James D. Nogalski, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, and Jonah (NICOT)

Nogalski, James D. The Books of Joel, Obadiah, and Jonah. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2023. xxxv+434 pp. Hb; $54.00   Link to Eerdmans

This new volume of the NICOT series on Joel, Obadiah, and Jonah replaces Leslie Allen’s 1976 volume in the NICOT series (now an Eerdmans Classic Commentary). Nogalski is writing a separate commentary on Micah (scheduled for April 2024). James Nogalski is the W. Marshall & Lulie Craig Professor of Old Testament at Baylor University. He has written extensively on the Minor Prophets, including two Smyth & Helwys Commentaries on the Minor Prophets and two important monographs on the formation of the Book of the Twelve, Literary Precursors to the Book of the Twelve (BZAW 217), Redactional Processes in the Book of the Twelve (BZAW 218), both De Gruyter, 1993. In 2017, SBL Press published The Book of the Twelve and Beyond:  Collected Essays of James D. Nogalski.

Joel, Obadiah, Jonah

Nogalski begins his commentary by briefly introducing his views on how the Book of the Twelve was formed (p. 1-13). “The twelve writings have been edited in various ways in the light of their position and literary function within this larger corpus” (3). You’re used throughout the commentary that the Book of the Twelve was deliberately edited and arranged to be a “canonical entity.” Much of this evidence will appear in the introductions to each of the three Minor Prophets he discusses in this commentary. In this brief introduction, he surveys the scholarship on the Twelve, including his own 1993 monographs in the BZAW series, and responds to some skepticism to his views. He argues that there are important theological implications of the formation of the Book of the Twelve. The sum of the whole is greater than the parts (9). The structure of the Book of the Twelve moves the reader from the eighth century BCE to the Persian period (when the Book of the Twelve reached its final form). Michael Shepherd uses Nogalski’s work for his commentary on the Book of the Twelve in the KEL series (Kregel 2018). See my review here.

This commentary focuses on the final form of each book and how they reached that final form. However, there is no reception history. The commentary focuses on what the speech looked like when it was initially delivered. Was it delivered orally, or was it a written composition? Several times in the body of the commentary, Nogalski refers to the author as a “scribal prophet,” implying that the author gathered material from existing sources and edited them into the book as we have it today. For example, Jonah is set in the eighth century BCE but concerns the post-exilic community.

In the introduction to Joel, Nogalski observes that the background of this book is notoriously difficult to pin down because of the lack of historical context, the lack of specific kings in the first verses, and an awareness of other prophets. He suggests a date in the Persian period, written by a prophet working out of the temple. He surveys models of unity and diversity and observes a strong sense of cohesion even with significant disjunctures (27). Joel was compiled by a “scribal prophet.” Its position in the Book of the Twelve causes it to function as an early voice for understanding the whole scroll. The occasion for Joel is the economic struggles caused by harsh weather conditions in the Persian period. Nothing can be tied to a specific known event.

Joel has a “cause-and-effect” theology of judgment and mercy. Graphic images of locust plagues, drought, and military attacks are drawn from the curse language found in Deuteronomy, especially in Joel 2:1-11. Yet Yahweh promises to remove the curse, the enemy from the north, and the economic devastation. Once again, there will be bountiful harvests (38). By Joel 3, grander changes will occur “in the latter days” when God will pour out his spirit on all flesh. All people will act as prophets, and there will be a complete restoration of Judah and a judgment on the nations.

The day of the Lord can have three senses in the Book of the Twelve. First, it sometimes refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC. Second, it may refer to Yahweh’s punishment of the nations who have harmed Judah. And third, it may refer to a distant future when Jerusalem will serve as a place of refuge “on that day.”

A significant issue in any commentary on Joel is the writer’s use of other biblical texts. Nogalski offers a short overview of exodus typology, wilderness allusions, and his use of Amos, Zephaniah, Malachi, Obadiah, Hosea, and Isaiah. He argues that a scribal prophet combined speeches into an extended treatise on the day of Yahweh so that the book of Joel dovetails with the Book of the Twelve. He traces connections between Joel and Hosea, Joel and Amos, and other Day of the Lord texts in the Book of the Twelve. Joel, therefore, invites contemplation on God’s character, the nature of judgment and hope, and God’s relationship with his people.

