Book Review: Tchavdar S. Hadjiev, Joel and Amos (Tyndale Old Testament Commentary)

Hadjiev, Tchavdar S. Joel and Amos. Tyndale Old Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2020. 194 pp. Pb. $25.00   Link to IVP Academic  

This new volume in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary series replaces the 1989 commentary by David Allan Hubbard. Tchavdar S. Hadjiev is lecturer in Old Testament and Hebrew at Belfast Bible College as well as honorary lecturer at Queen’s University, Belfast. He has previously published two monographs on Amos and Joel, The Composition and Redaction of the Book of Amos (BZAW 393; De Gruyter, 2009, reviewed here) and Joel, Obadiah, Habakkuk and Zephaniah: An Introduction and Study Guide (T&T Clark, 2020). In this new commentary Hadjiev provides historical context and concise exposition of the Hebrew text which will be helpful for anyone reading these two important prophets.

Hadjiev, Joel and AmosIn the sixteen-page introduction to Joel, Hadjiev suggests that there is little evidence that demands an early date for the book of Joel and finds the post-exilic context helpful for understanding Joel three in particular. One of the major issues for any introduction on the book of Joel is the prophet’s use of other scripture. He provides a helpful chart of literary connections between Joel and other parts of the Old Testament. He recognizes the difficulty in identifying whether Joel intended a particular allusion. Regarding the message of Joel, he focuses on the goodness and mystery of God in the first two chapters of the book. Joel interprets a past event (a locust plague) as the Day of the Lord, God’s warning intended to draw people to repentance.

He describes Joel 2:29-3:21 [MT 3:1-4:21] as a “proto-apocalyptic vision: God’s plan for the future” and argues the symbolic use of names in Joel invite us to “denationalize the picture of ethnic conflicts” in Joel 3. “So Joel, read in the light of the New Testament, anticipates the work of Christ who triumphed over the powers of wickedness through the cross and who will destroy every ruler, authority and power, even death, the last enemy at his second coming” (15).

The introduction to Amos is longer than Joel, as expected given Hadjiev’s previous work on Amos (thirty-one pages). The first section of the introduction deals with Amos as a work of literature. He is clear, the book is “not a random collection of prophetic oracles but a complex literary work that exhibits considerable sophistication and skill” (59). He is interested in the final form of the book and does not interact with the often-complex source critical approaches to the book of Amos. This is not surprising considering the aims of the commentary series.

After outlining the structure of the book, Hadjiev engages in a “quest for the historical Amos,” supporting the traditional view that Amos was a layperson from Judah who prophesied for a brief period in the northern Kingdom during the reign of Jeroboam II (69). He summarizes the final years of the Kingdom of Israel, placing the prophetic book in the context of the Assyrian threats against Israel. He outlines briefly these socioeconomic conditions of Northern Israel society in the 8th century BC.

This background leads to the main theology of the book of Amos: the justice and righteousness of God. It is God who is on the side of the poor and the weak. God rejects the worship of the northern Kingdom and the threat of the day of the Lord is clear in the book. Yet Amos indicates Israel will repent and be restored in the future. The community which is rejected is not simply let go; Israel is going to be “reconfigured in rebuilt” (87). Here Hadjiev has in mind the booth of David passage in the 9:7-15. The restoration of the booth of David is “a worshiping community of people living in their restored cities, symbolized and led by the Jerusalem Temple” (191). The Christian interpretation of this passage in Acts 15 is based on the Septuagint, but Hadjiev cannot comment on the difference between the Hebrew Bible and the Greek translation in this brief commentary. In Acts, the restored booth of David incorporates the nations who seek the Lord in the light of the resurrection of Christ. Hadjiev concludes Acts 15 reinterprets “the military conquest of the nations… in spiritual terms, as the advance of the gospel which invites all peoples to seek the Lord in this new universal temple [the church]” (194).

In the main body of the commentary Hadjiev organizes the commentary into three sections: context, comment, and meaning. Both context and meaning are usually brief paragraphs. In the commentary itself, he precedes phrase by phrase based on the English text. Occasionally he refers to other secondary literature using in-text citations. Hebrew words appear in transliteration. Although necessarily brief given the confines of the Tyndale Old Testament commentary series, Hadjiev offers a clear exposition of the text which will be helpful four pastors and teachers preparing to present these two important Old Testament prophets to their congregations.



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.



Book Review: Darian R.  Lockett, Letters for the Church

Lockett, Darian R.  Letters for the Church: Reading James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, and Jude as Canon. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2021. xii+232 pp. Pb. $30.00   Link to IVP Academic  

Darian Lockett (PhD St. Andrews) serves as professor of New Testament at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. In his Letters from the Pillar Apostles: The Formation of the Catholic Epistles as a Canonical Collection (Pickwick, 2016; see this 2016 review from Lindsey Kennedy) he argued the title “catholic epistles” did not refer to a genre. They are not general epistles tucked away into the “other” category of the New Testament Canon, but these letters are an intentionally curated collection with consistent theological interests. Although this book uses the more common title Catholic Epistles, Lockett’s occasional use of the title Pillars Collection focuses on James, Peter and John as the “pillars of the church” (Galatians 2:9).

Lockett, Letters for the ChurchEarly in the book Lockett asks what sets the Catholic Epistles apart from the other literature in the New Testament. He suggests they are a complementary, non-Pauline witness to early Christian practice and belief (p. 5). Two things are important about this description. First, these letters do not address the same sort of theological issues Paul does, nor do they address the same problems Paul encountered in his churches. Second, Lockett says the letters are complementary to the Pauline collection. For some in academia, The Pillars Collection was collected as a canonical balance to the Pauline collection, perhaps even a corrective.  For example, David Nienhuis and Robert Wall argued the Catholic Epistles were added to the canon “in order to keep readers from falling into a Paulinist fideism” in Reading the Epistles of James, Peter, John & Jude as Scripture (Eerdmans, 2013; p. 35; reviewed here). Since Lockett’s goal is to show canonical unity, both within the Pillars collection and within the overall canon of the New Testament, he is less likely to see serious differences between Paul and James, for example.

It is possible to describe the Pillars collection as addressing distinctively Jewish Christianity issues, especially in the light of the association of the Pillars with early Jewish Christianity in Jerusalem. Lockett recognizes the recipients of James were Jewish Christians, although he suggests the word diaspora in 1 Peter is a “metaphor for Christians living in hostile territory” (p. 53). Although he recognizes Karen Jobes’s argument in her commentary on 1 Peter that 1 Peter’s audience was primarily Jewish, he concludes a gentile audience is “most plausible” (p. 56). However, Lockett offers a list of thirteen similarities between James and 1 Peter (p. 52). This list may also be evidence 1 Peter’s audience was primarily Jewish Christian, like James? Lockett recognizes Jude writes to a “predominately Jewish Christian group” (p. 190). Although the epistles of John provide little evidence one way or another, the letters can plausibly be read in the light of a more Jewish form of Christian than Gentile.

Each chapter begins with setting the letter into the canon of the Catholic epistles. Lockett does this by pointing out keywords that drawing the canonical unit together. The next two sections of each chapter deal with basic introductory material: authorship, audience, occasion, and setting. For the most part Lockett presents one or two options and concludes the traditional view of authorship, occasion and date is most likely. For example, although the 1 John is anonymous, Lockett argues it is most likely written by the author of the gospel of John and Revelation, the Apostle John, the son of Zebedee. The same is true for James; although there are other options, James the Lord’s brother is the most likely.

Following the introductory material, the bulk of each chapter is a commentary on the letter under examination. This commentary is based on the English text and only interacts lightly with contemporary scholarship in footnotes. Lockett’s comments are clear and helpful for understanding the overall flow of the argument of each letter.

Lockett identifies five theological points uniting these letters: the love command; enduring trials; the relationship of God in the world; faith and works; dealing with false teaching. Throughout the book there are occasional side-bars highlight the theme in the book under examination and in his short conclusion, he reviews his five themes in summarizes the overall teaching of these letters. In addition, each chapter includes short excurses entitled “Going Deeper.” For example, Lockett discusses two ways theology in James, James and Paul on justification the meaning of “water and blood in John 5 and the Comma Johanneum, Suffering in 1 Peter, 2 Peter as a Testament, the relationship of 2 Peter and Jude, and Jude’s use of 1 Enoch.

