Book Review: Wesley Hill, The Lord’s Prayer: A Guide to Praying to Our Father

Hill, Wesley. The Lord’s Prayer: A Guide to Praying to Our Father. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2019. 120 pp.; Hb.  $12.99  Link to Lexham Press

Like Ben Meyer’s The Apostles’ Creed, this new book in Lexham’s Christian Essentials series focuses on a well-known and beloved section of Scripture, the Lord’s Prayer. This series intends to cover foundational teachings and practices of the ancient church. Every generation has been nurtured by the practice of prayer, often using the model of the Lord’s Prayer.

Wesley Hill, The Lord's PrayerHill is associate professor of biblical studies at Trinity School for Ministry, Ambridge, Pennsylvania. He has previously published Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality (Zondervan, 2010) and Paul and the Trinity: Persons, Relations, and the Pauline Letters (Eerdmans, 2015).

This short book is a series of meditations on each line of the Lord’s Prayer. In the introduction to the book, “Your Father in Secret,” Hill points out Jesus’s prayer in Matthew 6:5-8 was different than the prayers of the Jewish experts in the law as well as the overly theatrical prayers of the pagan Gentile world. Jesus’s prayer is a template a pattern to follow, a “model for approaching God with childlike confidence that he will hear” (4).

Hill divides the prayer into seven petitions, taking each of the phrases of the prayer in order. In most chapters he relates the petition to several Old Testament texts before setting the words in the overall biblical theology present in the New Testament. For example, when praying “our Father in heaven,” Hill begins with God as Father in Isaiah 64:8 and then relates this to Paul’s use of “abba father” in Galatians and Romans.

Hill’s meditations occasionally make use of classic writers from church history (Augustine, Calvin), modern theologians (Sarah Ruden, Rowan Williams), current events such as the Coptic martyrs beheaded in Libya in 2015, and occasionally pop culture.

Finally, Hill offers a brief coda, “Praying the Lord’s Prayer with Rembrandt.” He reflects on Henri Nouwen’s description of Rembrandt’s painting the Return of the Prodigal Son. In his own practice of prayer, Hill has come to relate each line of the Lord’s Prayer to the image of the son kneeling before the father to beg forgiveness and the compassion of the father as he reaches to embrace his son. By drawing parallels between the Parable of the Prodigal Son, as imagined by the Rembrandt painting, Hill suggests one will find themselves praying the Lord’s Prayer in a new way.

Each book in this series is an attractive 5×7 inch hardback book. However, the book is quite short. There are only slightly over 100 pages in the body of the book, but every chapter begins with three pages of illustration, so the actual page count is much lower. This makes for a quick reading, but perhaps the book could have been edited differently to allow for more space in each of the chapters.

 

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: Peter J. Leithart, The Ten Commandants: A Guide to the Perfect Law of Liberty

Leithart, Peter J. The Ten Commandants: A Guide to the Perfect Law of Liberty. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2020. 146 pp.; Hb.  $15.99  Link to Lexham Press

Peter J. Leithart’s The Ten Commandments is the latest contribution to Lexham’s Christian Essentials series. It joins Ben Meyer’s The Apostles’ Creed and Wesley Hill’s The Lord’s Prayer as a readable series of meditations on well-known portions of Scripture.

Peter Leithart, Ten CommandmentsLeithart currently serves as president of Theopolis Institute for Biblical, Liturgical, & Cultural Studies in Birmingham, Alabama. Leithart is a prolific author on a wide range of topics including a theological commentary on 1 & 2 Kings in the Brazos Theological Commentaries on the Bible (Baker 2006), Solomon Among the Postmoderns (Baker, 2008), Athanasius (Baker Academic, 2011) and introductions to Jane Austen and Fyodor Dostoevsky in the Christian Encounters Series (Thomas Nelson, 2011). Leithart is a regular contributor at First Things and his blog is on Patheos, although it has not been updated recently.

The book begins with two introductory chapters. First, in “Father to Son” Leithart wonders if there is good reason to read the Ten Commandments as God’s word for Christians. He points out the New Testament quote the Decalogue, church fathers use it, Thomas Aquinas wrote a commentary on it, the Reformers included it in their catechisms, and Christian prayer books include it as part of Christian worship. Churches even carve these words on their walls. For Leithart, reading the Bible canonically demonstrates the Decalogue is in fact Christian scripture. As he concludes “Is the Decalogue for us? We might as well ask, is Jesus for us?” (6).

In “Two Tables” Leithart briefly introduce is the Ten Commandments as an introduction to the Jewish law. He observes that the Ten Commandments address every area of human life. This includes “worship, time keeping, family, violence, sex, property, speech, and desire” (17). He considers the division of the Decalogue into two columns of five commands each is significant. After surveying a number of places in Scripture where the number five is used, he observes the Temple itself architecturally symbolizes the movement of God’s word from you always throne, through his house, and into the world. The Commandments reflect this pattern.

The following ten chapters of the book treat each of the Ten Commandments. Each chapter is a brief six or seven pages, not counting two pages illustrating the commandment (the same stained-glass Moses appears opposite the text of the commandment followed by a third page with another illustration repeated from the book cover; three pages in each chapter are non-text!) Despite their brevity, Leithart unpacks the canonical ethical implications of each of the Ten Commandments.

