Book Review: Holly Beers, A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman

Beers, Holly. A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2019. 172pp. Pb; $16.  Link to IVP Academic

Like the other books in the Week in the Life series, Beers is a New Testament scholar who attempts to bring to life the world of the first century. Beers is associate professor of religious studies at Westmont College. She has previously contributed monograph The Followers of Jesus as the ‘Servant’: Luke’s Model from Isaiah for the Disciples in Luke-Acts (LNTS 535; London: T&T Clark, 2015), reviewed here. Unlike other books in the series, Beers brings a female perspective by focusing not only on a very poor woman in Roman Ephesus, but a poor woman who is pregnant. Many of the cultural and historical background featured in this book have not been covered in one of the other books.

Week in the Love of a Greco-Roman WomanThe book follows the daily life of Anthia, the pregnant wife of Philetus as they encounter the gospel in the city of Ephesus in the mid-50s A.D. Philetus is a fisherman and a couple sell their fish at a stall in the agora. Although the couple are free, they are extremely poor and rarely know where their next meal is coming from. Beers describes the kind of poverty the average person faced in first century Ephesus. The family lives in a very small room with their child and extended family. They often make do with very little food, often no more than a piece of bread each day.

The book also refers to the way individuals relied upon the gods to get them through the day. Philetus prays to Glaukos the patron god of fishing when he does not catch enough fish and praises this god when he manages to bring in a good catch. When the neighbor child is sick, the parents sacrifice to both Artemis and Asclepius hoping to heal the child’s fever. When a character in the story passes a statue of the Emperor, they utter a short prayer to the divine Emperor.

Since this is the middle of the first century in the city of Ephesus, it is no surprise Philetus and Anthia encounter the apostle Paul teaching outside the school of Tyrannus. Beers uses Paul’s speeches in Acts 14 and 17 to suggest how Paul may have taught the assembled crowds and the crowd’s reaction to the idea of a crucified and resurrected Jesus. When Anthia is invited to a church service, she is shocked to find Roman citizens sitting and eating with slaves. Anthia struggles to understand why a wealthy Roman woman would care about her at all, let alone give her food and clothing without expectations associated with Roman patronage.

There are several other plot points which are borrowed from the book of Acts. For example, when the neighbor’s child is dying of a fever, the mother brings a handkerchief blessed by the apostle Paul and the child is healed (Acts 19:11-12). Beers refers to magicians we have converted to Christianity burning their scrolls (Acts 19:18-19) and the failed exorcism by the sons of Sceva (Acts 19:13-16). Although she never makes an explicit connection herself, I can’t help but wonder if the wife’s prayer to Jesus to keep her safe in childbirth alludes to 1 Timothy 2:15, a woman will be saved through childbearing.

A major focus of this story is the hard life of a woman in the ancient world, a life which was much more difficult for a pregnant woman. The book begins with a tragic story of a woman who dies giving birth to her child. Anthia herself suffers a great deal in the story, often at the hand of her abusive husband. Although the woman is in the late stages of her pregnancy, she is still forced to work in the family business, care for her son, and submit to her husband’s sexual needs (even though he visits a prostitute). Beers includes infanticide and the exposure of female babies several times in the book. It is likely an exposed child would be taken by someone to be raised as a slave. On one occasion a nursing woman is sold in the slave market to be used as a wet nurse by a wealthy aristocrat.

One thing Beers communicates well in this book is the absolute filth of the ancient world. Frequently Beers describes public latrines as well as the use of a communal chamber pot in the family’s single overcrowded room. Her son publicly urinates on one of the many pots set aside to collect urine for the fullers. On a number of occasions Anthia must deal with bleeding because of her pregnancy.

As with other books in this series, the book is illustrated by occasional sidebars in photographs to help the reader understand some details of the story. I think they were less of these in this volume than in previous books in the series. This may be due to the fact that there are few physical remains left by the extreme poor of the ancient world. Nor is there a great deal of description of poverty in ancient literature. Nevertheless, Beers judiciously uses what evidence is available to paint a vivid picture of poverty in the ancient world.

Not everyone in the book is poor. At the meeting of a host church, Anthia meets Claudia, a wealthy Roman citizen who invites her to a meal in her home. Here Beers describes the terrace houses in the city of Ephesus. In contrast to the filthy, crowded one-room apartment that she lives in, her wealthy Roman patron lives in a beautiful home with multiple rooms and running water. As Anthia says, even the dog looks better fed than her family. This meal also provides an opportunity to describe what a wealthy Roman family might eat for a meal.

Conclusion. This is my favorite of the Week in the Life series for two reasons. First, since I have visited Ephesus it is easy to imagine the scenes in the agora, the latrines, or the terrace houses. Beers has succeeded in placing her story in the world of first century Ephesus as it is known from archaeology. Second, in both the ancient and modern world, these kinds of stories are rarely told from the perspective of a poor woman. Although the other books in the series have similar imagery, none capture the despair of poverty in the Roman world like this book.

