Dean Pinter, Acts (Story of God)

Pinter, Dean. Acts. Story of God Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2020. 656 pp. Hb; $49.99.   Link to Zondervan

Dean Pinter (PhD in New Testament from Durham University) serves as rector of St. Aidan Anglican Church in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. He contributed to Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not: Evaluating Empire in New Testament Studies (InterVarsity, 2013) and Reading Mark in Context: Jesus and Second Temple Judaism (Zondervan, 2018). This Story of God commentary combines clear exposition of the text with insightful reflections on the meaning of Acts in a contemporary context.

Dean Pinter, Acts, Story of God CommentaryIn his eleven-page introduction to the book of Acts, Pinter offers for “bits of wisdom for reading Acts.” First, any reading of Acts needs to keep an eye on the gospel of Luke because there are overlapping and complementary themes. Second, read Acts as a story. Try to focus on large chunks of narrative without breaking the book up into chapters and verses. Third, both Luke and Acts are full of drama spanning a long period of time. Pay attention to the places where Luke slows the story down, such as 20:17-23:35 (only a few days). Fourth, pay attention to foreshadowing. Luke tends to introduce characters (Barnabas, Saul, John Mark), drop them and then pick them up again later.

Pinter links the purpose of the book of Acts to its style of literature. If, for example, Acts as a novel, then the purpose would be to entertain (Pervo). Pinter follows Mark Allan Powell and lists six suggested purposes for the book. First, F.C. Bauer suggested the book of Acts provides a peaceful solution for emerging Catholic Christianity. Second, Charles Talbert suggested the book is a polemic confronting heretical Christianity. Third, many commentators consider the book of Acts to be an apologetic, whether for Christianity as a whole or a more specific defense brief for Paul’s trial in Rome. Fourth, many commentaries suggest in evangelistic purpose: the book focuses on non-Christians in the world. Theophilus represents an example of a gentile pagan being confronted with the gospel. Fifth, for many, Luke has a pastoral focus. He is offering strength and comfort to a gentile church. Sixth, many commentaries suggest Luke wrote the book because of theological issues facing the early church. Citing I. Howard Marshall with approval, Luke wrote Acts “to give confidence that the Christian message which they have believed and accepted is valid and true.” Pinter concludes “no one purpose can account for all the rich complexity that exists in Acts” (27).

Pinter highlights four key theological themes for the book. First, Jesus is not alone in his work. Both the Father and the Holy Spirit are active in the expansion of the Gospel. Second, although the phrase Kingdom of God does not occur in Acts as often as in Luke, Pinter sees this as a major theme. The ongoing expansion of the Kingdom is the story of Acts. Third, “witness” is the primary emphasis for the followers of Jesus. Jesus called the original disciples in Jerusalem to be witnesses to what they have seen and heard, and the book concludes with the statement that nothing can hinder the witness of the gospel. Fourth, he highlights the providence of God as a key theme. Beginning with the gift of the Holy Spirit or filling prophecy, to the inclusion of the gentiles later in the book.

The introduction concludes with a helpful page and a half summary of the resources for preaching and teaching the book of acts. He offers two or three brief overviews of the book of Acts, resources for geographical and historical context (Zondervan Atlas of the Bible and the five-volume The Book of Acts in Its First-Century Setting (Eerdmans, 1993-98), several “go-to commentaries for sermon preparation” (Alexander, Dunn, Gaventa, and Wright), critical commentaries (Barrett, Keener, Peterson), and insightful monographs (for example, Kavin Rowe, World Upside Down). A glance at the index of authors shows Pinter cites Dunn, Alexander, Gaventa and Bruce Longenecker most often in the commentary.

As with the other volumes of the Story of God series, the commentary is broken up into a series of chapters which do not follow the chapters Acts. Pinter divides each unit into three sections. First, “Listen to the Story” prints the text of the NIV along with suggested cross references in the Old and New Testaments. Second, “Explain the Story” is a traditional exposition of the unit. He proceeds paragraph-by-paragraph commenting on the English text (only light interaction with the Greek text always appearing in transliteration). There are only a few footnotes to exegetical details or secondary literature. Third, “Live the Story” is a series of brief reflections based on the section. Pinter illustrates these meditations with citations from church history (Augustine, Chrysostom), but also modern Christian writers (Eugene Peterson, Philip Yancey, Frederick Buechner, J. R. R. Tolkien, and C. S. Lewis).

Conclusion. In a world where Acts commentaries are often more than a thousand pages (or four thousand for Craig Keener), it is refreshing to read a commentary on Acts that is brief and to the point. Pinter’s style makes this a readable commentary for both laypeople and scholars. Many will find his “Live the Story” sections to be useful in personal devotions accompanied by Bible reading; pastors will discover pointers toward a deeper engagement with the book of Acts in their own teaching and preaching.