Nogalski’s introduction to Obadiah begins with a sketch of Edom’s history and its role in the aftermath of Jerusalem’s destruction. Despite its brevity, Obadiah may be a collection of prophetic sayings. The book includes verses from Jeremiah 49, and Nogalski examines the structural and rhetorical markers connecting Obadiah 1-5 with Amos 9:1-4. The commentary takes seriously the final form of the text. Although the book may contain material from more than one hand, a scribal prophet combined and edited this material into a unit that thematically parallels Amos 9 (204).

The identity of this scribal prophet is unknown, and the book does not include a king or hometown in verse one. Concerning date, the book could be written as early as the 6th century. Obadiah is an eyewitness of the fall of Edom, so this could extend into the Hellenistic. He argues for a fifth-century BCE date based on the use of Jeremiah. He detects evidence of an advanced stage of Jeremiah’s composition in the sixth century (211). Over there is a prophetic and theological reflection on the fate of Edom 215. By placing Obadiah next to Amos 9, the editor of Book of the Twelve invites attention to the similarities between Israel’s fate and Edom’s.

“The message of Obadiah is not for the faint of heart” (286). The book discusses the judgment of Edom and the violent character of God in the Old Testament. In this, it is much like an imprecatory Psalm. But God’s judgment is followed by restoration. Israel, Edom, and the nations will be restored. But Obadiah’s vision does not come to pass in a literal sense (286). Persia, Greece, and then Rome controlled the region. Although Jerusalem grew during those years, its territory never reached the size described in Obadiah 19-21.

Nogalski begins his introduction to Jonah by observing that this book is much different because it tells a story rather than collects and edits speeches and sayings. The prophet Jonah is mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25, but most consider the story a fiction using the prophet to represent a theological position from the writer’s time. “The story is told with humor and panache,” and the “audience who heard or read this tale would have chuckled” (291). Throughout his commentary, he argues the story has a satirical edge.

For Nogalski, the author lived in the Persian or Hellenistic period and was answering (or ridiculing) theological exclusivity. Could a foreign nation repent? At the time the book was written, foreign nations ruled over Judah. How could Judah’s leaders work under foreign rule? The writer is poking fun at religious leaders who cannot accept divine grace for others even while demanding it for themselves” (293).

A major problem most commentaries on Jonah address is the genre of the book. He surveys several suggestions and points out these suggested genres usually miss the book’s humor (301). If one fails to reckon with the humorous elements of Jonah, then one sees disjunctions as signs of sloppy editing rather than the core elements of the comedic presentation of an author with a keen sense of humor (298).

As with the other prophets in this commentary, Nogalski argues Jonah has been placed in the Book of the Twelve intentionally. Jonah 4:2 is the key verse of the book. He argues that this verse takes up Joel’s citation of Exodus 34:6 (380). He argues the details in an excursus (382-85).

As with other NICOT volumes, Nogalski works through the text of each prophet based on the Hebrew test, although all Hebrew is transliterated, so readers without Hebrew can follow the commentary. His comments are generally on the English text with details in the footnotes. Each unit begins with a new translation with textual notes coveting syntactical elements and textual problems. He then works through a section verse-by-verse. Footnotes interact with secondary literature.

Conclusion. Like other recent new volumes in the NICOT series, Nogalski’s commentary on these three books is a worthy successor to Leslie Allen’s earlier volume. Although thoroughly researched and full of the details one expects in a major commentary, the prose is enjoyable to read and will serve students and scholars well as they study these three Minor Prophets. Whether one is convinced of Nogalski’s view on the overall formation of the Book of the Twelve, this commentary is well worth consulting.


