Praying with Heads Covered – 1 Corinthians 11:2-16

Nero as Priest

William M. Ramsay on cites Dio Chrysostom to the effect that the custom of women going veiled in Tarsus was an oriental and non-Greek custom, Paul is merely reflecting his own (Jewish) background by requiring women wear head coverings (The Cities of St. Paul, 201-5).  Because of the popularity of Ramsey’s works on Paul, this theory is often repeated in modern commentaries, but it seems odd that Paul would impose this one Jewish custom on congregations when he frees them from so many other Jewish customs.

The application of this rather obscure command is usually some vague platitude that women should be dressed modestly.  If the culture includes head coverings in this then the woman ought to not offend the culture.  No one ever points out that if this is the true application, then a woman visiting a culture which is comfortable with public nudity is free to “fit right in” when they visit the beach!

I seriously doubt that modesty is the issue Paul is trying to get at in 1 Corinthians 11.  There is clear evidence in the Greco-Roman world of prostitutes wearing head coverings.  There are several artistic representations of groups of women with or without head coverings.  There is simply no evidence that head coverings were universal in the Greco-Roman world!

Based on his study of Roman statues, D. W. J. Gill has argued that it was a Roman convention to cover the head while praying or offering a libation. There are two well-known statues from Corinth, one of Nero and one of Augustus with their heads veiled. It was the leader of a prayer or sacrifice that would cover their heads, the congregation (if any) would not necessarily do so. Gill argues that the social elite in Corinth also practiced head covering while praying or participating in a sacrifice. Since the passage in 1 Cor 11 seems to cover the whole congregation, perhaps it is only the prophets who are speaking in the congregation that are covering their heads while prophesying (in 14:29 only two or three ought prophesy).

The problem in Corinth is that the Christians are (continuing) to take their cues for worship from the pagan world.  They are worshiping in the same way that they would have in a pagan rite, Paul is rejecting this mixing of the world with the Church.

If the problem that is at the heart of the veiling of men / unveiling of women is taking worship cues from the pagan world, then there is a most serious application possible.  How far we want to take this application is quite controversial, from the mega-church movement to modern praise and worship services, it is possible that the American church has taken its cues from the pagan world rather than from the Bible.  The modern American church seems to be following MTV rather than the NIV.

There is always a tension between cultural relevancy for the sake of evangelism and participating in the world because we enjoy it.  It is possible that is what was happening in Corinth.  The members of the church of Corinth were routinely acting like the world without taking into consideration how their new Christian world view speaks to a practice (sexual mores, lawsuits, feasts and banquets at temples, etc.)

The veiling of women / men may seem like a minor problem to use (“it’s just cultural”) but that misses the whole point.  If these people were indistinguishable from the world in their worship, how were they going to effectively evangelize their culture?

Bibliography:

D. W. J. Gill, “The Importance of Roman Portraiture for Head-coverings in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16,” Tyndale Bulletin 41 (1990): 246-60.
C. T. Thompson, “Hairstyles, Headcoverings, and St. Paul: Portraits from Roman Corinth” BA (1988): 99-115.

Book Review: John Goldingay, A Reader’s Guide to the Bible

Goldingay, John. A Reader’s Guide to the Bible. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2017. 186 pp. Pb; $18.00.   Link to IVP  

Having contributed the ICC commentary on Isaiah 40-55 and a massive three-part theology of the Old Testament, John Goldingay has more recently written several short, popular level books. In 2015 IVP published his Do We Need the New Testament? and Eerdmans has recently published Reading Jesus’s Bible. In his new A Reader’s Guide to The Bible, Goldingay synthesizes the varied content of the whole Bible under the headings of story, word, and response.

Goldingay has two chapters of introduction before discussing the three genres of the Bible. First he summarizes the events of both the Old and New Testaments in a short 16 page chapter. He begins with Abraham to Moses, Moses to David, then David to Exile. He includes a quick survey of the intertestamental period, and only briefly the history of the first century. Although this is a reader’s guide to the Bible, his summary chart on pages 19-20 ends with the rise of Greece and only identifies Old Testament books and characters. His second introductory chapter concerns the land of the Bible. Like his survey of the history of the Bible, Goldingay favors the geography of the Old Testament. To be fair, the geography does not change between the testaments, but there are many locations which only appear in the New Testament.

