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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NB: For additional material on this textbook, videos and links to mobile apps, visit Danny Zacharias’s website. Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Book Review: David deSilva, A Week in the Life of Ephesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Sidnie White Crawford, Scribes and Scrolls at Qumran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Bruce Longenecker, In Stone and Story

Longenecker, Bruce W. In Stone and Story: Early Christianity in the Roman World. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2020. 292 pp. Hb. $34.99.   Link to Baker Academic

Longenecker has already written on the importance of Pompeii for understanding early Christianity in his The Crosses of Pompeii: Jesus-Devotion in a Vesuvian Town (Fortress, 2016, follow this link for an interview with Nijay Gupta on the topic of this book). Like his popular The Lost Letters of Pergamum (Second edition; Baker Academic 2016), this new volume presents historical data for the non-specialist. The book is richly illustrated with Longenecker’s own photographs from Pompeii, although photographs of realia is prohibited in the book. Unfortunately, the Superintendency of the Vesuvian towns prohibit reproduction of these photographs.

Longenecker, In Stone and StoryAs he states in his introductory unit, this book is not a complete introduction to the archaeology of Pompeii, nor is it an introduction to early Christianity in the Roman world. Longenecker intends to provide a series of snapshots, or “up-close vignettes” to illustrate first century context and bring that context to bear on New Testament texts (p. 24).

Although the book is written for non-specialists, Longenecker is thoroughly aware of current scholarship on the Vesuvian towns and early Jesus devotion and cites this literature in an appendix. His goal is not to write an academic book on Pompeii or the development of early Christianity.

The book is divided into four parts: Protocols of engagement, popular devotion, social prominence, and household effectiveness. Each chapter introduces the reader to some aspect of Pompeiian culture followed by how it relates to the New Testament. Every chapter is richly illustrated with both photographs and citations of primary sources.

Protocols of Engagement serves as an introduction to the book. Longenecker begins with the observation historians access the Roman world through the study of classical literature and the study of archaeology. Although he occasionally refers to ancient literature, Longenecker’s focuses is on the archaeology of Pompeii and Herculaneum as a window into the actual life of the first century Roman world. Because Mount Vesuvius destroyed both in 79 CE, they are frozen in time. Both cities have been excavated and there is an extensive collection of graffiti, frescoes, and other real-world artifacts to illustrate life in a Roman city.

With a population of ten to twelve thousand, Pompeii is comparable to the city of Philippi. Herculaneum much smaller with no more that five thousand inhabitants. Although Christianity developed in much larger cities (Ephesus, Pergamum, for example), the unique archaeological situation at Pompeii and Herculaneum can illustrate other Greco-Roman urban centers. Peter Oakes has a similar method in his Reading Romans in Pompeii (Fortress 2013). After describing the archaeology of a set of houses with various social statuses in Pompeii, Oakes suggests how the residents of each home may have heard Romans differently because of their social status.

In part 2, Protocols of Popular Devotion Longenecker begins with two chapters on religion in the Roman world. For most people in the Roman world, there is never a sense that having a favorite deity required them to be exclusively devoted to that God. Pompeii was dedicated to Venus, but also had temples to Jupiter, Mercury, Apollo, Juno, Minerva, and many more. The Christian gospel demanded exclusive devotion to Jesus, which challenged the Roman religious system. Similarly, sacrifices were made in all of these temples frequently. Yet the Christian gospel recite sacrificial practices. Longenecker introduces the reader to the early controversy of eating meat sacrificed to idols (1 Cor 8-10).

Chapters 6-7 concern devotion to the empire. The Roman empire claimed they ushered in the present era of abundant peace and security, and they promoted this ideology in every Roman city through inscriptions and imperial statues. After several pages explaining the concept of genius and juno (the spirit of a man and woman), Longenecker observes the people of Pompeii were eager to worship the emperor’s genius since this worship would contribute to the heath of the empire. After the devastating earthquake of AD 62, temples for the imperial cult were the first to be rebuilt (p. 87). He then shows how dangerous a book like Revelation might have been since it declares the source of Rome’s power to be satanic (Rev 12:9).

Chapter 8 describes mysteries cults in Pompeii, primarily the worship of Dionysus at the Villa of the Mysteries. Isis cult is the main topic of chapter 9, “death and life.” In his Crosses of Pompeii, Longenecker describes Pompeii as suffering from “Egyptomania” (p. 108-15). He suggests the idea of resurrection central to the Isis cult may have led some Jesus-followers to think of Christian as a kind of mystery cult (p. 115). This may shed light on Paul’s discussion of resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.

