the gathering.

This conflict illustrates two ways of expressing one’s Christian faith in the late first century. On the one hand, a Christian could attend an Artemis festival or serve the imperial cult knowing full well that Artemis is not an actual god or that the imperial cult is propaganda for the empire. Others refused any participation in cult activities. The final line of 1 John tells the readers to keep themselves from idols. One character in the book refuses to honor the gods of his trade guild. The master of the agora publicly ostracizes him and forbids him to practice his trade in Ephesus. Amyntas’s son expresses his monotheism at his philosophy class in the gymnasium and is soundly beaten by his peers.

There is a subplot in the book concerning Zeuxis, a Jewish wealthy shipowner and his old friend Demetrius, a Christian merchant selling wool in the agora. This gives deSilva opportunity to illustrate the similarities and differences between Jews and Christians at the end of the first century. The rapaciousness of Roman merchants is a cause for the Christian to reflect on economic justice.

The climax of the book is the arrival of a messenger delivering what we call The Book of Revelation to the Christian community. After the church gathers and hears the worlds of the Apocalypse they are shaken, knowing they have indeed forgotten their first love. This is not overplayed in the novel and deSilva does not deal with any of the details of the apocalypse. The recipients of Revelation understand the great whore is Rome and that the book is a solid condemnation of Christians who take part in the imperial cult.

Does Amyntas accept the honor of service in the imperial cult like Nicolaus of Pergamum recommended? I will not spoil the plot here, read the book and consider how this applies to modern demands for loyalty to the empire.

Scattered throughout the novel are text boxes with historical details on various aspects of the story. For example, deSilva discusses musical instruments in the Roman period, the title neokoros, the Jewish community in Ephesus, the staff in an imperial cult center, Christian worship, and many others on Roman culture. The book is illustrated with black & white photographs. Perhaps the book could have included a glossary explaining Greek and Roman terms scattered throughout the book.

Conclusion. That three books in this series use Ephesus as a backdrop underscores the importance of Ephesus as an archaeological site. Like Pompeii, what has been excavated at Ephesus illustrates many aspects of life in the Greco-Roman world. I highly recommend this novel as a way to understand how Christian and Culture often clashed in the first century.

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

Although not part of this series, these are books are also in the genre “scholarly novel.”

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: Sidnie White Crawford, Scribes and Scrolls at Qumran

Crawford, Sidnie White. Scribes and Scrolls at Qumran. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2019. 406 pp. + 8 pp of figures. Hb; $50.   Link to Eerdmans 

Sidnie White Crawford’s new book on the Dead Sea Scrolls and their relationship to both Qumran and the Essenes is a clear presentation of what might be considered the current consensus view on these issues. She does not engage in any fanciful new theory to completely overturn previous scholarship. On the contrary, she present a reasonable thesis based on evidence draw from both the archaeology of Qumran and the contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Crawford’s Scribes and Scrolls won the American Schools of Oriental Research Frank Moore Cross Award for the most substantial volume related to the history and/or religion of the ancient Near East and Eastern Mediterranean. She previously published Rewriting Scripture in Second Temple Times (Eerdmans 2008).

In the introduction Crawford says her goal in this book is to take the insights of the first generation of scroll scholars and combine them the more complete picture from ongoing archaeological studies and the complete publication of the scrolls and develop a convincing history of and purpose for the Qumran settlement and the various caves in which documents were found. She argues in this volume there is enough evidence to identify the Qumran collection as a sectarian library and that the main purpose of the Qumran settlement was as an Essene scribal center and library (p. 16). As she observes later in the book, almost every aspect of the “Essene Hypothesis” has been challenged since the 1980s (p. 271).

The evidence for this conclusion is drawn from the archaeology of Qumran and its caves as well as a fresh survey of the contents of the library. Although the Qumran-Essene theory has been challenged, Crawford argues current understanding of the textual and archaeological evidence favors the view Essenes occupied Qumran prior to the destruction of the site by the Romans in 68 CE.

To achieve her goals, Crawford begins with two chapters on scribes and libraries in the Ancient Near Eastern (Mesopotamia, Egypt and Ugarit) and Mediterranean (Hellenistic and Roman) worlds. Scribes were involved at all levels of society. The transmission of literary texts necessarily involved revision and updating of texts. Unsurprisingly, she concludes it is difficult to identify a library room prior to the Roman period unless books are found in situ (p. 48). In fact, a library as a collection of books is a relatively late development.

With this background in mind, Crawford then surveys what can be known about scribes and libraries in Ancient Israel. With respect to libraries, the evidence is meager (perhaps in Jerusalem and Masada). By examining the biblical references to scribes she infers the scribe was associated with the royal court and like scribes in other Ancient Near Eastern contexts, families are associated with the profession (i.e. the family of Shaphan). She takes the reference in Jeremiah to the “false pen of the scribes” turning the Torah into falsehood (Jer 8:8) and the scribal collection of Solomon’s proverbs (Prov 25:1) to suggest scribal activity in the temple and royal courts (p. 57). The evidence is better in the Persian period (539-332 BCE), with several inscriptions and papyri in addition to books like Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah produced in the period. The best data comes from the Hellenistic and Roman period (300 BCE-135 CE), including the Wisdom of Ben Sira, written by Jesus ben Sira, a professional scribe (p. 73). The book has a lengthy description of an ideal scribe (Sirach 38:34-39:11). The Enoch literature, Jubilees, the Aramaic Levi Document and Daniel are included in the evidence for scribal activity in this period. The New Testament is treated in an appendix to chapter 3. Crawford concludes the New Testament portrays scribes as “teachers, interpreters of Scripture, and experts in the Law of Moses (p. 111).

