Book Review: David Burr, The Book of Revelation (The Bible in Medieval Tradition)

Burr, David D. The Book of Revelation. The Bible in Medieval Tradition. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2019. 424 pp. Pb; $65.00.   Link to Eerdmans 

This fifth volume of The Bible in Medieval Tradition series, following volumes on Genesis, Jeremiah, Romans and Galatians. The intent of the series is to “reacquaint the Church with its rich history of biblical interpretation and with the contemporary applicability of this history, especially for academic study, spiritual formation, preaching, discussion groups, and individual reflection.”  Since much of medieval exegesis has yet to be translated these volumes provide a wealth of primary sources previously unavailable to most English readers. David Burr published a monograph on Olivi’s Peaceable Kingdom: A Reading of the Apocalypse Commentary (Penn Press, 1993) and The Spiritual Franciscans: From Protest to Persecution in the Century After Saint Francis (Penn State University Press, 2003) as well as a number of articles on Peter Olivi.

Burr, Revelation medieval commenatryIn the introduction to the book, Burr observes that Petrus Iohannis Olivi wrote his commentary on Revelation with three books open on his desk: the Bible and the commentaries by Richard of Saint Victor and Joachim of Fiore. In fact, this book is a tribute to the long shadow cast by Joachim of Fiore. As Burr states in his Prolegomenon, his self-assigned task was to describe what happened from Richard and Joachim (twelfth century) to Nicholas of Lyra (fourteenth century). Because of an interest in the early church and the Reformation, the medieval period is usually ignored, perhaps considered less interesting than the other periods.

In order to set the stage for his survey of medieval commentaries on Revelation, his Prolegomenon offers a twenty-six-page overview of the contents and theology of Revelation itself followed by a rapid survey of the discussion of the book from the first to the twelfth centuries (following a 1976 article by Robert Lerner). A final section of the Prolegomenon is a short account of the development of the “legend of the antichrist” from 1 John 2:17 and 2 Thessalonians 2:1-10.

Unlike other ancient commentary series, this book is not a running commentary on Revelation from various sources. Instead, Burr offers ten examples of medieval commentators, offering some background for each and an introduction to their thought. Each chapter begins with a brief biographical sketch and introduction to their contribution to biblical studies. Burr then provides lengthy extracts from the author’s major works on Revelation with some comment. Most chapters include a final section of “Readings,” uninterrupted extracts from the subject of the chapter.

The first chapter discusses Richard of Saint Victor. Burr describes Richard as a new era of biblical scholarship an attempt at an alliance between biblical scholarship and mystical theology.  Three chapters are dedicated to Joachim of Fiore (ch. 2) and his influence on what Burr calls the pseudo-Joachim writers (ch. 3) and Alexander Minorita (ch. 4). Joachim blends Daniel and Revelation into a complex tapestry of historical allusions. Joachim’s God “presides over the vast panorama of historical development, shaping it to his favored ends” (89). Like Joachim, Alexander Minorita “poured into his commentary all the historical the sources at his disposal” (180) and he is often aware of imperial current imperial history (159). For example, he starts his prophetic clock with Pope Sylvester (d. 335) and the opening of the seventh seal is the death of Constantine. Various angels are identified as historical figures leading up to the divine wrath in Revelation 16 (which was still ongoing when Alexander wrote). Like Joachim, he labels Saladin as a beast (159). But this historical reading is often with “Franciscan self-advertisement” (168). The olive tree and lampstand in Revelation 11:4 are “Dominic with innocence and Francis with conversion” (159). His comments on Revelation 22:11 “begins what might just leave be described as a stunning example of smug mendicant self-importance” (163).

The fifth chapter treats the Paris Mendicant Model. Two things are important here. First, the book of Revelation presented seven visions, and second, it portrayed a seven-fold Christian history. This tradition dates as far back as Augustine and Jerome, is a main feature of Joachim ‘s commentary on the Apocalypse and reappears in a group of five Dominican and Franciscan commentaries treated in this chapter. 

Chapter 6 is focused on Bonaventure’s Collationes in hexaemeron, hey speech delivered to the Franciscans at Paris in 1273. Although this is not a commentary on Revelation, it does reflect his reading of Revelation that is an “important contribution to thirteenth-century exegesis of the apocalypse” (231). In this work, Bonaventure pushes the exegesis of Revelation into a whole new phase, not refuting Joachim, but rather by providing a genuine appreciation of him (236). Burr interacts with Joseph Ratzinger’s The Theology of St. Bonaventure (Franciscan Herald Press, 1971). A major interest is whether Bonaventure actually identifies Saint Francis as the sixth angel in Revelation 3:7-13 and the Franciscans as the new contemplative order in the future seventh age. For Bonaventure, the sixth age began around the time of Charlemagne. The Franciscans were, in his day, “recipients of a great call but also notorious back sliders” (249). Following Ratzinger, Francis “anticipated the eschatological form of life which will be the general form of life in the future” (250). 

Seven Headed Dragon Joachim of Fiore

Seven Headed Dragon from Joachim of Fiore, Commentary on Revelation

Chapter 7 discuss the early writings of Petrus Iohannis Olivi and Chapter 8 focuses on his Commentary on Revelation. In the introduction to the book, Burr admits that two chapters on Olivi may be excessive, but he wants to show that Olivi drew on the Gospels for many of his views on the Apocalypse. For example, it his commentary on Matthew Olivi understands the “anti-Christ” in at least three senses: First, all those who impugn Christ, his person, his teaching, and the elect; second, the “mystical antichrist” who works within the faith to subvert Christ life in spirit; and third, the “great Antichrist” who works outside the faith to attack Christianity itself (273). These early commentaries demonstrate Olivi believes prophecy deals with Christ three advance, in the flesh, the spirit, and in judgment (285). Olivi believed he lived in the transition between the fifth and sixth ages. Joachim the sign of the new age and Francis was the key agent of its inception. I believe that the church was suffering through a period of blindness “which will carry it into the temptation of the antichrist in the coming sixth age” (315). He fears that the pope will turn against the Franciscans and will attack faithful observers of evangelical poverty. 