Nijay Gupta interviewed Holly Beers on December 16, 2019.

 

For reviews of other volumes in this series, see my reviews of

Although not part of this series,

 

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

 

Book Review: Barry J. Beitzel, ed. Lexham Geographical Commentary on the Acts through Revelation

Beitzel, Barry J., ed. Lexham Geographical Commentary on the Acts through Revelation. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2019. 763 pp.; Hb.  $39.99  Link to Lexham Press

Barry Beitzel has a well-deserved reputation in scholarship for his contributions to biblical geography. He edited The New Moody Atlas of the Bible (Moody, 2009; reviewed here). He edited the first volume of this projected five volume series, Lexham Geographical Commentary on the Gospels (Lexham, 2017, see my review here). This new volume is a joy to read, and will be an excellent addition the library of any student of the New Testament.

Lexham Geographic CommentaryThis new volume contains fifty-three essays written by nineteen New Testament scholars. More than half of these articles cover the book of Acts and the remaining articles discuss locations were Paul or Peter did ministry and the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. See the end of this review for a list of chapter topics.

Each chapter begins with a list of Scripture covered in the section, so it is possible to read through at least the first half of the book alongside a reading of the book of Acts. This is not always possible since some locations appear in various parts of the book such as Jerusalem or Caesarea. For example, Paul Wright’s chapter on Caesarea Maritima (chapter 16) lists all of the occurrences of the location in the book of Acts. A text box at the head of the article offers three or four key points covered in the chapter. The text flows in parallel columns and the chapters are richly illustrated. All non-English words appear in transliteration; distances are given in miles and kilometers. Each section concludes with a bibliography citing key journal and other dictionary articles.

The articles in these volumes are highly detailed and well-documented. Several would make excellent academic journal articles. Eckhard Schnabel contributes several chapters. His two-volume Early Christian Mission (IVP Academic, 2004) and Jesus in Jerusalem: The Last Days (Eerdmans, 2018) are two of the most detailed academic works on the geography of the Gospels and Acts. David deSilva contributed articles on The Social and Geographical World of Psidian Antioch, Rome, Roman Corinth, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum and Sardis. Mark Wilson contributes several articles on locations in modern Turkey (the Geography of Galatia, Peter’s Communities in Asia Minor, the Geography of Patmos, and the Social and Geographical World of Thyatira and Philadelphia).

The chapters are illustrated with photographs, diagrams and charts. Some photographs are licensed through WikiCommons, some are from Beitzel himself, and David deSilva contributed many. A few of these are familiar diagrams found in other Logos resources or Logos map sets. I noticed some of the city maps of the seven churches in Revelation were designed by Tutku Tours. The book is printed on an uncoated paper which does not glare and is easier to make notes on compared to a book like the Zondervan Bible Backgrounds commentary.

Some chapters cover material that strictly speaking is not a part of the book of Acts or the Epistles. For example, Ekhard Schnabel has a brief article on Paul in Spain and Crete based on the very thin evidence that Paul actually did ministry in these locations. J. Carl Laney contributed an article on Paul’s travel after the book of Acts based on the Pastoral Epistles and several church traditions. Each location where Paul did ministry has a chapter, including Colossae even though he did not establish that church.

A few other highlights: Barry Beitzel has a lengthy and detailed article on the meaning of “Arabia” in classical literature in order to answer the question of what Paul meant in Galatians 1:17 when he spent time in Arabia. Benjamin Foreman has an article on the Social and Geographical Significance of Alexandria, Egypt, a location only mentioned in the book of Acts as the home of Apollos (Acts 18:24-28). He discusses the Jewish presence in Alexandria and some of the traditions associated with how Christianity came to this important city in the Roman world. A. H. Cadwallader contributes an article on Onesimus and the world of Philemon, which is more less on slavery in the Roman world. Schnabel has an article on Paul’s travel in Macedonia and Achaia, including the distance traveled by foot between different locations and suggested time to travel. This article also includes a footnote in which Schnabel disagrees with one of his earlier conclusions.

Perhaps the most unusual article concerns Philippi, Michael Thate’s “Paulus Geographicus? The Spatial (Somatic) World of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.” The article is not particularly about the geographical location of the city of Philippi, but about how bodies were understood in the Greco-Roman world, specifically in the Macedonian city of Philippi. As he puts it, this is a theo-graphical article rather than a geographical article. Unfortunately, this is the only article in the book devoted to Philippi. I would have liked an additional article on the social and geographical word of Rome Philippi as similar to other locations of Paul’s ministry.

The final seven chapters concern geographical locations in the book of Revelation, six of the seven churches plus an article on the geography of the island of Patmos. (Ephesus was covered in the order of the Pauline letters.) Each of these chapters gives the pre-history of the cities, as well as something of the religious and social situation at the time John wrote the book of Revelation.

