Paul L. Maier, The Genuine Jesus

Maier, Paul L. The Genuine Jesus: Fresh Evidence from History and Archaeology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2021. 418 pp. Hb. $33.99   Link to Kregel  

The Genuine Jesus is new edition of Paul Maier’s In the Fullness of Time (Kregel, 1971, second edition 1991). That edition combined three shorter books and added the subtitle “a historian looks at Christmas, Easter, and the early Church. This new book is a third edition, updated with a section of color photographs and a new subtitle “fresh evidence from history and archelogy.” This is not simply a reprint of the earlier books; Maier occasionally mentions Bart Ehrman or other recent developments such as the gospel of Judas. The goal of this book to introduce laypeople to some of the basic historical and geographical background for the Gospels and Acts. Occasionally Maier answers critics who dismiss the historicity of the story of Jesus as told in the four canonical Gospels. Since this book is a basic guide for laypeople, there is no extended argument or documentation.

Maier, Genuine JesusMaier is a historian and uses traditional historical tools to shed light on Jesus’s life and ministry. This includes history, archeology, literature and linguistics, geography, in a wide range of other sub disciplines. When these tools are used judiciously, history and its related fields offer a means of checking up on the Bible, to gauge its accuracy. In the introduction, Maier disagrees with the claim “nothing found by archaeologists has ever contradicted the Bible” because archaeologists find reports from Israel’s enemies who reported their campaigns much differently than the Old Testament. From these different perspectives, he believes that the biblical events come into sharper focus. Problems in the biblical texts it can often be solved by recourse to these other disciplines and gaps in the biblical records can be filled in with correlating outside evidence from antiquity.

There are two chapters cover introductory questions. First, in “Christ or Caricature?” he deals with several potential theories explaining who Jesus was, such as Morton Smith’s Jesus the Magician, John Allegro’s Mushroom Myth, and Joseph Atwell’s 2005 Caesar’s Messiah (which he describes as “one of the most absurd books on Jesus ever written”). Since Atwell argues Jesus was an invention of the Roman Empire to counterbalance the militaristic Jewish zealots defeated in AD 70, Maier may have a point. Except for the Jesus Seminar, these choices seem like dated strawmen to me. The second chapter deals with sources for the life of Jesus and early Christianity.

The first four sections of the book deal with the life of Jesus. As expected from the origins of this book, eleven chapters are devoted to the infancy and youth of Jesus, in another ten chapters to the passion week including the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. This means there are only two chapters devoted to the ministry of Jesus (one a general overview and a second on Galilean ministry up to the confession of Peter). These chapters deal with various historical and geographical and historical issues (Caesar’s census (Luke 2:1), the star of Bethlehem, or key people like King Herod and Pontius Pilate.

The fifth section treats early Christianity from the Great Commission to Roman Christianity under Nero. Nine of these eleven chapters tell the story of the Book of Acts with special attention to key people and places. Each chapter has a few endnotes, often with references to ancient sources. The final chapter goes beyond the book of Acts to deal with traditions about the deaths of Paul, Peter, and the other apostles.

The book is illustrated with over 100 black and white photographs and other illustrations. For example, on pages 105 is line-art illustration of three coins from King Herod Some of these are older, such as the southeastern corner of the Temple platform on page 177 or Capernaum before the church was built over Peter’s house in 1990 (p. 153). Some of the color photographs are old as well. For example, much work has been done at the theater at Ephesus since the included photograph was taken. A few photographs are from Todd Bolen’s collection.

Conclusion. Like the previous versions of this book, the third edition of The Genuine Jesus is written for the layperson interested in historical and geographical backgrounds for the Gospels and Acts. Aside from limit space for the ministry of Jesus, this book achieves those goals.