A major goal of this book is to connect the commands in the Decalogue to Christian practice. It is therefore not surprising many of Leithart’s observations concern Christian practice. For example, in discussing the Sabbath rules Leithart sees a continuing practical relevance for the practice of Sabbath. All traditions seem to recognize the necessity of schedule time for worship, and the wisdom of the rhythm of rest and labor. He does not want to spiritualize the Sabbath into some bland analogy for worship, there is something spiritual refreshing about practicing a ral Sabbath.

Leithart relates the sixth commandment, do not murder, to the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, In Matthew 5:21-26 Jesus warns against hatred and anger based on this commandment. Discussing the seventh commandment, do not commit adultery, Leithart draws the obvious application to emphasis on “sexual autonomy” in modern ethical discussions. He says, “every perverse form of sexuality distorts the creative designs of marriage” (90). Here again Jesus has expanded this commandment in the Sermon on the Mount to include lusting in one’s heart. Leithart draws an appropriate analogy to the use of pornography and points out God has always treated in sexual activity as a matter of public concern. Some sexual sins were crimes, and very serious crimes because they affected the entire community.

Like the other books in the series, the physical book is an attractive 5×7 format, ideal for personal devotional reading or use in a small group Bible study. The text in this volume is more substantial than the others in the series and Leithart includes copious endnotes directing interested readers to resources for further study and reflection.

 

 

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.

 

Michael Heiser, The Unseen Realm (Faithlife Films, 2019)

Michael Heiser is well-known for his books on angels and the supernatural world as well as his Naked Bible podcast. He is a Scholar-in-Residence at Faithlife Corporation. This film is a companion to his book The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Lexham, 2015). Heiser’s PhD dissertation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was entitled “The Divine Council in Second Temple Literature” (2004) and he contributed articles on the Divine Council in the Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry, and Writings (InterVarsity Press, 2008), Prophets (InterVarsity Press, 2011) and in the Lexham Bible Dictionary.

Actor Corbin Bernsen is the host of the film, but Heiser does most of the speaking. The video has a wide range of soundbites from other biblical scholars, including Eric Mason, Gary Yates, Darrell Bock and Ben Witherington III. The film runs about an hour and twelve minutes and is well-produced as far as documentaries go. The music is dramatic but not distracting and the general tone of the film inviting. Heiser and the other speakers do not present this material as some great secret suppressed by the church (as most biblical documentaries seem to do these days).

Heiser takes the ancient Near Eastern worldview of the Bible seriously. The imagery used in the Bible for the gods, angels and demons is drawn from the ancient world. There are many examples in the Old Testament where God sits at the head of a “heavenly council” (for example, Psalm 89:5-7, Daniel 7).

In the introduction to the book form of the Unseen Realm Heiser says “What you’ll learn is that a theology of the unseen world that derives exclusively from the text understood through the lens of the ancient, premodern worldview of the authors informs every Bible doctrine in significant ways.” Some of these are very helpful and it is important Bible readers hear the echoes of the ancient world rather than medieval paintings. For example, cherubim is a supernatural throne guardian similar to Assyrian and Babylonian throne guardians.

Heiser describes three supernatural rebellions explain the presence of evil in the world: The Fall in the Garden, the Nephilim, and the Tower of Babel. Although I agree each of these represents a rebellion against God, I am not sure the second two rebellions are on the same order as the Fall. Heiser thinks the sons of Anak were descendants of the Nephilim were the actual target of the Israelite conquest. There are more details on this in the book, but I remain unconvinced the “giants” in the land were the literal descendants of the Nephilim (who presumably survived the flood).

With respect to the New Testament, the demons recognize Jesus, but they are “duped into killing Jesus.” Caesarea Philippi (now called. Banias), in the area of Bashan. According to Heiser, Bashan was ground zero for the worship of demons. Heiser argues this location is the “gates of Hell,” which is why Jesus says the “gates of hell will not prevail” against the church Jesus will build “upon the rock” (Matthew 16:18-19).

Heiser points out Paul reflects the ancient worldview, although there is much more which could be said about the unseen realm in the Pauline letters. Two examples which need more development. First, there are far better descriptions of Paul’s view of the defeat of spiritual powers. For example, Timothy Gombis, The Drama of Ephesians (IVP Academic, 2010), Clint Arnold, The Colossian Syncretism, Power and Magic: The Concept of Power in Ephesians (both now reprinted by Wipf & Stock) and Powers of Darkness (IVP Academic, 1992). Second, the worldview of the Old Testament reflects the ancient near east and this is certainly part of the background for Jewish writers in the New Testament. But Heiser does not take fully take into account the Greco-Roman worldview for the Pauline mission to Gentiles. For residents of Ephesus, the Nephilim the Mesopotamian council of the gods would have been unknown. Readers of Paul’s letters and Revelation (written to Ephesus and Asia Minor) were immersed in the gods of Rome, Artemis and the Imperial Cult.