Each chapter ends with a section entitled “Further Reading.” He identifies technical commentaries and rates some as recommended or highly recommended. Adding a section of questions for further reflection would have enhanced the book’s value for classroom use.

Conclusion. Letters to the Church is an excellent introduction to the letters associated with the Pillars. Although I see these letters as reflecting early Jewish Christianity than Lockett does in this book, the introductions provided in this short book are helpful. His comments on the content of each book cover all the important issues and will provide a foundation for students who want to study these letters more closely.

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

Book Review: Mark J. Keown, Discovering the New Testament

Keown, Mark J. Discovering the New Testament: An Introduction to Its Background, Theology, and Themes (Volume 1: The Gospels and Acts). Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2018. 631 pp.; Hb.; $49.99. Link to Lexham Press

Keown, Mark J. Discovering the New Testament: An Introduction to Its Background, Theology, and Themes (Volume 2: The Pauline Letters). Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2021. 615 pp.; Hb.; $34.99. Link to Lexham Press

Mark Keown previously contributed one of the most detailed commentaries on Philippians (Evangelical Exegetical Commentary). Discovering the New Testament is a projected three volume introduction and theology written from a generally conservative viewpoint. The first two volumes are good choices for a Gospels or Pauline Lit survey class at the university or seminary level, although anyone should be able to read these introductions profitably.

In the general introduction to the first volume, Keown deals with general issues of canon and the formation of the New Testament. He includes a brief section on how to read the New Testament. First, he suggests the New Testament be read in its proper context with the intention of drawing meaning from text in the context. But that reading should also apply to today’s world by carefully applying the text to contemporary issues. He considers this a nonlinear process akin to Grant Osbourne’s metaphor of a “hermeneutical spiral.”

Keown, Discovering the New TestamentAfter this introductory chapter, the first unit covers New Testament background issues. First, Keown surveys the Jewish background of the New Testament. He begins with a survey of Second Temple Judaism, including geography, socioeconomic conditions, institutions, literature and other cultural influences. He offers theological features of Judaism in the first century. Here he includes a missiological interest based on Matthew 23:15 and the present of proselytes and God-fearing gentiles in Acts.

Second, Keown examines the Greco-Roman background of the New Testament, beginning with Hellenism and the pluralist world of Greco Roman religion. He includes a brief survey of Greek philosophy, concluding with that Paul would have been well aware of the intellectual currents. This chapter also discuss is the social stratification of the Roman world, the importance of patronage in the Roman world in a brief note on honor and shame.

Third, Keown describes various critical methodologies for the study of the Gospels with some brief evaluation. In the section he covers textual criticism, historical criticism, history religions, source, form, reduction, rhetorical, and narrative criticism, and the quest for the historical Jesus. He defines each of these concepts briefly, rarely more than a page.

The fourth and final chapter in the introductory unit concerns the relationship of the Synoptic Gospels. He briefly describes 8 possible solutions to the synoptic problem, with very clear charts illustrating each position. Keown argues for Markan priority and a form of the four-source hypothesis. He suggests Q should be understood as a blend of both written and oral material.

The second unit in the volume offers introductory material on the four Gospels and Acts. For each gospel Keown covers typical introductory material such as date, provenance, purpose, structure, setting, audience, and various special issues for that particular gospel. He usually surveys the available evidence and concludes there is no strong reason to reject the traditional views on authorship. John, for example, is the apostle and beloved disciple. Regarding the dates of the Gospels, he tends toward early dates but considers a wider range than expected: Matthew (mid 60s-80s), Luke (A.D. 62-95, “it matters little when in that period it was written,” p. 231). Since he links the author of John to Revelation, a date in the reign of Domitian is best. In addition to introductory material, each chapter offers a survey of contents and a sketch of the theology of the book.

Keown argues Luke wrote Acts “well after Mark’s Gospel,” even as late as the 80s or 90s AD (p. 323. He recognizes Acts is a theological history, but he emphasizes Luke had sources, often “his own interviews and experiences” (p. 326). He aligns Galatians 2:1-10 with Acts 11:26-30 rather than the Jerusalem council, implying Paul wrote Galatians before Acts 15, A.D. 46-47.

The final three chapters of the volume are a biblical theology of the Kingdom of God. First, Keown orients the reader to his understanding of the Kingdom in the Gospels. He begins with God as reigning as king in the Old Testament. This universal kingdom is a kingdom of righteousness and peace. He then briefly outlines the apocalyptic kingdom as expected in Second Temple Judaism. This kingdom will be preceded by a tribulation and the coming of Elijah and a “supernatural being” who has power over God’s enemies and will establish a “messianic kingdom.” This kingdom will regather Israel from the exile and restore Jerusalem as the “jewel of the world” (p. 423-24). Applying this to the Jesus’s preaching of the kingdom in the Synoptic Gospels, Keown observes there is both continuity and discontinuity with Old Testament expectations. This subversive kingdom is centered on Jesus, and entrance into this kingdom is only through a relationship with Jesus. Although there are aspects of the kingdom present in Jesus’s ministry and in the life of the present church through the world of the Holy Spirit (much of this chapter describes how Jesus’s teaching is foundational for church life). But other aspects are yet future. For Keown, “the coming of Christ is the decisive moment culminating God’s redemption and Israel’s story” (p. 434).

The final two chapters of volume one survey Jesus’s miracles (The Power of the Kingdom) and the parables (The Teaching of the Kingdom). Miracles point to the power of the Kingdom in the present, yet also look forward to the future peace of the consummated Kingdom. Healing and deliverance are “tiny glimpses of the picture of God healing his world” (p. 509). With respect to parables, he asserts that the purpose of parables is to explain the Kingdom of God. The parables are veiled references to the nature of the Kingdom and challenge those who hear them. In his section entitled “guidelines for interpretation” he begins by encouraging readers to always remember that parables are windows into the Kingdom (p. 534). Regarding hermeneutics, he recommends readers think about the main point (or points of the parable), observing there are “often multiple points based on the characters” (p. 536). Here he is following the method described by Craig Blomberg.

Volume two of Discovering the New Testament covers the Pauline Letters. The first chapter is a seventy-page introduction to Paul’s life. He begins a suggested chronology for Paul’s life and mission, beginning with the letters themselves. Galatians 1:18 refers to Paul’s first visit after Damascus (Acts 9:26-30) and Galatians 2:1-10 refers to his second visit fourteen years later (not in Acts). Keown starts with A.D. 30 for the crucifixion, then dates Paul’s conversion to A.D. 34, his escape from Aretas IV and the first Jerusalem visit to A.D. 37. He accepts the traditional view that Paul was released from prison in Rome after Acts 28 and was arrested in 64 after the Great Fire in Rome. It is during this imprisonment he wrote the Pastoral Epistles (rather than 1 Timothy and Titus before the final imprisonment), and Paul’s execution in A. D. 65.

Using Philippians 3 Keown reviews what can be known about Paul’s pre-Christian life and summarizes Paul’s conversion experience from the three reports in Acts. At this point he does not deal with the suggestion coming from the New Perspective on Paul that Paul experienced a prophetic calling rather than a religious conversion.

He describes the next three years as “Paul’s mission to Arabia” based on Galatians 1:17, showing that Paul engaged in some form of ministry in the region, even if there is no evidence of small Christian communities from this time. He briefly touches on the possibility Paul spent time at “Mount Sinai in Arabia” (Gal 4:25) contemplating his Damascus Road experience, working out the details of his theology and developing his strategy for evangelizing the Gentiles (p. 21).

The rest of this introductory chapter outlines what Keown calls the “Antiochian Mission Journey” in three phases plus travel to Rome. This is essentially a summary of the book of Acts, with more attention given to the Jerusalem council (Acts 15) than the anything else. He observes that Luke’s account of the council has a happy ending (everyone agrees with Paul’s gospel of grace), but Paul’s letters show the problem of the Judaizers continues to plague Paul’s churches. Keown has a brief note on the possibility of further ministry after Rome (after Acts 28) based on the Pastoral epistles.

The second chapter of the volume is a general introduction to the letters of Paul discussing structures, forms, rhetorical devices, etc. The longest section of the chapter is on authorship (p. 87-94), This is a spirited defense of Pauline authorship of all thirteen letters in the New Testament in eight points. His last point is perhaps the best: “the similarities outweigh the differences” (p.93). In addition, Keown observes “for those who accept biblical authority and inspiration, the issue of authorship is insignificant” (p. 94).

