Peter H. W. Lau, The Book of Ruth (NICOT)

Lau, Peter H. W. The Book of Ruth. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2022. xxxii+342 pp. Hb; $48.00   Link to Eerdmans

This new commentary on Ruth replaces Robert L. Hubbard Jr.’s 1989 volume in the NICOT series (now an Eerdmans Classic Commentary). Since 2010, Peter H. W. Lau is a visiting scholar in Old Testament studies at Seminari Theoloji Malaysia. His dissertation was published as Identity and Ethics in the Book of Ruth: A Social Identity Approach (BZAW 416; DeGruyter, 2010), Unceasing Kindness: A Biblical Theology of Ruth (NSBT 25; IVP Academic, 2016), and a commentary on Esther (Asia Bible Commentary; Langham, 2018).

Book of RuthIn the fifty-nine-page introduction, Lau describes Ruth as a four-act story, artfully constructed in a balanced, symmetrical pattern. The story alternates scenes (for example, home, field, home). The book has several dramatic reversals (death to life, a childless widow to marriage and family). However, Ruth is also theologically rich. “The Ruth narrative is God’s plan for and the history of his Old Testament people writ small” (307).

Commentaries on Ruth discuss the genre of the book. Is Ruth best described as a novella? An idyll? Or is Ruth a folk tale? Based on his careful reading of Ruth, Lau argues that the book is a short story as defined by modern genre categories. Unlike a novella, Lau says a short story allows for the historicity of the story (although it does not rely on the historicity, and many short stories are fiction) (10). Ruth is historical since it attempts to represent the past. The story begins in the time of the judges and ends with a reference to King David. The description of life found in the book fits well into ancient Israelite culture. Nevertheless, the writer is not simply recording historical facts but challenging the views of his readers. Ruth “is narrated history and, as part of Scripture, it continues to challenge us ethically and theologically” (11).

Commentaries typically date Ruth as early as the monarchic period to the post-exilic period. Lau evaluates historical-chronological data, theological-ideological data, literary-stylistic data, social-scientific data, and linguistic-philological data. He concludes that Ruth is impossible to date with certainty, but “the evidence marginally favors a monarchic date” (19). This does not necessarily mean the book was written during king David’s reign or even shortly after that. However, Ruth fits into a context where King David’s lineage may have been questioned. However, Lau is not more specific for the date than “monarchic.”

Later in the introduction, Lau makes several observations about Ruth’s canonical place in the Hebrew Bible. Sometimes it is before Psalms; other times, the book is between Proverbs and Song of Solomon. The Septuagint moved the story between Judges and 1 Samuel. All three of these canonical positions suggest a connection to David’s story. No ancient reader would ever connect Ruth to Ezra-Nehemiah (33).

This fits well with his proposed purpose for the book of Ruth. He observes that scholars often suggest the primary purpose of Ruth is to promote kindness, encourage obedience to the law, or justify the Davidic right to rule. If the book was written in the post-exilic period, it is often seen as a polemic against opposition to ethnic intermarriage at the time of Ezra-Nehemiah. Each of these has merit, but they spoke focus on specific themes of the book and do not encapsulate the message and themes of the book of Ruth. He proposes an alternative reading of Ruth with a primary and a secondary purpose. The primary purpose of Ruth is “the providential preservation of the family that produced David” (23). This is more than just the genealogy at the end of the book. Lau traces other literary connections between Ruth and the story of David. For example, Naomi’s family are “Ephrathites from Bethlehem” (1:2), and David is also “the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem” (1 Sam 17:12).

By “providential,” Lau means God is preserving the family of David as he did the patriarchs. There are several inner-biblical allusions to Genesis in the book (famine, childlessness, threats from leaving a birthplace to live with foreigners, buying land due to death, etc.) (26). These are “historical and theological links drawn between the characters in Ruth and Israel’s patriarchs and matriarchs” (26). This leads to Lau’s secondary purpose in Ruth, “God’s unceasing providence and kindness encourages people to follow a lifestyle of kindness” (29).

