Tony Burke, ed. New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. 2: More Noncanonical Scriptures

Burke, Tony, ed. New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. 2: More Noncanonical Scriptures. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2020. 655 pp. Hb; $75.   Link to Eerdmans

In the introduction to the second volume of New Testament Apocrypha, Tony Burke observes the number of documents that can be called “Christian Apocrypha” is quite high. In 1992 Clavis apocryphorum Novi Testameni listed 346 texts, but there were omissions and new discoveries increase that number. This volume includes twenty-nine translations of non-canonical Christian writings with introductions and notes.

More New Testament ApocryphaPrior to the first volume in this series the standard collection of Christian noncanonical Christian literature was The New Testament Apocrypha edited by M. R. James in 1924, updated as Wilhelm Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha (Vol. 1: Gospels and Related Writings; Vol. 2: Writings Relating to the Apostles Apocalypses). This volume collected many the major noncanonical works, including some Gnostic literature. New Testament Apocrypha volume 2 continues the project of collecting texts not already found in Schneemelcher.

The introduction for each document in the collection begins with a summary of the contents followed by a list of available manuscripts, versions and editions. Most introductions have a few paragraphs on genre and structure as well as original language, date and provenance. Some introductions place the document into a historical context or comment on potential literary sources. Finally, each introduction includes translation notes and bibliography.

Part one gathers gospels and related traditions of New Testament figures. Traditionally any document concerning Jesus, or the plot of the gospels is called a “gospel.” The titles given to these new apocryphal stories resist that temptation. Thankfully, The Adoration of the Magi is not given the title, “The Gospel of the Magi.”

  • The Adoration of the Magi, Adam Carter Bremer-McCollum
  • The Rebellion of Dimas, Mark G. Bilby
  • A Homily on the Life of Jesus and His Love for the Apostles, Timothy Pettipiece
  • A Homily on the Passion and Resurrection, by Pseudo-Evodius, Dylan M. Burns
  • The Book of Bartholomew, Christian H. Bull and Alexandros Tsakos
  • The Healing of Tiberius, Zbigniew Izydorczyk
  • The Legend of the Holy Rood Tree, Stephen C. E. Hopkins
  • The Story of Joseph of Arimathea, Bradley N. Rice
  • A Homily on the Building of the First Church of the Virgin, Paul C. Dilley
  • The Life of Judas, Brandon W. Hawk and Mari Mamyan
  • The Life of Mary Magdalene, Christine Luckritz-Marquis

There are several highlights here. The Adoration of the Magi is only extant in a form of Old Turkic known as Old Uyghur, discovered in Turfan, brought to Berlin, moved to Moscow after World War II and subsequently lost. A clear copy was made of the four pages which make up this short story. The infant Jesus speaks to the magi when they offer their gifts and breaks off a chunk of stone from his cradle “like breaking off bread” and gives it to them. The stone is too heavy for them to carry, and their horse is unable to carried either. The manage to throw the stone in a well, and a great sign appeared in the sky. They realize the stone was a jewel. but they were not worthy. At this point, an angel appears, and they do not return to King Herod. The text breaks off after Herod kills the priest Zechariah (cf. Prot. James 23-24) and realizes the Magi have left.

There are two accounts of intriguing persons in the Gospels, The Life of Judas and The Life of Mary Magdalene. The Life of Judas is a medieval Latin text, although also extant in Greek and Armenian. Translations of the Latin and Armenian texts appear in this volume. Judas’s father was warned in a dream his son would eventually kill him, so when Judas was born, his father pierced the child’s legs and threw him in some bushes. He was rescued by some shepherds and raised by a woman named Scariot. As an adult Judas served king Herod, and when to a field to gather fruit for the king. Judas kills owner of the field in order to take his fruit, naturally this is Judas’s father. Herod protects him from revenge and the king counsels him to marry the dead man’s wife. So Judas killed his father and marries his mother. His mother sees the scars on his legs and realizes Judas is her son, both realize they have committed a great wickedness.

The Life of Mary Magdalene is a Byzantine text which describes Mary as a beautiful, wealthy woman prior to meeting Jesus rather than a prostitute. According to this tale, she is the woman was troubled by seven demons until Jesus cast them out. She is the woman who anointed Jesus’s feet in Luke 7:38 and the first witness to the resurrection (John 20). After the ascension, Mary travels to Rome and accuses Pilate before the Emperor. Pilate is summoned to Rome, interrogated and jailed. While in jail outside of Rome, the emperor was hunting. He shot an arrow at a deer, missed, and struck Pilate in the heart. Mary then makes an evangelistic trip to Marseille, converts the town of idolaters and establishes a church there. She died in Ephesus, but her remains were transferred by Leo VI to Constantinople to the Monastery of Holy Lazarus.

Part two collects apocryphal Acts and related traditions. Traditionally Apocryphal Acts books are stories about the apostles or the apostolic circle.

  • The Acts of Nereus and Achilleus, Richard I. Pervo
  • The Act of Peter in Azotus, Cambry G. Pardee
  • The Exhortation of Peter, J. Edward Walters
  • The Travels of Peter, J. Edward Walters
  • The History of Philip, Robert A. Kitchen
  • The Acts of Thomas and His Wonderworking Skin, Jonathan Holste and Janet E. Spittler

The Acts of Peter in Azotus describes Peter’s encounter with the devil and a group of demons in Azotus, a location mentioned in Acts 8:40 in association with Philip the Evangelist. The devil appears as an archangel, but Peter sees through the disguise. The devil makes the sign of the cross and cries of to Christ. The devil confess is who he is in each of the seven demons introduce themselves. They are the demons of deception, sexual immorality, falsehood, adultery, avarice, and slander. The seventh is not associated with the vice, Syracuse is Peter and humans in general of sin. Peter binds the devil in the demons for seven days, during which time there was no sin on earth.

The most unusual story is The Acts of Thomas and His Wonderworking Skin. The story concerns the apostle Thomas is missionary work in India and provides two stories that are not found in the longer Acts of Thomas. The Greek text was originally edited by M. R. James in 1897 from a single British library manuscript.  In1903 three additional manuscripts were discovered. The text is also extended Coptic, Arabic, Ethiopic, and church Slavonic. The translation published in this volume is from Tamilia, first appearing in 1903. Peter and Matthew accompany Thomas to India, where they speak to a man named Olbanus who is looking to buy a slave. Jesus suddenly appears and sells Thomas as a slave and he is eventually put to work building a palace for the king of India. He preaches the gospel to his master’s wife Arsinoë and she becomes a believer and destroys her idols. The devil enters the heart of husband Leucius and he tortures Thomas and flays him. Arsinoë is so upset by this she dies, but Thomas takes his skin, lays it over her dead body and she rises from the dead. His skin is involved in several other miracles before the Lord glues the skin back on Thomas’s body and he ascends to heaven to be gathered to the other apostles, Mary and Paul.

There is only one example of an epistle in part three of the volume, The Epistle of Pelagia, translated by Slavomír Čéplö. As Burke comments in the introduction to the volume, this is an epistle in name only since it was associated with the Acts of Paul when it was first published in 1904. The Epistle of Pelagia alludes to Thecla and includes the story of Paul baptizing a lion (ch. 2). This lion appears in chapter 6 when Paul is sent to the arena. After Paul and the lion pray and worship together, they are released. Pelagia is a daughter of a king who converts after hearing Paul’s preaching, divorces her husband and narrowly avoids martyrdom.

Part four follows the traditional practice of calling anything with Revelation-like visions an “apocalypse.”