 

Reviews of other commentaries in the Story of God series:

 

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

 

 

Michael B. Shepherd, A Commentary on The Book of the Twelve (Kregel Exegetical Library)

Shepherd, Michael B. A Commentary on The Book of the Twelve. Kregel Exegetical Library; Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2018. 523 pp. Hb; $38.99.   Link to Kregel Academic

Michael Shepherd is associate professor of biblical studies at Cedarville University. He has previously published several articles and monographs, including Daniel in the Context of the Hebrew Bible (Peter Lang, 2009) and The Twelve Prophets in the New Testament (Peter Lang, 2011).

Shepherd, exegetical commentary on the Book of the TwelveThe introduction to this to this volume of the Kregel exegetical commentary series presents an argument for the unity of the Book of the Twelve, which is the motivation for the whole commentary. Shepherd previously published an article on the “Compositional Analysis of the Twelve” (ZAW 120 (2008): 184–193). He acknowledges the work of Paul House, The Unity of the Twelve (Sheffield: Almond, 1990) and two monographs by James D. Nogalski, Literary Precursors to the Book of the Twelve (BZAW 217; de Gruyter, 1993) and Redactional Processes in the Book of the Twelve (BZAW 218; deGruyter, 1993) and his Smyth & Helwys commentary on the Book of the Twelve.

What sets Shepherd’s approach to the Book of the Twelve apart from other similar studies is that he is not interested in the redaction of the twelve minor prophets, but the compositional strategy of a single author drawing together various prophetic books into a single Book of the Twelve. He never refers to this person as an editor; for Shepherd, he is an author or a composer. The best analogy for his approach to the Book of the Twelve is the Book of Psalms. The book is a collection of individual psalms, but it clearly has an overall literary unity with clear theological themes connecting the parts, including superscriptions and seams.

Besides an analogy to the book of Psalms, Shepherd points to Sirach 49:10 as the earliest reference to the twelve minor prophets as a unit. Acts 13:40 and 15:15 also cite texts from minor prophets as simply “the prophets.” All early Jewish and Christian canonical lists count the Twelve as one book. Perhaps most compelling, the Masoretic text does not mark the center verse in the minor prophets, but one appears at Micah 3:12 as the middle verse of the Book of the Twelve.

Because of his interest in the unity of the Book of the Twelve, he is not interested in biographical details or the lives of the prophets. He makes no attempt to reconstruct the ministry of any individual prophet, and he does not spend much time at all setting the prophet into a particular historical context. For Shepherd, it is not a matter of a book’s historicity, but of the books “unique and revelatory depiction of things.”

For Shepherd, Hosea 3:4-5 is a programmatic statement for the entire Book of the Twelve: “For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.” He identifies two themes: God’s judgment of Israel and a future messianic salvation. He argues Israel cannot be restricted to just the northern Kingdom in Hosea 3:4-5. Only the original Israel was united under their “Lord and God” and “David their king.” he considers this verse be dependent on Jeremiah 30: 8-9 (23). This is intriguing, but there are differences. For example, Hosea anticipates Israel will “return and seek the Lord” (יָשֻׁ֙בוּ֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וּבִקְשׁוּ֙ אֶת־יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֵיהֶ֔ם) whereas Jeremiah has “serve the Lord” (וְעָ֣בְד֔וּ אֵ֖ת יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹֽהֵיהֶ֑ם). The two verses use distinctly different verbs, although the phrase “the Lord their God and David their king” is the same. Even in English, this is not a quotation. I would be happier if he employed language like “this alludes to Jeremiah.” usually studies of intertextuality would question the direction of the illusion. Perhaps Hosea used Jeremiah, or Jeremiah used Hosea depending on when the books were written. Shepherd does not discuss these issues because it doesn’t matter. The author of the Book of the Twelve composed the book after all the prophetic books were written. It doesn’t matter whether Hosea predates Jeremiah because the author of the Book of the Twelve had all of this material available to him and he inserted the programmatic verse into Hosea 3:4-5.

Another question I have about this programmatic verse is its placement three chapters into the Book of the Twelve. For Shepherd, the eschatological context of Hosea 3 created the “perfect opportunity for the composer” to introduce his program from Jeremiah 30:9. Hosea 3:4-5 looks beyond any return of the northern Kingdom of Israel from Assyria or even the return of Judah from Babylon. For Shepherd, the verse looks forward to the restoration of Israel’s lost blessings in the land at a future time when the people will seek both the Lord and David as their king. This cannot be historical David or a resurrected David, but a Davidic king who will build the temple and reign over an everlasting kingdom (53).