For some viewers, Heiser takes the ancient worldview far too seriously. I suspect some conservative viewers will be shocked to hear how angels and demons fit into the worldview of the ancient worldview. Like John Walton, Heiser recognizes that the Old Testament adopts and adapts the cosmic geography, divine council, and spiritual beings of the ancient world. But less-than-conservative viewers will find Heiser’s acceptance of these elements as “too literal.” Heiser may describe the worldview of the ancient world accurately, but he actually believes that worldview is an accurate depiction of reality. In fact, this film concludes with a clear presentation of the Gospel.

Much of what Heiser says in the film (and the book Unseen Realm) is accurate description of the worldview of the ancient world. I find his description of sacred space and cosmic geography very helpful and the parallels between Eden, Tabernacle and Temple are important (if not commonly accepted today). There are many details in the film which go too far, such as his view of the role of the giants in Canaan during the conquest, the implication Ezekiel 28 refers to Satan, and the background of Banias for understanding Jesus’s words in Matthew 16. Nevertheless, for many viewers, this film will be a good introduction to the discussion of a biblical theology of angels, demons, spiritual warfare, and the “unseen realm.” Along with Heiser’s book, The Unseen Realm, this film would be good for a small group Bible study or Sunday School class. The website is unclear on licensing (can the film be used for a small group?) and as far as I can see there are no workbooks or other curriculum available at this time. 

Here is the trailer for the film, View clips of the film at FaithlifeTV.

 

 

Book Review: F. Scott Spencer, Luke (Two Horizons Commentary)

Spencer, F. Scott. Luke. Two Horizons New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2019. 831 pp. Pb; $50.   Link to Eerdmans

Spencer serves as professor of New Testament and biblical interpretation at Baptist Theological Seminary, Richmond, Virginia. His monograph Salty Wives, Spirited Mothers, and Savvy Widows: Capable Women of Purpose and Persistence in Luke’s Gospel (Eerdmans, 2012; read the 2012 interview “Confessions of a Male Feminist Biblical Scholar” at Eerdworld on this book.) He has also contributed a commentary on Acts in the Readings series (Bloomsbury1999), a volume on Luke and Acts in Abingdon’s Interpreting Biblical Texts Series (2011), Journeying through Acts: A Literary-Cultural Reading (Baker Academic, 2014) and the Song of Songs volume in the Song of Songs in the Wisdom Commentary Series (Michael Glazier, 2017).

The book begins with twenty pages introduction defining Spencer’s methodology for the commentary and a brief introduction to his view of theological interpretation. Spencer is not interested in writing a compendium of previous work on Luke. He avoids the tedious repetition other commentaries. He strives toward a “rigorously sequential development, mindful of interpretive journey” (5). The commentary has very little interest in redaction criticism. Spencer is not concerned with how Luke handled his sources, rather he wants to let “Luke be Luke on his own terms” (6).

Nevertheless, the commentary must deal with some introductory matters. Spencer chooses to avoid usual lengthy introduction typically found in commentaries. He is concerned about being caught in a circular argument. If he describes Luke’s Gospel in detail at the beginning of the book, then the commentary which follows is going to support those conclusions. He uses the example of authorship: If we assume “Doctor Luke” wrote the Gospel then we will be inclined to see medical language in the Gospel or read the healing stories differently as a result of that assumption. The fact is the book is anonymous and it is far better to allow that anonymous author speak for themselves. He does think the same author wrote the book of Acts, but he is not convinced the author intended a two-volume work from the beginning. This means reading backward from Acts to Luke is not particularly helpful. There is no evidence to two books were ever read together (there was no “boxed set” of Luke-Acts in the ancient world). This means the Luke commentary should not anticipate the sequel.

Spencer suggests the author of the third Gospel wrote in elegant style which suggests the author was “an educated, cosmopolitan Greek writer” (21). Although scholars frequently consider him to be a Gentile, but he could very well have been a Hellenistic Jew like Saul of Tarsus. Nothing can be known about the addressee Theophilus and the provenance of Ephesus is “as good a guess as any” (22). Since the author is at least one generation removed from the eyewitnesses, he suggests a date of 80-90. Following Parsons, Spencer describes Luke as a “historical storyteller” (639).

The body of the commentary does not include a new translation of the text. All Greek and Hebrew words appear with transliteration. Although there is some interaction with grammatical and lexical issues, this commentary is primarily on the English text. Spencer approaches the texts by means of larger pericopae. His interaction with other scholarship is minimal and mostly in the footnotes. Occasionally includes brief theological and pastoral comments on the meaning of the text. But overall, Spencer is a guide helping the reader to understand the text of the Gospel of Luke. This is an extremely readable commentary.

