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Yarbrough, Robert W. The Letters to Timothy and Titus. PNTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. xxxvi+604 pp. Hb; $50.  Link to Eerdmans  

This new contribution to the Pillar New Testament Commentary series by Robert Yarbrough offers insightful exegesis of these three important but often overlooked letters. As he observes in his introduction, many readers approach the Pastoral Epistles for their detailed descriptions of church leaders. In fact, these letters do contain “valuable counsel not available elsewhere in the New Testament” (1). But the list of qualifications for elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are only one aspect of these letters.

Yarbrough, Pastoral Epistles, 1-2 Timothy, TitusThe ninety-page introduction to the Letters to Timothy and Titus begins with eight theses on the heritage of the Pastoral Epistles (PE). These eight statements were drawn from Thomas Oden’s Ministry through Word and Sacrament (Crossroad, 1989) and adapted to the content of the PE. Although this section is only the first eleven pages of the commentary, Yarbrough clearly sets his agenda for the commentary: these letters are in

Any commentary on the PE must deal with the problem of authorship for 1-2 Timothy and Titus. As Yarbrough observes, according to the consensus opinion, the author and the audience are fictive. Paul did not write the letters and the situation in Ephesus described in 1 Timothy and on Crete in Titus reflects the late first or early second century (11). He points out that authorship issues overshadow the substance of the Pastoral Epistles (69). Unfortunately, this may be the case for Yarbrough’s commentary since he accepts Pauline authorship and does not think the situation in Ephesus or Crete is fictional.

Yarbrough follows Adolf Schlatter’s 1936 German commentary on the PE. Since this work was not translated into English it has been sadly ignored, but it does foreshadow what Yarbrough calls the “new look” on Paul’s authorship of these letters. This new look started with Luke Timothy Johnson’s acceptance of Pauline authorship in 1996. Yarbrough cites Johnson’s observation “that the expulsion of the Pastorals was the sacrifice required by intellectual self-respect if scholars were to claim critical integrity and still keep the Paul they wanted most—and needed.” (76). If one scans the Scripture index of a typical book on Pauline theology (Wright, Dunn, etc.), there are few if any references to the Pastoral Epistles.

The body of the commentary follows the pattern of other Pillar commentaries. After a short introduction to each pericope and the text of the NIV 2011, Yarbrough moves through the section verse-by-verse, commenting on key vocabulary in order to illuminate the meaning of the text. He intends to follow the discourse flow in order to follow the argument Paul is making and to explain the unusual words Paul uses in these letters. All Greek appears in transliteration with minimal in-text citations to standard biblical studies tools (BDAG, MM, etc.) Detailed footnotes interact with other literature on the passage. The result is a very readable commentary which is focused on the text of the Bible.

One of the most controversial passages in these letters is 1 Timothy 2:9-14, Paul’s instructions concerning women in worship, Yarbrough’s commentary devotes about 25 pages to these verses. By comparison, Tom Schreiner devotes 62 pages to these verses in Women in the Church (Third edition, Crossway, 2016) and the book has about thirty pages of bibliography. Yarbrough does not consider this a “sudden interjection of prudery” (165). Instead, it is an integral part of Paul’s instruction to Timothy on worship and church order.

By way of introduction to this problematic text, Yarbrough devotes a few pages surveying the three main approaches, critical feminist, Evangelical feminist (egalitarian view), and Evangelical traditionalist (complementarian view). The first and second view do not think this passage is limiting the role of women in ministry, although the first view does this by dismissing Paul’s views as misogynist (although they are probably not Paul’s views at all, they reflect the conditions of the much in a much later period). The second view wants to see the Bible as authoritative so Paul’s command that a woman ought not to exercise authority over a woman is referring to some real situation in Ephesus and was not intended as command aimed at all women of all times. The third view also takes the Bible as authoritative and considers Paul’s words as applicable to the present church and would therefore limit a woman’s role in ministry (usually as a pastor who has authority over men). Yarbrough approaches 1 Timothy 2:11-15 with this complementarian view. But Yarbrough is quick to point out he does not intend to prevent the flourishing and ministry of women” (143). He cites with approval N. T. Wright’s title for this section in his translation of 1 Timothy: “Women Must be Allowed to Be Learners” (170).

With respect to the historical situation in Ephesus, there certainly was some particular reason for Paul to prohibit women from teaching. But Yarbrough argues 1 Timothy 2:12 is both distinctive to a particular situation and universal in scope (177). He rejects negative translations of αὐθεντέω (authenteō), such as the KJV “usurp authority,” preferring the ESV’s “exercise authority” (178). The study of this particular word has generated many articles, Yarbrough follows recent research by Al Wolters and Denny Burk which argue the women in Ephesus were trying to gain an advantage over the men by teaching in a “dictatorial fashion” (180).

Conclusion. Like other volumes in the Pillar New Testament Commentary series, Robert Yarbrough has contributed a solid exegetical study of the Pastoral Epistles based on the English Bible which is also faithful to the Greek text. Yarbrough’s acceptance of Pauline authorship and his approach to the controversial 1 Timothy 2:11-15 may cause some scholars to dismiss this excellent commentary.