Both Petrus Aurioli (ch. 9) and Nicholas of Lyra (ch. 10) represent the Franciscan order moving away from Olivi’s Apocalypse. Like Alexander Minorita, Aurioli read Revelation as a narrative of Christian history (359). But his commentary is not an “ode to the Franciscans or even the mendicants as it is a triumphalist tribute to the institutional church” (361). Nicholas of Lyra is the first to read Revelation as a story of what will occur in the present and in the future (369). Nicolas used a “double literal sense” of prophecy allowing for one meaning in the prophet’s own time in another meaning for the future. Both can be considered literal.

Conclusion. Although there are few today who would advocate to a return to medieval exegesis of the Apocalypse, there is much in this volume of interest to contemporary readers of the book of Revelation. Each of the voices surveyed in this book read Revelation as applicable to their own day, even if that means interpreting the symbolism of the book as recent historical events and discovering hints of their own theological preferences. Many assumptions about Revelation in both scholarly and popular commentaries have roots in these medieval commentaries.

Although it would have added considerably to the cost of this book, the book needs a section of illustrations, especially for Joachim’s commentaries. Most of this is available online, it would benefit the reader to search for images associated with Joachim, Alexander Minorita, and Nicholas of Lyra.


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

Logos Christmas Sale 2020

Logos Christmas Sale 2020

Logos has a nice collection of resources on sale through the end of the month. It does not look like they are doing an “advent calendar” this year where you have to check in every day. But there may be a few surprises, who knows? It’s Christmas!

As expected, a few of these are inexpensive “stocking stuffers” like Morna Hooker’s excellent The Gospel According to Saint Mark in the Black’s series (Free!) or Logos 8 Gospel Studies Library Expansion (72% off). I see a couple of New Studies in Biblical Theology for only a few dollars each. Poke around and see what you can find and stuff that stocking properly.

There are some really deep discounts on larger collections, if you have been waiting for a big sale at the end of the year, this is it:

  • Bible for Everyone Commentary Collection (35 vols.) 62% off, $119.99 sale price
  • Challies Recommends: Best Old Testament Commentaries (55 vols.) 50% off, $442.99 sale price
  • Romans-Philemon, 21 vols. (New Testament Technical Commentary Collection) 65% off, $232.99 sale price
  • New Studies in Biblical Theology Series Collection | NSBT (50 vols.) 52% off, $299.99 sale price
  • NIV Application Commentary: New Testament | NIVAC (20 vols) 55% off, $199.99 sale price
  • New International Commentary: Old Testament | NIC (28 vols.) 51% off, $499.99 sale price
  • Popular Patristics Series  Collection (53 vols) 54% off, $229.99 sale price
  • Ancient Christian Reference Collection (55 vols.) 50% off, $549.99 sale price
  • Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary | SHBC (36 vols.) 55% off, $499.99 sale price
  • Welwyn Commentary Series | WCS (56 vols.) 60% off, $199.99 sale price
  • New Covenant Commentary Series | NCCS (16 vols.) 54% off, $99.99 sale price
  • The Life Application Bible Commentary (17 vols.) 60% off, $49.99 sale price

Maybe it is time to get a base package or upgrade to Logos 9 (check out my review of the new version). All based packages are on sale for 15% off for the month of December. This includes the Starter level up to the the pricier packages like Silver, Gold, Diamond. Follow this link and save some of money and get a few freebies.

Archer Free Stuff Meme

Do not forget about the free book of the month from Crossway, Philip Ryken’s commentary on Exodus, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory. Read my comments on this sale from December 1.  Through the end of December you can also  get Wilfrid J. Harrington’s Reading Mark for the First Time (Paulist , 2014) as well as some discounted Catholic resources.

If you do not have Logos yet, you should at least get the free basic version so you can take advantage of the free book of the month and the other sale resources.

Free Stuff At Christmas Meme

Book Review: John Goldingay, Genesis (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament)

Goldingay, John. Genesis. Baker Commentary on the Old Testament: Pentateuch. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2020. 808 pp. Hb. $59.99.   Link to Baker Academic

The goal of the first volume of the Baker Commentary on the Old Testament: Pentateuch is to be critically engaged and theologically sensitive. Although less important for a commentary on Genesis, this series on the Pentateuch will consider advances on how the legal corpora relates to narrative. John Goldingay is a prolific writer well known for his WBC Commentary on Daniel and this ICC Commentaries n Isaiah 40-55 (with David Payne) and Isaiah 56-66.  He has previously contributed a three-volume commentary in this series on the Psalms for this series published by Baker Academic and his Hosea-Micah volume is due in January 2021. In addition to a popular commentary on each First Testament book (to use his preferred title for the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible) and his own translation of the First Testament, Goldingay also wrote a massive three-volume Old Testament Theology (IVP Academic, 2003-2009).

