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Abernethy, Andrew T. The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom: A Thematic-Theological Approach. NSBT 40; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2016. 245 pp. Pb; $25.  Link to IVP

This new contribution to the New Studies in Biblical Theology series focuses on the theme of Kingdom in the book of Isaiah. The topic of kingdom in the whole canon of Scripture is too large for a short monograph, but by limiting the discussion to Isaiah Abernethy is able to provide a reasonable foundation for understanding the book of Isaiah and its foundational role in a Christian understanding of Jesus. Abernethy’s previous book on Isaiah focused on the theme of food in Isaiah (Eating in Isaiah: Approaching the Role of Food and Drink in Isaiah’s Structure and Message. Leiden: Brill 2014, reviewed here).

abernety-isaiahIn his introduction, Abernethy describes his approach in this book as synchronic since he is interpreting the book of Isaiah as a literary whole without being concerned about the historical formation of the book. This approach recognizes the coherence of the whole book of Isaiah through a network of intentional literary associations in each of the major sections of the book. Be he is quick to point out that although questions of historical process for the formation of the book are set aside, history is important for interpreting the book of Isaiah. He will divide this large book into the standard three sections commonly used by scholars so that Isaiah 1-39 are rooted in the Assyrian era, Isaiah 40-55 are rooted in the Babylonian era (with 44-45 in the Persian era). Isaiah 55-66 represent the struggles of the post-exilic period in the light of the eschaton. This “metahistory” is derived from the final form of the book regardless of how the book was formed.

The whole book of Isaiah “endeavours to orient the allegiance of its readers around a king, namely YHWH” (13). The first three chapters survey what Isaiah says about God in the three major units of Isaiah. After commenting on a unit in Isaiah, Abernethy offers a few paragraphs on the unit in the canon of Scripture, specifically on how the unit “bears witness to Christ: (29). These brief reflections are intended to be more than sterile “Old Testament in the New” lists. Isaiah 1-39, especially since some of the texts Abernethy uses are not directly cited in the New Testament. For example, there is no direct citation of Isaiah 25:6-8 in the New Testament, but Abernethy finds intertextual allusions or echoes in the Last Supper (cf. Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Last Supper, 448-58 or my Jesus the Bridegroom, 202-4). Other canonical reflections seem strained For example, Abernethy relates Isaiah 36-37 to kingdom language in Matthew, especially the interactions between Jesus and Pilate. This particular example falls well below even a nebulous allusion, although the point may be more clear if this were a monograph on a biblical theology of Kingdom in Matthew.

Chapter 1 reviews the presentation of God as the “king now and to come” (Isaiah 1-39). Abernethy begins with Isaiah’s throne vision to argue that God is the only king and that he is about to render “purifying judgment” on his people (20). In fact, the theme of Isaiah 1-39 can be fairly described as “who is the real king?” The king in Jerusalem is dead, and despite his boasts, Sennacherib is not the true king. The throne vision therefore stands in the center of Isaiah 1-12 in order to throw light on the narrative of Isaiah 1-5 and 7-12 by focusing on the thrice-holy enthroned king. This king will judge the nations and rule from Zion (24:21-23) where he will host a feast for all people, destroying the ultimate enemy, death (25:6-8). This king will reign in beauty, and the eyes of the people will see him (Isaiah 33:17). Abernethy points out this is particularly stirring when read in the light of Isaiah 6. Isaiah sees God and is filled with dread; in Isaiah 33 seeing God is a “vision of hope” (43-4).

In the chapter 2, Abernethy examines Isaiah 40-55 and describes God as the only saving king. Much has happened between Isaiah 39 and 40; Israel has been sent back out into the wilderness and they are to prepare for God’s return. Although it is possible the wilderness is a positive image recalling Israel’s early, pure relationship with God, for Abernethy the wilderness “symbolizes Zion’s destruction” (57). God’s kingly presence will manifest itself as a shepherd king who leads his people out of the dangerous wilderness and back to the good land. Abernethy draws parallels between Isaiah 40:1-11 and 52:7-10, arguing these texts function “to orient our hopes, our desires for comfort, our longings for vindication around the prophetic declarations that God himself is promising to come as king” (65).

In his third chapter, God is “the warrior, international, and compassionate king” (Isaiah 56-66). These chapters are concerned with “eschatological judgment as a collar to salvation” (83), looking forward to a time when God will function as warrior king who will pacify the nations. In order to demonstrate this, Abernethy lays out a chiastic arrangement of 56-66 which sets Isaiah 60-62 in the center. This chapter examines the fourth level of the chiasm, the anticipation of God’s coming salvation (59:15-21) and the final expression of that salvation (63:1-6). The warrior king appears but only sees injustice (59:15a-16), therefore delaying his vindication of his people. When he finally arrives, it is a day of fury and vengeance (63:4-6). Here Abernethy draws a canonical refection to two images of Jesus in the New Testament, first initiating redemption (Luke 1:51) and rendering final judgment (Rev 14:9-11; 19:15-16).

As a conclusion to the first three chapters, Abernethy offers a short theology of kingship in Isaiah (112-17). The recurring themes in Isaiah are seeing the glory of the king, the international king enthroned in Zion; the coordination of judgment and salvation; history and eschatology. These themes are tied to the historical situation of the book (Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian eras) but by the end of the book Isaiah “directs our attention to the eschatological future” (117).

Having surveyed what Isaiah says about the kingship of God, Abernethy devotes chapter 4 to the “lead agents” of the king in each subsection of the book. First, by “lead agent” Abernethy means the character through whom God acts to accomplish salvation and judgment. Although the obvious term to use is “messiah” Abernethy prefers “lead agent” in order to avoid confusion about how Isaiah presents the agent of salvation in each unit of the book. He finds a different lead agent for each of the three units of the book. For Isaiah 1-39, the lead agent is a Davidic ruler who establishes righteousness and justice in the land. In Isaiah 40-55 the lead agent is the Servant who also brings justice to the nations by providing atonement. In Isaiah 56-66 it is the “messenger” of Isaiah 61 who declares God’s salvation at the very beginning of the eschaton.  As Abernethy concedes, most Christian evangelical readers will see all three of these figures as the Messiah, Jesus (169). However, each lead figure functions in their own historical context and are distinct characters from the perspective of the book of Isaiah. The claim of the New Testament is that Jesus takes on all three distinct roles.

Abernethy is content to allow some ambiguity in Isaiah with respect to how these lead agents function as messianic figures. I would suggest the ambiguity explains the variety of messianic expectations in the Second Temple period. If Abernethy is correct and there are at least three lead agents of the eschaton in Isaiah, Second Temple readers of Isaiah seem to have developed one aspect of the coming messiah (such as a Davidic king) and downplayed or missed the others (such as the suffering servant). Early Jewish Christianity may be unique in associating Jesus with all three of the lead agents described by Abernethy.

Finally, chapter 5 concerns “the realm and the people of God’s kingdom.” Abernethy describes Isaiah’s view of the kingdom as “bifocal” since sometimes God’s kingdom is the entire cosmos (40:28) in in other contexts the kingdom is particularized as Zion (65:17). Jerusalem and Zion are a microcosm of the universal kingdom of God (176), and Abernethy refuses to discuss how physical Jerusalem “fits into God’s plan on this side of the cross” (179). Isaiah is clear, however, the people who participate in this future kingdom will be purified and redeemed remnant who are obedient to the King and trust completely in God. The theme of trust is clear in the Ahaz and Hezekiah stories, but Abernethy shows how this theme appears in each of the sections of the boo (Isa 50:10, for example). This kingdom will also be an international community. Abernethy shows that Isaiah 2:2-4 and 66:18-24 frame the book with the prediction that in the latter times Gentiles will be part of God’s kingdom. Although the nations do participate in the eschatological kingdom in some way, I would point out the blood staining the warrior king in Isaiah 63:3 is that of Gentile nations who have opposed God and oppressed his people.