 

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

Kutz, Karl V. and Rebekah Josberger. Learning Biblical Hebrew: Reading for Comprehension: An Introductory Grammar. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2018. 417 pp.; Hb.  $39.99  Link to Lexham Press

Kutz is professor of Biblical Languages and Josberger is an associate professor of Old Testament, but at Multnomah University. Their collaboration for a new first year biblical Hebrew primer reflects their experience in the classroom. As they say in the preface, this grammar is “aggressive” and assumes the use of Hebrew resources available to students of the Old Testament. However, Learning Biblical Hebrew does not seem to be any more “aggressive” than other recent introductory grammars. For example, the material in this new textbook is similar to the recent second edition of Page H. Kelley’s Biblical Hebrew: An Introductory Grammar (Eerdmans, 2018) or the second edition of Gary Practico and Miles Van Pelt, Basics of Biblical Hebrew Grammar (Zondervan, 2014; a third edition is slated for the first quarter of 2019).

Learning Biblical HebrewThe first three chapters deal with letter formation, and pronunciation, followed by seven chapters on nouns, adjectives, pronouns and numbers.  The next seven chapters introduce verbs and the entire Qal system, followed by chapters on the niphal, the piel, pual and hithpael (one chapter), hiphil and hophal, and “rare verb stems” (reduplicated stems and qal passive). There are two separate chapters on object suffixes, then the final ten chapters are devoted to weak verbs.

Several chapters stand out as unique compared to other beginning Hebrew grammars. Chapter nine is entitled “Learning to Read Intuitively: Common Patterns and Hebrew Nouns.” The goal of the chapter is to demonstrate patterns for detecting the meaning of words from how the word is formed. The preformative mem can be added to a stem to form a related word. For example, יצא is a verb “going out,” the noun מוֹצָא means “exit.” The verb אכל means “eat,” the noun מַאֲכָל refers to things eaten, or “food.” Nouns referring to professions or personal traits are often verbs pointed as nouns. The verb דין, “to judge” can be pointed as דַּיָּן, “judge” or דִּין, “legal case.” By paying attention to this reuse of the basic elements of Hebrew words, a student can expand their vocabulary and read new words in context.

Chapters five and twelve deal with a related issue, vowel changes in nouns and verbs. One of the more difficult problems for beginning students of Hebrew is the way vowel change when suffixes are added to a word. It is important to memorize and understand the rules, but the illustrations in these two chapters will help students visualize the way vowels reduce when a suffix is added. It is one thing to memorize “distant open syllables reduce” but quite another to see a clear example using multiple colors.

Exercises for each lesson appear in a separate workbook which was not available at this time of this review. (The Lexham website indicates it is shipping in the first quarter of 2019.) Although I do cannot know this for a fact, I assume the workbook will have vocabulary lists since the chapters in the textbook do not include them. One observation: the Logos Bible Software and Lexham websites list the publication date for Learning Biblical Hebrew and the workbook as 2017, the printed copy has 2018 and the workbook will be 2019. A Graded Reader with Exercises will be published by Lexham Press in 2019.

In addition to the usual paradigms in the back of the book, there are five appendices. First, the authors provide a short introduction to the Hebrew Bible, including the arrangement of the books in the Hebrew canon along with the Hebrew names of the books. There is a short note on differences in chapter and verse divisions (although there is no comprehensive chart of all the differences in the Hebrew Bible). The authors also provide short definitions and examples of liturgical notations (seder and parashiot), section breaks, ketiv/qere and perpetual qere. The second appendix introduces students to Hebrew accents and cantillation marks.

The third appendix offers instructions on creating grammatical diagrams. This is not a syntactical display, but rather a “visual representation of the author’s flow of thought” (432). Most examples are based on the English text in order to demonstrate how to subordinate clauses, but the final diagram of Deuteronomy 4:5-8 is given in English and Hebrew. The main reason for doing this sort of work is to weigh interpretive options and assist the reader to find the main point of a unit. The fourth appendix offers advice on constructing a thematic outline, or moving from a grammatical display to a functional outline for teaching and preaching. The final appendix is deals with transliterating Hebrew to English letters (although copy/paste from Logos to http://transliterate.com/ is the easiest way to transliterated Hebrew and Greek).

There is nothing in the textbook on using computer based tools for reading Hebrew. This is remarkable since Lexham and Logos Bible Software are part of the same family of companies. This textbook is therefore aimed at students who want to develop a solid working knowledge of Hebrew rather than an overview of grammar as a crutch for using computer based Hebrew Bibles.

Learning Biblical Hebrew is an excellent textbook for a beginning Hebrew class, likely taught over two semesters at the graduate level. Grammatical explanations are clear and sufficient examples are provided to allow the student to see the concept in context. Pending the release of the workbook, Learning Biblical Hebrew should be considered as a primary textbook for the seminary classroom.

 

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.

Paul, Ian. Revelation. Tyndale New Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2018. 371 pp. Pb. $25.00   Link to IVP Academic  

This new volume in the Tyndale New Testament Commentary series replaces the 1969 commentary by Leon Morris, originally published by Eerdmans. Ian Paul is described as “a freelance theologian” as well as an adjunct professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and associate minister at St Nicholas’ Church in Nottingham, England. These three roles are reflected in this commentary. Paul certainly pays attention to the exegetical and theological details of the text, but he is also interested in accurately communicating the book of Revelation in a pastoral context.