The introduction also briefly covers several theological messages, beginning with the names of God. Concerning God’s providence, God is sovereign and free to do whatever he wills to preserve the family of David. Nevertheless, humans can make choices as they respond to God’s movement. He also discusses the cycle of divine-human kindness, focusing on the concept of hesed.

The introduction concludes with a section on Ruth and the New Testament. First, although the New Testament never quotes from the book, Ruth appears in Jesus’s genealogy in both Matthew and Luke. Foreign families were building the line of the Messiah (52). Second, many see Ruth as a prototypical convert. She is a Moabite who accepts Yahwism (53). Ruth is a witness to God’s mission in the world. Ruth functions as an instrument of God’s mission, and Ruth shapes God’s people for participation in his own mission. Third, the book of Ruth describes the biblical concept of redemption. The redeemed are desperate, and it is costly for the redeemer to save them. Ruth and Naomi are widows living in extreme poverty, but Boaz is willing to redeem Ruth even if the cost is high. The redeemer’s actions are always generous and self-sacrificial. There is usually a kinship relationship between the redeemer and the redeemed. This may point ahead to the incarnation; Jesus, as the redeemer, became human.

The commentary section begins with a new translation of each section. Lau follows this with extensive translation notes, suggesting alternate readings from the Septuagint, targums, And alternative readings of the Masoretic text. The commentary precedes verse by verse, with an exegetical discussion of the Hebrew text. All Hebrew is in transliteration, and detailed syntactical notes appear in the footnotes. Most interaction with secondary literature also appears in the footnotes. The commentary is accessible and will be helpful for readers who are not comfortable with Hebrew. Lau is especially interested in tracing literary parallels within Ruth to demonstrate the author’s artistry. For example, the book begins with Ruth’s ten years as a widow (1:4) and concludes with ten generations leading up to David. The ten-generation genealogy serves to connect David to the patriarchs.

Conclusion. Peter Lau’s commentary on Ruth is a worthy successor to Hubbard’s. Since Ruth is often combined with Judges in commentaries, it does not always get the attention it deserves. Even commentaries devoted to the book are brief. Daniel Hawk’s 2015 Ruth commentary in the Apollos series was only 166 pages; Kirsten Nelson’s OTL volume is only 106 pages. At 342 pages, Lau’s Ruth commentary is substantial and detailed, yet is written in a clear style that will appeal to scholars, teachers, and pastors.

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

Other Commentaries in the NICOT Series:


Published on March 9, 2023 on Reading Acts.

Brandon D. Smith, The Trinity in the Book of Revelation

Smith, Brandon D. The Trinity in the Book of Revelation: Seeing Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in John’s Apocalypse. Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture; Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2022. 221 pp. Pb; $35. Link to IVP Academic

Brandon D. Smith is assistant professor of theology and New Testament at Cedarville University. He is also a co-founder of the Center for Baptist Renewal and host of the Church Grammar podcast. The Trinity in Revelation is a “somewhat condensed version” of his Ph.D. dissertation at Ridley College under Michael Bird. In this new volume of the Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture series, Smith uses tools and reading strategies (both ancient and modern) which will help engage in a trinitarian reading of Revelation. The method uses biblical theology,  systematic theology, church history, and patristics (34) all under the umbrella of a theological, canonical approach.

Smith, Trinity in RevelationDaniel Trier and Kevin Vanhoozer edited the Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture series (and contributed the first volume, Theology and the Mirror of Scripture: A Mere Evangelical Account, IVP Academic 2016). The series contributes to systematic theology from an evangelical perspective. The volumes aim at a fresh understanding of Christian doctrine through creative engagement with Scripture. As they observe in the introduction, the series seeks to engage Scripture but also promotes dialogue with Catholic tradition. This series addresses a weakness in evangelical theology: a relative lack of interest in the church’s shared creedal heritage.

Smith gives an overview of Christology and the book of Revelation in the first chapter. Does Revelation portray Jesus as an angel (Adele Yarbro-Collins, Loren Stuckenbruck)? Or does Revelation present Jesus as a divine being (Bauckham, Hurtado, Ian Paul)? Or, as Udo Schnelle suggested, is the Christology of Revelation “more blurry”? For example, Schnelle sees the lamb as subordinate to God, but the lamb is primary in the theology of Revelation. He sees this as a tension that cannot be resolved. As Smith observes, this shows that both extremes make good points. He, therefore, suggests that “this debate proceeds from what is largely undebatable” (11). John has a theological commitment, an intense messianic devotion, and a pneumatic experience.