Like other volumes in the series, the book is divided into two parts, interpretation and theological reflection. Unlike the Matthew volume in the Two Horizons series, the commentary forms the bulk of the volume (608 pages). The biblical theology section is only ninety-three pages compared to about half the pages in the Matthew commentary in this series). He lays out a “minifesto” in the introduction outlining six key planks in his view of theological interpretation of Scripture. First, theological interpretation of Scripture should be theologically centered. By this Spencer highlights Luke has a narrative about God and his dealings with his people. The gospel is a theological biographical history written by an insider, someone who believes! Second, theological interpretation of Scripture should be philosophically expanded. The Gospel of Luke has an epistological and sophological thrust. Jesus embodies progressive knowledge of God’s will and God’s wisdom. Third, theological interpretation of Scripture should be canonically connected. Since all writings are intertextual, Luke did not write in ignorance of other texts. He wrote alongside other canonical gospels and the writings of the apostle Paul. These can be used to shed light on Luke without suggesting literary dependence.Fourth, theological interpretation of Scripture should be salvifically aimed. Second Timothy 3: 16-17 and John 5:39 declare that the purpose of studying Scripture is salvation. And this is a key theme for the Gospel of Luke. There is a “soteriological principle” in the gospel as tracing God’s saving actions in Christ. Fifth theological interpretation of Scripture should be a clear ecclesially located. Primary locus of Scripture interpretation is in the church. Readers read Scripture in some ecclesiological context. Spencer himself is a moderate Baptist with considerable interaction with others faith in both church and Academy. This context informs his theological interpretation. Sixth, theological interpretation of Scripture should be emotionally invested. This seems like an unusual point to include sense writing is logical but emotional. Biblical characters did not come with full psychological profiles. However, Luke’s Jesus is emotionally invested with God in God’s saving mission to his people.

His biblical theology chapter is divided into six sections. First Spencer discusses theological knowing in Luke’s Gospel. Here he focuses on the resurrection stories which demonstrate legs open and earthly theology embedded in the risen Jesus. There is no secret knowledge here reserved for insiders.

Second, Trinitarian theology is the bread and butter of commentaries using a Theological Interpretation of Scripture methodology.  Spencer points out several “Trinitarian moments” in the prayers of Jesus. In addition, there are several examples of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit in the context of sending. This includes the sending of the sun, but also the sending of the disciples.

Third, the section on “spiritual theology” focuses on Christian spirituality. Spencer is clear that spirituality should not be some sort of a free-for-all or anything goes. It ought to be guided by the Holy Spirit and scripture. He sees a hint of desert spirituality in Luke, Jesus is often described as being alone in the wilderness for prayer. An additional feature of Luke’s spiritual theology is his Focus on the human condition as lost. It is Jesus’s spiritual quest to find those who are lost. The section also includes a “rehabilitation of Martha” (667-74). This is a theological reflection on spirituality of both Mary and Martha within the Baptist tradition.

Fourth, in the section entitled creational theology Spencer points out several creation allusions in the gospel, which in turn allude to the redeeming events of the Exodus. In Luke, redemption is enacted through the sacraments, faith and works. Redemption flows out of creation has the natural work of a holy, mighty and gracious Creator-Redeemer-Lord. Sacraments such as Sabbath and Jubilee reinforce the creation-Exodus link. As Spencer admits, “none of this sounds very Baptist” (681). This leads to a lengthy discussion of how Baptist theology and ecumenicalism intersect.

Fifth, by “social theology” Spencer means social ethics (693).  The largest portion of this section of the book is a survey of Old Testament social ethics. Jesus stands within the tradition of the prophets as he reaches out to the poor, tax collectors, prostitutes, and even women. But Spencer is also quick to point out that to tag Jesus as a Marxist, a socialist, a revolutionary, or a feminist is anachronistic. That he is clear that any theology that does not include social ethics is not a full Christian theology.

Finally, passional theology emphasizes the emotional stir of the gospel. He begins with the emotional pathos of the profits, any outlines this over several pages. In the Old Testament “God gets thoroughly emotionally caught up in the lives of people” but he is never carried away into a rash or harmful or in reasonable emotion. Similarly, Jesus is not impossible in the gospel in fact he is described as compassionate towards his people. Spencer examines the Garden prayer in which Jesus his emotions come to the foreground.

Conclusion. Each volume of the Two Horizons series has a slightly different approach to doing Theological Interpretation of Scripture and how the author approaches theological issues which arise in the exposition of the book. Spencer’s commentary is a useful contribution to the study of Luke which does not get bogged down in technical details of redaction criticism, not is he overly focused on historical details. The commentary is a clear explanation of the details of the text, but he is always interested in drawing out the theological application of Luke’s presentation of Jesus.

 

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

Reviews of other commentaries in this series:

Book Review: Jeannine K. Brown and Kyle Roberts, Matthew (Two Horizons Commentary)

Brown, Jeannine K. and Kyle Roberts. Matthew. Two Horizons New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. 575 pp. Pb; $38.   Link to Eerdmans

This new addition to the Two Horizons New Testament Commentary series is the first on the Gospels (Scott Spencer’s Luke volume was published in April 2019). Brown and Roberts have contributed an excellent example of theological interpretation Scripture as applied to Matthew the theologian and pastor.

Brown, Roberts, THNTC MatthewIn the introduction to the commentary the authors define what they mean by a theological and interdisciplinary approach to Matthew. The commentary is interested in how Matthew’s narrative theology was derived from his literary rhetoric and was informed by the socio-historical realities of his world (4).

In the introduction to the commentary, Matthew is the implied author (whether he is or not does not matter for a theological reading of the Gospel). The gospel was written to a Jewish audience that believed the Jesus was the Messiah. The authors employ the two-source hypothesis, implying that Matthew must have been written sometime after A.D 70. They take the burning of the city in 22:7 as an allegorical allusion to the destruction of Jerusalem. Since Didache and Ignatius make use of the gospel it cannot be dated later than A. D. 90. The Gospel is divided into three parts based on the phrase Ἀπὸ τότε ἤρξατο in 4:17 and 16:20. After the preparation and identity of Jesus (1:1-4:16), 4:17-16:20 is the announcing of the kingdom of God, 16:21-28:20 concerns Jesus his trip to Jerusalem and the kingdom enacted through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The commentary proper divide Matthew into seven units covered in chapters 2-8.