The book includes with seventeen-pages of color charts and additional maps, a detailed list of the contributors, a subject index, a Scripture index and a list of image credits.

Logos Version. Since the book was published simultaneously for the Logos Bible Software library, I had the opportunity to use the book in that format. Clicking a photograph open the Logos Media library so the image can be copied and pasted into Word or PowerPoint (or any other software). The Media tool gives the description of the image as well as photo credits. Maps open in the Logos Atlas tool and can be copied and pasted. Using these tools to enhance your teaching and preaching is an added incentive to purchase the electronic version. 

As typical in a Logos resource, clicking a Scripture references will open your preferred Bible to the text, or you can float over the reference to peek at the text. This works also for ancient sources if you have unlocked them for your library. For example, I can click on a cited reference to Pliny’s Natural History and open the version I have unlocked in the Logos library. This is true for any resource, Josephus, Philo, Strabo’s Geography, etc. At the end of a chapter the Logos version as a “see also” section which does not appear in the print format of the book. This section includes links to the Logos Atlas tool, Logos FactBook places and events, other articles in the Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through Revelation and any videos in the Media Library related to the section. The bibliography sections open additional Logos resources if unlocked. The Logos version of the book is obviously more interactive than a printed book and can be updated and corrected as necessary.

One disappointment in the Logos version of the book is the lack of page numbers. Usually a Logos book is tagged with real page numbers so I can cite the resource properly. The only index available is Scripture. The original Geographical Commentary on the Gospels has a page number index, perhaps Logos will update this book in the future.

All things being equal, I much prefer a real physical book. And this is an excellent looking book. But there are some definite advantages to using this book as part of Logos Bible Software.

Conclusion. The Lexham Geographic Commentary on the gospels is a joy to read. The articles are stimulating and well-illustrated.  This book will make an excellent addition to the library of any student of the Bible. A hardback book with 763 pages illustrated with color photographs, maps and charts is worth more than the $39.95 list price. The Lexham website inaccurately lists the publication date as 2017. The Geographic Commentary will continue in 2020 with volumes on the Pentateuch, Historical Books and Poetry and Prophecy are due in 2020.

 

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

 

Contents of Lexham Geographical Commentary on the Acts through Revelation

  • Typological Geography and the Progress of the Gospel in Acts
  • The Topography of Jerusalem in the Book of Acts
  • The Threefold Expansion of the Early Church: Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria
  • Jesus’ Missionary Commission and the Ends of the Earth
  • A Sabbath-Day’s Journey from the Mount of Olives
  • The Location of Pentecost and Geographical Implications in Acts 2
  • Early Church Demographics
  • Geography of the Nations in Jerusalem for Pentecost
  • The Jerusalem Temple in the Book of Acts
  • The Geography of Worship: From Temple to Synagogue to Church
  • The Persecution of the Earliest Christians in Geographical Perspective
  • The Theodotus Synagogue Inscription and Its Relationship to the Book of Acts
  • Samaria: Too Wicked to Redeem?
  • The Roman Road System around the Mediterranean
  • The Desert Road between Jerusalem and Gaza
  • The Geography of Caesarea Maritima
  • The Road from Jerusalem to Damascus
  • Paul’s Missionary Work in Syria, Nabatea, Judea, and Cilicia
  • Peter’s Ministry in Caesarea Maritima
  • Peter and the Centurion Cornelius: Roman Soldiers in the New Testament
  • The Geographic Importance of Antioch on the Orontes
  • Famines in the Land
  • The Death of Herod Agrippa I in Caesarea Maritima
  • Paul’s Missionary Work in Cyprus, Galatia, and Pamphylia
  • Barnabas, John Mark, and Their Ministry on Cyprus
  • The Social and Geographical World of Pisidian Antioch
  • Paul’s Missionary Work in Macedonia and Achaia
  • Paul at the Areopagus in Athens
  • What Has Athens to Do with Jerusalem? Paul’s Areopagus Speech in Context
  • The Social and Geographical Significance of Alexandria
  • Paul’s Missionary Work in the Provinces of Asia and Illyricum
  • Paul as a Prisoner in Judea and Rome
  • Paul’s Journey to Rome
  • The Social and Geographical World of Rome
  • Paul in Spain and Crete
  • Paul’s Travels After Acts
  • The Social and Geographical World of Roman Corinth
  • The Geography of Galatia
  • Paul’s Early Ministry in Syria and Cilicia: The Silent Years
  • The Meaning of “Arabia” in Classical Literature and the New Testament
  • The Social and Geographical World of Ephesus
  • Paulus Geographicus? The Spatial (Somatic) World of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians
  • The Social and Geographical World of Colossae
  • The Social and Geographical World of Thessalonica
  • Onesimus and the Social and Geographical World of Philemon
  • Peter’s Christian Communities in Asia Minor
  • Geography of the Island of Patmos
  • The Social and Geographical World of Smyrna
  • The Social and Geographical World of Pergamum
  • The Social and Geographical World of Thyatira
  • The Social and Geographical World of Sardis
  • The Social and Geographical World of Philadelphia
  • The Social and Geographical World of Laodicea