Shepherd suggests three criteria for identifying the activity of the final composer of the Book the Twelve. First, he identifies seams which connect the end of one book to the next. Second, in these seams he finds development of a programmatic text for the Book of the Twelve, Hosea 3: 4-5. Third, when the first two criteria are both present, there is some evidence of dependence on the book of Jeremiah. Shepherd provides a list of each of the seams with a brief demonstration using the three criteria (34-36, with additional details in the exegetical commentary). Several examples will suffice for this review.

First, at the end of Joel, the “Lord dwells in Zion” (Joel 3:16 ET) and the Amos begins with “the Lord roars from Zion” (Amos 1:2). Shepherd then suggests this seam alludes to Jeremiah 25:30, “The Lord roars from on high.” In addition, Jeremiah 25:15-26 is a judgment oracle on the nations (including Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Moab, Ammon, five of the six nations mentioned in Amos 1:3-2:3).

Second, Amos 9:11-15 describes the restoration of the fallen tent of David. The future remnant will “possess Edom” (9:12). The book of Obadiah is entirely concerned with judgment on Edom. Amos’s restoration of the tent of David picks up on the programmatic statement from Hosea and includes both judgment and (future) salvation. Obadiah itself relies heavily on Jeremiah 49:7-22. This is a well-known literary dependence; Obadiah has a longer version, suggesting “the direction of dependence was from Jeremiah to Obadiah” (28). This means Amos 9:11-15 was added by the final author of the Book of the Twelve in order to connect the end of Amos to the beginning of Obadiah and to underscore his theology of judgment and future restoration. Shepherd says Amos 9:11-15 is “a prophecy of restoration unparalleled anywhere in the book of Amos” (200), and the phrase “restore the fortunes” is common in Jeremiah 29:14; 30:3; 31:23; 32:34; 33:7 (201).

One place where Shepherd’s theory for the unity of the twelve minor prophets may be helpful is an explaining the origins of Zechariah 9-11, 12-14, and the book of Malachi. As is well known, each of these sections begins with the phrase “The oracle (מַשָּׂא) of the word of the Lord.” scholars often suggest that these three units circulated separately and were edited into the Book of the Twelve at a later date. Shepherd himself says “the book of Malachi is the third section to Zechariah 9-11 and Zechariah 12-14” (480).

The body of the exegetical commentary shows his method throughout. Since he is interested in the final form of the Book of the Twelve, there is no formal introduction for each book. There is no effort to set the book into an original historical context or offer any sort of “life of the prophet.” Each book is broken into individual units, usually full chapters. Sections begin with a new translation, with alternative translations in brackets citing the Targumim, Septuagint, Syriac, and Dead Sea Scrolls. Additional footnotes discuss syntactical or lexical issues. Shepherd’s exegetical commentary is a clear explanation of the Hebrew text, with no transliteration. Footnotes point to secondary literature, additional lexical or syntactical issues. Although this is a single volume on all twelve minor prophets, Shepherd’s exegesis is detailed. Occasionally, his commentary on individual book ends with a conclusion, or a section entitled “teaching and preaching” the book.

The final pages of the commentary are entitled “final thoughts on teaching and preaching the twelve.” As expected, he recommends that anyone preaching or teaching a series on the Book of the Twelve should focus on the compositional strategy of the entire twelve minor prophets. He observes “arbitrary obsession with application has become so out of hand that all the genres of the Bible have been flattened into one: that of a manual or a handbook for life” (512). He suggests “the drive to make scripture practical causes the reader to miss the vision of the book of the Twelve for Christ in his Kingdom Rather than giving our church is the full tour of the biblical text” (512).

Conclusion. Most scholars who study the minor prophets will be interested in Shepherd’s method for detecting seams between the books and his argument for the unity of the Book of the Twelve. Although I expressed some questions and reservations above, his argument for a final author who drew the twelve minor prophets together is intriguing and convincing, although I am more incline to use the word editor. Since Shepherd covers all twelve minor prophets in a single volume, the depth of this exegetical commentary should not be compared with recent NICOT commentaries (for example, Mark Boda’s 935 pages on Zechariah or Mignon Jacobs’s 377 pages on Haggai and Malachi). But this Kregel Exegetical Commentary is more detailed than the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary (for example, Daniel Timmer’s 229 pages on Obadiah, Jonah and Micah).

