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Lints, Richard. Identity and Idolatry: The Image of God and Its Inversion. New Studies in Biblical Theology 36. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2015. 190 pgs., Pb.; $22.00 Link to IVP

This contribution to the NSBT series by Richard Lints offers a biblical theology of the image of God as a basis for understanding idolatry. Lints admits connecting the image of God and idolatry is a kind of “strange bridge,” but he argues a proper understanding of human identity as the image of God will correct a misunderstanding of idolatry as well as realign the Christian self-understanding with a proper view of image of God across the canon. In fact, Lints pulls together several threads to create a biblical theology of identity which includes the idea image of God as well as the “inverted” rebellion of worshiping another idolatrous image.

For Lints, imago Dei is a “methodological postulate” at the very beginning of the canon. Human identity is contingent on God, so when Scripture refers to idolatry to refers to a subversion of god in “religiously significant ways” (29). Elaborate theological and philosophical explanations of the image of God ignore larger canonical issues. For Lints, theologians have erred by assuming the image of God is some metaphysical or moral element essential to human identity. Instead, Lints argues the image ought to be understood in the larger context of Israel’s covenant relationship.

In his third and four chapters, Lints argues Eden is a “liturgy of creation in the cosmic temple” and this cosmic Edenic temple is connected to the image of God. Solomon’s Temple was designed to reflect the theology of the Garden and the image of God. The image bearers reflect God and relate to him in a unique way as they serve him in the cosmic temple of creation. Graven images pull humans in the opposite direction, neither reflecting the creator or his creation (76).

In the next two chapters Lints tracks the theme of idolatry through the former and latter prophets and into the New Testament. Although idols are forbidden in the Law, God is not threatened by then since they do not actually exist. Lints argues Israel’s own well-being is threatened by the idols (89). According to the prophets, idolatry is “turning the imago dei upside down” (chapter 5). Lints correctly sees a covenantal aspect to idolatry across the Old Testament, especially as illustrated by the image of marital infidelity. This section briefly surveys the pervasive prophetic comparison of idolatry and adultery, beginning with Hosea. He cites Ortlund’s NSBT volume God’s Unfaithful Wife. I reviewed much of this material and connected it to Jesus’s ministry in Jesus the Bridegroom.

The New Testament, Lints argues, “turns this story upside down” by present Christ as the image of God (chapter 6). It is in the mission to the Gentiles where the conflict with idolatry occurs. He calls Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 10 a “theology of idolatry,” although Paul’s critique of idols does not move far beyond that of the prophets. What is more interesting in this chapter on the New Testament is the comparison between idolatry in Israel’s history (Acts 7) and Paul’s confrontation with idolatry on Mar’s Hill (Acts 17). Perhaps this section of the book could have been enhanced by integrating Paul’s brief sermon in Lystra (Acts 14). Lints includes a brief discussion of the imperial cult in the chapter, although he does not focus on this as a background for reading Paul’s anti-idolatry texts. In addition, although the book attempts to take into account the whole canon, this chapter does not make use of Revelation and its critique of the imperial cult. The New Testament section concludes with a Paul’s Adam-Christ typology (Romans 5). If Christ is the perfect image and the Christian is the “in Christ,” then the believer is “in the image of the image” (126). The one who is “in Christ” has a new identity, they are being renewed and will bear the image of Christ in heaven.

Chapter 7 examines modern explanations of idolatry as psychological projection or examples of alienation and oppression. Lints traces this development from Kant to Nietzsche, including Freud’s pronouncement idolatry was the origin of all religion. Religion, for Freud was a response to fear and humanity will never develop until it moves beyond dependence on religion. For Lints, these “withering critiques by secular prophets” (146) ought to drive the church back to the prophets and their call to holiness.

In his final chapter, Lints develops the significance of his thesis applied to the “idolatries of consumption.” Here Lints engages in prophetic speech as he condemns the “plastic narratives” of contemporary culture. He points out this narrative has crept into Evangelicalism by embracing the “solitary mind” and the “what does this mean to me” style of Bible study. The antidote to this is a recovery of the biblical narrative of imago dei, the “eternal story told across time.”

Conclusion. The title and introduction to the book will lead the reader to think this is a biblical theology of idolatry, which in some respects it is. But Identity and Idolatry is really a biblical theology of the redemption of the image of God from idolatrous worship. Lints does not really concern himself with the nature of idolatry or the allure of idolatry in in the Old Testament, nor does he deal in any detail with the issue in the Second Temple period. The final two chapters attempt to draw appropriate conclusions (and perhaps reachable applications), but it is not always clear how these final two chapters relate to the biblical theology of imago dei and idolatry in the rest of the book.

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.

Burke, Tony and Brent Landau eds. New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 1: More Noncanonical Scriptures. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 635 pp. Hb; $75.   Link to Eerdmans

In his forward to this new collection of Christian apocrypha, J. K. Elliott asks “When is enough, enough?” Well he may ask, since he edited the seven hundred page The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford, 1994). To quote Jordan Belfort from Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street, “More is never enough.” This new collection edited by Burke and Landau is the first volume of a new series of non-canonical writings which promises to greatly expand the number of apocryphal texts available to students of the early church. Volume one collects thirty texts newly translated with introductions by experts in this literature. A second volume is planned and Burke hopes the project can be expanded to include a third and fourth volume.

Students of Christian noncanonical Christian literature know this material from the venerable The New Testament Apocrypha edited by M. R. James in 1924, updated as Wilhelm Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha (Vol. 1: Gospels and Related Writings; Vol. 2: Writings Relating to the Apostles Apocalypses). The revised edition was edited by R. Mcl. Wilson and published 1991 by Westminster John Knox based on the sixth German edition. This standard volume collected many the major noncanonical works, including some Gnostic literature.

As implied by the sub-title of the book, “More Noncanonical Scriptures” this new volume attempts to collect texts not already found in Schneemelcher or Elliott. There are a few, but they are included because additional ancient texts have been discovered since the initial publication. For example The Infancy Gospel of Thomas published in Elliot did not take into account the Syriac version. Several texts in this collection were only recently published (P.Oxy 5072, for example). Previous collections focused on the first three centuries of Christian history. Following the lead of More Canonical Old Testament Texts (edited by Bauckham, Davila and Panayotov, Eerdmans 2013), this new volume looks at texts before the age of Islam.

Christian apocrypha is usually divided into three categories. Texts dealing with Jesus are called “gospels” whether they have the features of a New Testament gospel or not. Texts which concern the apostles are called “Acts” and texts which are prophetic are usually labeled “Apocalypses.” This collection includes two Epistles, although they are not quite like the New Testament epistles. For an overview of New Testament apocrypha, see Markus Bockmuehl, Ancient Apocryphal Gospels (Westminster John Knox, 2017) and Tony Burke, Secret Scriptures Revealed: A New Introduction to the Christian Apocrypha (Eerdmans, 2014). This volume had loosened the definition of Christian apocrypha to include martyr texts and Coptic pseudo-apostolic memoirs, or even Jewish satire (Tolodot Yeshu).