Ian Paul RevelationThe fifty-six page introduction begins with the observation that Revelation has been an influential book on both culture and worship, but it is also one of the most neglected books of the New Testament. Outside of the first three chapters, few preach from the book of Revelation. For Paul, Revelation is an important book because it tests an exegete’s ability to read Scripture well. Perhaps the proof of this is the wide range of bad interpretations of Revelation over the long history of the church. But Revelation also has significant implications for how the Gospel interacts with culture.

Paul’s approach in the commentary is first to pay disciplined attention to the text. This close reading of what Revelation actually says is not always evident as commentators are often driven by theological assumptions. Second, Paul pays attention to how John draws on the Old Testament and parallel texts in the New Testament. This is more than a search for allusions to the Old Testament in Revelation, since how John uses the Old Testament may tell us quite about his theological agenda. Third, Paul wants to understand how John’s message would have been understood by the original audience. Again, this is often set aside by some commentators who are only interested in the eschatology of the book. This attention to the original historical and social context will inform the fourth element of Paul’s approach, to make connections to the real world. How does Revelation preach in the contemporary world? In order to bridge the gap between the culture of first century Asia Minor and make appropriate applications to modern issues, the exegete hear the text as it was intended by the author in the first century.

With respect to other introductory details, Paul dates the book to the reign of Domitian, A.D. 85-95. Although this date certainly allows for the apostle John to be the author (the traditional view), the authority of book comes from what has been written rather than apostolic authorship. Paul does provide an argument that the Gospel of John and Revelation could be written by the same person, he admits the evidence is not conclusive.

Based on this date, Paul’s introduction surveys the historical, social and economic context of late first century Asia Minor. This necessarily includes a short section on the pervasiveness of the imperial cult in the seven churches addressed in Revelation 2-3. Although he only has space for a short introduction to the issue, Paul emphasizes the importance of the imperial cult for understanding some of the imagery in the book. He also responds to recent discussions of the non-persecution of Christians during the reign of Domitian. Paul agrees there was no systemic, empire wide persecution of Christians, they nevertheless faces varying degrees of pressure, often economic, for their resistance to local gods and the imperial cult.

The introduction also includes a short section on the genre of Revelation. On the one hand, Revelation claims to be a vision, but on the other the book is constructed with extraordinary attention to details and remarkable subtly with respect to its allusions to the Hebrew Bible. Is the book “revelation or research”? For Paul, it is more important to attend carefully the text regardless of how John wrote the book. The book is apocalyptic, but it claims to be prophecy and it has some features of a letter. As such, the book makes claims about reality, even if those claims are made using complex metaphors.

Most commentaries on Revelation must deal with how the book relates to the future (or not). Paul offers short descriptions of idealist, futurist, historical and preterist approaches along with four theological positions on the kingdom, premillennialism, amillennialism, postmillennialism, and dispensational premillennialism. Paul observes that although these eight possible positions are often presented as strategies for interpreting Revelation they are in fact conclusions about how the book should be interpreted. The interpreter brings their preterism or dispensationalism to Revelation rather than letting the book speak for itself. The book does speak to the Christians to whom it was addressed but it also has something to say about the future destiny of the world. In many ways the categories attempt to force Revelation into a theological slot which is not fully suited to the book. This blending of past, present and future is a healthy way to approach Revelation, although Paul does not always embrace the future aspects in the commentary.

The body of the commentary treats the English text (usually TNIV) in a verse-by-verse fashion. He divides each section into context, comment, and theology, although the first and last sections are usually just a short paragraph. When Paul deals with Greek or Hebrew words they appear in transliteration. Although this is certainly a scholarly commentary, in keeping with the style of the Tyndale series Paul does not often interact with other scholarship. This is refreshing since recent commentaries have become collections of views from other commentaries. Paul’s comments are intended to illuminate the text of Revelation and enable a reader to make sense of some difficult problems.

Two examples will suffice to illustrate Paul’s method. In commenting on the first four seals, the four horsemen, Paul rightly dismisses the possibility the white rider is Jesus and suggests it is an allusion to Apollo and refers to pagan religions. The next four horsemen clearly refer to war, famine and death, the conditions of Asia Minor in the late first century. He suggests a parallel to Jesus’s teaching in the Olivet Discourse (using Matthew 24:5-29 and summarized in a simple chart, p. 148). The theological point John makes with this imagery is that the imperial myth of peace and prosperity is actually a myth. The Empire is full of chaos and suffering, only the sovereign God has power over this world. Certainly this is a message each generation of the church needs to embrace, no empire brings real peace and prosperity to this world. But Paul does not address any possible future hope in the first six seals despite the coming of the “great and terrible day of the Lord” in 6:16-17. Some scholars have suggested each of the seals, trumpets and bowls culminate in the return of Jesus. It is certainly possible understand the seals as pointing toward a future hope in the return of Jesus without embracing any complicated dispensational timeline drawn from Revelation 6.