In the second section of the book Goldingay surveys the “story of God and His People.” This is an overview of what are normally considered to be the historical books of the Old Testament. He breaks the material into Genesis through Numbers (ch. 3) and Deuteronomy through Kings (ch. 4). This might strike some readers as odd since Deuteronomy is part of the Torah. But Goldingay recognizes the book of Deuteronomy casts a long shadow over the four major historical books (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings), which are often referred to as the Deuteronomic History. He covers the post-exilic books of Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah into a frustratingly short six page chapter, followed by a four page chapter on the “short stories” of the Old Testament, Ruth, Esther, Jonah and Daniel. He then devotes a fifth chapter in this section to the story of Jesus and the church (the Gospels and Acts). For most Christian readers it might be a shock to see the history of the New Testament boiled down to only one-fifth the story of the Bible, but Goldingay is true to the content of the whole Bible, the story of Jesus in the Gospels and the church in Acts is only about 60 years (with almost half of that time the un-narrated events prior to the ministry of Jesus).

The third section of the book concerns God’s word to his people. Here Goldingay covers the Law in Exodus through Deuteronomy (ch. 8); the prophets (Isaiah through Malachi, ch. 9); the New Testament epistles (Romans through Jude, ch. 10); some of the wisdom literature (Proverbs and Song of Solomon, ch. 11) and “visions of the seers” (Daniel and Revelation, ch. 12). In these chapters Goldingay attempts to place those sections of the Bible which are not narrative back into the story of the Bible from section two of the book. As anyone who has taught a Bible Survey class knows, it is difficult for students to place the less-than-familiar prophets into the well-known stories of the Old Testament. These books make the most sense when they are in fact put into the proper historical context.  For each book in these sections Goldingay offers a brief paragraph or two commenting on the contents of the book and connecting back to the larger story of the Bible. Larger books like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel receive a few pages, the Minor Prophets are only given a short summary each. The letters of Timothy, Titus, Philemon and 2 John are all dispatched in an eleven line paragraph.

The third section of the book deals with Israel’s response to God in the Psalms and Lamentations (ch. 13) and other wisdom books (Ecclesiastes and Job, ch. 14). Like most brief surveys of the Psalms, Goldingay examines several psalm types, including the most common, lament. As Goldingay himself recognizes, it is “slightly arbitrary” to treat Job and Ecclesiastes in a different chapter than Proverbs. When I teach the Wisdom Literature I usually use these two books as examples of the wisdom life gone wrong. Along with several Psalms which lament the absence of God, Goldingay considers these two books as a kind of protest literature for people who have responded to Law and Wisdom yet still suffer unexpectedly in this life.

Conclusion. In his epilogue to A Reader’s Guide to the Bible, Goldingay offers a short response to Christians who question the need for the Old Testament. This is similar to his Do We Need the New Testament?, but obviously more brief. In fact, this epilogue encapsulates my two minor criticisms of the book. First, it is far too brief. Although I realize it is written for the layperson and it is only intended as a sampling of the contents of the Bible, I think a quest for brevity kept Goldingay from providing enough material to really satisfy. This book is a very light hors d’oeuvre to the feast that is the study of the Bible. Second, I think Goldingay spends too much time arguing for the importance of the Old Testament for the Christian reader. This is a point with which I wholeheartedly agree, but this book seems to emphasize that point far more than necessary.

Nevertheless, this book will make an excellent introduction to the Bible for a layperson looking to get the big picture of the story of the Bible as well as how the various other types of non-story fit into the that story.

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

Book Review: Faithlife Study Bible

Faithlife Study Bible. Edited by John D. Barry, Douglas Mangum, Derek R. Brown, and Michael S. Heiser. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2017. Hb. $49.99  Link to Zondervan

The Faithlife Study Bible is a new Study Bible designed to help readers to find their place in the story of the Bible and to “feed your curiosity about God and his work in this world.” In order to achieve this goal, the FSB uses some traditional features of a study Bible (notes, introductions, maps), but also info-graphic charts and illustrations to set stories into their historical and social contexts. The FSB uses the New International Version 2011 text with notes charts, and graphics edited by John D. Barry (general editor), Douglas Mangum, Derek R. Brown, and Michael S. Heiser (academic editors).

Each book of the Bible has an introduction including an outline, authorship, background, structure, themes, as well as maps or timelines where appropriate. Since this is a study Bible, there is a running commentary at the bottom of each page offering insight into cultural and social issues and original biblical languages for modern readers. There are a few small charts in the notes and occasional definitions of key terms or people (for example, “Marduk” in Jeremiah 50:1 or “Pharisees” in Mark 2:16).

