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Richards, E. Randolph and Joseph R. Dodson. A Little Book for New Bible Scholars. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2018. 116 pp. Pb. $9.00   Link to IVP Academic  

This new addition to IVP Academic’s Little Book series is an encouragement to fall in love with the noble calling of biblical studies. Previous books in the series include Kelly Kapic (for new theologians), Paul Copan (for new philosophers) and Josh Reeves and Steve Donaldson, (for new scientists). E. Randolph Richards is a veteran of biblical studies, having written many articles and books, including Misreading Scripture through Western Eyes and Paul Behaving Badly (both with Brandon J. O’Brien) and contributed to Rediscovering Jesus (with David Capes and Rodney Reeves). Joseph Dodson is a professor of biblical studies at Ouachita Baptist University and has contributed several books including The ‘Powers’ of Personification: Rhetorical Purpose in the ‘Book of Wisdom’ and the Letter to the Romans (DeGruyter, 2008).

Richards and Dodson believe the church needs quality biblical scholars who work with the biblical text, do quality exegesis or produce material which illuminates the text of the Bible. In this book they offer advice to students who are working towards a career in academia. They point out bad exegesis dilutes and distorts the gospel and can actually hurt members of the body of Christ (49). A career in biblical studies may take the form of pastoral ministry or teaching in the majority world. The church needs well-trained pastors to provide biblical based answers to the sloppy and dangerous use of the Bible common among many congregations.

Some of the advice in the book is familiar. For example, Richards and Dodson encourage students to work on their own spiritual life, to be involved in church and community (don’t be a hermit), and to be aware that scholarship can “puff up.” The call on biblical scholars to serve in ministry (101) and take care of their heart (105). They warn new biblical scholars to avoid fads, citing the example of the resurgence of Reformed theology among younger Christians. Dodson sheepishly confesses he did devotions using the Westminster Catechism (he now considers himself a “recovering Calvinist”). The trouble is distinguishing between and fad and a serious movement within scholarship, but that is for another book.

Perhaps the most important chapter in the book is their admonition to remember biblical studies is an “equal opportunity vocation.” Take a look around most sessions at national scholarly meetings (ETS or SBL); participants are mostly white and mostly male. Richards and Dodson want to encourage people outside western academia to become scholars and contribute to biblical studies. They quote Lynn Cohick at length on her career as a biblical scholar (82-3). But this section of the book wants to avoid putting scholars into pigeon-holes based on ethnicity or gender. A Latino does not only create a “Latino reading” nor should a female scholar’s work be considered “a woman’s view” of the text. If a person is contributing good scholarship then they should not be put into some subcategory (and potentially disregarded as only offering a female perspective).

The book includes a series of quotes from established biblical scholars. Many of these pass along advice the scholar received from an older scholar.

A Little Book for New Bible Scholars is an inexpensive book which would make an excellent gift to a student who is working hard at a biblical studies degree, whether in a Christian undergraduate program, seminary or at Ph.D level. Older scholars will reading this book will recognize some of their own advice to students and perhaps remember their first love for biblical studies.

Here is a short book trailer with Joseph Dodson:


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.


Bock, Darrell L. and Mitch Glaser, eds. Israel, the Church, and the Middle East: A Biblical Response to the Current Conflict. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2018. 296 pp. Pb. $24.99   Link to Kregel

Darrell Bock and Mitch Glaser have worked together on the topic of Israel in several books published by Kregel: To the Jew First: The Case for Jewish Evangelism in Scripture and History (2008), The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 (2012), The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel (2014), and Messiah in the Passover (2016).

In the introduction to this new volume of thirteen essays, the editors point out the relationship between the Church and Israel has been a source of passionate debate for much of church history. They refer here to a historic “replacement theology” in which the Church replaced Israel as God’s people, implying that Israel has no future restoration apart from the church. Old Testament promises of restoration were more or less spiritualized as descriptions of the present church; Israel as a people had no future hopes. The development of dispensationalism in the nineteenth century was in part a response this theology. The earliest dispensationalists drew a strong contrast between the Church and Israel, resulting in the belief Israel would be restored as God’s people in the future and the Old Testament prophecies of a messianic kingdom were taken seriously.

Modern American evangelicalism has embraced modern Israel, although this may be a result of conservative politics more than the remnants of dispensationalism. In some political circles it is fashionable to be critical of the modern state of Israel and in some theological circles it is equally fashionable to dismiss support for modern Israel and wild-eyed dispensational fantasies of the Left Behind sort. Glaser and Bock think there is a “significant lack of objective academic responses to books by Christian authors critical of Israel and Christian Zionism.” This collection of essays in an attempt to provide some balance between those who defend Israel and those who have legitimate concerns for the concerns of Palestinians.

The first two parts of the book cover biblical and theological foundations. Each of the authors in these two sections of the book are well-known evangelical scholars associated with major evangelical seminaries. First, Richard E. Averbeck discusses “Israel, the Jewish People, and God’s Covenants.” This essay introduces the reader to the idea of biblical covenants and suggests one of the best ways to understand the overarching story of redemption in Scripture is “to follow the historically progressive sequence of God’s redemptive covenants from the Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New covenants” (30). Based on his analysis of the Abrahamic covenant, Averbeck believes the land promises made to Abraham are irrevocable.

Second, Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. focuses on a prophecy concerning Egypt in Isaiah 19. At first this seems tangential to the purpose of this collection, but as Kaiser points out, in the history of the church, this chapter has been treated in a symbolic or allegorical way, so that Egypt “stands for” idolatry of the Roman church. But reading Isaiah 19 with non-symbolic hermeneutic leads Kaiser to see the chapter as God painting a picture of “the days leading up to the millennium,
a time when three deadlocked nations will be changed by God’s grace and be included in the Gentile harvest of the nations” (Rom 11:26).

Third, Mark Yarbrough outlines “Israel and the Story of the Bible,” beginning with a brief survey of recent suggestions for an overarching plot for the Bible. The most successful, Yarbrough suggests, is the metaphor of a four act play: creation, fall redemption and restoration. The problem with such a high-level view of the story of the Bible is that “we are not supposed to stay where it leaves us” (50). The details of the story matter, and the details, for Yarbrough, include the language of covenants, the promise of an earthly messiah, two messianic advents, a clear offer of a kingdom by the Jewish messiah Jesus, and as yet unfulfilled promises to Israel concerning land, worship and a messianic era.