With respect to the “number of the beast” in Revelation 13:16-18, Paul briefly explains the practice of Gematria and suggests the number refers to Nero Caesar in Hebrew. Both Nero Caesar and beast have a numerical value of 666 and identifying the number of the beast with Nero makes sense of some other elements of the chapter, such as the Nero Redivivus myth. Ultimately Revelation 13 is about human totalitarian rule which defies the sovereignty of God. The contemporary example for John is Nero and the Roman Empire, a message which will resonate in every generation of the church. Where Paul stops short is suggesting a future application of this defiant totalitarian rule to the ultimate enemy of God who will be defeated by God in the future.

Conclusion. Ian Paul’s commentary is an excellent guide to reading the text of Revelation. In keeping with the format of the Tyndale series, this is not an exhaustive commentary which delves into every nuance of the text. Compared to the commentaries by David Aune (WBC, now Zondervan, 1998; three volumes and 1600+ pages) or Greg Beale (NIGTC, Eerdmans, 1998, 800 pages), this book is a brief.  But other than scholars, few people have time to wade through the depths of such massive commentaries. This short commentary in the Tyndale series is a joy to read, both pastors and laypeople will appreciate Paul’s lucid style.

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.

 

deSilva, David A. The Letter to the Galatians. NICNT; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. lxxix+541 pp.; Hb.; $55.00. Link to Eerdmans

Over the past few years Eerdmans has been replacing older volumes of the New International Commentary on the New Testament. In the case of Galatians, deSilva’s new commentary replaces Ronald Y. K. Fung’s 1988 commentary, itself a replacement of Herman Ridderbos’s 1953 work originally written in Dutch. Each generation of the commentary has grown, from Ridderbos’s 238 pages to Fung’s 342 pages, now deSilva’s 541 pages (plus 76 pages of bibliography). The new NICNT volumes are also larger size volume (6×9 as opposed to 5×7, Ridderbos has a larger font than the other two). Ridderbos had a thirty-eight page introduction, a half page subject index and no bibliography; deSilva’s introduction runs one hundred and eight pages, twenty-three pages of indices and fifty-one pages of bibliography.

deSilva, The Letter to the GalatiansWhat has happened in the study of Galatians since 1955 or 1988 to account for this kind of exponential growth in a commentary? First, Hans Deiter Betz commentary on Galatians was published in 1979. Betz was one of the first to analyze Galatians using ancient categories of rhetoric, arguing Galatians used judicial rhetoric and was an apologetic letter. Fung interacted with the rhetorical categories suggested by Betz and ultimately rejected the category of apologetic, deSilva presents a more nuanced interpretation of Paul’s use or ancient rhetoric (ethos, pathos, logos, for example). In his introduction deSilva offers twenty-nine pages on Paul’s rhetoric and letter writing in antiquity and another ten pages applying this material to the letter to the Galatians.

Second, New Perspective on Paul was still new when Fung wrote in 1988 so he does not address some of the more controversial New Perspective issues in any detail. Fung discusses the phrase “works of the Law” in a footnote to Galatians 2:16, deSilva has five pages with extensive footnotes. The same is true for pistis Christou, the “faith of Jesus” or “faith in Jesus.” deSilva has a nine-page excursus on this sometimes technical issue interacting with Dunn’s many articles on the issue as well as the response to Dunn. Fung simply notes the problem in a footnote.

Third, J. Louis Martyn’s Anchor Bible commentary used the category of apocalyptic to interpret Galatians. Martyn wrote an article on apocalyptic antimonies in Galatians just prior to Fung’s commentary, but it did not have much influence on the commentary.

Fourth, related to an “apocalyptic Paul,” there is far more attention in deSilva’s commentary on Paul’s imperial language. To give but one example, to use the language of peace in 1:3 is to use the language of imperial Rome. Augusts brought peace to the empire and Romans sacrificed on the “Altar of the Augustan Peace” and used coins which declared to all that the emperor was the personification of peace in the world (118). For Paul to talk of peace coming from another source, “Father God and Lord Jesus” implies global powers such as Rome are passing away. deSilva offers and excursus of nearly eight pages on the Imperial Cult and the Galatian believers.

With respect to the controversial issue of the destination and date of Galatians, deSilva favors a southern Galatian setting for the letter, although he recognizes the evidence is inconclusive on either side (29). He spends a considerable section of the introduction arguing for a southern Galatia destination based on the record of Paul’s missionary activity in the book of Acts. Commentaries on Galatians which take the book of Acts as a reliable witness to Paul’s missionary activity must deal with problem of Paul’s visits to Jerusalem. Acts records Paul visiting Jerusalem three times, Galatians mentions only two. Of critical importance is the private meeting of Paul and the Jerusalem “pillars” (Galatians 2:1-10).