  • The Dialogue of the Revealer and John, Philip Tite
  • 1 Apocryphal Apocalypse of John, Rick Brannan
  • 2 Apocryphal Apocalypse of John, Rebecca Draughon, Jeannie Sellick, and Janet E. Spittler
  • 3 Apocryphal Apocalypse of John, Chance Bonar, Tony Burke, and Slavomír Čéplö
  • The Questions of James to John, Katherine Gibbons
  • The Mysteries of John, Hugo Lundhaug and Lloyd Abercrombie
  • The Investiture of the Archangel Michael, Hugo Lundhaug
  • Appendix: John of Parallos, Homily Against Heretical Books, Christian H. Bull and Lance Jenott
  • The Investiture of the Archangel Gabriel, Lance Jenott
  • The Apocalypse of Thomas, Matthias Geigenfeind

Some of these are very brief: The Dialogue of the Revealer and John is barely two pages with extensive notes (but with twenty pages of introduction). Both second and third Apocryphal Apocalypse of John are presented to parallel columns comparing two often divergent traditions. For the third Apocryphal Apocalypse of John a third translation of the Church Slavonic version is included. In all three Apocryphal Apocalypse of John there is less apocalyptic that expected, they are mostly questions and answers on church life and practice.

In The Mysteries of John, John is taken from the Mount of Olives on a heavenly journey hosted by a cherub. John asks questions about what he sees *(the Garden of Eden, etc.) and the cherub gives an explanation. The book covers such diverse topics as agriculture and stars, to why humans have fingernails.

The Apocalypse of Thomas is known from Latin texts in three forms (long, short and abbreviated). Matthias Geigenfeind suggests the text may have developed in the context of Priscillian, an ascetic bishop from Avila (380-385). The longer form of the book includes thinly veiled predictions such as “Suddenly, near the last time a king will arise, a lover of the law. He will not rule for long. He will leave two sons. The first is named after the first letter, the second after the eighth. And the first will die before the second.” A footnote suggestions “Likely the king and his two sons are Theodosius I and the princes Arcadius and Honorius.” The text has a series of apocalyptic signs over eight days, culminating in the rapture-like deliverance of the elect: “Then that angel will be revealed who has power over the holy angels, and all the angels will go forth with him, sitting upon chariots of the clouds of my holy Father, rejoicing and flying in the air under heaven to deliver the elect who have believed in me.”

Finally, part five is entitled “Apostolic Orders,” a new category of New Testament Apocrypha. In his introduction to his new translation of The Teaching of the Apostles, Witold Witakowski suggests the work is apocryphal since it has a narrative framework based on biblical characters. The apostles gather in the upper room and lay out twenty-seven disciplinary and liturgical rules. Following these rules is a sketch of the spread of the Gospel and a list of locations the apostles and others traveled to preach. This list includes non-biblical characters like Addai who evangelized Edessa as well as biblical names such as Priscilla and Aquila, who received the writings of Luke the evangelist and followed Luke until his death. The twenty-seven canons decree Sunday worship as well as Wednesday services and prayers at the ninth hour on Friday. Presbyters are like Aaron’s priesthood and deacons are like the Levites. They declare the birth of Jesus should be celebrated on January 6, a forty day fast before the passion, and a feast for the ascension fifty days after the resurrection.

Conclusion.  As Burke observes in his introduction to the volume, Christian apocrypha provides an insight into the diversity of early Christian beliefs. Some of this literature is Christian interpretation of canonical documents, some seek to associate current practice with the earliest apostolic community. This second volume of “More Noncanonical Scriptures” is a window into how the early church developed both in practice and in theology. New Testament Apocrypha series will continue to serve scholarship for years to come. I look forward to volume 3!

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

Book Review: Patrick Schreiner, The Ascension of Christ: Recovering a Neglected Doctrine

Schreiner, Patrick. The Ascension of Christ: Recovering a Neglected Doctrine. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2020. xvi+127 pp.; Pb.  $10.99  Link to Lexham Press  Link to Logos Bible Software

This brief volume in Lexham’s Snapshots Series edited by Michael Bird focuses on what Schreiner considers a neglected doctrine, the Ascension of Christ.

The first chapter orients the reader to the doctrine of the ascension. For Schreiner, “the ascension is the key plot moment, the hinge on with Christ’s work turns” (xvi). One reason the ascension is often overlooked is an emphasis on the resurrection in Christian worship. Although Schreiner does not put it this way, Protestant Christians who do not follow liturgical calendars rarely celebrate “Ascension Sunday.” Most evangelical pastors are back to their regularly scheduled sermon series immediately after Easter. He makes this observation in the book’s conclusion, stating that most low-church traditions considered the ascension a “forgettable event” (115).

Schreiner, AscensionSchreiner argues the ascension of Christ is far more important than a brief footnote to the resurrection. It is spoken of in the New Testament more often than as soon, and it is included in the first Christian sermons. He considers the ascension to be a “canonical hinge” between the ages. The ascension is when Jesus begins to reign, and only after he has ascended all the Father’s right hand does he send the Holy Spirit to his people. “On the dime of the ascension, the Bible transitions from the age of Jesus to the age of the church” (13). It is possible another author could write a book on the importance of Pentecost and use that same language. It is important to see the entire Jesus event is including the incarnation, the death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Each of these events are important for understanding the Christ event.

The following three chapters use the rubric “prophet, priest and king” to present the ascension as the culmination of the mission of Jesus. Each chapter presents a brief description of a prophet, priest, and king in the Old Testament and then shows how Christ fulfills these roles in his ministry. The ascension is the culmination of Christ’s work since he now performs his role as prophet, priest, and king from heaven and through his church. Here Schreiner is following the popular view that Adam served as a prophet, priest, king in the garden. After the fall these roles pass to Israel and are ultimately fulfilled in Christ and are now the activity of the church.

Of these three roles, it is easiest to see the role of king in the completed in the ascension. The ascension is essentially an enthronement, Christ is returning to the right hand of the Father. Schreiner says, “Jesus rose to the Father, he was installed and recognized as Lord of all. The ascension and session were the triumph of the king” (89). As expected, the role of priesthood focus is almost entirely on the book of Hebrews. In the ascension, Jesus completes his ministry as a priest by presenting his blood in the heavenly tent. Regarding Jesus as prophet, Schreiner argues the Spirit empowered Jesus to proclaim the word of God and performed signs and wonders to demonstrate the authority of his preaching. In the ascension, Christ pours out the Spirit to empower his witnesses so that they will continue to speak the gospel. He downplays the importance of performing signs and wonders by saying that the ascension made Christ the head of the body, which is his hands and feet on the earth.

The final chapter seeks to position the ascension in relation to other doctrines. With respect to the Trinity, the Messiah’s ascent “finds its meaning, coherency, and significant from the triune God” (103). The ascension fulfills and completes the goals of the incarnation, including Christ’s work on the cross. He argues the ascension both confirms and reveals the truth of the cross (107).

By way of critique, I find the lack of Philippians 2:5-11 in this treatment of the ascension problematic. This important early theological statement concerning the incarnation, humiliation and exaltation of Christ is only mentioned in passing late in the book. It is not difficult to read “God has highly exalted him” as a reference to the ascension. In addition, the ascension is only narrated in Acts 1. Schreiner is correct that the ascension is an enthronement of Christ as king, but this point could be made more forcefully by seeing the ascension in Acts 1 in the light of imperial language at the announcement of this birth in Luke 2:8–14. Jesus is clearly described as the Lord, the Messiah at the beginning of both volumes of Luke-Acts. The birth narrative represents the incarnation; the ascension is the exaltation of the incarnate Lord.

The goal of the Snapshots series is to engage “significant issues in contemporary biblical scholarship” and make them “accessible to busy students of the word and applicable in the life of the church.” Schreiner presents the essential ideas of the ascension of Jesus in a clear and cogent manner, one that focuses on both the theological importance of the ascension and the practical application of the ascension in the church’s life today.

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 Notice: Max J. Lee, Moral Transformation in Greco-Roman Philosophy of Mind

I recently received a review copy of Max J. Lee, Moral Transformation in Greco-Roman Philosophy of Mind: Mapping the Moral Milieu of the Apostle Paul and his Diaspora Jewish Contemporaries (WUNT/2 515; Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2020. xxxv+658 pp. Pb; €139,00; Link to Mohr Siebeck). Since this is a lengthy book, I thought I would do a book notice based on first impressions now, with a lengthy review when I am able to finish the book.