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

Other Commentaries in the NICOT Series:

James Riley Strange, Excavating the Land of Jesus

Strange, James Riley. Excavating the Land of Jesus: How Archaeologists Study the People of the Gospels. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2023. xvi+192 pp. Hb; $29.99.  Link to Eerdmans

James Riley Strange is the Charles Jackson Granade and Elizabeth Donald Granade Professor in New Testament at Samford University and director of the Shikhin Excavation Project in Israel. He co-edited with David A. Fiensy Galilee in the Late Second Temple and Mishnaic PeriodsVolumes 1 and 2 (Fortress, 2014 and 2015). In this new introduction to archaeology, Strange says his book is not another “exercise in archaeological apologetics” but rather an explanation of what archaeologists think they are doing. He repeats throughout Excavating the Land of Jesus that archaeology is “problem-driven.” By this, he means that archaeologists begin with a problem and then try to solve it using existing archaeological methods or developing new methods.

Excavating the Land of Jesus

The main problem addressed by this book is reconstructing the social reality of 1st century Galilee during the earliest years of the “Judaisms that became Christianity” (1). This requires balancing archaeological methods and the text of the gospels to understand first-century Roman Galilee. He is clear that archaeology is not about proving the written account true or illustrating the text of the Bible (14). Archaeology might end up doing that, but that is not the goal of archaeology.

Like most archaeologists, he defines archaeology first by pointing out that it is not swashbuckling treasure hunting, as often portrayed in the movies. For Strange, “archaeology is the systematic recovery and interpretation of ancient human detritus for the sake of understanding human technologies, societies, and values” (10). Strange is interested in using archaeology to understand the lives of people in the past (Roman Galilee, Jesus, and his early followers), and that requires both archaeology and the biblical text. He does not dispense with the gospels but does not prioritize them.

The first chapter deals with the basics of archaeology: how do you know where to dig? As a test case, he uses Magdala. Although the New Testament mentions a town named Magdala near the Sea of Galilee, information in the New Testament and Eusebius. However, the town is mentioned in Josephus, later rabbinic literature, pilgrim reports, etc. Based on this information, archaeologists began to work at the village of el-Mejdel, thinking they would find the ancient town of Migdal. These excavations have turned up two synagogues, several mikvoth, and other evidence illustrating life in first-century Migdal. (I will point out that Joan Taylor challenged this identification (“Missing Magdala and the Name of Mary ‘Magdalene.” PEQ 146 (3): 205–223).

In the second chapter, Strange deals with the problem of how to dig. Here, he outlines the basics of the scientific method of archaeology. In this chapter, he discusses the importance of asking questions and making observations before doing any actual archaeological work. He uses several hypothetical cases to illustrate how archaeologists make their decisions.

In Chapter 3, he illustrates how to use archaeology to understand ancient people. Using the gospel of John as a test case, he tracks the geography of Roman Palestine by tracing Jesus’s movements. He concludes that “the limited view that the gospel of John provides the Judean and Samaritan hill countries, the Jordan valley, and the Beit Netofa valley of Galilee matches well with what we know or can infer from archaeological surveys and excavations. This is often the case” (97). The point here is that archaeologists use ancient texts, like the gospel of John, but also references in ancient literature to the Gallus revolt in 351 or an earthquake in 363 to explain what the find (destruction layers in the region). “Why use the ancient texts? The answer is simple: the texts prove themselves to be useful” (97).

Chapter 4 addresses using archaeology to understand ancient technology. There are some limitations to what archaeologists can understand about ancient peoples based on and examination of their technology. First, many objects are made from perishable materials, such as clothing, curtains, baskets, farming implements, household implements, etc. Second, no excavation of Roman Galilee records every object found. For example, the most common find in archaeology is a pottery sherd. Although they are used to date a site, few archaeologists save and record the total number of pottery shards discovered. There are just too many! Third, archaeologists do not find every object that survives. Strange mentions as an example corroded coins, which are often difficult to distinguish from the dirt in which they lie. Archaeologists sometimes find nails but not what they once held together. This means archaeologists have only fragmentary knowledge about ancient technologies (104). Strange uses olive oil production in Galilee as an illustration. This section has a detailed description of the process of making olive oil, a labor-intensive and intricate economic system.