There are a number of articles scattered throughout the FSB. Zondervan’s advertising says these were written by “respected scholars and best-selling authors including Charles Stanley, Randy Alcorn, and Ed Stetzer.” Perhaps these are not the first people I think of when I read “respected scholars,” but the list also includes Douglas Stuart (How To Study the Bible), Duane Garrett (Pentateuch), Daniel Block (Covenants of God), Mark Futato (Significance of Names in the Bible), Craig Bartholomew (Wisdom Literature), Nicholas Perrin (Synoptic Gospels and Acts), Craig Keener (Gospel of John and Johannine Letters), Michael Bird (Paul’s Letters), Peter Davids (Hebrews and the General Letters), and John J. Collins (Apocalyptic Literature). Some articles are more theological, such as William Klein on Election or N. T. Wright on “The Glory of God in Paul’s Letters.” These do represent top scholars in their field, although the introductions are brief, sometimes not much more than a single page. This is to be expected in a Study Bible of this kind, even if I would have liked to see more detail in nearly every case.

One of the more intriguing features of the FSB are the one hundred full color infographics. The infographic style is a popular way to display information to a reader at a glance (click here for an example). For example, since Isaiah 63 describes the Lord “treading the winepress,” there is an illustration of a winepress explaining the process. There is a cut-away illustration of the synagogue at Magdala associated with Luke 13 and Acts 19 has a nice illustration of the Temple of Artemis with a comparison to an American football field. On the next page is an overview of the theater in Ephesus compared to Wrigley Field. There is an illustration of a Roman Tullianum (prison) presented in 2 Timothy 2. There are an additional twenty-seven family trees and “people diagrams” designed to help readers visualize the relationships between key characters in Scripture.

For the life of Jesus, a timeline in Matthew runs along the bottom of eight pages (up to Peter’s confession), then a second part in Mark runs eight pages up to the triumphal entry, The third part appears over eight pages in Luke covering the Passion. These timelines use brief descriptions and icon-like illustrations but lack any references. Perhaps this timeline feature would be more useful by including Scripture.

The Faithlife Study Bible was first distributed as part of Logos Bible Software. The Logos version appears to have identical notes and introductions. The illustrations mentioned above all appear in the online version and appear to be the same (although I did not check every illustration, the ones I did were identical). The articles also appear in the online version, although there are more articles in the online than in the oriented version (Alcorn on Giving, The printed tables look better than the online versions, at least on my desktop installation of Logos. The Logos version of the FSB has a number of context, thematic and word studies which do not appear in the print version, such as “Sabbath” or “Jesus as Wisdom,” both by Michael S. Heiser. These are more detailed articles which would have lengthened an already large book. The online version also has the advantage of linking to the Lexham Bible Dictionary and other resources in the Logos library.

Conclusion. The Faithlife Study Bible joins an already crowded field of Study Bibles published in the last decade, including the ESV Study Bible, the HCSB Study Bible, the Zondervan NIV Study Bible, and the Zondervan Bible Backgrounds Study Bible. The Faithlife Study Bible does not always have the same level of detail as the competition, but it does excel in being user friendly. If the ESVSB is overwhelming to a student, then the Faithlife Study Bible will be much more accessible.

To view a sampler that includes the text of Genesis and Matthew, please visit the Faithlife Study Bible site.

Book Review: Craig Blomberg – Can We Still Believe the Bible?

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Blomberg, Craig. L. Can We Still Believe the Bible? An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos, 2014. 287 pages, pb.

Blomberg’s Can We Still Believe in Bible? blog tour continues here at Reading Acts with Chapter 3, Can We Trust Any of our Translations? Visit the Can we Still Believe website for the rest of the schedule as well as a chance at a free copy of the book as well as the “grand prize” of five books from Baker Academic.

Since I teach undergraduate Greek and Hebrew in a Bible College, I am often asked what the “best Bible translation is.” Unfortunately this is sometimes an attempt to pick a fight, since my questioner has already decided that the KJV is the only Bible inspired by God, or that the TNIV is a liberal attempt to emasculate the church, etc. Everyone who teaches the Bible in Church or a Bible study dreads the phrase “but in my Bible it says….” Everyone has a smart phone has access to dozens of translations at any given time, and sometimes they shuffle through the translations until the find one that says what they want it to say. Why are there so many English Bible translations?

The third chapter of Blomberg’s Can We Still Believe the Bible? concerns just that question. Blomberg is well prepared to comment on translation methods. He has served on the Committee for Bible Translation since 2008. This group is responsible for the revisions of the NIV resulting in the NIV 2011. He served on the NLT translation committee for Matthew and he was one of the reviewers for the ESV New Testament as well as a reviewer for the HCSB as well.