Conclusion. Abernethy contributes an overview of the whole book of Isaiah using the theme of the kingdom of God. Although there are other themes in Isaiah, kingship provides the reader with enough structure to make sense of the massive amount of material in the book of Isaiah. By describing the lead agents of God’s salvation in each unit of the book, Abernethy has provided a useful rubric for understanding how messianic expectations developed in different directions in the Second Temple period.

This is a very readable book for both scholar and layman. Abernethy is clear and structured in his presentation with occasional allusions to pop culture (Batman, the Matrix and Lord of the Rings). Although presenting an important scholarly argument about the book of Isaiah, his canonical reflections have a pastoral interest for the Christian reader. In fact, Abernethy offers two possible teaching outlines in an appendix for use in a small group Bible Study or Sunday School class.

 

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.

Porter, Stanley E. The Apostle Paul: His Life, Thought and Letters. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 487 pp. Pb; $40.   Link to Eerdmans

Stanley Porter’s new introduction to Paul is intended as an updated and reworked version of his Early Christianity and Its Sacred Literature (written with Lee Martin McDonald, Hendrickson, 2000). Porter argues for many traditional views in this book, such as Pauline authorship of all thirteen letters of Paul and the unity of the letters. He rejects pseudonymity as an explanation for the Prison and Pastoral epistles. Since the book is intended for use in the classroom, Porter presents alternative views as well. In addition, he more or less rejects the New Perspective on Paul, offering some sharp criticisms of Sanders and Dunn especially in his discussion of the Law (111-121). Porter has one or two ideas in the book which he considers “new territory” in Pauline studies, such as his belief Paul had seen and heard Jesus during his earthly ministry or that Paul himself was the major force behind collecting his letters.

porter-aposlte-paulThe first part of this book includes six chapters dealing with Paul’s life and letters. There are more issues which could be included in this section, but for the most part these are issues Porter has already written on in the past. Each chapter in this section concludes with a bibliography divided into basic and advanced categories.

In his first chapter, Porter describes “Paul the person” (including appearance, upbringing and education, relationship with Rome, occupation, etc.) Porter evaluates what is usually said about Paul’s background and concludes his associate with Gamaliel is highly likely, although he did not progress far in the Greco-Roman educational system. With respect to citizenship. Porter agrees with Bruce Rapske that it is plausible Paul was a citizen of Rome and a devout Jew at the same time.

There are two problems with this view. First, Paul never refers to his citizenship in his letters and second, Roman citizens would have been required to participate in the imperial cult. Porter points out that Roman citizenship did not require participation in Emperor Worship until the second century and Jews may have been given some level of autonomy which allowed them to avoid this practice. He includes a short section on Paul’s conversion. Although Paul’s experience is similar to a prophetic call, the term conversion is “entirely appropriate to describe what happened to Paul” (31, contra the New Perspective).

Porter covers one additional topic in this section which will be more controversial: Did Paul know Jesus? The consensus view is Paul did not meet Jesus nor hear him preach. Porter claims this is an unwarranted assumption based on 2 Corinthians 5:16. Porter points out that Jesus and Paul lived “intertwined parallel lives.” Since Paul was in Jerusalem and studying as a Pharisee under Gamaliel, it would be remarkable if he had not at least heard about Jesus. Second, Porter thinks Acts and Paul’s letters include claims to having heard Jesus teach. For example, in 1 Corinthians 9:1 Paul states “have I not seen the Lord?”

The consensus view is this prefers to the Damascus Road experience, but Porter calls this “sheer assumption” (35). Since the context concerns the other apostles (who had seen Jesus during his lifetime and after the resurrection), it is possible Paul also refers to seeing Jesus in the same way. He also points out Paul refers to “Jesus our Lord” rather than his more typical “Christ Jesus.”  Porter admits each of his points are “slender threads,” but he concludes it is at least plausible Paul heard Jesus teach (38). For the details of this argument, see Porter’s monograph When Paul Met Jesus: How an Idea Got Lost in History (Cambridge, 2016).

The final issue Porter treats in this chapter is the value of the book of Acts for understanding Paul. The traditional view that Luke was a physician who was a close friend and traveling companion of Paul after Acts 16 has been challenged. There are in fact many chronological details in the letters of Paul which are not reflected in the book of Acts (Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians, for example). He presents five common arguments against the idea the writer of Acts knew Paul and provides an answer for each, concluding that the book of Acts “can be used to reconstruct a fairly coherent chronology of Paul’s life” (44). The writer of Acts was not a disciple of Paul, but he does reinforce the picture of Paul drawn from the letters.

In Chapter 2 Porter develops a Pauline chronology using the letters and the book of Acts. For the most part Porter’s chronology of Paul’s life and ministry is more or less traditional, with the exception of his dating of Galatians for the earliest letter of Paul, prior to the conference in Acts 15. He offers a six-point outline of Paul’s career beginning with his conversion in A.D. 33 and ending with his re-imprisonment in 64-65 and execution as late as 67. He places the letters into this outline, several times if there is significant debate over the date (Galatians, for example). This chapter also includes the evidence for several of Paul’s imprisonments, including Ephesus (not mentioned in Acts) and Corinth (“this view has very little to commend it,” 67). Other than a dismissive footnote, Porter does not interact with the recent contribution by Douglas Campbell’s Framing Paul (Eerdmans 2015).

Chapter 3 discusses potential backgrounds to Paul’s thought. He divides the evidence into two sections, Greco-Roman or Jewish. Porter surveys Paul’s Greco-Roman influence beginning with his use of Greek and epistolary style as well as his contact with the larger Hellenistic world. With respect to his Jewish background, Porter discusses Paul’s interpretation of Scripture (clearly more Jewish than Greek). He includes teaching in synagogues in this section, although this method of ministry is not mentioned in the letters. As Porter points out, this may be in part a result of Paul’s short time doing synagogue ministry in each city, and the fact it often ended in disaster (92).

Porter offers a short survey of Pauline theology in Chapter 4. He divide the material into two categories. First, there are a number of fundamental beliefs Paul clearly holds but does not argue. For example, Paul believes in God, although he does not argue for his existence nor is there a sustained theological statement in the letters on what he believes about God. Porter includes Jesus as messiah as well as Jesus as divine in this category as well. A second category is “developed beliefs.” These are theological beliefs which are developed at greater length than the fundamental beliefs and are consequently the subject of more scholarly debate. For example, Porter includes justification and Paul’s view of the Law under this heading and spends significant space discussing the challenge of the New Perspective on Paul on these two important issues. There are short sections on reconciliation, sanctification, salvation, the triumph of God the gospel, the church, and Jesus’s death and resurrection. Although there are some eschatological ideas in the section on God’s triumph and the resurrection, contemporary interest in Paul’s view of the future should result in a more robust section on Paul as an apocalyptic thinker. Some of this material does appear in the section on 1 Thessalonians, although remarkably there is very little on 2 Thessalonians 2.