Max Lee, Moral TransformationLee’s goal is “to fill some important gaps in the cultural encyclopedia of knowledge which Paul and his Greco-Roman audience assumed each other knew but we modern need to reconstruct” (p. 567). For the most part, this encyclopedia of knowledge on the philosophy of mind is unfamiliar to the New Testament scholar.

Since understanding Paul’s thought in a Jewish context dominates intertextual studies, so Lee focuses on the Greco Roman environment. He therefore proposes to study models of moral transformation in Middle Platonism (part 1), Stoicism (part 2). A future volume will address Epicureanism and Diaspora Judaism. The justification for using these examples is the preserved the orthodoxy of their founders with some significant innovations and were influential in the first century. Certainly, Cynics and Neo-Pythagoreans were active in the first century, but since neither were interested in controlling passions, Lee sets them aside in this book.

What is philosophy of the mind? Ancient philosophy of the mind is the study of the soul and the ethical implications of what the soul is and how it functions. This differs from modern philosophy of the mind which is interested in how the mind and the body relate. Ancient philosophy of the mind asks whether passions can be controlled. If so, what forces impede moral transformation? Is character pre-determined at birth? Or is character developed over time through training and education?

What is moral transformation? In the context of first century C.E. Greco-Roman philosophy, ethical systems were interested in transforming the “common barbarian sick with vice into a leading citizen of the Roman empire, capable of virtue” (p. 5).  Lee will focus on the language of power in each philosophical school in order to understand how passions act as forces which must be mastered. Moral transformation is there for control of the passions. What are the sources for controlling the passions? This may come through education, training, or asceticism. What is the relationship of theology and ethics? Do the gods enable moral transformation? If so, how central is this divine aid?

All three philosophical systems agree the human mind or reason is the main power source for self-mastery. But only when the human mind has been properly trained by philosophy (p. 15). Although it is not the topic this book, Lee suggests Diaspora Judaism shares much in common with Greco-Roman philosophy,  although it places much more emphasis on the role of the divine. Self-control is not merely a human action; God actively intervenes in the transformation of the soul. Late in the book Lee suggests Diaspora Judaism falls somewhere between Middle Platonism and Middle Stoicism (about where he places Epicureanism, p. 522). Diaspora Judaism has a wider range than the other philosophical schools; we must await the next volume for the details.

The first two chapters of the book introduce methodology and the components of moral transformation. With this background in mind, Lee introduces “the Body-Beating Platonist” (part 2) and the “Superhumans Stoic” (part 3). Part three includes two chapters on neo-Stoics, a chapter on the Stoic self and a chapter on the Stoic god. The final section is a retrospect of the argument of the book and a prospect for further study.

The book includes with two appendices which are absolutely critical for the philosophy specialist to read before moving into the body of the monograph. The first appendix surveys the main sources for Middle Platonism; the second the main sources for Early, Middle and Late Stoicism. Since most of this literature is not well-known to New Testament scholars, these two appendices will help navigate the massive data contained in this book.

For Lee, the main value of this study is the demonstration of Paul’s method of engaging the pluralism of his day. However, this theological payoff is only hinted in the book. Setting aside his discussion of Enberg-Pedersen’s Paul and the Stoics (pp. 25-27), there are only fourteen references in Paul’s letters in the index (there are twenty-seven to Philippians on those pages alone). This is not a criticism; the book is an in-depth study of Greco-Roman philosophical thinking on moral transformation rather than on Paul’s use (or non-use) of this material.

Paul established a precedence for patristic figures in the second century as the apologists began to engage the philosophical world with the claims of the Gospel.  Paul’s strategy has great potential for how the church in our day can engage a complex pluralistic world with diverse ideas which challenge the gospel (p. 529). This “encyclopedia of knowledge” sets the stage for examining Paul’s appropriation of the language of philosophical discourse to exhort this Gentile churches.

I look forward to further work in this important monograph. Be sure to request your university or seminary library obtain a copy!

Max Lee blogs at Paul ReDux and is active on twitter as @ProfMaxLee.  Nijay Gupta interviewed Lee about the release of this book.

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

Book Review: Benjamin L. Merkle, Discontinuity to Continuity: A Survey of Dispensational and Covenantal Theologies

Merkle, Benjamin L. Discontinuity to Continuity: A Survey of Dispensational and Covenantal Theologies. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2020. x+236 pp.; Pb.  $25.99  Link to Lexham Press

In 1980 Daniel P. Fuller published Gospel and Law: Contrast or Continuum? The Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology (Eerdmans), which was in part based on his 1957 ThD dissertation on the hermeneutics of dispensationalism. The book was controversial for several reasons, but it began a discussion of whether there is a unity between the Old and New Testaments. Does God have a unified plan and a single people of God? Is that plan better described in terms of a single covenant, or a series of covenants? Fuller contrasted two popular systems of thought, dispensationalism and covenant theology, to answer these questions. He argued for more unity than discontinuity in God’s plan; dispensationalism did not fare well in the book, but covenant theology was not quite right either, in Fuller’s view.

Merkle, Discontinuity to ContinuityMuch has happened in the world of biblical theology in the last fifty years later. Both dispensationalism and covenant theology been in dialogue and have both developed and matured. Biblical theology has blossomed and there are dozens of studies which argue for a unified story of redemption from Genesis to Revelation. Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen’s The Drama of Scripture (Baker Academic, Second Edition 2014) is a popular presentation of the overarching story of Scripture, modifying N. T. Wright’s metaphor of a multi-act play. It is neither covenant theology nor dispensationalism, but both resonate with the plan of God revealed in a series of stages (covenants, dispensations).

In this new book on the hermeneutics of dispensationalism and covenant theology, Benjamin Merkle’s Discontinuity to Continuity cannot simply contrast the two systems. It would be wrong to cite the Scofield Reference Bible as the last word on dispensationalism; the book is now over 100 years old! It would be equally dishonest to cite Caspar Olevian or Johannes Cocceius as examples of current thinking in covenant theology. Merkle divides dispensationalism into three sections, classic, revised and progressive, representing the continuing refinement of the theological system. Covenant theology is also divided into three sections, although the three flavors of Covenant theology are less chronological.

After an introduction and overview of the theological systems of discontinuity and continuity, the next six chapters of the book move from discontinuity (Classic Dispensationalism) to continuity (Christian Reconstruction). Each chapter begins with a chart entitled “Taxonomy of Theological Systems,” with three dispensational variations on the left and three covenant variants on the right. It is perhaps instructive that there is an unlabeled spot for a middle position. Is this where progressive dispensationalism and covenantalism will meet in the future? Another unintended consequence of this arrangement the left side represents a pretribulational rapture and premillennialism, the central views move from historic premillennialism and amillennialism, to the right side represents postmillennialism.

In his three chapters on Dispensationalism, Merkle tracks the development of the system from the classic dispensationalism of the Scofield Reference Bible to the revisions of the SRB made by the faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary in the 1960s (Revised Dispensationalism). Another important text for this period is Charles Ryrie’s Dispensationalism Today (Moody, 1965; Moody dropped “today” in a second edition, 2007). For many dispensationalists, this is still the standard introduction. Beginning in the 1980s, dispensationalists used the national meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society to continue to refine dispensationalism, resulting in several books and essay collections using the term “Progressive Dispensationalism.” This new era in dispensational thinking was in dialogue with covenant theology and sought to bring dispensationalism into the mainstream of biblical theology.

Merkle treats three variations of covenant theology in three chapters. Because it is closest to Progressive Dispensationalist, Merkle treats Progressive Covenantalism before turning to Covenant theology proper. Progressive Covenantalism is recent and is represented by Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant (Second Edition): A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Crossway, 2016) and Stephen J. Wellum and Brent E. Parker, Progressive Covenantalism: Charting a Course between Dispensational and Covenantal Theologies (B&H 2016).