 

Other Commentaries in the Kregel Exegetical Commentary series:

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

 

 

 

 

 

J. Paul Tanner, Daniel (EEC)

Tanner, J. Paul. Daniel. Evangelical Exegetical Commentary. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2020. xxii+803 pp.; Hb.; $49.99. Link to Lexham Press

In the 122-page introduction to Daniel, Tanner suggests the primary theme of Daniel is the revelation of Israel’s future in relation to gentile kingdoms, now that the nation has gone into exile, and the exaltation of Daniel as a channel through which God will reveal his will. The book establishes God is sovereignly in control of the nations under whom Israel is being disciplined, but also that Israel will be ultimately restored and blessed in the messiah’s Kingdom after the nation has undergone tribulation and suffering imposed by the Antichrist (113).

Tanner, DanielTanner divides the book into two major sections based on the language. Chapter one is the historical setting of the book, followed by an Aramaic section (chapters 2-7) and a Hebrew section (chapters 8-12). As is often observed, there are clear parallels between chapters two and seven, three and six, and four and five. He compares Lenglet (1972) and Gooding (1981) and suggests an “interlocking literary pattern” which recognizes this parallelism, but also includes chapter 7 in the second half of the book (the four visions).

Tanner devotes the largest section of the introduction to date and authorship. For Tanner, Daniel wrote the book shortly after 536/535 BC, in its entirety (39). The bulk of this unit deals with objections to this traditional view. He deals with twelve historical inaccuracies, along with linguistic, theological, and literary objections. The most difficult historical objection is the identity of Darius the Mede. He surveys five possibilities offered by various commentators. First, Darius is an alternative name for Cyrus (Wiseman). Second, Darius refers to Ugbaru or Gobaru, (Shea). Ugbaru conquered Babylon prior to Cyrus entering the city, then Cyrus appointed him to rule Babylon. Third, Darius is another official by the name Gobaru, but not Ugbaru (Waltke). Fourth, Darius refers to Cambyses II (Boutflower). Tanner advocates for a fifth position, that Darius is a throne name for Cyaxares II. This was Calvin and C. F. Keil’s view and, more recently, Anderson and Young in a 2009 BibSac article. This view accepts Xenophon’s assertion that a Median king, Cyaxares II, was the head of the government when Cyrus led the army against Babylon. Herodotus does not mention Cyaxares. Oddly, he cites seven points taken from a 2015 Wikipedia article favoring Xenophon over Herodotus. Although these are valid points, it seems strange to see Wikipedia cited in a professional commentary.

In addition to dealing with arguments against the traditional view of Daniel’s authorship, he makes nine positive arguments in favor of the traditional authorship. For example, Matthew 24: 15 Jesus implies Daniel is the author of the book. He argues 1 Enoch 14:18 alludes to Daniel 7:9-10. The problem, of course, is which came first, Daniel or Enoch? In addition, Accepted Daniel into their Canon seems to imply an earlier date. A date in the second century B.C. would mean Daniel was immediately accepted into the canon just after it was written, which Tanner thinks is unlikely.

The introduction also includes a survey of the historical context of the book. This section deals with the chronology of the end of the kingdom of Judah and a survey of Babylonian and Persian history, as well as the conquests of Alexander the Great and Judah under the Roman Empire. (There is a helpful summary chart on page 105). He also has a short section on the religious context of Babylon. This includes descriptions of some Babylonian gods, and the practice of magic and divination.

In the commentary’s body, each unit begins with a brief introduction and textual notes followed by a Tanner’s translation and extremely detailed footnotes. These notes include lexical and syntactical issues behind the translation and comparisons to various versions of the Septuagint. The commentary itself is verse by verse, but since all the technical details appear in the footnotes to the translation, the commentary itself rarely deals with Hebrew or Greek text. Tanner provides an efficient and readable commentary.

The commentary must deal with matters of interpretation of prophetic details. Tanner doesn’t excellent job laying out all the positions possible, with footnotes literature on the various positions. I will provide several examples of this to illustrate his method. Commenting on “one like a son of man” in Daniel 7:13-14, he begins with the translation of the phrase in both the Old and New Testaments and compares this to phrase the use in the Parables of Enoch. He then summarizes four views: the son of man is a human, a collective or personification, the son of man is an angel, or the son of man is the Messiah. The last is Tanner’s view: the son of man is Jesus, or at least Jesus understood himself to be Daniel’s son of man.