In the first chapter, Smith sketches the Theological Interpretation of Scripture and acknowledges his debt to Daniel Yeago’s 1994 article on the New Testament and Nicene Dogma. Essentially, a pro-Nicene reading, or Scripture (to use Lewis Ayres’s term), refers to the culture of the fourth century, which resulted in the orthodoxy recognized at the council of Constantinople (381). A “trinitarian reading of Revelation” observes how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have the same nature yet are distinct persons (16). Some readers will object to this as anachronistic since it reads later Christian theology back into a Jewish Christian document like Revelation. Nevertheless, Smith disagrees. The orthodoxy that finally appears in the creeds is based on a close reading of the Scripture. Or, to put this another way, what would have “counted as evidence” in Revelation for the orthodox understanding of the Trinity that emerged at the council of Constantinople? “If one investigates the roles and descriptions of the Christ or the lamb and the spirit in Revelation, a trinitarian dynamic is clear and thus must be engaged” (23).

By a close reading of the text, Smith says this includes textual, grammatical, and neurotypical choices that illuminate his theology (22). However, this is not a historical-critical method or a “stunted historical-grammatical approach.” This sort of modernist approach finds the sole meaning of the text in the modernist idea of sensus literalis. By close reading, Smith seeks the sensus plenior, the “full sense of the text and the deeper theological meaning” (23). Once again, many scholars find this theological reading (or confessional reading) to be anachronistic and eisegetical. It is a non-starter in many parts of the academy. There is a great deal of suspicion when a writer begins to read later trinitarian theology back into the New Testament.

However, Theological Interpretation of Scripture people do not care about that objection. The method is based on reading the final creedal forms back into the New Testament. Smith thinks “Revelation is arguably the best case study for whether these patristics concepts work (184).

This method recognizes the Bible as a theological book, and any theological statement should include the whole canon scripture (not just the New Testament). Smith points out that one cannot read Revelation rightly without a canonical approach since the book is “rife with Old Testament intertextuality” (28). He argues that in Revelation, what John is doing is what early Christians did: attempting to explain the roles and relationship of Jesus and the Holy Spirit with respect to Jewish monotheism (32).

Chapters 2-4 work out this method for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each chapter begins with a short introduction, followed by the patristic conceptions of the father, son, or Holy Spirit. Smith builds a “pro-Nicene grammar,” a patristic lens through which he will read Revelation. The key theme in this section is how the fathers expressed both unity and distinction within the Trinity.

Following this section is an interpretation of select passages in Revelation which contribute to the orthodox view of the Trinity. It should not be surprising that the chapter on Christology is the most extended section since this is where the controversy is. No one argues that God the father is not God. The chapter on the Holy Spirit is the briefest, the select passages only concern Revelation 1-3. John’s pneumatology “bears a family resemblance to the Jewish traditions of the Old Testament, Qumran, Philo, Josephus, Enoch, [4] Ezra, and even the Greek poet Hesiod” (169).

The book concludes with a final chapter, a constructive account of the Trinity and Revelation. He reviews the evidence of chapters 2-4 and then interacts with Bauckham and Hurtado, suggesting a theological interpretation of Scripture helps move beyond high/low Christology and binitarism (178). Smith argues that historically driven methods still do not satisfy the need for clear categories of unity and distinction. High/low Christology puts Jesus on an axis, introducing a tension between monotheism and Christology. Smith believes his pro-Nicene reading of Revelation overcomes those tensions by offering more precise categories about unity and distinction.

Conclusion. Smith provides an excellent example of Theological Interpretation of Scripture by demonstrating how the Book of Revelation contributes to later Christian theology on the Trinity. Readers who do not care for the methods of Theological Interpretation of Scripture will struggle with the book, but that should not detract from the contribution Smith has made to a theological reading of Revelation. I wonder: could someone read Revelation using the methods described here but chose Arius instead of Nicaea? Would the results be equally valid?