The result of this meeting is a handshake agreement that Paul continue his mission n to the Gentiles and (most importantly) the pillars agreed the gentile Titus did not need to submit to circumcision. For many commentators, this meeting is what Luke records in Acts 15. DeSilva argues the private meeting in Galatians 2:1-10 is parallel to Acts 11:28-30, the famine visit (which he tentatively dates to A. D. 46-47). After Paul’s private meeting with the Jerusalem pillars Paul and Barnabas travel to South Galatia and establish a number of churches. After the return is the Antioch Incident (Galatians 2:11-14) and the visit of rival teachers to Paul’s churches in Galatia. Galatians was written after these events, either in A. D. 48 or 49, just prior to the meeting with the apostles in Acts 15. As deSilva says, “This is admittedly a tight schedule” (61) and it requires the book of Acts to be taken seriously as history. Those who reject Acts as accurate history may struggle to accept deSilva’s argument for an early date for Galatians, but it is compelling.

The introduction to the commentary includes a lengthy section on the rhetoric of letter writing in antiquity and Galatians as “persuasive communication” (61-106). DeSilva has contributed two commentaries which focused on rhetoric (Perseverance in Gratitude: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, [Eerdmans, 2000] and Seeing Things John’s Way: The Rhetoric of the Book of Revelation, WJKP, 2009). In this section of the introduction he traces Paul’s argument through the letter.

The body of the commentary follows the pattern of the recent NICNT volumes. Each section begins a short orientation and translation of the text with numerous notes on textual variations and translation issues. The commentary moves from phrase to phrase with technical details and Greek grammatical comments in the footnotes. When Greek words appear in the main body of the commentary they are transliterated so readings without Greek training will be able to follow the argument. It is important to observe this is not a Greek text commentary so there are fewer notes dealing with syntactical issues than in Eerdmans’s New International Greek Text Commentary. Most interaction with scholarship primarily appears in the footnotes, making for a readable commentary.

There are a number of extremely useful excurses in the body of the commentary. After his commentary on Galatians 1:11-17, deSilva includes a seven-page essay on Paul’s encounter with the resurrected Jesus as a “paradigm shift.” Before the Damascus Road, Paul would have considered Jesus as a failed messiah and in violation of the Torah (at least according to the Pharisaic interpretation of the Torah). The followers of Jesus declare Jesus as the Righteous One (Acts 3:14; 7:52) and a “prophet like Moses” (Acts 3:22-23, 7:37). If God raised Jesus from the dead, the he declared Jesus was the messianic heir to the throne of David. Paul reacted violently against the movement since the followers of Jesus proclaimed Jesus was indispensable for experiencing God’s covenant blessings. After seeing the resurrected Jesus, Paul’s center of authority shifted from Torah to Jesus (153). Since God was pouring his Spirit out into the Gentiles and reconciling Gentiles to himself, “it no longer made sense to Paul to try and make Jews out of the Gentiles” (156).

Conclusion. Despite his misgivings expressed in the preface, David deSilva’s commentary on Galatians is a worthy successor to Fung’s 1988 commentary and stands well alongside F. F. Bruce’s classic New International Greek Text commentary. Students of Galatians should consider this commentary a standard work on one of Paul’s most important letters. Although this is a professional, technical commentary, deSilva’s text is very easy to read and will be of use for both pastor and scholar.

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

Johnson, John, under open heavenLast week I celebrated the beginning of the new school year with a book giveaway: John E. Johnson, Under an Open Heaven: A New Way of Life Revealed in John’s Gospel (Kregel, 2017). This is a book which reflects good scholarship, but is written for a popular audience and would make a great addition to a pastor’s library. I reviewed this book when it was published, where I commented:

The thirteen chapters of the book read like sermons, with introductory illustrations drawn from pop culture or personal experience, and chapter sections with alliterative headings. He even cites Bob Dylan, which is always a plus. Since the book is written on a conversational level, it would work well in a small group environment or as personal devotional reading. Johnson has included a few questions at the end of each chapter to prompt discussion.

There were only twelve entries this time, so I sorted them at random and picked a number at random.org. The winner is:

Steve Williams

Steve’s “favourite pericope is John 9:23 to 9:38.” The spelling of “favorite” makes me think I will be shipping this book some distance, so get in touch with me soon at plong42@gmail.com and I will drop in the in the mail as soon as I can. Thanks to everyone for participating.

This is an exceptionally good semester for me, should I do one more giveaway?

Johnson, John, under open heavenOnce again, to celebrate the end of the summer and beginning of the new academic year, I am giving away a few books. In this case, it is another book I purchase and then discovered I already had it on the shelf. This week I have an extra copy of John E. Johnson, Under an Open Heaven: A New Way of Life Revealed in John’s Gospel (Kregel, 2017). This is a book which reflects good scholarship, but is written for a popular audience and would make a great addition to a pastor’s library. I reviewed this book when it was published, where I commented:

The thirteen chapters of the book read like sermons, with introductory illustrations drawn from pop culture or personal experience, and chapter sections with alliterative headings. He even cites Bob Dylan, which is always a plus. Since the book is written on a conversational level, it would work well in a small group environment or as personal devotional reading. Johnson has included a few questions at the end of each chapter to prompt discussion.

To have a chance at winning these books, leave a comment with your name and favorite chapter / pericope in John’s Gospel so I can contact you if you win. I will randomize the names from the comments and select one winner at random.

I will announce the winner picked at random on September 7, 2018 (one week from now). Good Luck!