Eleven chapters survey Paul’s letters in canonical order. As with the first volume in this series, he examines the usual suggestions for date, authorship, and provenance, and in every case concludes the traditional view is correct. For example, he recognizes the possibility Ephesians may not be Pauline but concludes “it is more likely that it is genuine,” suggesting the use of an amanuensis for both Colossians and Ephesians. In the chapter on Philippians, he states Rome is the most likely point of origin, in his section on chronology early in the volume he includes an Ephesian imprisonment (A.D. 54/55) and implies Paul wrote Philippians at that time (compare page 5 and 251). He concludes the canonical order of letters to the Thessalonians is also the chronological order.

Keown combines the pastorals into a single chapter. Although Keown recognizes the Pastoral Epistles exhibit differences in vocabulary, style, and content than the other Pauline letters, he concludes “there is no reason to dispute the authenticity, considering the widespread early church acceptance, the rejection of pseudonymity/pseudepigraphy, the use of an amanuensis, and the differences in Paul’s coworkers’ situations” (p. 338).

Chapter 14 summarizes Paul’s theology in fifteen headings. For Keown, “the center of Paul’s thinking is the death and resurrection of Christ” (p. 409). One of these headings is the new perspective on Paul. Here, in a mere three pages, Keown introduces this important movement in Pauline studies. He suggests “the effect of the new perspective debate has been to complicate Pauline studies, especially in Romans, Galatians and Philippians 3.” this chapter on poles theology includes two sections on controversial ethical issues. First, he deals with Paul’s view on women. He contrasts the traditional, complementarian view with the egalitarian view, laying out the chief arguments and counterarguments for both positions, including a section on Paul’s more controversial statements in 1 Timothy 2:12. He does not argue for one position, although he states the “egalitarian hermeneutical approach is more focused on both the context and the culture of Paul’s ministry setting.” Whatever the decision, he says, “the issue should no longer divide the church” (p. 444).

The second controversial issue his Paul’s views on sexuality. He observes Paul endorsed heterosexual marriage and any variation on heterosexual marriage “should be repudiated on all its forms” (p. 444). Paul argued Christians who are married should seek to remain married. For Paul, sexual immorality violates the creation mandate and Paul was mortified when the Corinthian church dealt with serious immorality. Given the controversial nature of this particular issue, I am surprised there was not more discussion of homosexuality, especially the churches response to those with same sex attraction.

Chapter 15 introduces Paul’s missionary strategy. In this chapter he returns to the book of acts and examines Paul’s strategy of initially entering the synagogue, well developing a marketplace ministry in major cities. He discusses the importance of Paul’s tent-making as a mission strategy, following the work of Robert Hock. More important is the activity of the Holy Spirit. “While Paul had a clear strategy, he was flexible, always prepared to adjust to the Spirit and/or circumstances” (p. 477).

Conclusion. Keown’s work is in some ways similar to Carson and Moo’s popular An Introduction to the New Testament (Second Edition, Zondervan, 2005). It is clearly both conservative and evangelical, yet he is aware of other views and interacts with them throughout the text. The volumes will make excellent choices for a university or seminary classroom, but laypeople who want to go deeper than the introduction in their Study Bible will find Keown’s style readable and should have no trouble working their way through the text.

Remarkably, even at 1200+ pages for the two volumes, there are sections with seem brief. This is the nature of a survey text; perhaps this limitation could have been alleviated by including a “for further reading” for each unit. For example, at the end of his chapters on each Pauline letter, he could include a short bibliography of moderate and advanced commentaries (both evangelical and non-). For his chapter on Paul’s mission strategy, a list of several key monographs on the subject would point interested students to more detailed treatments. Keown refers to basic literature in the footnotes and the “Works Consulted” pages, but students using this textbook in a classroom could be better served with mini-biographies throughout the text.

NB: Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book, both in print and Logos format. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Book Review: Christopher D. Stanley, A Bull for Pluto

Stanley, Christopher D. A Bull for Pluto. Buffalo, NY: NFB Publishing, 2020. 520 pp. Pb. $25.00; Kindle $9.99  Link to Amazon

This is the second volume of Christopher Stanley’s A Slave’s Story picking up the story where A Rooster for Asklepios left off. After a disappointing visit to the Asklepion in Pergamum, Lucius and his slave Marcus travel home to Psidian Antioch. On the way they make a short visit to famous hot springs at Hierapolis hoping to find some cure for Lucius’s illness.

Bull for Pluto, Christophet StanleySeveral things happen when Lucius arrives at Hierapolis. Lucius realizes he will not recover from his illness. While in Hierapolis, he orders a tomb made by a skilled local craftsman and arranges for it to be delivered to his home in Antioch. One of the most interesting features of Hierapolis is the massive necropolis just outside of the town. There are approximately 1200 limestone tombs, many with inscriptions.

Since they arrive about the time of the festival of Cybele and Apollos., Lucius and Marcus witness the wild dance of the Galli, the castrated priests of Cybele. This lurid festival shocks the refined Roman citizen Lucius. The festival also features animal sacrifices to Pluto, the ruler of the dead. The animals led to the mouth of a cave in the Ploutonion where they are killed by poisonous carbon dioxide gas rising from the cave. This location was recently excavated by Italian archaeologists, although the site has been closed to visitors each time I have visited Hierapolis. Here is a link to a 45 minute documentary on YouTube featuring Mark Wilson to orient readers to this archaeological site.

I won’t spoil any of the plot twist, but Lucius becomes very ill while staying in Hierapolis and a local Jewish family takes him into their home and provides for his recovery. This continues a theme begun in the first novel in the series. At the beginning of the story, Lucius was deeply offended when he found out one of his business partners was Jewish. But as the first novel progresses, he encounters Jews who are kind and fair, and offer him gracious hospitality. Both he and his slave Marcus attend a synagogue in the first novel, and they find their attitudes towards Jewish people softening. Marcus falls in love with a slave in the Jewish household, but this romance limited because of her commitment to her Jewish faith.

As with A Rooster for Asklepios, there are only a few incidents involving Christians. After Lucius returns to Psidian Antioch, he is invited a Christian worship meeting. As a prominent Roman citizen, he simply wants to sit in the back and observe in the same way he did when he visited the synagogue. However, one of his slaves wants the congregation to pray for him for healing. This humiliates Lucius and he leaves the Christian congregation with a mixture of embarrassment and anger.

There are several other plot twists when they returned to Antioch, but I won’t reveal any spoilers here. The novel ends satisfactorily and the plot is left open for a third A Slave Story novel. However, the first two books can be read together as a unit. In fact, by way of constructive criticism, I think that A Rooster for Asklepios should have been divided into two shorter novels about the same size as A Bull for Pluto.

Stanley makes considerable effort to ensure the historical and cultural accuracy of every detail in his novels. This included careful on-site research at most of the places mentioned in the books. Stanley recently published “Paul and Asklepios: The Greco-Roman Quest for Healing and the Mission of Paul” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 42 (2019), 1-31 and he has a monograph coming out in 2022, Paul and Asklepios: The Greco-Roman Quest for Healing and the Mission of Paul.

Stanley also maintains a website for A Slave’s Story. There are links to background material relating to the locations described in both novels conveniently organized by the sections of the book. This site addresses one frustration for me as I read the novels. I wanted more documentation! Several times I wanted to check the footnotes to see what primary sources Stanley followed for a particular practice. Most readers will want to browse this site as they read the novels.

Conclusion. A Bull for Pluto is a scholarly novel which illustrates the Greco-Roman world of mid-first century Asia Minor. I highly recommend both A Rooster for Asklepius and A Bull for Pluto for people who are planning on visiting Turkey since most of the “Seven Churches” tours or Pauline Missionary Journeys tours include Hierapolis.

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

Book Review: Joe Sprinkle, Daniel (Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary)

Sprinkle, Joe M. Daniel. Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2020. xix+470 pp.; Hb.; $49.99. Link to Lexham Press

Joe Sprinkle’s commentary in Daniel is the first Old Testament volume in Lexham’s Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary. Originally three New Testament volumes were published by Broadman & Holman as the Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation series. Lexham has repackaged those volumes and added three new commentaries on Joshua (David G. Firth), Psalms (James M. Hamilton) and Daniel. The series introduction indicates forty volumes are slated for the series.