Michael Rydelnik picks up on the issue of unfulfilled land promises and argues the New Testament is consistent with the Old and reaffirms the idea that God gave the land of Israel to the people of Israel forever (82). Rydelnik examines several sayings of Jesus which imply a future restoration to the land, a future temple and a future kingdom ruled by the messiah. He deals with two difficult Pauline passages, Galatians 3:16 and Romans 4:13 which could be read as universalizing the promises of the Old Testament to the church, but concludes neither text is talking about the land promises.

Craig Blaising develops “A Theology of Israel and the Church,” beginning with clear description of how of supersessionism and traditional dispensationalism understand Israel and the Church. Blaising attempts to chart a course between these two views which he calls Redemption Kingdom Theology (RHT, formerly known as progressive dispensationalism). Like traditional dispensationalism, RKT rejects the idea the church has replaced Israel, but does not see “the church as separate from the ethnic peoples of Israel and the Gentiles in the plan of God” (89). Since the Gentiles in the Old Testament were never excluded from the eschatological kingdom, the church is not excluded from the promises to Israel. In order to support this thesis, Blaising argues the “Kingdom of God has been progressively revealed in canonical theology” (90).

Mitch Glaser’s essay warns against “The Dangers of Supersessionism.” Be begins by defining “Christian Zionism” (see for example Gerald McDermott and the other work by the editors of this volume) against “anti-Christian Zionism” (Stephen Sizer and Gary Burge, for example). The “anti-” in Glaser’s description seems a rather polemic way of describing those who universalize Israel’s land promises. Glaser argues “anti-Christian Zionism” follow Palestinian evangelicals who are both politically pro-Palestine and theologically supersessionist (108). He a statement like the Kairos Palestine Document as politically motivate and creating an environment in which destroys the possibility of unity between evangelical Palestinians and Messianic Jews. No dialogue is possible when one side are only described as victims, the other side are aggressors in need of restraint (115).

In the final essay in the second part of the collection, Michael Vlach examines “Israel and the Land in the Writings of the Church.” Vlach often contributes articles on the historic roots of dispensationalism and in this essay he argues restoration of the kingdom to Israel was the view of the earliest church but the church largely abandoned this after the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70 and the failed messianic revolt in A.D. 135. During the Patristic Era these events were viewed as divine judgments on the Jewish people. The bulk of the article traces a thin thread of restorationism present in the church until the rise of evangelism of the Jews in the eighteenth century and the rise of dispensationalism in the nineteenth century.

The first two of the three essays in the third part of the book deal with two lesser known movements. First, Erez Soref discusses the history of Messianic Jewish Movement in modern Israel. Soref is the president of One for Israel, a non-profit organization based in Neyanya, Israel. Although there are challenges to Messianic Jews in modern Israel, Soref sees the movement as growing, there are approximately 300 messianic Jewish congregations in Israel today. Tom Doyle looks at the modern Palestinian Church within Israel. Doyle is the Middle East director of e3 Partners and is a licensed guide for the State of Israel. He points out there have been Arab believers since Pentecost (Act 2:11, but Doyle misses the point since these were likely ethnic Jews living in Roman Arabia rather than ethic Arabs). Yet his point stands, there has been a presence of Christians among the people of the Middle East since the earliest days of the church, Jews, Arabs, Syrians, Egyptians, etc. His article details how Bethlehem Bible College trains Palestinians to do ministry in West Bank, including a short interviews with Jack Sara, president of BBC, a Palestinian Christian, and a Christian pastor in the Gaza Strip.

Third, Darrell Bock examines a biblical foundation for reconciliation between Jews and Arabs using Luke’s “two-stage program” (promise/fulfillment, already/not yet). He develops these in Luke-Acts and suggests the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles is a “not yet” expectation for the future. This requires a short survey of several texts in Isaiah which look forward to the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles, but also a close examination of the key text for this entire collection of essays, Romans 9-11. As applied to the “tangled mess” of the Middle East, Bock thinks the already/not yet aspect of reconciliation means modern Israel does not have carte blanche to do whatever they like under the guise of self-defense (183). Israel is still responsible for basic human rights in the region.

Finally, in part four of the book, three essays examine current challenges to peace in Israel. First, Mark L. Bailey answers the question, “Should Christians Support the Modern State of Israel?” For some modern evangelicals, the answer is a firm and patriotic “yes,” while those outside of conservative evangelicalism the answer is “of course not!” Bailey acknowledges there are inadequate reasons to support Israel (to jump-start Armageddon or bring material prosperity to America, for example). He believes a proper biblical view would lead to a genuine love of Israeli, Palestinian, and Arab alike (201).

Second, Craig Parshall examines the legal challenges of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Parshall is a constitutional lawyer serving as Special Counsel to the American Center for Law and Justice. His focus in this article is on the status of the modern state of Israel under international law. He concludes there is overwhelming evidence that Israel is a legitimate nation, and “deserves more respect than they international critics have afforded it” (215).

The final essay in the collection asks “Is It Sinful to Divide the Land of Israel?” Messianic Jewish apologist Mike Brown responds that support of a two-state solution is not a sin, although the two-state solution is a short term solution since when Jesus returns, the land will be Israel’s alone (226).

The book includes several appendices. First, data from the 2017 Lifeway Survey of evangelical attitudes toward Israel. Second, the editors included a statement from the Alliance for Peace of Jerusalem (website is down as of July 2018), including a purpose statement and several affirmations and denials. Darrell Bock concludes the book with a short summary of the book. The volume concludes with an eleven page bibliography, Scripture and subject indices.

Conclusion. Like other recent books edited by Glaser and Bock, Israel, the Church, and the Middle East offers a perspective on the current state of Israel which is positive and premillennial. The church has not replaced Israel as God’s people so the eschatological promise of the Old Testament should be taken seriously. The articles reflect a moderate dispensational viewpoint without the lurid predictions which have come to characterize dispensationalism for many readers.

Surprisingly, the book lacks dialogue. The contributors are all “Christian Zionists” to use Glaser’s term, and to a certain respect, these are the “usual suspects” for this particular topic. Although a few contributors are living in Israel working with Messianic Jewish ministries, only Tom Doyle represents a Christian Palestinian voice. The book could have been improved by seeking out contributions from individuals from a genuinely under-represented community, Christians, Arab Christians.