Part 3 deals with Protocols of Social Prominence: Prominence and Character, Money and Influence, Literacies and Status, Combat and Courts, and Business and Success. Pursuit of honor was a primary cultural value for a Roman, as evidences by graffiti from Pompeii (p. 124). Romans demonstrated their wealth and political power through benefaction. Although there are examples of wealthy benefactors in the New Testament (Philemon, for example), Jesus-followers challenged these values. For example, James 2:1-6 turns the Roman social expectation of honoring the wealthy upside down. Jesus himself taught his disciples to not be like the Gentiles; leaders ought to be like one who serves (Luke 22:25-26). In addition, Longenecker points to Revelation 18 and John’s condemnation of economic greed of Roman merchants.

Part 4 deals with issues of real life, “Protocols of Household Effectiveness.” In each case, Early Jesus-followers were often at odds with the Roman ideal in each of these cultural areas. For example, the relationships within a Roman household differed greatly from the New Testament household codes (Eph 4-6; Col 3-4). Chapters 15 and 16 survey the relationships within the family, including the relationship of masters and slaves, including sex slavery. Longenecker shows how radical Paul’s teaching on masters and slaves would have been in Roman Pompeii.

Chapter 17 (Piety and Pragmatism) and 18 (Powers and Protection). These chapters discuss how a Roman family may have worshiped household gods to ensure safety and prosperity. Residents of Pompeii feared curses and took measures to ward off evil and the powerful influence of the dead (p. 231). Longenecker refers to the use of curse language and the evil eye in Galatians 3-5. I expected material on the apotropaic cross markings Longenecker described in Crosses of Pompeii as a likely use of Christian imagery for warding off evil.

Finally, this section concludes with a chapter on “Banqueting and the Dead,” a survey of burial practices in Pompeii, including memorial meals celebrated at family tombs. The chapter draws analogies to Paul’s view of death 1 Corinthians and the practice of the Lord’s Supper as a memorial of Jesus’s death. Longenecker suggests Paul’s perception of the Lord’s Supper as “a spiritual meal involving spiritual power was completely at home in the first-century” (249).

As an appendix to the book, Longenecker gives several “questions to consider” for chapters 4-19. These questions ask students to consider some portion of the New Testament in the light of the world described in the chapter. For example, after reading the chapter on money and influence, Longenecker asks what the Corinthian church may have thought about Paul’s request they support his collection for the poor (1 Cor 16:1-4). The final verse of 1 John is “keep yourself from idols.” In what ways might an enslaved Jesus-follower in a pagan household have wanted to know more about the practicalities of that instruction? Or consider a woman who became a Jesus follower after marrying into a pagan household reading “keep yourself from idols.”

There is actually very little on sexuality in Pompeii in the book which is surprising given the number of phalluses carved around the city (although there are a few examples on p. 232; see also Crosses of Pompeii, 132-33). In addition, there is an abundance of filthy graffiti from Pompeii cataloged. Perhaps the intended audience restricted this content.

Following short glossary of key terms is a section for “further reading.” Longenecker provides additional scholarly material on the city of Pompeii and its relevance for understanding early Christianity. He has an excellent bibliography of general studies of early Christianity in the Roman world. Following these general bibliographies are important studies on the topic of each chapter. Much of the material in these bibliographies will be difficult for the average reader to find, since most of these titles will require a visit to a university research library.

Conclusion. Anyone with an interest in how the Greco-Roman world illustrates the world of the New Testament will thoroughly enjoy reading this book. Despite targeting a popular audience, In Stone and Story would be an excellent choice for a New Testament backgrounds course at the undergraduate or graduate level. Longenecker summarizes the scholarship in the chapter’s topic and provides a wealth of supplemental reading for further research at the academic level.

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

Book Review: Buist M. Fanning, Revelation (ZENTC)

Fanning, Buist M. Revelation. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2020. 623 pp. Hb. $59.99   Link to Zondervan   

In the preface to this new contribution to the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series, Buist Fanning mentions three pairs of influences on his thinking about the book of Revelation: G. B. Caird and S. Lewis Johnson; Richard Bauckham and Craig Blaising; R. H. Charles and John Nelson Darby. In the strange universe of Revelation commentaries, these are indeed strange bedfellows. As Fanning comments, “Revelation functions as a kind of literary Rorschach test” (p. 23).