Goldingay, Commentary on GenesisGoldingay outlines his method for writing this commentary in the introduction. Commentaries in this series begin with a fresh translation of the Hebrew text. Goldingay uses his own The First Testament (IVP Academic, 2018). He then wrote the commentary with “what I had in my head and my imagination” using only the latest Hebrew text (BHQ). The initial commentary used no secondary resources at all. He then read commentaries in several categories: early Jewish interpretation (LXX, Jubilees, the Targums) and interpretation early Christian interpretation (Theodotion, the Vulgate, Jerome, Origen, and Augustine). He then turned to medieval Jewish interpreters such as the Genesis Rabbah, Rashi and Qimchi, and Reformation Christian interpreters (Calvin, Luther, and Willet), nineteenth-century interpreters such as Keil and Delitzsch, Skinner, twentieth-century interpreters such as Von Rad, Westermann, Wenham, and finally twenty-first-century interpretation, including African and Asian American commentators. After this reading, he modified and expanded his draft with the help of his wife Kathleen. He does not indicate where his views agree or disagree with the majority or with recent scholarship. The result is a readable commentary that does not get bogged down with minute details of the text yet reflects both the best Jewish and Christian scholarship.

The introduction to the book is quite short, only twelve pages. This might disappoint some readers, since Goldingay almost completely ignores critical questions about the origin of Genesis. He suggests the canonical form of Genesis dates to after the fall of Judah to Babylon in 587 B.C. although it certainly makes use of earlier tradition. “It is implausible to think of Genesis being created from scratch in the Babylonian” (8). In the body of the commentary usually does not refer to the latest critical views on the origin of Genesis, “not least because they will not be the latest critical conclusions by the time you read this commentary” (9). Nevertheless, occasionally he says things like “according to traditional source criticism…” (364) in the body of the commentary.

Like most outlines of Genesis, Goldingay divides the book into four parts based on the book’s use of genealogies (tolodoth): Genesis 1:1-11:26 (The lines of descent of the heavens and the earth); 11:27-25:11 (Terah’s line of descent, focusing on Abraham); 25:12-35:29 (Isaac’s line of descent, focusing on Jacob); 36:1-50:26 (Jacob’s line of descent, focusing on Joseph).

The bulk of the introduction deals with defining what he means by story, and how story relates to history. Goldingay suggests “the Holy Spirit inspired an author or authors to use their imagination to tell their factually based story” (5). The trouble is determining what is based on facts and what is based on the imagination of the author. Goldingay doesn’t seem to care: he believes the text of Genesis is what the Holy Spirit and the human author wanted us to study. Questions of historicity are therefore not of interest in the commentary. He has a similar view on the date of composition for the book of Genesis. “One cannot base and understanding of Genesis on knowing the date of its stories or on seeing it as an expression of the ideology of a particular group or period in Israel’s history” (9).

Each section of the commentary begins with an overview of the new chapter/unit in Genesis. Some units are brief. Goldingay’s chapter on Genesis 21:22-34 is a mere five pages. Others cover entire chapters, such as the section on Genesis 24 (sixty-seven verses in twenty-eight pages). Goldingay’s translation follows with footnotes for lexical and textual issues (alternate readings found in the LXX, Samaritan Pentateuch, Targumim, etc.) These notes occasionally deal with technical matters of Hebrew syntax. The interpretation by subunits. Occasionally he does a few verses at the time. When referring to the original text, Hebrew appears in transliteration, but this is not a detailed commentary on the Hebrew text of Genesis. Goldingay uses his footnotes to point readers to other interpretive voices. Often these are other Genesis commentaries, but it is not unusual to see references to Church Fathers, Jewish sources, Reformation commentators, or even Karl Barth.

In many sections, Goldingay concludes with a brief section entitled “Implications” where he treats historical or theological ramifications of the section, reception history or other canonical connections. For example, this section compares the Flood narrative in Genesis 6:9-8:22 with other ancient flood myths. He comments on the theological implications of God seeing and opening wombs in Genesis 29:31-30:24. On the Sarah and Hagar story (Genesis 16), Goldingay’s comments drawn on postcolonial studies which point out Hagar is an African woman. Surprisingly, he does not deal with Paul’s reception of this story in Galatians 4, but rather how Hagar’s story overlaps with Philemon and the return of the slave.

The book concludes with a forty-page bibliography and forty-four pages of indices (subject, author, and Scripture and other ancient writings).

Conclusion: In his introduction to the commentary series, Bill Arnold described this commentary series as a reliable resource for the church dealing with themes rooted in the Pentateuch. This commentary achieves that goal. Goldingay is an excellent writer, and the commentary is entertaining to read. For example, at the end of the section dealing with Jacob wrestling the angel in Genesis 32, he adds a footnote “or rather a thigh-note” on the use of this story to prohibit eating the sciatic nerve even though this is not found in the Torah (516). This commentary is a serious contribution to the study of the first book of the Bible and will be valuable for both students and pastors working on Genesis.


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

Book Review: Christopher D. Stanley, A Rooster for Asklepios

Stanley, Christopher D. A Rooster for Asklepios. Buffalo, NY: NFB Publishing, 2020. 520 pp. Pb. $25.00; Kindle $9.99  Link to Amazon  A Slave’s Story website 

In the last few years, the genre of “scholarly novel” has become popular. By scholarly novel, I mean a serious scholar writes a story in a particular context in order to illustrate some aspect of biblical culture. IVP Academic published several short stories in their “Week in the Life” series. For example, David deSilva’s A Week in the Life of Ephesus (2020) or Holly Beers, A Day in the Life a Greco-Roman Woman (2019). Ben Witherington wrote a novel on Priscilla (IVP 2018) and Paula Gooder wrote an excellent novel about Phoebe (IVP 2018). These kinds of books are very popular; The first edition of Bruce Longenecker’s Lost Letters of Pergamum (Baker 2016) was a popular textbook and sold over 30,000 copies! The scholarly novel is not new; Paul L. Maier’s “documentary novel” Flames of Rome (Doubleday, 1981; Kregel 1991) is an example of a scholar creating a story from their academic research.