Blomberg’s main point in this chapter is that all major Bible translations are sufficiently faithful to the original Hebrew or Greek text so that the reader is able to learn the foundational truths of Christianity accurately (85). This true for any translation, including historically important translations like the Vulgate or the KJV or modern translations like the ESV, NLT and NIV. In order to support this contention, he makes six comparisons of an older translation and a newer one for the eleventh verse of the eleventh book (1 Kings, Song of Solomon, Micah, Acts, 2 Timothy and Revelation). This results in three Old and three New Testament examples and a variety of genre (prose, poetry, narrative, prophesy, epistle and apocalyptic). By compared translations, Blomberg concludes that there is little difference in meaning between an older translation and a new one. Even Bibles with distinctly different translation methods are not wildly different. So why are there so many different translations?

Translation Methods

Blomberg gives two extremes in translation method. First, some translations use a “formal equivalence” method of translation. The goal is to accurately translate the meaning of words into a target language. While this is sometimes described as a “literal” translation, there will always be some freedom for the translator to adapt the biblical language to English grammar and style. As any beginning Hebrew or Greek student knows, word order in the original languages is sometimes radically difference than English. No English translation preserves that word order, nor would it want to! Examples of this method include the KJV or the ASV, although the ESV is Blomberg’s primary example.

Can We Still BelieveSecond, the other extreme is “dynamic equivalence.” This is an attempt to translate “thought for thought” in order to make the meaning clear in the target language. This type of translation will break long sentences into smaller ones, attempting to make the thought of the original writer clear in the target language. This means that some of the subtle nuances will be lost, but the goal is a readable, aesthetically pleasing translation. Blomberg’s main example is the NLT for this method.

A third way seeks to use the best of both of these methods while avoiding their faults. This has come to be known as “optimal equivalence.” All Bible translations fall somewhere between the two extremes, translations that use this method attempt to accurately translate the meaning of the text and preserve the clarity of the original writer’s thought.  Both the NIV and the HCSB attempt to take into account the meaning of the text without sacrificing clarity.

Blomberg uses James 2:1 as his example verse in his discussion of translation method. In each case, the meaning is clear even if it is expressed slightly differently in each case. He concludes that none of the major translations fail to communicate James’ thought (100). The differences in English translations have no bearing at all on our confidence in the original Greek text. The differences are in method and style chosen by a translation committee. Blomberg himself has served as a translator or reviewer for translations in each of these three categories. One method is therefore not “better” than the other, even if someone prefers the NIV over the ESV or the NLT over the HSCB.

Problematic Translations

But not all translations are accurate. Blomberg includes a short section on “versions to “treat with caution.” He begins with two extremes. First, one ought to use caution when using a Bible translated with a “concordant method.” This is an attempt to create a word-for-word translation with no regard for idioms or syntax. This sometimes means that the same Greek word is always translated the same without regard for context.  Second, one ought to be cautious using paraphrases. He mentions The Message in particular since it is the most popular paraphrase available today. A paraphrase attempts to express a given verse in a striking, memorable way in order to give the reader a new way of looking at a familiar text.  “Serious study, teaching and preaching must never use (a paraphrase) except by way of illustration” (103).

Translations that are produced to support a particular doctrinal bias ought to be avoided. The New World Translation famously mistranslates John 1:1 to support Jehovah’s Witnesses doctrine and the Joseph Smith Translation makes arbitrary additions and modifications to the text. Blomberg includes Gen 9:21-24 as an example. The verses are modified to conform to 1 Nephi 13.26. There is “no shred of historical evidence these portions were ever removed from the Bible” (104).

Inclusive Language in Translation

Finally, Blomberg addresses inclusive translation of masculine pronouns when humanity is in view. For American English translations, this has been a contentious issue since the NIV was updated in 2005 (TNIV) or 2011 (NIV 2011). He offers the example of Proverbs 17:15: “He that justifieth the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord” (KJV). Clearly the “he” in this verse refers to any person regardless of gender. The NRSV rendered the verse “One who justifies…” and other modern translations use some other non-gendered pronoun. The 1984 revision of the NIV was nearly the only modern translation that retained the masculine pronouns for clear generic statements.

Blomberg offers a short history of that controversy which resulted after a British gender-inclusive NIV was released. A meeting of translators in Colorado Springs resulted in a set of guidelines for preserving masculine pronouns even when the context supported an inclusive pronoun. But when the Committee for Bible Translation began to work on the revisions that would result in the TNIV, they could not work within the guidelines. Instead, the NIV (1984) remained in print and the TNIV was released with a flurry of propaganda for and against the translation. Some scholars responded with scathing condemnations of the translations in journal articles or books, some scholars defended the decisions in other articles and books. The controversy was not limited to pronouns, since the TNIV chose to translate diakonos as “deacon” instead of “servant” in Romans 16:1, even though it referred to a woman, Phoebe. This was seen as letting church practice (ordination of woman) dictate a translation.