Rather than using historic examples of Covenant Theology, Merkle uses Meredith Kline, O. Palmer Robertson, and Michael Horton, Introducing Covenant Theology (Baker 2006). Merkle uses Christian Reconstruction as representing the most continuity between the testaments. Representing by Rousas Rushdoony, Greg Bahnsen and Gary North. Although this position is associated with Dominion theology, Merkle limits his summary and critique to only the issue of continuity.

One possible omission in Merkle’s taxonomy is Gerald McDermott. He edited a collection of essays, The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel and the Land (InterVarsity Press, 2016) and published a popular presentation of his ideas as Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently about the People and the Land (Brazos, 2017). McDermott rejects replacement theology and argues for a future fulfillment of promises to Israel without any form dispensationalism. I am not sure his views fit well into progressive dispensationalism or  covenantalism.

For each of the theological systems, Merkle gives a brief historical sketch and orientation to the chief representatives of the position. He then discusses the basic hermeneutic of each position. First, Merkle asks if the system has a literal or symbolic hermeneutic. Each position claims to use a grammatical-historical method and none would claim allegorizing the text is a legitimate approach. The key hermeneutical issue is the proper role of typology and how the Old Testament restoration processes are fulfilled. Merkle observes that dispensationalists dismiss (or minimize) typology while convent theology uses typology to explain how the Old Testament prophecy can be fulfilled in the church.

Under the heading of the relationship between the covenants, Merkle gives a short synopsis of how the position understands the covenants (or dispensations). For dispensationalism, this is the classic “seven dispensations,” for covenant theology this is the six biblical covenant (Adamic, Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic and New Covenant). Next, Merkle examines whether the system sees the covenants as conditional or unconditional. He asked how the Old Testament saints were saved. Finally, he describes the approach of each system with respect to the application of the law in the present era. On one side, classic dispensationalism argues for no application, and Reconstructionism argues for the fullest application of the Law. Classic covenant theology uses a three-tiered view of the Law (moral, civil, and ceremonial), focusing primarily on the moral law as the continuity between Israel and the church. In practice, neither is completely consistent since classic dispensationalists find principles in the Law that can be applied today (especially for particular sins) and Reconstructionist do not advocate burning witches or stoning rebellious sons.

Under the relationship between Israel and the church, Merkle examines each position with respect to whether the church replaces, fulfills Israel, or is distinct from Israel. On one side classic dispensationalism makes a sharp distinction between the church and Israel and look for a future fulfilment of Old Testament restoration prophecies, covenant theology finds a typological fulfilment of Israel in the church, or in the more extreme form, the church is new Israel. This leads to a brief sketch at how each position deals with two key passages, Romans 11:26 (“all Israel will be saved”) and Galatians 6:16 (“the Israel of God”).  For more on Merkle’s view of Romans 11:26, see his contribution in Compton and Naselli, Three Views on Israel and the Church (Kregel 2019).

With respect to the kingdom of God, he examines how the position understands the kingdom of God. For classic dispensationalists, the kingdom is entirely in the future, for most of covenant theology the kingdom is typologically fulfilled in the Church, although Reconstructionism is postmillennial, so the kingdom is being built by the church. For the progressive forms in the middle of Merkle’s taxonomy, the kingdom is in some ways already present, but not yet fully present. This leads to a discussion of Jesus’s ministry. To what extent did Jesus “bring in the kingdom”? If the kingdom is still in some respect still future, how is the kingdom to be consummated? As Merkle observes, the already/not yet understanding has influenced progressive dispensationalists as well as most forms of covenant theology. George Ladd’s New Testament Theology has influenced many of the scholars in the middle of Merkle’s taxonomy.

Each chapter ends with a few pages of assessment. He points out the strengths of each system along with a few critiques. Merkle is fair in both his summary and critique of each of the systems. There are no straw-man arguments in the book. Merkle does not cite fringe representatives of positions. It would be easy to cite Darby or Bullinger as representatives of dispensationalism, or cherry pick some of the stranger ideas of Reconstructionism. He has chosen legitimate representatives of each position and presents their ideas as fairly as possible.

The last chapter is a helpful summary of the six theological systems covered in the book. Some readers may want to start with this chapter before reading the more detailed descriptions in chapters 2-7.

Something Merkle does not address in this book is the in-family animosity between the three types of dispensationalism and the three types of covenant theology. Any system self-identifying as “progressive” is asking for trouble from the classic form of the theology. There are many classic dispensationalists who look at recent developments as compromises and defections from “real dispensationalism.” Any progressive form of covenant theology (especially one that leans toward dispensationalism) will raise suspicions of straying too far from assured reformation truth. But as this book demonstrates, theological systems ought to continue to grow and develop.

Conclusion. Benjamin Merkle’s Discontinuity to Continuity is an excellent primer on the various forms of dispensationalism and covenant theology. The book would serve as a textbook for a university or seminary class on hermeneutics, but Merkle writes for anyone reader interest in how the present church relates to Israel and the Old Testament.

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: D. Clint Burnett, Studying the New Testament through Inscriptions

Burnett, D. Clint. Studying the New Testament through Inscriptions. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Academic, 2020. xxvii+218 pp.; Hb.  $23.99  Link to Hendrickson Academic

In his conclusion to this new book on using ancient inscriptions to shed light on the New Testament, Burnett acknowledges his debt to Adolf Deissmann. Deissmann was one of the first to use inscriptions and papyri in his popular book, Light from The Ancient Near East: The New Testament Illustrated by Recently Discovered Texts of the Greco-Roman World (Hodder & Stoughton, 1910). Deissmann visited Asia Minor in 1906 and immediately began a series of lectures which resulted in this book. The book appears frequently in the latest edition of Bauer (BDAG), abbreviated as LO for the German edition (Licht vom Osten) or LAE for the English translation. In the introduction to his mammoth A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, A. T. Robertson said “Deissmann is the pioneer in this field and is still the leader in it. It is hard to overestimate the debt of modern New Testament scholarship to his work” (Roberson, p. x).

As with most books written one hundred years ago, Deissmann’s Light from the Ancient Near East needs an update. To a large extent this was a goal of the New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity series (ten volumes, published by Eerdmans, 1981-2012). Initially edited by G. H. R. Horsley of Macquarie University, each volume surveyed obscure journals for publications of inscriptions and papyri of interest to New Testament scholars for a given period of time. Volume one covered journals published in 1976, volume ten covered 1988-1992. Each volume provided a summary articles with helpful transcriptions and translations of the important parts of the original journal article. For many scholars this was the best way to access this data is very hard to find in even the best research libraries. These books are a goldmine of new “light from the Ancient Near East.” Like Deissmann’s book, NewDocs appears in BDAG frequently.

Clint Burnett’s new book on studying the New Testament through inscriptions is something like a “New Deissmann,” or maybe better, “Deissmann for the people.” Burnett says he shares Deissmann’s dream “that one day more New Testament students who use inscriptions in their interpretation of his documents and the historical reconstructions of early Christianity” (p. 165). The goal of the book is to make inscriptions accessible to students and pastors and offer guidance for using inscriptions in interpretation.

The first chapter is an introduction to the study of inscriptions. Burnett begins with a basic definition, literally writing on something, whether it is on stone, bronze, floors, walls, tiles or lead sheets. This definition is broad enough to encompass both official monuments set up by civil authorities and graffiti scratched on a wall. After a short explanation of how inscriptions were made, Burnett surveys a wide range of types of inscriptions, both public and private. This section is illustrated with black and white photographs mostly provided by the author. Since most readers are not able to travel to museums or archaeological sites to photograph inscriptions, Burnett gives an overview of the publication of inscriptions beginning in the nineteenth century. These epigraphic corpora continue to expand, and many are now published online. Wise students can find the older, out of print epigraphic corpora at archive.org. For example, here is a link to Sylloge inscriptionum Graecarum edited by Wilhelm Dittenberger. This section includes a helpful chart of sigla found in these collections of inscriptions.