Gospels and Related Traditions

  • The Legend of Aphroditanus (Katharina Heyden)
  • The Revelation of the Magi (Summary only, Brent Landau)
  • The Hospitality of Dysmas (Mark Bilby)
  • The Infancy Gospel of Thomas (Syriac) (Tony Burke)
  • On the Priesthood of Jesus (Bill Adler)
  • Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 210 (Brent Landau)
  • Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 5072 (Ross P. Ponder)
  • The Dialogue of the Paralytic with Christ (Bradley N. Rice)
  • The Toledot Yeshu (Stanley Jones)
  • The Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon (Alin Suciu)
  • The Discourse of the Savior and the Dance of the Savior (Paul C. Dilley)
  • An Encomium on Mary Magdalene (Christine Luckritz Marquis)
  • An Encomium on John the Baptist (Philip L. Tite)
  • The Life of John the Baptist by Serapion (Slavomír Céplö)
  • Life and Martyrdom of John the Baptist (Andrew Bernhard)
  • The Legend of the Thirty Silver Pieces (Tony Burke and Slavomír Céplö)
  • The Death of Judas according to Papias (Geoffrey S. Smith)

These texts are not gospels in the canonical sense, but works which are about Jesus. A few “filling the gaps” of canonical stories. In The Legend of Aphroditanus, for example, explains how Persian wise men interpreted the star and came to worship Jesus. The Hospitality of Dysmas concerns a bandit (Dysmas) who invites Mary and Joseph to stay in his home. After washing Jesus, Mary washes the leprous son of Dysmas who is not only healed, but ceases from crying. Other material in this section is extremely fragmentary (P.Oxy 210 and 5072, The Berlin-Strasbourg Apocryphon). The three texts on John the Baptist are slight expansions on the biblical text (including more teaching from John, for example). The whereabouts of John’s head seems to be a main concern for The Life of John the Baptist by Serapion. The brief The Death of Judas according to Papias is a disturbing and graphic depiction of the torture Judas endured because of his impiety.

Apocryphal Acts and Related Traditions

  • The Acts of Barnabas (Glenn E. Snyder)
  • The Acts of Cornelius the Centurion (Tony Burke and Witold Witakowski)
  • John and the Robber (Rick Brannan)
  • The History of Simon Cephas, the Chief of the Apostles (Stanley Jones)
  • The Acts of Timothy (Cavan Concannon)
  • The Acts of Titus (Richard Pervo)
  • The Acts of Xanthippe and Polyxena (David Eastman)

These works pick up on several characters in Acts (Barnabas, Cornelius, Timothy and Titus) as well as several expansions on Acts. A converted pagan priest named John remembers his encounter with Barnabas on Cyprus. Although a companion of Paul and Barnabas, Paul was upset with him because he left parchments behind in Pamphylia. This short book contains the martyrdom of Barnabas and his ascension to heaven. The Acts of Cornelius expands the canonical story by introduction a governor Demetrius, “a philosopher and fearful in heathen matters” who interrogates Cornelius and tries to force him to sacrifice to a god. Cornelius survives this persecution and Demetrius eventually converts.

In The Acts of Xanthippe and Polyxena is much like a Greek romance novel describing the Paul’s conversion of Xanthippe in Spain and the adventures of Polyxena, a young woman who meets several apostles and is eventually baptized by Andrew. Typical of Greek romances, Polyxena is abducted, thrown to the lions, but eventually preserved (and her tormentors are converted). In The Acts of Titus, Titus is descended from Minos the Cretan and came to faith after reading the Book of Hebrews and Isaiah. He became Paul’s companion in Antioch and eventually did ministry in the island of Crete. After his death, his tomb was able to help those with unclear spirits.


  • The Epistle of Christ from Heaven (Calogero A. Miceli)
  • The Letter of Ps.-Dionysius the Areopagite to Timothy on the Death of Peter and Paul (David Eastman)

The first of these two epistles claims to be a letter written by Christ and sent to Rome where it was discovered suspended in the air about the altar in the basilica. The letter itself encourages Sunday worship. The Letter of Ps.-Dionysius the Areopagite is an apocryphal account of the deaths of Peter and Paul.


  • The (Latin) Revelation of John about Antichrist (Charles Wright)
  • The Apocalypse of the Virgin (Stephen Shoemaker)
  • The Tiburtine Sibyl (Stephen Shoemaker)
  • The Investiture of Abbaton (Alin Suciu and Ibrahim Saweros)

In The (Latin) Revelation of John, Christ describes the antichrist:

He will be born to a woman, a harlot from the tribe of Dan in Israel, having 600 cubits in the length of his body and 400 in width. And he will have one eye in his forehead, one ear in his head, (and his) lip hanging down to his chest. He will have no upper teeth or knees; the soles of his feet (will be) round like the wheels of a cart. One rib will be visible in his left side without others. The hairs of his head will be black and terrible. A threefold fume will go out through his nose like a sulfurous flame reaching up to heaven. He will be raised in Chorazin; after that he will dwell in the city of Bethsaida, but only for a few days.

The rest of this apocalypse concerns the tribulation which characterizes the time of the antichrist, much of which is drawn on the Olivet Discourse and Revelation.

In The Apocalypse of the Virgin Michael appears to Mary while praying in the Mount of Olives and they travel through Hades. When Mary prays for the souls in torment, the Lord grants this a yearly break from Easter until Pentecost.  According to Shoemaker, The Tiburtine Sibyl had a greater influence on western eschatology than canonical Apocalypse (515). The sibyl comes to Rome to interpret a senator’s dream of a series of nine suns. Like many historicist approaches to Revelation, the series culminates in Constantine.

Conclusion. What is the value of studying this literature? As Burke observes in his introduction to the volume, Christian apocrypha provides an insight into the diversity of early Christian beliefs. In fact, much of this literature could be describe as Christian interpretation of canonical documents. For example, the Revelation of the Magi reflects an early Christian interest in the Jesus’s first visitors in Matthew Gospel. It is likely a book such as the Acts of Titus was produced by Christians on Crete and reflects their traditions on the origin of their community. The Acts of Cornelius in part explains the presence of a painting of Cornelius in Caesarea.

This collection of “More Noncanonical Scriptures” offers students of the early church a rich collection of texts. New Testament Apocrypha series will continue to serve scholarship for years to come.


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


Bruce, F. F. The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition, Notes. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. 425 pp. Pb; $32.   Link to Eerdmans

This commentary on John by F. F. Bruce is not new, but it is the first of nine commentaries in the new Eerdmans Classic Biblical Commentaries series. Some of these Classic commentaries were NICNT volumes replaced by new commentaries (Verhoef was replaced by Mignon Jacobs, Murray on Romans was replaced by Douglas Moo, for example). Eerdmans recognizes the ongoing value of these older commentaries and modern printing technology makes it is possible for publishers to keep older works in print. As the series preface observes, these commentaries have been used by pastors, teachers, seminary students, and are cited literary thousands of times by later works.

Eerdmans plans to republish these the following commentaries by the end of the year:

  • The Books of Haggai and Malachi, Pieter A. Verhoef
  • Romans (Shorter Commentary), C. E. B. Cranfield
  • The Epistle to the Hebrews, F. F. Bruce
  • The Epistle to the Romans, John Murray
  • A Commentary on the Revelation of John, George Eldon Ladd
  • The Gospel of John, Herman Ridderbos
  • The Epistle to the Romans, Leon Morris
  • John, Merrill C. Tenney

The first in the series is a 1983 commentary on the Gospel of John by F. F. Bruce. The text of the book is identical to the earlier edition so this is a true reprint rather than a second edition. Bruce had been studying the Gospel of John for more than thirty years when he wrote this book and now the book is another thirty years in the past. Although this means the bibliography is obviously out of date, few modern students of John’s Gospel interact with much of this secondary literature on John.