 

Book Review: David L. Turner, Interpreting the Gospels and Acts: An Exegetical Handbook

Turner, David L. Interpreting the Gospels and Acts: An Exegetical Handbook. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Academic, 2019. 358 pp. Pb; $21.99.   Link to Kregel

This is the final contribution to Kregel’s Handbooks of New Testament Exegesis covers a large section of the New Testament, the Gospels and the book of Acts. As with each volume of the exegetical handbook series, this new volume combines a scholarly introduction to the study of the Gospels and Acts with an exegetical method designed to help pastors and teachers present their interpretations as Gospel-oriented sermons. 

The first part of this book is a general introduction to the study of the gospels and the book of Acts. Each chapter discusses a topic followed by an application of that topic for each of the four Gospels and Acts. Chapter 1 discusses the genre and structure of the Gospels. After surveying a wide range of suggestions, Turner suggests biography is the best way to approach the genre of the gospels. He would include the book of Acts as biography because the disciples continue to teach and do what Jesus commanded. He also briefly explains several embedded genres found in the Gospels. He has a lengthy discussion on parables along with briefer description of intertextuality, apocalyptic, and wisdom sayings. For Acts he briefly describes Psalms quotations, speeches, and letters. Although the chapter discusses the four-fold gospel tradition, Turner does not cover source or redaction criticism at this point. He discusses them later in the book in the chapter on preparing to interpret the Gospels. Concerning form, source, and redaction criticism, Turner says “understanding the historical process of the gospel origins in divine providence is a worthy scholarly endeavor, but edification of the church is a matter of expounding the gospel in its final canonical” (188). 

Chapter 2 provide sufficient background material to read the Gospels in their historical context. Before his brief survey of Second Temple period literature, Turner observes the chief background for the New Testament is in fact the Old Testament. He has a section on archaeology as a resource for background material. What follows is a collection of short descriptions of important groups in the New Testament, he defines the importance of temple and synagogue but then also covers the usual groups within the second temple, including Pharisees, scribes, elders, Sadducees, the Sanhedrin, the Essenes, and what he calls the “politically oriented groups,” the zealots. The section also includes a short survey of Jewish feasts as a background for reading the Gospels. In the second part of the chapter Turner offers the setting for each of the four Gospels, including authorship, occasion and purpose, and date. In general, Turner’s conclusions are conservative and traditional. 

Turner’s third chapter begins with an excellent discussion of what biblical theology is. He contrasts biblical theology with systematic theology and offers an assessment of the limits of biblical theology. In constructing an overall theology of the Gospels, Turner settles on “Jesus in the Spirit.” Although he covers kingdom of heaven under his specific discussion on Matthew, remarkably, he does not consider the Kingdom of God as the overall theme of the gospels as is often the case in Gospels introductions. Since he is tracing the overall theology of both the Gospels and Acts, perhaps he is more motivated to include the activity of the Holy Spirit as a key theme. He begins with the activity of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, traces this into the ministry of John the Baptist, Jesus, and then the ministry of the apostles in the book of Acts. In a footnote, he considers this approach to be a kind of inaugurated eschatology as creation renewal, citing the work of Greg Beale in his New Testament Biblical Theology (Baker 2011).  

The chapter then outlines the distinctive theological emphases of each gospel. For Mathew, Turner highlights Matthew’s use of the Old Testament, the theme of the kingdom of heaven and Matthew’s interest in Gentile mission. Mark is a passion narrative with an extended introduction. He briefly discusses the so-called messianic secret in Mark and the failure of the disciples to understand the resurrection at the end of the gospel. For Luke-Acts, Turner traces the geographical shift from Jerusalem to Rome and briefly discusses Luke’s interest in evangelizing outcasts. For the gospel of John, he examines the relationship of signs and faith. But Turner also discusses the future in John. As is often observed, the gospel of John has very little eschatology. For example, the Olivet Discourse appears in all three Synoptic Gospels but is missing from the Gospel of John. Scholars have often described this as “inaugurated eschatology.” Since John’s Gospel presents the kingdom of God as present in Jesus’s ministry and in the disciple’s life, Turner asks “what does an eschatologicalized life look like”? 

In the second part of the book, Turner suggests several steps in moving from exegesis to sermon. These three chapters together form exegetical methodology which recognizes the end goal of exegesis as preaching the gospel. He begins with preparing to interpret the Gospels, a task which begins with identifying the text. This takes the form of a lengthy overview of textual criticism. He then discusses translating the text, including an overview of translation method. He briefly surveys critical methods of studying the Gospels such as form criticism, source criticism, redaction criticism and narrative criticism. Although he recognizes each of these has their place, only narrative criticism is seen as providing much fodder for the preaching of the text.