Fanning, Revelation, ZENTCIn fact, Fanning observes, the interpretation of Revelation often tells you as much about the interpreter as the message of the book. He therefore identifies himself as an evangelical with a commitment to the truthfulness and authority of Scripture, using “chastened” historical critical method and reads Revelation in the light of other first-century Jewish apocalypses. Following Richard Bauckham, he recognizes Revelation as the climax of the canon. Fanning’s commentary blends a typological method with a futurist reading of Revelation. He certainly takes into account the context of first century Asia Minor and apocalyptic literature of the Second Temple period, yet he does not get lost in the parallelomania which sometimes plagues commentaries on Revelation.

In the introduction to the book of Revelation, Fanning argues John the Apostle is the best candidate for authorship, writing in A.D. 95-98 to churches in Asia Minor.

As is common in commentaries on Revelation, a major section of the introduction is devoted to method. Fanning makes six axiomatic statements with respect to imagery and symbols in Revelation. First, literal does not equal “real, actual” nor does symbolic equal “imaginary.” It is not as though literal is true, and a symbol is untrue. Second, literal and symbolic language can refer to a range of entities with different character and scope. Third, a literal description can include emotive or connotative elements as well as denotative. Fanning offers as an example, “the Big Apple.” This is symbolic language refers denotatively to New York City, but it also evokes certain connotations and emotions. Fourth, a symbol can refer to a real entity without corresponding point-by-point comparisons which relating to reality. Fifth, Fanning follows Norman Perrin by contrasting steno-symbols (one-to-one specific historical figures) and tensive symbols. A tensive symbol cannot be totally exhausted nor adequately expressed by one reference. It “teases the mind into ever new evocation of meaning” (p. 35). For example, the Lamb in Revelation 5:6 refers to Jesus, but there is very little literal correspondence. The reader knows the lamb is Jesus. The trumpets in Revelation 8 build on imagery drawn from the Exodus. “They are intensified and universalized to be sure, but not changed to a different ontological realm” (p. 37).

Regarding the classic hermeneutical approaches to the book of Revelation, he begins by defining each preterist, futurist, historicist, and idealist. With the exception of historicism, he concludes each approach offers something of value for reading Revelation. Like Grant Osborne’s BENTC on Revelation, Fanning grounds his commentary in the world of the first century and finds application appropriate for the contemporary Christian reader, but he is also clear the book refers to future events.

In fact, Fanning has a consistently futurist perspective. With respect to the seven seals, Fanning suggests they are “the initial expression of God’s judgment on sin in anticipation of completing world-wide redemption.” These vivid symbols “referred to “real, this-worldly suffering that the earth and its inhabitants will experience as judgment from God during the future climactic events of this age” (p. 235). The 144,000 are ethnic Jews: “John affirms the widespread ancient Jewish expectation of the regathering in the end-times of all the tribes of ethnic Israel from the exile among the nations” (p. 263). The locust from the abyss are demons functioning in some ways like an invading army (p. 299), but this “nightmarish scenario will be devastatingly real” (p. 306). The mark of the beast most likely refers to Nero, but it is part of John’s typological pattern which foreshadows “the escalated fulfillment in the future antichrist” (p. 380). As for meaning of Babylon in Revelation 17, he rejects the classic dispensationalist view the city as literal Babylon as well as the common preterist view the city is Jerusalem. He argues Babylon refers to Rome as part of John’s use of typology, first-century Rome foreshadows the ultimate future worldwide enemy of God (p. 440-41).

The introduction concludes with a discussion of what Fanning means by typology and how the book of Revelation alludes to the Old Testament (and possibly Jewish apocalyptic, Greco-Roman literature and ancient Near Eastern mythology). The clearest examples of Old Testament types or patterns in Revelation are the reuse of the Egyptian plagues from Exodus in the Trumpets (Rev 8-9) and broader Exodus typology found throughout the book. For Fanning, this typology is more than a matter of how the New Testament uses the Old, it is “grounded in observations about God’s consistency in working out his purposes a crossed human history” (p. 47). Typology should not be limited to Christology or Soteriology, although those are common examples. In Revelation, judgment of the ungodly and opposition to God often conform to patterns found in the Old Testament. Fanning is clear: typology does not “require a metaphysical shift from physical, geographic, or historical entities to some sort of spiritual or eternal realities in the New Testament antitype” (p. 48). His view of typology does not require an antitype to be limited to a single climatic fulfillment. This allows for Antiochus IV Epiphanes to be a type of the future Roman emperors as well as a still-future antichrist (p. 48). Fanning argues this use of typological patterns accounts for John’s references to realities in the first century (preterism) as well as a final climactic period in the future (futurism). He cites favorably Marvin Pate’s progressive dispensationalist approach in Four Views on the Book of Revelation (Zondervan, 1998) and the “already/not yet” rubric.