Following this introductory chapter, Burnett offers five illustrations of the use of inscriptions for interpreting particular passages in the New Testament. First, Burnett examines inscriptions from the southern Levant in order to text consensus view that the development of “Jesus as Lord” language by early Christians recognized Jesus’s lordship as royal, messianic but not exclusively divine (ch. 2).

Burnett examines the translations differences in 1 Corinthians, “Devour” or “Go Ahead with” the Lord’s Banquet (ch. 3). The verb προλαμβάνω in 1 Corinthians 11:21 is usually translated “each one goes ahead with his own meal.” Based on an inscription cited in Moulton and Milligan from the Asclepieum at Epidaurus (Syll 804), Bruce Winter has suggested the verb ought to be translated as “eat” or “devour.” This suggestion appears in commentaries by Conzelmann, Thiselton, and Hays and several monographs on the Lord’s Supper. Burnett gives the Greek text of the inscription with a translation and compares the use of προλαμβάνω cited by Moulton and Milligan with several other inscriptions. He concludes the most probably translation is “go ahead with.” He argues this point by examining the usual seating arrangements at a Greco-Roman banquet. These arrangements contributed to social divisions in the church. Only about nine people could eat in the “main room,” so it is possible those invited to eat at the best tables went ahead with their meal and gave no regard to those gathered elsewhere to share meals.

In chapter 4, Burnett deals with imperial loyalty oaths and Caesar’s decrees in the background of early Christianity in Thessalonica. Interpreters of 1 Thessalonians often suggest Roman imperial loyalty oaths run counter to language found in 1 Thessalonians. Pagans (and probably Christians) would find Paul’s preaching treasonous, explaining the ongoing trouble for Christians in Thessalonica. Acts 17 indicates Paul was charged with “opposing Caesar’s decrees” (Acts 17:7). The problem, Burnett argues, is this reconstruction “overlooks the content, occasion, and contextual nature of the actual imperial loyalty oaths” (p. 101). Burnett examines a number of these loyalty oaths and concludes “opposing Caesar’s decrees” refers to imperial letters granting Thessalonica free city status in the Roman empire.

Chapter five draws together inscriptions with describe the activities of women in order to illustrate references in the New Testament to benefactresses, deaconesses, and pverseers in the Philippian Church. There is clear evidence that wealthy women gained prominence by becoming patrons of both official and unofficial cults. Burnett then suggests Lydia, Eudoia and Syntyche served in leadership roles in the Philippian church. This is not to say they exercised the authority of later ecclesiastical offices, but since so little is known about the structure of Pauline churches, there is “good reason to believe some wealthy women in the Philippian church attained leadership positions in the mid-first century CE” (p. 139). There is an assumption, however, that the Philippian church “patterned leadership after official and non-official cults in the city” (p. 136). Since Paul’s initial contact in Philippi was Lydia at a Jewish place of prayer, is it more likely the earliest leadership was patterned after the synagogue? This does not detract from Burnett’s point, wealthy women played significant roles in leadership in the mid-first century.

In chapter 6 Burnett surveys inscriptions which use numbers for names as background for interpreting Revelation 13, the number of the beast.  Most commentaries on Revelation cite the same graffiti from Pompei, “I love the one whose number is 545.” Burnett collects twenty-three examples of name-calculations from Mylasa (1), Pompei (4), Stabae (2), Smyrna (6), Ephesus (8), Messania (1) and Catania (1). These examples appear in full in an appendix to this chapter. Many use a form of φιλω with a relative pronoun, ἀριθμός and the number.  It may be surprising that so many declared their love by writing anonymously in a wall! The eight examples from Ephesus were found in Terrace House 2, indicating even the elite wrote on walls. In any event, Burnett argues this data favors the conclusion that “the practice of name calculation was geared toward a group of insiders” who produced the calculation (p. 160). For Burnett, John provided all the background required for his audience to grasp that the beast’s name was Nero Caesar.

This chapter on the use of numbers for names raises a potential omission in the book. A chapter on the importance of graffiti in the Greco-Roman world would have been an excellent addition to the book. Burnett includes graffiti here and there in the book, but graffiti looks through a different sort of window into the ancient world than an official inscription placed by civil authorities. I have spent time browsing through Graffiti from the Basilica in the Agora of Smyrna (Roger Bagnall, et al, 2016) and often thought this material represents what the common person thought about more than the beautiful inscriptions found along the streets in Ephesus.

There are three very useful appendices to the book. First, Burnett gives an overview of important printed collections of inscriptions. Second, he offers some instructions for using online search engines to navigate collections of inscriptions. Third, he has a handy guide to abbreviations used in inscriptions for titles and other common Latin words. For example, SC is used for senatus consultum, “by senatorial decree.” On graves it is common to see HSE (hic situs/sita est, “here he/she lies”) or DM (Dis Manibus, “to the deceased spirits”). This includes abbreviations for the most common Roman names (L for Lucius; M for Marcus), Greek numbers (including letters unfamiliar to most students of New Testament Greek). I would certainly purchase a laminate card with this information to take with me while leading tours. I sometimes use the app Emperors by Dan Weiner for abbreviations in imperial titles (often you can date an inscription or coin precisely with this tool).

The book includes a twenty-six-page bibliography and indices for modern authors, subjects and ancient sources. The book includes a rich collection of resources in the footnotes. Students should mine these footnotes for important secondary literature on inscriptions.

I have two important observations about what this book is not. First, this is not a manual for how to read an actual inscription. Although it will help a student who wants to transcribe, translate and interpret an inscription (perhaps from a photograph taken on a visit to Ephesus), that is not the intention of the book. Burnett does offer advice on using collections of already transcribed and translated inscriptions.

Second, the book is focused solely on reading inscriptions to shed light on the New Testament. Inscriptions are important for understanding the whole of the Greco-Roman world, but Burnett’s focus is on using this material to unknot a particular exegetical problem in the translation of the New Testament or to illustrate some cultural practice to better understand the early church. Although readers outside the world of biblical studies may benefit from this book, it is clearly targeted at a Christian audience.

Conclusion. This is an excellent introduction to the study of inscriptions with the specific goal of shedding light on the New Testament. For most New Testament scholars (including teachers and pastors), this book demonstrates the importance of understanding the historical and cultural context of the New Testament. He illustrates the value of studying inscriptions with five specific examples, but these examples can be multiplied many times over.

Burnett blogs on inscriptions and the New Testament (his personal blog) and he hosts a podcast, Bibl·e·pigraphy. He is active on twitter and occasionally posts inscriptions of interest to New Testament students, follow him: @DClintBurnett1.

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

Book Notice: Aaron W. White, The Prophets Agree: The Function of the Book of the Twelve Prophets in Acts

Aaron White The Prophets AgreeHere is a new book that combines two of my interests, the book of Acts and the use of Scripture in the New Testament: Aaron W. White, The Prophets Agree: The Function of the Book of the Twelve Prophets in Acts (Biblical Interpretation Series 184; Brill, 2020). White completed his PhD at Bristol University under the supervision of John Nolland. He currently serves as pastor of First Presbyterian Church in South Charleston, Ohio.

White has previously published an article on this issue, “‘The Creative Use of Amos by the Author of Acts’ Reexamined: The Lukan Appropriation of LXX-Amos in Acts and What it Tells Us About Luke,” Biblical Theology Bulletin 46.2 (2016).

