Herbert Bateman and William Varner, James: An Exegetical Guide

Bateman IV, Herbert W. and William C. Varner. James: An Exegetical Guide for Preaching and Teaching. Big Idea Greek Series. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2022. 317 pp. Hb; $33.99. Link to Kregel Academic.

This new entry in Kregel Academic’s Big Greek Idea Series joins volumes on Ephesians, Philippians, and John’s Letters. The series is designed as an exegetical guide for busy pastors, overloaded professors, and students with demanding Greek professors.  Bateman is well-known for other exegetical guides and his Jude commentary in the Evangelical Exegetical series (Lexham, 2015). William Varner is a professor of biblical studies and Greek and the Master’s Seminary and has previously published two books on the Greek text of James.

James Big Greek IdeaThe book begins with a thirty-two-page introduction explaining what the authors mean by a causal outline. Although this is like Bill Mounce’s “phrasing,” Guthrie and Duvall’s “grammatical diagram” there are significant differences. Bateman and Varner focus on visualizing subordinate and coordinate clauses to explain syntactical relationships, parallelisms and other grammatical emphases in the letter.

The introduction includes a discussion of James’ style and vocabulary. They observe James has a more literary style than other books in the New Testament. Since they accept the traditional view that James is Jesus’s brother, the literary style implies the use of amanuensis. There are several interesting rhetorical features in James, including various kinds of wordplay. The most important element of style is the hortatory character of the letter. James heavily uses imperatives; there are nearly sixty commands and only 109 verses. There is a chart on page 46 comparing this use of imperatives to all other books in the New Testament. The introduction includes A three-page chart of all fifty-three hapax legomena in James (words used only once in the New Testament), including the lexical form, a gloss, and the page number in BDAG.

Bateman and Varner break James into eight sections. Each unit begins with a quote big Greek idea” which ironically is in English. They provide a structural overview for the section and an outline breaking the section into sub-units. The commentary then progresses through each of these subunits, focusing on the syntax and semantics of the Greek text. Since Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, is a popular seminary textbook, they use his semantic categories using in-text citations.

Scattered throughout the commentary are several sidebars, entitled “Nuggets.” There are several major categories: grammatical, syntactical, semantical, lexical, feel logical, and text-critical. These categories are often combined. For example, a Grammatical Nugget appears in James 3:11, “what is the significance of the particle μήτι?” sometimes the semantic and lexical categories overlap, many in both categories have to do with the proper translation of a particular word, such as the meaning of δοῦλος in James 1:1. Theological Nuggets deal with issues such as “What is meant by ‘save our souls’?” in James 1:21. But the focus of a Theological Nugget is still the Greet texts, such as “What is the message conveyed through the infinitive clause” in James 4:2? The answer is based on the syntax and semantics of the Greek text.

There are a few less-common categories: structural, interpretive issues, figures of speech, historical, literary, quotation, and background. For example, in the context of James 5:12, “Did James every quote Jesus?” Answer: there are eight firm allusions to Jesus in James.

Conclusion. James: An Exegetical Guide for Preaching and Teaching will be useful for a pastor who is supplementing reading in a commentary on James (an over-worked seminary student doing Greek homework). Since this is the goal of the volume, do not expect a full commentary. This is an exegetical guide and does not have additional preaching and teaching helps found in Kregel’s Kerux series, for example. Few pastors have the time to read their text in the Greek Bible to prepare for a sermon, so an exegetical guide like this book will help them with some of the more difficult aspects of James’s Greek.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Tremper Longman, Revelation through Old Testament Eyes

Longman, III, Tremper. Revelation through Old Testament Eyes. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Academic, 2022. 351 pp. Pb. $29.99   Link to Kregel Academic  

This new volume in Kregel’s Through Old Testament Eyes is the first written by an Old Testament scholar. Longman is well-known in Old Testament circles for his excellent commentaries on wisdom literature. He wrote the NIVAC commentary on Daniel (Zondervan, 1999) and How to Read Daniel (IVP Academic, 2020). This new commentary on Revelation in Kregel’s “Through Old Testament Eyes” is a basic commentary on the English text, with a special emphasis on using the Old Testament to illuminate aspects a New Testament book.