The commentary series uses the text of the Christian Standard Bible (Broadman & Holman) although the exegetical commentary itself is based on the Hebrew and Aramaic text of Daniel. As might be expected from the original publisher, although the authors of the series come from a variety of backgrounds, they all affirm inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture (xv). Since the series intends to do biblical theology, the commentary is divided into sections exegesis and theology. Similar to the Two Horizons Commentary published by Eerdmans, theological issues rise from the exegesis of the text. Unlike the Two Horizons Commentaries, The EBTC volumes do not use the methods of Theological Interpretation of Scripture, and there is less interest in broader canonical issues (although Hamilton’s Psalms commentary may address canonical issues).

In the forty-four-page introduction to Daniel begins with a brief overview of the structure before launching into a spirited defense of the traditional view of Daniel’s authorship and historicity (pp. 6-40). Sprinkle was a student of Gleason Archer and he expands on his mentor’s arguments, concluding that “Daniel contains real history and genuine predictive prophecies” (40). For Sprinkle, “rejecting the critical view of the book is essential to preserving its theological and practical value” (345).

There are several points in the commentary which illustrate Sprinkle’s view that Daniel contains genuine prophecies. The third kingdom is the “Greek kingdom of Alexander the Great” and the four heads are the diadochi, the four successors who divided Alexander’s kingdom. Sprinkle prefers to call the fourth kingdom is “Rome and beyond” since the Roman empire has long since ceased to exist (177-78). To call the fourth kingdom a “revived Roman empire” is “special pleading.” Nevertheless, this fourth kingdom is a Rome-like kingdom. Since Revelation draws on Daniel 7, Sprinkle says, “Rome is at most a prototype of what this terrifying kingdom will be like” (178). The “one like a son of man” in Daniel 7:14 refers to the divine messiah (184-86) and observes similarities to other messianic texts such as Psalm 110 and Isaiah 9.

The little horn in Daniel 7 is not the same as the little horn in Daniel 8 (195). Antiochus IV “foreshadows the antichrist typologically.” He argues Revelation 13 draws on the imagery of fourth beast and the little horn in Daniel 7 (196). Antiochus IV is an illustration of the “biblical theological pattern in which kings and kingdoms exalt themselves against God” (226).

Regarding the seventy weeks of Daniel, Sprinkle rejects the view the seventy weeks lead up to Antiochus IV, but he is also unconvinced by the classic dispensational view which leaves a “awkward parenthesis” of two millennia between the sixty-ninth week and the seventieth (268). He leans towards E. J. Young’s view of the seventy weeks as a general time period from Cyrus’s decree to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70 (273).

As is well-known, Daniel 11 contains accurate predictions of the movements of the Ptolemy and Seleucid empires but does not accurately predict the fate of Antiochus IV. Sprinkle does not think Daniel 11:36-45 is a failed prophecy. He argues this section of Daniel 11 describes neither Antiochus IV nor Roman activity in first century Palestine, but rather Daniel 11:36-45 describes eschatological events (322).

The body of the commentary runs nearly three hundred pages. Although there is no indication of a new chapter, each unit begins with a reprint of the exegetical outline for the unit. An English translation is provided, followed by a brief paragraph placing the unit in context. Sprinkle then moves through the section verse by verse, commenting on the syntax and lexical issues and historical issues where necessary. Hebrew, Aramaic and occasional Greek appear in the commentary’s body without transliteration. Some knowledge of Hebrew is helpful but not necessary. He occasionally comments on suggested repointing of Hebrew or (more often) Greek translations of Daniel, but he usually concludes the Masoretic text is correct (see p. 299, for example). Sprinkle concludes his exegesis of each chapter with a summary entitled “Bridge.” Here he makes a few observations on the context of the section within Daniel and in a larger canonical context.

The last section of the commentary is Biblical and Theological Themes. At just under one hundred pages, Sprinkle traces several theological issues raised by Daniel. Almost forty pages are devoted to God, divided into a section on his attributes and his relationship to his people. Although there is much to say about angels in the book, only five pages discusses what Daniel contributes to a biblical theology of angels. Since Sprinkle dates the book early, he does not relate Daniel’s view of angels to developing Jewish theology in the Second Temple period. Sprinkle surveys what Daniel says about the Messiah and relates this material to other Old Testament texts and New Testament interpretations of those texts. For example, following Hippolytus, she relates the “stone cut without human hands (Dan 2:34-35) Psalm 118:22, a text Jesus quotes and applies to himself (Luke 20:17-18). For Sprinkle, Jesus is Daniel’s stone (401).

Finally, Sprinkle summarizes Daniel’s “Theology of History.” Daniel demonstrates that God has sovereignty directed history and has set appointed precise times for events to occur (421). Much of this section concerns eschatology, including a description of the antichrist (1 John 2:18) or man of lawlessness (2 Thess 2:3-4) drawn from the arrogant little horn (Daniel 7). Antiochus IV Epiphanes is the prototype of this evil, eschatological figure and a study of his character based on Daniel 8 and 11 “provides insight into what the antichrist might be like” (425).

Conclusion. Joe Sprinkle’s commentary is a fine example of a conservative evangelical commentary which takes Daniel as containing predictions of future events, some of which have been realized, others remain unfulfilled. Even if one disagrees with his conclusions on the historicity of Daniel, his exegetical notes are very good and will be helpful for understanding what the text of Daniel says.

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.

Book Review: David G. Peterson, Hebrews. Tyndale New Testament Commentary

Peterson, David G. Hebrews. Tyndale New Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2020. xx+332pp. Pb. $30.00   Link to IVP Academic  

David Peterson’s new commentary on Hebrews in the TNTC series is a welcome contribution to the study of this difficult book. The commentary is a model of generally conservative, evangelical scholarship in the tradition of F. F. Bruce.

Peterson, HebrewsPrior to his retirement, Peterson was senior research fellow and lecturer in New Testament at Moore Theological College in Sydney. He did his doctoral work on Hebrews under F. F. Bruce and has published monographs: Hebrews and Perfection (SNTS Monograph Series 47; Cambridge, 1982), Possessed by God: A New Testament Theology of Sanctification and Holiness (NSBT 1; IVP Academic 1995) and the Acts volume in the Pillar New Testament Commentary. His personal blog collects many of his published articles.

The sixty-page introduction to the commentary covers the usual issues expected in a Hebrews commentary. Peterson begins by examining the character and style of the book. As is well-known, Hebrews balances exposition of Scripture with exhortations. These two threads run through the entire book. Regarding the structure and argument of the book, he briefly notes the contributions of various commentaries which make use of Greco-Roman rhetorical handbooks. But he ultimately rejects rhetorical as helpful for reading Hebrews. Following Lane, he states that Hebrews resists Greco-Roman rhetorical texts and cannot be forced into the mold of classical speech (15). Nor is this commentary overly influence by Philo. (The Tyndale Series does not include any indices so I cannot count the number of times the body of the commentary alludes Philo.)

Peterson argues the audience of Hebrews was a mixed congregation of Christians with a synagogue background, some of whom were in danger of drifting away from the Gospel. The pastor therefore exhorts these believers to encourage them to endure suffering and even martyrdom (19). That “drift away from the Gospel” may be towards the Jewish synagogue, but this is not a major point in the commentary.  The author is addressing a “deteriorating situation” (16) in which some readers are becoming weary of pursuing Christian discipleship and are considering a return to the safer option of the Synagogue. The author’s motivation is this unwillingness to progress in their discipleship, as well as the threat of persecution from Rome. The book is therefore a pastoral exhortation “to run the race set before them with endurance” (12:1-2).

Regarding destination and date, Peterson draws parallels to the situation in the Roman church found in Romans 14:1-15:7. Paul deals with some hostility between two parties over certain Jewish practices, specifically food and holy days. The consensus view is that Romans was written from Corinth in the winter of 57-58 to several house churches in Rome; Hebrews was written after Romans and deals with similar issues on a more serious, detailed way (20). Since the audience has not yet suffered to the point of shedding blood, (12:4), Peterson suggests a date before Nero’s persecution of Roman Christians in A. D. 64.

A major section in any introduction to Hebrews is authorship. Peterson offers a few comments on the usual suspects (Paul, Barnabas, Apollo) and observes the book of Hebrews itself considers human authorship secondary to the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of human authors. For example, Hebrews 3:7 quotes Psalm 95 with the introductory phrase “As the Holy Spirit says…”  This is certainly an irenic strategy for stepping back from the usual heated debates about authorship, it may not satisfy those looking for support for their view.