  • Jesus’s Preparation for Ministry: Matthew 1:1-4:16
  • Jesus Teaches about the Kingdom: Matthew 4:17-7:29
  • Jesus Enacts the Kingdom: Matthew 8:1-11:1
  • Growing Opposition toward Jesus’s Ministry: Matthew 11:2-16:2
  • Jesus Teaches about His Coming Death: Matthew 16:21-20:28
  • Jesus Clashes with Jerusalem Leadership: Matthew 20:29-25:46
  • Jesus’s Passion and Resurrection: Matthew 26:1-28:20

In the body of the commentary Brown introduces each section with a paragraph on the narrative structure and logic followed by a fresh translation. Each pericope is treated as a whole; due to the brevity of the commentary it is impossible to do phrase by phrase or verse by verse. For example, Matthew 5:17-48 are treated in just over five pages. All Greek words appear in transliteration. Although she interacts with other major commentaries, this is done mostly in the footnotes, making for an extremely readable commentary. Brown is not particularly interested in the grammatical or syntactical problems found in the text, and there are only a few occasions when she deals with textual critical issues in the footnotes.

The second part of the commentary is a biblical theology, entitled “Thinking Theologically with Matthew.” In the first chapter of the section lays Roberts lays out his methods for theological engagement with Scripture (ch. 9). He recognizes Matthew’s theological categories are not those of contemporary systematic theology. We need to recognize our own assumptions and pre-readings before approaching Matthew’s gospel. But it is important to understand Matthew’s gospel is inherently theological (268). The gospel writer was already doing theology by working out the implications of the gospel. Each chapter in this section of the book begins with several pages unpacking a theological concept, the move into a reading of a pericope in the light of the theological issue. For example, Roberts reads the Beatitudes through the lens of Matthew’s already/not yet view of the Kingdom.

The second section of the book comprise of four chapters covering an important aspect of Matthew’s theology. First, Roberts deals with the complex and elusive problem of what the kingdom means for Matthew (ch. 10). Robert examines the Old Testament and Second Temple literature and argues Matthew picks up on these trajectories to prove Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah. Jesus’s kingly identity remains central throughout the gospel. There is an eschatological nature to the kingdom of God, and here Robert highlights the already/not yet of the kingdom in the ministry of Jesus.

Since the kingdom of God cannot be separated from Matthew’s Christology, Roberts devotes the next chapter to Matthew’s Christology (ch. 11). In Matthew, Jesus is the Davidic Messiah, the Torah fulfilled, and wisdom embodied. He is the representative of Israel and by the end of the book is the full embodiment of Yahweh. Three critical moments in the gospel Matthew describes Jesus as “God with us” (1:23, 18:20, and 28:20).

Chapter 12 examines the Holy Spirit in Matthew. Although it is unusual to include the Holy Spirit as a theological theme in the Gospel of Matthew, Roberts traces Matthew’s pneumatology from the baptism through the final lines of the book (the Trinitarian formula in Matt 28:19). Since the Holy Spirit is actively involved in Christian mission, Robert is able to transition into Matthew’s understanding of discipleship (ch. 13). The burden of this chapter is how Matthew communicates discipleship. The reader will learn discipleship from Jesus his actions as well as the various characters who appear throughout the story. For example, Gentiles who have great faith or other seekers who come to Jesus. “Matthew thematizes the identification of Jesus as Isaianic servant whose ministry of teaching and healing, as well as his death and resurrection, embody mercy and justice for Israel and for the nations. This portrait of Jesus as servant sits at the center of Matthew’s meaning of “the gospel of the kingdom” (367).

Finally, Roberts discusses the “Meaning of the Messiah’s Deeds” (ch. 14). Roberts warns against narrowing the theology of the Gospel of Matthew to only the death and resurrection of Jesus. In fact, Matthew introduces the word gospel early (4:23) so that the entire book is “the gospel.” Yet it is true the death and resurrection of Jesus is the “obvious climax to the gospel.” Matthew foreshadows the Passion throughout the gospel. Robert asks whether Matthew has an atonement theology and whether this view supports later theories of atonement as expressed by systematic theology.  He concludes there are aspects of Christus Victor, substitution, and substation theories in the Gospel, but it would be wrong to reduce Matthew’s view to a single theory of atonement.

The final section of the book “Constructive Theological Engagement with Matthew.” After a short introduction to the method for the section, Robert asks “what would be missing from biblical theology if we did not have the contribution of the Gospel of Matthew?” He observes that Matthew’s place in the canon functions as a bridge between the testaments. Matthew looks back to the Old Testament to explain what Jesus does in his death and resurrection. The egalitarian values for the Christian community or a contribution of the Gospel of Matthew. Roberts describes Matthew 18 as “egalitarian in its values and practices” (396).