Chapter 5 discusses what archaeology contributes to our understanding of ancient values of group identity. He surveys the kinds of human detritus found in Roman Galilee. These are mostly Jewish household items that are used to fulfill Halakhah not based explicitly on instructions from Scripture (ceramics, mikvoth, Herodian lamps, cups carved from chalk; use of ossuaries for secondary burial, synagogues, etc.). But archaeologists also find things that raise questions about Jewish practice—for example, domesticated pig bones with signs of butchering. He asks, who did that sort of thing? It could be the case that Jewish farmers raised pigs and sold them to Romans. But it may be the case that some Romans lived in otherwise Jewish areas and raised pigs. There may have been Jews who raised and ate pigs themselves. Sometimes, archaeology creates questions that have no answer.

In his conclusion, Strange asks a question that may be the main problem he wants to solve as an archaeologist: “With the ministry of Jesus, does Christianity emerge as a religious system at odds with the Judaisms of the day, or is it one of the Judaisms of the day, and if it is, how long did it remain so?” (152) Although it is obvious archaeology does help scholars understand the religious, social, and economic situation of early Christianity, can it help trace the so-called “parting of the ways,” the point when early Judaism started to differ from early Christianity?

One of the most fascinating sections of the book is a collection of responses to the question, “Why do archaeologists dig?” These reflections from working archaeologists provide valuable insights into what archaeologists “think they are doing.”

Conclusion. Excavating the Land of Jesus is a fascinating look into the science of archaeology. Strange introduces readers to the technical aspects of archaeology without being overly technical. With clear prose and helpful illustrations, this book is enjoyable to read! Readers interested in how archaeology illuminates the New Testament will enjoy many of his conclusions, although that is not the book’s purpose.

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 for September 2023 – William S. Lamb, Scripture: A Guide for the Perplexed

Logos Free Book of the Month

Logos Bible Software’s Free Book of the Month is William S. Lamb, Scripture: A Guide for the Perplexed (T&T Clark, 2014). Lamb is Vice-Principal and Tutor in New Testament Studies, Westcott House, Cambridge. T&T Clark’s Guide for the Perplexed series features excellent primers on complicated topics. In this volume, Lamb discusses “the questions posed by biblical criticism to the enterprise of Christian theology and the place of scripture in the life of the contemporary church.”

Logos always includes a wide selection of deeply discounted books in this Logos Free Book promotion. Here is what is on sale from Bloomsbury and T&T Clark for September 2023.

  • John Day, Psalms (T&T Clark Study Guides), $1.99
  • Paul House, Zephaniah: A Prophetic Drama, $2.99
  • Sigurd Grindheim, Introducing Biblical Theology, $3.99
  • Joel Marcus, The Way of the Lord: Christological Exegesis of the Old Testament in the Gospel of Mark, $4.99
  • C. K. Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (BNTC), $5.99
  • John McHugh, John 1–4 (ICC), $6.99
  • Bas van Iersel, Mark: A Reader-Response Commentary, $7.99
  • Rudolf Schnackenburg, Epistle to the Ephesians: A Commentary, $8.99
  • T. H. Moulton, A Grammar of New Testament Greek, Vol. 2: Accidence and Word-Formation, $9.99
  • John Goldingay, Isaiah 56–66: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary (ICC), $10.99
  • Studies in the Reformation (3 vols.), $11.99
  • Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Volume 1: The Doctrine of the Word of God (2 Parts), $12.99
  • Gerald Bray, The Pastoral Epistles (​ITC), $13.99
  • Doing Theology Series (5 vols.), $16.99
  • Stuart Weeks, Ecclesiastes: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary, 2 vols. (ICC), $16.99
  • Pre-Order and Save: Jill Middlemas, Lamentations: An Introduction and Study Guide (T&T Clark’s Study Guides), $9.95

This is a great chance to add some recent ICC volumes to your collection. C. K. Barrett on 2 Corinthians is very good. There is a nice mix of biblical, theological, and historical studies on offer here.  So head over to the Free Book of the Month page and buy as many as you like.