Nevertheless, this collection of essays is a welcome contribution to the ongoing discussion of the nature of biblical Israel, the Church and their relationship with the modern state of Israel.



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


Brannan, Rick.  Greek Apocryphal Gospels, Fragments, and Agrapha. Lexham Classics; Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2017. 193 pp.; Pb.  $14.99  Link to Lexham Press

In his short introduction to this volume, Brannan says the origins of this book came out of his work on the Greek texts behind these works, Greek Apocryphal Gospels, Fragments, and Agrapha: Texts and Transcriptions. While working on that project he began to modernize the translations of the apocryphal gospels which were included in M. R. James’s collection of New Testament apocrypha. Both books have been part of the Logos Library since 2013. The Greek texts are only published electronically at this time. The Greek texts in Logos version are tagged so words are identified and clicking a word will open as appropriate lexicon (BDAG for example). The texts and translations can be synced to appear in parallel columns.

Perhaps the most useful aspect of this book is Brannan’s “reading translation” section. For each item in the collection he includes a typical line-by-line translation with lacunae (gaps in the text) and suggested words in brackets. For his reading translations he smooths out the line-by-line translation into a format which looks like a translation of a complete text. For example, compare the two types of translations for the Greek Gospel of Thomas, saying 3 (p.Oxy 654):

Saying 3: Jesus said, “If those who lead you say to you, ‘Behold, the kingdom is in the sky,’ the birds of the sky will come ahead of you. But if they say that it is under the earth … the fish of the sea … you. And the kingdom of God is inside of you and outside, whoever knows himself will find this. And when you know yourselves you will see that you are the children of the living father. But if you do not know yourselves, you are in poverty and you are poverty.”

9    rest.” § Said J[esus, “If]

10  those who lead you [say to you, ‘Behold,]

11  the kingdom is in the sk[y,’ of you will come ahead]

12  the birds of the sk[y. But if they say t-]

13  hat under the earth it i[s …]

14  the fish of the se[a …]

15  … you. And the king[dom of God]

16  inside of you [i]s [and outside, whoever himself]

17  knows this will fi[nd. And when you]

18  yourselves know [you will see that the children]

19  you are of the father of the liv[ing. But if not]

20  you know yourselves, in [poverty you are]

21  and you are pov[erty.” § Jesus says]

The first word of line 9 is the final word of saying two and the reader can see the places where Grenfell and Hunt (the original editors of this fragment) or the updated and revised edition edited by Bhrman and Pleše have suggested words to fill gaps. In every example in this book Brannan has used the most recent edition available.

The first section of the book collects various agrapha, or sayings of Jesus which do not appear in the canonical Gospels. Six of these sayings appear in the New Testament (Acts 20:35; 1 Cor 7:10-11; 9:14; 11:23-25; 2 Cor 12:8-9; 1 Thess 4.15-17). Another six agrapha appear in textual variations. Five of these additional sayings appear in Codex Bezae (Matt 20:28; Mark 9:49; Luke 6:4; 10:16; John 8:7; 10–11) and the sixth is known as “Freer Logion,” Mk 16:14 in Codex Washingtonianus. There are number of sayings drawn from the Apostolic Fathers including Barnabas 7:11; 1 Clement 13:2; 2 Clement 3.2; 4.2; 4.5; 5.2–4; 8.5; 12.2–6; 13.2; 13.4) and two from Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (35.3; 47.5). For each of the agrapha Brannan offers a short introduction and a few suggested parallel texts (if any).

The bulk of this book are apocryphal gospels (about half the total pages in the printed edition). Any non-canonical text which has something to do with Jesus is called a gospel. In the examples offered in this collection two are considered infancy gospels (The Protevangelium of James and The Infancy Gospel of Thomas), four are passion gospels (The Gospel of Peter (P.Cair 10759, P.Oxy 4009, and P.Oxy 2949); The Gospel of Thomas (Greek Fragments, P.Oxy 654, P.Oxy 655, and P.Oxy 1), and The Gospel of Nicodemus (also known as the Acts of Pilate), including the Descent of Christ to Hell. The collection contains one example of a “post-resurrection gospel,” The Gospel of Mary (P.Ryl 3.463 and P.Oxy 3525). For each of his texts, Brannan has a short introduction and summary of contents and distinctive contributions of the apocryphal gospel. Where possible, he offers a list of potential parallels to the canonical gospels.

The final section of the book collects a number of odds and ends. For each of the fragments included in this section, Brannan provides a description of the text, content highlights and relevance for exegesis. Following this introduction, he offers a “reading translation” and a “line translation” (corresponding to the lines of the papyri fragment). While the latter style is common in this kind of work, the “reading translation” is helpful for understanding the gist of the text.

Fragments included in this volume are:

  • Dura Parchment 24
  • Berol. 11710
  • Cairo 10735
  • Egerton 2 (+ P.Köln 255)
  • Merton 51
  • Oxy 210
  • Oxy 840
  • Oxy. 1224
  • Oxy 5072
  • Vindobonensis G. 2325 (Fayum Gospel Fragment)

The book concludes with a helpful seventeen pages bibliography divided into the categories used in the book.

Conclusion. Brannan’s book gives readers access to a wide range of fragmentary texts which appear in various sources. His reading translations and introductions make this collection a valuable tool for the study of early Christian texts.

One problem: the print copy I reviewed has a 2017 copyright, the electronic version in the Logos Library has a 2013 copyright. The Logos version does not include page numbers. I would like to see Lexham and/or Logos merge these editions so Brannan’s book can be accurately cited.


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.

Schreiner, Thomas R. Spiritual Gifts: What They Are and Why They Matter. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2018. 172 pp.; Pb. $16.99  Link to B&H Academic  

Thomas Schreiner has contributed several major works including a Romans commentary in the BENTC Series (Baker Academic, 1998), a New Testament theology and a recent biblical theology of the whole Bible (Baker Academic, 2008, 2013). This new book from B&H is a popular-level work on the often contentious issue of spiritual gifts. The first half of the book is not controversial since Schreiner discusses gifts in general. Most readers will be interested his discussion of prophecy, tongues and cessation of these gifts in chapters six through eleven. Like most cessationists, Schreiner does not deny there are no miracles in the present age and his view of tongues and prophecy does not imply anything about God healing people in the present age (165). However, he argues both prophecy and tongues do not continue in the present time.