The body of the commentary offers short paragraphs on one or two verses at a time. Bruce provides his own translation each verse and then comments on the text. Where Greek appears it is always transliterated. The minimal endnotes cite other major commentaries. In his preface, Bruce acknowledges his debt to C. H. Dodd and Barnabas Lindars appears often in the notes as well. One element of the commentary which may seem dated is the use of rabbinic sources in the endnotes. On a number of occasions Bruce cites the Talmud, the Exodus Rabbah, etc (p. 187, for example). In more modern commentaries these might be omitted since it is impossible to state that any given saying in these late sources has relevance for a first century Jewish context.

What is striking about the body of the commentary is how brief Bruce’s notes are. But this is the way commentaries were written at the time. It is refreshing to read a simple, well-written commentary which does not get bogged down in parallel literature, hunting for intertextual allusions or reception history. Also missing are homiletical pointers or attempts to “bridge the gap” between an ancient writer and a modern reader. This is what helps Bruce’s commentary to retain its value over the years. Bruce offers what is necessary to illuminate the text and allows the reader (pastor, teacher) develop appropriate application in their own context. It is refreshing to sit and read a commentary without the distraction of hundreds of notes to other literature. Although Bruce is not as minimal as J. B. Lightfoot’s John commentary, it will seem light to anyone who read Craig Keener first. There is a place for the exhaustive commentary or for a commentary which traces reception history, or a commentary which closely studies Greek syntax and rhetorical features. It is, however, refreshing to read a clear and concise commentator like F. F. Bruce.

It is fair to question the relevance of a thirty year old commentary which has been replaced, but each volume of this new Eerdmans Classic Biblical Commentaries series is worthy of staying in print. Each generation of Bible student ought to have the chance to read the work of these scholars.


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

Quarles, Charles L. Matthew. Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2017. 384 pp.; Pb.; $29.99. Link to B&H Academic

Charles Quarles new Exegetical Guide to Matthew joins John Harvey’s contribution on Romans and eight other volumes in the EGGNT series published since 2010. I have previously reviewed Greg Forbes on 1 Peter. Quarles serves as Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is well qualified to write this exegetical guide, having published The Sermon on the Mount: Restoring Christ’s Message to the Modern Church (B&H Academic, 2011), A Theology of Matthew in the Explorations in Biblical Theology (P&R, 2013), as well as numerous articles and other publications on the Jesus and the Gospels.

As with other volumes in this series, Quarles begins with a short introduction covering authorship, date, provenance, composition and structure. He argues for traditional view the book was written by the Apostle Matthew during the 60s A.D. this is based in part on several references to Temple practices in the book which would be meaningless after the fall of Jerusalem. He is less dogmatic on the provenance, Syrian Antioch or Palestine are equally plausible. He does not comment on the destination nor does the introduction deal with sources or redaction criticism. Occasionally he will refer to some word as “characteristic of Matthew’s style” (p. 51) or compare Matthew to a similar saying in Luke.

Each new section of the outline of Matthew begins with a short paragraph on the structure of the pericope and highlight key features. The bulk of each section is a phrase by phrase analysis of words which have difficult syntax or are exegetically interesting. He refers to intermediate and advanced grammars such as A. T. Robertson’s classic grammar (cited as R), Daniel Wallace’s Greek Grammar beyond the Basics (cited as W), blass-DeBrunner-Funk (BDF) and Zerwick (cited as Z) by page number so the student can examine other examples or get a definition of obscure syntactical terms. Quarles frequently refers to the third edition of A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (University of Chicago Press, 2000; BDAG), but he also compares several English versions as well. When necessary, Quarles comments on textual variations appearing in the Nestle Aland Greek New Testament, often citing Metzger’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (United Bible Societies, 1994). When Quarles cites important major commentaries on Matthew he uses a single letter (F = R. T. France, G = Robert Gundry, N = John Nolland). Careful attention to the abbreviations page is necessary to use this book. Unlike other contributions to the EGGNT series, Quarles does not offer any kind of syntactical display. Because Matthew is lengthy book compared to Paul’s letters a syntactical display would increase the length of the guide.

Following the exegetical guide, Quarles collects a short bibliography of articles and monographs. There are 152 of these short bibliographies in the book and will prove to be extremely valuable for further study on each unit. These include many recent works (in the last ten years) as well as well-known older articles. Given the nature of the exegetical guide, these bibliographies cannot be not exhaustive bibliographies.  Each unit concludes with a few homiletical suggestions. For the most part these are extremely brief outlines look more like bullet points than sermon outlines.

It is possible for a student to replicate but of the content of this exegetical guide with good Bible Study Software (Logos, BibleWorks, Accordance). These tools will identify every word in the Greek New Testament and parse every verb. A student can create a “reading guide” with one of the Bible Software tools. But Quarles’s exegetical guide is not reading guide. Greek verbs are only rarely parsed and not all vocabulary is glossed.

The goal of the exegetical guides in this series is to offer a summary of the issues for a given phrase, picking out the data from all of the major resources and gathering them into a single paragraph. Since Matthew is the longest book in the series, not every word can be given the same level of detail. In Forbes’s exegetical guide to 1 Peter, a single verse fill a full page; Quarles must cover four or five verses per page.

This guide is a valuable tool for doing exegesis, it cannot replace learning koine Greek. For example, in Matthew 22:10, Quarles identified the participle ἐξελθόντες as a participle of “attendant circumstances” without further explanation or citation of a syntactical grammar. The usage is so common in does not need explanation for an intermediate Greek student. The same is true for the dozens of historical presents in the Gospel of Matthew. Without taking an intermediate Greek grammar course or the equivalent, the student will not be able to make an interpretive point without knowing what a participle of “attendant circumstances” means nor will that information help with translating the text.

A common criticism of a “reading guide” is that it arms the student with information but not an understanding of the Greek New Testament. This book requires some knowledge of intermediate Greek in order to fully use the wealth of detail Quarles provides.

This exegetical guide will be welcome for anyone studying the Greek text of Matthew. The book is densely packed with information which will aid the student preparing exegetical assignments and papers, but for there is much in this book to help the pastor or Bible teacher preparing sermons and Bible studies on the first Gospel.


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

Published on February 22, 2018 on Reading Acts.

Wright, Archie T., Brad Embry and Ronald Herms. Early Jewish Literature: An Anthology. 2 Volumes. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. 728, 256 pp. $125.00, Hb. Link to Eerdmans

This massive anthology collects examples of literature from the Second Temple Period. It goes beyond the standard collection in Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (ed. By James Charlesworth, 1983) or the more recent Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, Volume 1 (ed. Alexander Panayotov, James R. Davila, and Richard Bauckham). By including Josephus, Philo and a wide range of Dead Sea Scrolls, Early Jewish Literature provides students with a broad overview of the massive literature of the late Second Temple Period.