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

Herbert Bateman and Steven Smith, Hebrews (Kerux)

Bateman, IV Herbert W. and Steven W. Smith. Hebrews: A Commentary for Biblical Preaching and Teaching . Kerux Commentaries. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Ministry, 2021. 389 pp. Hb. $36.99   Link to Kregel Ministry  

This Hebrews commentary is part of Kregel’s new Kerux commentary series. Projected to be a 46-volume series, seven are available at this time. In the preface to the series, Herb Bateman explains the Kerux commentary series attempts to join experts in biblical exegesis with experienced communicators. The commentary intends to provide solid exegesis, the theological focus and preaching strategies (“big idea,” contemporary connections, and success suggestions for creative presentations). Although the commentary is intended to help a busy pastor, the pastor in mind has a knowledge of both Hebrew and Greek and spends a significant amount of time preparing to preach and teach the word of God. Each volume in this new series will have two authors and exegete and a preacher. In this Hebrews commentary, Herb Bateman IV writes the exegetical portion and Steven W. Smith writes the preaching portions.

Hebrews (Kerux)The commentary begins with fifteen pages summarizing the twenty preaching passages (units, pericopes) for the book of Hebrews. Each unit begins with an exegetical idea, theological focus, and preaching ideas and preaching pointers. These units are as few as four verses (Heb 1:1-4) but sometimes as long as an entire chapter (Heb 11:1-40). Although this is not explicit in the commentary, this section is basically a pastor’s preaching outline for a long series in the book of Hebrews.

In the twenty-eight-page introduction to Hebrews, Herb Bateman begins with his view of the authorship of the book. As is well-known, Hebrews is anonymous and there are a bewildering number of suggestions for who the author might be. Bateman argues passionately for Barnabas as the author of Hebrews. He provides several pieces of evidence and provides a two-page chart listing other advocates for Barnabas as the author of the book (from Tertullian in the third century to Albert Vanhoye in 2015). Throughout the introduction, he refers to Barnabas as the author.

The book of Hebrews is a “sermonic-midrash-like letter” written to Jewish followers of Jesus who lived in Rome either just before Nero’s persecutions in A. D. 64 or just before the Jewish war with Rome began in A.D. 66. Given his view on the date for the book of Hebrews, Bateman provides a brief sketch of the history of Jews in Rome.

A common view on the occasion for the writing of Hebrews is the danger of Jewish Christians returning to Judaism to avoid this occasion. For Bateman, the political instability in the Roman Empire and Judea may have caused some Jewish Christians to doubt that Jesus was the Messiah. The book therefore argues Jesus is, in fact, the divine son of God, who has an eternal priesthood and who inaugurated God’s new covenant.

Each unit in the commentary’s body begins with a one-page summary of this section. This begins with a single brief sentence summarizing the exegetical idea, the theological focus, and the preaching idea for the unit. Following these brief notes are two paragraphs of suggestions for taking the exegesis and making it “work” in contemporary preaching. Exposition is verse by verse, often phrase by phrase. Bateman bases his exegesis on the Greek text. Given the constraints of the format of the commentary, Bateman’s exegesis is excellent (as expected from his Epistles of John and Jude commentaries).

Following the exegesis is a brief section entitled preaching ideas. This begins with a brief exegetical and theological synthesis and a repetition of the preaching idea. The next section is “contemporary connections” and asks questions like, “What does it mean?” “Is it true?” “Now what?” Finally, there is a section entitled creativity in presentation. Here, Smith suggests connections to popular cultural artifacts such as films, TV, or contemporary news stories. Following the preaching ideas are a few discussion questions and occasionally a further reading section offering bibliography for the unit. It is unclear why this further reading section does not appear in every section. Given the goals stated for the commentary, it is surprising that the preaching section is so brief. One might have expected a balance between exegesis and homiletics, but that is not the case.