Since Tanner has previously written several articles on the “seventy sevens” in Daniel 9:24-27, this is a lengthy section in the commentary. Tanner summarizes this data in a helpful appendix, comparing seven views on almost every detail of this prophecy in pre-critical and critical scholarship. Tanner calls his own view “Messianic postponement view” using a “prophetic-year calculation.” The seventy weeks begin with Artaxerxes’s authorization to rebuild Jerusalem in 444 B.C. The first sixty-nine weeks end with the crucifixion of Jesus in A.D. 33 and the anointed one is Jesus. The last seven is a future seven-year period before the return of Christ (the great tribulation). The “prince to come” is the antichrist (as opposed to Antiochus IV, Titus, etc.) This is all very consistent with traditional dispensational interpretations, as represented by Robert Anderson, John Walvoord, and Dwight Pentecost. But Tanner is also similar to Gleason Archer, Stephen Miller (NAC), or Leon would except for how the years are calculated.

With respect to the interpretation of Daniel 11-12, Tanner argues Daniel 11:2-12:4 are predictions of the near future, now historically fulfilled. Daniel 11:2-20 deals with the Persian Empire up to Antiochus, 11:21-35 concerns the reign of Antiochus (his rise to power, vv. 21-24; the rivalry with Egypt, vv. 25-28, the persecution of the Jews, vv. 29-35). Antiochus is a biblical type illustrating “the evil and sinister persona that will characterize the future Antichrist (684). The problem for Daniel 11 is the fulfillment of 11:36. For most scholars, Daniel is suddenly inaccurate: Antiochus does not die in the way described in these verses. For most of critical scholarship, this means that Daniel was written shortly before and Antiochus died, which is why the details are not quite right. For Tanner and most evangelicals, verse 36 is where the text “leaps forward in time” (685). Once again, Tanner surveys four views for these verses, summarizing them in a handy chart (689) with examples of scholarship for each.

There are several excurses throughout the commentary of “additional exegetically comments.” These deal with technical aspects that may not be of interest to every reader. For example, he has four pages on the placement athnach of the in Daniel 9:25.

The final two sections in each unit are comments on the biblical theological implications followed by application and devotional implications. Neither of these sections is lengthy, the quote devotional implications in quote are brief meditations on the theology of the section. Since this is not an application commentary, these application comments do not dominate the commentary.

Each unit ends with any detailed “selected bibliography,” although these are anything but brief. Virtually all the literature written in recent years appears in these bibliographies. These bibliographies make this an invaluable resource for anyone studying the book of Daniel.

For some readers, Tanner’s dispensationalism and commitment to a traditional view of the authorship and date of the book will be enough to reject this commentary as serious scholarship. This would be a mistake. The extremely detailed footnotes on the text of Daniel concerning both textual criticism, lexical and transition translation history are incredibly valuable. The amount of detail on Hebrew and Aramaic syntax in the notes makes this one of the best exegetical commentaries available. The substance of Tanner’s commentary will valuable even if one disagrees with his conclusions.

As with other volumes of this series, Lexham published the commentary simultaneously in print and in the Logos Bible Software. Tanner’s commentary first appeared in the Logos Library in 2020. The print edition was not available until February 2021. Reading this commentary using the Logos Bible Software (or the iOS app) is enjoyable because it obscured the footnotes. Readers who do not want the exegetical detail will not be distracted by the footnotes. The ability to copy and paste the bibliographies will benefit students developing their own bibliographies as they study sections of Daniel. The Logos book takes advantage of all the resources of the software, including tagging cross references and links to other resources when available.

To date, thirteen commentaries of the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary are available to Logos users, with forty-four volumes planned. Since the series was launched, Lexham redesigned the covers and named Andreas Köstenberger editor for the New Testament. Logos users can purchase all thirteen volumes at 20% off through the Lexham website or subscribe to the series and receive new volumes as they are published.

 

Review of other commentaries in this series:

 

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

Judith A. Diehl, 2 Corinthians (Story of God)

Diehl, Judith A. 2 Corinthians. Story of God Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2020. 414 pp. Hb; $39.99.   Link to Zondervan

Judith A. Diehl (PhD University of Edinburgh) retired as professor of New Testament and hermeneutics at Denver Seminary. Her contribution to the Story of God series is a solid commentary on 2 Corinthians, which both explains the text well but also draws application from the text to contemporary Christian life. The Story of God series is based on the NIV 2011 and is designed to address the present generation with the word of God. As the title implies, these commentaries use biblical and narrative theology, although they are not examples of theological interpretation of Scripture. Commentators give significant attention to “living out the story” of the Bible. But this is not as much application suggestions for pastors as asking how a text, in the light of the story of God, compels us to live in our world so that our lives line up with the Bible’s story.

Diehl, 2 CorinthiansIn the introduction to the commentary, Diehl visualizes 2 Corinthians an apologia or courtroom scene with prosecutors accusing Paul of certain things (he is not qualified to be an apostle). The church is courtroom spectators and Paul makes his defense by calling witnesses (his friends and coworkers), presenting evidence and answer charges against him. After the verdict, there’s a twist: it was the congregation that was on trial the whole time!