Chapter 5 deals with Paul as a letter writer, a topic which has become very popular in recent years. Porter therefore briefly comments on the purposes of the letters and the use of amanuenses, but the main section of the chapter is a short introduction to the form of ancient Greek letters as applied to Paul’s epistles. There are similarities, but also important differences. For example, Paul makes use of paraenesis, “concentrated groups of admonishments regarding Christian behavior” (149), although it is difficult to distinguish how these sections relate to the bod of the letters.

Chapter 6 includes two related topics concerning authorship and the Pauline canon. Porter has written on the topic of pseudonymity in other contexts and concludes rather strongly that pseudonymity was not as commonly accepted in the ancient world as is sometimes claimed, and less so among Christian literature. There are examples of “noble lies” in which a writer attempts to deceive their readers by creating a new letter in the voice of an authority such as Paul, but as Porter points out, even a noble lie is still a lie. In this section he interacts with Bart Ehrman (Forgeries and Counterforgeries, Oxford 2013), concluding that his criteria are “highly subjective and ultimately indecisive” (166). For Porter, the real problem with pseudonymity in the New Testament is the implication of deception both in terms of the author and the audience. For example, if 1 Timothy was not written by Paul to Timothy, then the whole situation of the letter is a deception. Therefore Porter finds it more plausible to accept all thirteen letters as coming from Paul.

The second part of this chapter is likely to be more controversial. Rarely does an introduction to Paul’s letters treat the formation of the Pauline canon in any detail. The standard way of explaining the Pauline collection is a slow evolution of the canon over the 150 years since Paul’s death, perhaps with the final collection occurring after a period of lapsed interest in Paul. On the other hand, there are several competing theories concerning an individual who collected the letters, such as Timothy or a “Pauline school.” For Porter, these suggestions are on the right track, but who better than Paul to select the letters to be collected and circulated in his name? Porter supports his assertion by pointing to the common literary practice of retaining a copy of a letter after it was sent. In this view, Paul retained “official” copies of all this letters, from which he selected some for inclusion in a Pauline corpus. This might account for why some letters such as the Corinthian Correspondence are missing. They have been lost during Paul’s travels, or simply not included by Paul’s own decision (although Porter does not suggest this, the “severe letter” to Corinth could have been omitted by Paul since it was no longer relevant after he was reconciled with the church). Porter has worked out an interesting scenario, although it is built largely on assumptions and silence.

The second part of the book consists of six chapters of introductory material for the Pauline letters in chronological order (Galatians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Corinthians, Romans, the Prison Epistles, and the Pastoral Epistles). Each chapter covers any unique background issues unique to the letter, then Porter summarizes the contents. For example, the north vs. south Galatia theories, the order to 1-2 Thessalonians, the unity of Romans, etc. Each chapter concludes with a basic bibliography divided into commentaries and monographs.

Conclusion. In the introduction to the book, Porter expresses his initial hope that this book would serve as an up-to-date replacement for F. F. Bruce’s Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, although by the time he finished his book it ended up different than Bruce (xi). To a large extent, Porter’s Paul the Apostle is a worthy successor to Bruce’s classic book on Paul. Although he provides a tenacious defense of many traditional views (such as authorship, continuity with Acts), Porter does not simply repeat standard arguments typically found in Pauline introductions. His presentation of alternative views makes this an ideal textbook for a seminary class on Paul’s letters. But the book is written in a clear style which will make in accessible to pastors, teachers or anyone interested in the “state of Pauline studies” today.

 

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

Lightfoot, J. B. The Epistles of 2 Corinthians and 1 Peter: A Newly Discovered Commentary. Edited by Ben Witherington III and Todd D. Still. The Lightfoot Legacy Set 3; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2016. 317 pp Hb; $40.00.   Link to IVP

In the last two years IVP published the first two volumes of newly discovered commentaries by the late nineteenth century scholar J. B. Lightfoot. In the forward to that volume Ben Witherington recounted how he discovered hand-written manuscripts several long-forgotten commentaries J. B. Lightfoot in the spring of 2013. With this commentary on 2 Corinthians and 1 Peter all of manuscripts discovered by Witherington have been published.

lightfoot-corinthainsCompared to the other two volumes in this series, the commentaries on 2 Corinthians or 2 Peter are brief and fragmentary, 2 Corinthians runs about seventy pages and 1 Peter has a twenty page introduction with a mere nineteen pages of commentary with the notes breaking off in 1 Peter 3. Many of the comments on 2 Corinthians are simply textual notes with only a word or two of comment. Chapter 9, for example is about a half-page of text.

Since the commentary is less than 100 pages, the editors have included several additional essays by Lightfoot to round out the volume. As an introduction to 2 Corinthians commentary Lightfoot wrote a “Pauline Prolegomena” on the chronology and context of the letter. The essay interacts with a German text on Pauline chronology by Wieseler published in 1848, although these pages take the form of notes on Wieseler’s work.

Following the 1 Peter commentary are several appendices. The first is an essay on the mission of Titus in 2 Corinthians originally published in The Journal of Sacred and Classical Philology (1885). This essay was originally collected in Biblical Essays (1904, reprinted by Baker, 1979). The second appendix is a reprint or some lectures notes on “St. Paul’s Preparation for Ministry” (1863), also reprinted in Biblical Essays. Appendix three is a sermon preached in 1877 on 2 Corinthians 3:6 entitled “The Letter Killeth but the Spirit Giveth Life.” The sermon was preached at St Paul’s in Cambridge and collected in an 1893 volume.

The fourth appendix reprints “Lessons of History from the Cradle of Christianity.” Witherington had discovered this essay among Lightfoot’s papers, although a later edited version was published in the Durham University Journal in the 1980s. This manuscript was handwritten timed essay, eventually edited and published (and subsequently reprinted in the Durham University Journal in 1987).

Appendix five reprints “The Christian Ministry.” This 90 page essay first appear in Lightfoot’s commentary on Philippians. As Witherington comments in his note, editing this lengthy essay was the last scholarly work undertaken by B. F. Wescott, longtime mentor and friend of Lightfoot. This edition includes several pages of notes from Lightfoot not included in my copy of his Philippians commentary (Zondervan reprint, 1973).

Appendices six and seven essays evaluating the contribution of Lightfoot published in a 1992 Durham University Journal celebrating the centenary of Lightfoot’s death. First, C. K. Barrett’s considers Lightfoot as biblical commentator and James Dunn offers an essay looking back at the influence of Lightfoot, especially his commitment to historical inquiry. Initially this took the form of responding to D. F. Strauss. Lightfoot calls Strauss a “mythicizer” who dismisses the search for historical truth in the biblical records as hopeless. Lightfoot strenuously disagreed and sought to study early Christian with historical rigor, believing there is nothing to fear from the “full light of science and criticism” (cited by Dunn, 307). I find this a less-than-common attitude among conservative biblical scholars more than 100 years after Lightfoot.

Conclusion. When I reviewed the previous volumes in this series, I asked why a modern reader care about a lost commentary written by a scholar who died in 1889? That IVP Academic would be interested in reprinting the notes for commentaries never completed by a scholar who died more than a hundred years ago is a testimony of the influence Lightfoot had on scholarship. That Ben Witherington and Todd Still would devote effort to organize the volumes is a significant testimony to Lightfoot’s long shadow over contemporary biblical studies, even if that influence is not always recognized.

My main criticism of this volume is that these are not newly discovered commentaries, but brief notes which Lightfoot may have later used to write a commentary. The bulk of this book are reprinted essays by Lightfoot and two celebrating his legacy. This does not limit the value of the three volumes of this series published by IVP Academic. The series is a fitting tribute to an important scholar and will serve as worthy introduction of Lightfoot to many younger students of the Bible and early Christianity.