Bateman supplements the commentary with a series of extremely helpful sidebars which deal with issues of historical background or exegetical detail. For example, there are sidebars on the Jewish theology of rest, the theology of Jewish tithes, and the Qumran document Song of the Sabbath Sacrifice (4Q400-407). There is a long excursus of Psalms 2 in the context of Hebrews 1. There are several sidebars defining terms or key people, such as “Who was Philo?” “Who was Ben Sira?” Sidebars include detailed word studies of key Greek terms, and occasionally comments on the syntactical structure of Greek verses. In addition to sidebars, there are a handful of notes entitled “translation analysis,” “textual analysis” and “lexical analysis” scattered throughout the book. These are printed slightly differently than the regular sidebars, although it is difficult to see any difference in the content. I noticed that the number of sidebars diminishes later in the commentary. There are only seven sidebars for Hebrews 10-13, although early in the commentary there seven in the first chapter which on;y covers four verses (Heb 1:1-4)

The commentary includes many charts scattered throughout the volume, offering a convenient summary of key ideas. Bateman loves charts! (See my review of Charts on the Book of Hebrews, Kregel Academic, 2012). On at least one occasion, he cites his earlier book and the charts for Hebrews 11 are also similar to the Chartbook. This is not a problem, of course. Looking back at that book, I notice Bateman collects evidence for several of the potential candidates for the authorship of Hebrews but in the brief introduction to this commentary; he can only advocate for his preference (Barnabas).

Conclusion. When I first saw volumes of this commentary series, I was reminded of the venerable Pulpit Commentary. The goals are similar: to provide solid exegesis from leading scholars and teaching ideas for pastors. This volume of the Kerux series achieves the goal of solid exposition of the text and it does offer help for busy pastors preparing to teach Hebrews from the pulpit, Sunday School classes or small group setting.


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

Other volumes reviewed in this series:


Logos Free Book – John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord

Once again the good folk at Logos are offering an excellent Free Book of the Month. This month Logos partners with P&R Publishing to offer John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (P&R, 2006) as a free addition to your Logos Library until the end of June. Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic TheologyThe book is a substantial 382 pages based on Frame’s lectures for the Institute of Theological Studies. William Edgar said this book “is at once vigorously orthodox and sweetly pastoral. We can be grateful for such a powerful and clear exposition of the whole range of theology.”

In addition to the Free Book of the Month, Logos is offering Brian Vickers, Justification by Grace through Faith: Finding Freedom from Legalism, Lawlessness, Pride, and Despair (P&R, 2013) for only $1.99. This book is part of the Explorations in Biblical Theology series (ed. by Robert Peterson). Tom Schreiner comments in his forward to the book, “sets justification in the context of the story line of the Bible. He doesn’t just give us an abstract and sterile explanation of the doctrine. We learn how justification fits with the biblical story and how it fits with our story.” Both of these books are great additions for people interested in the Reformed side of Christian theology.

As always, you can enter to win the rest of the Explorations in Biblical Theology series (11 vols., a 139.95 value) in the Logos library. Both of these books are excellent additions to your Logos library, so make sure to add them to your library before the end of the month.

Verbum is offering the first two volumes of The Writings of Irenæus (including his most famous work, Against Heresies) for free Irenæus’s The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching for 99 cents. Verbum is part of the Faithlife family of companies, focusing on Catholic resources.  Verbum use your same Faithlife account, so these books are available to anyone with a Faithlife / Logos username and password.


Logos Free Book – Wolfgang Vondey, Pentecostalism: A Guide for the Perplexed

Pentacostalism-a-guide-for-the-perlexedOnce again Faithlife is offering a Free “Book of the Month” for your Logos library. For the month of July you can download a copy of Pentecostalism: A Guide for the Perplexed (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013), by Wolfgang Vondey from T&T Clark. If you are not aware of the Guide for the Perplexed series, you should be. These are handy little volumes which cover the essential issues of an issue, along the lines of the Oxford “Very Short Introduction” series. This is not a “for dummies” series: the volumes I have used are serious introductions to cmplex topics. Vondey is a “German-born Pentecostal theologian who currently serves as Reader in Contemporary Christianity and Pentecostal Studies at the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom, where he also directs the Centre for Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies” (at least according to Wikipedia, he is.)