Longman - Revelation Through Old Testament EyesIn the brief introduction to the Book of Revelation, he suggests the principal theme of the book is that, despite present trouble, God is in control, and he will have the final victory. He suggests that the wedding of political power and Christian faith does not lead to the strengthening of the church, but rather to its weakening. In fact, Revelation says “do not give up the faith or fall into lockstep with culture” (19).

Regarding authorship, date, and genre, Longman leans towards the traditional view that Revelation was written late in the first century, but he does not think there is enough evidence to decide which John wrote Revelation. But for Longman, authorship does not matter for interpreting the book. Unlike many commentaries on Revelation, the introduction has no interest in millennial positions or the usual discussion of preterist versus futurist interpretation. The driving concern throughout the commentary is “how is this text related to the Old Testament?” Or, “how does the Old Testament help understand this verse?”

Let me illustrate this with several examples. As might be expected, he suggests interpreters read Revelation in the light of the book of Daniel rather than Revelation into Daniel. Commenting on Revelation 11: 2-3, he asks if the 42 months are a literal time period. For Longman, Daniel 7-8 refers to a three-and-a-half-year period which was symbolic of the time when the sanctuary would be desecrated. Longman is, therefore, hesitant to take the time literally in Revelation. Rather than a three-and-a-half-year period, the message of Revelation 11 is that evil has a limit, the desecration of the temple will not last forever.

Some imagery in Revelation may allude to Greco-Roman culture rather than the Old Testament. Discussing God’s throne in Revelation 4, he draws attention to a series of Old Testament passages (1 Kings 22:14; Isa 6, Ezek 1:26). But following Ian Paul and David Aune, John models the throne room on the Roman Empire. In Revelation, only God who is deserving of worship, not the emperor or the empire.

The body of the commentary is based on the English text and rarely refers to the Greek text. Occasional references to secondary literature are cited in endnotes. The commentary is clear and concise. Longman avoids the parallelomania that often plagues Revelation commentaries. Rather than explain every detail of the text, Longman’s focus is squarely on Old Testament or ancient near eastern backgrounds. For example, commenting on the serpent in Revelation 12, he refers to the broader ancient Near Eastern background from Ugaritic literature. In the Baal myth, the sea represented the forces of chaos and evil which needed to be pacified for creation to happen. The Old Testament uses rivers and seas as symbols for chaos and evil, so it is no surprise the serpent spews water like a river.

There are several types of sidebars throughout the commentary. “What the Structure Mean?” appears at the beginning of a new unit, offering a summary and overview of the chapter. Many chapters include a “Through the Old Testament Eyes” sidebar. These focus on the Old Testament in more detail that the regular commentary. For example, commenting on Revelation 7:9, “every nation, tribe, people, and language,” Longman connects this to Abraham, to whom God promised “all people on earth would be blessed through him” (Gen 12:3). Longman points out the phrase “nation, tribe, people, and language” is not the same, but reminiscent of a phrase found in Genesis 10, the theological origins of various languages before the tower of Babel story in Genesis 11.

In the context of the seven bowls of God’s wrath in chapter 15, Longman suggests that the plagues on Egypt influenced these bowls of God’s wrath. He therefore surveys the plagues and compares them to Revelation 16. He concludes, “just as the Egyptian plagues overtook a recalcitrant leader, pharaoh, who represented a Kingdom that exploited God’s people, so the plagues described by Revelation come on those who resist God and persecute his people” (229). And like the Egyptian plagues, those who experience the wrath of God do not repent, but only further resist God.

Sidebars entitled “Going deeper” are an application based on the text. For example, commenting on wealth in Revelation 18, Longman suggests the seductive power of wealth is a common biblical theme. The Bible is not anti-money, but it is against the strong desire to accumulate wealth. Commenting on idolatry and adultery in Revelation 17, he connects the Whore of Babylon to the Old Testament, primarily Hosea, Ezekiel 16, 23, but also to Ephesians 5: 21-33 (the church as a pure, spotless bride). Commenting on the judgments in revelation 16, he makes a slight nod to Christian responsibility to care for the environment rather than a “let it all burn” attitude.