Rooster for AsklepiosThere are others, but perhaps the best example of this kind of historical novel is James Michener’s The Source (1965). I often recommend this book to people traveling to Israel with me in order to orient them to the history and culture they will experience in Israel.

Christopher Stanley’s A Slave’s Story is like these scholarly novels, but is quite different. Like these novels, Stanley draws on his thirty years of academic experience both writing and editing academic books and articles as well as extensive, on-site research into the locations described in the books. But Stanley’s book is far more detailed than the Week in the Life series or even the popular Lost Letters of Pergamum. The first volume of the series is over 500 pages long with no illustrations or sidebars. This is in every sense of the word a historical novel.

Stanley made considerable effort to ensure the historical and cultural accuracy of every detail in his novels. This included careful on-site research at most of the places mentioned in the books. I exchanged several emails with Stanley this summer before I read the first novel. He explained the extent of his research for the Pergamon Asklepion as an example of his methods. Most of Asklepion open to visitors is from the second century CE or later. Stanley was not content to visit the tourist site and use that as a background for his novel. He read through the five-volume German archaeological report on the site in order to describe the Asklepion as it would have appeared in the mid-first century. To be clear, this is a novel and Stanley uses some artistic license and imagination, but his imagination is at least plausible regarding the archaeology of first century Pergamum.

One thing I appreciate out the story told in these novels is that early Christians like Paul or the other apostles do not appear in person in the books. There are a few characters that mention Paul as a controversial person, but this is not an overt attempt to tell the story of Paul’s mission or even Christian origins. Stanley’s emphasis is on the pervasive role of Roman religion in the world of the first century.

From the very first pages of A Rooster for Asklepios, Stanley describes household worship and Roman worship and devotion to their gods. His goal for the trilogy is to expose readers to ancient worldviews and realities of life for ordinary people in ancient Greco-Roman society and not to create an evangelistic Christian story. In the course of the novel, the reader encounters more Jews than Christians. Stanley describes Jewish attitudes toward Roman religious practice and shows how alien the Diaspora Jews would have seemed to their Roman neighbors.

The plot of A Rooster for Asklepios follows a slave named Marcus, a household manager for a wealthy Roman citizen, Lucius Coelius Felix. The book begins in Pisidian Antioch with the announcement Claudius has ascended to heaven (i.e., died) and the new Emperor Nero has taken the throne. This dates the beginning of the story to October 13, in A.D. 54. Lucius suffers with some sort of debilitating stomach ailment. He attempts to find relief through a local doctor and the local temple of Asklepios. After bringing a rooster to offer as a sacrifice, he is permitted to sleep the Temple and is told a by a priest the god wants him to travel to Pergamum and visit the Asklepion. The bulk of the novel narrates this eventful journey via Ephesus to the famous healing center at Pergamum.

There are several memorable sub-plots which illustrate aspects of the Roman world of the first century. First, Lucius’s son competes in the local games honoring Men Askaenos.  Men is the moon god, and the name Men Askaenos is the version of the god worshiped in Pisidian Antioch. Stanley’s detailed description of the way a Roman citizen was expected to take part in the festival illustrates how important local gods were to a community. It is virtually impossible for Lucious not to attend the festival and be an excellent host for other wealthy Roman citizens. As I read this section of the novel, I could not help but relate this to Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and the struggle that congregation faced as residents of a Greco-Roman city like Corinth. In addition, the descriptions of the games themselves clear up many misconceptions of how athletes competed in the ancient world, including unfair play and cheating.

A second important feature of the book is Stanley’s descriptions of travel in the bid-first century A.D.  To travel from Pisidian Antioch to Ephesus and then on to Pergamum not only too a great deal of time, but a great deal of planning. Lucius must prepare not only a wagon in which he and his wife can travel comfortably, but also a second wagon to bring food and wine, money and even camping supplies. Before leaving his home, Lucius collects letters of introduction to people of proper status along the way who might open their homes to him and his entourage. An important Roman citizen like Lucius would not stay in the typical roadside inn! It is hard not to read the travel sections of the book without thinking about Paul’s travels along similar roads. Did Paul have letters of recommendation to open doors to homes as he traveled? Would Paul have an entourage similar to Lucius? This may explain why he traveled with so many people, there was safety in numbers (and more people to handle the baggage).

Asklepion Theater Peramum

A third feature I found important is Stanley’s description of the Asklepion. In some respects, an Asklepion is like a medical clinic. A wealthy, sick person like Lucius has access to the best physicians while living at the Asklepion.  However, these medical skills are combined with worship of Asklepios and quite a bit of showmanship. Stanley vividly describes the first-century state-of-the-art medical procedures, but also the aspects of the Asklepion which are more like a mystery cult. When Lucius finally has the chance to sleep inside the temple and perhaps receive a dream from the god, the slave Marcus witnesses how the priests manipulate the sick into thinking they have had encounters with the god in their dreams.

I will not spoil the plot too much, but since the second book brings Lucius and Marcus to healing waters of Hierapolis, things do not go as planned at the Asklepion. The god is not quite the savior Lucius was expecting.