 

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.

Hays, J. Daniel. The Temple and the Tabernacle. A Study of God’s Dwelling Places from Genesis to Revelation. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2016. 208 pp. Pb; $19.99. Link to Baker.

In this richly illustrated book Daniel Hays presents a biblical theology of the Temple. The book is written at the popular level and will serve as an excellent introduction for the layman or pastor seeking a deeper understanding of how the Temple functions throughout the Bible. More importantly, Hays avoids allegorical excesses which tend to find too much in the symbolism of the Tabernacle and the Temple.

hays-templeThe first chapter sets the agenda for the book by introducing the reader to the vocabulary used for temples in the ancient world. Although many of these terms refer to specific buildings, Hays points out this vocabulary often refers to a heavenly tabernacle or temple. In Hebrews 8-9, for example, there is a heavenly sanctuary in which Jesus completes the final sacrifice. From this it is clear Hays is interested in the theological importance of temple.

Hays argues Genesis presents Eden as “God’s Garden Temple.” This brief chapter is similar to “garden as temple” studies such as John Walton, Lost World of Genesis (IVP 2015) or Greg Beale, Temple and the Church’s Mission IVP, 2004). Hays lists nine features of the garden which indicate “Eden was indeed very much like a temple of God” (9). To be evicted from the garden was to be sent out of the presence of God. In the later Old Testament, the Tabernacle and Temple represent God’s physical presence as he dwells among his people.

Three chapters are dedicated to the Tabernacle and Temple in the Old Testament. Hays begins with a survey of the construction of the Tabernacle, including the Ark of the Covenant. This discussion deals with the long section in Exodus describing the command to construct the Tabernacle and the construction of the shrine. He includes sections on the various furniture in the tabernacle including the Table of the Bread of the Presence, the Golden Lampstand, the incense holders, and other architectural features. With respect to the history of the Tabernacle, Hays could have included the movement of the shrine in the early part of Samuel and the so-called Ark Narrative (1 Sam 4-6) and the shrine at Nob (1 Sam 21). In addition, David’s restoration of the Ark of the Covenant to a shrine in Jerusalem (2 Sam 6) merits more attention since in anticipates later the building of the Temple. Given the parameters of the book, the omissions are understandable. Not every text can be covered in equal detail in a popular level book.

Hays concludes the chapter with a comment on the appropriate use of typology in the study of the Tabernacle. Popular preachers and teachers have often gone crazy in their interpretations of the curtains and the colors in the Tabernacle in order to tease out some characteristic of Jesus Christ or the Gospel. Although the worship conducting in the Tabernacle anticipated the sacrifice of Christ, the Tabernacle itself should not be allegorized.

Hays offers a detailed contrast between the Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple. Here he lays out a great deal of Scripture to show that Solomon’s temple was the product of human design in contrast to the Tabernacle, which was designed by God. He argues it is “clear and undeniable that the Solomon story in first Kings 1-11 is intertextuality connected to the story of the Exodus” (85). Hays provides a detailed description of the various items of furniture and architectural features of the Temple. There are several accompanying charts and graphs to illustrate this section.

Just as the key theological point of the Tabernacle was the presence of God, the departure of the presence of God from the Temple is the key theological point of Ezekiel 8-11. Ezekiel has a vision of God’s presence leaving the Temple, allowing Babylon to destroy it. But Ezekiel’s prophecy concludes with a future restoration of the Temple. Hays deals with the differences between Solomon’s Temple in this future temple. Certainly Ezekiel is a key prophet with respect to the theology of the Temple, Hays could have improved his discussion of the Temple by including Isaiah’s call (which Hays does mention briefly but does not deal with the details of the vision or discuss whether Isaiah sees a heavenly Temple). In addition, Jeremiah’s condemnation of Jerusalem’s confidence in the Temple (esp. Jer 7) is critically important for understanding the disaster of the destruction of the Temple in 586 B.C.

The Old Testament material concludes with a discussion of the Cherubim. He compares these angelic beings to other ancient near Eastern creature appearing in various temples in the Ancient Near East. He also briefly wonders what happened to the Ark of the Covenant and deals with several of the legends it developed as a result of the disappearance of the Ark.

Hays describes the rebuilding of the Temple in the intertestamental period (chapter 6). He begins with the return from exile in the struggle of as Ezra and Haggai to rebuild the temple. (This is the order given in the heading on page 127, despite the fact Haggai was active when the temple was first rebuilt, before 515 B.C. Ezra does not arrive in Jerusalem until 458 B.C.) The bulk of this chapter describes the splendor of Herod’s temple. This section is richly illustrated with photographs from Jerusalem as well as the model of Jerusalem at the Israel Museum. Since he is interested in the theology of the Temple, Hays is quick to point out there is “no evidence the presence of God ever resided in the most Holy Place in Herod’s Temple” (165).

In the New Testament, the Temple (chapter 7) Hays begins by surveying the references to the Temple in the Gospels and Acts. As he puts it, “the presence of God did not return to the temple until Jesus Christ walked through its gates” (167). During his final week teaching in the Temple, Jesus functioned like an Old Testament prophet, condemning the worship there as hypocritical.

With respect to how New Testament authors understood the Temple in the present age, with Paul’s description of the church as the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3, Eph 2:21-22). Although he has used Hebrews 8-9 the book of Hebrews which uses tabernacle and temple imagery to describe Jesus his work in providing atonement. It is at this point in the book he discusses Ezekiel’s temple vision and deals with the very difficult problem of the fulfillment of the prophecy. As he says, “scholars are widely widely divided over the meaning of Ezekiel’s vision” and the details “are problematic if interpreted literally” (181). For example, Hays understands Jesus’ “living water” (John 7:38) as an allusion to the river flowing out of the mountain in Ezekiel.

It is disappointing that there is only two pages devoted to the temple in the book of Revelation, and then focusing only on the final two chapters of the book. There is more Temple imagery in Revelation than just those two chapters. For example, the Ark of the Covenant appears in Rev 11:19 and there are several references to the altar of God (14:18). Some of the imagery of worship seems to evoke the Old Testament temple. Since the subtitle of this book includes “Genesis to Revelation” one would expect more attention to the final book of the New Testament and temple imagery.

Finally, Hays offers a short meditation on the meaning of the Temple for modern Christians. This chapter has a pastoral emphasis, focusing on the church as the presence of God. If the church is in fact the “temple of the Holy Spirit,” then there are implications for our worship.

Conclusion. The book includes photographs, illustrations and other charts which will assist the reader in visualizing the Tabernacle and Temple. The book is printed on heavy, glossy paper so the full-color illustrations clear. Hays includes a great deal of Scripture in each chapter. This is significant since his goal is a biblical theology of Temple.  Because this is a popular level biblical theology, there are some frustrating omissions, but these ultimately do not distract from the overall value of this book. Hays has contributed a useful introduction to the history and theology of the Temple which will provide important background for students of both the Old and New Testament.

 

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

Morales, L. Michael. Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? A Biblical Theology of the Book of Leviticus. New Studies in Biblical Theology 37. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2015. 190 pgs., Pb.; $22.00 Link to IVP

In this contribution to the NSBT series, L. Michael Morales examines the theology of the often overlooked book of Leviticus as the center of the Pentateuch. Morales begins by describing the placement of the Lampstand and the Table of the Presence in the Tabernacle. The Lampstand appears to have been intentionally placed to shine light on the bread arranged on the table in order to visually portray God’s intention that his people should live continually in his presence. The book of Leviticus is about “dwelling with God in the house of God” (20). In the first chapter of the book Morales argues the Pentateuch is “shaped as a journey led by YHWH to himself at Mount Sinai” (37) where Israel is given the house of the Lord, the Tabernacle. Leviticus stands at the center of the Pentateuch in order to instruct God’s people how they may “ascend the mountain of the Lord” and live in the presence of the glory of their God.