Because of the goals of this commentary series, there are several things missing one usually finds in Revelation commentaries. First, there is little interest in the Greco-Roman background for interpreting Revelation and nothing on the imperial cult in Asia Minor, either in his discussion of the seven churches or Revelation 13 and 17. Second, although theological comments appear throughout the book, this is not a theological commentary. Unlike John Thomas and Frank Macchia Two Horizons commentary (Eerdmans 2016), Longman does not include theological reflections on Revelation.

Conclusion. Longman achieves his goal in Revelation: Through Old Testament Eyes to shed light on Revelation based on the Old Testament. This commentary will serve pastors and teachers well as they study this difficult book of the New Testament.

 

Other volumes in this series:

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.

 

 

Gregory MaGee and Jeffrey Arthurs, Ephesians (Kerux)

MaGee, Gregory S. and Jeffrey D. Arthurs. Ephesians. Kerux Commentaries. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Ministry, 2021. 281 pp. Hb. $29.99   Link to Kregel Ministry  

The Kerux commentary series pairs an exegete and a preacher. In this case, both authors have experience in both the academy and ministry. Gregory MaGee (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is associate professor of biblical studies and chair of the Biblical Studies, Christian Ministries, and Philosophy Department at Taylor University. His other publications include Studying Paul’s Letters with the Mind and Heart (Kregel 2018) and Portrait of an Apostle: A Case for Paul’s Authorship of Colossians and Ephesians (Pickwick, 2013).  Jeffrey Arthurs (PhD, Purdue University) is Robinson Chair of Preaching and Communication and Dean at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and published Preaching with Variety (Kregel 2007) and Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture (Kregel 2012). He contributed the preaching section to the Kerux commentary on Colossians and Philemon (Kregel 2022).

MaGee and Arthurs, EphesiansIn the introduction, “at first glance there is not much to say about the authorship of the Ephesians: the apostle Paul wrote it!” (31). Nevertheless, the introduction deals with five common objections to the traditional authorship with responses for each. They suggest these arguments against Pauline authorship “fail to account for Paul’s ability to apply complex an insightful theological guidance to different settings according to the specific needs there” (33).

The authors suggest the most likely scenario is Paul wrote Ephesians shortly after Colossians and sought to articulate the same ideas in both letters. Colossians was fresh in his mind when he wrote the book of Ephesians. They briefly agree with the traditional view the book was written from Rome A.D. 60-61 as a circular letter to several churches in Asia Minor, including both Ephesus and Laodicea. MaGee deals with the textual variant in 1:1, in the body of the commentary.

The introduction also provides a brief historical background for Ephesus and Asia Minor. This section develops two major themes in the background of Ephesians, political power and magic in diaspora Jewish communities, as seen Acts 19. MaGee is guided by the work of Paul Trebilco and John Barclay throughout the commentary. Paul is writing to house churches in Asia minor, a wide network of gentile believers learning to be unified as a single body, as equal family members.

The introduction also highlights several theological themes to be found in the book of Ephesians. First, Paul main theme throughout the book is being united in Christ. Focusing on “in Christ” language in the book, the authors suggest the believer is completely identified with Christ.  Second, walking in Christ. Paul focuses on a life marked by love (5:2) and holiness (4:15; 5:8). Third, Paul develops Christ’s authority in heaven and earth in Ephesians. Although Jesus is presently ruling, in the future he will assume his comprehensive rule and restore all things 1:9-10. Fourth, the believer’s identity in Christ can be summed up under the phrase “sit, walk, stand.” The believer’s identity in Christ should shape how they live out their life and mission.