The Contents

Each volume has four major units covering a specific genre. One of the editors introduces the unit with a brief overview. Volume 1 begins with Scriptural Texts and Traditions. The editors in include excerpts from Daniel, the additions to Daniel and other Danielic literature found at Qumran, the Prayer of Nabonidus (4Q242) and Pseudo-Daniel (extremely fragmentary, 4Q243-245). Although it is common to read Daniel along with the Apocryphal additions, it is unusual to see the fragmentary material from Qumran in the same context. Peter Flint provides the translation for the Dead Sea Scrolls material. This section also has a few extracts from the Great Isaiah Scroll ad three Psalms from Qumran as well as LXX Psalm 151.

The Books of Maccabees and Josephus appear under the heading of “Interpretive History” in the second section of the anthology. The complete text of 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees are included, but only samples from the four main works of Josephus are included. Steve Mason, one of the foremost Josephus scholars in recent years, wrote introductions for each of Josephus’s works.

The third section covers Romanticized Narrative. This includes a book normally appearing in the Apocrypha, Tobit, as well as the Letter of Aristeas, extracts from Joseph and Aseneth, and the Life of Adam and Eve.

The fourth unit of the anthology collects a number of Dead Sea Scrolls under the heading of Biblical Interpretation and Rewritten Scripture. This includes the Habakkuk pesher (1QpHab), the Melchizedek Scroll (11Q13), the Temple Scroll (11Q19-20) and several others. The section also includes samples from Jubilees and four samples from the writings of Philo.

Volume 2 opens with Wisdom Literature and Legal Texts. It is no surprise to see extracts from Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon, but the editors have selected a number of examples of wisdom literature from Qumran as well as 1 Enoch. Since the editors have put wisdom and legal texts in the same unit, a sample from the Rule of the Community (1QS) with an introduction by Jörg Frey, the Damascus Document (CD) with an introduction by Cecilia Wassen, and “Some Works of the Law” (4QMMT) with an introduction and translation by James Dunn. Since this particular legal document has been used by Dunn and N. T. Wright as background to the Pauline phrase “works of the Law,” Dunn’s introduction to this somewhat controversial document will attract a attention. I think the decision to put wisdom and legal material together was a mistake; the genre are different enough to separate into two sections, allowing for additional legal texts from Qumran.

Under Apocalyptic Literature the editors have lengthy selections from the various sections of 1 Enoch, including the Book of Giants from 4Q23 (and other fragments). Only three of the Sibylline Oracles appear (books 3-5, all complete), along with extracts from Fourth Ezra and the whole of 2 Baruch.  From Qumran, the editors have a portion of the War Scroll and three fragmentary apocalypses (4Q246, 4Q521, 4Q285/11Q14), all introduced and translated by Martin Abegg.

Along with Psalms of Solomon and Odes of Solomon, the unit entitled “Psalms, Hymns, and Prayers” includes several prayers from Qumran, Hodayot (1QHa), Songs of Sabbath Sacrifice (4QShirShab), Songs of the Sage (4Q510, 4Q511), and an example of an incantation (4Q444) and exorcism (4Q560).

The final unit of the anthology covers Testamentary Literature. From the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, this anthology only includes the Testament of Levi; the Testament of Abraham and the Testament of Moses are also included. The final text in this section is The Aramaic Levi Document, often identified as the Aramaic Testament of Levi. The translation provided is based on 4QLevia and the Athos Greek manuscript.

The Introductions

There are introductions for every piece of literature in the anthology. This includes a narrative description of the text summarizing the contents of the whole document even if the word is on printed in full. Following this, the introduction deals with questions of authorship, provenance, date, occasion and a short summary of the textual history, original language, sources and transmission history. These are often extremely tentative due to the nature of most of the literature in the anthology. The author of the introduction then provides a short theology of the book. Each introduction also includes a short reception history of the book. Finally, each introduction concludes with a bibliography divided into two sections: For Further Study and Advanced. These reading lists are not exhaustive and would have been more useful if the texts and translations were moved to their own category.

Following the introduction is a translation of the text. Often these are fresh translations by the author of the unit, although occasionally the editors use a recently published translation. By way of example, I compared Brad Embry’s translation of the Psalms of Solomon (based on the Greek text rather than the Syriac) with R. B. Wright’s translation in Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. As can be seen from this sample, the translation is not radically different, perhaps slightly more contemporary.

Psalms of Solomon 1 I shouted to the Lord in my utter oppression, to God during the attack of the sinners. 2 Suddenly a clamor of war was heard in my presence. I said, “He will listen to me because I was full of righteousness.” 3 I considered in my heart that I was full of righteousness, because of my prosperity and the existence of many offspring.4 Their wealth was spread in all the land and their glory unto the ends of the earth. 5 They were exalted unto the stars. They said, “We will never fall.” 6 They became prideful in their good things and they did not hold to their responsibilities. 7 Their sins were in secret and I did not see. 8 Their lawlessness was greater than those nations before them; they completely desecrated the holy things of the Lord. (Translation, Brad Embry, EJL 2:572)

Psalm of Solomon 1 I cried out to the Lord when I was severely troubled, to God when sinners set upon (me). 2 Suddenly, the clamor of war was heard before me; “He will hear me, for I am full of righteousness.” 3 I considered in my heart that I was full of righteousness, for I had prospered and had many children. 4 Their wealth was extended to the whole earth, and their glory to the end of the earth. 5 They exalted themselves to the stars, they said they would never fall. 6 They were arrogant in their possessions, and they did not acknowledge (God). 7 Their sins were in secret, and even I did not know. 8 Their lawless actions surpassed the gentiles before them; they completely profaned the sanctuary of the Lord. (Translation by R. B. Wright, OTP 2: 651).

In other cases translations are drawn from recent major translations. For Jubilees, the translation is from James Vanderkam (Leuven, 1989). Portions of the section on Josephus are from the Brill Josephus Translation and Commentary series, translated by Steve Mason, Louis Feldman, and Christopher Begg. The books of 1-2 Maccabees are extracted from the New American Bible translation, although Tobit is a fresh translation by Stuart Weeks. Most of the samples from the Dead Sea Scrolls are new translations from the author of the chapter. Fourth Ezra is taken from Bruce Metzger’s translation in Charlesworth. Strangely, the Letter of Aristides and 2 Baruch are reprints of R. H. Charles published in 1931, albeit edited by Joshua Williams. The translation of 2 Baruch is supplemented with papyri fragments from Oxyrhynchus in parallel columns.


I have several comments about this anthology of Early Jewish Literature. First, it is just that, an anthology. Certainly there are other examples in virtually every category which could have been chosen. For example, the Prayer of Manasseh is not included among the Psalms, Hymns and Prayers, but an example an incantation (4Q444) and an exorcisms (4Q560) are included. OTP also included several Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers and the Prayer of Jacob and the Prayer of Joseph. For Interpretive History, EJL has only the first two books of Maccabees and Josephus. While this alone is nearly 200 pages, there is no attempt to collect the various fragmentary historians such as Aristeas the Exegete or Eupolemus. In other ways the EJL covers more than expected. EJL includes a few of the more interesting sections of 1 Enoch in the Apocalyptic section, but has nothing from 2 Enoch or 3 Enoch (as in OTP). It is quite clear this is not an attempt to re-make James Charlesworth’s two volume Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (1983).