The first chapter is a summary of J. I. Packer’s observations of the strengths and weaknesses of the Charismatic Movement. In the following four chapters Schreiner carefully defines spiritual gifts and clarifies what Scripture says about the gifts. He lists the various gifts found in Scripture and offers brief definitions of them, dividing them into “gifts of speaking” and “gifts of service.” The two chapters entitled “Five Truths about Spiritual Gifts” seem like ten more or less random topics; any of these ten observations might have made a short chapter by itself. For example, his discussion of “The Baptism of the Spirit at Conversion” is nearly as long as the other chapters in the book. The section is preceded by a few pages arguing the gifts are giving for the edification of the church and is followed by a section on edification coming through understanding one’s gift. The argument of the book may have benefited by separating the discussion of the baptism of the Holy Spirit into a full chapter since the meaning of this phrase is misunderstood, used and abused in contemporary Christian culture.

Schreiner devotes two chapters to the gift of prophecy. He first defines prophecy as a spontaneous revelation from God rather than “Spirit inspired exegesis.” Prophecy can instruct, encourage or warn God’s people (99). He devotes twenty-one pages to Wayne Grudem’s suggestion that New Testament prophecy is different than Old Testament prophecy, specifically that New Testament prophets like Agabus made prophecies which were fallible. In the case of Acts 21:11, Agabus predicted the Jews would bind Paul, but when he is arrested in Jerusalem it is the Romans who bind him. Grudem considered this a prophecy with an error, although virtually everyone else considers the prophecy accurate, the Jews were responsible for Paul’s arrest even if the Romans did the literal binding of his hands.

Unlike Grudem, Schreiner does not re-define prophecy in order to find a place for it in the church. Instead he argues prophecy in the New Testament is consistent with prophecy in the Old Testament. Prophecy is not some private, internal guidance by the Holy Spirit, but foundational revelation given publicly to God’s people. Schreiner makes significant use of the phrase “foundation of the apostles and prophets” in Ephesians 2:20. If prophecy still exists, then the foundation has not yet been completed (108).

The following two chapters concern the gift of tongues. First, he argues the common distinction between tongues in Acts and tongues in 1 Corinthians 14 is unconvincing. The tongues are the same, but the situation is different: the Corinthian church lacked an interpreter of the tongues. As he argued earlier in the book, spiritual gifts are given to edify the church and edification requires understanding. If the gift of tongues are not understandable, then there is no edification of the church. For Schreiner, biblical tongues is “speaking in other languages” and “those speaking ecstatic utterances do not have the biblical gift of tongues” (132).

The final two chapters deal with the arguments for cessation of the gifts, first by dispensing with an unconvincing arguments and then offering a positive argument for the cessation of gifts. The key problem is Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 that “when the perfect comes” tongues will cease. If the “perfect” can be define as the completed canon or spiritual maturity of the church, then the verse can be used to argue for cessation of tongues. Schreiner argues this is not at all what Paul meant. When Paul said we will see Jesus “face-to-face,” he was referring to the second coming of Christ.

Here Schreiner more or less agrees with a charismatic exegesis of 1 Corinthians 13. Paul is not saying gifts like tongues and prophecy will necessarily pass away at some point prior to the Second Coming, but the need for these particular gifts will cease. Schreiner’s argument for the cessation of gifts is based on his view prophets and apostles were foundational for the church. After the foundational period, Scripture is in the sole authority for the church. Certainly God does miracles in the present age, but Schreiner says “Christians can be as credulous and superstitious as unbelievers” (165). The foundation on which the church stands today is Scripture, not charismatic or ecstatic utterances.

Conclusion. Since short book on spiritual gifts developed out of Schreiner’s teaching in the church rather than the academy, it is written to a general church audience. Some elements lack the exegetical details expected from a scholar like Schreiner and there are few pointers to more detailed studies (for example, the “perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13 requires more exegetical nuance than Schreiner is able to provide in this book). Schreiner does not make a distinction between revelatory gifts and other service gifts. He includes revelatory gifts in both his categories (“gifts of speaking” and “gifts of service”). This might have served his purpose since the revelatory gifts (prophecy and tongues) can be associated with the foundation of the church.

Some readers will approach this book with a fairly entrenched view on spiritual gifts and either find it affirming or unconvincing. Schreiner has provided a basic primer on a biblical view of spiritual gifts which will serve well in church Bible studies and small group discussions.



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

Hurtado, Larry W.  Honoring the Son. Jesus in Earliest Christian Devotional Practice. Ed. M. Bird; Snapshots Series; Bellingham, Wash: Lexham, 2018. 95 pp; Pb.  $15.99  Link to Lexham Press

Lexham’s Snapshot Series attempts to engage “significant issues in contemporary biblical scholarship.” This new volume Larry Hurtado summarizes his major works over the last twenty years on what has come to be called “early high Christology.” His One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism was first published in 1988 (Fortress; second edition T&T Clark, 1998; third edition Bloomsbury, 2005). David Aune called Hurtado’s Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Eerdmans, 2005) “one of the more important books on Jesus in this generation.” In addition to dozens of articles and reviews on an early high Christology since 1979, Hurtado published a shorter monograph, How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God? Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus (Eerdmans 2005). In fact, Hurtado’s own works take up more than two pages in the eleven page bibliography in Honoring the Son.

In this short book, Hurtado addresses the question of early Christian devotion to Jesus as God. The earliest followers of Jesus were Jewish monotheists but the later creeds worship Jesus as part of a Trinitarian Godhead. As Hurtado observes in his chapter on the “scholarly context,” the consensus view is Jesus never claimed to be God  and his first followers did not worship him as God. There was a slow development of Trinitarian theology over the first century of the church. This consensus is based on the work of Wilhelm Bousset’s Kyrios Christos, a major influence on Rudolf Bultmann. First published in German in 1931 (English translation, 1970), Bousset argued early Christian devotion to Jesus appeared in diaspora settings like Antioch and Damascus rather than among the Jewish followers of Jesus. This view continues to be popular in the popular work of Bart Ehrman, How Jesus Became God (Harper Collins, 2014).