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.


Gregory Goswell, Text and Paratext: Book Order, Title, and Division as Keys to Biblical Interpretation

Goswell, Gregory. Text and Paratext: Book Order, Title, and Division as Keys to Biblical Interpretation. Lexham Academic, 2023. xix+393 pp. Pb. $26.99   Link to Lexham Academic  Link to Logos Bible Software

Gregory Goswell wrote the Evangelical Press Study Commentary on Ezra-Nehemiah, Unceasing Kindness: A Biblical Theology of Ruth (NSBT 41, IVP Academic 2016) and God’s Messiah in the Old Testament (with Andrew Abernathy, Baker Academic 2020). He currently serves as academic dean and lecturer in Old Testament at Christ College in Sydney, Australia. This new monograph builds on work published in journal articles on paratext as a hermeneutical tool.

Goswell - Text and ParatextWhat is paratext? Goswell defines paratext as everything in a text other than the words. In this book, he focuses on the order of the books, the names of the books, and divisions of the text itself (chapters and verses). Whether a reader notices these things or not, they affect the reading and interpretation. The text is sacred, so Goswell does not suggest we tamper with that. However, a paratext, although deserving respect, is not sacrosanct. The order of the books in the Hebrew Bible or the Greek Bible should not have priority. Most Bible readers know that book titles are secondary, and chapter and verse divisions were not added until the thirteenth century. Although they are longstanding traditions, Bible readers should feel comfortable ignoring verse and chapter divisions.

Goswell suggests canonical order, book titles, and even chapter and verse divisions can be used as a hermeneutical tool because they encode the evaluations of early readers. He suggests we should ask the right questions about the shape of the text (179). For example:

  • Why are these two books placed next to each other?
  • Why is this collection of books in a particular order?
  • Is there a leading theme or character in the book that is ignored or downplayed because of the usually assigned title?
  • Why might a chapter break have been placed at this point?
  • Is the demarcated section of a text a coherent unit of meaning?

Most Bible readers are aware occasionally chapter breaks are distracting, and often break up a text that is better read as a unit. When I teach Acts, I always point out that the story of Joseph the Levite (better known as Barnabas) in Acts 4 stands in contrast to Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. By putting a chapter break at 5:1, readers miss the important context for Ananias’s sin. There are many studies which suggested an overall editorial pattern to the Psalter. I have often suggested that reading Psalms 22 and 23 as a unit connects the suffering servant at the beginning of 22 and the victorious anointed one at the end of 23. Goswell does the same sort of thing in this book, but he considers the entire canon of scripture.

The book is divided into three sections. First, Goswell discusses the order of the books in the Hebrew Bible, the Greek Bible (Septuagint), and the New Testament. For each, there is considerable variation in the order of the books in various manuscripts or theological traditions. For example, in the Hebrew Bible, the book of Ruth is in the third section of the canon, the Writings. It is the first of the five festal scrolls (the Megillot). It appears after Proverbs and before the Song of Solomon. Is this placement important for understanding Ruth? Is she an example of the virtuous woman, the last section of the book of Proverbs? But rhe Septuagint and all modern Bibles move Ruth after Judges because the book begins with the phrase “in the time of the judges…”

In the New Testament, some ancient manuscripts place Hebrews with the Pauline letters. Acts does not follow John but appears with the Catholic epistles or occasionally the Pauline letters. Although the unit Luke-Acts is common among New Testament scholars today, the two books are separate in all manuscripts. Most scholars would agree reading the books together has been beneficial, but that benefit was not realized until scholars ignored the canonical order of the books.

The second section of the book deals with the names of the books. Sometimes the name of a book affects the way a reader approaches the book. Goswell uses the example of Ezra- Nehemiah. This is a single book in the Hebrew Bible that was divided in the Septuagint, although virtually every scholar agrees the two should be read as a unit. By calling this book Ezra- Nehemiah “subverts the ideology of the book that would focus on the parts played by other people” (100). The title directs attention to Ezra, who is not even in the book until Ezra 7-10, and Nehemiah, who only appears in the second half of the book.