Under the heading of interpreting the text, Turner encourages the student to begin by translating the text and doing some sort of segmenting exercise. He gives examples of phrasing and sentence diagramming in English. This practice will help the student to work through the text and better understand the grammatical relationships between the various parts. This will inform how the student preaches the text. Although most students find this tedious, it is helpful for putting together a sermon. 

In his chapter on communicating the text, Turner encourages the interpreter to find the original point of the passage, but also the current point, using such things as speech act theory understanding how the genre affects the meaning of the passage, and then drawing out significance for the modern church. He also discusses his description versus prescription in this section and lectio divina. He uses the phrase “homiletical packaging” to discuss the theory and practice of preaching a sermon. He offers several examples of “bridging the gap” drawn from the gospels as a demonstration of how to apply the text to a modern situation.

The seventh chapter of the book contains two examples drawn from the Gospels of how this method works in practice. Turner works the steps of his exegetical method using Mark 4:1-20 and John 1:1-18. 

The final chapter of the book is a list of suggested resources for doing exegesis. Although he recognizes a few online resources, this list of resources is less interested in using a computer for interpretation than other handbooks in this series. 

Conclusion. Turner there is a wide range of topics for interpreting the gospels and the book of Acts. Although some readers may be overwhelmed by the material in the first three chapters, Turner does an excellent job describing how this material can be used in preparing sermons and Bible lessons. This book will make an excellent textbook for a New Testament exegesis class which focuses on the Gospels, but anyone interested in studying the Gospels on a deeper level will find much value in this handbook. The material on the book of Acts is satisfying, since it seems like it is simply tagged to the material for Luke. If the book was limited to the Gospels and a separate handbook written on exegetical issues in the book of Acts, then this book would have been even stronger.

 

See my reviews of previous volumes in this series:

Gary Smith, Interpreting the Prophets

Richard A. Taylor, Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature

Edward M. Curtis, Interpreting the Wisdom Books

Herbert Bateman, Interpreting the General Letters

John D. Harvey, Interpreting the Pauline Letters

C. Marvin Pate, Interpreting Revelation and Other Apocalyptic Literature

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

Book Review: Todd Bolen, Acts: Photo Companion to the Bible

Bolen, Todd. Acts: Photo Companion to the Bible. BiblePlaces.com, 2019.

Todd Bolen has been producing high quality resources for Bible teachers for many years on his website Bible Places.com. I first became aware of Bolens’s Pictorial Library of Biblical Lands at an ETS in 2003. I have used these photographs in virtually every class I teach in order to add some colorful graphics to an otherwise dull PowerPoint presentation. Even though I have some critiques of the collection below, if you are teaching the Book of Acts, then the Photo Companion to the Bible is an essential collection of images to use to illustrate your lectures and sermons. If you are a student of the Bible, you can read the text of the Bible and page through the slides in order to place the text into a physical context.

I reviewed his Gospels Photo Companion to the Bible soon after it was released in 2017. At that time Todd told me the Acts Companion was “coming soon.” But as he told me in a recent email, it took a while longer than expected. This is not surprising since the collection contains more than 4,000 photos in twenty-eight PowerPoint sets. The slide set for Acts 13 has 250 slides, Acts 20 has 180 slides. This includes every place Paul and the apostles traveled and every photograph is identified and explained. In some cases, additional material appears in the slide, such as citations to journal articles.

Along with photographs detailing the Paul’s missionary journeys, many inscriptions are included (the Gallio Inscription, the Temple balustrade, the Politarchs inscriptions, Roman calendars, etc.). In addition there are high quality photographs of coins, artifacts, models, scrolls from museums. There are maps tracing Paul’s travels created by A. D. Riddle of RiddleMaps.com.

Since these are PowerPoint slides, the editors provide annotations explaining the image and the location of the photograph. There is also a code in the notes indicating the source of the image. Many are from Bolen, but there are other contributors (and I noticed a few wiki commons images as well). This is very helpful for identifying the location of museum photographs or some of the historical photographs.

I looked over most of the data sets, but for this review I will focus on Acts 13, 250 slides in all. Each slide has a phrase from the Bible across the top, the reference is in the bottom right corner. A brief description appears in the bottom right corner, and a few lines of explanation appear in the slide notes along with the image credit. Since Acts 13 begins in Syrian Antioch, there are a few slides from the modern city of Antakya in south-east Turkey, including a photograph of the ancient hippodrome taken between 1934 and 1939. There are plenty of photographs of Roman remains on Cyprus including the gymnasium at Salamis and Villa of Theseus at Paphos.