There is very little doubt Paul wrote the letter. Regarding the background, Diehl begins with Bruce Winter’s excellent monograph, After Paul Left Corinth (Eerdmans, 2001). Winter argued the social, political, religious, and cultural background to the Corinthian letters as entirely Roman, but Paul’s theological background is Jewish. The Corinthian believers did not immediately become Christian in a single day. Following Winter, Diehl surveys the usual causes of the problems in the Corinthian letters: Gnosticism (mentioned and quickly dismissed), grain shortages, imperial cult, the promise of Pax Romana, etc. The source of the problem was Roman power, which stands in contrast to Jesus, who is the very picture of weakness, crucified like a criminal. How does Jesus “Israel centric mission,” which is characterized by weakness and humility suffering in death, shed light into the darkness of the Roman world?

With respect to the audience of the letter, she provides a sketch of 1st century Corinth. Paul’s gospel conflicted with the Roman world in every aspect. What mattered most to a Roman citizen of Corinth in the mid-50s AD was radically different from the theological, social, and ethical teachings Paul delivered. Of primary importance is the well known crusus honorum, “path to fortune and fame,” from Roman cultural studies (and easily applies to modern western pursuit of wealth). Social status was everything to a citizen or Corinth, but the pursuit of honor did not include becoming like a humble crucified Jew. Following Crossan and Reed, Diehl briefly discusses the imperial cult as it appeared in first century Corinth. The imperial cult was “the glue that held the civilized world together” (39).

Following Linda Belleville, Diehl suggests the purpose of 2 Corinthians was to establish a closer, more trusting relationship with the congregation who were “under the spell of evil and deceptive leaders.” She calls the opponents in Corinthians the “adversarial rival missionaries.” Mind, one of the key themes of the letter is Paul’s defense against these adversarial rival missionaries. Paul shows his ministry and leadership heart throughout 2 Corinthians. For Diehl, “Paul was the consummate pastor, educating, encouraging, warning, correcting, loving, and caring for his people as much as he could under the circumstances of the first century” (40).

Most commentaries on Corinthians must deal with the unity and integrity of the letter. Standard scholarly commentaries divide the letter into two major sections (usually chapters 1-9; 10-13). The smaller units circulated separately until someone finally edited together the units into a single letter sometime between AD 96-125. Following Bellville, Diehl disagrees with these partition theories. There is no manuscript evidence that any portion of the book circulated separately. As David deSilva said, every argument advanced by supporters of partition theories can be plausibly countered. Diehl concludes: “The more complicated the theory the less we perceive the composition accurately (52). But there does seem to be a serious difference between the larger units. She argues Paul composed the letter with time gap between chapters 9 and 10. In this gap, Titus returns from Corinth and reports to Paul what happened in the Corinthian church. Paul knows more from Titus’s report after he wrote chapter 9, explaining the differences in chapters 10-13. This seems like a partition theory without the complicated steps. Diehl offers a suggestion timeline, sorting out four letters written to Corinth and three visits. She observes nothing is known about the Corinthian church after Paul leaves with the collection in the summer of AD 57 until Clement writes to Corinth in AD 96.

Diehl argues Paul deals with more than one opponent in the letter. Along with the adversarial rival missionaries, Paul must deal with former pagans focused on worldly status and first century sophists who find Paul’s presentation of the gospel lacking in rhetorical nuance. In addition, there is Jewish opposition. Is likely some viewed their Jewish heritage as superior to the gentiles. Whoever the opponents are in the letter, they are proclaiming a deceptive theology and claiming superiority over Paul. They are false apostles because they are not preaching the gospel and building up the congregation. Rather, they are inflating their own egos for financial gain and have a desire to dominate others (64).

The body of the commentary is broken into three parts. First, “Listen to the Story” prints the text of the NIV 2011 with suggested parallel Old and New Testament passages. These cross references are often helpful. For 2 Corinthians 2:14-3:6, Diehl divides the references into categories, but this is the only place in the entire commentary with these helpful divisions. Sometimes the Scripture is followed by a quote from the Bible, a famous theologian or writer, and an introduction as an opening illustration.

The second part of the commentary, “Explain the Story,” is a traditional commentary on the unit. The commentary covers whole verses rather than words and phrases. Diehl based the commentary on the text of the NIV 2011, although she occasionally refers to alternative English translations. Although her comments reflect a deep study of Corinthians in the original language, there are no Greek lexical or syntactical comments because the NIV 2011 is intentionally the target of the exegesis in the Story of God series. This makes reading the exegetically sections easier to read for readers without Greek language skills. She makes good use of the Old Testament when Paul alludes to it and includes references to Roman cultural background to explain the text. For example, in 2:14-17, the “pleasing aroma” refers to Old Testament sacrifices (Exodus 29:18). She explains the Roman military triumph and explains the negative connotations of a peddler in the Roman world.