There is a second book in the series, A Bull for Pluto. Leaving Pergamum, Lucius and Marcus travel to Hierapolis on their home to visit the healing waters of the city and the mysterious Temple of Pluto. (I will post a review when I finish reading it.) Stanley says the first two books come to a satisfactory conclusion and can be read as together without waiting for the third planned volume.

Stanley maintains a website for A Slave’s Story with plot summaries and a generous five-chapter sample of both books. More important, the website has links to background material relating to the locations described in the novels. Under resources there are links to images, maps, blogs and other items of interest conveniently organized by the sections of the book. This site addresses one frustration for me as I read the novels. I wanted more documentation! Several times I wanted to check the footnotes to see what primary sources Stanley followed for a particular practice. Most readers will want to browse this site as they read the novels.

Conclusion. Although this is a challenging book compared to other recent scholarly novels for the New Testament, it is one of the best. Stanley has created an interesting plot line which is rich in details illustrating the Greco-Roman world of mid-first century Asia Minor. I highly recommend this book for people who are planning on visiting Turkey since most of the “Seven Churches” tours or Pauline Missionary Journeys tours include Pergamum and Ephesus. Like The Source, Christopher Stanley’s A Slave Story offers modern readers a detailed and accurate presentation of the culture and worldview of the Greco-Roman world.


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

Book Review: Helen K. Bond, The First Biography of Jesus

Bond, Helen K. The First Biography of Jesus: Genre and Meaning in Mark’s Gospel. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2020. 317 pp. Hb; $42.99.   Link to Eerdmans 

In The First Biography of Jesus Bond argues the Gospel of Mark is a very specific reception of earlier Jesus tradition. The Gospel of Mark is an ancient biography and as such, the author actively re-appropriated and reconfigured selected material in circulation at the time into a formal literary creation (5). By imposing a biographical structure on this tradition, Mark extended the Christian gospel beyond the death and resurrection of Jesus, so it now included his ministry as well.

Bond, The First Bio of JesusThe first three chapters of the book begin with a survey scholarship on Mark as Bios. In general, she assumes Mark was written from Rome after the Jewish War in the mid-70s CE. Yet the Mark still retains the “air of persecution” from Nero’s brutal attacks of Christians in 65 CE. Nothing in her book depends on these identifications (9). Early form critics described the gospels as a unique phenomenon in literature quite different from other ancient histories and biographies. By the 1970s scholars began to look for antecedents to the gospels, sometimes by drawing comparisons to Philo’s Life of Moses of the works of Josephus. Since the work of Richard Burridge (What are the Gospels?; Cambridge, 1992), scholars have once again described Mark as bios, an ancient biography. After surveying much of this literature, Bond observes that nobody really answers the “so what?” question. If Mark is a biography rather than a history or a theological treatise or a letter, what difference does it make for the reading of the book? (37).

Answering this “so what?” question drives the rest of this volume. For example, Bond suggests Mark may have wanted to challenge his readers, “to jolt them out of their complacency or to encourage a subtle new way of articulating their story” (109). Later she suggests Mark’s extension of the gospel to include Jesus’s life and ministry was intended to “encourage his audience to recommit their lives not do a set of theological ideas but specifically to the person of Jesus… Jesus is not only the proclamation but also the model of Christian discipleship” (166).

Bond then surveys ancient bioi, focusing especially on the role in the educational system: biography was used to teach morality. “at the heart of biography was a concern with character or what Plutarch calls ‘the signs of the souls of men’ (Alexander 1.3)” (151). This is especially true in her biography describes the character’s death. She surveys a wide range of ancient biographies which focuses on heroic “good deaths” of their characters. A good death is the crowning point of a virtuous life. A good death had a ripe old age may signal and endorsement of a philosopher’s way of life. However, there are a few philosophers who are remembered positively even though they met what an ancient reader might consider a “bad death” such as Socrates or Zeno. This is an obvious difference in Mark’s gospel. Mark does not describe Jesus’s death as noble or “conventionally honorable.” Rather, he portrays Jesus’s death as conforming to his countercultural teaching. Like a good philosopher, Jesus has a fitting death, which a fitting conclusion to his earlier way of life (250).

Are ancient biographies historically accurate? If the goal is to describe a great man’s character as positively as possible in order to teach morality, and perhaps some historians exaggerated or idealized their subjects. Bond cites Cicero, who suggested a historian had to stick to the truth, but a biographer could take liberties with the facts (67).  She surveys several studies which confirm the passion that biography is prone to slip into fiction. Since biographies rely upon anecdotes, this increases the possibility of an accuracy. Apocryphal stories circulate despite having questionable historical foundations. She ultimately concludes that the purpose of an ancient biography was not to provide an accurate list of everything the subject did or said, but to “labor the essence of the man, to re-create a living character” (71). Bond interacts briefly with a view of Craig Keener who argued ancient biography on the whole “tended to put a high value on historical accuracy” (67, n. 108).  Keener repeats this view in his recent Christobiography (Eerdmans, 2020), “some biographies from the early empire this warrant more respect his historical sources then do others,” those composed close to living memory of the subject are more historical (17). Unfortunately, Bond’s book was complete when Christobiography, so she could not interact with Keener more fully.

After describing the general contours of an ancient bioi, Bond then argues Mark is a biographer. In this chapter she describes what can be known about the writer of Mark. She also attempts to describe Mark’s audience, his “Christ-following readers.” This description implies the gospel was written for insiders, people who already knew what Christian terms meant. The gospel uses Christian terms and well-known characters without any explanation or introduction. At least initially, the gospel was not written for evangelistic reasons.