The title of the book alludes to James’ enigmatic used of Amos 9 at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:15-17), although Acts 15 is only one of the four quotations from the Minor Prophets in Acts. He devotes a chapter to each citation:

  • “I Will Pour out My Spirit”: Jesus the Lord and the Lukan Reading of LXX-Joel 3:1–5 in Acts 2
  • “Forty Years”: The Divided People of God and the Lukan Reading of LXX-Amos 5:25–27 in Acts 7:42–43
  • “I Am Doing a Work”: The Gentiles as God’s People and the Lukan Reading of LXX-Habakkuk 1:5 in Acts 13
  • “All the Gentiles Who Are Called”: Sending the Gentile Mission and the Lukan Reading of LXX-Amos 9:11–12 in Acts 15

White compares Luke’s use of the minor prophet to an example from Second Temple Period literature. For example, Testament of Judah 24 alludes to Joel 3:1–5 in a messianic context. The Damascus Document: CD-A 7:13–8:1 alludes to Amos 5:25–27. For Habakkuk 1:5 in Acts 13, White 1.16–2.10 examines 1QpHab 1.16–2.10. For the perplexing use of Amos 9:11, White turns to 4Q Florilegium.

The book argues for the importance of reading the Twelve Prophets in unity when it is quoted in Acts and the integral role these citations play in the redemptive-historical plotline of Acts. White focuses on the place of the Minor Prophets in Acts asks what difference it makes to regard these four quotations as a singular contribution to Acts from a unified source.

I look forward to reading this book.

Book Review: Scott Bashoor, Visual Outline Charts of the New Testament

Bashoor, Michael Scott. Visual Outline Charts of the New Testament. Revised and Expanded. El Cajon, Calif.: Southern California Seminary Press, 2020. 110 pp.; Pb.  $23.99 Link to SCM Press

There have been several series of “chartbooks” in recent memory, including many edited by H. Wayne House. I often used House’s Chronological and Background Charts of the New Testament early on in my teaching career (it is now in a second edition, Zondervan, 2009). His charts on Systematic Theology: Prolegomena (Kregel, 2006). In his forward to this new edition of Visual Outline Charts of the New Testament, House says charts bring together information into a short, organized format that introduces a reader to the basics before they begin working through the subject.

Bashoor, VOCNTScott Bashoor draws on his experience in teaching at The Master’s Seminary as well as more than twenty years of teaching in local churches to create seventy-two charts covering each book of the New Testament. This book was originally published in 2016 by B&H Academic digital (available through WordSearch) and a second edition was published in print through Amazon in 2017 (now unavailable). SCS Press revised the format of the book and the color schemes, but more importantly the introductions to the books have been expanded and revised.

In the introduction Bashoor suggests four uses for his book. First, he wants to provide support for pastors preparing to preach or teach a section of scripture. Second, as a supplement to Bible reading in a seminary classroom, this chart book will help orient students to the main ideas of each book of the New Testament. Third, the chart book will help a believer reading the New Testament in their personal Bible study. Finally, Bashoor sees this chart book as a discipleship tool, introducing new readers of the New Testament to the basic structure of the biblical books. Bashoor describes his work as a reference book born out of exposition of the text in the local church and it will serve others as they preach and teach expositional sermons on New Testament books.

The introduction also explains the limitations of the book. First, the outlines are his own, although he has compared his structure to other scholarship. Second, there is usually a wide range of views for the purpose of a book. Bashoor offers his own view without comparison to other introductions and commentaries. For example, the purpose of the book of Romans is hotly debated in the commentaries, Bashoor simply states his own view of the purpose of the book without offering a range of views typically founding eh commentaries. Third, he recognizes there are controversial issues in New Testament background. For example, Bashoor considers Mark the third gospel written (A.D. 64-68) although the consensus view in scholarship is Mark was written first. He does not enter into this debate or offer alternative views because of limited space. Since his purpose is to give a graphic overview of the books of the New Testament it is not necessary for him compare his views to other scholarship.

Bashoor briefly introduces each book before presenting his chart outlining the books. These introductions are no more than a page of text and he often group books together (1-2 Thessalonians, for example). For Paul’s letters, he places the letters into the context of the book of Acts and offers a brief reconstruction of the circumstances of the letter. There are bonus mini-charts on the percentage of each Gospel devoted to Jesus’s passion (p. 6) and for Paul’s interactions with the Corinthians (p. 48). The latter is very helpful for sorting out the various communications between Paul and the church as Corinth. Adding additional smaller charts on the introduction page would add additional value to this book as a classroom tool.

The charts visually present an outline of the biblical book. Bashoor explains his method in the introduction. The top of the chart summarizes the purpose, date, recipients and author. On the far left or right a series of columns present the main sections of the book, the upper parts of each chart track the major sections of the book with the bulk of the page devoted to a detailed outline of each section. For most books, this is essentially a three or four-level outline of the book. Shorter books fit conveniently on a single page, longer books like the Gospels are presented in major units over several pages.

By way of example, the first chart on Matthew presents a five-part outline for the main body with an introduction (The King’s Birth, 1:1-2:23) and conclusion (The King’s Death, 26:3-28:20). The second chart collapses four of the five main body sections and divides “The King Formally Introduced to Israel” (3:1-7:29) into two units (3:1-4:25 and 5:1-7:29). The First Discourse (the Sermon on the Mount) is further divided into four main units and a transition. Each of these subunits is a column with a detailed outline. For a long book like Matthew, this is a helpful method for visualizing the whole book on each page.

Bashoor takes conservative positions on the date and authorship for every book. He considers Galatians the earliest of Paul’s letters, written in A.D. 49; James was written prior to Galatians (40-45). Matthew is the earliest gospel, written about A.D. 50. He dates Luke to A. D. 60-61 (followed by Acts in 63), Mark (64-68) and John (80-90; followed by the epistles, 90-95 and Revelation, 94-96). Paul is the author of all thirteen letters. He includes Philemon with the Pastoral epistles, although it is normally included with Colossians as a Prison Epistle (his chart on page 93 has Philemon as both a Prison Epistle and a “Letter to Leaders”). Hebrews was not written by Paul, but by an unknown author to Jewish Christians facing persecution under Nero, written A.D. 68-70. James and Jude are the half-brothers of Jesus; 1-2 Peter and 1-3 John and Revelation were written by the apostles Peter and John.

There are four charts in an appendix covering the traditional order of the New Testament books (including a word count for each book), a suggested chronological order of the New Testament books, a select timeline of Paul’s life and letters and the Gospel according to Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Compared to other similar chart books, there is far less of this kind of material. For example, Bashoor could have included charts giving a visual guide to the Pauline letters or the Jewish Christian letters at the introduction to those units. A single chart comparing the main themes of the four gospels would give an overview of that unit of the book. I would have enjoyed a chart comparing his dates for the composition of the Gospels with other New Testament introductions. Seeing data from several introductions across a wide spectrum would have been instructive. Despite his caveat in the introduction that his space is limited, these kinds of charts would have made this book more valuable as a classroom textbook.

This raises an important caveat about outlines for biblical books. Commentaries on Revelation differ greatly on the structure of the book and Bashoor’s scheme is no less valid than others. This is true for every book of the New Testament, even if there is a general consensus on some major structural clues. Any attempt to outline a biblical book must always be tentative since there is no way to know with certainty what the original author had in mind when they wrote the book. For example, Ephesians 3 ends with a doxology, leading most biblical scholars to divide the book into two sections (essentially chapters 1-3 and 4-6). This seems logical and is not at all controversial. But we cannot know if Paul thought of himself as writing a letter with two parts, divided by a doxology. This is especially true for the smaller units of an outline. Nevertheless, Bashoor’s outlines will help a teacher, preacher, or Bible reader to navigate a biblical book.

The color scheme uses shades of green (Gospels and Acts), blue and grey (Pauline epistles) and brown (General Epistles) with black and white for text. Sometimes the charts have too much text in a narrow column, resulting to one or two letters on a line (p. 44, for example). Perhaps turning the chart to landscape would improve the readability. The copyright page indicates the book is not to be photocopied except for brief quotations in printed reviews. This means a teacher would not be permitted to photocopy pages for use in a classroom or Bible study. This is the standard practice for other chartbooks from Zondervan or Kregel.