Logos Sale

The Logos September Sale has got some great deals. Maybe too many. This is a rare time when you can save 25% on BDAG, the best Greek Lexicon available. It is still pricey but well worth the money. I glanced through the list. There are quite a few expensive bundles, but also some individual volumes, which are great deals. Poke around the sale and see what you can find.

Zondervan 40% off sale

Finally, Logos has a 40% off Zondervan resources, including the Zondervan Exegetical New Testament Commentary series (here is my review of Buist Fanning, Revelation). I have used several of these volumes; they are all very good, user-friendly, and helpful for academics and pastoral work. If you purchased some of the NIVAC commentaries on sale last month, you can fill-in that set for 40% off. Remember, Logos has this “dynamic pricing” thing where they credit you what you have already spent in a collection, so you do not pay for a book twice.

If you do not already own Logos, check out my first-look review of Logos 10.  This month, you can save $100 on a Logos Starter Package (new users only). This special offer expires on September 15. Do not wait too long!

Current users have various upgrade paths, from “Not expensive at all” to “Who needs food?” and everything in between. You can still get Logos Fundamental ($49.99) or Basic (free) packages and take advantage of the free Logos Book of the Month promotion. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the free/cheap packages. All it takes is a Faithlife account, and you can read your books using the iOS or Android app, the Logos web app, or the (much more powerful) desktop version for both Windows and Mac.

All the links are Logos Affiliate links. If you are planning on buying Logos books, use this link and out Reading Acts.

These deals go away on September 30. So shop early, and shop often.


Biblical Studies Carnival 209 for August 2023

Jim West hosted the 209th Biblical Studies Carnival for August 2023 at Zwingli Redivivus. He calls this the “The Climate Change Catastrophe” Biblical Stidies Carnival, and hopes to answer the burning question, “Why is it so hot?” (Spoiler Alert: he does not answer that question). He says, “Enjoy the waning decades of life here on Earth before it all turns into a giant ball of 2000-degree molten misery.” Cheery guy, that Jim West. August is a busy month for academics (prepping for classes, sobering up, etc.) yet Jim has a great collection of links to important and interesting hot topics for August.

In case you missed it, here is the combined Biblical Studies Carnival for June and July (#208).

I am always looking for volunteers to host a Biblical Studies Carnival. If you are a newer blogger, I would love to talk with you about hosting. I would love to have someone host a carnival who is more aware podcasts than I am. Even YouTube and other social media are sources for academic Biblical Studies.

Please contact me at plong42@gmail.com, and we can schedule a month for you to host. And if you are a long-time blogger, please consider hosting again.


Brian P. Irwin with Tim Perry, After Dispensationalism

Irwin, Brian P., with Tim Perry. After Dispensationalism: Reading the Bible for the End of the World. Lexham Press, 2023. xxiii+405 pp. Hb. $24.00   Link to Lexham Press  

Brian Irwin is an associate professor of Old Testament at Knox College in Toronto. He has written many articles and book chapters on Old Testament topics. Tim Perry is a professor of theology at Providence Seminary in Otterburne, Manitoba. He is active in parish ministry and has written extensively on ecumenical dialogue and Mariology, including Mary for Evangelicals: Toward an Understanding of the Mother of Our Lord (InterVarsity, 2006). After Dispensationalism is an irenic critique of Dispensationalism that attempts to correct some of the excessive interpretations of apocalyptic literature.  The authors state early on that “this book commends dispensationalism’s scriptural zeal even as it finds that its way of reading often misses what the biblical authors wished to communicate” (2).

After Dispensationalism

In the first part of the book, “The World of End-Times Teaching,” Irwin and Perry trace the history of dispensationalism. They begin with a survey of early attempts at predicting the end times, starting with early rabbinic and church writers who held to a 6000-year history of the world. Since “a day is like 1000 years,” these writers looked forward to a final 1000-year kingdom in the near future. After a summary of the (non-dispensationalism) Millerite movement, they conclude that we should not make predictions about the end of the world (since Jesus told us not to bother). These kinds of predictions miss the point of the original authors of the Bible (27).