Second, although the introductions to each book are brief, they provide the necessary information for students to read the sampled literature with some context. The bibliographies point to more detailed studies on textual or theological issues. For some works (4QMMT, Psalms of Solomon) there is an extended theology section, but compared to the introductions in OTP, even these are brief. This is simply the nature of an anthology; it is impossible to explore any given text with the kind of depth found in a monograph.

Third, by including samples from the Dead Sea Scrolls as a part of a genre is extremely valuable. It is easy enough to find collections of this material in translation, to have various apocalyptic fragments printed along with some of the usual examples of the literature is very valuable. The same can be said for separating out wisdom literature embedded in 1 Enoch and placing alongside other Second Temple wisdom.


Early Jewish Literature is a major contribution to the ongoing study of the literature of the Second Temple period. Students and scholars alike will benefit from this collection of a wide range of material. The literature collected in these two volumes are sufficiently different from the now venerable Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the inclusion of Dead Sea Scroll material makes these useful volumes indeed.


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

Snodgrass, Klyne R. Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus. Second Edition. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. 892 pp. $58, Hb.  Link to Eerdmans

When the first edition of Klyne Snodgrass’s Stories with Intent was published in 2008, I happened to visit the now-closed Eerdmans Bookstore in Grand Rapids. Alan, manager of the Bookstore approached me and handed me a copy of the book and said “You are going to buy this book.” For those who knew Alan, if he told you to buy a book, you bought it because it was going to be an excellent book. And indeed it was. The first edition of Stories with Intent won the 2009 Christianity Today Award for Biblical Studies and was almost immediately considered by many to be the best book on parables written in the last fifty years. Since I regularly assign papers on parables in my Gospels class, my syllabus states: ignore Snodgrass at your own peril. I was therefore quite excited to see the announcement of a new edition of this important book.

Stories with Intent is a comprehensive commentary on every parable of Jesus. Although the commentaries may have similar content, Snodgrass includes parables from each synoptic gospels and includes two or three versions of the parable when this occurs (The Mustard Seed in Matthew 13:31-32, for example). Snodgrass includes two chapters of introduction to parables (sixty pages) where defines and classifies parables and discusses interpretive strategies. He recognizes that some parables have allegorical elements, but these do not give the interpreter warrant to allegorize anything and everything in a parable (p. 17). In the body of the commentary, he often interprets some element of a parable without resorting to the kinds of allegorical interpretation found in ancient commentaries or popular preaching. For example, the lamps and oil in the Parable of The Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-12) does not “represent” the Holy Spirit. Commenting on the two sets of servants in the Parable of the Banquet (Matthew 22:1-14), any interpretation that makes these two sets of servants into pre-Easter mission to the Jews and a post-Easter mission to the Gentiles is “merciless allegorizing” (315). Snodgrass is consistent in this methodology.

What makes this book an especially rich resource for parables interpretation is the collection of parallel material for each parable. While there are collections of rabbinic parables or parallels to early Christian literature, Snodgrass conveniently places the text of these parallels alongside his commentary on the parable. Sometimes these parallels seem strained, but since the goal of the volume is a “comprehensive guide,” this is understandable.

The book is now about 35 pages longer than the first edition, the main difference being one additional chapter on recent contributions to parable research (pages 565-600). The page numbers from the first edition have not changed and there appear to be no differences in the endnotes. This is convenient since references to pages in the first edition will be the same pages in the second. The index of authors is greatly expanded (from just short of four pages to nearly eight pages). The bibliography has been updated to include the books appearing in the new chapter. The bibliography appears to use a slightly smaller font and spacing since it is several pages shorter than the first edition although the content is nearly the same.

The title of the book is important. Snodgrass was dissatisfied with reader response approaches to the parables since they ignore the author’s intent and make the parables say anything. Some literary approaches to the parables completely ignored what Jesus said in favor of creating a new meaning which was somehow more modern and provoking. For Snodgrass, when Jesus spoke a parable he did so with a specific intention, and to ignore that intention is to miss the point of the parable. Although taking into account the literary features of parables as well as the literary context of its place in a gospel, he does not engage in the fanciful reader-response type application of parables. This requires the interpreter to understand the historical, social, and literary context of each parable and to consciously read that parable in that proper context.

Other books on parables are more concerned with reconstructing the original forms of parables or determining what the historical Jesus may (or may not) have said. This was the driving force in John Meier’s 2016 Probing the Authenticity of the Parables. Using the criteria of authenticity Meier concluded only four parables go back to the historical Jesus. As Snodgrass observes, these criteria have been challenged and for many Jesus scholars they no longer have any value at all. Snodgrass does engage with scholarship on the authenticity of the parables, but his goal is to set the parable into a context where Jesus’s original intent can be heard. Stories with Intent his is not a historical Jesus study.

The parables are grouped thematically (parables of the present kingdom, parables about discipleship, etc.) For each parable Snodgrass collects any parallels in canonical writings, early Jewish literature, rabbinic literature and early Christian writing. He includes the text for most of the non-canonical texts, which is extremely useful for some of the more obscure rabbinical sources. He then asks questions and creates lists of things needing attention for students and teachers who want to interpret the parable accurately. Sometimes he does not address all of these needs in his explanation, but for the most part a mini-commentary on the parable compares and contrasts several approaches to the parable and draws conclusions. He provides a section on cultural background when applicable. For each parable he offers a short comment on how to adapt the parable for contemporary use in teaching and preaching. Each parable concludes with a short bibliography, although these have not been updated since the 2008 edition of the book.

In his new chapter for the second edition of the book Snodgrass observes that in the ten years since Stories with Intent was first published, more than twenty-five books on parables have been published. This does not include journal articles, but the number seems small to me, especially in comparison to other more burning issues in New Testament studies over the same time. Compare this trickle of parables research to the avalanche of books written in the New Perspective on Paul. Perhaps the publication of this massive commentary on all the parables discouraged some scholars from contributing their own monograph on the parables.

Snodgrass divides recent parables research into several categories and offers a short summary of their contribution to the study of parables. He begins with a short comment on his non-use of the Gospel of Thomas in Stories with Intent. This was a critique of the first edition in the original round of book reviews. For some scholars, GThomas is an early witness to the Jesus tradition and is useful for interpreting the parables. Snodgrass agrees with Simon Gathercole and Mark Goodacre that the Gospel of Thomas is dependent on the Synoptic Gospels and dates to the second century. In a footnote he dismisses April DeConnick’s suggestion that Thomas is a “rolling composition” with a kernel of early Jesus tradition as “speculative and unconvincing” (note 2, 807). Although Snodgrass includes Gospel of Thomas in this parallel texts ion the body of the commentary, he is clear that Thomas will not provide “an early window into Jesus’s parables” (566).