In the commentary’s body, each unit begins with the literary context of the section followed by a concise summary of the pericope. Fanning’s translation appears in a graphical layout showing the relationship of clauses and the use of interpretive labels. A brief comment on the structure and an exegetical outline follows. The bulk of each unit explains the text. Each verse begins with a translation and the Greek text. Greek words appear without transliteration in the body of the commentary. The introduction to the series suggests readers with two years of Greek and some intermediate grammar will follow the discussion well. As the editors lay out the text, even readers without Greek will find the text accessible. Almost all detailed discussion of syntax and interaction with secondary literature appears in the footnotes. Each chapter of the commentary concludes with a section entitled “theology in application.” These are brief biblical-theological observations rather than pastoral guidance for preaching various sections of Revelation. Nevertheless, these observations often reveal Fanning’s pastoral heart as he seeks to apply the text of Revelation to a Christian reader.

Following the commentary proper is a chapter entitled “Theology of Revelation.” Fanning argues the book of Revelation is centered on “the true and living God engaged with his good creation.” He observes that Revelation is a “God-saturated book” (p. 568) and offers a series of points summarizing how Revelation describes God. Revelation is also a book about the reality of evil that has corrupted humans as well as creation. The book therefore describes an ongoing enslavement to deception and corruption by Satan and his minions (p. 571). Yet God works to establish his reign over his defiant and rebellious creation. God and the Lamb finally rule over creation, fulfilling God’s purpose of redemption. Revelation also describes a new community of the redeemed, although the word church does not appear in the book after chapter 3. Those who follow Christ suffered greatly in the severe final tribulation to come and the church is called to endure in faith and obedience in these intense trials (p. 573) while looking forward to the final salvation of diverse corporate worship of God.

Conclusion. It seems strange to describe a 600+ commentary as brief, but this only in comparison to the mammoth commentaries from Aune and Beale. Fanning’s contribution is worth consulting, especially as a representative of a future-orientated commentary on Revelation. His approach to symbolic language and typology grounds the exegesis in the overall story of Scripture. It is superior in this regard to Robert Thomas’s overtly dispensational commentary (Moody, 1992) or Paige Patterson’s attempt at a consciously pre-millennial commentary in the NAC series. Like other Zondervan Exegetical New Testament Commentaries, Fanning’s work is exegetically solid and reflects evangelical theological commitments.

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

Book Review: John D. Harvey, A Commentary on Romans

Harvey, John D. A Commentary on Romans. Kregel Exegetical Library. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2020. 400 pp. Hb; $36.99. Link to Kregel Academic

Harvey consciously geared this commentary to non-academics. His goal is to assist readers of Romans who are active pastors, teachers, and Bible students. There is no detailed history of interpretation, no deep dive into extra biblical literature, no closely argued discussions of finer points of Greek verb tenses, and no extensive comments on textual criticism. Readers interested in these issues should consult his Romans: Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (B&H Academic, 2017). Although his bibliography includes commentaries since 1965, his main lights are commentaries by Cranfield (ICC, 1980), Dunn (WBC, 1988), Jewett (Hermenia, 2007), Longenecker, (NIGTC 2016), Moo (NICNT, 1996), and Schreiner (BECNT, 1998). Moo and Schreiner have both published second editions since the completion of Harvey’s commentary.

Harvey, Commentary on RomansHe explains his exegetical methodology as answering three questions about each verse (p. 10). First, what did Paul say? Second, why did he say it? And third, what should I do with it? For more detailed methodological issues, readers should consult his Interpreting the Pauline Letters (Kregel Academic, 2012).