Bauckham, Gospel of JohnToday is the day I pick a winner for The Gospel of John and Christian Theology, edited by Richard Bauckham and Carl Mosser (Eerdmans, 2008). There were 51 comments (after I deleted my comments and some duplicates). This was one of the highest number of entries I have seen for a book giveaway, and several of the usual suspects did not enter.

I randomized the names then pasted them into a spreadsheet, generated a random number at random.org. And the winner is…..

Kevin Boyle

Congrats to Kevin! Please contact me via email (plong42 at gmail .com) with your mailing address and I will drop the book in the mail ASAP. Thanks to everyone who commented, look for the next “Back to School” book giveaway later this afternoon.

 

 

Goldingay, John. The First Testament: A New Translation. Downers Grove Ill..: IVP Academic, 2018. 262 pp. Pb; $24.00.    Link to IVP Academic

In Goldingay’s recent Reading Jesus’s Bible (Eerdmans 2017) he argued Jesus and the writers of the New Testament not only read the First Testament, but use it as the bedrock for their theology and practice. In two other recent publications from IVP Academic, Do We Need the New Testament? (2015) and A Reader’s Guide to The Bible (2017) Goldingay argued the First Testament is foundational for a proper understanding the New Testament. Although he said few Christians would actually question the need for the First Testament in Do We Need the New Testament?, recent comments from Andy Stanley on “un-hitching” Christianity from the Old Testament reflect the struggle of the modern Christian reader to see the relevance of the first two thirds of their Bible. Or worse, they are embarrassed about much of the content in the Old Testament, preferring the loving God of the New. John Piper responded to Andy Stanley (as did virtually every blogger under the sun), forcing Stanley to clarify his views and un-hitch himself from his own comments.

Goldingay, First TestamentIn order to further his goal of bringing the First Testament alive for the church today, Goldingay has produced a new translation of the Hebrew Bible. The title of the translation reflects a modern allergy to the phrase “Old Testament” since the title implies antiquated or out-of-date. It is not the “we do not need it anymore testament,” but the first three-quarters of the canon of Scripture. As I have often said to my students we need a thorough knowledge of the literature and theology of the Hebrew Bible in order to fully understand the New Testament.

This translation had its origins in Goldingay’s Old Testament for Everyone series published by Westminster John Knox. The translation done for those popular commentaries was “substantially revised.” In the preface to the volume he lists a series of principles for the translation, beginning with his desire to stick as closely to the original Hebrew and Aramaic as possible using everyday English as much as possible. For example, he uses contractions and other colloquial expressions, but this is not a paraphrase. For example, most traditional Bible translate the euphemism for sex as “he knew his wife.” In Genesis 4:1, the man “slept with his wife” and in Isaiah 8:3 it is “I had sex with my wife.” Since the goal is a translation which reflects the underlying Hebrew, occasionally there are rough or jerky sentence; but that is the nature of the Hebrew Bible. In addition, he sets poetry out to look like poetry, a common practice in modern Bible translations. The goal is accurate translation while preserving the ancient Hebrew flavor of the First Testament.

For the name of God, Goldingay chose to use Yahweh rather than the common circumlocution Lord. Goldingay transliterates most names so they appear more akin to their Hebrew equivalents. Most of these will be apparent to readers, Mosheh for Moses, Yehoshua for Joshua, etc. For others, the first occurrence has the traditional name in brackets: Havvah for Eve, Qayin for Cain, or Ha’ay for Ai in Joshua 8. Seeing names like Iyyob (Job) and Hisqiyyahu (Hezekiah) are quite shocking, but reflect the actual pronunciation of these names which have been blended through translations of the Hebrew into Greek, Latin and English. Fortunately he uses the traditional names for the book titles. This practice moves away from traditional spellings but also traditional (easier) pronunciations. This may present some difficulty for some readers, but it is important for Goldingay’s goal of allowing the reader to hear the Hebrew sounds in the Hebrew Bible.

Although this is not a study Bible, Goldingay includes a short introduction to the history of the First Testament as well as for each book. He is not particularly concerned with traditional introductory issues in these single-page prefaces. Instead his focus on the main themes of the book and how the book fits into the overarching canon of Scripture.

Like most modern Bibles, Goldingay has added a short title to sections. These are often mini-interpretations, such as “How to stand tall” (Psalm 52) or “How to weave a sanctuary (Exodus 26). Exodus 1:1-19 is labeled “On how not to render to Caesar,” an appropriate title with a New Testament allusion. Others are tongue-in-cheek, such as Esther 5:6-6:4, “The girl who knows how to work her man” or Ezekiel 37:1-14, “Dem bons, dem bones, dem dry bones.” Some may not be helpful for someone who does not know the story. For example, Ruth 4:1-10 is entitled “how not to get overextended in property ownership.” Although that is what happens in the section for Boaz’s rival, someone reading just the heading might be led to believe this is some legislation on taxation.

As observed above, Goldingay uses traditional names for the books of the First Testament. He also chose to use the traditional order of the books. This order is based on the Septuagint and reflects that Greek translation rather than the order of the First Testament itself. Perhaps it would be too jarring to see Ruth, Esther or Daniel moved out of their traditional place in the canon. On the other hand, this translation is intended for Christian readers so the order of the Christian canon is understandable.