The final section of the introduction offers an outline of the theology of Hebrews. Peterson argues God is central to the argument of Hebrews and the book as an “emerging Trinitarian perspective” (27). This Trinitarian God speaks through Scripture, and no other book of the New Testament makes use of the biblical text like Hebrews. As Caird observed, Hebrews is one of the earliest attempts to define the relationship between the Old and New Testaments (34).

Hebrews begins with the phrase “in these last days” so Peterson includes a section on eschatology and salvation in Hebrews. Hebrews argues “the end” was achieved by Christ and that salvation can be experienced as a present reality. Although there are a few hints of a future salvation (1:14, “inheriting salvation”), believers are encouraged to take part in the New Covenant and experience the fruit of sanctification at the present time. This leads to a major issue in Hebrews, apostasy and perseverance. The so-called warning passages address to the whole church (not just those in danger of drifting away from the Gospel). The author’s point is to encourage his readers to live faithful and fruitful lives and he is confident his readers will persevere (47). Peterson draws a parallel between Hebrews and the Parable of the Sower. There are some who are drawn to Christ but do not persevere. Perseverance is the mark of the genuine believer and warnings encourage the genuine believer to persevere (48).

The body of the follows the pattern of the Tyndale series. Chapters follow Peterson’s outline of the book, broken into shorter sections on each pericope. There is no new translation or textual notes, this sort of information is integrated into the body of the commentary (often in footnotes). Peterson begins each section with a brief paragraph setting the context, then works through the text’s sub-units (sometimes a single verse, but usually several verses at a time). All Greek appears in transliteration in both the body and footnotes, although Greek does not dominate the discussion. Peterson often comments on how major translations render a particular word or phrase. Each sub-unit ends with a brief paragraph, drawing some theological conclusions from the unit. Although he occasionally interacts with other major commentaries on Hebrews, Peterson’s goal is a concise explanation of the text rather than a report on what other commentaries have already said. This makes for a clear, readable commentary.

Conclusion. Peterson’s Hebrews commentary achieves the goal of providing a basis for Christian teaching and preaching of this important book of the New Testament. It will be useful for both Bible students and laypeople who want to study Hebrews closely.

The Tyndale New Testament Commentary series has collected some of the best short exegetical commentaries written by conservative and evangelical scholars. This new volume in the TNTC replaces Donald Guthrie’s 1983 commentary, which replaced Thomas Hewitt’s 1960 commentary. As typical happens, the commentary has expanded from Hewitt’s commentary was 217 pages and Guthrie’s 281 pages to 332 pages in this 2020 commentary. Given some expansive commentaries published in recent years, this commentary on Hebrews is a model of concise exegesis focused on the text itself.


Other reviewed commentaries in third Tyndale series:

Thomas R. Schreiner, 1 Corinthians

Ian Paul, Revelation

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


Book Review: Matthew Barrett, Canon, Covenant and Christology (NSBT 51)

Barrett, Matthew. Canon, Covenant and Christology: Rethinking Jesus and the Scriptures of Israel. NSBT 51; Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2020. 357 pp. Pb; $34.00.  Link to IVP Academic 

Matthew Barrett serves as associate professor of Christian theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and is executive editor of Credo Magazine. He has published several books on aspects of soteriology and has a monograph forthcoming from Baker Academic, Simply Trinity: The Unmanipulated Father, Son, and Spirit (March 2021). As expected, this new contribution to the New Studies on Biblical Theology leans towards systematic theology and is thoroughly Trinitarian.

Barett, Canon, Covenant and ChristologyThe earliest Christians saw their movement as the true heir of the Old Testament. They were the “true Jews, true sons of Abraham, even if they were ethnically Gentiles” (200). Barrett argues in this study that Jesus and the early church did not adopt the Old Testament, “the Old Testament Scriptures gave birth to Jesus himself and are the genesis of his church” (197). Jesus and the early church disagreed with other Jews about the fulfillment of Scripture (who is the Messiah?), but not about the canon itself. For the early church, the entire canon of the Old Testament was Christological, giving witness to the incarnation of the Son of God. The Christological interpretation of the Old Testament by the early church is absurd “if the Scriptures of Israel do not have Yahweh as their divine author” (292).  

The first chapter orients the reader to Barrett’s understanding of biblical theology. Underlying the entire argument of this book is Barrett’s firm belief in the inspired character of the whole of the whole of the canon. Since God is the author of the whole canon, there divine authorial intent and unity across the canon. Rather than repeating the usual “drama of redemption,” Barrett’s focus is on Jesus as the “Christological clamp” (following Peter Stuhlmacher). The Old Testament prefigures the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and “when the Son of God becomes incarnate and secures redemption on behalf of the ungodly, any residual canonical ambiguity disappears” (39). Reading from a New Testament perspective, it becomes clear God intended the Old Testament types to testify to his Son. As Barrett makes clear, the primary focus of this book is not the nature of typology, although the second chapter will need to define and clarify what he means by typology. The emphasis in this study is canonical unity from the prefigurement in the Old testament to fulfillment in the incarnation. Barrett says, “Jesus is the canon, for all the Scripture typologically point forward to him” (93).  

Chapter two lays out the thesis of the book. The interpreter’s hermeneutical grid needs to be re-orientated so that Jesus’s understanding of Scripture is not forced through a Pauline grid. Israel’s relationship with God in the Old Testament was covenantal. Barrett mentions covenants with Adam, Abraham, Moses, and David, but in other places he includes Noah, and in one list he ends with “David, and so on” (45). I am not sure what covenant might be after David other than the New Covenant in Jeremiah. The covenantal nature of the God’s revelation to his people was prophetic and eschatological, pointing forward to the ultimate fulfillment in the incarnation. These covenants escalate or progress towards their fulfillment in the person and work of Christ (63). Barrett shows this progression through typology. He tracks the progression of royal, priestly, and prophetic terminology in Isaiah as a typology pointed to an ultimate fulfillment in Jesus (a classic “prophet, priest, and king” typology).

Barrett calls chapters three and four “case studies.” He applies his typological method to the gospels of Matthew and John. But he introduces a familiar term into the study at this point, intertextuality. He states the Gospels employ both intertextual echoes and typological correspondence in order to describe Jesus as the fulfilment of covenants of the Old Testament, producing a canonical unity (98, 107). The relationship between these two interpretive strategies is slippery and usually not well defined. It appears typology refers to something present in the Old Testament text, and intertextuality refers to a New Testament text interpreting the Old. But the difference is not clear as he moves through Matthew and John.

For example, Barrett collects Matthew’s fulfillment statements in order to demonstrate the high view of Scripture Jesus and the evangelists had for the Old Testament. But is Matthew’s claim that Joseph moving to Nazareth fulfils “what was spoken by the prophets” a typology or an intertextual echo? Some might call this midrash, or canonical exegesis, etc. Other examples are more clearly typological, such as the new Exodus motif in Matthew. There are few direct allusions to a particular passage in the Old Testament as “fulfilled,” but Matthew patterns his presentation of Jesus after Moses and the Exodus. Barrett discusses Jesus’s use of Psalm 8:2 in Matthew 21:16, stating “Jesus relies on the typology of the psalm to justify his actions” (139). But he quotes the words of the psalm, so how is this not closer to intertextuality?  

Perhaps typology is better illustrated in Barrett’s chapter on John’s Gospel. He says, for example, John 9-10 is “filled with Christological metaphors, metaphors that build on the typology of Old Testament Israel” (179) and the metaphor of a shepherd is “rich in Old Testament allusions” (182). This is the case because John’s Gospel rarely cites particular texts, but often alludes to metaphors found in the Old Testament. As is clear in Barrett’s presentation, there are many passages which contain the metaphor “God is the good shepherd.” This can be fairly described as a typology since there is no single text in John’s mind.

Chapter five traces how the synoptic gospels present Jesus as obedient to the Scriptures, with an emphasis on what that says about the Scriptures. Barrett moves through each of the synoptic Gospels, examining the mission of the Son. This will reveal Jesus’s attitude toward Scripture. In the Gospels Jesus is the Adamic Son who fulfills all righteousness and attains the redemption of all people because he is obedient to the Scripture (204). Although he uses Adam-language in the introduction to this chapter, much of the typology is built on Moses or Israel. This is likely not a problem since Moses and Israel are presented as a new Adams even in the Old Testament. Luke’s Gospel seems to have the clearest Adam typology, although it receives the briefest coverage in this chapter.