The next three chapters survey the life (ch, 4) and death (ch. 6) of Jesus. Beginning with the opinion of Aristotle that “actions are a sign of character,” Bond observes people in antiquity did not rely upon the judgment of the narrator to best appreciate a character, but rather “observing a person’s words and deeds” (121). Most ancient bioi collected anecdotes and maxims and allow the readers to form their own opinions. Bond moves through the ministry of Jesus and compares Mark’s presentation of Jesus to the bioi.

Although Mark does not seem to be interested in Jesus is early years, the gospel uses a similar method of characterization. The audience is “not merely hearing stories, but watching the protagonist as events unfold” (123). Mark therefore collected miracles, conflict stories, and questions about Jesus’s identity in the first half of his book. The second section of the Gospel contains teaching on discipleship and travel to Jerusalem, leading up to the passion. For Bond, Mark included these stories point out that Jesus is not merely the focus of Christian proclamation but the model for Christian discipleship (166). The crucifixion was an attempt by authorities not only to destroy Jesus’s body, but remove his memory. Bond argues that Mark as a biography is an act of defiance; it is a refusal to except the Roman sentence and attempt to shape the way in which both his life and death should be remembered (249).

The fifth chapter examines the “other characters” who populate Mark’s landscape. Here Bond suggests Mark used intercalations, the so-called Markan Sandwich, in order to draw two characters together as a form of synkrisis. Synkrisis is common in histories interested in the moral character of their subjects (174). Bond describes Plutarch as a master of his style, especially in Parallel Lives (176). But these are not formal comparisons in Mark. In fact, she suggests, with the possible exception of one or two disciples, Mark is not interested in any of these characters other than the light they shed light on Jesus. The “walk-ons” and minor characters enable Jesus to do his ministry or perform his miracles or they conspire against him (220).

Conclusion. Bond succeeds in her goal of demonstrating Mark is bios, using the genre of biography to extend the Christian proclamation of the gospel. Since this book is primarily interested in the final form of Mark, it is beyond the scope of the book to treat in any detail early Christian preaching or how oral tradition may (or may not) have been adapted in the Gospel of Mark. Peter’s speech in Acts 10, for example, may be a hint of the process moving from oral proclamation to a written biography.


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: Colin G. Kruse, The Letters of John (PNTC; Second Edition)

Kruse, Colin G. The Letters of John. Second Edition. Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2020. 282 pp. Hb; $40.00.   Link to Eerdmans 

Colin Kruse published his original Pillar commentary on the Letters of John in 2000. This second edition brings the bibliography up-to-date, lightly edit the text, and include the NIV 2011 as the English basis of the commentary.

Kruse, Letters of JohnNot much has changed in the introduction to the book. As all commentaries on the Letters of John must do, Kruse sets out a likely scenario for the writing of each of the three letters. Kruse assumes a close relationship between an early form of the Gospel of John and the Letters, and that the Beloved Disciple is responsible for that early version of the book. The beloved disciple is a member of a community of believers in and around episodes in the Roman province of Asia. After the early form of the fourth gospel was written, some members of the community begin to express views about the person and work of Jesus unacceptable to the author of the Letters. This sharp disagreement led to the secession of those who held the new views (1 John 2:19). We’re leaving the community these secessionists organized a group of itinerant preachers to circulate their beliefs among the community’s churches. First John is a circular letter sent to these churches to encourage the readers and (indirectly) challenged the teachings of the secessionists. Kruse suggests the Beloved Disciple died sometime during or after the writing of the three letters, and the final form of the Gospel of John was complete.

The introduction includes a new paragraph drawing several parallels between the letters of John and the Seven Churches in Revelation 2-3 (5). Citing Robert Yarbrough’s 2018 commentary, “there may be a need to rethink the consensus that there is no historical setting for John’s letters.” For Kruse, a case could be made for some o of the seven Asian churches as part of John’s community. Another brief addition is a short paragraph on non-polemical views of the letters (Jobes, following Lieu) and a note to two recent articles.

An addition to this new edition of the commentary is a short summary of the paragraph and the text of the section from the NIV (2011). The body of the commentary proceeds through the text verse by verse, occasionally breaking verses into sub-sections. All Greek appears in transliteration, both in the main text and in footnotes. Kruse’s commentary is expositional, focusing on lexical and theological issues, although occasional textual critical issues appear in the footnotes. The Letters of John are not a difficult grammatically, so Kruse rarely needs to explain difficult syntax. More important in this commentary is John’s usage of words like righteous/just, advocate, faith, antichrist, etc. At the end of each pericope is a new Theology summary for each pericope. These helpful summaries are no more than a page drawing out a few implications of the exegesis.

I noticed several new footnotes interacting with recent articles. For example, commenting on the phrase “born of God” in 1 John 2:28, Kruse has added a note to Menken’s article in Novum Testamentum (2009). The body of the commentary is unchanged by this added note. In another example, Kruse as altered the commentary and added a reference to Roy Ciampa’s 2010 Novum Testamentum article on John 1:7 in Codex Alexandrinus. There are many new footnotes adding a quotation from historic commentaries drawn from the Ancient Christian Commentary (vol. 11, edited by Gerald Bray).

There are a few editorial and cosmetic changes in this new edition. Sections headings are clearer in the introduction. The text describing rhetorical categories is reformatted and much easier to read. The outline for the 1 John is also reformatted so the chiastic structure is clear. In the first edition, words drawn from the verse were printed in bold, the second edition abandons this practice (except on pages 55-7 and the top of page 67). I noticed the early edition started sentences with “1 John,” these have been changed to “First John.” The excurses are now numbered and indexed separately (p. ix). There are two new excurses: “A Note on ‘Children,’ ‘Fathers’ and ‘Young Men’” and “A Note on God’s Invisibility.”