Like other volumes in this series, the body of the commentary begins with a summary of the preaching unit. MaGee distills the unit into a brief, single sentence exegetical idea and theological focus. Each section of the commentary begins with a few comments on the literary structure and connections to the larger themes of Ephesians. This is followed by detailed exegesis of the section. Greek appears without transliteration and MaGee often makes in-text citations to the standard lexical and syntactical reference works. The commentary frequently deals with syntactical issues and compares various commentaries where necessary.  He often uses sidebars labeled “translation analysis” to comparing various commentaries and modern translations, or analyze textual critical issues.

Each chapter is supplemented by sidebars offering details on cultural background. For example, a sidebar on the dividing wall of hostility connects to the Jewish temple. Here is an excellent sidebar on shared identity of Jews in the Roman world, following John Barclay and N. T. Wright. The sidebar entitled “Magnifying Caesar Augustus and Ephesus” is particularly helpful for putting Paul’s gospel in the context of the Roman world. The use of psalms 68 in Ephesians 4:8 and a longer discussion of Christ’s descent are excellent. MaGee compares two positions on the Christ’s descent and concludes Paul is referring to the incarnation (163). There is an excellent lengthy sidebar on Household Codes, comparing Ephesians to similar ideas in Greco-Roman writers. In addition to the sidebars, MaGee also contributes photographs of Ephesus to illustrate aspects of the commentary.

Following the exegesis is a brief theological focus tying the exegesis back to the theological summary of Ephesians in the introduction.

For each of the thirteen chapters, Jeffery Arthurs offers a series of preaching and teaching strategies. He first summarized the exegetical and theological sections and present a single sentence preaching idea for the unit. One of the values of the preaching section is connections to contemporary culture. Arthurs offers illustrations draw from a wide range of sources, including recent news stories, visual aids, stories, and skit suggestions, and even a reference to Bono and Kanye West (Jesus is King). He provides URLs for many of his suggestions. For many (older?) pastors, these insights will be valuable for contextualizing Ephesians for American churches. I notice there are more sidebars and charts in the preaching and teaching sections than other commentaries in this series.

Conclusion. MaGee and Arthurs commentary on Ephesians provides pastors and teachers tools to use when preparing lessons and sermons on this important book. MaGee grounds his exegesis in the culture of first century Ephesus and Arthurs brings that exegesis to life in a twenty-first century pulpit. Like others in the Kerux series, the commentary is solidly evangelical and does not stray far from traditional views on the Pauline setting for the book.

I noticed there is a footnote missing for the sidebar on page 36. The chart on page 108 seems to be duplicated on page 132.

 

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

Other volumes reviewed in this series:

 

 

Charlie Trimm, The Destruction of the Canaanites: God, Genocide, and Biblical Interpretation

Trimm, Charlie. The Destruction of the Canaanites: God, Genocide, and Biblical Interpretation. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2022. 117 pp. Pb; $14.99.   Link to Eerdmans

In The Destruction of the Canaanites, Charles Trimm summarizes the problem of the command to destroy all the Canaanites at the time of the conquest. This is an important issue since the Canaanite Genocide  and violence in the Old Testament is one reason many modern atheists reject the existence of God, such as Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion or Dan Barker, God: The most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction. After setting the background to the problem, Trimm offers four ways to understand why God commands Israel to destroy Jericho and other Canaanites.

Trimm Destruction of the CanaanitesTrimm begins with three chapters on the background necessary to develop an informed opinion on this issue. First, he briefly surveys warfare in the Ancient Near East. Drawing on Egyptian and Mesopotamia and texts, he shows that the rhetoric of warfare often includes hyperbole to describe their victories. Archaeology and history confirm ancient kings engaged in battle. But friendly casualties are vastly under-reported while the extent of the victories is exaggerated. Sometimes both sides claimed victory! In the second chapter, Trimm examines other examples of mass killing or genocide in antiquity, focused primarily on Hittite records. Sometimes the Hittites consecrated a captured town, something which could be described as “cultural genocide.” Finally, Trimm defines Canaanites as various people groups who were in the land when Joshua arrived. This section also discusses the command to destroy the city of Jericho, focused on the key Hebrew term ḥērem. The word is sometimes used to describe bringing order to chaos (40). But the command to slaughter all the enemy may be because of a scarcity of land and resources. In addition, ḥērem sometimes appears in the context of sacrifice and punishment.