In contrast to this view, Hurtado argues the earliest Christians believed God required them to worship Jesus. Their devotional response to God led them to worship the Son. In the conclusion to the book, Hurtado points to John 5:22-23, “all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father.” One might object John is the latest of the New Testament writings, but Hurtado does not think this devotion to Jesus is a late Johannine development. On the contrary, it is a “concise and somewhat polemic expression of the matter set here in the context of challenge from Jewish critics of Jesus’s validity” (67).

To make this argument, Hurtado must first properly worship in the ancient world (chapter 2) as well as the nature of ancient Jewish monotheism (chapter 3). Unlike modern, western religious experience, ancient religion was not assent to a creedal statement, but rather ritual practice. For a Jewish person, any ritual practice not focused on God was idolatry. Jewish people in the Second Temple period adapted to the Hellenistic world in many ways, but Hurtado argues there is no evidence at all Jewish people gave any sort of worship to angels, biblical heroes or even God’s attributes such as Wisdom (32). There were no altars, sacrifices or public ritual devoted to any of these things, contra Bart Ehrman. Hurtado cites several examples, such as the angel Raphael in Tobit. Although this archangel is powerful, all prayers in the book are directed to God and Raphael tells Tobias to praise only God (Tobit 12:6-7).

Hurtado refers to the early Christian devotion to Jesus as a “mutation” (chapter 4). By this he means early Christian worship is in some ways similar to ancient Judaism, but worshiping the risen and exalted Jesus as God is a sudden and unexpected development. There was no slow progression from Jewish monotheism to adoration of angelic beings and eventually to Jesus as God. For Hurtado, Paul’s early devotion to Jesus as a recipient of worship in 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 and other texts indicates an early high Christology. Because Paul never claimed a unique view of Jesus nor does he consider his worship of Jesus to be a radical development, Hurtado thinks Paul’s Christology follows the views of earlier Jewish followers of Jesus. Certainly Paul claims to have “passed on” traditions from those who were in Christ before him (1 Cor 15:3-5, for example). This means the eruption of “cultic veneration of the risen Jesus presumed already as typical of Jewish and gentile circles of the Jesus movement” prior to Paul’s letters (50).

One of Hurtado’s major contributions to the discussion of an early high Christology is his study of Jesus in the earliest Christian devotional practices (chapter 5). These include prayers and invocations, the practice of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, hymns, psalms, and prophecy. Hurtado offers a short summary and example for each of these examples, but for the meat of the argument readers will need to consult his far more detailed arguments in Lord Jesus Christ.

Conclusion: As David Capes says in his introduction to this slender volume, “behind each paragraph is an article or monograph. . .” (ix). In fact, the body of this book is a mere sixty-eight pages plus another seven pages of appendix, eleven pages of bibliography and five pages of indices. But brevity should not be mistaken for sketchiness. Hurtado succeeds in summarizes and updated the arguments made in his earlier and more substantial works and provides enough bibliographical material to enable the reader to explore the details of the argument of the book. The book is written to appear to layperson, student and professional interested in the development of a high Christology in the early church.

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.

Ashford, Bruce Riley. Letters to an American Christian. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2018. 239 pp.; Pb. $16.99  Link to B&H Academic  

Bruce Ashford model his latest book after C. S. Lewis’s Letters to an American Lady, or perhaps Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer is a more apt comparison since the recipient of these letters is fictional. In this imaginary, one-way conversation, Ashford present a series of essays on contemporary issues in American culture. This imaginary dialogue partner is recent convert named Christian who is studying political science and journalism at Dupont University. (It is possible Ashford took the name from Tom Wolfe’s 2004 novel I am Charlotte Simmons, but it may be a coincidence). His goal in his book is to help Christians to “construct a political paradigm that recognizes God’s sovereignty over our nation, draws on our Christianity to work for the common good, and respects the dignity and rights of citizens who have differing visions of the common good” (53-4).

The first part of the book develops a Christian view of politics and public life. These first seven chapters argue the Christian faith ought to influence political views and public postures on key issues being discussed in contemporary culture. Although some Christians manage to separate their religious faith from their political views, Ashford argues in this first section that even though humanity is fallen and deeply wounded by sin, God’s redemption through Jesus began at the cross. Culture is corrupted by the fall but he redeemed can redirect it toward Christ’s intentions (29). He follows Abraham Kuyper closely in these first seven chapters. Politics and religion have distinct centers and circumferences. The church has its own “center” and therefore cannot rule politics, nor should politics rule religion (27). However, the circumference of the spheres may overlap and interact, and sometime overreach in an attempt to control the other’s center (44). In the end, Ashford concludes conservative better serves this agenda than liberalism. But as he examines a series of social and political issues, this conservatism is not

In part two of the book Ashford treats a series of “hot-button issues.” These sixteen chapters touch lightly on a wide range of topics. Some are the typical fare for “hot-button” books since the 1970s (abortion, just war, environmentalism, religious liberty and free speech), but others touch on issues which have pushed their way to the front page of every local newspaper. These include the Black Lives Matter movement, gun legislation, immigration reform, fake news and alternative facts). Several chapters revolve around surging nationalism and responses. Some of the chapter titles are humorous teases, such as “To Shave a Yak” (on environmentalism) or “Beware the Giant Octopus” (on big government).

For some of these controversial issues, Ashford attempts to chart a course between two extremes. For example, on the issue of immigration and DACA, he suggests policy that upholds both the biblical virtues of justice and mercy. Justice requires the government produce and follow a clear immigration policy which protect citizens, but mercy and compassion recognizes immigrants are humans in God’s image who ought to be protected and treated well. He therefor advocates in favor of the Dreamers. Within the fiction of the letters to Christian, a professor represents a more liberal view, while an Uncle John is a more conservative voice. Both are caricatures set up to make the middle path more palatable.

Given the format of the book and the intricacies of these issues, some readers will find Ashford’s treatment sketchy. Two examples are his chapters on same-sex marriage, gender dysphoria and the transgender movement. The issue is so complex it is impossible to adequately address them in nine pages. Although there are a few endnotes for each chapter, most of these issues demand a “for further reading” section to point readers to more detailed studies of the issues. No one should read these short chapters as an end to the discussion. Ashford introduces in summary fashion the broad strokes of a debate and points the way toward a biblical understanding of the issue, but there is much more to be said. Many books have been written covering each “hot button” issue.