For the New Testament, he points out that the traditional title “Acts of the Apostles” implies that the story is going to be about the apostles. Yet the book only tells the story of two apostles, Peter and Paul, with Paul being the main character for more than half the book. The title ignores the importance of knowing apostles like Steven, Phillip, Barnabas, or Silas. Commentaries on Acts often point out the book is more about the Holy Spirit, or the spread of the gospel, etc. Does calling the book “Acts of the Apostles” color the way we read the book?

In the third section of the book, Goswell deals with other divisions of the text, primarily chapter and verse divisions. most exegetical methods begin by carefully defining a pericope, the section of text under discussion. Seminary professors teach students in exegetical method classes to ignore the chapter and verse divisions. Goswell traces the history of text divisions in the Masoretic text. As is well-known, Stephen Langton (archbishop of Canterbury 1207-1228) created the chapter and verse divisions Bibles use today. Goswell considers these divisions to be an interpretive process. Some chapter and verse divisions do not seem to make sense. He offers examples from many books in both the Old and New Testaments. Two examples will suffice. First, the chapter division at Genesis 2:1 does not seem to make much sense. The section of Genesis seems to be 1:1-2:3 since the seventh day of creation is 2:1-3. Did Langton make a mistake by dividing the text at 2:1? Goswell suggests that this is an interpretive decision. By putting the Sabbath day in the next chapter, the Garden of Eden has “the air of sabbatical bliss” (130, citing Gordon Wenham, Torah as Story, T&T Clark 2000).

In the New Testament, scholars usually point out the first section is 1:12-2:4, and 2:14-7:4 is a separate unit (sometimes identified as a “self-contained defense of Paul’s ministry,” 161). Is this another Stephen Langton blunder, or did he have some exegetical reason for breaking the text after 1:24? Maybe, or maybe not. But Goswell thinks it is important to at least ask the question.

I will conclude with a few observations. First, most modern English Bibles are printed with paragraphs and editorial comments at the beginning of sections. These editorial comments are also paratext. I tell my students to ignore them as they read the Bible (yet a few have quoted them as if they were part of the original text). But they reflect an interpretation by a modern editor and are therefore modern examples of the kinds of paratext Goswell examines in this book. In the last few years, some publishers have produced “Readers Bibles” that do not have chapter and verse divisions at all. I find these very helpful. Reading a biblical book in the same way one might read any other book is helpful (even if you can’t find your way around the text as quickly).

Second, the use of electronic devices (phones and tablets) for reading the Bible sometimes isolates readers from the biblical context, including the paratextual features Goswell discusses in the book. Modern readers do not see where Ruth is in the Bible or notice that Hebrews is “near the back of the Bible.” By tapping directly to a passage, a reader does not notice the paragraphs or sections set out by an editor. On the one hand, this is good since it frees the reader from the paratextual features that affect their reading. But sometimes reading the Bible on a small phone misses important context.

Third, Goswell does not discuss paratext in modern Bibles. There are many Study Bibles that provide maps, charts, and notes on the biblical text. Although these are often helpful, they are paratext. They are not sacred Scripture and often affect the way readers understand the Bible. How many readers believe creation happened in 4004 BC because that was the date printed in their Scofield Reference Bible? This goes beyond the scope of Goswell’s book, but the issues he raises here certainly apply.

Conclusion: This is a fascinating book that discusses several issues that are rarely raised in hermeneutical manuals. To a certain extent, Bible readers ignore the importance of book order and are oblivious to how the name of a book colors the way they read.



NB: Thanks to Lexham Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book.



Elaine Phillips, Obadiah, Jonah & Micah (AOTC)

Phillips, Elaine. Obadiah, Jonah & Micah. Apollos Old Testament Commentary. London: Apollos, 2022. xxi+393 pp. Hb. $32.99   Link to IVP UK  

Before her recent retirement, Phillips was Distinguished Professor of Biblical Studies at Gordon College in Boston. She wrote the Esther commentary in the revised edition of the Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Zondervan, 2010), The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary on Exodus (Baker, 2015), and An Introduction to Reading Biblical Wisdom Texts (Hendrickson, 2017). Her commentary combines exegesis and a pastoral heart for the application of these three minor prophets to the contemporary church.