In the 40-page introduction, he argues Paul wrote the entire letter from Corinth in A.D. 56-57. He provides several pages of background for a letter, including a brief historical, social, cultural, and religious setting for Christianity in the city of Rome in the middle of the first century. He believes the audience as both Jews and Gentiles and that the letter addressed as a “cluster of issues.” The introduction also includes several pages and charts on genre and structure of Romans, including a brief look at the rhetoric of the letter.

Each section of the commentary begins with a fresh translation of the text with notes with brief textual critical issues and syntactical observations. These observations include grammatical categories but only rarely make reference to advanced grammars (those details are often found in his Exegetical Guide). Following this translation, Harvey sets the context and structure of the pericope in the overall outline of Romans. This is followed by a brief statement of the basic message of the section and detailed exegetical outline. Following this outline, he offers an explanation of the text, usually covering several verses at a time. In the body of the commentary Greek appears in parentheses without transliteration. Almost all interactions with commentaries appears in the footnotes. This makes for a concise commentary that does indeed focus on what Paul said and why did he say it?” Following the explanation of the text, Harvey makes a few comments under the heading Theology and Appropriation.” In this section he comments on biblical-theological issues in order to answer his third question, “what should I do with it?” In most cases, Harvey concludes with the words “Paul’s primary purpose for including his paragraph…”

Harvey translates the phrase διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ Romans 3:22 “by faith in Jesus Christ” and τὸν ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ. in verse 26 as “the one who is of faith in Jesus.” He states both genitives are objective (p. 127). He does not enter into the scholarly discussion of pistis christou other than a footnote pointing to Schreiner’s discussion and conclusion in favor of the objective genitive.

The same is true for the meaning of “all sinned” in Romans 5:12. He observes there are five common interpretations and cites additional scholarship in the footnotes (p. 168). Harvey does not wade into the deep waters of the various ways the verse is used in systematic theology. Because his purpose in the commentary is the basic meaning of the text, he concludes “Paul’s primary purpose was to inform his readers that righteousness, acquittal, and life now apply to them because of what Christ has done as certain as sin, condemnation, and death previously applied to them because of what Adam did” (p. 169).

Comparing six major views on the identity of the “I” in Romans 7:2-25, he observes that although the options are bewildering, it is “best not to expend time and energy trying to decide, for example, whether ‘I’ describes Paul before or after his conversion” (p. 199).

The purpose of Romans 9-11 is the fulfillment of God’s plan. He argues God will fulfill his plan and keep his word to Israel, using Israel’s unresponsiveness to show mercy to all. On the controversial issue of what “all Israel” means in Romans 11, Harvey compares six recent commentaries in a chart (with Calvin and Schreiner combined). He agrees with Longenecker that “all Israel” refers to “a large number of elect an ethnic Jews near the end of history” (p. 291).

On the usually controversial issue of Paul’s female coworkers, Phoebe is a woman of high social standing in some wealth who was a leader in the church (p. 376). Like Prisca and Aquila, Andronicus and Junia are a husband and wife ministry team who were well known to the apostles (p.382, citing this Exegetical Guide for the details).

The book ends abruptly on page 400. There is no conclusion, no indices and only a select bibliography (pp 15-20).

Conclusion. There have been several second editions of major commentaries in Romans published in the last few years. Harvey’s commentary is less than half the length of the six major commentaries he works with in this book and it is far less engaged with contemporary Pauline scholarship than Longenecker, Moo, et al. But this should not be considered as a criticism, Harvey’s commentary achieves when it’s set out to accomplish, a simple explanation of what Paul said and why he said it for the busy pastor struggling to prepare Bible classes and sermons or Bible student who wants to go deeper than the average Bible study. This commentary is similar in approach to Grant Osborne’s Romans commentary and should not be compared to recent encyclopedic commentaries on Romans.

Other Reviewed Commentaries in this Series:

Duane Garrett, A Commentary on Exodus

Robert B. Chisholm, A Commentary on Judges and Ruth

Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms. Volume 2 (Psalms 42-89)

Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, Volume 3 (Psalms 90-150)

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

Book Review: Elijah Hixson and Peter J. Gurry, eds. Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism

Hixson, Elijah and Peter J. Gurry, eds. Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2019. 372 pp. Pb. $40.   Link to IVP Academic

In his foreword to this volume of essays on textual criticism, Daniel Wallace comments on the chasm between scholars and apologists. Apologists, Wallace suggests, have a tendency to regurgitate other apologetic works. As a result, skewed and wrong data on manuscripts of the New Testament gets passed along to pastors and teachers who present this data as fact. Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism attempts to correct these well-intentioned traditions among both popular apologists as well as other New Testament scholars. The essays in this volume are like much like D. A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies (Second Edition, Baker Academic, 1996). Most readers will recognize some of their own errors after reading Carson’s book; the same is true with Myths and Mistakes. After reading this book there are several places in my own lecture notes which need to be revised and corrected in the light of better, more accurate information.