To illustrate Paul’s encounter with Bar-Jesus, there are two Aramaic curse bowls,   one from Babylon and the other from the eleventh century A.D. There are two Latin inscription was found near Pisidian Antioch with the name Sergius Paulus, one is a public domain image from The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Perge is well illustrated, including the rock-cut pass between Magydus and Perga on the Via Sebaste and later Via Sebaste after Döşeme pass. After Paul leaves Pisidian Antioch, he travels to Iconium, as illustrated by a photo of a Roman bridge on the Via Sebaste east of Yunuslar between Pisidian Antioch and Iconium. Many of these photographs of Roman roads are from Mark Wilson, one of the best sources for Paul’s travels in Asia Minor. He also contributed a photograph of an inscription mentioning Galatia and Pamphylia, from Perga. The slide cites Wilson’s recent article, “The Denouement of Claudian Pamphylia-Lycia and its Implications for the Audience of Galatians,” Novum Testamentum 60 (2018): 337–60. This is the kind of detail I appreciate in these slides, there are others with citations of journal articles, such as the God-fearer mosaic from the synagogue of Sardis (dated to c. AD 365), citing John H. Kroll, “The Greek Inscriptions of the Sardis Synagogue,” Harvard Theological Review 94/1 (2001): 9.

For Acts 13:50, “But the Jews incited the devout women of prominence” there is a photo of a statue of Plancia Magna from Perga (2nd century A.D.) followed by an inscription at Perge with her name. Plancia Magna was a wealthy and powerful women in Perge, although certainly not a believer. This statue shows there indeed were prominent women who had significant power in a city like Perge.

There are some slides which do not seem particularly on topic. “Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch” (Acts 13:1) is illustrated with a wonderful Tiberias. Why? Herod moved his capital from Sepphoris to Tiberias. Barnabas and Saul speak in the synagogues in Cyprus (Acts 13:5), this is illustrated by the synagogue at Magdala. To be fair, there are not many first century synagogues and Magdala is an excellent example, but is not a synagogue from Acts 13.

Others strike me as unnecessary. For example, there is a picture of mist surrounding Nimrod’s fortress in Israel to illustrate “Immediately a mist and darkness fell on him” and a photo of a blind man in Jerusalem for “He went around seeking people to lead him by the hand.” When John Mark returns to Jerusalem, there are several slide of Jerusalem including the Syrian Orthodox site for the upper room. For Acts 13:17, “The God of this people Israel chose our forefathers” there is a photograph of Abraham’s well in Beersheba and several beautiful photographs from Egypt since 13:17 mentions Egypt. In fact, most of the slides illustrating Paul’s sermon are not necessary, but since the goal is to have something for every verse, they are included here. I would have rather had 75 more slides of Roman roads between Perge and Pisidian Antioch.

Evaluation. For many people, using Google Image Search to find pictures for their lectures is second nature. It is easy to do and there are often good photographs available without any usage restrictions. So why purchase this set of photographs from Todd Bolan?

First, these photographs often do not appear on the web. For most of the collection, Bolen has taken the photographs himself and he owns the copyright. These are not snapshots from someone’s Holy Land Tour taken with their iPhone.

Second, there are several types of photographs which are difficult to obtain yourself, such as aerial photography. Bolen has also included many historic photographs from the American Colony and Eric Matson collections released by Bible Places in 2009.

Third, if you are just grabbing a few photographs from the web for your teaching, perhaps you are violating copyright law. The copyright notice is as follows:

The purchaser is granted permission to use this work in face-to-face teaching, video-recorded sermons, class notes, church newsletters, and like contexts. Separate permission must be obtained from BiblePlaces.com to use this material in books, magazines, commercial products, websites, and online courses. Slide notes should be treated as any other copyrighted written material, with credit given when quoting from these notes. For copyright inquiries, please email Todd Bolen at tbolen94@bibleplaces.com.

Yes, I know we all do it and it is doubtful you will get in trouble for snagging someone’s vacation pictures from Flickr. But some universities and churches are trying to limit resources to “fair use” copyright images. The Photo Companion to the Bible allows for legal images which can be freely edited for your own needs.

If you purchase the Photo Companion, you can download it immediately with the promise of free lifetime updates as well as get a DVD copy. One important thing to consider is the copyright permissions which come with the Photo Companion to the Bible. All the images are free for use for any purpose (teaching, sermons, etc.), although if they are used in a publication, you will need to obtain permission. I have seen Bolen’s photographs in many books from major publishers, which speaks to the quality of this resource.

If you visit the website, there are samples of Matthew 4 and John 2 so you can get an idea what the collection looks like. Finally, here is a five minute video promoting the Photo Companion.