The third section, “Live the Story,” contains several short meditations focusing on application, or perhaps better, bridging the world of Paul to the modern western reader. This section often includes personal observations from someone involved in both academics and ministry. She sometimes cites writers like John Stott or Eugene Peterson in these reflections. For example, commenting on 2 Corinthians 2:14-3:6 Diehl addresses divisive messages and evaluating the success of a church. Is a pastor a great speaker? Is the church growing like crazy? For Paul, Jesus must be the focus of all teaching, preaching, and worship in a church. Later in the commentary, in the context of the collection, she asks “how do we translate God’s overflowing love and grace into our giving and serving in the church today?” (281; using the example of George Müller, 290).

Conclusion. Diehl’s commentary on 2 Corinthians combines solid exposition of the text with clear personal application to Christian life in a modern context. This volume should be a delight to anyone teaching or preaching the difficult text of 2 Corinthians in the local church or a small group Bible study.

 

Reviews of other commentaries in the Story of God series:

  • Dean Pinter, Acts (forthcoming)

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

Thomas Andrew Bennett, 1-3 John (THNTC)

Bennett, Thomas Andrew. 1-3 John. Two Horizons New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2021. 225 pp. Pb; $29.00.   Link to Eerdmans

Bennett is an Affiliate Assistant Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary, where he completed his PhD in Theology with a Minor in New Testament (2015). He previously published Labor of God: A Theology of Atonement (Baylor, 2017, reviewed here by Lindsay Kennedy).

Bennett 1-3 JohnIn the brief introduction, Bennett states we can know nothing about the authorship, date, or historical circumstances for 1-3 John. All we have are “intimations and whispers” about what might have been the circumstances in which 1-3 John were written. He therefore does not engage in any reconstruction of a Johannine Community or complicated theories of how these letters are related to the Gospel of John (or Revelation). Anything said of the historical circumstances lurking behind the text is aimed at “clearing the way for a theological engagement that nourishes Christians” (3). These brief letters still speak to us because we belong to the same church.

Nevertheless, Bennett thinks it is likely the author of these letters knew and followed Jesus, he assumes all three letters were written by the author of the Gospel of John (and maybe Revelation), although that does not matter for the theological reading found in this commentary. Not does Bennett find any specific heresy in the first letter beyond the simple denial of the son (1 John 2:22 5:12-13), nor do the letters address a clear, concrete, discernable group of Christians. “Once we have done away with the notion of a ‘Johannine Community’ we have radically democratized. The audience of the Johannine writings…casting a wider net so that these letters are written for all Christians” (8).

Following Richard Bauckham, Bennett suggests the Gospel of John was a trustworthy biography of an important person, written by an eyewitness, and at least partially written to those who do not believe. First John shares that audience, people who are “community-less, joyless and eternal life-less” (10). So perhaps we are reading letters written from the area of Ephesus in the years 80-90 CE (when and where John the Apostle traditionally lived), but does that really matter for doing a theological reading of the letters of John? Sometimes it does, as demonstrated by Bennett’s discussion of John’s ethics. In a section drawing a contrast between his view and Robert Yarborough’s recent commentary, Bennett suggests the difference is “interpretive fallout of rejecting historical speculation about circumstances… of an identifiable Johannine community” (202, note 80).

The body of the commentary follows typical units for the letters of John with no separate introductions for the second and third letter (although some introduction-like material appears in the commentary on the first verses of each letter). Bennett provides his own translation of the text, followed by an exposition of the text. Sometimes his translations are striking. For 1 John 2:16, he renders ἡ ἐπιθυμία τῆς σαρκὸς as “the things the body craves: rather than the traditional “lust of the flesh” and ἡ ἐπιθυμία τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν as “the things eyes long to see” rather than the traditional “lust of the eyes” and ἡ ἀλαζονεία τοῦ βίου as “overconfidence in what we have” rather than the traditional “pride of life.” He relates these phrases to Wisdom literature, going beyond the implication of sexual sins. “Overconfidence in what we have is not just a sin, it is a slippery slope that ends in heresy (47)

Greek appears along with transliteration, although Bennett’s comments are not overly concerned with syntactical issues and there are no notes on textual issues in the commentary (except for a note on 1 John 5:7-8). The translation shows that Bennett has worked over the difficult Greek syntactical issues. Frequently, he explains why he has translated a particular Greek construction as he has even if he does not reference exegetical grammars to support his decisions. Occasional footnotes point to secondary literature and contemporary commentaries when necessary. Bennett also refers to ancient voices, although less often than expected in a commentary doing theological interpretation. The result is a clear exposition of the text in readable prose with a theological edge. Sections do not conclude with a paragraph of theological insights; Bennett works his insights into his exposition throughout the commentary.