There are only a handful of new books on Old Testament and Rabbinic parables, and Snodgrass includes a few Bible Study type books as well as a few monographs on specific parables. In his section on New Testament parables he includes David Gowler’s book on the reception of the parables in Christian art and other literature. He groups several studies under the heading “Social Science” approaches. In his summary, Snodgrass indicates these studies seethe parables as political and economic stories rather than theology. They assume anyone who is rich in a parable is a negative character. Snodgrass is not convinced politics was Jesus’s intent. Although the ethical concerns are important, Snodgrass sees these approaches as open to criticism. If Jesus was were entirely political in orientation, how did the early church get them so wrong when they collected them as theological statements? Commenting on Stephen Wright’s Jesus the Storyteller, Snodgrass concludes “If Wright is correct, why were these stories remembered at all?” (588)

Conclusion. Stories with Intent is certainly the “first off the shelf” book on parables. Some will object to his rejection of parallels in Thomas or his rejection of most of the faddish approaches once popular in parables research. Nor is there much here on reception history of the parables, partly because Snodgrass soundly rejects allegorical interpretations of the parables and most of church history allegorized them extensively. Snodgrass consistently provides sufficient background material to read the parables in the context of Jesus’s ministry, but also to adapt the parable to the contemporary situation.

If you have the first edition of this book, it may not be necessary to replace it with this second edition. However, if you are going to use one book on the parables, Stories with Intent remains the best, most comprehensive book on the parables of Jesus.


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

Pate, C. Marvin. Interpreting Revelation and Other Apocalyptic Literature. An Exegetical Handbook. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2016. Pb. 239 pp. $23.99.   Link to Kregel

Marvin Pate’s contribution to Kregel’s Handbooks for New Testament Exegesis series joins John D. Harvey on the Pauline literature and Herbert W. Bateman on the General Letters (David Turner’s contribution on the Gospels and Acts is still in preparation). In many ways this exegetical guide is a companion to Richard Taylor’s Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature (Kregel 2016), although the two books often cover the same material. Pate has written and edited several books on eschatology and Revelation including Four Views of Revelation (Zondervan, 1998), Deliverance Now and Not Yet: The New Testament and the Great Tribulation (with Douglas Kennard; Peter Lang, 2004). Reading Revelation: Four Interpretive Approaches to the Apocalypse (Kregel, 2009), and The Writings of John (Zondervan, 2010). Occasionally Pate refers the reader to these works for detailed arguments when the format of the Exegetical Handbook series limits his discussion of a topic.

In the Four Views of Revelation he edited in 1998, Pate identified as a “modified futurist” and progressive dispensationalist. In his section of the four views book, Pate embraced the already/not yet approach to eschatology made popular by George Ladd. In short, this is the idea that some elements of prophecy concerning the kingdom are already fulfilled in the work of Jesus, such as the initiation of the new covenant and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Yet others aspects of prophecies are not yet fulfilled, primarily establishment of a kingdom after the coming of the Messiah.

In this book some 20 years later, Pate still uses the already/not yet rubric for understanding Jesus’s eschatology in the Olivet Discourse (see his 40 Questions about the History Jesus) and his interpretation of Revelation, but he does not identify with any form of dispensationalism in this book. He is fair to “classic dispensationalism” in the Scofield tradition, but prefers an eclectic approach (p. 147). In general he expresses solidly conservative views and certainly expects a real return of Christ in the future, but he does not engage in any of the strange applications of Revelation associated with older forms of dispensationalism.

The first three chapters of this handbook defines apocalyptic and offers an overview of the development of the genre from the Old Testament through the Second Temple Period. He begins with the 1979 SBL definition of apocalyptic. This is more or less the standard definition in scholarship today, but John Collins revisited this definition in 2009 and offered additional nuance the statement (the essay appears as the first chapter of his Apocalypse, Prophecy, and Pseudepigraphy, Eerdmans, 2015). As most scholars who study apocalyptic observe, this literature often blends several genres in a given book. Pate correctly observes the particular apocalyptic found in Daniel and Revelation are mixed genres: Daniel has court-tales (Dan 1-6) and apocalyptic visions (Dan 7-12); Revelation has letters, throne room visions, and apocalyptic.

Pate surveys the development of apocalyptic beginning in the Old Testament (Isaiah 24-27; 55-56, Joel 2-3, Ezekiel 38-39, Daniel and Zechariah). Since he considers Isaiah a unified book from the eighth century prophet, the “little apocalypse” in Isaiah 24-27 is indeed an early development. Most scholars of Isaiah today consider those chapters to be one of the later additions to the book. Other than Revelation, the main New Testament example of apocalyptic is Jesus’s Olivet Discourse. Pate does a remarkable job illustrating the parallels between the Olivet Discourse and the opening of the seven seals in Revelation 6. Although this is often suggested, few have worked out the detailed parallelism quite like Pate does.

The third chapter of this handbook sketches what Pate calls the “function of apocalyptic.” The general themes of Israel’s history are based on the blessing and cursing found in the Law (especially Deuteronomy).  Because Israel failed to keep the covenant, they fell under the curse of the Law and were eventually exiled from their land. But the covenant also promised a restoration to the land in the future. Pate then demonstrates how this “sin, exile, restoration” pattern resonates throughout both biblical and non-biblical apocalyptic literature. This include the messianic woes, a time of great tribulation prior to the arrival of the kingdom. In fact, this hope of future restoration often drives the apocalyptic reimagining of history in 1 Enoch, 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra.

One of the most fascinating sections of his book is Pate’s use of the Arch of Titus as a model for the book of Revelation. He suggests much of the structure of Revelation can be explained as an ekphrasis. Ekphrasis is a literary description of a piece of art, drawing the picture in the mind of a reader using words. The image of the Great Whore of Babylon in Revelation 17 is a clear example of this literary style. Pate has an extended discussion of the art on the Arch of Titus which he then relates to Revelation 4-19. As far as I know, this has not been suggested before and it is quite intriguing. Since Revelation has at least one other example of this style, it is at least possible John modeled at least some of his imagery on a Roman Triumph and certainly the images of Titus as the conqueror of Judea would resonate with the themes of the book. One possible problem with the suggestion (and it is only a suggestion in this book) is whether the specific images Pate refers to were known well enough to people living in Ephesus about twenty years later. With the Great Whore, the image of Dea Roma was known in imperial cult sites and on coinage. Were there replicas of the Arch of Titus placed in imperial cult centers? Could images from the Arch be distributed elsewhere in the Empire so that readers would catch on to the allusion?

As with all of the volumes in this series, Pate devotes two chapters to preaching apocalyptic literature (ch. 7-8). With respect to application, Pate discusses four issues of “twenty-first century appropriation” of Revelation, the first three are responses to misuse of apocalyptic at the theological level. First, he discusses the long delay of the return of Christ, which he answers by appealing to the already/not yet method explained elsewhere in the book. The Revelation does ague for an imminent return, but that means “any time, not ‘immediate’” (p. 179.

Second, Pate addresses the formation of Israel as a nation in 1948. This date has long fascinated prophecy teachers who have made the unfortunate claim the new political entity Israel is the fulfillment of prophecy. Since Jesus says “this generation will not pass away in the Olivet discourse (Matt 24:34), some claimed 1948 started the prophetic clock and a literal generation would pass before the Rapture or Second Coming (1981, 1988, etc.). Pate offers five alternatives for understanding “this generation.” He leans towards the view this “generation” refers to the last generation before Christ returns, whenever that is.

Third, Pate deals with the theological question of the status of Israel in the present age. Does the church “replace Israel” as God’s chosen people in God’s plan? Using the 144,000 in Revelation 7, Pate argues Israel has not been replaced as God’s people. This group represents the “Jewish remnant that already accepted Jesus as their Messiah in the first century” and the larger multitude are the Gentiles who have not yet accepted Jesus as Messiah (the already/not yet hermeneutic).