A standard and fair history of dispensationalism follows from Darby to the Scofield Reference Bible, including an account of Dallas Theological Seminary. Then, the authors move to Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye, who they describe as representing “end times as entertainment” (60). Chapter four is important since it outlines dispensationalism’s main ideas. These include literal interpretation, dispensations, a separation of Israel and the church, the pre-tribulational rapture, and the premillennial return of Christ. As most surveys observe, some of these elements appear in other forms of conservative theology, but the combination is “dispensational theology.” There are many examples of premillennialism throughout church history, but that does not mean early church fathers were dispensationalists.

Irwin and Perry then outline dispensationalism’s “end time story,” including the restoration of Israel to the land, the rebuilding of the temple, a rapture followed by a seven-year tribulation, Armageddon, and the return of Christ to establish the millennial kingdom. After the 1000-year kingdom, Christ judges the world at the great white throne judgment followed by “the new heavens and the new earth.” Once again, this is a fair summary of the kinds of things dispensationalism teachers about the end times. Although there are a few charts from Clarence Larkin (always entertaining and out of copyright), they avoid drawing on the lurid details found in the Left Behind movies.

For Irwin and Perry, the main problem is that dispensationalism needs to pay more attention to the original biblical audiences and contexts (95). Dispensationalism’s unrelenting focus on present fulfillment means literal interpretation can be idiosyncratic and constantly shifting. The solution? Study the literary genre of prophecy and apocalyptic (chapter five). This chapter clearly describes biblical prophecy, clarifying common misconceptions that Old Testament prophecy is only about the future. The authors use Ezekiel 34 as an example. The original audience would have understood this prophecy as the near-future return from exile, specifically, 538 BC, when Cyrus the Great permitted the Jews to return to the land and rebuild the temple. However, does the return from exile exhaust the details of Ezekiel 34? Is this an example of a prophecy that has an immediate fulfillment in the prophet’s life and another at the time of the Messiah? This would be like Isaiah 7:14, “The virgin will give birth to a child.” The prophecy refers to an actual child being born at the time of Isaiah but is then used in the New Testament to describe the coming of the Messiah.

This book is a fair summary of dispensationalism up to the mid-twentieth century. Like other writers outside of dispensationalism, the authors know Darby and Scofield but then leap to Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, and the Left Behind books and films. There is some interaction with Dwight Pentecost and a little with John Walvoord, but for the most part, Pentecost’s 1964 Things to Come is the most recent dispensationalist in this book. For example, in the 1990s, Progressive dispensationalists published several important books hoping to revise (or reform) dispensationalist thought, and these books generated significant responses from other dispensational writers.

Like Daniel Hummel’s Rise and Fall of Dispensationalism, Irwin and Perry seem to be unaware there are many dispensational writers producing scholarship that do not predict the end of the world, the rapture, or map out the tribulation period. One example is the assertion that “most dispensationalist interpreters” evaluate John’s description of the New Jerusalem “in terms of engineering” (155). Dispensationalist Robert Thomas is aware of allusions to Ezekiel and thought the tangible aspects of the city’s architecture were not without “symbolic meaning” (2:461). He compares the size of the city to modern geography and concludes, “the prophet is struggling to express the vastness of the city through language accommodate to this creation” (2:467). DTS faculty member Buist Fanning’s recent commentary on Revelation tries to avoid excessive literalism and spiritualizing. He says, “Working out what the specific symbols mean and how much the mirror that future reality will still demand good judgment, but this is the broad approach taken in the present commentary” (539). John’s description is “under the influence of Ezekiel,” and the names of the apostles “represent the fullness of the New Testament church” (540).  There is no speculation about the “engineering” of the New Jerusalem. For Daniel, recent commentaries by Paul Tanner and Joe Sprinkle approach the book from a dispensational perspective without devolving into excessive literalism or speculation. Although Fanning, Tanner, and Sprinkle do not state, “This is a dispensationalist commentary,” they represent the current state of dispensationalist scholarship on Daniel and Revelation.