Conclusion. This is not a major revision of the original commentary. Since 2000, several major commentaries have appeared: Akin (NAC), Bray (ACCS), Jobes (ZEBTC), Parsenios (PCNT), Smalley (WBC, revised edition) and Yarbrough (BENTC). Other than Bray’s Ancient Christian Commentary, these new commentaries appear only rarely in the notes. Jobes is not listed in the index of modern authors at all, although she appears in at least one footnote. However, this new edition uses the New International Version (2011). Unlike the original edition, the text of each pericope appears before the commentary section.


Other volumes reviewed in this series:

James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Luke
Colin Kruse, Romans
Mark A. Seifrid, The Second Letter to the Corinthians
Robert W. Yarbrough, The Letters to Timothy and Titus
Peter T. O’Brien, Hebrews (No longer available from the publisher)

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

Logos Free Book of the Month for December 2020 – Philip Ryken, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory (Preaching the Word Commentary Series)

Logos partners with Crossway this month for  December’s Free Book of the Month. You can get Philip Graham Ryken commentary on Exodus, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory for free. This is part of the Preaching the Word series. Ryken is a well-known author and eighth president of Wheaton College and former senior minister of Philadelphia’s historic Tenth Presbyterian Church. 

The Preach the Word series is intentionally “theologically instructive and decidedly practical.” The series is edited R. Kent Hughes (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), senior pastor emeritus of College Church in Wheaton Illinois. In this series, “experienced pastors exemplify expository preaching and provide practical applications. . . this series is known for its commitment to biblical authority, its pastoral tone and focus, and its overall accessibility.” 

Here is a short one-minute video of Kent Hughes explaining the method used in the series

In addition to the free volume, other individual volumes of the series are discounted:

  • R. Kent Hughes and Bryan Chapel, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus—To Guard the Deposit, 99 cents
  • Philip Graham Ryken, Jeremiah and Lamentations: From Sorrow to Hope, $1.99
  • David Allen, 1–3 John—Fellowship in God’s Family, $2.99
  • Christoper Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross, $4.99
  • R. Kent Hughes, Hebrews: An Anchor for the Soul, 2 vols., $6.99
  • Doug O’Donnell, Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and on Earth, $9.99

For about $28 you can add seven pastoral commentaries to your Logos Library. Not convinced?

There are 39 volumes in the Preaching the Word series (Hebrews is two volumes, so there are 40 physical books), If you ever choose to purchase the entire series from Logos, they will factor these purchase into your final price so you do not have to buy them twice.

As with all Logos books, these commentaries fully utilize  the features of Logos Bible Software, including fully searchable text, links to other resources in your library, and robust note taking tools.

These Logos resources are available only until the end of December 2020. Be sure to get these books while you can!


Cyber Monday 2020 at Logos Bible Software

Logos Cyber Monday

I will admit: Cyber Monday is just a made up thing for online retailers to pry a few more dollars out of your wallet. Most of the time I really do not care much for the deals. However, this year’s Logos Cyber Monday promotion has some really good deals, worthy of #ShutUpAndTakeMyMoney meme.

Here is the best deal I have seen from Logos in a long time: Library of New Testament Studies (LNTS/JSNTS) (85 vols.) 90% off, $125.99 sale price. You can have a professional library’s worth of high-end academic monographs for about $1.50 a volume. Many of these volumes were originally $125 in hardback, even in the cheaper paperback they are usually around $40 each.

Although not quite as eye-popping as the LNTS sale, the Eerdmans Modern Biblical Scholarship Bundle is a great deal on 100 volumes from Eerdmans, almost ever one is an excellent commentary or monograph on the Old or New Testament. It might be pricey, but at 70% off retail you might consider it an investment. Logos also will not charge you for volumes you already own, so click through to see the “dynamic pricing.” It might be worth topping off your Eerdmans commentary collection.

Logos is also offering the 16-volume set of Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament for 78% off, only $149.99. TDOT is one of the best Hebrew Language tools you can use,

For the more theologically inclined, Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics (31 vols.) 70% off, $89.99 sale price. I also see the 188-volume Ultimate Puritan Collection on sale for $99, folks like John Owen, Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, Thomas Boston, etc. Once again, you might already own some of these resources so the actual price maybe be significantly lower. A related massive collection is the Reformed Commentary Bundle, 198 commentaries from historic writers like John Calvin, Matthew Poole, John Owen, Matthew Henry, but also top Reformed thinkers fin  the Pillar New Testament Commentary, New International Greek Testament Commentary, Mentor Commentary, etc. The bundle is only $249, about 65% off. You should strategize your purchases, but one sent then go back later to buy the second set so you get the dynamic pricing. I do not think they will charge you twice if there is overlap between the sets, but better safe than sorry.

You can also fill in a few volumes from popular commentary series:

There are dozens more books on sale with deep discounts and a few great deals on  Logos’s mobile courses (like Exegetical Study: Paul’s Letter to the Philippians  for $35). But you need to act fast since the Cyber Monday event expires at midnight (PST) November 30, 2020.

Shut Up and Take My Money

Black Friday 2020 at Logos Bible Software

Logos Black Friday

Logos is doing their annual “Black Friday Weekend” sale, and there are some great deals this year. You can save on new Logos 9 base packages and Logos 8 Legacy packages. Legacy packages are “without features and datasets, making it the perfect standalone collection of resources to help grow your library.” You can choose your the level that fits your budget best, the started Legacy package is only $30,but of course you can get Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond, probably gold-pressed Latinum, Solari and Melange levels.