Finally, Pate discusses the commendations to the seven churches and their application to contemporary church issues. This section is little more than a paragraph, which I find surprising since the letters to the seven churches are by far the most applicable and preachable section of the book of Revelation.

The section on preaching apocalyptic is missing two items I would have appreciated. First, I would like to hear Pate’s advice on what NOT to preach in this literature. Preaching through Revelation 1-3 works well, and the throne visions in 4-5 lend themselves to a sermon. But is it possible to preach through Revelation 8-9 in a series of expositional sermons in a way that is faithful to the text and applicable to a modern congregation? Can a pastor preach the Great Whore of Babylon (Rev 17) in a way that “bridges the gap” between the Roman world of the late first century and modern American Christianity? My second criticism of this section of the book is the two texts Pate chose to model an expositional method for preaching apocalyptic: Romans 11:25-27 and 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7. At least one example sermon should have been drawn from Revelation (the topic of this book). In fact, one sermon from the Seven Churches and one from a later chapter would have been a more appropriate model given the title and themes of the book. At the end of the book I am left wondering, “How do I preach Revelation?”

The final chapter of the book is a list of exegetical tools for biblical interpretation and resources for apocalyptic literature. The first three pages are general tools (including a full page on textual criticism!). With the exception of his own work, there are few items on this list from the last 15 years. This list would benefit by reducing space devoted to general studies, expanding the apocalyptic section with recent important work, and annotating the entries.

Conclusion. Like the other volumes in this series, Pate’s book is a useful overview of a very difficult genre to interpret. I find many of the charts difficult to navigate, perhaps the information would have been better communicated without forcing it into a rigid box format. 1-2 Thessalonians are on the front cover of the book, but really only appear as one of the two examples of preaching apocalyptic. Aside from these criticisms, the first three chapters of this book are worthy reading for an introduction to apocalyptic literature. Pate’s discussion of Revelation 6 and the Olivet Discourse and the Arch of Titus are excellent and worthy of attention.

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


Reviews of previous volumes in this series:

Gary V. Smith, Interpreting the Prophets 

Richard A. Taylor, Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature

Edward M. Curtis, Interpreting the Wisdom Books

John D. Harvey, Interpreting the Pauline Letters

Herbert W. Bateman IV, Interpreting the General Letters 


Osborne, Grant R.  Ephesians: Verse by Verse. Osborne New Testament Commentaries; Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2017. 267 pp.; Pb.  $19.99  Link to Lexham Press

Osborne, Grant R.  Philippians: Verse by Verse. Osborne New Testament Commentaries; Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2017. 243 pp.; Pb.  $19.99  Link to Lexham Press

Osborne, Grant R.  Colossians and Philemon: Verse by Verse. Osborne New Testament Commentaries; Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2017. 222 pp.; Pb.  $16.99  Link to Lexham Press

These three new commentaries on Paul’s Prison Epistles from Lexham Press target a general readership rather than a scholarly audience. Like the popular The Tyndale Commentary Series, these three volumes are brief yet scholarly, targeting a wide range of readers.

As Osborne says in his preface, the commentaries in the series should be used for devotional Scripture reading. Since the commentaries are based on the NIV translation a reader can use this commentary as a supplement to their daily Bible reading. A second related goal is for these commentaries to be used in Church Bible studies, perhaps in a small group or Sunday school context. But pastors and teachers will be find the commentaries useful as they prepare sermons on the text of the Bible. Osborne says he wants “to help pastors faithfully exposit the text in a sermon.” Osborne attempts to balance a deep reading of the text with a practical application for the Bible student.

Commentaries on these four books often begin with a discussion of authorship. Scholarship has questioned whether Paul wrote Ephesians and occasionally Colossians. Osborne briefly summarizes these challenges in his introductions and concludes there is no reason to reject the claim of each book that Paul is the author. The theological themes of Ephesians are consistent with Paul’s other letters and there is really no problem with parallels between Ephesians and Colossians, especially if they were written about the same time.

Since Paul implies he is in prison in each of these four letters, the second issue commentaries on the Prison Epistles usually treat is “from which of Paul’s many imprisonments did he write these letters?” In the Ephesian commentary Osborne evaluates the two main alternatives, Caesarea (Acts 24:27, A.D. 59-60) and Rome (Acts 28:30-31, AD 61-62) and concludes the Roman imprisonment is better, primarily because there is little evidence of ministry while Paul is in Caesarea. He does not engage with the suggestion Paul wrote Philippians from an implied imprisonment during his lengthy stay in Ephesus. Osborne suggests all four Prison epistles were written over a three or four month period and delivered by Tychicus.

Each commentary suggests a few primary purposes for the letters. Ephesians was a circular letter to all the churches in the Roman province of Asia, likely including the seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2-3, Colossae and Hierapolis. As such, Ephesians is a general letter dealing with doctrine and practice with very little “Jew-Gentile tensions” which appear in Paul’s other letters. Philippians thanks the church for supporting Paul while he is in prison. Paul informs them of his situation in order to encourage them, but he also addresses some theological issues perhaps in response to an opponent in Philippi. Writing to a church Paul did not found, Colossians deals with a particular teaching threatening the church. Philemon’s purpose is clear: Paul writes a letter of recommendation for an escaped slave who has now become a Christian.

For Philippians and Colossians Paul engages an opponent, or perhaps as many as three opponents. In Philippians 1:18 Paul mentions those who “preach the gospel out of impure motives,” rival teachers from within the church. In Philippians 3:2 Paul surprises the reader with a warning to watch out for “those dogs, mutilators of the flesh.” Osborne suggests the opponents are similar to (or even the same as) the opponents in Galatia, the Judaizers (Philippians, 118). But there are also hints of a third group, pagan persecutors of the church (1:27-30).

For Colossians, commentaries usually devote significant space to the “Colossian Heresy.” This opponent is in some aspects Jewish (2: 16, 18 21; food laws and festivals), but in other ways they are Gentile, described as a philosophy (Col 2:4, 8) For Osborne, this is a “proto-Gnostic” teaching which devalued Christ (and perhaps over-valued angels).

Osborne also deals briefly with the literary features of the letters. It is currently fashionable to read Paul’s letters in the light of Greco-Roman rhetoric. Osborne recognizes some value in studying these features, but for Ephesians he concludes “this is not Hellenistic rhetoric, but a Jewish homily and letter” (Ephesians, 7). For Philippians, he discusses the genre of the letter (friendship letter, word of exhortation) as well as the common suggestion Philippians is a compilation of several short letters from Paul. The multiple-source theories are “artificial and unnecessary” (Philippians, 3).

For Philemon, commentaries often are bogged down with long background sections on slavery in the Roman word. Osborne’s entire section on Philemon is barely forty pages only touches on this cultural background. He does engage in a discussion of four potential reconstruction of the situation behind the letter before offering his own view (which he works out in the short commentary).

Finally, each introduction concludes with a short summary of the theology of the book. Although there are some unique elements in each letter, Osborne observes the work of Christ in each of these four letters as well as what each letter contributes to our understanding of the church in Pauline theology. Reading these three volumes at the same time highlights the consistency of the theology of the Prison Epistles.

