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Curtis, Edward M. Interpreting the Wisdom Books: An Exegetical Handbook. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Academic, 2017. 204 pp. Pb; $21.99.  Link to Kregel

This new contribution to Kregel’s Handbooks of Old Testament Exegesis covers four difficult books in the Hebrew Bible: Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs. Curtis contributed a commentary on Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs in the Teach the Text Commentary Series (Baker 2013) and Discovering the Way of Wisdom (with John J. Brugaletta, Kregel, 2004). This handbook joins Gary Smith’s recent Interpreting the Prophetic Books and Richard A. Taylor, Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature to complete the Handbooks on the Old Testament series.

The first section of the book provides definition of wisdom and the nature of poetry. Curtis understands wisdom literature as a kind of general revelation. By carefully observing life this literature draws accurate conclusions about God’s orderly universe. But this literature does not always answer “enigmatic and anomalous experiences,” perhaps generating the speculative wisdom of Job and Ecclesiastes. The unit on poetry is a basic introduction to Hebrew poetry (parallelism and other literary features), but also a very helpful section on interpreting metaphors. Metaphors can be a problem for Bible students who are taught to “read the Bible literally,” but Curtis provides a basic method for teasing out the meaning of a metaphor.

The second section of the book explores the main themes of the four Old Testament wisdom books in canonical order. These short summaries of the books briefly gather the main theological points of the books under a series of headings. One particularly helpful section is on the application of proverbs. He begins with the warning “a proverb on the mouth of a fool is useless” (Prov 26:7) and explains there is a contingent time and place for a proverb to be used and there is a kind of life-skill in knowing that time and place. Although Curtis does not do this in his book, tt is possible to rearrange the wisdom material so the student encounters Proverbs as the “way wisdom works,” and then read Job and Ecclesiastes as “the way wisdom does not work.”

The Song of Songs is the one book of the Hebrew Bible that is difficult to classify. Although it is usually placed with other wisdom books, it is not at all like Proverbs, Job, or Ecclesiastes. Curtis does not defend the inclusion of the Song in a book of Wisdom Literature other than to observe sexual relationships are part of the created order. It is not surprising his comments on the Song focus on “one-flesh relationships” (lifelong monogamous, and by implication heterosexual relationships). He rejects allegorical interpretation for the most part, he does recognize some insights of allegorical interpreters “reflect legitimate applications” of the marriage metaphor in the Old Testament.

With this material in mind, Curtis then offers two chapters on exegetical method applied to the Wisdom books. Although most pastors will not take the time to worry about textual critical issues for the Wisdom books, Curtis has a short section on determining the text for the Hebrew Bible with a few examples drawn from Proverbs and Job. He develops a series of recommendations for interpreting the poetry and metaphors of each of the wisdom books.

Throughout both these methodological chapters, Curtis offers a detailed and annotated bibliography of resources needed for interpreting wisdom literature. Some of these are generic Hebrew Bible tools: a good lexicon, for example, is a necessary took regardless of the genre. Other bibliographies target Wisdom literature, such as a list of recommended commentaries. An appendix prepared by Austen M. Dutton suggests a number of electronic resources, from free on-line resources to professional (and expensive) Bible Software such as BibleWorks, Accordance and Logos.

The final section of the book is a guide to proclaiming Wisdom literature. Of all of the volumes of the Handbook of Old Testament Exegesis, the various genre of wisdom literature are challenging for preaching and teaching. Curtis offers some specific guidance using Proverbs 2 and Job 28 as examples. Following this model, he gives a series of suggestions for how to preach the four books. For example, with respect to Proverbs, the “proclamation should reflect the big picture and recurrent themes” (159). It would be confusing to preach through the whole book of Proverbs “verse-by-verse” the way someone might move through Galatians. There is simply no sustained argument from verse to verse! In his final chapter in the book, Curtis gives several case studies. These provide a simple sermon outlines and illustrations to serve as examples of what could be done for a particular text.

Conclusion. Curtis says “Proclamation should do justice to Qoheleth’s tensions” (161). Although he makes this comment with respect to Ecclesiastes, it really does apply to the whole of the wisdom literature. Although the attraction of wisdom books is the often clear-cut and simple observations on how to live a successful life, there are frustrating, unanswered questions. If you raise up your child in the way they should go, why do they sometimes stray from that way, despite the claim of Proverbs 22:6? It seems as though there is always an assumed “most of the time” for any given proverbs. For this reason, Proverbs and the rest of the Wisdom literature is often better discussed than proclaimed.

Nevertheless, as with the other contributions to this series, this handbook for the Wisdom books succeeds in its goal of providing students of Old Testament wisdom with the tools for teaching and preaching this difficult material in the Hebrew Bible. This would make a good textbook for a college or seminary class on the Prophets, especially in more conservative circles.

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.

Goldingay, John. A Reader’s Guide to the Bible. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2017. 186 pp. Pb; $18.00.   Link to IVP  

Having contributed the ICC commentary on Isaiah 40-55 and a massive three-part theology of the Old Testament, John Goldingay has more recently written several short, popular level books. In 2015 IVP published his Do We Need the New Testament? and Eerdmans has recently published Reading Jesus’s Bible. In his new A Reader’s Guide to The Bible, Goldingay synthesizes the varied content of the whole Bible under the headings of story, word, and response.

Goldingay has two chapters of introduction before discussing the three genres of the Bible. First he summarizes the events of both the Old and New Testaments in a short 16 page chapter. He begins with Abraham to Moses, Moses to David, then David to Exile. He includes a quick survey of the intertestamental period, and only briefly the history of the first century. Although this is a reader’s guide to the Bible, his summary chart on pages 19-20 ends with the rise of Greece and only identifies Old Testament books and characters. His second introductory chapter concerns the land of the Bible. Like his survey of the history of the Bible, Goldingay favors the geography of the Old Testament. To be fair, the geography does not change between the testaments, but there are many locations which only appear in the New Testament.

In the second section of the book Goldingay surveys the “story of God and His People.” This is an overview of what are normally considered to be the historical books of the Old Testament. He breaks the material into Genesis through Numbers (ch. 3) and Deuteronomy through Kings (ch. 4). This might strike some readers as odd since Deuteronomy is part of the Torah. But Goldingay recognizes the book of Deuteronomy casts a long shadow over the four major historical books (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings), which are often referred to as the Deuteronomic History. He covers the post-exilic books of Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah into a frustratingly short six page chapter, followed by a four page chapter on the “short stories” of the Old Testament, Ruth, Esther, Jonah and Daniel. He then devotes a fifth chapter in this section to the story of Jesus and the church (the Gospels and Acts). For most Christian readers it might be a shock to see the history of the New Testament boiled down to only one-fifth the story of the Bible, but Goldingay is true to the content of the whole Bible, the story of Jesus in the Gospels and the church in Acts is only about 60 years (with almost half of that time the un-narrated events prior to the ministry of Jesus).