NB: Thanks to SCS Press for kindly providing me with pre-release PDF review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

Book Review: John D. Schwandt, An Introduction to Biblical Greek

Schwandt, John D.  An Introduction to Biblical Greek: A Grammar with Exercises (Revised Edition). Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2020. 497 pp.; Hb.  $23.99  Link to Lexham Press

This new Introduction to Biblical Greek is in many ways not new. Schwandt bases his introduction on H. P. V. Nunn, The Elements of New Testament Greek (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1913). This has been done before: J. W. Wenham published an update of The Elements of New Testament Greek in 1965 for Cambridge University Press. Elements is now in its third edition by Jeremy Duff (with a forward by David Wenham, J. W. Wenham’s son) in 2004. The third edition is considerably different in sequence than Nunn’s original text, compressing the original thirty-seven lessons into twenty chapters. Although the new edition included a few composition exercises, these exercises are greatly reduced from Nunn’s Elements.

Schwandt’s Introduction is a return to the original spirit of Nunn’s Elements. Schwandt says in his introduction that the structure of his book is essentially the same as Nunn’s Elements, as are the vocabulary lists and exercises. He was attracted to Nunn because of its diachronic approach and emphasis on composition. Schwandt believes composition will help the student master the “grammatical fountainheads” like spelling and grammar. In fact, Schwandt argues passionately for composition of Greek sentences as essential for mastering New Testament Greek. Although this method was standard in Greek primers a hundred years ago, few modern introductions to New Testament Greek include composition. Even if a primer does include composition exercises, most Greek professors skip them if they are included (mea culpa).

For comparison purposes, I used the 1923 edition of Nunn’s Elements since it is included my Logos Library. Lesson titles have been updated. For example, lesson 10 on adjectives is now entitled “2-1-2 pattern adjectives” rather than “adjectives of the second declension.” Schwandt calls the second aorist the “thematic aorist” rather than the second aorist. Other lessons are re-titled to better reflect the content. Paradigm charts are clearer in Schwandt’s text, with effective headings and shading. The book has a brief summary of paragraphs in wide margins. These modernizing features are more than just cosmetic updates, the will enhances the student’s ability to navigate the textbook.

In almost every case Schwandt’s explanations follow Nunn’s basic outline but are greatly expanded. For example, he has an expanded discussion of deponent verbs and verbal aspect. In most cases, what Nunn explained in a single line, Schwandt explains in a paragraph. This further explanation will help students grasp the details of Greek grammar. As most Greek professors know, most New Testament Greek students do not have a good grasp of English grammar. Nunn’s original textbook assumed mastery of English grammar (and likely several years of Latin). Schwandt offers more explanation of English grammar than Nunn, and often provides a footnote for details or further discussion in other grammars. The exercises are taken from Nunn, with the slight modification dropping the use of “thou” for the second person pronouns.

One frustration with many older grammars is the use of made-up Greek sentences. On the one hand, creating a sentence in order to give a clear example of a grammatical concept makes sense, especially at the beginning of a Greek class since the student does not know enough to read the New Testament yet. But on the other hand, reading the New Testament from the beginning is encouraging for a student since they see the exegetical payoff for all their hard work. Schwandt therefore adds grammar exercises and biblical translation exercises with footnotes for vocabulary and unusual grammar.

Schwandt introduces the present active indicative verb in lesson 3 using λύω rather than λέγω, Nunn’s paradigm word. This was an unfortunate choice because λέγω is so different in the future, aorist, and perfect tenses. For anyone teaching Greek with Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek, introducing the verb this early is shocking since Mounce holds off on the verb until lesson 16. However, this is the way Greek grammars were written in 1913. By introducing the verb early students are able to work on full sentences from the very beginning of their Greek studies.

One observation: despite the association of Lexham with Faithlife and Logos Bible Software, there is nothing in the book on using Logos as an aid for reading the Greek New Testament. Schwandt himself was Executive Director of Mobile Education for Faithlife. Schwandt wrote a Biblical Greek course for Logos Mobile Education as well as two exegesis courses based on 1 John (both exegesis courses are still on pre-order at this time). I would have expected more connection to the Logos ecosystem, but that is not the case at all.

The book has seven appendices: All vocabulary lists appear in the first appendix and the answer key for all exercises in the second. Schwandt has a short appendix on both accents and prepositions, followed by morphological reference tables, an English-to-Greek glossary, and a Greek-to-English glossary.

Conclusion: Schwandt has indeed revived the original Elements and modernized aspects of the book for use in college and seminary New Testament Greek classes. If a return to the old-school style represented by Nunn (or Machen, Summers, or even Chase and Phillips) is desired, then Schwandt’s An Introduction to Biblical Greek will be a welcome addition to the classroom. For many Greek professors, they might want all the bells and whistles (and teaching aids) found in Mounce’s ubiquitous Basics of Biblical Greek (fourth edition).

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: Tremper Longman III, How to Read Daniel

Longman III, Tremper. How to Read Daniel. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2020. 189 pp. Pb; $20.  Link to IVP Academic

Tremper Longman has previous published five volumes in the How to Read series (on Psalms, Proverbs, Genesis, Exodus, and Job [with John Walton]). In this series, Longman intentionally targets the lay person, pastor and seminarian rather than an academic audience. Like the previous volumes in this series, Longman provides a clear introduction to this fascinating but sometimes frustrating prophetic book.

Longman, How to Read DanielIn the first part Longman deals with some introductory issues in three chapters. In the first chapter he deals with the genre, language and structure of the book of Daniel. Daniel is composed of a series of “court tales” (Dan 1-6) and apocalyptic visions (Dan 7-12). Longman uses the genre to divide the book into two units, although he does consider using the use of Aramaic in chapters 2-7 and the clear chiastic pattern as a way to structure the book.

Second, he sets the book of Daniel into the historical context of the Babylonian exile. He briefly treats a historical problem for the historicity of Daniel, the identity of Darius the Mede. Not surprisingly Longman accepts an early date for the book. Since the prophecy in Daniel 11 is so detailed many scholars consider it an example of prophecy after the fact, a common feature in apocalyptic literature. Since Longman believes God often predicts the future, he sees no reason to bracket out his faith when he interprets Daniel 11. If the prophecy is after the fact, then “these texts traffic in deception” (p. 33).

Third, Longman sketches a brief theology of the book by tracing the primary theme of God’s control of the events of history (which guarantee his ultimate victory). This is true despite present difficulties, as illustrated in the court tales. This theme of God’s sovereign control of the events of history should be comforting to those enduring oppression. A secondary theme in Daniel is that God’s people can survive and thrive in a toxic culture. While the theme is found throughout the book, Longman illustrates this theme with the testimony of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego when Nebuchadnezzar demands they demonstrate their loyalty to him or die in the fiery furnace. These two themes are developed further in the final two chapters of the book.

The second part of the book devotes a chapter to each of Daniel’s chapters with the exception of last vision (Daniel 10:1-12:4) and 12:5-13 (the conclusion to the book). This is a light commentary on major sections of the English text. Longman offers insight into key details when necessary, but this is an introduction not an exposition of the text. For controversial issues, Longman usually does not take a side. For the empires represented by the four metals, he says “it does not really matter which kingdoms are represented by these metals” (69). When he summarized the vision of four beats in Daniel 7, he does not consider the possibility the arrogant little horn represents Antiochus IV Epiphanes (although the contemptible person in 11:21-35 is Antiochus).

The final part of the book concerns the application of Daniel for the twenty-first century Christian. These final two chapters are more detailed expansions of the two themes he introduced in chapter 3. First, Longman returns to Daniel 1-6 and makes several suggestions for living in a toxic culture. Daniel and his friends engage with culture and provide a model for navigating how Christians can engage contemporary culture. Second, the visions of Daniel 7-12 offer comfort in God’s ultimate victory. Longman says Daniel 7-12 gives readers “the long view to help them live with confidence in a troubled world” (166). Here Longman refers to Jesus’s own apocalyptic discourse which cites the book of Daniel. This chapter also relates the book of Daniel to Revelation. Daniel certainly looks forward to God’s intervention in history to rescue his people, but Longman is clear: Daniel’s visions do “not have an interest in giving us information that will allow us to predict when that great even will happen” (140). Although he briefly mentions Hal Lindsey and Harold Camping (along with the faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary) as using Daniel and Revelation to predict the return of Christ (or interpret current events), he refrains from bashing them unfairly and he does not relate these attempts to dispensationalism. He concludes, “perhaps the saddest consequence of the obsession with Daniel as a tool to reconstruct an apocalyptic timetable is that we often miss the important message the book has for us today in the twenty-first century” (142).