Conclusion. Some will be as skeptical of this new translation as they were when N. T. Wright released his The Kingdom New Testament or David Hart Bentley’s recent translation which highlighted the “fragmentary formulations” of the New Testament “without augmentation or correction.” Others will receive this new translation for what it is, one scholar’s attempt to produce a readable translation which is faithful to the spirit of the First Testament. As Goldingay says in the preface to The First Testament, there is no such thing as a “best translation of the Old Testament.” Goldingay’s translation is an example of a faithful translation which comes from a scholar with a deep passion to see Christians read the First Testament in a form as close to the original Hebrew as possible.

 

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.

Bauckham, Gospel of JohnSummer is over and it is time to get back into the swing of a new semester.Actually, I just finished teaching an Early Fall OT Survey course for freshmen, so I have been swinging things for a while. But I still want to celebrate the beginning of a new school year with the traditional Reading Acts book giveaway. As regular readers know, I occasionally purchase a book and when I put it on the shelf I discover I already owned the book. Although this is embarrassing (and possibly a sign of old age), it is good news for readers of this blog since I usually set the book aside for a giveaway.

First up this year is a volume of essays on The Gospel of John and Christian Theology edited by Richard Bauckham and Carl Mosser (Eerdmans, 2008). According to the Eerdmans website, the book is now out of print, although print on demand copies are available. The essays in the collection were first presented at the first St. Andrews University Conference on Scripture and Theology in 2003. This explains the diversity of essays in the book from biblical studies to theology, including “big names” such as Rowan Williams, Miroslav Volf and Jürgen Moltmann.

Here is the table of contents:

  • Johannine Dualism and Contemporary Pluralism, Stephen C. Barton
  • Johannine Dualism and Contemporary Pluralism Miroslav Volf
  • Christianizing Divine Aseity: Irenaeus Reads John D. Jeffery Bingham
  • Anglican Approaches to St. John’s Gospel, Rowan Williams
  • Glory or Persecution: The God of the Gospel of John in the History of Interpretation, Tord Larsson
  • The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel; From What Perspective Should It Be Assessed?, C. Stephen Evans
  • The Fourth Gospel as the Testimony of the Beloved Disciple, Richard Bauckham
  • Bridging the Gap: How Might the Fourth Gospel Help Us Cope with the Legacy of Christianity’s Exclusive Claim over Against Judaism?, Stephen Motyer
  • Anti—Judaism, the Jews, and the Worlds of the Fourth Gospel Judith Lieu
  • “The Jews Who Had Believed in Him” (John 8:31) and the Motif of Apostasy in the Gospel of John, Terry Griffith
  • “The Father of Lies,” “the Mother of Lies,” and the Death of Jesus (John, 12:20-33), Sigve K. Tonstad
  • The Lazarus Story: A Literary Perspective, Andrew T. Lincoln
  • The Raising of Lazarus in John 11: A Theological Reading, Marianne Meye Thompson
  • The Lazarus Narrative, Theological History, and Historical Probability, Alan J. Torrance
  • The Prologue of the Gospel of John as the Gateway to Christological Truth, Martin Hengel
  • The Testimony of Works in the Christology of John’s Gospel, Murray Rae
  • On Guessing Points and Naming Stars: Epistemological Origins of John’s Christological Tensions, Paul N. Anderson
  • Narrative Docetism: Christology and Storytelling in the Gospel of John, Kasper Bro Larsen
  • “The Truth Will Set You Free”: Salvation as Revelation, Anastasia Scrutton
  • God in the World—the World in God: Perichoresis in Trinity and Eschatology, Jürgen Moltmann

To have a chance at winning this book, leave a comment with your name so I can contact you if you win. I will randomize the names from the comments and select one winner at random.  There are no geographical limits, I will ship this book to the winner where ever they live.

I will announce the winner (and the next giveaway) on Friday morning, August 31, 2018.

McKnight, Scot. Colossians. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. lx+442 pp.; Hb.; $55.00. Link to Eerdmans   

McKnight begins this major commentary on Colossians with the observation that the letter is Paul’s “apostolic vision that sought to redesign the Roman Empire” (1). That “redesign” is based on Paul’s gospel of Jesus Christ and Paul’s gospel, McKnight says, can be reduced to the term “mystery,” Paul’s “term in this letter for God’s plan to reconcile Gentiles with Jews, slaves with free, and all manner of social identities into one large family called the church” (4). According to the letter to the Colossians, this new family challenges the dark powers of the present age, whether they are Greco-Roman gods and emperors or the nationalism and imperialism of the modern age.

Scot McKnight, Colossians, CommentaryWith respect to the authorship and date of Colossians, McKnight begins with a critique of the method usually used in Pauline authorship discussions. He questions the validity of comparing Colossians to the other letters which are known to be authentically from Paul. The problem, says McKnight, is we really do not have proof Galatians (for example) was written by Paul. In fact, all ancient letters were mediated through a secretary, or perhaps even a series of scribes. Paul’s letters were often written along with others who worked with him, Timothy for example.