The NIV 2011 represented the next step in the evolution of the translation. If there was “any hesitation that a given masculine term in a given context might refer to males only, gender exclusive language was reinstated” (111). One complaint against the TNIV was that singular pronouns were changed to plurals, or that third person pronouns were changed to second-person pronouns. When a text read “he” but obviously meant “all humans regardless of gender,” the TNIV translated the singular “he” with the plural demonstrative pronoun, “those” or “you.” These changes were revisited in the NIV 2011 and only about two-thirds of them were retained, many in a “very different and limited way” (113). In fact, the changes that were made attempt to translate the original into a contemporary English style as demonstrated by the Collins Dictionary database. This database tracks English usage shows that what used to be called a “generic masculine” is most often expressed today with a plural pronoun (they) even with a singular antecedent. Yet changes from the TNIV to the NIV 2011 did not stop the Southern Baptist Convention from condemning the translation and producing their own translation (the HCSB).

This section could be read as a defense of the NIV 2011 because Blomberg serves on the Committee for Bible Translation. But his goal is not to defend the NIV 2011 (although he does answer some of the false statements made about the translation). Rather, Blomberg wants to show that all modern English translations are in some ways “gender inclusive” and it is inappropriate to force a text that intended to address all people (Prov 17:15, for example) to use a masculine singular pronoun. To do so would in fact distort the meaning of the original text (99).

Conclusion

This chapter has two major emphases. First, Blomberg compares Bible translation methods in order to show that there are some translations that are more “formal” or literal, in order to emphasize meaning, and others that are more “dynamic” in order to achieve clarity. All translations fall somewhere along that scale. Second, Blomberg gives insight into the inclusive translation controversy and provides a defense for inclusive translation like the NIV 2011. While this section may reflect some frustration with false information and propaganda, Blomberg offers a reasonable overview of the issues involved. A topic missing from the chapter the reading level of a translation. Some translations use limited vocabulary and shorter sentences in order to render the text more accessible to people with limited reading skills.

One thing that is challenging in this chapter is Blomberg’s observation that there are so many Bible choices for English readers. Some languages only have the older translation and a single modern translation. Perhaps the reason for this is that Bibles are money makers for publishers. The motivation for another Bible translation may not be clarity or doctrinal fidelity, but profits for the publisher.

Anyone who teaches the Bible in church, college or seminary is often asked what Bible translation is “best.” As Blomberg shows in this chapter, any of the major translations available at Bible bookstores today is accurate and will be sufficient for a Christian for both doctrine and practice.  There is no perfect translation, but compared side-by-side, all major translations faithfully render the Hebrew and Greek of the original within the guidelines of that particular translation.

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

Can We Still Believe the Bible? – Blog Tour Begins Monday

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Starting Monday March 17, various scholars will be commenting on Craig Blomberg’s new book from Brazos, Can We Still Believe the Bible? An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions. Blomberg offers answers for six common challenges to the Bible in a modern context including the reliability of the original manuscripts, the canon, Bible translations, inerrancy, historical reliability of narrative events, and the problem of miracles. Blomberg is well-known for his contributions to the study of the Gospels and has written numerous books on these sorts of issues. I have had a copy for a couple of weeks and think it will be a valuable resource for pastors and laymen who are looking to answer misinformation that commonly circulates about the trustworthiness of the Bible.

Can We Still BelieveOne thing that makes this book valuable is that Blomberg wants to answer the critics who make the Bible less reliable by questioning manuscript evidence, canon or translation methods, but also Christians who claim too much about the Bible on these issues. In addition to what might be called apologetic issues, Blomberg includes a chapter on miracles. This is more philosophical since the miraculous is usually ruled out a priori when critics approach the Bible. This chapter also deals with the idea of myth and how that may (or may not) relate to the stories we read in the Bible.

Brazos Press has set up a website for the book with and overview of the contents as well as a number of videos from Blomberg talking about some of the issues he covers in the book. The schedule for the Blog Tour includes contributions from Daniel Wallace, Ken Schenck, Joel Watts, Lee Martin McDonald, Darrell Bock, Michael Bird, Nijay Gupta, Matthew Montonini, David Capes, and Craig Keener. I was assigned chapter 3, on the reliability of English translations of the Bible. My comments on the chapter will appear here on Thursday, March 20.

As a promotion for the book, Brazos is giving away five copies of the book and a Grand Prize of four books from Baker Academic in addition to a copy of Can We Still Believe? You can enter the giveaway starting March 17, so visit the website and check it out.