The third section of the book concerns God’s word to his people. Here Goldingay covers the Law in Exodus through Deuteronomy (ch. 8); the prophets (Isaiah through Malachi, ch. 9); the New Testament epistles (Romans through Jude, ch. 10); some of the wisdom literature (Proverbs and Song of Solomon, ch. 11) and “visions of the seers” (Daniel and Revelation, ch. 12). In these chapters Goldingay attempts to place those sections of the Bible which are not narrative back into the story of the Bible from section two of the book. As anyone who has taught a Bible Survey class knows, it is difficult for students to place the less-than-familiar prophets into the well-known stories of the Old Testament. These books make the most sense when they are in fact put into the proper historical context.  For each book in these sections Goldingay offers a brief paragraph or two commenting on the contents of the book and connecting back to the larger story of the Bible. Larger books like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel receive a few pages, the Minor Prophets are only given a short summary each. The letters of Timothy, Titus, Philemon and 2 John are all dispatched in an eleven line paragraph.

The third section of the book deals with Israel’s response to God in the Psalms and Lamentations (ch. 13) and other wisdom books (Ecclesiastes and Job, ch. 14). Like most brief surveys of the Psalms, Goldingay examines several psalm types, including the most common, lament. As Goldingay himself recognizes, it is “slightly arbitrary” to treat Job and Ecclesiastes in a different chapter than Proverbs. When I teach the Wisdom Literature I usually use these two books as examples of the wisdom life gone wrong. Along with several Psalms which lament the absence of God, Goldingay considers these two books as a kind of protest literature for people who have responded to Law and Wisdom yet still suffer unexpectedly in this life.

Conclusion. In his epilogue to A Reader’s Guide to the Bible, Goldingay offers a short response to Christians who question the need for the Old Testament. This is similar to his Do We Need the New Testament?, but obviously more brief. In fact, this epilogue encapsulates my two minor criticisms of the book. First, it is far too brief. Although I realize it is written for the layperson and it is only intended as a sampling of the contents of the Bible, I think a quest for brevity kept Goldingay from providing enough material to really satisfy. This book is a very light hors d’oeuvre to the feast that is the study of the Bible. Second, I think Goldingay spends too much time arguing for the importance of the Old Testament for the Christian reader. This is a point with which I wholeheartedly agree, but this book seems to emphasize that point far more than necessary.

Nevertheless, this book will make an excellent introduction to the Bible for a layperson looking to get the big picture of the story of the Bible as well as how the various other types of non-story fit into the that story.

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

Bird, Michael F. Jesus The Eternal Son: Answering Adoptionist Christology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2017. xv + 155 pages; Pb. $18.   Link to Eerdmans

This new monograph from Michael Bird is the result of a discussion held at the Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint forum at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in 2016 entitled “How Did Jesus Become God?” and featured Bird and Barth Ehrman.  The seminar discussed Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God (Harper One, 2015) and Bird’s recently edited collection of essays entitled How God Became Jesus (Zondervan, 2015). Larry W. Hurtado, Jennifer Wright Knust, Simon Gathercole and Dale Martin also participated in this conference.

As Bird explains in the preface, in his preparation for this conference he became aware much of what is said about adoptionist Christology is incorrect. It is simply assumed the most primitive Christology was adoptionist and scholars tended to reference John Knox or James Dunn rather than examine the evidence. This book calls that quasi consensus into question (9). Bird argues in this book that although there was Christological diversity in the early church, adoptionism was a second-century phenomenon. As Bird says, it is not correct to speak of a single, monolithic Christology of the early church, but it is equally problematic to speak of a wide variety of competing Christologies proportionally distributed across the early church (5).

After a short chapter describing what he means by both Christology and adoptionism, Bird examines two passages most often used as evidence for adoptionism (chapter 2). First, Romans 1:3-4 is one of the earliest statements often taken as evidence for adoptionist Christology, especially if these verses are a pre-Pauline creedal formula. Ehrman claims these verses say Jesus was (according to the flesh) the Davidic Messiah, then he was declared to be the exalted Son of God (14). Bird points out both titles “Son of David” and “Son of God” were messianic titles in Second Temple Jewish literature. There is no evidence the phrase “Son of God” was ever used in Jewish literature for a human who lived a meritorious life and was given divinity after a bodily resurrection (20). For Bird, Romans 1:34 claim the resurrection is the transition from Jesus’s messianic and earthy mode to a display of his divine sonship and heavenly position (23).

Second, Acts 2:36 (along with 5:31 and 13:33) claim that “God made Jesus both Lord and Messiah.” Since speeches in Luke-Acts reflect Luke’s theological agenda, it is at least possible these speeches by Peter and Paul intend to present the exaltation of Jesus as the divinization of Jesus. Bird counters this by showing Luke’s theology assumes Jesus was the messiah and Lord from the beginning (Luke 2:11). Bird cites Kavin Rowe, the change in Acts 2:36 is not ontological but epistemological. For both Romans 1:3-4 and Acts 2:36, there is no beginning to divine sonship implied because divine sonship is presupposed as a part of his messianic identity (29).

Bird devotes two chapters to the Christology of the Gospel of Mark. As the earliest Gospel, it is often assumed the book as an underdeveloped Christology and the baptism is clearly adoptionist: Jesus goes into the water a human, and comes out the Son of God (34). Barth Ehrman considers this as an innovation in Mark’s gospel, Jesus is adopted at the baptism rather than the resurrection. Mark’s gospel is also considered by some to have been influenced by Greco-Roman culture so that the baptism is deification similar to deified Hellenistic heroes or emperors. Bird surveys how the Greco-Roman world presented these defied figures and concludes ascriptions of divinity “were not primarily about essence but honor, status and power” (41). These people were deified because they had provided some benefit to the people and they were worshiped because they were perceived as continuing to be a benefit. In the Hellenistic world the idea a human could become a god was doubted, even if there was some cultural benefit from perpetuating the imperial cult. Both Jews and Christians rejected the idea of human deification, although Judaism developed used angels or exalted humans as intermediaries between God and man. But these angelic creatures are never exalted quite to the same level as Yahweh nor were they recipients of cultic worship (59). With respect to parallels between Mark’s Jesus and the divine men in the Hellenistic world, Bird suggests everyone read Sandmel’s article on parallelomania (JBL 81 (1962). Certainly Mark needs to be read within the context of both Greco-Roman and Jewish worlds, but parallels texts “create endless possibilities” and need to be used with clear criterion in order to avoid seeing things which just are not there (108).

Turning to the details of Mark’s Gospel, Bird interacts at length with Michael Peppard, The Son of God in the Roman World (Oxford, 2011). Peppard argued the term “son of god” in the imperial cult was a major influence on early presentations of Jesus (67). For Bird, Peppard does not take seriously Mark’s key images for Jesus are drawn from the Hebrew Bible, especially in the story of Jesus’s baptism, the key adoption text in Mark. Psalm 2, Genesis 22 and Isaiah 42:1 provide Mark with his material: the Davidic king, the submissive son, and the Isaianic servant. In addition, Mark’s use of Lord for Jesus connects Jesus to the shema. It is Jesus who is the Lord, and it is the Lord Jesus who is initiating a new exodus (91).