Morales-who-may-ascendHumans are unable to live in the presence of God because of the rebellion of Eden. In the second chapter of the book Morales describes this “longing for Eden” as the foreground for reading Leviticus as the center of the Pentateuch. God created Eden as a mountain temple in which humans were placed to worship God and Genesis itself provides a “cultic cosmology” as humans move away from life within the order of Creation to death and chaos (49). Adam becomes an exile from God’s presence and wanders east, prevent from returning to the presence of God by cherubim. Because of their rebellion, humans are exiled from the presence of God in Eden and cannot return to God’s presence.

Israel has an opportunity to “Return to Eden” in the book of Exodus (Chapter 3). The narrative context of Leviticus stands on the foundation of the redeemed people of God passing through the through the waters of chaos as they are led to the mountain of God. The goal of Israel’s redemption from Egypt was worship at the house of God (82) at another mountain of God, Sinai (86). There is a crisis at this point since no one is able to ascend the Mountain of the Lord. Only Moses is permitted to go up Sinai in his role as mediator. For Morales, the mountain represents approaching God in worship (89).

The Tabernacle is introduced after the covenant in Exodus (Exod 25-40). The Tabernacle is the way back to the living in the presence of God, but the book of Exodus ends with a another crisis: no one is able to enter the Tabernacle because it is filled with the Glory of God (Exod 40:35).

This crisis is answered by the book of Leviticus. In chapters 4-6 Morales demonstrates that the overall structure of Leviticus is a way of dealing with the uncleanliness which separates man from God, with the Day of Atonement at the center of not only Leviticus, but the whole Petnateuch. Leviticus 1-8 describe the sacrificial cult as a journey back to the presence of God, yet there is another crisis in Leviticus 9-10. At the very moment Israel experiences the presence of God and the priest begin their sacrificial ministry, Nadab and Abihu make unauthorized sacrifices and fall under God’s judgment (Lev 10). Morales suggests Nadab and Abihu may have drunkenly attempted to go past the veil which separates the glory of God from the people (149). They were unfit to be in God’s presence, so Leviticus 11-15 represents a “cleansing the house of God.”

For many Bible readers, the laws on clean and unclean in Leviticus 11-15 seem random and focused on matters which are not related to real spirituality. But as Morales points out, these chapters describe what it means to be clean, or “fit for the Presence of God” and what it means to be holy, or “belonging to God.” Things that are profane cause uncleanliness and therefore separate humans from God. They can be made clean, and clean things can be sanctified so they are fit for God’s presence. The Tabernacle is therefore a “sacred bubble . . . set within a sea of uncleanliness” (161). The most important demonstration of this concept is the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16. On this day, an Adam-like priest approaches the presence of God with blood of atonement and the way back to the Lord is opened. This is a reversal of Adam’s expulsion to the east as the priest walks past the cherubim guarding the way back to Eden, For Morales, this is a “liturgical drama” (176). But there is also a sacred geography present on the Day of Atonement as well: the scapegoat carries sin into the wilderness, back to the chaos of non-creation (179).

This reentry into the divine presence is the key to understanding Israel’s call to holiness in Leviticus 17-22. Returning to the symbolism of the lampstand and bread of the Presence, Israel is to continually live in the light of God. The purpose of the lengthy “holiness code” is to deal with the crisis of uncleanliness which might prevent Israel from experiencing the presence of God. The goal in this unit is always communion and fellowship with God.

Having described Leviticus as the center of the Pentateuch, Morales traces the movement from Sinai and the tabernacle to Zion and Solomon’s Temple (chapter 7). Zion will be the mountain of God when Israel finally enters the land, but Morales sees the place of Abraham’s sacrifice (Moriah) as pointing ahead to Zion. Unlike Sinai, Zion will be the permanent place of God’s habitation (227), even though Israel’s unfaithfulness results in another “exile to the east.” After the exile Israel will return to Zion as a new Eden, citing Isaiah 51:3 (237). The prophets also look forward to a future when God’s presence will return to a “new Zion” (255).

This prophetic expectation leads Morales to conclude the book with an intra-canonical reading of his “drama of Leviticus,” from the earthly Zion to the heavenly Mount Zion. For the Gospel of John, the incarnation is the means by which God dwells once again with his people (260) and the sacrifice of Jesus at Passover deals with the ultimate uncleanliness separating humans from the glory of God. This is perhaps the weakest point in Morales’s typology, since in Leviticus it was the Day of Atonement which opened access to God, not the Passover. This is of course a problem for any attempt to create a typology between the Law and Jesus. But Morales is able to make the connection because the original the Passover provided redemption for Israel and brought then to Sinai; the new Passover initiates a new exodus in the Resurrection (277). Ultimately the eschaton will be the decent of the messianic kingdom to earth (299). Revelation 20-21 include a great deal of Eden language, including the Tree of Life.

Conclusion. Morales has contributed a very readable book on the theology of Leviticus. He places Leviticus in its immediately canonical context as the center of the Pentateuch. Although he does not develop his thesis for Numbers and Deuteronomy in as much detail as for Genesis and Exodus, it is clear the book of Leviticus is designed around the Day of Atonement as the means by which access to God is opened for Israel.

Since he attempts to read the theme of “ascending the mountain of God” across the canon, I would have expected Isaiah 2 and 25:6-8 to be more important to the argument of the book. Both texts refer to gathering of all the nations to the mountain of God in the eschatological age to worship in the presence of God. This shortcoming is a result of a limited section on the prophets, so it is understandable that he is unable to cover all of the reference to mountains in the prophets.

I have one minor problem with the book, and that is the overuse of the word “drama” as a metaphor for the book of Leviticus and the plotline of the Pentateuch. I understand this is a popular way to describe the movement of a book in biblical studies, but it has become an overused metaphor.

Nevertheless, I highly recommend this book not only for those interested in Leviticus, but also for the theology of the Pentateuch.

 

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.

 

Baker, Mike, J. K. Jones, and Jim Probst. We Speak: Proclaiming Truth in and Age of Talk. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2015. 189 pp. Pb.; $16.00  Link to IVP including a 3 minute video

This book is intended to accompany a set of curriculum produced by Eastview Christian Church in Normal, Illinois where all three authors serve as pastors. Baker says he was struck by Acts 4:20, “we cannot help but speak about what we have seen and heard.” Using this as a kind of mission statement for the church, Baker argues the believer cannot help speak the Gospel since we have witnesses so much through the work of Christ.

Baker-We-SpeakEach of Mike Baker’s seven chapters develop an aspect speaking the Gospel to a distracted world.  These brief reflections (no more than ten pages) are focused on some motivation to communicate the gospel using illustrations from Scripture. For example, two chapters concern speaking the Gospel in weakness (Paul) and suffering (1 Peter). In the second chapter he sketches the basics of the Gospel as “good news” which we ought to freely share to any and all who will listen. This what Peter said in Acts 4:20, but this is difficult for many Christians.