Book Review: Edward Klink III and Darian R. Lockett, Understanding Biblical Theology

Klink III, Edward W. and Darian R. Lockett. Understanding Biblical Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich. Zondervan, 2012. 193 pp. pb; $17.99. Link.

Defining biblical theology has always been a difficult problem. First, everyone who works with the Bible seems to think that their theology is “biblical” in one way or another. Almost everyone who writes a systematic theology necessarily uses the Bible and cannot read texts without doing some sort of exegesis on the text. Separating biblical from systematic theology is therefore no easy task. Second, there is occasionally some animosity between biblical and systematic theology. For many, biblical theology is the “real work” of interpreting the Bible, as opposed to systematic theology, which forces the Bible into categories in the service of dogmatic statements intended to serve denominational interests. Third, because biblical theology is often used to describe the theology of a narrow segment of the New Testament (Pauline Theology vs. Johannine Theology), the overall “plot” of the Bible was ignored.

Understanding Biblical TheologyKlink and Lockett (both Ph.D from St. Andrews, both associate professors of New Testament at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University) provide a structure for thinking about how scholars are doing biblical theology today. This necessarily involves asking questions about the relationship between the Testaments as sources for theology. How does a “New Testament Church” create theology using the Hebrew Bible? What is the relationship between the God’s people in the Old Testament and the present church? Is there a unifying theology that tells the whole story of the Bible?

The format of the book is simple. For each of the five points on their continuum, Klink and Lockett offer a chapter defining the view then a chapter examining a particular scholar as an example of how that method is worked out in practice. These approaches are set up in the book from left to right on a scale and they are roughly chronological rather “liberal to conservative.” While surveying the work of the writer, Klink and Lockett provide a short evaluation. The book concludes with a summary chart explaining how each of the five views would answer the five basic questions posed in the introduction.

Historical Description – James Barr. This view of biblical theology intentionally ignores contemporary meaning either for application or theology. As Klink and Lockett describe it, the interest of biblical theology is in “what it meant” not “what it means.” This approach will potentially result in a “theology of Paul” that is in fact different than a “theology of John.” But that is not a problem since it is not the task of biblical theology to synthesize these two authors into some sort of dogmatic theology. Klink and Lockett state that those scholars who take this approach see no relationship between the Old Testament and the New, they are “separate religions” and there is no legitimate reason to find a link between the two. This is certainly true for Barr, but I am not convinced that is always the case, especially in the light of the influence of the New Perspective on Paul and recent advances in Historical Jesus studies. These areas of study certainly qualify for this category, but they also forge a kind of continuity between the “religion of the Old Testament” and Christian theology by emphasizing the continuity between Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity.

History of Redemption – D. A. Carson.  The second and third categories are very similar. The history of Redemption view recognizes that there is a plotline that runs through the whole of scripture. While the Bible is history, it is a “special history” that tells the story of God’s work to fulfil his promise to redeem the world. In this method, certain themes are traced through the Bible (covenant, kingdom, redemption) with special attention to how those themes are developed over the history of the Bible.

Worldview-Story – N. T. Wright. While similar to the History of Redemption, Wright has placed more stress on the interconnected narrative of scripture. Since the category of “narrative” is used to describe the connection between the Testaments, more interest is paid to literary and philosophical issues and uses both historical and theological methods. It seems to me that the second and third views might have been combined since they are similar. Both are interested in the overarching plot of the Bible and drawing the Old Testament and New together into a unified theology. Klink and Lockett do make several distinctions between the two, especially with respect to the use of history and philosophy to get “behind” the story (in Wright’s method).

Canonical Approach – Brevard Childs. While Canon Criticism is growing in favor among some (younger?) scholars, Brevard Childs began working with the whole canon in the 1970s. Rather than focus on the individual units or pre-history of a text, Childs stressed the “final form” of the Canon. The placement of various traditions and how the last writer used a tradition is itself a theology that must be recognized. This method therefore recognizes that the church has a role in biblical theology since the way that textual traditions have been received can point the way forward to how those traditions ought to be developed in new contexts.

Theological Construction – Francis Watson. In this method, the Bible belongs to the confessing church and not the academy. The question of “what it meant back then” is not as important as “what it means now.” Unlike the first view (which only looks behind the text), this approach looks “in front of the text.”  While there must be exegetical and hermeneutical decisions, the interpretation of the text is concerned only with theology.

Evaluation. Klink and Lockett contribute a readable introduction to a sometimes bewildering topic. Books on method are not usually very interesting, but the use of the five scholars as examples makes the material manageable. As with any rubric of this sort, there are going to be omissions and oversights. I would have liked to see a “for further study” section for each category, perhaps in the form of an annotated bibliography so the student can find other scholars doing biblical theology using a similar method.