One topic which is missing from the book is women’s rights. This book was published in 2018 so it is likely Ashford did not address the issue since the book was finished before the #MeToo movement began in October 2017. Given the recent developments with Paige Patterson and the 2018 Southern Baptist convention, a chapter on sexual harassment would have been timely. But other women’s issues have been “hot buttons” for many years. For example, the gender wage-gap is a longstanding issue, ordination of women perhaps the overt sexual American culture and its effect on boys and girls would have made important chapters in this book. Remarkably, there is no chapter on pornography in the book.

Finally, the final three chapters attempt to hold out some hope for American politics. The gist of these “Why can’t Republicans be nice people?” Chapter 25 laments the loss of the “art of Christian persuasion.” American political discourse has become insult caricature. The chapter would have been more powerful he mentioned Donald Trump’s hateful use of Twitter. If we do not respect people with whom we disagree, Ashford says “we’ll lose. Worse yet, we’ll be poor witnesses for Christ. We’ll be seen as calloused jerks who are nothing more than hypocritical and bigoted special interest arm of a major political party” (216)

Conclusion. Since Ashford is Professor of Theology and the Provost/Dean of the Faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and serves as the Provost/Dean of the Faculty for the seminary, the discussion is conservative, but it is not as conservative as some might have assumed. There are a few digs at the predominantly liberal university. For example, the political science department at DuPont University has forty-three democrats and only one Republican. In general I thought Ashford’s brief overviews of these issues fell into the category of thoughtful, classic Christian conservatism. By this I mean his views are not knee-jerk, emotional, or hateful. He attempts to present his views as peacefully as possible, but he makes no apology for presenting them as the biblical view. This is not spew from the alt-right, but it may not make Bernie Sanders comfortable either.

I do agree with Ashford (citing N. T. Wright) that Jesus himself was “inescapably political” (32) even if he never entered into anything we would recognize as politics from a modern perspective. Jesus’s challenge to the aristocratic leaders of his day, and the Paul’s Gospel to the Roman world was radical and extreme. Jesus challenged the powerful men who held political power and was crucified; Paul was accused of defying the decrees of Caesar and “turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).

Ashford’s book will challenge for conservative readers to construct a biblical view of politics as well as their role in American culture, but I suspect Jesus would have pushed for a more radical engagement of the spirit of this age.

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

Myers, Ben. The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism. Lexham Classics; Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2018. xvi +147 pp.; Hb. $15.99  Link to Lexham Press

Ben Myers is a research fellow of the Centre for Public and Contextual Theology at Charles Sturt University in Australia and director of the Millis Institute at Christian Heritage College. This short devotional reading of the Apostles’ Creed began as a sermon series Leichhardt United Church in Sydney. This brief book on the Apostles’ Creed is a very basic introduction to the deep and mysterious depths of the Gospel. As Myers confessions in to final chapter, just as “no one has yet breathed all the air” no mind has yet to grasp the creed in all of its fullness. This guide is a first step for a believer seeking to understand the historic faith of the church.

Myers does not focus attention on the origin in the creed in its present form, he is simply not interested historical details in this book. He begins with Hippolytus’s description of a baptism in On the Apostolic Tradition. Before the candidates receive baptism, they are asked if they believe the three sections of the creed. From this Myers suggest the creed was used as a catechism for new believers (p. 4). The creed was memorized and served as the basis for further instruction. But more than an ancient confession of faith, Myers thinks this rule of faith functions as a part of the baptismal declaration of faith, a “threefold immersion into the life of God” (p. 5). The creed was both teaching and a “pledge of allegiance” which provides a framework for Christian thinking and Christian commitment.

Myers moves through the Apostle’s Creed in a series of twenty-three short chapters. Some chapters reflect on only a single word (I, Believe and Amen); most discuss a phrase of the creed. Most only treat a few words, the longest combine a few phrases (“He descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead” and “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father”). Each chapter connects the theology of the creed to the canon of Scripture. Although he does not often set the creed into the context of the Hebrew Bible, the creedal statements do stand on the foundation of the New Testament. The exception to this is the chapter “who was conceived by the Holy Spirit” and “born of the Virgin Mary.” Myers (rightly) sees the virgin birth in the light of the series of miraculous births in the Hebrew Bible.

My main criticism of the book is this lack of interest in the roots of the creed in the Hebrew Bible. For example, in the chapter on “Jesus Christ, God’s only son, our Lord,” Myers focuses on the final two words, “our Lord.” This emphasis is important since the earliest Christian confession was “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9, 1 Cor 12:3, Phil 2:5-11). But this chapter overlooks the both Christ as well as the “God’s only son.” Both of these titles rooted in the Hebrew Bible, Christ is Messiah and “son of God” is a messianic phrase as well (Psalm 2, for example). The same criticism applies to the chapters on “God the Father” and “Almighty.” Despite the fact the term is drawn from the Hebrew Bible, there is no reference to the Hebrew Scripture in the chapter. Perhaps this is simply a result of Myers looking forward from the creed to the history of the church rather than back to the sources for each line. In fact, grounding each line of the creed to the Hebrew Bible would make an interesting companion volume to this book.

Myers also connects these creedal statements to church writers who comment on the theological importance of each line. He often cites Augustine, Irenaeus, Origen and Gregory of Nyssa (along with Karl Barth and Jorge Luis Borges once each). The historical reception of the creedal statements demonstrate how the words of the creed continued to resonate with each generation of the church.

This is a small “trim size” book (5×7 inches) and many of the 147 pages full-page illustrations. Since no chapter is more than a few pages long, the book is ideal for devotional reading or used in a small group Bible study. The brevity of the chapters allow for further discussion and contemplation of each phrase of the Apostles’ Creed. The book can be read in an afternoon but it is best read slowly, with an open Bible and prayerful, open heart.

This guide to the Apostles’ Creed is a theologically rich and historically aware meditation on heart of biblical Christianity.


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.