Bird deals more briefly with three other issues in the Gospel of Mark. First, in Mark 2 Jesus claims to forgive sin. This is not the function of a priest in Judaism, only God has the prerogative to pronounce since forgiven. Second, calming the storm (Mark 4:25-41) and walking in the water (Mark 6:45-52) are “theophanic episodes” which reveal Jesus as the God who controls the chaos of the seas (94). Third, in Mark 14:61-62 Jesus claims to be the son of Man from Daniel 7:13 who is invited by God himself to sit on his right hand (Ps 110:1). This blending of texts strongly suggests Jesus is the co-enthroned one who will be Lord of all creation (101).

Since the first four chapters of this book argue there are no adoptionist texts in the New Testament, Bird devotes his fifth chapter to explaining how adoptionism developed in the second century. Even here he questions adoptionism in Shepherd of Hermes (which he calls complicated and even incoherent, p. 111) and the Ebionites (which he calls a “poor man’s Christology, 112). Bird agrees with Bauckham’s assessment that the Ebionites were Jewish believers who were uncomfortable with some of the Christological claims being made about Jesus, and defaulted to a possession Christology (Jesus was taken over by God at the baptism). Bird thinks the first writer who can be described as an adoptionist is Theodotus of Byzantium (about 190 CE). Even here, Bird hedges since there appears to have been some mixture among his followers.

In his brief concluding chapter, Bird makes the point the New Testament is not adoptionist, but rather focuses on the enthronement of the Davidic Messiah to heavenly glory. This conclusion favors a Christology developed out of the Hebrew Bible over one influenced by the Greco-Roman world. Modern adoptionism erodes the atonement since a created being cannot redeem another created being (128) and runs the risk of a merit-based theology (129).

Like most contributions to the ongoing discussion of early Christology, this book will probably not convince adoptionists. However, Bird does successfully challenge the assertion the earliest Christology was adoptionist by carefully examining several Pauline texts and the Gospel of Mark and providing a compelling non-adoptionist interpretation of these texts.

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

 

Norelli, Nick. Christology in Review: A Layman’s Take on Books about Christology. Lulu, 2017. 149pp.; Pb.; $10.84. Link to Lulu

Christology in Review: A Layman's Take on Books about ChristologyThis small book collects twenty book reviews written by blogger Nick Norelli on the topic of Christology. Norelli has been blogging at Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth since July of 2006. He offers a short introduction to his journey from AOL chatrooms in 1997 to regularly reviewing books on his blog. He credits Chris Tilling’s detailed review of Gordon Fee’s Pauline Christology as encouraging him to focus on seriously reviewing books.

Christology in Review includes reviews of the following books no particular order.

  • Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel
  • Casey, From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God
  • J. & A. Y. Collins, King and Messiah as Son of God
  • D. G. Dunn, Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?
  • D. Ehrman, How Jesus Became God
  • Endo, Creation and Christology
  • Fatehi, The Spirit’s Relation to the Risen Lord in Paul
  • Grindheim, Christology in the Synoptic Gospels
  • Grindheim, God’s Equal
  • W. Hurtado, One God, One Lord
  • H. I. Lee, From Messiah to Preexistent Son
  • McDonough, Christ as Creator
  • F. McGrath, The Only True God
  • Nicholason, Dynamic Oneness
  • C. O’Neill, Who Did Jesus Think He Was?
  • A. Pizzuto, A Cosmic Leap of Faith
  • Stuckenbruck and North, Early Christian & Jewish Monotheism
  • H. Talbert, The Development of Christology During the First Hundred Years
  • Tilling, Paul’s Divine Christology
  • Warrington, Discovering Jesus in the New Testament

The first review is Bauckham’s 2008 work. The oldest reviewed book is Maurice Casey’s From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God was published in 1991 and the latest is Bart Ehrman, How Jesus Became God from 2014. I would have expected the inclusion of the Michael Bird edited response to Ehrman (How God Became Jesus, published almost simultaneously in 2014). Norelli does mention the volume in his review but does not include a review.

The reviews are arranged alphabetically by author and vary in terms of length and depth of interaction. For example, his review of McGrath, The Only True God is a seventeen page review article with 34 footnotes.  His review of Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the God of Israel runs about 14 pages. However, his Grindheim’s Christology in the Synoptic Gospels is only two pages. Some of the books reviewed are from the very best in scholarship (Fatehi, The Spirit’s Relation to the Risen Lord in Paul in the WUNT series), others are written to a more popular audience (Ehrman, How Jesus Became God).

Although he styles himself as a layperson, Norelli offers trenchant critiques in many of his reviews and is not at all shy about expressing disagreement with the scholars he is reviewing. For example, he makes several critical arguments against James McGrath. McGrath called the review “a very detailed and, from my perspective, very fair and useful review” of his book The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in Its Jewish Context. In his response, McGrath said “There have been more positive reviews that did not leave me feeling as satisfied with the level of engagement as Nick’s did.”

His review of Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee is more scathing. Norelli says “if you have read one of Ehrman’s popular books, you’ve pretty much read them all” (p. 55), especially his frequent digs against his former Christian faith.

This collection is useful for anyone wanting a quick sample of the dozens of books published on Christology in the last 20 years. Norelli has done a service by collecting these reviews in an inexpensive single volume.

He hints in his introduction he might produce a second volume on the Trinity. Maybe you can encourage this blogger by purchasing this inexpensive book.

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

Keown, Mark J. Philippians 1:1-2:18. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2017. 533 pp.; Hb.; $39.99. Link to Lexham Press

Keown, Mark J. Philippians 2:19-4:23. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2017. 569 pp.; Hb.; $39.99. Link to Lexham Press

Mark Keown’s contribution on Philippians in the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary (EEC) is one of the most detailed commentaries published on this Pauline Letter. This two-volume exegetical commentary can take its place alongside recent major Philippians commentaries by Fee (NICNT, 1995), O’Brien (NIGTC, 1991) or Hawthorne and Martin, (WBC, revised edition, 2004). Keown’s revised dissertation was published as Congregational Evangelism in Philippians: The Centrality of an Appeal for Gospel Proclamation to the Fabric of Philippians (Paternoster Biblical Monographs; Cascade, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 2009). He is a frequent presenter at SBL and has published several articles on aspects of Philippians.

The 92-page introduction to commentary more or less assumes Pauline authorship and settles on a Roman provenance (33) after weighing the various alternate suggestions. He examines various suggestions that Philippians is a compilation of several shorter letters (“interpreting Philippians fore not require a multi-letter hypothesis,” 22). He suggests a range of dates from 61-64, but favors the later end of that range (33).

In his reconstruction of the background of the letter, Keown traces the history of the Roman church. Although it was primarily a Jewish Christian movement, after the edict of Claudius in A.D, 49 it was increasingly a Gentile church. This created friction as Jewish Christians returned after the death of Claudius. Keown suggests there was already some anti-Paulinism in the Roman church before Paul wrote Romans in 56. By the time Paul arrived in 60, there already was opposition to Paul from local Jewish Christian congregations.