Barrett returns to the Gospel of John in chapter six to argue Christology comes before canon. Where does Jesus get his authority? In John’s Gospel, his authority is a scriptural authority rooted in biblical Trinitarian Christology (249). Jesus is continuing the story of Israel as the long-awaited Messiah promised in the Old Testament. The New Testament is not an illegitimate add-on to the Old, but the completion of the redemption story (283).

The final chapter of the book is in substance a paper on inerrancy read at the 2017 national meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. It should have been included as an appendix rather than a chapter.  

Conclusion. Although I have misgivings about the relationship of typology and intertextuality in this study, Barrett certainly achieves his goal by demonstrating both Jesus and the Gospel writers had a high view of Israel’s Scripture and saw Jesus as the fulfillment of those Scriptures. Within the evangelical world, there is little disagreement on inspiration and authority of both testaments, and interpreting the Old Testament Christologically is not particularly controversial. This book argues for a more thoroughgoing canonical view of Jesus and the Gospels, which will focus on the death and resurrection of the Son of God as the climax of the covenant.

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


Book Review: Scot McKnight and B. J. Oropeza, eds. Perspectives on Paul: Five Views

McKnight, Scot and B. J. Oropeza, eds. Perspectives on Paul: Five Views. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2020. 285 pp. pb. $29.99.   Link to Baker Academic

Some might question whether there is a need for yet another “five views” on Paul. This book is similar to Four Views on Paul edited by Michael Bird, Zondervan 2012), which also included a Reformed (Thomas Schreiner), a Catholic Perspective (Luke Timothy Johnson) a Post-New Perspective (Douglas Campbell) and a “Paul within Judaism” chapter (Mark Nanos). Focusing just on justification, Beilby and Eddy edited a five views book featuring a Roman Catholic view (Collins and Rafferty), two reformed views (traditional by Michael Horton and progressive reformed by Michael Bird), a New Perspective view by James Dunn and a “deification view” from Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen (IVP Academic 2011). There are others, including the recent Voices and Views on Paul, edited by Ben Witherington III and Jason A. Myers (IVP Academic 2020).

Perspectives on PaulAs with most “five perspectives” books, Perspectives on Paul is set up like a conference seminar. Each essay is followed by a response from each of the other perspectives. In this book, the original presenter is given a few pages to reply to these responses. The book begins with an overview of the last forty years of Pauline scholarship. All recent books on Paul use E. P. Sanders’s Paul and Palestinian Judaism as a convenient watershed since it launched the New Perspective on Paul. For the last several decades, Pauline scholarship has been dominated by those who react against some theological implications or those who seek to push beyond Sanders’s view of Paul and his relationship with Second Temple Judaism.

The introduction to Perspectives on Paul therefore begins with an overview of Sanders’s main arguments followed by a summary of two major proponents of what has become known as the New Perspective on Paul, James Dunn and N. T. Wright. There are six benefits related to studying Paul through the lens of the New Perspective (11): First, the New Perspective provides a better understanding of Paul’s letters. Second, it avoids individualistic readings and western perceptions of Paul’s letters. Third, the New Perspective reduces anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism by studying the literature of Second Temple Judaism closely in order to avoid mischaracterizations of what Jews believed in the first century. Fourth, the New Perspective provides for more continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament than typical of older studies, which saw a decisive break between Paul and Judaism. Fifth, this continuity between the Testaments allows for more continuity between Jesus and Paul. Sixth, the New Perspective also opens up the possibility of continuity between Roman Catholics and Protestants over the doctrine of justification.

This last benefit is often perceived as the greatest flaw for the New Perspective by some Protestants. James Dunn and N. T. Wright are overthrowing the assured results of the Reformation. This perceived attack on the Reformation sometimes results in fiery rhetoric that lacks engagement with the Pauline letters. In November 2010, I attended the Evangelical Theological Society annual meeting, which focused on Wright’s view of justification. (Here are my comments on the three plenary addresses by Thomas Schreiner, Frank Theilman and N. T. Wright). One of the parallel sessions claimed to be an answer to the New Perspective, yet the paper did not engage with the New Perspective directly and concluded what was wrong with the New Perspective is it challenges Reformation theology. In fact, the paper concluded with a lengthy citation of the Westminster Confession (as a mic-drop).

The second part of the introduction therefore surveys the reactions both for and against the New Perspective. The editors provide copious footnotes to the avalanche of anti-New Perspective literature. Among the post-New Perspective studies briefly surveyed in this section is the Paul within Judaism” view represented by Magnus Zetterholm in chapter 4, Francis Watson’s Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles (Cambridge, 1986) and revised by adding the subtitle Beyond the New Perspective (Eerdmans 2011), Douglas Campbell’s The Deliverance of God (Eerdmans 2009) as a representative of the apocalyptic view on Paul, and John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift (Eerdmans, 2017), also featured chapter five of this volume.

Brant Pitre outlines the Roman Catholic Perspective on Paul. Pitre shows that Sanders’s interpretation of Paul is very close to Catholic soteriology and Sander’s exegesis of Paul unintentionally arrived at the same conclusions as patristic, medieval Catholic interpreters and the Council of Trent (27). He therefore examined several issues in Sanders, in patristic writers, and Trent. In fact, he points out that the Council of Trent’s decree and justification “Paul over fifty times and the Bible over one hundred times. He does not therefore understand statements from N. T. Wright like “the Council of Trent responded by insisting on tradition” (54). Pitre does not see a contradiction between Paul’s doctrine of “initial justification by grace through faith and final justification according to works enough by faith alone” (52)  In Zetterholm’s response, he observes that it is “quite ironic; Paul, the great hero of Protestantism, turns out to have been the first real Catholic (68).

A. Andrew Das gives the Traditional Protestant Perspective on Paul, although Das prefers to call his view a “newer perspective” (85). Das recognizes agrees with Sanders that not all Second Temple Jews affirmed a legalistic approach to salvation. But unlike Sanders, he thinks some Jews were legalistic and Paul responds to that claim. He therefore spends much of this chapter examining Galatians 3 and Romans 4 in order to argue Abraham was a model of obedience for Second Temple period Judaism. Paul demands perfect obedience to the law, but this is “not necessarily a commentary on Second Temple Judaism, but a consequence of his Christological emphases” (94). For Das, following the law is a mere human endeavor which stands in contrast to the gift of justification.

James D. G. Dunn is the obvious choice to present the New Perspective on Paul. Many of Dunn’s ideas are so well known by this point he can summarize briefly his views on Galatians 2:16 and the Antioch Incident. However, he makes the bold suggestion that Luke complicated the history of early Christianity by qualifying Paul’s claim to be the apostle to the Gentiles. Luke shifts the initial preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles to Peter (Acts 10) and omits the details of the Antioch Incident. By glossing over the sharp conflict described in Galatians 2, “Luke the apologist has taken over from Luke the historian” (142). Paul’s gospel of salvation through faith alone “was lost to sight in Luke’s history and in subsequent history that he had in effect encouraged” (145). This view of whether Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith alone was lost is controversial. Pitre claims justification by faith is in the patristic writers (151). Das focuses a broad range of Jewish and Gentile interaction around meals, which “would be perceived by some Jews as a reeking of idolatry if not also law violations” (158). Barclay does not address Luke’s reception of Paul since it is not central to the New Perspective, suggesting that Dunn’s comments on Acts “reflect a strong, subterranean influence of F. C. Bauer” (164). Dunn confesses he has over-written in the topic and should have held the discussion of Luke’s reception of Paul for another time (168).

Magnus Zetterholm lays out the “Paul within Judaism Perspective.” For Zetterholm, the Pauline scholars must determine “what Paul is communicating in the socio-religious-political situation in which he lived, no matter the consequences for normative theology” (66, emphasis his). Torah observance was only a problem for Paul regarding Gentiles. Although he expects non-Jews in Christ to conform to certain moral standards (such as refraining from idolatry), he never expected the Gentiles to keep Torah. Jews who are in Christ should continue to keep the law. Zetterholm observes that Paul is called to be the apostle to the nations, The theological problem Paul faced was not related to how Israel is going to be saved. Of course, Paul touches on Israel’s salvation, but he has far more to say about how the pagans are going to be saved. For Paul, Israel’s salvation was never in doubt (189). Gentiles will be included in the final salvation without giving up their ethnic identity: they do not convert and “become Jews” (whatever that might mean in the context of Second Temple Judaism).   