The last five chapters summarizes how various perspectives read Matthew (feminist Perspectives (ch. 17); Global Perspectives and Liberation Theologies (ch. 18); Reading Matthew Pastorally (ch. 19); Reading Matthew Politically (ch. 20); and Reading Judaism Ethically in the Post-Holocaust Era (ch. 21). Most commentaries would be written from the one of these perspectives. For example, there are many approaches to Matthew that read Jesus as a political activist, and that the gospel is generally anti-imperial. By including a chapter on each perspective, the reader is provided with multiple lenses to understand the Gospel of Matthew.

Conclusion. This commentary by Brown and Roberts is an excellent example of a theological commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. The commentary portion provides solid exegesis of the text without being lost in the details of grammar and syntax. The wide ranging theological articles included in the second half of the volume will stimulate readers to think more deeply about Matthew’s contribution to biblical and systematic theologies.

 

Reviews of other commentaries in this series:

 

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: Holly Beers, A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman

Beers, Holly. A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2019. 172pp. Pb; $16.  Link to IVP Academic

Like the other books in the Week in the Life series, Beers is a New Testament scholar who attempts to bring to life the world of the first century. Beers is associate professor of religious studies at Westmont College. She has previously contributed monograph The Followers of Jesus as the ‘Servant’: Luke’s Model from Isaiah for the Disciples in Luke-Acts (LNTS 535; London: T&T Clark, 2015), reviewed here. Unlike other books in the series, Beers brings a female perspective by focusing not only on a very poor woman in Roman Ephesus, but a poor woman who is pregnant. Many of the cultural and historical background featured in this book have not been covered in one of the other books.

Week in the Love of a Greco-Roman WomanThe book follows the daily life of Anthia, the pregnant wife of Philetus as they encounter the gospel in the city of Ephesus in the mid-50s A.D. Philetus is a fisherman and a couple sell their fish at a stall in the agora. Although the couple are free, they are extremely poor and rarely know where their next meal is coming from. Beers describes the kind of poverty the average person faced in first century Ephesus. The family lives in a very small room with their child and extended family. They often make do with very little food, often no more than a piece of bread each day.

The book also refers to the way individuals relied upon the gods to get them through the day. Philetus prays to Glaukos the patron god of fishing when he does not catch enough fish and praises this god when he manages to bring in a good catch. When the neighbor child is sick, the parents sacrifice to both Artemis and Asclepius hoping to heal the child’s fever. When a character in the story passes a statue of the Emperor, they utter a short prayer to the divine Emperor.

Since this is the middle of the first century in the city of Ephesus, it is no surprise Philetus and Anthia encounter the apostle Paul teaching outside the school of Tyrannus. Beers uses Paul’s speeches in Acts 14 and 17 to suggest how Paul may have taught the assembled crowds and the crowd’s reaction to the idea of a crucified and resurrected Jesus. When Anthia is invited to a church service, she is shocked to find Roman citizens sitting and eating with slaves. Anthia struggles to understand why a wealthy Roman woman would care about her at all, let alone give her food and clothing without expectations associated with Roman patronage.

There are several other plot points which are borrowed from the book of Acts. For example, when the neighbor’s child is dying of a fever, the mother brings a handkerchief blessed by the apostle Paul and the child is healed (Acts 19:11-12). Beers refers to magicians we have converted to Christianity burning their scrolls (Acts 19:18-19) and the failed exorcism by the sons of Sceva (Acts 19:13-16). Although she never makes an explicit connection herself, I can’t help but wonder if the wife’s prayer to Jesus to keep her safe in childbirth alludes to 1 Timothy 2:15, a woman will be saved through childbearing.

A major focus of this story is the hard life of a woman in the ancient world, a life which was much more difficult for a pregnant woman. The book begins with a tragic story of a woman who dies giving birth to her child. Anthia herself suffers a great deal in the story, often at the hand of her abusive husband. Although the woman is in the late stages of her pregnancy, she is still forced to work in the family business, care for her son, and submit to her husband’s sexual needs (even though he visits a prostitute). Beers includes infanticide and the exposure of female babies several times in the book. It is likely an exposed child would be taken by someone to be raised as a slave. On one occasion a nursing woman is sold in the slave market to be used as a wet nurse by a wealthy aristocrat.

One thing Beers communicates well in this book is the absolute filth of the ancient world. Frequently Beers describes public latrines as well as the use of a communal chamber pot in the family’s single overcrowded room. Her son publicly urinates on one of the many pots set aside to collect urine for the fullers. On a number of occasions Anthia must deal with bleeding because of her pregnancy.

As with other books in this series, the book is illustrated by occasional sidebars in photographs to help the reader understand some details of the story. I think they were less of these in this volume than in previous books in the series. This may be due to the fact that there are few physical remains left by the extreme poor of the ancient world. Nor is there a great deal of description of poverty in ancient literature. Nevertheless, Beers judiciously uses what evidence is available to paint a vivid picture of poverty in the ancient world.

Not everyone in the book is poor. At the meeting of a host church, Anthia meets Claudia, a wealthy Roman citizen who invites her to a meal in her home. Here Beers describes the terrace houses in the city of Ephesus. In contrast to the filthy, crowded one-room apartment that she lives in, her wealthy Roman patron lives in a beautiful home with multiple rooms and running water. As Anthia says, even the dog looks better fed than her family. This meal also provides an opportunity to describe what a wealthy Roman family might eat for a meal.