Nevertheless, this text serves well as a basic primer for students of the Bible who want to understand what is happening in biblical theology. It is an ideal textbook for a hermeneutics or exegesis class, but also will be a good guide for pastors and laymen who want to develop their skills as readers of the Bible.

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

Top Five Revelation Commentaries

Introduction.  Revelation commentaries can be frustrating to many readers because they do not always answer the questions people have about the final book of the New Testament. There are some excellent commentaries on Revelation, but a great many more which are just plain bad. I have commented in the past about reading Revelation as an example of apocalyptic literature which uses metaphors and other imagery to convey some sort of “literal truth.” The problem is that most people are not very good at interpreting metaphors in the context of the first-century Greco-Roman world. A good commentary will help unpack these metaphors, a bad one will twist the metaphor around and make it something unintended by the author.

Presuppositions are a major factor for selecting a commentary on Revelation. If one assumes that the book is about the future return of Jesus, then the imagery in the book takes on a prophetic value. If one assumes that the book is a veiled description of events of the first century (whether the fall of Jerusalem in A. D. 70 or persecution of Christians later in the century), then there is no “future” in the book. It is possible to read the book as a graphic description of the struggle between good and evil at any time in history, so that there is nothing in the book which is specifically predictive. (I have several posts on futurist, preterist, and idealist interpretations of Revelation.) Most recent commentaries reject a single view of the book preferring to blend two views, producing a commentary which grounds Revelation in the first century yet emphasizes the value of the book for every Christian throughout church history even to the second coming of Jesus.

One aspect of Revelation commentaries which might be frustrating is the preoccupation with John’s allusions to the Hebrew Bible or other Second Temple Period literature. This is certainly true for Aune and Beale. Both of these books are rich with potential allusions to other texts, often listing dozens of possibilities. Older commentaries are not as worried over the allusions to older books and some (especially evangelical) commentaries are not interested in parallel material in 1 Enoch or other apocalyptic literature. While I continue to find this sort of work fascinating, it is possible that the “search for allusions” has run out of steam.

David Aune, Revelation (3 Vol.; WBC; Dallas: Word, 1997). At more that 1200 pages, this commentary is the most detailed written in the Word series on any book and sets the standard for Revelation commentaries for years to come. His exegesis of the Greek text is excellent. He places the book in the context of the first century and demonstrates that much of the imagery in Revelation is at home in the apocalyptic writings popular among Jews and Christians at the end of the first century. He offers detailed textual comments and syntactical observations. Aune has an encyclopedic knowledge of Greek and Jewish source which he brings to bear on every line of the book of Revelation. For example, when he interprets the sixth seal in Rev 6, he provides a summary of “ancient prodigies,” or unnatural occurrences in Greek and Roman literature. In the space of two pages, dozens of primary sources are cited. It is possible that some (or, many) of the texts Aune cites are not particularly helpful. For example, in his comments on the angel coming down from heaven with chains to bind Satan in Rev 20:1, he lists 1 Enoch 54:3-5, 2 Apoc. Baruch 56:13, Sib. Or. 2.289, as well as Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2:4. Since all of these are examples of Jewish apocalyptic literature known in the late first century, they are all legitimate “parallel” material. But then he goes on to list several examples of chaining gods (Apollodorus 1.1.2), the Titans (Hesiod, Theog. 718) and even the chaining of Prometheus (Odyssey 11:293). While it is certain that binding Satan is a common “apocalyptic motif,” whether it is “derived” from Greco-Roman myths is more tenuous. Nevertheless, Aune’s awareness of the literature of the Second Temple Period enriches his commentary greatly.

Greg Beale, Revelation (NIGTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2000). Beale’s mammoth commentary followed Aune’s and is equal in size and value to scholarship. Beale has written a great deal on “Old Testament in the New” issues, so it is no surprise to find large sections in this commentary devoted to John’s Hebrew Bible sources. His interest is in John’s use of the Hebrew Bible so there is less reference to Greek and Roman sources than in Aune’s commentary. Beale includes a twenty page summary of his view of what constitutes an allusion and his controlling method for deciding what may be an allusion and what is not. He describes his approach to the book as a “redemptive historical form of modified idealism” (48). By this he means that the symbols of the book of Revelation had some specific referent in the first century which will provide some comfort or teaching to Christians throughout history, but will find ultimate fulfillment in the future. In the commentary proper Beale works through the Greek text phrase-by-phrase, commenting on syntactical issues where appropriate. The style of the commentary tends to use a smaller font for textual details, allowing a reader to skip over these elements. Like most readers of the Greek of Revelation, Beale puzzles over some aspects of John’s style, finding in many cases that he employs a Semitic syntax more than Greek. Beale has a number of excursuses devoted to how specific metaphors functioned in Judaism. For example, after his commentary on Rev 9:19, he has a page on serpents and scorpions in Judaism. While a page does not seem like much, there are dozens of references to the Hebrew Bible and rabbinic texts unpacking the metaphor of a scorpion. One criticism: a single 1200+ page volume is unwieldy to use, even with the lighter paper. I would have liked Eerdmans to publish this book in at least two volumes. The spine of my copy has split near the center.