The “Gift Perspective on Paul” appears in a book on Pauline viewpoints. John M. G. Barclay briefly summarizes his Paul and the Gift (Eerdmans, 2015) and explains how his view extends the insights of the New Perspective. Although it might seem strange to include a recent book on Paul as “perspective,” Brant Pitre suggests Barclay’s book will prove as consequential as Sanders’s Paul and Palestinian Judaism (237). As Barclay states, the “Gift Perspective on Paul” perspective is not as much a well-defined school of interpretation, but rather a loose constellation of viewpoints centering on the definition of grace as an incongruous gift illustrated by the wide diversity of use within second temple Judaism. Paul stands within the spectrum and applies the idea of grace to his Gentile mission. It is not whether there would be a mission to the Gentiles, but how the Gentiles would be included. Of importance is for Barclay is Romans 9–11, which “displays a complex dialectic between the Christ event and the scriptural story of Israel” (231).

Conclusion. To a certain extent, the title of this book is misleading. The five perspectives are all more or less in conversation with E. P. Sanders. As the editors make clear in the introduction, even the traditional view has taken new a new shape because of Sanders. Das says he is in “largely in agreement with Sanders” and Barclay’s recent nuanced view of grace (84) despite representing the Traditional Protestant view. Are there other more aggressively traditional Pauline scholars who might have provided more contrast with Sanders? Thomas Schreiner comes to mind, although he contributed to the Four Views on Paul (Zondervan 2012).

One important view missing in this book is the Apocalyptic Paul. Of course editorial choices must be made and keeping these multi-perspective books to four or five is likely the preference of the publishers. In my review of Voices and Views on Paul, I complained there was too much New Perspective and the Paul within Judaism view was missing. Perhaps this book could have been improved by expanding the introduction to include Dunn’s views, allowing for a chapter on Apocalyptic perspective. However, this would deprive the reader from enjoying one of the last essays Dunn wrote. In fact, the book is worth reading, if only for Dunn’s contributions.

Book Review: Richard P. Belcher, Finding Favour in the Sight of God: A Theology of Wisdom Literature

Belcher Jr., Richard P. Finding Favour in the Sight of God: A Theology of Wisdom Literature. NSBT 46; Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2018. 310 pp. Pb; $28.00.   Link to IVP Academic 

Richard Belcher’s contribution to New Studies in Biblical Theology focuses on Wisdom Literature. In the introductory chapter, Belcher observes wisdom literature is like an orphan in Old Testament theology. This is perhaps even more true for biblical theology which interested in the entire canon of Scripture. Part of the problem is the scholarly consensus which dates most of this literature in the post-exilic period. For Belcher, the historical Solomon functions of the second Adam, therefore much of this Solomonic wisdom literature looks back to the early chapters of Genesis (12).

Belcher, Finding Favour in the Sight of the LordThe next three chapters treat the Book of Proverbs. First, he focuses on the message of Proverbs 1-9. After the preamble (Prov 1:1-7), these chapters offer a choice between two ways, wisdom and folly. These chapters alternate between lectures from the teacher or father and the words of Lady Wisdom. In fact, it is this personification of wisdom that is the dominant feature in the first nine chapters of Proverbs. Lady Wisdom is calling God’s people to follow his way, and that way begins with the fear of the Lord (37). Belcher briefly comments on the Christ implications of Lady wisdom. Both wisdom and Christ are like “street preachers” proclaiming their messages in public venues and calling people to follow them. “Both wisdom and Christ are like banquet hostesses sending forth messengers, inviting people to a banquet of substantial food, experiencing opposition from sinners and promising life to those who come to the banquet” (38).

Second, he deals with the hermeneutics of Proverbs. The genre of a proverb and the lack of literary context creates hermeneutical problems for most interpreters. In fact, many Proverbs could be seen as secular statements. Like most introductions to Proverbs, Belcher briefly discuss is whether Proverbs are absolute statements. Most Proverbs can be fairly described as “dependently true.” One can always add “in general” or “in most cases” to the end of a proverb. There are always exceptions. Belcher argues the proverbs that are dependently true now will be universally true in the new heavens and earth (50). What I do not see in this chapter is the effect of sin on the ideal wise life. The reason some proverbs seem “dependently true” results from sin corrupting the created order. This would give Belcher an opportunity to develop a canonical theology of wisdom which considers the corruption of the created order (looking back to Genesis 3) and forward to the restoration of creation in the new creation.

Third, Belcher describes the theology of the Proverbs. Most introductions to wisdom literature, this theology focuses on the sovereignty of God in the goodness of the created order. One lives their life taking into consideration the goodness of the created order, when will have success in life. However, Belcher does not think that life in the book of Proverbs should be limited to this world, as if secular success was the point of the book. The fullness of life associated with the Lord looks forward to a time when the wicked or overthrown and the righteous find refuge (73).

Belcher covers the complex book of Job in three chapters. First, deals with the theological issues in the prologue to the book (Job 1-3). It is Satan that raises the question of the relationship between piety and prosperity, and Job’s wife asks the critical question, “why does Job hold fast to his integrity?” Belcher considers Job a wisdom debate about how to respond to suffering. This may be the case, but I would suggest that job also deals with the failure of wisdom. He has lived out the proverbial wise life, yet he suffered anyway.

The second and third chapter in this section continue a running commentary on Job. After surveying each of the three friend’s speeches, Belcher summarizes their theology as a “mechanical view of divine retribution that leads to a narrow view of God and his justice” (97).  Job 27-42 asks and answers the question “where is wisdom to be found?” in Job’s final words, Elihu’s speeches, and God’s speeches. Since readers of Job are always interested in the two creatures in chapter 40-41, Belcher concludes Behemoth is an animal of the natural world and Leviathan is a supernatural creature (124).

Although he thinks that suffering is integral to the book, he observes that Job never finds out why he suffered. Belcher thinks the book teaches an appropriate response to suffering, either positively through Job, or negatively through the three friends. Part of the teaching of the book, he suggests, is how to counsel someone who is suffering. Although these are fair applications of the book of Job, I question whether suffering is the major theme of the book. Perhaps it is Belcher’s second theological thread in the book of Job, the sovereignty of God and divine retribution.

The final unit of the book is three chapters on the book of Ecclesiastes. Belcher deals with more introductory questions than for Proverbs of Job, partly because there are several difficult problems the interpreter must address before reading the book. Belcher suggests that Ecclesiastes is part of the wisdom tradition, but the writer wrestles with how normative wisdom teaching matches with what he observes in life (145). Ecclesiastes deals with the “breakdown of the deed-consequence relationship” (144). People can live the life of wisdom, yet their life is still futile, “chasing after the wind.” Although Belcher does not make this connection explicitly in the book, this is the same problem Job addresses.

The second chapter of the unit is a brief running commentary on Ecclesiastes and in the third chapter Belcher summarizes the theology of Ecclesiastes. The book presents God’s works is incomprehensible to the human being. The writer presents God as a judge throughout the book, although Ecclesiastes does not suggest a future judgment as a solution to the meaninglessness of life.

The final chapter of the book develops the canonical connections between wisdom literature and Jesus. First, the teaching of Jesus shares some characteristics of the wisdom teacher, including the use of proverbs and beatitudes. There are several themes which appear in both Proverbs and Jesus’s teaching. Belcher has a chart comparing Proverbs to the Sermon on the Mount, for example (195). Much of the comparisons phone into the category of “two ways theology” which was very much a part of Second Temple Judaism, although it goes beyond the scope of this book to explore non-biblical wisdom literature such as Sirach. Second, Belcher explores the humanity and deity of Christ as presented in John 1:1-18 and Colossians 1:15-20 as allusions to the personification of wisdom on Proverbs 8. Third, Belcher briefly discusses Paul’s use of wisdom in 1 Corinthians 1:24-30. There Paul contrasts the wisdom of the world and the work of Christ.

Conclusion. Richard Belcher’s Finding Favour in the Sight of the Lord is an excellent introduction to the contents and theology of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes. He clearly presents the contents and the theology of these three books in a way which will stimulate academic readers but also appeals to the non-academic reader.