Conclusion. This is my favorite of the Week in the Life series for two reasons. First, since I have visited Ephesus it is easy to imagine the scenes in the agora, the latrines, or the terrace houses. Beers has succeeded in placing her story in the world of first century Ephesus as it is known from archaeology. Second, in both the ancient and modern world, these kinds of stories are rarely told from the perspective of a poor woman. Although the other books in the series have similar imagery, none capture the despair of poverty in the Roman world like this book.

Nijay Gupta interviewed Holly Beers on December 16, 2019.

 

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

Although not part of this series,

 

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: Barry J. Beitzel, ed. Lexham Geographical Commentary on the Acts through Revelation

Beitzel, Barry J., ed. Lexham Geographical Commentary on the Acts through Revelation. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2019. 763 pp.; Hb.  $39.99  Link to Lexham Press

Barry Beitzel has a well-deserved reputation in scholarship for his contributions to biblical geography. He edited The New Moody Atlas of the Bible (Moody, 2009; reviewed here). He edited the first volume of this projected five volume series, Lexham Geographical Commentary on the Gospels (Lexham, 2017, see my review here). This new volume is a joy to read, and will be an excellent addition the library of any student of the New Testament.

Lexham Geographic CommentaryThis new volume contains fifty-three essays written by nineteen New Testament scholars. More than half of these articles cover the book of Acts and the remaining articles discuss locations were Paul or Peter did ministry and the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. See the end of this review for a list of chapter topics.

Each chapter begins with a list of Scripture covered in the section, so it is possible to read through at least the first half of the book alongside a reading of the book of Acts. This is not always possible since some locations appear in various parts of the book such as Jerusalem or Caesarea. For example, Paul Wright’s chapter on Caesarea Maritima (chapter 16) lists all of the occurrences of the location in the book of Acts. A text box at the head of the article offers three or four key points covered in the chapter. The text flows in parallel columns and the chapters are richly illustrated. All non-English words appear in transliteration; distances are given in miles and kilometers. Each section concludes with a bibliography citing key journal and other dictionary articles.

The articles in these volumes are highly detailed and well-documented. Several would make excellent academic journal articles. Eckhard Schnabel contributes several chapters. His two-volume Early Christian Mission (IVP Academic, 2004) and Jesus in Jerusalem: The Last Days (Eerdmans, 2018) are two of the most detailed academic works on the geography of the Gospels and Acts. David deSilva contributed articles on The Social and Geographical World of Psidian Antioch, Rome, Roman Corinth, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum and Sardis. Mark Wilson contributes several articles on locations in modern Turkey (the Geography of Galatia, Peter’s Communities in Asia Minor, the Geography of Patmos, and the Social and Geographical World of Thyatira and Philadelphia).

The chapters are illustrated with photographs, diagrams and charts. Some photographs are licensed through WikiCommons, some are from Beitzel himself, and David deSilva contributed many. A few of these are familiar diagrams found in other Logos resources or Logos map sets. I noticed some of the city maps of the seven churches in Revelation were designed by Tutku Tours. The book is printed on an uncoated paper which does not glare and is easier to make notes on compared to a book like the Zondervan Bible Backgrounds commentary.

Some chapters cover material that strictly speaking is not a part of the book of Acts or the Epistles. For example, Ekhard Schnabel has a brief article on Paul in Spain and Crete based on the very thin evidence that Paul actually did ministry in these locations. J. Carl Laney contributed an article on Paul’s travel after the book of Acts based on the Pastoral Epistles and several church traditions. Each location where Paul did ministry has a chapter, including Colossae even though he did not establish that church.

A few other highlights: Barry Beitzel has a lengthy and detailed article on the meaning of “Arabia” in classical literature in order to answer the question of what Paul meant in Galatians 1:17 when he spent time in Arabia. Benjamin Foreman has an article on the Social and Geographical Significance of Alexandria, Egypt, a location only mentioned in the book of Acts as the home of Apollos (Acts 18:24-28). He discusses the Jewish presence in Alexandria and some of the traditions associated with how Christianity came to this important city in the Roman world. A. H. Cadwallader contributes an article on Onesimus and the world of Philemon, which is more less on slavery in the Roman world. Schnabel has an article on Paul’s travel in Macedonia and Achaia, including the distance traveled by foot between different locations and suggested time to travel. This article also includes a footnote in which Schnabel disagrees with one of his earlier conclusions.

Perhaps the most unusual article concerns Philippi, Michael Thate’s “Paulus Geographicus? The Spatial (Somatic) World of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.” The article is not particularly about the geographical location of the city of Philippi, but about how bodies were understood in the Greco-Roman world, specifically in the Macedonian city of Philippi. As he puts it, this is a theo-graphical article rather than a geographical article. Unfortunately, this is the only article in the book devoted to Philippi. I would have liked an additional article on the social and geographical word of Rome Philippi as similar to other locations of Paul’s ministry.

The final seven chapters concern geographical locations in the book of Revelation, six of the seven churches plus an article on the geography of the island of Patmos. (Ephesus was covered in the order of the Pauline letters.) Each of these chapters gives the pre-history of the cities, as well as something of the religious and social situation at the time John wrote the book of Revelation.