Grant Osborne, Revelation (BECNT; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2002). It is hard to imagine that an 800+ page commentary should be considered brief, but in comparison to Aune and Beale, Osborne’s commentary more efficient and user-friendly. I find his introductory material very well written and insightful, celebrating what he called the “hermeneutics of humility” (16). Osborne is aware that reading Revelation generates more questions than answers and advises students of Revelation to be humble in their exegesis, willing to not understand everything in the book. He includes about 18 pages on the theology of the book. He includes two pages on Mission in Revelation, a topic which is not among the first things one thinks of when reading Revelation! Osborne’s approach to the book is to combine futurist and idealist readings of the book, with an emphasis on the future. He defines apocalyptic as “the present addressed through parallels with the future” (22). In the commentary proper, Osborne moves phrase-by-phrase through pericopes, commenting on the Greek text with transliterations provided. Greek does appear in the footnotes, where he makes more detailed syntactical observations. After the exegetical section, Osborne offers a “summary and contextualization” section, drawing out theological insights of major sections.

Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation, Revised Edition (NINTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1977, 1997). Mounce’s commentary is brief because he does not spend the time searching for John’s sources or worrying over potential parallels. While the commentary is quite aware that John stands on the foundation of the Hebrew Bible and that there is parallel material in other Jewish apocalypses, Mounce wrote his initial version of this commentary prior to the rise of scholarly preoccupation with sources. Mounce reads Revelation as reflecting his own culture, but understands that “the predictions of John…will find their final and complete fulfillment in the last days of history” (45, first ed.). He finds this blending of John’s present and future consistent with the nature of prophecy in the New Testament. In the preface to the revised edition of commentary Mounce states that he still has the same basic approach to the book and he remains a premillennialist, but he has a deeper appreciation for other views of the book. (Another difference between the editions is that the Revised uses the NIV rather that the 1901 ASB). The body of the commentary is based on the English text, with details of Greek grammar relegated to the footnotes. I think that this is a good commentary for the busy pastor or layman who wants a bit more in-depth study without the details of Aune or Beale.

George Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1972). If the measure of a classic commentary is wear and tear, then Ladd’s commentary on Revelation certainly qualifies for me. My copy 1983 reprint is fairly well marked, the spine is broken and pages are falling out. I suppose it is possible that the paperback binding was not designed to last, but I have used this book often over the years. This is a brief, easy to read commentary, but there is a great deal of depth to the book as well. With only 14 pages of introduction, Ladd is focused on the text rather than method. (In his defense, he treats the theology of the book of Revelation in his New Testament Theology.) He blends preterist and futurist methods as a representative of what is now known as ‘historic premillenialism” (see page 261 for his millennial position). Ladd reads the books as applicable to the first century, but also as a prophecy of the return of Jesus in the future. Occasionally he weighs alternate views of the book in the commentary, as he does in treating the measuring of the Temple in Rev 11, for example. The commentary proper is on the English text, only rarely does he deal with Greek directly and always in transliteration. This makes for an easy-reading commentary for the laymen.

Conclusion. There are quite a few quality studies I have left off this list to keep it to “five top commentaries.” I still consult R. H. Charles ICC Commentary, even though it is a rather dated.  I reviewed Gordon Fee’s recent commentary here, and Elaine Pagels book on early Christian apocalyptic, Revelations, here.  I am looking forward to Paige Patterson’s commentary on Revelation due in September in the NAC series. What have I omitted which you have found helpful for your study of this difficult book of the New Testament? What is the “classic” every pastor should have on their shelf?

 

Index for the Top Five Commentary Series

 

Introduction to Series on Commentaries

On Using Commentaries 

Matthew        Mark        Luke        John        Acts
Romans        1 Corinthians         2 Corinthians
Galatians         Ephesians        Philippians        Colossians
1-2 Thessalonians        Pastoral Epistles         Philemon
Hebrews        James         1 Peter         2 Peter & Jude 
Letters of John         Revelation

Conclusion:  Last Thoughts on New Testament Commentaries