Brannan, Rick.  The Apostolic Fathers in English. Lexham Classics; Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2017. 289 pp.; Pb.  $19.99  Link to Lexham Press

Rick Brannan is the “Information Architect for Logos Bible Software” He edited the Apostolic Fathers Greek-English Interlinear (Lexham Press, 2011), a resource available in Logos Bible Software. Brannan described his method for producing the interlinear edition in the introduction to that resource:

“Using the Greek text of Kirsopp Lake’s edition, tools provided by Logos Bible Software, and a whole lot of coffee, I spent my early mornings with the Apostolic Fathers working through each verse at least three times. One pass to consider the appropriate article to assign from the Louw-Nida lexicon, one pass to determine a proper lexical form gloss—somewhat like the gloss you would see in a Greek-English lexicon or dictionary, and one pass to align a context-sensitive English translation with each Greek word in the text. From here, sequence numbers were added to facilitate reassembly of the translation into something resembling a stilted English translation. Further, there are points where the stilted English is not sufficient, so an idiomatic translation of the phrase was further annotated.”

In the introduction to this new translation, Brannan indicates this new translation of the Apostolic Fathers is not meant to replace either Michael Holmes (1999, Baker) or the Loeb edition translated by Bart Ehrman (Harvard 2003). His goal was to “to create a tighter and more transparent relationship with the underlying Greek text.” He hopes this will be useful in reading the texts as well as studying “how words and structures found in the New Testament are used in contemporary literature.” (There is a typo in both the online and print version, “studing” rather than “studying.”)

For many years the standard edition of the Apostolic Fathers J. B. Lightfoot (originally published in 1891). Ehrman’s translation replaced Krisopp Lake in the Loeb library (originally published in 1912). Brannan edited the Krisopp Lake edition which now appears in the Logos library. Comparing one text from Didache 9:1-3 in five translations shows how Brannan’s translation is quite close to the others. Perhaps other examples would yield more differences.

B. Lightfoot (1891) But as touching the eucharistic thanksgiving give ye thanks thus. 2First, as regards the cup: We give Thee thanks, O our Father, for the holy vine of Thy son David, which Thou madest known unto us through Thy Son Jesus; Thine is the glory for ever and ever. 3Then as regards the broken bread: We give Thee thanks, O our Father, for the life and knowledge which Thou didst make known unto us through Thy Son Jesus; Thine is the glory for ever and ever.

Kirsopp Lake, 1912 AND concerning the Eucharist, hold Eucharist thus:  2 First concerning the Cup, “We give thanks to thee, our Father, for the Holy Vine of David thy child, which, thou didst make known to us through Jesus thy child; to thee be glory for ever.”  3 And concerning the broken Bread: “We give thee thanks, our Father, for the life and knowledge which thou didst make known to us though Jesus thy child. To thee be glory for ever.

Michael W. Holmes, 1999 Now concerning the Eucharist, give thanks as follows. (2) First, concerning the cup: We give you thanks, our Father, for the holy vine of David your servant, which you have made known to us through Jesus, your servant; to you be the glory forever.  (3) And concerning the broken bread: We give you thanks, our Father for the life and knowledge which you have made known to us through Jesus, your servant; to you be the glory forever.

Bart Ehrman, 2012 And with respect to the thanksgiving meal [Literally: eucharist], you shall give thanks as follows. 2. First, with respect to the cup: “We give you thanks, our Father, for the holy vine of David, your child, which you made known to us through Jesus your child. To you be the glory forever.” 3. And with respect to the fragment of bread: “We give you thanks, our Father, for the life and knowledge that you made known to us through Jesus your child. To you be the glory forever.

Rick Brannan, 2012 Now, concerning the Eucharist, practice it as follows. 2 First, concerning the cup: We give thanks to you, our Father, for the holy vine of David your son, which you made known to us through Jesus your son, glory to you ⌊forever⌋.  3 Next, concerning the broken bread: We give thanks to you, our Father, for the life and knowledge which you made known to us through Jesus your son, glory to you ⌊forever⌋.

Brannan translates οὕτω εὐχαριστήσατε as “practice it as follows.” Like Holmes, Brannan capitalizes Eucharist, perhaps implying a more formal liturgy than Lightfoot’s “eucharistic thanksgiving” or Ehrman’s “thanksgiving meal.” Lake and Ehrman translates Δαυὶδ τοῦ παιδός σου “your child,” Brannan clarifies the phrase as “your son,” whereas Holmes has “your servant,” a possible translation of παῖς. I am not sure why Brannan places “forever” in brackets. In the Greek interlinear version he explains these [I   I] brackets indicate an idiomatic phrase, in this case εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας ought to be translated idiomatically as “forever.” Since this is an extremely common idiom, I see no reason for the brackets.

One of the most valuable features of Brannan’s edition are his footnotes. Some of these provide alternate translations (often using the phrase “literally”). Others deal with textual variants and translation differences between Lightfoot, Lake and Ehrman. Others provide a brief commentary on a difficult passage. For example, Barnabas 10:6 contains the rather odd explanation for why the Law forbade rabbit: “You shall not become, he means, a child molester, or even seem like such as these, because the rabbit multiplies its anus each year, for as many years as it lives, so many holes it has.” In a footnote on this line, Brannan summarizes several suggestions from Kraft as well as his conclusion that “popular Hellenistic natural history…has been transformed into moral lessons in association with Mosaic food prohibitions.”

Brannan also include reference to citations of Scripture as well as potential allusions or cross-references to other texts. Although Ehrman occasionally identifies citations, Brannan provides far more potential allusions. For example, in Ignatius’s epistle to the Magnesians 7:1, Brannan suggests “Therefore, just as the Lord did nothing without the Father” alludes to John 8:28 and John 10:37. Both texts in John indicate the “I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me” (John 8:28). In the Epistle to the Philadelphians 2:2, the phrase “trustworthy wolves” is tagged as an allusion to Acts 20:29 and John 10:12; the phrase “take God’s runners captive” is tagged with 2 Timothy 3:6 (taking people captive with false teaching) and Galatians 5:7 (the metaphor of running a race). What is unclear is the point of these notes: are they suggested allusions or simply a cross-reference to verses with similar material? In either case this data will be valuable for studying the use of texts by later writers.

The electronic version of this book has a 2012 copyright, the print version is 2017. I notice there was a preface in the 2012 edition which does not appear in the 2017 edition. The section on Shepherd of Hermas adds a paragraph on the two different numbering systems used for the book.

Conclusion. Do we need another translation of the Apostolic Fathers? Perhaps not, especially if the translations use the same general method and only have minor differences from existing translations. There is nothing like a dynamic equivalence translation of the Apostolic Fathers let alone an easy to read paraphrase in the tradition of TheMessage.