Although there are differences in vocabulary and style, McKnight lists several clear similarities between Colossians and the other so-called authentic letters: the authority of Paul, Christology, ecclesiology, and eschatology. In each case there are some unique elements and distinctive nuances, but each theological area does not contrast with the “pure Paul” of Romans and Galatians (16). The doctrine of justification and an emphasis on the Holy Spirit are missing from Colossians, but this is not part of the themes of the letter. He concludes his discussion of authorship with the curmudgeonly conclusion Paul did not write any of his letters, but Paul is behind all his letters (18).

McKnight favors the view Paul was in Ephesus when he wrote Colossians (and Philemon) in the mid-50s, perhaps as late as 57. The traditional view Paul wrote from Rome sometime in the early 60s is problematic because of the travel notes in Colossians and Philemon. Of course the main weakness of an Ephesian origin for the letter is there is no explicit reference to an Ephesian imprisonment. Yet an origin in Ephesus allows the interpreter to hear echoes of the culture of Ephesus in the letter, especially the presence of exorcists and magicians from Acts 19:13-20 and (I would add), the “powers” from the letter to the Ephesians (39).

The other introductory issue unique to Colossians is the nature of the opponents against whom Paul writes. McKnight calls them “the Halakic Mystics of Colossae.” The matter is complicated by the fact we know very little about Colossae compared to other Greco-Roman cities such as Ephesus. McKnight interacts at length with Jerry Sumney’s Identifying Paul’s Opponents (Bloomsbury, 2015) and agrees with Sumney’s call for caution in the case of the opponents at Colossae, but he would allow for more evidence to be drawn from the ethical section of the book. McKnight agrees with Ian Smith’s Heavenly Perspective: A Study of the Apostle Paul’s Response to a Jewish Mystical Movement at Colossae (T&T Clark, 2006) and “riffs” on Smith’s major points (29). The opponents were operating with a Jewish set of ideas allied with the kind of dualism found both in Judaism and Hellenism. This dualism led to a “world-denying asceticism.” Although they tended to “entangle themselves” with the elemental powers of this world, it is doubtful they actually worshiped angels.

The final section of the introduction to the commentary is a sketch of Paul’s theology in the letter. In reviewing recent scholarly discussion of Paul’s theology, McKnight concludes it is necessary to construct a Pauline theology which “transcends the soteriological schemes of Western theology” (51). He has three recent theological contributions in mind when he makes this statement. First, he acknowledges the contributions of James Dunn’s Pauline Theology (Eerdmans, 1998) and N. T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Fortress, 2013), but also sees recent contributions by Louis Martyn and Douglas Campbell and the “apocalyptic Paul” to be on the right track and renders the old perspective versus the new perspective passé (46).

The second recent contribution to Pauline studies which bears on Pauline theology in Colossians in John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift (Eerdmans, 2015). Barclay’s rich description of Paul’s understanding of grace in the literature of the Second Temple Judaism ought to be required reading before any scholar attempts to sketch out Paul’s theology (or write a commentary on a Pauline letter). Third, McKnight considers recent series of monographs by of Michael Gorman “some of the finest articulations of a Pauline theology” (49). Gorman is sometimes cited as an example of participationist theology and balances all the emphases of modern Pauline studies (50). He does suggest a modification to Gorman’s term cruciformity, with a suggestion of missional-Christoformity (a phrase appearing often in the commentary itself.

In his own fourteen page sketch of Pauline theology, McKnight attempts to “slightly reorient Dunn and Wright and Gorman” building on where “Wright ends his Paul and the Faithfulness of God and where Gorman lands: reconciliation and mission” (51). Perhaps it is time for McKnight to turn his attention to a fully developed Pauline theology textbook.

The body of the commentary proceeds through the outline of Colossians in smaller units. Each section begins a short orientation and translation of the text with numerous notes comparing the NIV and CEB. The commentary itself moves from phrase to phrase with technical details and Greek grammatical comments relegated to copious footnotes. When Greek words appear in the main body of the commentary they are transliterated so readers without Greek training will be able to follow the argument. Most interaction with scholarship appears primarily in the footnotes, making for a remarkably readable commentary. On occasion he must deal with technical details or theological problems (such as the meaning of baptism in 2:11). In these cases he provides material in the footnotes to point interested readers to more detailed articles and monographs.

Conclusion. McKnight’s prose is engaging and there are occasionally rhetorical flourishes intended to amuse the reader. Rarely does a technical commentary entertain as well as educate. But McKnight also demonstrates his pastoral heart, never straying from Paul’s pastoral purposes in the letter. This commentary will be useful for scholars, pastors, teachers, and interested laypersons who want to dig deep into the text of Colossians.

Usually commentaries on Colossians also include a section on Philemon. Scot McKnight’s commentary on Philemon in the New International Commentary on the New Testament series was originally intended to be included with this forthcoming Colossians commentary, However, Eerdmans decided to publish Philemon separately (see my review of his Philemon commentary here). McKnight also contributed a commentary on James in this series (Eerdmans, 2011).

 

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

Published on August 15, 2018 on Reading Acts.

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