Hixson and Gurry, Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism

The authors of the essays want to avoid exaggerated claims for New Testament manuscripts as well as correct factual errors. In the introduction to the collection, As Peter J. Gurry and Elijah Hixson explain in their introduction, suggest “if we believe that God inspired the particular words of Holy Scripture, then it is incumbent on us to do our best to identify those words so that we can preach, teach, treasure, and obey them” (p. 25).  Hixson and Gurry offer examples of outdated information and abused statistics which are found in both academic and popular books on biblical manuscripts.

Timothy N. Mitchell discusses myths about the original autographs (ch. 2). It is unlikely any New Testament autographs still existed by the time of the earliest extant copies. Once a book circulated, the writing could not be significantly changed without those changes becoming known.

Jacob W. Peterson deals with how many New Testament manuscripts are extant (ch. 3). One problem with counting manuscripts is the total number of changes: new manuscripts are discovered and there are examples of double counting. Most manuscripts only contain portions of the New Testament, so the total number of early manuscripts of Mark (for example) is far less than the total number. Because of this, using round numbers for total manuscripts is important. Peterson argues more New Testament manuscripts as compared to other ancient literature is not necessarily better. Having 179 manuscripts from the tenth century is not necessarily as valuable as sixty-five manuscripts from the third century.

James B. Prothro discusses myths about Classical Literature (ch. 4). Apologists love to compare the New Testament manuscript evidence to other ancient literature. These statistical comparisons are often based on old data and only demonstrate the New Testament has better textual basis, but not a perfect one.

Elijah Hixson treats dating myths, specifically how scholars date New Testament manuscripts (ch. 5). There is a perception that the earliest manuscripts are more reliable. This motivates some apologists to date some papyri fragments as early as possible, sometimes making dramatic announcements before scholars have done their work. After surveying dating methods, Hixson uses the example of P52, a fragment of the Gospel of John often dated to about A.D. 125 (or earlier). Since the initial publication of the fragment, scholars have revisited the evidence and suggested dates as late as A.D. 200-225. Rather than give a specific date like A.D. 125, Hixson suggests a range of A.D. 100-200 as a “responsible date range” (p. 109).

Gregory R. Lanier deals with the myth that early manuscripts are always better manuscripts (ch. 6). This chapter deals with the Byzantine tradition, the later manuscripts which form the majority of ancient manuscripts available to scholarship. Early textual critics adopted a “later-is-worse” method and more or less considered the Byzantine tradition as secondary evidence for dating manuscripts. Lanier suggests later manuscripts may improve over time as later scribes correct earlier ones.  He uses the examples of the Pericope of the Adulterous Woman and the various endings for the Gospel of Mark as examples. In both cases, later scribes added comments expressing doubt for the authenticity of these additions.

Zachary J. Cole examines what we know about scribes in the Greco-Roman world to examine myths about the copyists of the earliest manuscripts (ch. 7). Overall, the earliest copyists were neither careless amateurs nor professionals. They demonstrate the same level of accuracy expected for any ancient text.

Peter Malik surveys the various ways scribes corrected mistakes (ch. 8). Beginning with P66, he offers several examples scribal corrections. Attention to these corrections can show how readers used the manuscript shedding light on intentional changes.

S. Matthew Solomon describes his collation of more that 570 manuscripts of Philemon copied before A.D. 700 in order to demonstrate the methods used by scholars (ch. 9). He concludes that even if we only had a copy of Philemon from more than nine hundred years after Paul wrote the letter, very little would change (p. 189). Although there are more variants than expected, most of the variants are insignificant.

Peter J. Gurry explains why most variants are insignificant and why other variants cannot be ignored (ch. 10). He begins with examples of large the number of variants in popular books on textual criticism, concluding that “around half a million” is a fair estimate, and most are “awfully boring for most Bible readers” (p. 209). Nearly half the number are meaningless and only a tiny fraction merits a footnote in major English translations. Nevertheless, there are a few dozen that are theologically important and need to be addressed by scholars using established textual critical practices.