After this section on Ancient Near Eastern background, the second part of the book offers four approaches to the problem of Canaanite Genocide in the Old Testament: First, some reevaluate God and conclude that he is not good, or that he simply does not exist. For an atheist like Richard Dawkins, the question is pointless since there is not God, whether good or evil. Second, others reevaluate the historical value of the Old Testament. The Old Testament does record genocide, but these reports are historically suspect. This view (obviously) rejects biblical inerrancy.

Third, others reevaluating the interpretation of the Old Testament. In this approach, the violence found in the Bible is not as violent as it appears. This approach involves a legal definition of genocide, but more often, in church history, these texts in the Old Testament are spiritualized to refer to a later enemy (the Crusades, or persecution of the Jews). Unfortunately, this doesn’t really solve the problem, it just moves it to a different enemy. Several scholars in this category will observe that the word ḥērem is not always lethal, since it can be used as a metaphor for devotion. Others will point to the hyperbole used in the command, “destroy the entire city and all the people.” It cannot mean they literally destroyed the entire city, since some cities continued to exist after they were supposedly destroyed.

The fourth view calls for reevaluating the violence in the Old Testament. These scholars accept that the Old Testament does accurately report mass killing, and that at one time, the holy God sanctioned this violence If this is true, then the violence must be a just punishment on the wicked Canaanites, not a “ethnic cleansing.” Scholars supporting this view often point out that the entrance into Canaan was unique in history. God gave the land to Shem and later to Abraham; Israel is reclaiming land that was already theirs.

Conclusion. Trimm’s The Destruction of the Canaanites is an excellent introduction to the problem of violence in the Old Testament, written with laypeople in mind. It does not require special training in Ancient Near Eastern culture or Old Testament literature to appreciate the various approaches to the problem. He does not advocate for any of the positions, although he affirms both God’s existence and the truth of Scripture. Readers interested in more detailed arguments from scholars representing the views themselves might turn to Show Them No Mercy: Four Views on God and the Canaanite Genocide (Zondervan, 2003). Trimm provides a wealth of footnotes and a detailed bibliography for further study of this important topic.

 

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

Jeannine K. Brown, Philippians (TNTC)

Brown, Jeannine K. Philippians. Tyndale New Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2021. xxiv+243 pp. Pb. $25.00   Link to IVP Academic  

This new volume in the Tyndale New Testament Commentary series replaces the original 186-page volume by Ralph Martin, originally published in 1959. Jeannine K. Brown is professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. She published a Matthew commentary in Baker’s Teach the Text series (2015) and the Two Horizons commentary on Matthew (with Kyle Roberts, Eerdmans 2018). She served as an editor for the second edition of the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (IVP Academic, 2013).

Brown Commenary PhilippiansThe fifty-seven-page introduction begins with a discussion of hermeneutical considerations. She describes her method as a close reading of the text, including historical reconstruction inattention to the literary facets of the letter. All of this leads to a better understanding of pulse theology, which is both pastoral and practical.

Brown reads the letter of Philippians in a particular situation, which is confirmed by using pulse other letters, the archeology of Philippi, and contemporary literature. This contemporary literature includes a “judicious use of the book of Acts” (3).

Under the heading, reading Paul with an implied author, she asks “how would the original readers of the letter have experienced Paul when they first heard the letter?“ They would not know the other letters of Paul (nor, I would add, did they have a Reformation worldview). When reading the “Paul of Philippians,” knowledge of the other Pauline letters easily influences the modern reader, leading to a skewed portrait. For example, reading Philippians in the light of Romans and Galatians, for example, leads to questions: “where did justification by faith go?” “Where is the law/grace conflict?” By focusing on what Paul communicates to his readers, these questions are less important.