He also argues the conditions of Paul’s imprisonment have taken a turn for the worse because of conditions in Rome (ie. “Nero’s lunacy, p. 14) in the early 60s. He is no longer under house arrest, but “in chains” and his life is in danger. As Keown acknowledges, this older view is so out of favor it rarely appears in a commentary on Philippians, but he argues the idea has merit (6). Despite worsening conditions, Paul is still zealously preaching the Gospel, although his imprisonment has caused him to put off going to Spain. Instead, his intention is to return to Philippi when he is permitted to leave Rome. Keown wants this decision to affect the interpretation of the book, in contrast to Stephen Fowl (for example) who said it made little difference whether the Philippians was written from Ephesus or Rome. That Paul was writing from a Roman imprisonment will heighten the contrast between the Roman Empire and the heavenly politeuma (33, note 121).

This leads Keown to suggest Paul may have intended to escape from his Roman imprisonment and travel to Philippi. This material is synthesized from Keown’s 2015 article in the Journal for the Study Paul and his Letters. The letter of Philippians clearly indicates Paul was in prison and planned to visit Philippi soon. At least according to church tradition Paul did leave Rome and continued to do some ministry (depending on the status of the Pastoral Epistles). Yet there is nothing to explain how he was released from prison. Keown briefly surveys many of the possible solutions to Paul’s confidence that he will leave Rome and concludes a prison escape is answers all of the potential problems (12). Paul claims to have friends in the Praetorian Guard (1:13) who could help him escape. The obvious objection to this interesting reconstruction is Paul’s desire to bear witness before Caesar (Acts 23:11) as well as his willingness to suffer for the sake of Christ (2 Cor 11:16-33). Yet even in while boasting about his suffering, Paul does claim to have escaped from Damascus when perused by Aretas IV (2 Cor 11:33). Although Keown does not mention it, Paul avoids persecution a number of times in Acts (at Thessalonica and Ephesus for example). Although not exactly prison escapes, they do indicate Paul was ailing to relocate in order to continue preaching the Gospel, or at the very least Paul cannot be considered as seeking martyrdom.

Perhaps the most useful feature of the introduction for most readers will be the lengthy introduction to the city and culture of Philippi. As Keown points out, Philippi was founded as a kind of mini-Rome,” and this observation opens up several important interpretive possibilities.  After a sketch of the history of the city, Keown offers a commentary-worthy discussion of Acts 16 and the charges against Paul and Silas. He argues the letter of Philippians reflects a clash between Caesar and Christ, especially in the Christ Hymn (Phil 2:5-11). Because Philippi was so Roman in outlook, it is natural to see some of Paul’s presentation as “anti-imperial.” Keown says the letter is “utterly subversive and countercultural,” although he stops short of some of the more radical anti-imperial readings of the letter (44).

The last long section of the introduction is an account of the church itself. For Keown, the Philippian church is predominantly Gentile including a number of prominent women (Lydia, for example). Paul has a positive relationship with the church there is little which needs to be corrected as in Corinth, although there are some problems with divisions (4:2-3). The church is facing some opposition, which Keown describes as “twin challenges” (56) from Jerusalem (Judiazers) and Rome (Greco-Roman libertines). The final part of this description of the church is excellent fodder for a pastor preparing to preach this letter.

After the introduction, the body of the commentary is laid out in large sections divided into logical sub-sections as outlined in the introduction. Each section of commentary begins with an introduction discussing the context of the section as well as literary features. Following this introduction Keown offers his own translation of the text along with extensive textual critical notes.

The commentary itself proceeds phrase-by-phrase. Keown provides the Greek text followed by his translation. He comments extensively on Greek syntactical and lexical issues, occasionally comparing various translations in order to indicate the importance of the grammatical decisions. Since this is an exegetical on the Greek text of Philippians, Greek words appear frequently and are not transliterated. Major commentaries are citing in-text, technical monographs and articles appear in the footnotes. Keown interacts with all major Philippians commentaries (Fee, O’Brien, for example), including many classic works (Lightfoot, Vincent, for example).

Following the exegetical section Keown makes a brief conclusion and offers a short section entitled “Biblical Theological Comments.” Here he tries to connect the pericope to the larger world of Pauline theology. For example, after the exegetical section on Philippians 3:1-21, Keown discusses the impact of Paul’s conversion on his theology, especially his view on what “Israel” means after his encounter with Christ as well as the role of the law. Paul’s “fresh perspective on the law” is not antinomian, but rather “agapenomian, hypernomian, pneumanomian or kardianomian” (2:183). The four neologisms do indeed express how Paul sees the law in the present age (even if they are unlikely to catch on).

Each exegetical section ends with a short thought entitled “application and devotional implications.” An exegetical commentary may draw theological implications, but not many technical commentaries like this one allow the author’s pastoral heart to come forward and offer

Each volume includes a Scripture index, and volume two includes a brief glossary of foreign words and technical terms. The second volume also include an extensive, 42-page bibliography divided into technical monographs, articles and essays, and other non-Philippians works cited in the commentary. For the commentaries, the bibliography follows the introduction in volume 1 (pages 83-92). There is no index of authors cited in either volume.

In the printed version of this commentary there were a few typographical oddities. In volume 2, starting on page 187 the header does not include the chapter/verse, although it does in the previous and following sections (it simply reads “Philippians” through page 290).  However, this does not distract from the content of the commentary.

Since Lexham Press part of the larger Faithlife family, these volumes are available in for Logos Bible Software as a single resource rather than two volumes. In the Logos resource, all Scripture is tagged so the reader can float over the reference with their pointer and read the text or click to read the text in their preferred Bible. All abbreviations and references to other commentaries are similarly tagged; if you own the book you can click the pages to go directly to the resource. An additional advantage for the Logos version over the printed version is the ability to click on Greek words to launch your preferred lexicon. I happen to have BDAG in my library, so clicking a Greek work in the commentary takes me to the lexicon. Resources in the footnotes can be copied and pasted into a word processor, or in BibTex format for use in bibliography software. Finally, references to other section of the commentary are hyperlinked. For example, when Keown refers back to his thematic and structural analysis (page 492, for example), the Logos user can click the hyperlink and go directly to page 80 to read this section.

One potential problem is a discrepancy between the Logos resource (published 2016) and the printed book (published 2017). Since an electronic book can be updated frequently, it is possible a printed copy will be out of date. To date there are eleven commentaries in the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary available to Logos users, with a total of forty-four volumes planned.