J. K. Jones contributes five “daily devotions” based on each week’s lesson. These are tied to the lesson and are no more than a page each. Like most “devotionals” Jones cites Scripture, offers and illustration followed by a short encouragement to live out the week’s lesson.

Jim Probst a seven-session weekly group study guide by to guide a group as they work through the lessons. He suggests activities for each week (“gather, grow, give, go”), including discussion questions and assignments for the next week. The study guide follows the main text of the book and should be easy for small group leaders to follow.

There is a companion DVD available which includes brief weekly video teachings by all three pastors. I did not view the DVD, but based on the book this seems to be a good small group study which will help Christians to overcome some objections or obstacles to sharing their faith.  We Speak: Proclaiming Truth in and Age of Talk ought to be considered by churches wishing to enhance their evangelism through small group studies.

 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.

Borthwick, Paul. Great Commission, Great Compassion. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2015.  Link to IVP

Paul Borthwick is a missiologist who teaches at Gordon College and has contributed several important books on missions and evangelism. This short book uses the Great Commission as a model of evangelism. The book divides into two sections; the first develops the biblical foundations for evangelism based on the Great Commissions(s). The Borthwick-great-commissionsecond develops a number of “lifestyle imperatives” necessary for successful evangelism. Borthwick offers insights based on Scripture and illustrations from his experience in cross-cultural missions in this encouraging book. His goal is it write a simple, clear text which equips people to do the work of evangelism.

Under the heading of “biblical foundations.” Borthwick uses five commissions from Jesus as a model for doing evangelism (“kingdom mission”) in the church today. Since these are the last words of Jesus in the Gospels, he observes that Jesus commanded his disciples to go, to “be on mission, to be 24/7 available as witnesses and to join the work he started” (29). Borthwick blends all five final words of Jesus in canonical order (Matt 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:45-49; Acts 1:8; John 20:21-23).

There is nothing shocking in Borthwick’s presentation, although I would point out a few oddities. First, he prioritizes Matthew 28:18-20 as the “Great Commission,” a traditional name for the last words of Jesus to his disciples in Matthew. Chronologically these are not the last words of Jesus, Acts 1:8 are just prior to the Ascension. Second, I think he could have omitted Mark 16:15-18 since the majority of scholarship (even conservative evangelical scholarship) agree Mark’s Gospel did not originally end with these words. He briefly mentions the problems with the text (39), but his footnote is wrong: “the text is deemed reliable by enough scholars that they include it in our Bibles” (200). Included, yes, but significant indications it is not “deemed reliable.” It would be simply better to avoid the controversy which distracts from an otherwise good presentation.

Third, and more controversial, is the lack of reference to Paul and the Pauline mission in the book. Although the Great Commission (in whatever form) are the last words of Jesus in the Gospels, they are not Jesus’ last words. The risen Lord Jesus also commissions Paul to a particular ministry and guides him a number of times in Acts to do evangelism and plant churches. I realize the book is entitled Great Commission Great Compassion, but to claim the Great Commission is everything the New Testament says about evangelism, mission, church planting, and cultural engagement is to overlook the ministry model used successfully by Paul in Acts and illustrated in the epistles.

Under the heading of “lifestyle imperatives” Borthwick briefly comments on eight necessary lifestyle choices which will help make evangelism successful. The first four are foundational (choosing to be involved in kingdom mission; learning what is necessary to share; looking for opportunities and prayer). The second four lifestyles are activities which are by their nature evangelistic (welcoming outsiders; generous giving; unity of the Church and cross cultural experiences).

These eight “lifestyle imperatives” are certainly necessary for evangelism and mission, but Borthwick does not consistently connect these imperatives to the Great Commission from the first half of the book. I wholeheartedly agree prayer and generous giving are necessary components of evangelism and the mission of the Church. But if the Great Commission is foundation for ministry, things like prayer or generous giving are not explicitly mentioned. I suppose one might say these things are taught by Jesus elsewhere (and they are), but I do not think Jesus’ teaching on prayer is foundation for his commission to his disciples to “go to the nations.”

Perhaps this is a result of the weakness of the biblical foundations section. By overlooking Paul’s mission, Borthwick misses an opportunity to support things like prayer and generous giving from biblical texts where Paul does both of these things in the service of evangelism and mission. His section on welcoming the stranger is excellent, although the Twelve seemed to struggle with this when “the stranger” included Gentiles. I find in strange Borthwick uses Peter’s experience with Cornelius as an illustration of welcoming strangers since Peter is extremely reluctant to go even when commanded by the vision and Peter’s later behavior in Antioch (Galatians 2) makes readers suspicious he did not fully integrate his experience into his own mission strategy. Every one of the nine principles for welcoming outsiders from Acts 10 ought to be integrated into the life of every church, but there is far more to be had by integrated Paul and his mission into the model.

Conclusion. My criticisms are the result of the brevity of the book and the clear delimitation o the book to include only the Great Commission as a model. And this may be a case of a reviewer concluding “that is not the book I would have written”! Nevertheless, this book would make an excellent text for a small group Bible study interested in developing an evangelism or missions program in a local church. Borthwick clearly and concisely outlines a biblical mandate as well as a biblical mindset for doing evangelism.

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.

Published on April 28, 2016 on Reading Acts.

Merrill, Eugene H. A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2015. 637 pp. Hb; $39.99. Link to Kregel.

Commentaries on 1 & 2 Chronicles are often painful to read. Since the books begin with nine chapters of genealogy there is little for most pastors to preach or teach and a great deal of textual work to be done in a serious commentary which is frankly dry reading (For example, Gary Knoppers’s excellent commentary on 1 Chronicles 1-9 will not win any awards for spiritual formation!) Merrill’s new commentary on both 1 & 2 Chronicles in an exegetical commentary yet he attempts to keep his eye on important theological issues in which pastors and teachers are interested.

A fifty page introduction begins with the historical and cultural setting of Chronicles. Merrill traces the return from exile and the political re-establishment of the Jewish people in Yehud. Here is focuses on data from Ezra and Nehemiah as well as the post-exilic prophets describing social and religious reforms. This includes the rebuilding of the Temple as well as a refinement of Temple worship. This post-exilic community is the world in which the books of Chronicles were written. Merrill is content to simply call the author “The Chronicler” rather than try to argue for Ezra or one of the post-exilic prophets.

Merrill, ChroniclesChronicles offers a rare opportunity in Old Testament studies since the book has made use of earlier canonical material and in many instances written the history to give a more favorable impression of some events or persons than the earlier Deuteronomic History (Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings). For Merrill, the Old Testament writers thought of themselves as conveying divine revelation, so the Chronicler thought carefully about any departure from his sources (51). Yet the Jewish world in the post-exilic period was much different than that of the Deuteronomic Historian.

Merrill suggests the Chronicler was influenced by the eschatological hopes of Ezra-Nehemiah so that he attempted to answer the despair of the post-exilic community by re-writing history to point forward to an eschatological hope in a restored house of David (60). It is well known that Chronicles minimizes David’s sin, for Merrill the motivation for this positive spin is to set the stage for a succession of Davidic kings fulfilling God’s promise. David is the anticipated ruler of early canonical promises (62) and the focus of prophetic hopes for a future, eschatological kingdom (65). In fact, these hopes take the shape of a new temple as a symbol of God’s reconstituted people (68).

The introduction is supplemented by twelve excurses which conclude many of the major units of the commentary. These are brief additional comments on a historical or theological issue in the unit for example, at the end of the commentary on 1 Chron 15:1-21:30 (the exploits of David), Merrill offers a page on the Angel of YHWH, two pages on David and Royal Sonship, and a about five pages on the Theological Ethic of Holy War.