The body of each commentary moves through paragraphs based on the outline provided in his introductions. Occasionally Osborne will refer to a Greek word, but these only appear in transliteration and do not distract readers who have not studied Greek. Footnotes are rare in the commentary, occasionally pointing to another scholar for additional information or to a series of cross-references. The commentary concludes with a glossary of key terms (indicated by bold in the text), a short bibliography, Subject/Author index and a Scripture index.

Conclusion. Like Osborne’s commentaries on Galatians and Romans in this series, these three volumes achieve the goal of providing amble resources for reading the text. Osborne intentionally writes to be understood by the layperson as well as to assist a busy pastor preparing to preach or teach the Prison Epistles. There are more technical exegetical commentaries available, but Osborne’s commentaries fill the need for a short, readable commentary accessible by all students of the Bible.

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.


thiselton-discovering-romansAmazon has a great deal on the four published volumes in the Discovering Biblical Texts from Eerdmans. Each volume of the series provides an excellent introduction to the exegetical problems a particular books as well as an example of a commentary from the perspective of Reception History.

When I reviewed the Romans volume by Anthony Thiselton I said:

Discovering Romans is an excellent handbook and guide to the story of Romans. It will make an excellent textbook for the seminary classroom, but will be of great assistance to anyone who wants to keep up with recent developments in the study of Romans. More than this, Thiselton’s goal of reading Romans along with writers in different periods of Church history provides the modern reader with important perspectives which are often overlooked or intentionally ignored. Despite the brevity of the commentary, it is rich with details pointing interested readers to commentaries and monographs to dig deeper into this most important book of the New Testament.

If you read books on a Kindle (or Kindle App), Amazon has the first four volumes of this series on sale for 99 cents each. That is four serious books for your library for the price of a cup of coffee (at least a fancy cup of coffee). I much prefer a real book to the Kindle version, but the price is right for these excellent volumes. If you have an iPad (or other tablet), use the Kindle App to read these books.

Click the title to read my review of the book and then the Amazon link to add the book to your Kindle Library.

Ian Boxall, Discovering Matthew     Link to Amazon

Ruth Edwards, Discovering John     Link to Amazon

Anthony Thiselton, Discovering Romans     Link to Amazon

Iain Provan, Discovering Genesis     Link to Amazon

HT to Jennifer Guo (@jenniferguo) who tweeted links to the NT volumes. I have no idea how long this sale might last, so grab the books while you can.



Harvey, John D. Romans. Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2017. xxxiii + 429 pp.; Pb.; $29.99. Link to B&H Academic

John Harvey’s Exegetical Guide to Romans joins eight other volumes in the EGGNT series published since 2010. I have previously reviewed Greg Forbes on 1 Peter and have used Chris A. Vlachos’s volume on James (2013). These volumes provide exegetical insights based on the fifth edition of the Greek New Testament for students, teachers and pastors from a wide range of exegetical grammars and commentaries. Harvey contributed Interpreting the Pauline Letters in the Handbooks for New Testament Exegesis series (Kregel, 2012) as well as Listening to the Text: Oral Patterning in Paul’s Letters (ETS Studies 1; Baker, 1998).

In the short introduction to the book of Romans, Harvey lists six commentaries he uses throughout the guide: Cranfield (ICC, 1980); Dunn (WBC, 1988); Jewett (Hermenia, 2007); Moo (NICNT, 1996); Schreiner (BECNT, 1998), and Longenecker (NIGTC, 2017). Imagine having these six exegetical commentaries open on your desk at the same time and reading only the comments on grammar, syntax, and textual criticism. This is essentially what Harvey provides in this book. In addition to the commentaries, Harvey identifies various grammatical and syntactical elements of the text, citing advanced grammars such as Blass, Debrunner, Funk (BDF), Dan Wallace’s Greek Grammar beyond the Basics (GGBB) and A. T. Robertson.

Harvey’s outline of Romans appears in the introduction and a more detailed outline appears in the appendix. Each section begins with a short paragraph on the structure of the unit followed by a simple syntactical display of the Greek focusing on coordinating clauses. No syntactical or rhetorical features are noted on this display. The bulk of each section is a phrase by phrase analysis of key words, often citing the six commentaries. For example, in Romans 7:9 ἐγὼ δὲ ἔζων χωρὶς νόμου ποτέ (“I was once alive apart from the law,” ESV). Who is the ἐγὼ in this phrase? For Dunn, it is Adam, for Moo it is Israel, for Longenecker and Schreiner it is Paul himself. Harvey lists these three possibilities but does not indicate a preference. In this same phrase the imperfect verb ἔζων is identified as a progressive imperfect and ποτέ is an adverb of time.

As a second example, for the phrase τὴν λογικὴν λατρείαν ὑμῶν (“your reasonable service”) in Romans 12:1, Harvey points out this noun phrase in in apposition to the preceding infinitival phrase (citing Robertson, BDF and Moule), explains the use of the definite article and the placement of the adjective. He compares Cranfield’s view that λογικν means “consistent with a proper understanding of the truth of God revealed in Christ” with Schreiner’s “eminently reasonable,” Moo’s “true” and Longenecker’s “this is your proper act of worship as rational people.” Harvey comments of lexical issues as well, citing the third edition of Bauer by page and section (for example, BDAG 700c) but also all the major theological dictionaries such as TDNT and he occasionally cites a modern translation.

One of the most valuable contributions of this Exegetical Guide is the “for further study” section following a unit. In fact, these short bibliographies are worth the price of the book. They focus on a particular exegetical problem in the unit which have generated significant secondary literature. For example, after Romans 5:1-11 Harvey collects articles, book sections and monographs on peace (5:1), hope (5:2), and reconciliation (5:11). There is more than a page on the very difficult problem of the identity of “I” in Romans 7. These bibliographies are brief compared to the massive output of scholars over the years, and they are focused on exegetical topics rather than theology or history of interpretation. In all, there are ninety-six of these units, providing students with the basic bibliography for the major interpretative problems in Romans.

Each unit concludes with a few homiletical suggestions. For the most part these are brief outlines showing how the exegesis might be used in a sermon. Harvey’s homiletical suggests look very much like passage outlines.

It is possible someone might look at this books and wonder if they could not do all of this with good Bible Study Software (Logos, BibleWorks, Accordance). The short answer is: no. Since this book is not a reading guide, Greek verbs are only rarely parsed and no vocabulary is glossed. A student might create a reading guide with one of the Bible Software tools, or use a reading guide from another publisher. What Harvey provides is a summary of the exegetical issues for a given phrase, picking out the data from all of the major resources and gathering them into a single paragraph.

This exegetical guide is a valuable tool for doing exegesis in Romans. However, the book does not replace learning koine Greek. For example, in one of the examples above, Harvey identified a word as a “progressive imperfect.” Without taking an intermediate Greek grammar course or the equivalent, the student will not be able to make an interpretive point without knowing what a “progressive imperfect” is. But this common criticism of “reading guides” for the Greek New Testament does not apply here since Harvey’s exegetical guide requires much from the reader in order to fully use the wealth of detail he provides.

This book will be welcome for anyone studying the Greek text of Romans, especially for students working on exegetical papers. But for there is much in this book to help the pastor or Bible teacher to prepare to present the message of Romans to their congregations.


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

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