What about these theologically significant variants? Critics like Bart Ehrman often claim scribes corrupted texts by changing the text to conform to orthodox theology. Robert D. Marcello deals with this so-called orthodox corruption (ch. 11). He observes Ehrman consistently considers the least orthodox reading to be the original, and the most orthodox to a corruption. Although it may be the case an orthodox change is in fact a corruption, presupposing the orthodox to be a corruption is methodologically suspicious. After examining a few examples of orthodox corruptions, Marcello concludes scribes did sometimes make theologically motivate changes, but some of these variants can be explained by other factors (p. 227).

Andrew Blaski addresses the issue from the perspective of patristics. What did the Church Fathers thought about textual variations (ch. 12). He begins with an oft-repeated claim that compiling the 32,289 quotations found in the church fathers, we could reconstruct the New Testament with the exception of eleven verses. Blaski traces the origin of this folk-tale and concludes it is a myth and should be dropped as an apologetic argument. The church fathers refer to the New Testament in a variety of way and rarely cite it verbatim. As anyone who examines the apparatus in the UBS5 knows, a given church father may be evidence for two or three different variants.

John D. Meade observes that while the codex was preferred by early Christians for canonical books, just because a book was included in a codex does not mean it was canonical (ch. 13). He surveys canonical lists and early Christian descriptions of their literature. This chapter includes several valuable charts collating the date and contents of codices.

The final two chapters of the volume concern translations. First, Jeremiah Coogan discusses the number of early New Testament translations and their value for textual criticism (ch. 14). He doubts there are ten thousand Latin manuscripts as is often claimed, the number may be fewer than one thousand. The chapter also surveys Syriac translations (with several photographs of manuscripts). Second, Edgar Battad Ebojo looks at how modern translations report variants of the New Testament (ch. 15). This is an important issue since footnotes are where most Bible readers will encounter textual variants. For example, when does a translation use brackets to indicate textual variants and when do they use footnotes? How does a modern Bible print John 7:53-8:11 or the long ending of Mark?

The book concludes with a thirty-one-page bibliography and several helpful indices, including an index of manuscripts.

Conclusion. This book is a positive step toward increased clarity on textual critical issues from experts in the field who are interested in helping Christians to avoid “believing what they want to be true” about the state of the New Testament manuscripts (p. 25). Although these essays may be unsettling for some readers, the goal of defending the Bible’s integrity calls for integrity on the part of apologists and critics alike.

Elijah Hixson and Peter J. Gurry are contributes to the popular blog Evangelical Textual Criticism.

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

Book Review: Nijay K. Gupta, A Beginner’s Guide to New Testament Studies: Understanding Key Debates

Gupta, Nijay K. A Beginner’s Guide to New Testament Studies: Understanding Key Debates. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2020. 196 pp. Pb. $24.99.   Link to Baker Academic

In the introduction to this beginner’s guide to the key issues for the study of the New Testament, Nijay Gupta recalls being completely lost in the world of biblical scholarship during his first days as a seminary student. I confess to a similar experience as an undergrad biblical studies student first exposed to the Documentary Hypothesis or the Synoptic Problem. These are important issues, but they are not the topic of church Bible studies. In fact, there were quite a few issues encountered in graduate school that I vaguely recall memorizing for an undergrad exam.

Gupta, Beginner's Guide to New Testament StudiesGupta’s goal in this slender volume is to introduce “relative newcomers to the world of the New Testament studies, not experts” (xi). In these brief chapters he offers a fair and balanced overview of an issue and consciously does not take a side in the debate. His focus is on the big picture rather than fine details. Even so, most beginning biblical studies students can be overwhelmed with these complicated debates. Every chapter in this book represents dozens of monographs on the topic, even at the introductory level. There is no need for despair, Gupta suggests, the messiness of biblical studies is part of the journey.

Gupta introduces each topic with an anecdote in order to demonstrate why the issue is important. He then surveys key scholars and positions, usually with a few footnotes to key works. Chapters conclude with a few personal reflections often reflecting Gupta’s experience teaching these issues. Each chapter concludes with a “for further reading” section divided into beginner and advanced sections. The lists are arranged by topic covered in the chapter. These are not complete bibliographies; Gupta suggests only a few key works for each topic. Interested students ought to read all the suggested beginning books as they move to graduate school.