 

NB: Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book, both in print and Logos format. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

McKnight, Scot. Philemon. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2017. 126 pp.; Hb.; $25.00. Link to Eerdmans   

Commentaries on Philemon are often added to the end of a Colossians commentary as if this short letter is an appendix to Colossians (or, in the case of Jac Müller’s 1955 NICNT commentary, an add-on to Philippians). Perhaps editors consider the letter too short to merit full sized commentary, unless it is heavily supplemented with additional material on slavery in the Roman world (as in the 588 page Barth and Blanke Eerdmans Critical Commentary, 2000). Although Scot McKnight’s commentary on Philemon in the NICNT series was originally intended to be included with this forthcoming Colossians commentary, Eerdmans decided to publish Philemon separately.

As McKnight recognizes, commentaries on Philemon must deal with the problem of slavery in the letter. In Philemon, Paul “envisions a new kind of relationship on the basis of siblingship” even if that new relationship is between a slave and master (2). For many modern commentators, this is a problem since slavery is a horrific abuse of human rights and a serious problem throughout the world today. Rather than tell Philemon to release his slave Philemon from his bondage, Paul does not seem to notice problem of slavery in this short letter. Taken along with Colossians, Paul tells slaves to obey their masters rather than commanding masters to set their slaves free. In 1 Corinthians 7:21-24 Paul tells people who were slaves when called by Christ to “not let it trouble them” and to gain their freedom if possible. McKnight points out this is as close to modern abolitionism that Paul gets, “but abolitionism it is not” (29).

In this commentary, slavery is in the background, but the relationship of masters and slaves is not the point of the letter. For McKnight, Philemon is a “deeply disturbing text” which embodies a new vision of reconciliation. This commentary argues the church ought to be a place of reconciliation first among its own people and second in society. “Reconciled people become agents of reconciliation” (5). In Philemon, Paul “envisions a new kind of relationship on the basis of siblingship” even if that new relationship is between a slave and maser. As McKnight recognizes, commentaries on Philemon must deal with the problem of slavery in the letter. In Philemon, Paul “envisions a new kind of relationship on the basis of siblingship” even if that new relationship is between a slave and master (2).

Because Paul does not appeal to Onesimus to set Philemon free, he seems to approve of slavery. One approach to the problem is to fully describe slavery in the Roman world then draw contrasts to various modern practices of slavery in order to claim Roman slavery was often not harsh. Onesimus is imagined to be an educated majordomo for a wealthy Philemon, appealing to Paul to adjudicate some dispute with his master. This strategy attempts to reduce Paul’s offensive lack of interest in ending the dehumanizing practice of slavery.

McKnight proves a twenty-two page description of slavery in the Roman world, summarizing a wide range of recent scholarship on Roman slavery. He carefully defines slavering and describes the Rome’s pervasive “slave culture.” This includes brief sections on the family loie of a slave, the slave’s relationship with the master, and options for obtaining justice for the slave, including manumission and the possibility of becoming a runaway. Each of this subsections are illustrated with some Greco-Roman source and each example could be multiplied. McKnight provides the illustration and ample reference to more detailed woks of Roman slavery, thus keeping this commentary on Philemon from becoming too bloated with background material.

After surveying the possibility of slavery as providing a way for a person to move up the Roman social ranks, McKnight comments “we must come down from these utopian mountains to the reality” (26). The western ideal of freedom was unknown to the vast majority or Romans. Only those at the very top of Roman society would have something like the freedom western (especially American) people enjoy. We are, as McKnight says, “drive by culture to evaluate Paul’s moral message on the basis of later abolition of slavery and freedom of slaves” (26). In order to properly interpret a text like Philemon, we must enter the word of the Roman first century and read Philemon in that context.

This is material valuable, but McKnight does not simply lay out background then proceed to the commentary. He includes a six-page essay entitled “Philemon in the Crucible of New World Slavery and Slavery Today” (30-36). Here he deals with the serious problem of slavery in the twenty-first century. A reader of Philemon may feel smugly satisfied modern Christianity has “gone beyond Paul” by ending slavery in England and America, but the conditions of slavery persist throughout the world with estimates as high as thirty-five million people living in slavery. This includes sex trafficking as well as labor exploitation (either agricultural or domestic). McKnight mentions three brief examples, Thai fishing ships, child sex slaves and forced marriages. “Modern slavery” McKnight says, “is different from the past in its deception, its technological sophistication, and is disregard for ethnicity and race” (36). Paul’s answer to this heinous problem would be the same as his answer to Philemon: the church is to be a place where reconciliation happens, justice in the church ought to become justice for all.

The body of the commentary is only about sixty-five pages about half of the volume. McKnight proceeds as do other contributions to the NICNT. After providing a translation of the text and a brief introduction, McKnight works through the text phrase-by-phrase, with any comments on the Greek in transliteration (although Greek appears untransliterated in the footnotes). Since Philemon is less complicated grammatically than other Pauline letters, the notes only occasionally need to deal with lexical and syntactical issues. More often McKnight comments on the rhetoric of the letter, focusing on how Paul makes his appeal to Philemon.

Conclusion. This new contribution on Philemon ought to take its place alongside other major exegetical commentaries (Barth and Blanke, Johnson, Knox). This small commentary will assist pastors and teachers to prepare sermons and studies on this small but important letter of Paul which are sensitive to the original cultural context but also squarely aimed at contemporary issues. McKnight has already contributed an excellent commentary on James to the NICNT series and his Colossians volume is scheduled for release in February 2018 to replace the venerable NICNT commentary by F. F. Bruce on Colossians, Philemon, and Ephesians (1984). In anticipation of this new commentary, McKnight posted “Ten Reasons the Church Needs Philemon” to his Jesus Creed blog. EerdWorld has a short video interviewing McKnight on this commentary and his forthcoming NICNT commentary on Colossians.

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

Witherington III, Ben. New Testament Theology and Ethics, Volumes 1 & 2. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2016. 856 pgs.; Pb.; $40.00  Link to InterVarsity

When InterVarsity Press sent me a copy of this massive book my initial thought was that Witherington had simply written another massive book on New Testament Theology. But this is not the case, these two new paperback volumes were previously published as The Indelible Image: The Theological and Ethical World of the New Testament. Volume one was subtitled “The Individual Witnesses” and volume two was subtitled “The Collective Witness.”

New Testament Theology and EthicsAs Witherington wrote in the preface to the original publication of this work, there is a need to write yet another New Testament theology for several reasons. First, Witherington observes that the connection between theology and ethics is seldom explored. There are few New Testament theologies with attempt to write on the ethics of the New Testament writers and typical books on New Testament ethics fail to take into account the theology of the various New Testament witnesses. Second, this is a problem since, as Witherington says, many New Testament theological terms are also ethical terms. He refers to John’s idea of love, for example. Third, Witherington thinks the reason for this disconnect is the Reformation emphasis on doctrine/theology. This had the effect of overlooking the ethics in the New Testament since it sound a little too much like “works righteousness.” Witherington thinks this overemphasis on forensic justification and imputed righteousness has done an injustice to New Testament theology and ethics.