The Two Horizons Commentary series usually divides the content into two sections: exposition and theological horizons. In this commentary, the commentary on 1-3 John runs about 114 pages, the theological section 82 pages. Bennett divides his theological comments into eight broad categories. The first four deal with the Godhead (The Trinity; Christology; God and Creation; God’s Character). Bennett argues “unqualified monotheism of the Jewish and Muslim varieties cannot say ‘God is love’ truly; Johannine Christianity can and does” (135). He believes the incipient Trinitarianism of the letters of John make clear self-love is not the right kind of love, since love must go outside of itself: The Father demonstrates his love by sending his son.

For Bennett, a reader cannot rightly understand the Johannine Literature without a strong theological reckoning of Christ and the church as eschatological fulfillments of Temple Worship (135-36). This takes into account a hot topic in Johannine studies, the idea of Temple as Jesus’s body (for example Paul, Hoskins, Jesus as the Fulfillment of the Temple in the Gospel of John, W&S, 2007). Since sins are forgiven in Jesus’s name (1 John 2:1-2), 1 John and Hebrews are not far apart.

With respect to Election and Eschatology, John has a relentless emphasis on transformation (171). “We will be like him” in 1 John 3:2-3, and everyone who has this hope in him “purifies himself because he is pure.” but what does that mean? Bennett thinks this opens the door for a Protestant theology of purgatory. Believers are going to be conformed to Christ. For some, this process might be easy, for others (most) it will be difficult (painful, shameful). This is the “inner core” of purgatory, although the mechanics of this purgatorial transformation are not clear (in 1 John or elsewhere). Bennett turns to a philosophy of time to explain that believers will experience an instantaneous (from God’s perspective) purging of sin, although this purging might have a long-lasting subjective experience (from the believer’s perspective). This view has immediate theological implications for 1 John 3:4-10, a passage which seems in tension with Hebrews 6:4-6. John seems to say believers cannot sin-unto-death, while Hebrews say believers can sin and fall away, never to be restored. “If Protestantism develops a robust view of purgatory the perhaps this tension can be laid to rest” (178).

Perhaps that is true, but there are other ways to understand 1 John 3:3 which do not point towards a postmortem purification. The purification in 1 John 3:3 is in this life. The one who is in him “purifies themselves” (not, will be purified by God in the future). Purification (ἁγνίζω) refers to a ritual which makes someone “acceptable for cultic use” (BDAG 1). The background is more likely something like John 11:55, the Judeans purified themselves before Passover. The next paragraph concerns practicing sin in this life, not a purging of sin after death. This purification is part of John’s intensely practical ethics.

Regarding the church, the letters of John think of the church as a Spirit-filled Temple, different from Paul’s Body of Christ yet compatible, “arguably more Trinitarian” (192). Like Paul, John sees the church as a family. “John relentlessly uses family language” but without the apparent misogyny of Paul’s letters (197). This leads to an exegetical discussion of the addressee of the second letter, “the elect lady and her children.” Commentaries on 2 John usually interpret “the elect lady” as a metaphor for a local church (ἐκκλησία is a feminine noun) and her children are the members of that community. Bennett argues the elect lady is the patroness of a local church and would have been well known to the readers, like the Elder or the Beloved disciple (109). When John addresses the church, he does not usually use a metaphor, and he does not seem to be in the habit of addressing the church in feminine language. Bennett observes the letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3 do not use feminine metaphors.

John’s ethics are simple: if you are in him, walk like him. There are no household codes (like Paul and Peter) nor does John re-apply the Torah (like the Sermon on the Mount). Nor are there any extended sin lists found in the Pauline letters. The only specific ethical issue in the letters of John is tis extending hospitality to traveling teachers (and the dangers of refusing hospitality) in 3 John.

Conclusion. Bennett’s commentary on 1-3 John is a theologically challenging commentary with a clear pastoral heart. He is interested in shedding light on these deceptively simple letters and drawing the out implications for being “in him” in modern church life. Although some readers will miss the extended speculations about John’s community, Bennett’s exposition of these letters is an exemplary model of theological interpretation of Scripture and will benefit more readers to understand John’s message as they teach and preach these letters.

 

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:

 

Published on May 22, 2021 on Reading Acts.