Phillips, Obadiah, Jonah & MIcahIn the brief general introduction to the commentary, Phillips makes several general observations regarding hermeneutical issues and general principles. Her method is “rigorously critical and unabashedly confessional,” yet maintaining the historical integrity, literary artistry, and theological importance of these books. She is clear, these books are the word of God written to people facing real trauma. They are a word of hope for God’s people.

Regarding method, she begins with a careful translation of the Hebrew text, with an awareness of the features of Hebrew poetry. The introduction summarizes common features of Hebrew poetry (following Kugel, as everyone else does). The general introduction also includes a brief discussion of the Book of the Twelve. Was there an intentional shaping of the twelve minor prophets? Was there a final redaction? For example, Obadiah 1-14 may be a commentary on Joel 4:19 [ET 3:19]; Obadiah 15-21 may be a commentary on Amos 9:12 (as initially suggested by Wolff in his Hermeneia commentary). Phillips suggests several reasons for the arrangement of Obadiah-Jonah-Micah. She concludes “the three perspectives jostle against each other, echoing a turbulent century in geopolitics” (8). She suggests some caution since the Masoretic text order differs from the Septuagint, and even at Qumran, the order of the minor prophets is still fluid.

In the fourteen-page introduction to Obadiah, Phillips discusses the history of the troubled relationship between Israel and Edom in the Hebrew Bible followed by a geopolitical discussion of Edom in history and archaeology, up to the Nabataean takeover of Bozrah in 312 BC. She discusses several literary considerations, such as structure unity, prophetical rhetoric, and vivid descriptions found in this short prophetic book.

When did Obadiah speak? And is that different from the written book? Readers would be literate and competent to appreciate echoes of authoritative texts, such as Leviticus 26:31-45 or Deuteronomy 32:7-9. She also suggests Obadiah makes use of Ezekiel. It is well-known Obadiah uses Jeremiah 49, although it is possible both passages look back derived from an earlier source. She cites favorably Daniel Block’s suggestion that Obadiah refined Jeremiah 49 but does not come to a definitive conclusion.

There are three possible historical contexts for Obadiah. First, some suggest Obadiah reflects the second half of the ninth century and Joram’s conflict with Edom (2 Kings 8:20-22). Second, the book may come after the Syrian-Ephraimite war under Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:16-21). Third, the widely held view (reflected in this commentary) is Obadiah was written after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC, even though the book does not specifically mention Babylon or Nebuchadnezzar. Regardless of the date, the defining principle of Yahweh’s justice is lex talonis, a judgment is appropriate to the crime (25). Yahweh will repay Edom for her deeds.

In her introduction to Jonah, she asserts Jonah is the authoritative word of God, but this does not mean only one hermeneutical approach. She assumes a doctrine of inspiration and revelation but also develops the literary artistry of the book. She rejects the skepticism of the nineteenth century which questioned whether the book had any historical value. The ancient near eastern world accepted divine intervention as described in the book of Jonah. “We must allow Jonah to reflect the volatility of emotion that is human and not subject him to scrutiny as ‘a failed prophet of Yahweh’… in sum, I offer a sympathetic reading of Jonah” (69).

The historical context for Jonah is 2 Kings 14:23-27. This puts the historical context of the story in the court of Samaria. She therefore reviews the geopolitics of the ninth and early eighth century in both Israel and Assyria. Even if this is the historical context, the book could be written any time before 200 BC since Sirach mentions Jonah. Phillips reflects briefly on possible compositional contexts. If the book was written early, how does this help our interpretation?

The introduction also describes the literary artistry of the author. This includes macrostructures, narrative features, and poetry, especially the Psalm of Thanksgiving in Jonah 2. She also traces intertextual considerations, such as connections with 2 Kings 14:23-27, but also to Genesis (the doom of Nineveh echoes the doom of Sodom), echoes of the Elijah narrative (who also fled to Phoenicia), as well as the character of Yahweh from Exodus 34:6-7).