Each of the nine units of the commentary covers a section of the history. Merrill breaks the units into subsections, usually covering about a chapter each. The commentary provides the NIV translation for each subsection followed by brief textual critical notes. The text provided appears to be the 1984 text (compare 1 Chron 7:23 in the 1984 and 2011 versions).  There is nothing in the preface or introduction explaining this decision, although there are less differences in Chronicles than other portions of the Bible. A second observation is that not all textual notes are in the textual notes section, occasionally they appear in the footnotes.

After the translation and notes, Merrill offers “exegesis and exposition” of the section, usually covering several verses in each section. Given the constraints of the commentary, a phrase-bu-phrase commentary is impossible so he focuses on particular problems in the text which need explanation. He comments on differences between the Deuteronomic Historian (DH) and the Chronicler, especially where the Chronicler omits something from the DH. Where there are clear parallels he provides reference to the text in the DH. Hebrew is included in the main text, although most technical details are placed in the footnotes. Even though the Hebrew text is not transliterated most readers without Hebrew will have no problem following Merrill’s comments. The footnotes interact with major commentaries and secondary literature on Chronicles.

After the commentary proper, there is a brief theological reflection on the section of Chronicles. These conveniently indexed at the beginning of the volume. In the section on the “Exploits of David,” Merrill comments that the Chronicler describes David as an “almost impeccable super-hero who does little wrong and is triumphant in nearly every undertaking to which he puts his hands” (251). From this observation, he briefly points to various Second Temple texts which express similar messianic expectations about David, including the New Testament.

Conclusion. Merrill has contributed a solid evangelical commentary on the often ignored books of 1 & 2 Chronicles which will help pastors and teachers work through the books as they present them to God’s church. His emphasis on eschatological hopes is important since these continue to develop throughout the Second Temple period and are foundation for understanding the Gospels. This is my main criticism of the volume, the theology sections are less robust than I hoped given the introduction to the commentary. This intra-canonical reading has become popular in recent years and Chronicles is a worthy place to use the methods of canonical criticism. Nevertheless, this was not the goal of the commentary so it is unfair to consider this a shortcoming. Merrill’s commentary is a worthy contribution to the Kregel Exegetical Commentary series.

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

Wilson, Lindsay. Job. Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015. 420 pp. Pb; $28.   Link to Eerdmans

Suffering is one of the few constants of human history. The early twenty-first century has witnessed daily suffering because of war, human greed and natural disaster. Most people have wondered if some suffering is just and deserved or unfair and undeserved. It is difficult to hear stories of innocent children suffering in the media without asking how it is “fair” a child starves to death while a despotic ruler grows even more powerful and wealthy. If God is really both ultimately righteous, just and all-powerful, how can he allow such suffering in this world?

Wilson, JobFrequently Christians appeal to the book of Job for answers to these difficult questions, although Job does not always offer the answers we hope for when we study the book. Lindsay Wilson’s contribution to the Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary series is an attempt to understand the book of Job in its proper biblical context and to sketch out some possible answers to these deep questions about God’s justice and human suffering.

Wilson’s twenty-eight page introduction asks a series of questions about the book of Job. Although the story of Job takes place in patriarchal times, it was written later, probably after the exile and a significant time after Proverbs. When the book was written is not matter for Wilson, only that it is a reaction to misunderstandings of Proverbs and other wisdom literature (5). In fact, whether the story “really happened” does not matter since the book may be something like a parable, a story illustrating important theological truths. Job is a protest against a “fossilized misunderstanding of retribution that had misrepresented the mainstream wisdom tradition of Proverbs” (8). In fact, Wilson suggests that reading Proverbs is the first step in understanding Job.

The main issue in Job is retribution: Does God reward the righteous and punish the wicked? Based on their misunderstanding of wisdom literature, Job’s friends think this is the case, yet the book of Job makes it clear not all suffering is a result of God’s punishment, nor is every good thing in life a reward for righteous living. Although this is the most common theological use of Job, the book also is about God’s relationship with humanity. Why should humans fear God? Does “fear of the Lord” cancel the need to question God? Ultimately, however, the book of Job is about the character of God. As Wilson comments, the theophany and Yahweh speeches make it clear God cannot be constrained by “narrow human categories,” the “majestic picture of God’s power” is foundational for understanding the theology book of Job (10).

The Commentary is divided into four sections. Although it is minimal in the body of the commentary, Hebrew appears along with transliteration. Often difficult vocabulary is compared in various English translations (NRSV, ESV, KJV). Wilson uses footnotes for details of exegesis and interaction with major recent commentaries on Job. Occasionally textual variants appear in the notes. Although this is not a full exegetical commentary like Clines’ 1200+ page WBC Commentary, Wilson provides enough detail to help read the text of Job with insight. This commentary section is necessarily brief, treating large paragraphs in summary fashion. Occasionally Wilson will focus on a particular word or phrase (Hebrew appearing with transliteration). He interacts with major exegetical commentaries in the notes, providing the interested reader a pointer to more in-depth discussions. The purpose of the commentary is not detailed exegesis, but a discussion of the theological themes of the book.

The prologue and epilogue are treated briefly. Wilson focuses on a few key questions the prologue asks which will illuminate the dialogues. Job is a man of unblemished righteousness, but we are not sure why he serves God. Does Job have a disinterested faith? Or does he serve God because of what blessing and protection he receives from God?  The Dialogue (3:1-31:40) naturally makes up the bulk of the commentary section. As Wilson comments in his introduction, the dialogues are long and repetitive, they are in short a “talkfest” (27). Any commentary on Job must be selective in its exegesis, so this main section of the commentary summarizes larger units and only selectively comments on difficult exegetical issues. The Verdict section (32:1-42:6) deal with the divine speeches. Wilson observes “some of Job’s problems are simply resolved by the appearance of Yahweh” (180).

As with other Two Horizon commentaries, the bulk of the book is 172 page section tracing nine theological themes of the book of Job. The obvious theme in Job is of course suffering. Wilson follows David Clines in seeing three main questions concerning suffering that arise from the book: Why is the suffering? Why do the innocent suffer? What should I do when I suffer? The book offers some answers to these questions, but they are not always satisfying (especially those presented by Job’s friends). As Wilson observed, not all suffering is linked to sin nor does an individual who suffers need to know why they have suffered (219). A related theme is “Retribution and Justice,” is all suffering deserved? Does life really work like the Book of Proverbs implies it should? Wilson tracing retribution through the book and argues the book of Job ultimately agrees with Proverbs, although Proverbs does not promise peace and prosperity as is commonly assumed.

Wilson covers several related topics concerning Job’s questioning of God (litigation motif; lament and complaint to God; preserving faith). Christians are sometimes shocked by Job’s questioning of God and his frank refusal to accept suffering as a punishment. Although he ultimately retains his faith in God, Job cries out bitterly to God and even demands his case be heard by the just and righteous God. Wilson has several pages describing the form of lament in the Hebrew Bible and wrestling with the disappearance of laments as a form of Christian worship. For Job, laments may question God, but the purpose of Job’s lament is to restore and strengthen faith. “Job’s complaints can never be understood as merely mouthing off to God” (252). Citing Tennyson, Wilson concludes “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds” (257).