NB: Thanks to Todd Bolen at BiblePlaces.com for kindly providing me with a review copy of this resource. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

 

Book Review: Grant Osborne, Acts: Verse by Verse

Osborne, Grant R.  Acts: Verse by Verse. Osborne New Testament Commentaries; Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2019. 545 pp.; Pb.  $19.99  Link to Lexham Press

The latest addition to the series of verse-by-verse commentaries by the late Grant Osborne is the Book of Acts. Lexham Press publishes this series simultaneously in both print and electronic Logos Library editions. Seven commentaries were published in 2017-18 (John, Romans, Galatians, Prison Epistles, Revelation), with volume on 1-2 Thessalonians and Luke coming soon.

In the nineteen page introduction to the commentary, Osborne states the book of Acts is a “historical narrative tracing how the Christ followers built ton their founder and became a worldwide force” (1). For Osborne, the book traces salvation history and the gospel-centered and Spirit-empowered mission of the church. Peter and Paul are only successful because they are commissioned by Jesus and led by the Holy Spirit to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Like many evangelicals who study Acts, Osborne is comfortable with Acts as both history and theology. He argues in favor of a traditional view authorship. Luke the companion of Paul (Colossians 4:14) is the author of the book, although he dates the book either before A. D. 62 or after Paul’s death, A. D. 75-85. Osborne prefers the earlier date, but both are possible. Throughout the body of the commentary it is clear Osborne holds traditional views of the authorship of Paul’s letters and the consensus view on most chronological problems. For example, commenting on Acts 19:21-22, he indicates “Paul was writing 1 Corinthians at this time” (349). He sides with the growing minority position by stating Galatians was written soon after Paul returned to Syrian Antioch, prior to the Jerusalem Council (269). Given the parameters of the commentary, he simply states his conviction without extensive argument.

In the first part of the commentary, Osborne uses the phrase “Christ follower” rather than Christian to describe the earliest community. He observes the church “has often been thought have originated at Pentecost, but that is not true. Pentecost is the launching of the church’s mission to be the “witnesses” (1:8), but not the genesis of its formation. If that can be ascertained, it would have to come when Jesus chose the Twelve” (18). Osborne wants to highlight the continuity between Israel of the old Covenant and the “new Israel of the new Covenant.” I understand what he is saying here, but it overlooks the fact the new Covenant was to be made with both the house of Israel and the house of Judah (Jeremiah 31:31-33).

Even As Osborne recognizes in the same paragraph, the earliest Christ followers called themselves the Way (Acts 9:2), “considering itself the messianic sect within Judaism.” There is more to the definition and nature of the church than Osborne can attempt in a very short introduction, but if he wants to reach back to the calling of the Apostles as a “genesis of the church” then the particularly Jewish nature of the church in the first twelve chapters of Acts will be diminished.

Like the other volumes in this series, the body of the commentary proceeds nearly verse-by-verse. Since Acts is much longer than other books Osborne has covered in the series so far, he is often forced to cover paragraphs rather than individual verses. This is really not a problem, although compared to some recent exegetical commentaries, this 543-page commentary seems brief. But this is not necessarily a bad thing since the goal of the commentary is to help a pastor, teacher, or interested layperson understand the main points of the text without going into the minutia of the text.

Osborne occasionally comments on the Greek text, but all Greek appears in transliteration so all readers will be able to follow the argument. Footnotes appear rarely and deal with finer details. Since his goal is clear explanation of the text, Osborne does not interact with other commentaries or enter into arcane debates on early church history. For example, he does not deal with the possible anachronism of Paul’s appointing Elders in Acts 14, simply noting that elders “followed Jewish practice for the most part” (265). He is able to deal with the Ephesian Riot in 19:23-20:1 in a few pages, without being overly distracted with a lengthy description of Artemis and her worship (Keener, in contrast, devotes more that seventy pages to the riot, including details on Artemis and her cult).

Conclusion. As with the other commentaries in this series, Osborne’s Verse-by-Verse Commentary will serve pastors and teachers as they prepare sermons on the text of the Bible. Osborne certainly achieves his goal of helping pastors to “faithfully exposit the text in a sermon.” Although scholars may find the brevity of the commentary frustrating, this commentary will be an excellent guide for anyone who desires to read John’s Gospel with more insight and understanding.

 

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

Acts 4 – A Dangerous Gospel

There are a number of similarities between events on Acts 2 and 3. Apparently Peter and John regularly went up to the temple for prayer and worship. While they were there, they had opportunity to preach Jesus as the messiah. The gospel of the risen and ascended Jesus would have been of interest to some of the Jews who were also at the Temple worship. Prior to both Peter’s sermons in Acts 2-3 God did a miracle to demonstrate the messianic age has begun. The coming of the Holy Spirit and the healing of a lame man are both based on messianic prophecies found in the Hebrew Bible. Peter clearly declares Jesus was the messiah and he was crucified in ignorance. But this ignorance will no longer be overlooked and judgment is coming. After both sermons thousands of people believe Jesus is the messiah and he is returning soon to establish his kingdom.

annas-caiaphasAfter healing the lame man and preaching to another large crowd, the Temple authorities arrest Peter and John (Acts 4). As Ben Witherington comments, Acts 4 is the “beginnings of the power struggle for the hearts of the Jewish people” (Acts, 189). For the next several chapters there is increasing tension and persecution between the ministries of the twelve Apostles and the seven deacons, culminating in the execution of Stephen at the end of chapter 7. Preaching the Gospel, as it turns out, is a very dangerous thing to do!