Regarding historical matters, assuming Paul is the author alliance the letter with other Pauline literature; And the autobiographical section contributes to our overall portrait of the apostle Paul. With respect to the audience, Brown sketches a brief history of Philippi with an emphasis on the veneration of the imperial family in the first century. Although there was no legal requirement for this veneration, there were social and political pressures to participate. Paul has a positive relationship with the church, the letter has a warm tone, and the church was generous towards Paul. She also points out the prominence of women in the letter. How large was the church at Philippi? Maybe fifty people when Paul wrote, although Peter Oakes suggests one hundred. Following Oakes, she suggests the congregation is primarily Greek, not Roman, from a broad social spectrum.

Brown is swayed by convincing arguments for an Ephesian provenance, although Caesarea is possible. The distance from Rome is the major problem for the traditional view that Paul wrote Philippians during his house arrest in Rome AD 60-62. If Paul wrote the letter from Ephesus, it dates to mid-50s AD.

Regarding the purpose of the letter, she follows the traditional reconstruction: The Philippian church sent Epaphroditus to deliver a gift to Paul. He fell ill was late in returning. Paul therefore acknowledges the gift and explains Epaphroditus’s situation. There is no need to be concerned for Paul while he is in prison because the gospel is still advancing. He encourages the Philippian church towards unity (there is some hint of divisions in the letter). He also warns against threats from opponents, although it is unclear who these opponents are.

Since the letter is brief, it is difficult to determine the identity of the opponents in Philippians. It is possible that there are multiple opponents. Brown suggests they are likely unbelievers living in Philippi, pressuring believers who Christians refuse to take part in local cults. Philippians 3:2 may imply the opponents are Judaizers, although she suggests the problem is Judaizing ideas rather than real people (as in Galatians). Whoever they are, Paul calls them “enemies of the cross” (3:18-19).

The introduction also surveys literary issues. For many, Philippians is a friendship letter, although others suggest a family letter, but there is no consensus. Philippians has several embedded genres, such as Jewish poetry (the Christ hymn) and the virtue list (4:8). She discusses the integrity of the letter, stating that all objections to the unity of Philippians can be answered by considering the oral and aural characteristics of the letter. Like all of Paul’s letters, he intended this document to be read out loud (33). What strikes the modern reader as a cold thank you, this is a carefully worded thanks that would have left a powerful impression when heard by the original audience.

The introduction concludes with a survey of the theology of the letter. It is no surprise that Christology is the focus. Paul’s letters are always Christologically focused! Brown points out that Paul Christology in Philippians is autobiographical. He states that quote knowing Christ is his “highest desire (3:8). Regarding eschatology, Paul sees the arrival of Jesus, Israel’s Messiah, as the fulcrum of history. In Philippians, Paul’s focuses on the present time of the Messiah, although he occasionally speaks of the day of Jesus. This is the still future arrival of the complete salvation for believers. This reflects the already/not yet nature of Paul’s eschatology.

Although not part of the introduction, Brown occasionally comments on potential imperial language in the letter. Paul uses citizenship language in 1:27 and 3:20 intentionally underline the political significance of the gospel. For Brown, Paul is advocating for “a wholehearted allegiance to Christ” (105). A dual allegiance to both the empire and Christ is impossible. For Paul, the lordship of Jesus is central to the gospel.

The body of the commentary is like other volumes in the Tyndale New Testament Commentary series. The commentary is based on English, although Greek occasionally appears in transliteration. All syntactical details are found in the footnotes. Readers do not need to know Greek in order to use this commentary. It’s a general outline, each unit begins by setting the context. In this commentary, that includes Paul’s rhetorical emphasis in the section. In the commentary proper, Brown proceeds verse by verse, and occasionally phrase by phrase. Although there is occasionally interaction with other contemporary commentaries, this is not a catalog of other views. The commentary is therefore enjoyable to read. Each unit ends with a brief reflection on the theology of this section. Here she draws conclusions and offers brief comment on a bridging the gap to contemporary church issues or living at the Christian life.

Conclusion. Jeannine K. Brown’s Commentary on Philippians is a worthy replacement successor to Ralph Martin’s now classic commentary. In recent years, commentaries have become extremely long. It is therefore refreshing to have a brief, readable commentary on this important Pauline letter.

 

Other reviewed commentaries in third Tyndale 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.