His goal in these two volumes is to address this disconnection of theology and ethics. In order to achieve the goal, the first volume surveys the New Testament witnesses in chronological order. He begins with historical Jesus, although he does not worry too much about this terminology. The second witness is Paul since most of his letters are the earliest Christian writings available. Witherington calls Paul a “paradigm setter,” but he wants to avoid drawing a sharp contrast between Jesus and Paul. Pau believed the teaching of Jesus had an application beyond the original setting and Paul also believed he had a prophetic office with interpreted the teaching of Jesus by applying it to new situations (272). With respect to ethics, both Jesus and Paul would agree with James’s statement that “faith without works is dead.”

James, Jude and Peter are the topic of the third section of the book. The dating for the letters of Jude and James is important since they may pre-date Paul’s earliest letters. Witherington uses this chapter to outline a Jewish Christianity which in some ways stands in contrast to Pauline theology. The fourth chapter deals with Hebrews, a book often associated with Jewish Christianity, but Witherington draws parallels to Pauline theology. The Johannine literature in defined as the Gospel of John and the three epistles, Revelation is separated out to the final chapter of the book. The Gospel of John was also intended for a Jewish Christian audience but describes Jesus as a sage (a point Witherington has argued in Jesus the Sage (Fortress, revised edition 2000). Placing the sixth chapter on the synoptic Gospels may indicate they were written after the Gospel of John, but Witherington merely wants to trace the development of Christology in the Gospels in a single chapter. Perhaps the inclusion of Acts in this chapter is a methodological mistake, but the problem of the genre of Acts and its relationship to Luke is always a difficult problem. Despite having written a major commentary on Acts, Witherington only has a few pages on Acts in this chapter and then only focusing on Acts 2. The final chapter on Revelation and 2 Peter deals with the ethics of the persecuted as well as a brief introduction to the beginnings of the New Testament canon.

The second volume begins with a methodological discussion, is a New Testament “theology or ethics” even possible? Witherington’s main dialogue partner in this introduction is Joel Green’s Seized by Truth (Abingdon, 2007). This book argued for an ecclesiastical approach to Scripture, really what is now called theological interpretation. In this approach meaning is found behind, in and in front of the text. This approach takes into account how people have read Scripture in the past (how they have “received” the text within a faith community) as well as the text itself. Witherington is more cautious, pointing out that background and reception of a text cannot be the meaning of the actual text (2:25). His approach will focus on the meaning of the text in the final form and taking into consideration the cultural embeddedness of the text while attempting to apply the text to transformed lives in faith communities.

To achieve this, he offers two chapters on the symbolic and narrative world of the New Testament writers. These wide ranging chapters attempt to locate the New Testament writers in the overarching story of the Bible. The following chapters survey consensus views on Christology, Discipleship, the Holy Spirit, Eschatology and ethics (two chapters).

Witherington devotes three chapters to ethical teaching for Jewish Christians (everyone except Paul, Mark, Luke and 2 Peter), Pauline ethical teaching and ethical teaching for Gentiles (Mark, Luke and 2 Peter). The first volume explains why Witherington has divided the material as he has, especially his (correct) decision to place Matthew among the Jewish Christian writers as well as placing Mark among the Gentiles.

The result of this lengthy survey is what Witherington calls a “matrix of meanings” (chapter 13). By sticking to the overall narrative of the canon of Scripture, he observes that the thought world of both the Old and New Testaments blend with other (non-canonical) ethical sources to provide an ethical foundation for “going beyond the Bible.” Witherington interacts with I. Howard Marshall’s small book by this title in order to suggest all academic sub-disciplines ought to work together develop ethical teaching from the biblical foundation in order to meet the needs of the world today.

There are a few minor differences with respect to formatting. For example, the table of contents in the new volume is far more detailed. Several chapter titles were change to avoid some confusion. Chapter 3 was originally entitled “The Kinsmen and their Redeemer and Peter and his Principles,” the new volume has the more sensible “Jude, James and Peter: Bridging the Ministry of Jesus and the Apostolic Church.” Chapter four was originally “the Famous Anonymous Preacher” but now is “Hebrews: Looking unto Jesus in the Pauline Tradition.” The title of the sixth chapter was changed from the ambiguous “One-Eyed Gospels” to “Matthew Mark and Luke-Acts: Retrospective Portraits of Jesus and His Gospel” and chapter seven was change from “The End of All Things and the Beginning of the Canon” to “Revelation and 2 Peter: Transitioning to a Postapostolic Church.” If there are other adjustments in the body of the text, they are minor and do not effect page numbering between the two volumes.

This new publication makes these massive volumes available in less expensive paperback binding. The reduced cost is of course welcome, but since both volumes are well over 800 pages, I am concerned about the long-term durability of the binding.

NB: Thanks to Intervarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of Volume One of New Testament Theology and Ethics; I previously purchased both volumes of The Indelible Image. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

Jackson, Paul N. Devotions on the Greek New Testament, Volume Two. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2017. 189 pp. Pb; $18.99.  Link to Zondervan

This new volume of devotionals from the Greek New Testament follows the first volume edited by J. Scott Duvall and Verlyn Verbrugge (Zondervan, 2012). The idea of Greek devotionals rose out of the Exegetical Insights in Bill Mounce’s popular Basics of Biblical Greek. Each chapter of this introductory grammar began with a short illustration of why the grammatical lesson of the chapter plays out in Greek exegesis.

9780310529354The fifty-two devotionals in this small book are drawn from every New Testament book and focus on the details of a particular Greek text. After the title of the devotion and reference, the Greek text is provided. Occasionally the author provides a syntactical display (Paul Jackson on Mark 9:42-50; Dean Pinter on 1 Timothy 1:15-16). The author then offers two or three pages focusing on how Greek grammar can be used to illuminate the meaning of a text.

Most of the devotions have some comment on the syntax of the verses. For example, David McCabe’s comments on Romans 5:6 explains the genitive absolute in verse 6 as well as the textual variant generated by this difficult grammar. Holly Beers deals with several options for the use of the present tense in Luke 19:8. The authors sometimes provide a short word-study when necessary. Susan Mathew provides some important details on weakness and boasting in 2 Corinthians 12:9. Nijay Gupta’s essay on “Christian regard for the other” in Philippians 2:3-4 pints out Paul’s clever use of language to invert Roman cultural values. A few times the authors read the text in the light of the Septuagint, as in Christopher Beetham’s contribution on “Greek and the Echoes of Scripture” (“foreskin of your flesh” in Colossians 2:13). Occasionally a chapter deals with text critical issues (Todd Still on the “dislocated doxology” of Romans 16:25-27) and Peter Davids explains the NA27 and NA28 for 2 Peter 3:10.

There are three features at the end of this new volume not included in the earlier volume. First, there is a Scripture index for every text in the devotions rather than just the main text of the devotion. Second, there is a very useful subject index. In addition to the usual subjects one expects to find, the index include the grammatical concepts illustrated in the devotionals. For example, there are references to various uses of the participle, types of genitives datives, etc. This will help a professor illustrate the exegetical traction of a partitive genitive or a periphrastic participle. (I cannot be the only one looking for a devotional based on a deliberative subjunctive?) The third index covers Greek words, phrases and idioms. In some cases these are lexical forms, others are inflected forms.