Each chapter concludes with several discussion questions which could be used in the context of a small group Bible study or classroom. An annotated commentary list appears as an appendix including Goldingay (WBC), House (TOTC), Longman (NIVAC), Lucas (AOTC), Miller (NAC), Widder (SOG), and E. J. Young, The Prophecy of Daniel (Banner of Truth, 1949). Occasional endnotes point interested readers to other literature.

Conclusion. Like Longman’s other How to Read books, How to Read Daniel succeeds in introducing the reader to the book by providing the background necessary to better understand Daniel. Longman’s careful explanations and judicious application of the text to contemporary issues will appeal to lay Christians who want to dig deeper into Daniel.

NB: There is a minor typographical error on page 24, Nebuchadnezzar’s reigns until 662 BC; this ought to be 562 (it is correct in the next paragraph). On page 128, Antiochus Epiphanes IV ought to read Antiochus IV Epiphanes (it is correct elsewhere in the text).

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: Daniel Zacharias, Biblical Greek Made Simple: All the Basics in One Semester

Zacharias, H. Daniel.  Biblical Greek Made Simple: All the Basics in One Semester. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2018. 329 pp.; Hb.  $19.99  Link to Lexham Press

Danny Zacharias wrote this textbook to cover the basics of biblical Greek in one semester. In the conclusion to the book he says, “if you made it this far, your brain probably hurts” (p. 271). Anyone who has taken an intensive introduction to Greek or Hebrew knows this particular quality of pain.

There are two schools of thought on the “hell week” practice of teaching a biblical language. Since much of the first year of Greek is rote memorization of paradigms and vocabulary, some feel it is better to immerse as deeply into the language as possible in order to get to second year exegesis classes sooner. Sometimes the intensive is supplemented with a “how to use Bible software” seminar so that students can start exegesis right away. Others observe the students have trouble retaining the information that they have smashed into their heads in the intensive format, they need to be retaught basic concepts when they take an exegesis class. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Gone are the days with incoming college freshman have knowledge of English grammar (let alone two years of Latin!)

Another difference of opinion among people who teach biblical languages or write Greek textbooks is the amount of memorization required. For example, in Bill Mounce prefers to introduce concepts and rules and then observe how those play out in various paradigms and declensions. Several times in his Basics of Biblical Greek Mounce says something like “don’t memorize this yet.” Zacharias has the opposite approach: there are a number of occasions where he says, “memorize this.” He provides repeated drills and tools (apps or Quizlet) to help hammer vocabulary and paradigms into the heads of students and firmly embedded them in their memory. I’ve often thought of this is a difference in personality. As a student I preferred to memorize and reproduce charts and I loved making vocab cards by hand. But many of my students prefer to see the big picture and want to know the “whys” for various grammatical concepts and resist memorizing anything.

Zacharias’s textbook claims to cover “all the basics in one semester.” This is exactly what is delivered. Over eleven chapters Zacharias presents each major element of the Greek language.  After a chapter on the alphabet, pronunciation, and all the “jots and tittles,” Zacharias covers nouns in two chapters, first declensions and case endings, then case functions. These two chapters constitute more or less everything said about nouns in the whole textbook. Chapter 4 covers all tenses, voice in the indicative mood (chapter 10 deals with non-indicative moods, subjunctive, imperative and optative). Chapter 5 completes verbs by introducing principle parts, deponent, contract, compound, second aorist and -μι verbs. Although -μι verbs are not difficult, they usually are left until the end of a two-semester textbook. Chapters 7-8 deal with articles, pronouns, numbers, adverbs, prepositions and clauses. Chapters 9-10 cover participles, infinitives in chapter 11.

Each chapter begins with a short statement, “What’s the Point?” Here Zacharias gives a brief reason why it is important to master the grammar presented in the chapter. He is necessarily concise in their presentation of the grammatical topic given the goal of covering everything in a single chapter. For example, he covers the present, imperfect, future, aorist, perfect, and pluperfect tenses in about three pages. For most Greek introductions, each of these tenses require a chapter with exercises focused on just that tense.

The chapters include various tables and charts for paradigms and other concepts, there are 72 tables in the book not counting the appendices. One helpful feature of these charts is the use of colors to indicate roots and endings. Occasionally the grammatical lesson includes a link to a YouTube video to help reinforce the chapter’s concepts. Zacharias has a collection of videos on Greek syntax and many paradigms set to music (these also turn up without links).

Following the presentation is a section of exercises, including re-reading the text and memorize the vocab lists, followed by short phrases to parse, translate, identify grammatical function, etc. There is usually a learning activity using Bible software. Finally, each chapter includes this series of advanced exercises. Zacharias estimates the time required for each of these activities, usually about 10 hours total if one does the advanced exercises.  Some of the exercises introduce students to basic lexical resources such as the Dictionary of Biblical Languages: Greek (James Swanson, Logos Research Systems 1997, second edition Faithlife, 2001).  This lexicon is based on The Greek-English Lexicon by Louw & Nida and included in many Logos base packages; Zacharias gives instructions on using the lexicon along with Strong’s numbers and Louw and Nida’s numbers (p. 46-48). There is an appendix with instructions for using BDAG. Occasionally he refers students to an exegetical dictionary (NIDNTTE, EDNT, etc).

Each chapter ends with a section entitled “The Least You Need to Know.” This is a series of questions the student should be able to answer having completed the presentation of grammatical concepts. Zacharias includes a Quizlet link for these questions to help students review. There are brief sections entitled @Logos which seem to all refer the reader to Logos support. This is disappointing; I expected since Zacharias produces tutorials on how to use Logos. Finally, in each chapter is a section entitled “Second Time Around.” This provides further practice with the grammatical concepts in each chapter, including encouragements to re-read and memorize the paradigms. The sections also include translations of biblical texts with glosses.

There are several appendices. There are a vocabulary lists based on word frequency, principal part lists, a rubric for preparing sermons (essentially an exegetical method), a section on how to use BDAG, a glossary for Greek vocab in alphabetical order, and example of a syntax sheet based on the First John 1:1–14.

In the conclusion to the book, Zacharias offers for some advice on how to continue developing one’s Greek skills after completing a basic introduction. He says, “STOP using your Bible software and start the practice of reading.” I cannot agree more. Are usually recommend students begin carrying their Greek New Testament to church with them sometime during the first semester. Even though they don’t understand all of the words yet, students can pick out grammatical features and vocabulary words they know. He also recommends purchasing a Reader’s Greek New Testament. There are a number of these available from different publishers. These books usually print vocabulary that appears less than 40 times in the New Testament at the bottom of the page. This is very helpful since a first-year Greek students words used more than 40 times. These types of New Testament are crutches, but they can be tools to encourage newer students find success in daily reading.

Conclusion: Zacharias’s textbook covers the content of a typical two-semester Greek introductory course. It should be obvious this is an aggressive goal for most students given the necessary time to complete the work each week along with continual review of previous vocabulary and concepts. Even with apps and Quizlet to help review, it would be difficult for a student to complete a one semester class unless they were only working on Biblical Greek. However, for someone who intends to refresh their Greek or teach themselves without the constraints of a college semester, this textbook will be useful. The pedagogy reminds me of David Allen Black’s It’s Still Greek to Me (Baker 1998), a book I used as a third semester grammar review for several years.

NB: For additional material on this textbook, videos and links to mobile apps, visit Danny Zacharias’s website. Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.