Peter and John are brought before Annas and Caiaphas, the high priests responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus (Luke 22:54, cf., John 11:49). The group which is gathered includes the elders and teachers of the Law, including the high priest Annas, and men from his family, Caiaphas, John and Alexander.

There is a historical problem here. Annas was high priest from A.D. 6-15, his son-in-law Caiaphas was high priest from A.D. 18-36.  There are several explanations for this.  One possibility is that Luke lists Annas as the high priest since he is the real power behind Caiaphas (this is at least the view of John 18:13, since Jesus is brought to Annas before he is brought to Caiaphas, the actual high priest).  Caiaphas’s name has been found on a rather ornate ossuary (which does not appear to be a forgery, although Craig Evans doubts the name is the biblical Caiaphas, see Craig A. Evans, “Jesus and the Ossuaries,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 13 [2003]: 39).

Since whole Sanhedrin could have been as many as seventy men, it is unlikely the whole council met to question Peter. This is probably the high priest and his closest advisers and the questioning is intended to find out who authorized the apostles to declare publicly Jesus was the messiah (4:7). For Caiaphas and the others who were involved in Jesus’ execution, the claim God raised Jesus from the dead is more than just awkward, it is an attack on them as legitimate authority. They found Jesus guilty and killed him; God found him innocent and raised him from the dead.  Since Caiaphas and his advisers are Sadducees, they reject the possibility Jesus was the Messiah and especially that God raised him from the dead.

As Craig Keener points out, preaching in the Temple was not illegal, nor was healing a lame man or drawing a large crowd (2:1135). But it was extremely dangerous to declare a man who was executed as a false messiah was in fact the God’s messiah. It is a direct attack on the Temple aristocracy who killed Jesus. If the disciples continue to preach this message to the crowds, they will face increasing persecution from the aristocratic priesthood in Jerusalem.

Why do the disciples remain in Jerusalem? Could they not simply return to Galilee and preach the same gospel in a safer place? Why does Peter insist on emphasizing the participation of his audience in the death of Jesus? He seems to be attacking the Temple aristocracy directly, why does Peter not find a less-offensive way of preaching the Gospel?

Acts 3 – A Healing at the Beautiful Gate

Peter healing a lame man is significant for several reasons. First, Jesus healed many crippled persons during his ministry, Mark 2:1-12 for example. Second, he was a well-known beggar who was crippled from birth. People knew he was unable to walk, and that had never walked in his life. He was not paralyzed or injured. Third, and most importantly for the point of Peter’s sermon, that the lame would “leap for joy” was a key expectation of the Messianic age (Isa 35:6). This text is similar to Isa 61:1-2, a text Jesus read in the synagogue at Nazareth and applied to himself (Luke 4). There is continuity between Jesus and his messianic announcement and the apostolic ministry of Peter.

Isaiah 35:4-7 … say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.” Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

Isaiah looks forward to a coming age when physical infirmities will be reversed and even the desert will be a fertile. In Acts 2 the Holy Spirit is “poured out” on the people, here in Acts 3 the Holy Spirit is healing physical infirmity.

Nicolas Poussin (1655)Finally, this is the first time one of the disciples does the same sort of miracle which Jesus did, albeit in the name of Jesus. This sets up a pattern in the book of Acts, as the gospel enters new areas it is accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit as witnessed by miracles.

Peter calls for the man’s attention and tells him that he has no money for him, and heals him in the name of Jesus. Why does Peter call for the man’s attention? Perhaps there are a lot of people passing through the gate and the beggar is trying to beg from as many as he can.

The man is instantly healed, his ankles and bones are strengthen and his able to stand. Probably the man had stretched out his hands to take some coins from Peter, but Peter grabs his hands and helps him to stand instead. The fact that he is healed fully and completely is indicated that he walks and jumps, praising God (verse 8). The “leaping” for the formerly lame man evokes the Isaiah 35 passage indicating that this is a sign the messianic age is dawning.

This miracle, therefore, draws attention to the fact the messianic age has to some extent begun with the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The coming of the Spirit on God’s people is like water poured out on a dry and thirsty land. Peter and John are representatives of the Messiah and use this healing to call a large Jewish crowd to repentance.

If this is true, then likely there are other indications the kingdom is coming/present in the ministry of Peter and John in Acts 2-5. What else do you see here that might support this idea?