When the first volume of Greek Devotions was published, I assigned my students to select one chapter and present it as a class devotion. I did this twice during the second semester of Greek, with the grand intention of having my fourth semester Greek students create their own devotions to share with the first year Greeks. For a variety of reasons this did not happen quite the way I had planned, but most of the students found the devotionals encouraging since they demonstrated how the syntactical categories they were learning could be used in exegesis, but also in support of a preachable point in a sermon.

Every Greek professor struggles to make the syntactical nuances of Greek practical to their students, these fifty-two Devotions on the Greek New Testament will be a valuable tool to achieve this goal.  For those looking to keep up with their Greek after seminary, both volumes of this series will encourage the busy pastor to continue reading their Greek New Testament.

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

McGuckin, John Anthony. The Path of Christianity: The First Thousand Years. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2017. 1209 pgs., Hb.; $65.00 Link to IVP

John Anthony McGuckin’s new book is a substantial contribution to the intellectual and social history of the first millennium of Christianity. Intentionally designed for use in a college or seminary classroom, McGuckin provides an excellent overview of major historical movements from the apostolic era through the Great Schism.

The Path of ChristianityOften church histories from evangelical publishers lean towards a western, Protestant form of Christianity and move rapidly from the Augustine to the Reformation (when the church really started). This is not the case for The Path of Christianity for two reasons. First, the book intentionally limits itself to the first millennium of the church. Few church history textbooks limit themselves to this period. Second, McGuckin is an archpriest of the Romanian Orthodox Church and his academic interests are solidly in the pre-Reformation period. He demonstrates an encyclopedic knowledge of Church History, having written twenty-five works of historical theology, including major works on St. Cyril of Alexandria, Gregory of Nazianzus, and St. Symeon as well as a survey of Orthodox Church history (The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to its History, Theology, & Spiritual Culture, Wiley-Blackwell, 2010). As a result McGuckin’s history is richly illustrated with a wide range of voices from both the eastern and western church.

The first twelve chapters of the book survey the first ten centuries of church history, from the end of the first through the eleventh century. Each chapter is well-organized and carefully outlined. The clearly marked sections will assist students as the work through the often lengthy chapters. Following each chapter is a “short reader” with excerpts from key texts from the period covered in the chapter. McGuckin also includes a “for further reading” bibliography organized into sections matching the text in the chapter.

At 144 pages, the first chapter is by far the most comprehensive as it covers the “fertile second century.” McGuckin surveys Jewish Christian groups (Encarites, Nazorenes, Ebionites, Elkesaites), Gnostic writers and Apostolic Fathers along with substantial sections on Montanism, Marcion, the Quarterodecimans, and Irenaeus. The chapter ranges into the third century with a section on the Monarchic movement (up to Hippolytus and Novatian of Rome). What is surprising about the book is the detail McGuckin is able to include. His descriptions of the four Jewish Christian groups are longer than most Church history textbooks (if they include early Jewish Christianity at all). His brief descriptions of each of the Apostolic Fathers are excellent introductions and his thirty pages on the Monarchian movement is more than enough to sort out the complexity of this issue.

As the title “Blood in the Arena” implies, the second chapter survey’s Rome’s response to Christianity from Nero through the Diocletian persecution, with attention to the status of Christianity in the Roman Empire. He has a lengthy discussion of Tertullian’s social theology as a response to imperial oppression. McGuckin includes rival non-Christian groups in this chapter (Mithras, Isis, Cyble and Manichaeism) as well as Christian relations with the Jews. Finally, McGuckin devotes a section of the chapter to the second century apologists (Justin Martyr through Minucius Felix).

The historical section also covers the development of theology as well. For example, the fifth chapter “Reconciling the World” begins with a short overview of Paul’s doctrine of reconciliation and how this doctrine was developed in both eastern and western penitential theology. McGuckin devotes about ten pages to eastern penitential canons including the rarely-discussed Synod of Ancyra in 314 and the influence of the canons of this Synod on the eastern monastic movement. This chapter has a lengthy section on the development of the monastic movement, once again beginning with its intellectual roots in the Hellenistic world and the New Testament. McGuckin includes brief sections on Syrian, Egyptian, and Palestinian monastic orders, taking into account the impact of Islam on these monastic centers. The chapter concludes with a collection of short readings from several monastic canons as well as Augustine’s Letter to a Female Monastic Community.

The second part of the book is a collection of topics of interest to scholars and historians of the first thousand years of the church. These chapters are intended as a social history of ideas and therefore trace an idea through the full thousand year period surveyed in the historical section. The topics in this section are:

  • The Bible and Its Interpretation in the Early Church
  • The Church and War
  • The Development of Christian Hymnography
  • Ways of Prayer in the Early Church
  • Women in Ancient Christianity
  • Healing and Philanthropy in Early Christianity
  • The Exercise of Authority in the Church: Orders and Offices
  • Christians and Magic
  • The Church and Wealth
  • Church and Slavery in an Age of Oppression
  • Attitudes to Sexuality in the Early Church
  • A Brief Account of Ancient Christian Art

Most of the chapters begin in the world of Hellenism and trace the issue through the biblical material into the early church. Some of these issues concern developments in worship, liturgy and art, but others are social issues (magic, wealth, slavery, sexuality). This volume is worth the price for the second half of the book alone.

For example, in his chapter on Healing and Philanthropy, McGuckin begins with healing in ancient Hellenism before quickly surveying the New Testament and patristic writers. He traces the same history for philanthropy, although the Hellenistic section is longer in this case. These two thread are combined in a short section on philanthropy in the Byzantine liturgy and the Hospital as symbol of the church. He includes short readings on the topic from biblical literature (Wisdom, Sirach, Luke, James and Paul), Gregory of Nazianzus and Pseudo-Basil.

McGuckin’s chapter on the development of Christian hymnody also begins with origin of Greek hymns (perhaps found in the Pauline letters) and compares them to pre-Christian Hellenistic hymns. There is a larger collection of short readings for this chapter in order to illustrate some of the more obscure early Christian hymns. These hymns are often translated by McGuckin and are annotated with comments suggesting poetic allusions. For most readers, this collection of hymns may be a first introduction to the vast number of hymns, songs and sacred poetry from the first millennium of the church.

As the bibliographies make clear, each chapter in this book is worthy of a monograph. In fact, given the length of the chapters and the slightly small font, several chapters could have been published as short stand-alone books. Despite the length of the book, McGuckin distills complex historical problems into a readable chapters and offers the interested reader an excellent list of resources to go much deeper. For students, these chapters are excellent introductions, but also resources for further research and writing.

Conclusion. Because McGuckin’s The Path of Christianity is so detailed, it is an important contribution to the study of church history. It is written in a style which will appear to the general reader as well as a student in a seminary class. But the massive amount of data in the book makes in a valuable reference work as well. It is possible the book is too much for classroom use, especially in a single, general seminary church history class. Nevertheless, the book will serve well as a standard reference for early church history.