There are three chapters on the study of the Jesus and the Gospels. The chapters on the Synoptic Problem and Historical Jesus. In the “The Fourth Gospel and History” there are only two sides, John is not historical and John is historical, but he does wonder in the conclusion to the chapter why John’s gospel is often ignored in historical Jesus studies like Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God, “one of the most important Jesus books of the twentieth century” (p. 37).

He offers three chapters on Paul (Jesus and Paul; Paul’s Theological Perspective; Paul and the Jewish Law), although Paul is a major factor in virtually every chapter in the rest of the book, reflecting the soften polarizing nature of Paul’s theology. He divides the chapter on Paul’s theological perspective into Justification by Faith, Salvation History, Apocalyptic Paul, and Participation in Christ. The chapter on Paul and the Law briefly introduces E. P. Sanders and the New Perspective on Paul.

Chapter 7 introduces students to the problems of Interpreting the Book of Revelation. After a short overview of the book he describes the preterist, historicist, futurist and idealist approaches to the book. The section in futurism naturally introduces dispensationalism, one of the few positions in the book he seems dismissive, including four points explaining why most scholars reject the idea of the rapture (p. 97-8).

Chapter 8 discusses Pseudonymity and the New Testament Letters. Since many introductions to the New Testament dispute the authorship of the Pastoral Epistles, 1-2 Peter, James and Jude and have serious doubts about 2 Thessalonians, Ephesians and Colossians, Gupta first explains why these books came to be doubted in the nineteenth century. He contrasts allonymity (writing in another name rather than pseudonymity, writing with a false name) with forgery, Although Bart Ehrman is listed in the “further reading” section, Gupta does not directly deal with his work in the chapter.

In “The New Testament and the Roman Empire” (ch. 9) Gupta introduces Richard Horsley as well as post-colonial readings of the New Testament. It is important to recognize the imperial context of the New Testament, but the extent to which Paul or the writers of the Gospels engaged in a critique of the Empire is an open discussion. This chapter could be improved with additional attention to the book of Revelation since it seems to have a clear critique of the Roman Empire.

It is no exaggeration to suggest the issue of women in leadership is a hot topic in biblical studies (ch. 10). Gupta suggests this is a “convoluted issue with many texts and dimensions to consider” (p. 141). He avoids labels like fundamentalist or liberal and presents the two sides of the debate as “Hierarchical Male Authoritative Leadership” (rather than “complementarian”) and “Egalitarian Authoritative Leadership.” In his conclusion to the chapter, he suggests this debate requires further research into a biblical understanding of gender and how gender is related to culture (p. 143).

Although “Justification by Faith and Judgment according to Works” (ch. 11) sounds as though it might be a Pauline issue (and he does touch on the Wright/Piper debate), Gupta’s focus is on the basis of the final judgment (faith or works) and the relationship of initial justification to final judgment.

The final two chapters of the book discuss hermeneutical issues. The Old Testament in the New Testament (ch. 12) and Application and Use of Scripture (ch. 13). How the New Testament writers used the Old Testament has generated a wide range of articles and monographs, although this chapter manages to avoid the over-used term intertextuality (Richard Hays appears in the further reading section). Gupta’s interest here is hermeneutical strategies used by New Testament authors: did they respect the context? How does Christology influence their reading of the Old Testament?

In the final chapter on application of Scripture, Gupta contrasts a “From-the-Bible” view with a “Beyond-the-Bible” or redemptive movement hermeneutic. A “From-the-Bible” approach recognizes progressive revelation and looks for principles from Scripture to draw applications to modern ethical discussions. The “Beyond-the-Bible” view seeks to follow the trajectory of Scripture to apply earlier revelation to a new situation.

Conclusion. There are other issues which could be included in a beginner’s guide. Every scholar who reads this book will likely wonder why their area of study was omitted. For example, a chapter on early high Christology would be welcome, or a short introduction to the pistis christou debate. In fact, from the perspective of Pauline Studies, virtually every section of chapter six could be expanded. Along with the historicity of John, a chapter on the value of Acts for early church history would be a good addition. There is nothing on biblical manuscripts or textual criticism. Nevertheless, the thirteen topics Gupta chose are more or less the most important for a beginning biblical studies student to grasp before they begin their studies.

This book should be read before a student begins their academic career in biblical studies, whether that is undergraduate or graduate level. An Old Testament Beginner’s Guide would make an excellent companion to this volume.

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