For a $1.99 more, you can supersize this free book and download a copy of T&T Clark Companion to Reformation Theology by David M. Whitford. Whitford is professor in the Religion department at Baylor University and contributed the A Guide for the Perplexed on Luther for T&T Clark. He contributes the first chapter in the volume, “Studying and Writing about the Reformation.” The rest of the chapters cover the following topics:

  • Chapter 2: Human Nature, the Fall, and the Will – Robert Kolb
  • Chapter 3: Revelation and Scripture – Ward Holder
  • Chapter 4: Justification – Carl Trueman
  • Chapter 5: Law and Gospel – Lubomir Batka & Anna Johnson
  • Chapter 6: Election – Chad Can Dixhoorn
  • Chapter 7: Sanctification, Works, and Social Justice – Carter Lindberg
  • Chapter 8: The Sacraments – Bryan Spinks
  • Chapter 9: The Church – Paul Avis
  • Chapter 10: Preaching and Worship – Anne Thayer
  • Chapter 11: Women, Marriage & Family – Karen Spierling
  • Chapter 12: Catechisms & Confessions of Faith – Karin Maag
  • Chapter 13: Church Discipline, Abuse, Corruption – Raymond Mentzer
  • Chapter 14: Eschatology, Antichrist, and Apocalypticism – Robin Bruce Barnes
  • Chapter 15: Political Theology – Volker Leppin
  • Chapter 16: Superstition, Magic & Witchcraft – Peter Maxwell-Stuart
  • Chapter 17: Radical Theology – Geoffrey Dipple
  • Chapter 18: Images and Iconography – Randall Zachman
  • Chapter 19: Martyrdom and Religious Violence – Haruko Ward

Part two of the book is entitled, “A Reformation ABC,” a mini-dictionary of important events and people for Reformation studies. I noticed the T&T Clark website has Whitford’s chapter as part one, the chapters as part 2 and the ABS as part three, Logos has only two parts (essays and ABCs). The content appears to be the same. At 471 pages, this is a great deal for $2.

As always, you can enter to win the three other volumes in addition to the free/almost free books in Logos’s T&T Clark Studies in Theological Systems (5 vols., $99 value). Enter early and often. Both of these books are excellent additions to your Logos library, so make sure to add them to your library before the end of the month.


Logos Free Book – Stephen E. Fowl, Ephesians

Once again the good folk at Logos are offering an excellent Free Book of the Month. For the month of December you can have a copy of Stephen Fowl’s excellent Ephesians Commentary in the NTL Library from Westminster John Knox Press. Fowl wrote the Philippians volume in Eerdmans Two Horizons series as well as a number of articles and monographs in the fielFowl Ephesiansd of theological readings of the New Testament. For example, his 2009 contribution to the Cascade Companion series, Theological Interpretation of Scripture.

The commentary was enthusiastically commended by Michael J. Gorman and Nijay Gupta reviewed the Ephesians volume soon after it was released, saying ” this is a solid reading of Ephesians overall from a master-exegete. I only wish it were more detailed and thorough! One will see many similarities and much agreement with Best and Lincoln.”

In addition to the Free Book of the Month, Logos is offering Luke Timothy Johnson’s Hebrews Commentary in the NTL series for only $1.99. Anything Johnson writes is worth reading, so this commentary on Hebrews for a mere $2 is a worthy addition to your Logos Library.

As always, you can enter to win the rest of the NTL commentaries in the Logos library. Both of these books are excellent additions to your Logos library, so make sure to add them to your library before the end of the month.

Luke Timothy Johnson iPad

Luke Timothy Johnson, Hebrews, on the iPad

In addition to the Logos Free book, two other free books are on offer. Noet is the division of Faithlife focusing on classics; this month they are offering James Joyce’s Dubliners for free and Ulysses for 99 cents. Now you can finally follow Leopold Bloom around all day with the Logos Bible app.

Verbum is offering Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI’s The Blessing of Christmas for free and his Seek That Which Is Above: Meditations Through the Year for 99 cents. Verbum is part of the Faithlife family of companies, focusing on Catholic resources. Both Noet and Verbum use your same Faithlife account, so these books are available to anyone with a Faithlife / Logos username and password.