 

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

 

Le Peau, Andrew T. Mark through Old Testament Eyes. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2017. Pb. 352 pp. $28.99.   Link to Kregel

As Andrew Le Peau observes in the introduction to this new commentary series, the New Testament writers were Old Testament people. Although this seems like an obvious statement, the symbols and literary patterns of the Old Testament are often overlooked in popular preaching and teaching on New Testament books. Although scholarship has done a better job setting the documents of the New Testament into the context of the Old in recent years, there is still much to be done to develop the database of background material available to illuminate the New Testament. There have been a few recent contributions in this area, D. A. Carson and G. K. Beale edited a single-volume Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (IVP 2007) and the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary on the Old Testament and New Testament (2009 with many of the individual books available in separate volumes).  Although many commentaries include this sort of background material, there are few commentaries which focus exclusively on how the New Testament writers used the Old Testament.

Mark Through Old Testament EyesThis series of commentaries will provide a verse-by-verse commentary which integrates typical exegesis of the text with Old Testament background in order to help answer questions as they arise. With respect to the exposition of the text, Le Peau comments on key phrases with an eye to Old Testament parallels rather than the typical exegetical details found in most commentaries. For example, at Mark 9:43 “if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off,” Le Peau briefly discusses prohibitions on self-mutilation in the Law (Deut 14:1-3) as well as ancient  pagan practice (1 Kings 18:27-29). He also draws attention to the hand, foot and eye as a source of stumbling in Proverbs 6:16-10 and Job 31:1, 5, 7. In his commentary on Mark 3:37, Le Peau draws attention to the provision of abundant food is a “picture that looks ahead to Isaiah’s coming messianic kingdom” (123). He cites Isaiah 55:1-3 at length, but also notes the miraculous feeding in Numbers 11 and 2 Kings 4:42-44.

Throughout the commentary section, Greek and Hebrew words are used sparingly and always appear transliterated so those without language skills will have no trouble making use of the commentary. There is some interaction with contemporary scholarship, although this is light and all references appears in endnotes.

Throughout the commentary are a number of sidebars entitled “Through Old Testament Eyes.” These units focus on the big picture to show how a particular text picks up on themes and motifs from the Old Testament. For example, Le Peau offers a chart in his exposition of the feeding of the five thousand tracing parallels between Psalm 23 and Mark 6. I briefly commented on Psalm 23 as a messianic text and potential background for this miracle in Jesus the Bridegroom, so it is good to see the Psalm used to interpret a miracle often used to preach brotherly sharing rather than a miracle which reveals Jesus as the Messiah. Another example of this kind of sidebar is Le Peau’s short description of the suffering of the messiah in the Psalms to illuminate Mark 14-15 (275-8).

A second type of sidebar in this commentary series is labeled “What the Structure Means.” These sections focus on literary devices such as metaphor, hyperbole, or other elements of story-telling. Often these take the form of an outline of a pericope with attention to chiasms or other features. In Mark 10:13-52 he lists four predictions and a prediction which frame the unit. In another place Le Peau offers a list of examples in Mark of sets of three events (272-3) and draws attention to this literary style in the Old Testament.

One problem with scholarly background studies is a failure to connect the context with the contemporary reader. This commentary hopes to avoid this my balancing the background element with an application section. These sections are labeled “Going Deeper” and intend to connect the text of a New Testament book with internal debates within the early church as well as draw out implications for contemporary church questions. For example, the “Going Deeper” section following Le Peau’s exposition of Mark 9:14-50 is a pastoral reflection on anger and quarrelsomeness (173-2). The section following Mark 13:12 deals with a non-eschatological understanding of “watching and being alert.” The focus is on understanding suffering as a part of the disciple’s calling. Although this application is quite preachable, I am not sure the application arises from the text of the Olivet Discourse. The actual text of the commentary does a good job with the Old Testament (Daniel 7) and Second Temple (1 Maccabees) backgrounds to Jesus’s words and even notices the shift in 13:27 from the Temple in A.D. 70 to the “end of the age.” It seems to me the natural application in that section ought to concern a warning against false predictions of the end in the light of the very real end which will eventually arrive.

I have a few minor problems with this commentary which probably fall into the category of “this is not the book I would have written.” First, Le Peau’s commentary on Mark does not deal with introductory issues in any depth. There are two pages under the heading “Who was Mark?” which deal with the few appearances of Mark in Acts and the epistles along with an ancient African tradition about Mark’s family. Since the purpose of the commentary to provide background to read the Gospel of Mark, perhaps more ought to be said about traditional authorship. For example, if the tradition Mark was Peter’s interpreter in Rome is accurate, what does his use of the Old Testament imply about the original audience and intention of the Gospel? What does the use of a New Exodus motif imply about the audience?

Second, there is a very short introduction to the use of the Old Testament in the Gospel. Most of this four page section involves an illustration drawn from contemporary movies. Although this analogy does explain how a writer might allude to an earlier work, it fails to explain why Mark would use the Old Testament in the way he does. Mark is not paying tribute to Isaiah for his contributions to prophetic writing; Mark is alluding to Isaiah’s New Exodus motif because he believes Jesus is really enacting the metanarrative of the whole Old Testament and placing himself in the center of that story. I realize Le Peau simply does not have space to write a fully argued methodology in the introduction to this commentary, but improving this introduction would pay dividends as readers use the commentary to read Mark.

Third, although this might be less interesting to evangelical readers, I think the commentary could be improved by occasionally tracing a motif through the literature of the Second Temple period. In my review of the text, I only noticed a few references to 1 Maccabees in the context of the abomination of desolation and there are no references to the Apocrypha or Pseudepigrapha in the Scripture index. Although this is not always possible, perhaps using the Dead Sea Scrolls as background for son of David sayings or the messianic banquet would set the Gospel of Mark into a more broadly Jewish context.

A final comment goes beyond the scope of the commentary, but I raise it since few scholars have asked the question. In the commentary, Le Peau understands allusions to the Old Testament are a product of Mark’s narration of the events. But to what extent did the historical Jesus shape traditions by alluding the Old Testament himself?  If Mark 4:11 fairly records the words of Jesus, then the allusion to Daniel 2 and 4 in the phrase “mystery of the kingdom” comes from Jesus rather than Mark. If this is the case, does it affect the exegesis of Mark 4?

Nevertheless, Le Peau contributes a good commentary on Mark which focuses on an often overlooked aspect of New Testament research.

This is the inaugural volume of a new series from Kregel Academic, with four other volumes planned at this time (David Capes on Matthew, Karen Jobes on John, Gary Burge on Galatians and Ephesians, and Tremper Longman on Revelation). My copy of this book has a number of strange spacing errors in when the text is italicized, hopefully this can be corrected in future reprints of the commentary (p. 27, the word Spirit, p. 39, the phrase Kingdom of God; p. 49, the word quiet, p. 51, the word healed, etc.) This is a minor problem and does not detract from the value of the commentary.

 

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

Published on August 25, 2017 on Reading Acts.

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