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

Book Review: Brant Pitre, Michael Barber, and John Kincaid. Paul, A New Covenant Jew: Rethinking Pauline Theology

Pitre, Brant, Michael P. Barber, John A. Kincaid. Paul, a New Covenant Jew: Rethinking Pauline Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2019. 310 pp. Pb; $35.00.   Link to Eerdmans 

In the introduction to this volume on Pauline theology, the authors state their modest goal of contributing to a few of the major debates within scholarship, limiting themselves to recent exegesis of Paul’s undisputed letters (6). This requires unpacking Pauline theology in the light of the original context.

Pitre, New Covenant JewThe first two chapters of the book examine Paul’s relationship with Judaism. Would Paul have identified himself as a “former Jew?” For most twentieth century Pauline scholarship, the answer is “yes.” Paul was a former Jew in the sense that he underwent some sort of conversion experience and became, in the view of Rudolf Bultmann, a representative of “Torah Free Gentile Christianity.” Although the authors of this volume do not use the term, this view is the Old Perspective on Paul challenged by E. P Sanders.

Others consider Paul to represent an Eschatological Jew. This view would answer the question, “Would Paul have identified himself as a former Jew?” with a “sort of.” The authors follow Dunn in this section, although they do not refer to this as the “New Perspective on Paul.” Rather than focus on how Paul’s theology cuts across the grain of the Judaism of his day, this position would argue Paul in some ways stays within Judaism. James Dunn argued Paul experienced a conversion, but it was “a conversion to a better, a more correct understanding of [God’s] will and purpose for Israel” (23, citing Dunn’s Jesus Paul and the Gospels, 141). Three things stand out in this perspective. First, the “already” of the new creation began with Jesus. For Paul, becoming a Christian means becoming a new creation. Second, this new creation is to be “in Christ” rather than “under the Law.” This participation in Christ is central to Paul’s theology. Third, the “not yet” of new creation implies an end-time conversion of the remnant (Romans 11:26).

A third view is Paul as a Torah-observant Jew. This is often called the “Paul within Judaism” and is represented by the work of Mark Nanos, Paula Fredriksen, Magnus Zetterholm, and Pamela Eisenbaum This view of Paul would answer the question, “Would Paul have identified himself as a former Jew?” with a resounding “no.” Paul did not convert to Christianity and he never uses the term “Christian” to refer to himself or any other believer in Jesus. Paul continued to observe the Torah and would have told a Jewish convert to continue observing the law. Paul did not require Gentiles to keep the law on order to be right with God. Since the authentic letters of Paul were written exclusively to gentile audiences, modern scholars on;y hear Pau’s argument against Gentiles keeping the law. Regarding Romans 11:26, opponents of this view argue Paul does not say “all Israel will convert to Christianity” but “all Israel will confess Jesus as Messiah.”

On contrast to these three views, Pitre, Barber and Kincaid describe Paul as a “New Covenant Jew” because that is the terminology he uses to describe himself (39). They build on the work of Protestant scholars like Michael Gorman, Richard Hays, N. T. Wright, Michael Bird and Catholic scholars like Joseph Fitzmyer, Frank Matera and Scott Hahn. Since this description is “drawn from the Jewish scriptures (Jer 31:31-34), it has within itself the power to account for elements of both continuity (“covenant”) in discontinuity (“new”) with Judaism on Paul’s theology” (39). Paul understands himself as a minister of this new covenant and that there is always a balance of divine and human actions n Paul’s theology. To argue “the law is not sufficient to save is hardly anti-Jewish” (45). In fact, for Paul, “the new covenant involves emotive faithful obedience that transcends that which was possible under the Torah” (63).

Another aspect of the question “What kind of Jew was Paul?” is the recent trend in Pauline scholarship to describe his theology as apocalyptic. By apocalyptic, some scholars mean radical discontinuity between the ages is often described as a “eschatological invasion” (J. Louis Martyn, Douglas Campbell, for example). Other scholars use the term “apocalyptic” to emphasize continuity between Paul’s teaching and its early Jewish context (N. T. Wright, Michael Gorman, for example). The authors attempt a “both-and” approach which argues Paul’s theology is deeply rooted in early Jewish apocalypses (continuity), but he radically transformed that Jewish theology around the revelation of what God has done in Christ (discontinuity). Jewish eschatology can be described as “two worlds theology,” this age and the age to come. In Paul, these worlds overlap. This world is giving way to the world to come; the old creation is becoming a new creation. The overlap of the ages Paul describes as “in Christ” (73). This is clear in Paul’s contrast between a heavenly citizenship in an earthly citizenship. Yet for Paul, Christians two realms, they are still on earth, yet they are also in the heavens (88). Paul makes claims that are indeed radically discontinuous with the Judaism of his day. But he describes the revelation of Jesus Christ in this new age in ways that are consistent with the Second Temple Judaism.

The next three chapters apply this view of Paul as a New Covenant Jew to three theological issues: Christology, the Cross and the Atonement, and New Covenant justification through divine sonship.  In each Paul’s theology is in some ways consistent with Second Temple Judaism, yet in other important ways it breaks new ground. With respect to Christology, the authors observe that Paul is deeply rooted in first century Judaism. Yet at the same time he goes well beyond early Jewish sources in his messianic claims (96). There is no doubt that Paul understood Jesus as the Messiah. Yet he also clearly teaches that Jesus has equality with God Philippians 2. In 1 Corinthians 8:5-6, Paul inserts Jesus into the Shema, “there is one God and one Lord” (116). Paul describes “Christ’s relationship with believers in terms that Jewish readers would have associated exclusively with the one God of the Shema (Deut 6:4-6)” (123).  

Regarding the cross and the atonement, the both-and approach emphasizes Jesus’s death is a sacrifice of atonement or redemption (continuity), yet Paul insists salvation occurs through a divine gift of love (discontinuity, 130). Atonement, ransom, and redemption are the vocabulary of Second Temple Judaism, yet Jesus’s death is not only a sacrifice. Certainly, Paul presents Jesus’s death is a covenant sacrifice, but he emphasizes that Jesus gave himself for us he underscores the gracious nature of Christ’s work on the cross. This chapter is deeply influenced by John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift (Eerdmans, 2015).

This discussion of the atonement leads naturally to Paul’s view of justification. Pitre, Barber and Kincaid observe much of the contemporary debate and Reformation theological disputes neglect the way justification terminology would have been understood in ancient Judaism. They therefore discuss whether Paul’s doctrine of justification brings about a “change in character” or a “change in legal status” (163). Once again, Barclay’s Paul and the Gift influences the discussion. The authors agree with him that “Paul avoids viewing the divine and human actors as somehow in competition with one another” (169). In the old covenant the problem was always the heart of God’s people. The people could not keep the Torah because the Torah could not change the people. The authors conclude “saving righteousness of God in justification is a singular righteousness that concerns both legal standing and the quality of the believer” (179).

Early in the book, the authors observe Paul’s new covenant ministry among the Corinthian’s involved the liturgical celebration of the new covenant in the Last Supper (47). This is developed in more detail in chapter 6, “The Lord’s Supper in the New Creation.” The authors continue to work their both-and method. The Lord’s Supper celebrates the sacrificial death of Christ. As such, there are numerous allusions to Jewish sacrificial tradition in the key passage in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, especially when read alongside Exodus 24:6-8. Since Paul connects Christ’s death as a covenant sacrifice to the Passover lamb, he emphasizes that Christ’s sacrifice would involve a cultic meal (239). This is the continuity with the old age; the discontinuity is Paul’s insistence that the bread in the cup or a foretaste of the new creation found in the life-giving Spirit (243). By participating in the Lord Supper, “the gathered community becomes what is consumed, the body of Christ” (250).  

Conclusion. Pitre, Barber and Kincaid suggest a slightly new way for reading Paul as a “New Covenant Jew” that take seriously recent studies in both the Apocalyptic Paul and the “Paul within Judaism” view. A “both-and method” stresses Paul’s continuity with his Jewish world, as well as his view of the radical changes to that world caused by the apocalyptic appearance of Jesus “between the ages.” As with most both-and positions, both Apocalyptic Paul scholars and Paul within Judaism” scholars will probably find the New Covenant Paul as familiar, yet not quite satisfying. Nevertheless, this is a stimulating account of Paul’s thought which gives voice to Paul’s roots in the Jewish world without ignoring the radical nature of his thought.


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