Concerning apocalyptic literature, Irwin and Perry offer a clear description of the genre that aligns well with contemporary academic scholarship. Much of this section is similar to what I have written on apocalyptic, especially on Revelation. My main issue with their definition of apocalyptic is that it does not allow for any prediction as part of the genre. For example, Daniel 11 is certainly apocalyptic, and I completely agree with the fact that it refers to the Maccabean revolt. However, beginning in Daniel 11:36, there is a shift from the history leading up to the events of the revolt to a prediction of a judgment on the willful king. If this willful king is Antiochus IV Epiphanes, then the description of his demise is wrong. Maybe Michael refers to Judas Maccabees (or the Hasmoneans), but can “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:2) really refer to real-world events in the lifetime of the prophet? Either the writer of Daniel 11 “gets it wrong,” or he begins looking forward to a future judgment that has not yet happened (from his perspective). So, apocalyptic can have a predictive quality (even if scholars disagree on what a particular apocalypse predicts).

The third section of the book demonstrates these principles using texts from Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation. These are not full-blown commentaries on either book. In fact, there are barely two pages on Daniel 10-12. They conclude, “Most scholars agree that Daniel’s original audience were Jews in Judea suffering under the Seleucid emperor Antiochus IV Epiphanies” (210). This is not wrong, but it does not entertain the possibility that Daniel 11:36-45 is a genuine prophecy about a final judgment of an ultimate enemy of God.  If Daniel 7:13-14 refers to a “son of man” with authority to judge the arrogant horn and rule over a kingdom that will never end, when did that happen in the prophet’s lifetime? It seems like Daniel has in mind a future judgment that cannot be tied to anything in history. Irwin and Perry do, in fact, see a future aspect to the book of Revelation. Commenting on the New Heaven and New Earth, they suggest, “The scene of perfect peace and relationship with God is not yet realized, however, so this final section and the book as a whole concludes with the reminder and encouragement that Christ is coming soon” (282).

Part of the problem is Irwin and Perry assume one must approach Revelation as either a futurist, a preterist, or an idealist. A survey of recent commentaries on Revelation shows this either/or method does not work. Most commentators recognize that Revelation is grounded in a first-century situation and can be applied to all cultures and contexts in church history. But it also looks forward to a consummation of the ages, whatever that looks like. I realize this seems a little bit like wanting to have my cake and eat it too, but Revelation itself claims to be a prophecy (Rev 1:3). It certainly speaks to the culture of the prophet’s day but also has application to various cultures throughout church history. That is how scholars approach Romans 13:1-7, for example. Paul addresses a real issue in the first century that can be applied to any culture at any point in church history (now and in the future). Why not approach Daniel and Revelation the same way?

Irwin and Perry conclude the book with thirteen theses summarizing their approach to prophecy and apocalyptic. None of these are surprising to dispensationalists outside of the entertainment-style dispensational theology of LaHaye and Lindsay. Many dispensationalists have warned against trying to interpret revelation through the lens of a modern newspaper, and they’re warning that modern political Israel is not equivalent to the future biblical Israel regathered in the land. I wholeheartedly agree with their warnings in this final chapter, but I still think Daniel and Revelation look forward to the return of Christ and the future kingdom of God.

Conclusion. Despite this overly long review and some misgivings about the details, this is really a very good book. Everyone needs to heed their warnings to stop reading current events through the lens of Revelation. Irwin and Perry provide an excellent introduction to understanding prophecy, even if I am more willing to see a future aspect in some details than they are. I wish they were reading more contemporary dispensationalists.

Irwin describes current dispensationalism as like a supertanker with its engines cut. It is still moving but is aimless and slowly losing momentum (37). Daniel Hummel goes further in his Rise and Fall of Dispensationalism (Eerdmans 2023, review coming soon). Scot McKnight blames Dispensationalism for many of America’s political woes in Revelation for the Rest of Us (Zondervan 2023, reviewed here). Yet a book like Discovering Dispensationalism (SCS Press, 2023) seems to indicate that Dispensationalism is “not quite dead yet,” even if scholarship does not take notice.

The physical book is an attractive 5×8 inches and hardback, a handy size. Unfortunately, the book uses endnotes. There is a thirty-three-page bibliography, so the body of the book is only 297 pages. The book is illustrated with various charts and graphs.


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