The final section of the book examines Job’s contribution to biblical, systematic, moral and practical theology. Under the heading of biblical theology, Wilson sets Job in a canonical context. In order to do this, he reads Job alongside of the rest of the wisdom literature. As he observes often in the commentary, Job is a kind of protest against misunderstanding the theology of retribution of Proverbs. In some ways Job goes beyond Proverbs by describing the righteous life of Job. Wilson traces the use of the rest of the Old Testament in Job (creation, Decalogue, God’s kingly rule). He briefly examines the common view that Job is a type of Christ, concluding Job is not “all about Christ” in the sense Job prefigures Christ’s suffering. The central theme of the book is God’s kingly rule (320). Perhaps the most fascinating section in his biblical theology section concerns the New Testament use of Job. How should we read Job as a Christian? He rejects the search for Christ in every page of Job, arguing instead to focus on God as sovereign and to restore the kind of “robust, lamenting faith” demonstrated by Job (331).

Under the heading of systematic theology, Wilson rightly begins with what Job contributes to our understanding of God, especially what Job tells us about God’s relationship with evil. Yet Job does not give a direct answer to the problem of evil, rather the book “seems content to leave the question of theodicy unresolved.” (340). He also briefly discusses the contributions Job makes to a theological understanding of Satan, sin, justice, resurrection and the nature of faith.

Under the heading of moral theology, Wilson attempts to create an “ethics of Job,” both in terms of sources for the book’s ethics and the ethical content of book. Scholars who do anything like this in Job usually focus on chapter 31 since it contains a clear statement of what integrity and righteousness looks like. Wilson goes beyond this by briefly touching on Job’s social ethics, including the book’s view of the environment and wealth. He includes a fascinating discussion of suicide. Job’s wife seems to think it is possible for Job to “curse God and die” and Job longs for death. Yet he continues to hope in God for justice and possibly restoration. As Wilson observes, suicide results from the total loss of hope in God (365), Job never seems to reach this point in the book.

Under the heading of practical theology, Wilson covers several topics which will appeal to anyone who wants to teach or preach from the book of Job. It seems strange to think of the book of Job as a source for pastoral care or a guide for prayer, but Wilson shows how the book contributes to these important areas of ministry. In addition, he includes a section on preaching the book of Job. Since it is unlikely anyone would (or should?) preach a lengthy series of expositional sermons based on the book, Wilson offers some practical advice on how to relate this difficult yet important book to Christian audiences.

Conclusion. Like other contributions to the Two Horizons series, Wilson’s book is an important contribution to a Christian understanding of the book of Job. It is a solid albeit brief commentary on the Hebrew text of Job with extensive theological reflection on how Job contributes to the overall theology of both the Hebrew Bible and the whole canon. The book is an excellent support for a pastor, teacher or layperson reading and wrestling with the book Job

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

Hawk, L. Daniel. Ruth. Volume 7B, Apollos Old Testament Commentary Series. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2015. 166 pp. Hb; $30.00.   Link to IVP

The Apollos Old Testament Commentary Series intends to accurately interpret the original text of the Old Testament but also to assist pastors and teachers present the Old Testament in a modern context. Daniel Hawk’s contribution to this series on Ruth is an excellent example of commentary writing. The book is neither too brief nor overly burdened with excessive background materials which have had a tendency to inflate commentaries in recent year.

Hawk, RuthHawk begins his twenty-six page introduction to the book by surveying suggestions for the purpose and form of the book. Since the book is somewhat unique in the Hebrew Bible, scholars have suggested a variety of narrative forms for the book (short story, novella, folk-tale) as well as a range of possible purposes for the book (apology for David’s Moabite ancestry, a kind of resistance literature against narrow views of Jewish identity, etc.) Hawk concludes Ruth “resists classification” and “invites the readers to understand its story in conversation with a variety of other texts in the biblical canon” (20). In fact, it is Ruth’s ethnicity which drives the plot of the book. Hawk argues “Ruth takes aim not only at the Deuteronomic legislation that forbids includes of Moabites but also the ascriptions behind it” (23). For example, Ruth 3 reverses the archetypical Moabite woman stalking a Judean male. Ruth is not a threat, but acts faithfully and is eventually incorporated into the Jewish community which eventually leads to Israel’s Davidic monarchy. The marriage of Boaz and Ruth assures the reader that embracing the foreigner can open the possibility of restoration and blessing (31).

With respect to composition, Hawk weighs various suggestions (Solomon’s reign; early in David’s reign; Josiah’s reign, during the exile). He observes the apologetic purpose of the book is speculative and does not necessarily support an early date. In fact, Hawk argues there is a direct textual connection rhetorical agenda of Ruth and “the anxiety about the threat of foreign women as reflected in Ezra and Nehemiah” (33). Hawk follows several recent commentaries on Ruth by concluding the book is “a narrative of dissent” written in response to the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah” despite the last of polemic (36). Although the book was not written until well after the events it narrates, Hawk things the traditions represented by the book are authentic (39).

Hawk offers a brief summary of the theology of Ruth (39-43).  He begins by examining the standard theology of Ruth which focuses on God as active in the background of the book, providentially causing various events in the story. He suggests are more nuanced view of Ruth’s theology by focusing on the theme of hesed, which Hawk defines as the “passionate devotion, an unqualified decision for someone else expressed by specific and tangible actions” (41). The book of Ruth portrays God as responding to humans who demonstrate hesed rather than being the cause of their human actions.

The commentary begins with a new translation of Ruth followed by notes on the Hebrew text. Hawk comments on the qere and ketiv readings in this section. All Hebrew appears in transliteration and notes to secondary literature appear as in-text citations rather than footnotes.

Following the notes on the Hebrew text, Hawk offers observations on form and structure. This section traces the flow of a pericope, going beyond a simple outline but falling short of discourse analysis. Hawk breaks the commentary on Ruth into large, chapter length units so this attention to the flow of drama of Ruth is important step in the commentary.

After his comments on the structure of a pericope, Hawk offers a commentary on each sub-pericope within the chapter. This section is a running commentary on the story, including cultural and historical context, insight into the Hebrew words and syntax, etc. Although reference to secondary sources are minimal (using in-text citations), Hawk demonstrates a clear understanding of the Hebrew text of Ruth as well as the Ancient Near Eastern context which illuminates the story.

The final section in each section of the commentary is an explanation of the text. These are theological and practical observations based Ruth. For example, in the explanation for chapter 1, Hawk discusses the problem of resident aliens and suffering in the Old Testament. For chapter 2 his focus is on hospitality and the foreign woman (Boaz’s kindness toward Ruth), oppression of the poor for chapter 3 and finally a few comments on the flexibility of the law for chapter 4 (Boaz marries a foreign woman yet is blessed). Each of these brief sections are tied directly to the story of Ruth and are reasonable and clearly based on his reading of the text of Ruth. Hawk does not take the opportunity to draw application to specific, real-work situations to which the book of Ruth might speak. For example, treatment of the poor and immigration are modern issues which Ruth directly applies, I would have expected a more specific attempt to “bridge the gap” between Ancient Near Eastern practice and modern problems Christians face.

My second observation is a positive benefit of this commentary, although not all readers will necessarily agree. Although he recognizes Ruth is an ancestor of Jesus, this commentary is not overtly theological or Christological. Recent theological readings of Ruth can overplay inter-canonical theology and potentially miss the rich theology of hesed Hawk develops in this commentary.

Conclusion. Hawk’s commentary will serve scholars, pastors as well as laymen as they read and study the book of Ruth. Although it is faithful to the Hebrew text of Ruth, it is not overly technical nor is it distracted by social issues Ruth extraneous to the theology of Ruth.

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.

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Christian Theology

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