I see quite a few things on the sale page worthy of my dollars..maybe too many books! Here are a few highlights from the sale:

  • The Romans Collection (125 vols.) 80% off, $199.99 sale price
  • Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible | BTC (24 vols.) 50% off, $299.99 sale price
  • Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 46 | WBC $19.99 per volume
  • Gordon D. Fee New Testament Studies Collection (8 vols.) 70% off, $59.99 sale price
  • Wipf & Stock D.A. Carson Collection (5 vols.) 66% off, $29.99 sale price
  • The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (20 vols.) 85% off, $42.99 sale price
  • Crossway Top Authors Bundle (94 vols.) 75% off, $219.99 sale price
  • Opening Up Commentary Series (47 vols.) 66% off, $99.99 sale price
  • John Goldingay and N. T. Wright’s The Bible for Everyone Commentaries are only $2.99 per volume
  • Black’s New Testament Commentaries are only $9.99 per volume (get Dunn’s Galatians!)
  • Volumes of the Socio-Rhetorical Commentaries (Witherington, etc) are 50% – 66% off, $9.99-$19.99
  • Zondervan Counterpoint Volumes are only $9.99 each
  • All Lexham Press titles are 40% off.

These on-sale resources will work on earlier versions, but if you are using any version prior to Logos 8, then you should consider an upgrade. The new version is much faster than Logos 7 and the upgrades are worth the money. If you are happy with Logos 8, you might consider a minimal upgrade in order to take advantage of the updated datasets. 

There are many more excellent deals to be had before midnight (PST) November 29, 2020.

Book Review: Timothy D.Padgett, ed. Dual Citizens: Politics and American Evangelicalism

Padgett, Timothy D., Ed. Dual Citizens: Politics and American Evangelicalism. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2020. 489 pp.; Hb.  $28.99  Link to Lexham Press

This volume is a collection of essays on American politics drawn from the pages of Christianity Today. In 2015 The Washington Post called Christianity Today “evangelicalism’s flagship magazine.” Timothy Padgett sifted through sixty years of articles and editorials in Christianity Today to collect the essays in this volume.

Padgett, Dual CitizensThe material is divided into five topical chapters with essays arranged chronologically (as early as 1956 and as recent as 2016). Charles Colson (with and without Nancy Pearcey) is featured frequently, and there are articles from Ron Sider, Carl F. H. Henry, and Francis Schaeffer.

The first chapter focuses on U.S. Presidents. There are editorials on the Kennedy Assassination, Watergate, and the election of Ronald Reagan. Philip Yancey’s “Why Clinton is Not Antichrist” (August 1993) is still timely, just swap out Clinton for the current candidate for antichrist. The chapter concludes with three essays concerning the 2016 election, Ron Sider, “Why I’m Voting for Hillary Clinton” followed by James Dobson, “Why I’m Voting for Donald Trump” and Sho Baraku, “Why I’m Voting for Neither Candidate.”

The second chapter covers the “Religious Right and Evangelical Left.” The essays concentrate on the growing influence of Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority, including a three-views essay by Charles Colson, Jerry Falwell and Jim Wallis on “The Christian as Citizen.” Sadly, this chapter only includes essays up to 2007 so there is nothing on so-called evangelicals and the 2016 election.

The third chapter concerns “Communism and Foreign Policy.” It may seem odd today, but Christianity Today published an article by J. Edgar Hoover on “The Communist Menace” in 1960. Even Billy Graham participated in these anti-communist essays with “Facing the Anti-God Colossus” (1962). The chapter includes Charles Colson’s response to the collapse of the Soviet Union, “If Communism Fails, Do We Win?” (1989) and his defense of “Just War in Iraq” (2002).

The fourth turns back to “Domestic Affairs,” although this essentially means race relations and abortion. Beginning with Earle Ellis, “Segregation in the Kingdom of God” (1957), the book collects quite a few articles on desegregation and race relations. In an essay dated September 30, 1957, the editors say “The Christian church should work for the elimination of every restriction, discrimination and humiliation aimed at people of any race. She should preach and exemplify love and compassion and consideration at all times” (321). In an important essay, “Our Selective Rage.” Ron Sider points out that being pro-life means more than being anti-abortion, a message that has fallen upon deaf ears in recent years.

The last chapter, “God and Country,” deals with the relationship of the church and state. Even as early as 1957, evangelicals were writing articles with titles like “is America Losing Her Cultural Distinctives?” (S. Richey Kamm) and “America’s Future: Can We Salvage the Republic?” (Carl F. H. Henry). Terry Muck suggested in 1987 separating church and state does not require separating religion and politics “The Wall that Never Was” (454). In 2001, Charles Colson warned “poll-driven elections turn voters into self-seeking consumers” (“Pander Politics”), another message that would be good for contemporary Christian leaders to here.

Overall, this is a fascinating book which documents several important shifts within the evangelical world. There are a number of issues missing from this collection, such as homosexuality, feminism, and environmentalism, but this is the choice of the editor. Perhaps another volume will appear collecting articles on these topics. It would be fascinating to track the developing viewpoints within the larger evangelical world on these controversial topics.

It is sometimes shocking how conservative some of the early articles are compared to contemporary Evangelical thinking (the articles on communism for example). On the other hand, reading these essays draws attention to the dumbing-down of evangelical political thinking over the last decade (culminating in the last five years). This book serves well as documentation of the ongoing development of conservative Christianity in America.

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