The book includes with seventeen-pages of color charts and additional maps, a detailed list of the contributors, a subject index, a Scripture index and a list of image credits.

Logos Version. Since the book was published simultaneously for the Logos Bible Software library, I had the opportunity to use the book in that format. Clicking a photograph open the Logos Media library so the image can be copied and pasted into Word or PowerPoint (or any other software). The Media tool gives the description of the image as well as photo credits. Maps open in the Logos Atlas tool and can be copied and pasted. Using these tools to enhance your teaching and preaching is an added incentive to purchase the electronic version. 

As typical in a Logos resource, clicking a Scripture references will open your preferred Bible to the text, or you can float over the reference to peek at the text. This works also for ancient sources if you have unlocked them for your library. For example, I can click on a cited reference to Pliny’s Natural History and open the version I have unlocked in the Logos library. This is true for any resource, Josephus, Philo, Strabo’s Geography, etc. At the end of a chapter the Logos version as a “see also” section which does not appear in the print format of the book. This section includes links to the Logos Atlas tool, Logos FactBook places and events, other articles in the Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through Revelation and any videos in the Media Library related to the section. The bibliography sections open additional Logos resources if unlocked. The Logos version of the book is obviously more interactive than a printed book and can be updated and corrected as necessary.

One disappointment in the Logos version of the book is the lack of page numbers. Usually a Logos book is tagged with real page numbers so I can cite the resource properly. The only index available is Scripture. The original Geographical Commentary on the Gospels has a page number index, perhaps Logos will update this book in the future.

All things being equal, I much prefer a real physical book. And this is an excellent looking book. But there are some definite advantages to using this book as part of Logos Bible Software.

Conclusion. The Lexham Geographic Commentary on the gospels is a joy to read. The articles are stimulating and well-illustrated.  This book will make an excellent addition to the library of any student of the Bible. A hardback book with 763 pages illustrated with color photographs, maps and charts is worth more than the $39.95 list price. The Lexham website inaccurately lists the publication date as 2017. The Geographic Commentary will continue in 2020 with volumes on the Pentateuch, Historical Books and Poetry and Prophecy are due in 2020.

 

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.

 

Contents of Lexham Geographical Commentary on the Acts through Revelation

  • Typological Geography and the Progress of the Gospel in Acts
  • The Topography of Jerusalem in the Book of Acts
  • The Threefold Expansion of the Early Church: Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria
  • Jesus’ Missionary Commission and the Ends of the Earth
  • A Sabbath-Day’s Journey from the Mount of Olives
  • The Location of Pentecost and Geographical Implications in Acts 2
  • Early Church Demographics
  • Geography of the Nations in Jerusalem for Pentecost
  • The Jerusalem Temple in the Book of Acts
  • The Geography of Worship: From Temple to Synagogue to Church
  • The Persecution of the Earliest Christians in Geographical Perspective
  • The Theodotus Synagogue Inscription and Its Relationship to the Book of Acts
  • Samaria: Too Wicked to Redeem?
  • The Roman Road System around the Mediterranean
  • The Desert Road between Jerusalem and Gaza
  • The Geography of Caesarea Maritima
  • The Road from Jerusalem to Damascus
  • Paul’s Missionary Work in Syria, Nabatea, Judea, and Cilicia
  • Peter’s Ministry in Caesarea Maritima
  • Peter and the Centurion Cornelius: Roman Soldiers in the New Testament
  • The Geographic Importance of Antioch on the Orontes
  • Famines in the Land
  • The Death of Herod Agrippa I in Caesarea Maritima
  • Paul’s Missionary Work in Cyprus, Galatia, and Pamphylia
  • Barnabas, John Mark, and Their Ministry on Cyprus
  • The Social and Geographical World of Pisidian Antioch
  • Paul’s Missionary Work in Macedonia and Achaia
  • Paul at the Areopagus in Athens
  • What Has Athens to Do with Jerusalem? Paul’s Areopagus Speech in Context
  • The Social and Geographical Significance of Alexandria
  • Paul’s Missionary Work in the Provinces of Asia and Illyricum
  • Paul as a Prisoner in Judea and Rome
  • Paul’s Journey to Rome
  • The Social and Geographical World of Rome
  • Paul in Spain and Crete
  • Paul’s Travels After Acts
  • The Social and Geographical World of Roman Corinth
  • The Geography of Galatia
  • Paul’s Early Ministry in Syria and Cilicia: The Silent Years
  • The Meaning of “Arabia” in Classical Literature and the New Testament
  • The Social and Geographical World of Ephesus
  • Paulus Geographicus? The Spatial (Somatic) World of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians
  • The Social and Geographical World of Colossae
  • The Social and Geographical World of Thessalonica
  • Onesimus and the Social and Geographical World of Philemon
  • Peter’s Christian Communities in Asia Minor
  • Geography of the Island of Patmos
  • The Social and Geographical World of Smyrna
  • The Social and Geographical World of Pergamum
  • The Social and Geographical World of Thyatira
  • The Social and Geographical World of Sardis
  • The Social and Geographical World of Philadelphia
  • The Social and Geographical World of Laodicea