Any commentary on Jonah must struggle with the genre of the book. Is Jonah a satire? Parody? Midrash? Legend? Novella? Tragedy? Didactic fiction? Allegory? Parable? All these have been suggested, but she observes the favored fallback alternative to Jonah being a historical narrative is that it is a parable. This avoids fuzzy categories like allegory or the negative connotations of fiction. A Hebrew mashal has a much wider range of connotations than a New Testament parable. She raises the common objection that if Jesus alludes to the story of Jonah, it cannot be a parable. Although many scholars do not think Jesus’s point suffers if Jonah is a fictional story or a parable, Phillips disagrees. She argues this does not fit with a proper understanding of a sign. She defines a “sign” as “divine interventions in a given historical context” so that “the forthcoming event is equally lodged in history” (83). If this is the case, then Jonah cannot be fictional whether it is a parable or not. Since the details of the story fit the eighth century BC, this does not suggest the story is a parable constructed much later to make a theological point. Phillips concludes, for Jesus and centuries of interpreters, Jonah is a historical figure. With respect to the purpose of Jonah, scholars have suggested the book is a polemic against Jewish exclusivism, a commentary on the prophetic role, relationship with Yahweh (whether Jonah’s or Israel’s), or a commentary on God’s justice and mercy.

Introduction to mica surveys historical, rhetorical, literary, and theological factors which are interwoven into this sometimes overlooked minor prophet. Phillips says her reading of Micah was affected by a course of study she took in Israel. For this reason, geographical considerations of the western foothills of the Shephelah are important for her reading of Micah. She sets Micah into the context of the late eighth century BC, during the reigns of Ahaz and Hezekiah, and tracks the Assyrian aggression under Sennacherib in 701 BC. An editor brought together well over a dozen units that alternate between judgment and hope (183). But when were the oracles spoken and compiled? From a conservative perspective, Micah is responsible for all the discourse units, and she refers readers to Waltke’s 2007 commentary for a summary of scholarly views on date and authorship. Regarding the literary relationship between Isaiah 2:2-5 and Micah 4:1-5, she argues the verses fit well into an eighth-century BC context, so they are unlikely to be a later insertion. Phillips concludes the verses are “more at home in Micah” (187).

Phillips divides the body of the commentary into several sections. She begins with a new translation of the section, accompanied by notes on the text. These notes compare the Masoretic text to variants found in the Septuagint, Targums, Syriac, and Latin Vulgate. For a book like Micah, there are often significant variants. She also includes Qumran manuscripts where available. Technical terms appearing in the glossary are printed in bold.

Following the translation, the commentary proceeds verse by verse. Phillips’s exegesis is on the Hebrew text, and she often refers to Hebrew grammar and syntax. Readers who have not had Hebrew may struggle with this, but since all Hebrew appears in transliteration, this is not overwhelming. All secondary literature is cited with in-text citations; there are no footnotes. The commentary interprets the Hebrew text in the historical and literary context of the eighth century BC and includes references to historical figures and the literary features of the Hebrew text.

Following the commentary, Phillips offers a section entitled explanation. These are brief summaries, often setting the pericope into a canonical context. For example, commenting on Jonah 2, she suggests Jonah experienced a “baptism in the sea” and she cites 1 Corinthians 10:1-2 where Paul develops a similar typology. She also suggests a canonical connection between the three days in Jonah and the resurrection. Commenting on Micah 3, she looks back to the appointment of elders in Exodus 18:13-17 and draws attention to several texts in both the law and prophets, calling on judges to be fair and just. She points out other occurrences of the cooking metaphor in Micah three, such as Ezekiel 11:27-11. She includes some contemporary comments. On the violent metaphors describing injustice in Micah 3, she concludes “lest we think our sophisticated culture is far advanced beyond such things, we must pause… our hermeneutical compass may need to be adjusted to face our own contemporary realities” (251).

Conclusion. Phillips’ work on Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah is a solid exegetical commentary written from a conservative perspective. Her commitment to reading these books as the word of God to God’s people is clear throughout the commentary and often her pastor’s heart shows through in her comments. This is an excellent, readable exegesis of the Hebrew text and will be of great value for pastors and teachers as they study these important prophetic books.