The second part of the book devotes three chapters to the archeological and textual evidence in the light of her description of scribes and their libraries. In chapter 4 Crawford catalogs the caves around Qumran and their contents. She divides the material by examine the the limestone caves as a group before moving on to the marl caves.  This survey includes cave 53, recently excavated by Oren Gutfeld and Randall Price. Although the cave only produced one rolled up parchment and the remains of one had, Crawford suggests it is “profoundly for understanding the function of the limestone caves related to Khirbet Qumran” because the material assemblage resembles the other limestone caves , implying the jars were “taken to the caves at least since the first century BCE” (p.123). The purpose of storing scrolls in jars was for long-term storage, but not all the manuscripts can be considered burials of retired scrolls (contra Joan Taylor).

The man-made marl terrace caves were not intended for long-term habitation (p. 137) although they were used on a daily basis by the residents of Qumran (p. 164). Crawford suggests these caves functioned like a remote storage facility based on the likely presence of wooden shelves in Cave 4Q. Cave 4Q has a “working quality” (p. 260).

The difference between the limestone caves and the marl caves is not the content of the scrolls, but the function of the cave. For Crawford, there is overwhelming evidence the manuscripts in all eleven caves were one collection owned by one group of people (p. 156). One scribal hand is responsible for at least 54 manuscripts found in five different caves and one manuscript at Masada (p. 162). She surveys the contents of the caves and concludes the manuscripts were a “living collection” rather than deposited in the caves before Rome destroyed Qumran. The exception is material was “thrust helter-skelter into Cave 4Q in anticipation of the Roman attack” (p. 258).

Crawford revisits the archaeology of Qumran in chapter five, arguing Qumran was built to function as a scribal center and library for the Essenes in Judea (p. 166). Based on the archaeology of the site, it was not a fortress, although there was a watchtower and outer wall. Neither was Qumran a Hasmonean villa, even if the main building was “built on the footprint of a Hasmonean villa” (p. 214). There are no mosaic floors, frescos, swimming pools, or triclinium.  She therefore concludes it was a community settlement occupied by Jewish men who engage in some small-scale industrial and agricultural work (p. 215). Since Jewish scribes in the Second Temple period were all male, that Qumran was a working library and scribal center explains the lack of archaeological evidence for women at the site (p. 319).

She then surveys the contents of the caves and concludes the manuscripts were a “living collection” rather than deposited in the caves before Rome destroyed Qumran. The exception is material was “thrust helter-skelter into Cave 4Q in anticipation of the Roman attack” (p. 258). With respect to the origin of the scrolls, it is likely the majority of the scrolls were copied elsewhere and brought to Qumran (p. 261), about 25% of the manuscripts predate the settlement at Qumran (p. 157). Although there was scribal activity at Qumran, the site was not engaged in large scale book production.

The final two chapters of the book draws conclusions based on the archeological and textual evidence amassed in chapters 4-6. First, Crawford revisits the Qumran-Essene Hypothesis by asking “Who Owned the Scrolls?” In order to answer the question, she first surveys the contents of the sectarian documents found in the library. From the rules documents (Serek Hayahad and the Damascus Document) she outlines admission procedures, organization and leadership roles, legal interpretations of Sabbath and purity laws, and the sharing of property. These sectarian documents also describe some practices of the community such as prayer and worship and living separate from all Israel. She only briefly discusses the theological topics of eschatology and predeterminism. Using Josephus’s list of Jewish “philosophies,” she concludes the only possible candidate for the owners of the scrolls is the Essenes. Although I agree with this conclusion, it is entirely possible a group Josephus ignores occupied Qumran. His “four philosophies” is not exhaustive of all sub-groups within Second Temple Judaism. For example, Enochian Judaism and perhaps even early Jesus-followers could be described as a Jewish sect even if it is not included in Josephus’s list.

In the conclusion to the book Crawford outlines her “New Synthesis” and offers a suggested sequence of events which explains why the community hid their scrolls in the Qumran caves. Qumran was likely built with the permission of Alexander Jannaeus, explaining an enigmatic reference to the king in 4Q448. Qumran operated as a library until it was destroyed in 68 CE., serving Essenes who lived throughout Judea. This scenario avoids making the Essenes into an eschatological sect waiting for the last days in a desert monastery. On the contrary, the community functioned like a Roman library until the disastrous war with Rome destroyed the site.

Conclusion. Crawford’s contribution to the study of Qumran and the manuscripts discovered in the Judean desert summarizes and build on previous scholarship and advances a modest proposal by comparing the collection at Qumran to Roman libraries. This is not a thorough introduction to either the Dead Sea Scrolls or the archaeology of Qumran, but there is more than enough detail for to support her contention the  Essenes occupied the site at Qumran and the scrolls found in the nearby caves were their working library.

I noticed page 277-8 repeats verbatim material from page 227-8.

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