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

The Lexham Old Testament Apocrypha: A New Translation

The Lexham Old Testament Apocrypha: A New Translation. With Introductions by David deSilva. Lexham Academic, 2023. xix+393 pp. Pb. $17.99   Link to Lexham Academic  Link to Logos Bible Software

The Lexham Old Testament Apocrypha reprints the apocryphal books from the Lexham English Septuagint: A New Translation (ed. Ken Penner; Lexham Academic 2019). This English edition of the Apocrypha includes the Deuterocanonical books in the Catholic canon: Tobit (Shorter and Longer Versions, Judith, Baruch (and the Letter of Jeremiah), Wisdom of Sirach, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, additions to Esther (Greek Esther), additions to Daniel (both Old Greek and Theodotion). The Eastern Orthodox canon also includes the Prayer of Manasseh, 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, and Psalm 151. This edition also includes the non-canonical books 2 Esdras (4 Ezra), Psalms of Solomon, and Greek portions of 1 Enoch 1-32.

Apocrypha Lexham Old TestamentIn his eleven-page introduction, David DeSilva discusses the value of reading and studying the Old Testament Apocrypha. He quotes Ulrich Zwingli that the Apocrypha contains “much that is true and useful—that serves piety of liked and honesty” (from the preface to the 1531 Zurich Bible). For modern readers, the books of the Apocrypha open a window on history, social, political, and theological tensions of Jewish people in the latter half of the Second Temple period (xii). Although there are no clear quotations from the Apocrypha in the New Testament, early Christians read these books were read and valued them. He offers several examples of ethical teaching in the Apocrypha that resonates with the New Testament. Compare Tobit 4:8-10 and Matthew 6:19-20. For example. deSilva warns readers, however, that there are sometimes significant differences between the Apocrypha and the New Testament.  deSilva also provides short introductions for each book. deSilva is well known for his Introducing the Apocrypha (Second Edition, Baker Academic, 2018; see my review of the first edition). The introductions are all less than a page and offer a date and origin for the book, as well as key features that are of interest to Christian readers.

The 2019 Lexham English Septuagint did not include 2 Esdras. This new volume provides a translation adapted from the public domain Cambridge Paragraph Bible (1873), and the Revised Version (1895), both based on the Latin text of the Clementine Vulgate. 2 Esdras 7:36–106 is missing from the Clementine Vulgate, but it appears in the 1895 critical edition and was translated in the Revised Version of 1895. The ubiquitous Jacob Cerone wrote the headings to 2 Esdras and worked with Douglas Mangum to revise the translation. 2 Esdras is a complicated book, with a Jewish apocalypse (ch. 3-14) and a Christian frame. See this on the Christian introduction (ch. 1-2) and (ch. 15-16).

Like the Lexham English Septuagint, his volume includes the Psalms of Solomon and the Greek portions of 1 Enoch (1-32, missing ch. 4-5). Although there is no information on the source for the Psalms of Solomon (likely the Swete edition). 1 Enoch is based on the Greek text found in Codex Panopolitanus. (See this for complete translations of 1 Enoch.) The Lexham English Septuagint included 1 Enoch 89:42–49 based on the Greek text from Codex Vaticanus (Gr.1809). This small section of the Animal Apocalypse is not included in the Lexham Old Testament Apocrypha. Also missing is the Odes of Solomon, which was part of the original LES.

I prefer physical books, but there are a few advantages to reading the Apocrypha in Logos Bible Software. The text be synced to an edition of the Septuagint, providing side-by-side comparison of the Greek and English text. All of Logos’s Greek tools are therefore available, including identification of all grammatical elements and double-clicking through to your preferred lexicon.

Conclusion: The subtitle “A New Translation” is misleading since the majority of this new edition of the Apocrypha is extracted from the Lexham English Septuagint. If you already own the Lexham English Septuagint, then there is little need to add the Lexham Old Testament Apocrypha to your Logos library since they are identical, except for 2 Esdras and deSilva’s introductions. However, the printed book is an inexpensive translation of the Apocrypha (plus) which will serve students of the Second Temple period.


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