Nevertheless, Brannan’s Apostolic Fathers is a very good translation with extremely helpful notes published in an inexpensive format.

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.

Wenham, David. From Good News to Gospels: What Did the First Christians Say about Jesus? Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. 124 pp. Pb; $16.   Link to Eerdmans

This new book by David Wenham is an attempt to address the forty years between Jesus and the writing of the canonical gospels. What was the content of the message the earliest Christians preached during this period? Since we only have access to reports written a generation after the fact, scholars have suggested a collection of Jesus’s sayings developed and used as a source for the three Synoptic gospels. This two-source hypothesis has dominated scholarly discussion of the origin of the written gospels, but in recent years it has been attacked, modified and sometimes dismissed as an adequate origin for the various material which eventually became the canonical gospels. The reason for this in part is a growing interest in oral tradition as a source for the Gospel writers. Both James Dunn (The Oral Gospel Tradition, Eerdmans 2013) and Francis Watson (Gospel Writing, Eerdmans 2013) have made significant contributions to a better understanding of how Oral Tradition functioned in the period between the ministry of Jesus and the writing of the Gospels.

The main problem with oral tradition is a modern prejudice against oral sources (or the modern preference for written sources). When Form Critics described the growth of oral tradition they often assumed early Christians were convinced that Jesus was going to return very soon and establish his kingdom, thus there is no need to write books. They simply told stories about Jesus, and as Christians began to understand Jesus as in some sense divine, they began to embellish the sayings and stories in order to enhance the status of Jesus as well as to address particular problems in their own community. Someone passing along an oral tradition about Jesus was not particularly concerned with accuracy (in the modern sense).

Based on a better understanding of how oral tradition works in ancient cultures, Wenham’s main thesis in the book is that oral tradition was carefully preserved by the earliest Christians. He also demonstrates that this oral tradition is far more substantial than often assumed, freeing New Testament scholarship from the “hazardous hypothetical document” Q (p. 99).

In order to support this thesis, Wenham examines the evidence for an oral tradition in the book of Luke-Acts (chapter 2), the evidence in Mark, Matthew, and John (chapter 3) and in Paul’s letters (chapter 4). Wenham argues for the accuracy of Luke-Acts as a witness to the preaching and teaching of the early church. This resonates with the Synoptic Gospels description of the as invited to follow Jesus and to “be with him” (p. 29-30). Those who followed Jesus were commanded to pass along to the nations everything Jesus had instructed them (Matt 28:16-20).

Wenham finds confirmation of this passing of tradition in the Pauline letters. In this chapter Wenham follows the same trajectory as Jerry L. Sumney in his recent Steward of God’s Mysteries (Eerdmans, 2016). Beginning with 1 Corinthians 15:1-3, Wenham identifies a series of traditions embedded in the Pauline letters. Wenham answers the objection that “Paul knows nothing of the life of Jesus” by pointing to several examples where Jesus tradition is assumed. Since letters are occasional literature, there is no need for Paul to outline the life of Jesus before alluding to the Sermon on the Mount or the Olivet Discourse.

Chapters 5-6 trace the evidence for an oral tradition in the Gospels.

Wenham offers two examples where an appeal to oral tradition provides a more satisfying solution than literary dependence. First, Matthew 10:11/Luke 10:7 is usually considered a Q passage. The phrase “the laborer deserves his wages” appears in Luke 10:7 and 1 Timothy 5:18. There are allusions to this same idea in 1 Corinthians 9 as well.

His second example is Paul’s allusions to the Olivet Discourse in 1 Thessalonians 5. The parable of the Thief, followed by five foolish virgins who fall asleep, much the way Paul’s thief sayings in 5:2 and 5:4 are followed by a an admonition not to sleep “as the others do.” Wenham argues 1 Thessalonians 5 is evidence Paul knew an oral tradition later incorporated into Matthew 25. That Paul seems to know material from all potential literary traditions (Mark, Q, M and L is evidence Paul has extensive knowledge of Jesus’s teaching in an oral form.

At this point Wenham needs to address two potential objections to his view that oral tradition better explains Paul’s use of Jesus tradition than a literary theory involving some sort of written source like Q. First, it is almost certain Paul knew the material eventually included in Matthew 24-25 (although the influence on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is less obvious than for 1 Thessalonians 5:1-9). Although it is entirely possible Paul knew this material via an oral tradition handed down to him by Jesus’s disciples, it is equally possible Paul did have written notes of the things Jesus said, something like a Q document. That Paul may allude to as many as four pools of literary sources (Mark, Q, M, L) seems to favor Wenham’s thesis, but since the allusions are all from an eschatological discourse, it is at least possible he had a written collection.

A second objection is the possibility Paul alludes to another source than the oral tradition standing behind the Gospels or a literary tradition like Q. For the laborer saying, Jesus and Paul may both allude to Leviticus 19:13, Deuteronomy 24:15, or similar rabbinic interpretations of these texts (b. Bek. 29a: “Just as you received it [Torah] without payment, so teach it without payment”). The same could be said for 1 Thessalonians 4-5 since non-canonical apocalyptic literature describes the end of the age as labor pains. Does Paul’s phrase “peace and security” in 5:3 refer to Jesus’s words in Matthew 24:36-39 (the “days of Noah”) or is he parodying the claims of the Empire to bring “peace and safety” to the world.

Overall I am in agreement that there was an extensive oral tradition which the first generation actively passed on and guarded tenaciously. As Wenham said, the oral tradition was the “story of Jesus, not just pithy creedal statements or disconnected stories” (p. 94). He is certainly correct to say the earliest Christians told and retold the story of Jesus as accurately depicted in the book of Acts (p. 100). But is this an issue of either oral or written sources?

Despite these caveats, Wenham’s book is good entry point into a sometimes contentious debate on the status of an oral tradition in the earliest church. Wenham properly calls attention to the pervasive use of oral sources in the earliest written documents as well as the trustworthiness of the oral tradition used by Paul and the Gospel writers.



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

Beitzel, Barry J. and Kristopher A. Lyle, eds. Lexham Geographical Commentary on the Gospels. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2017. 583 pp.; Hb.  $49.99  Link to Lexham Press

As Professor Emeritus of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Barry Beitzel has a well-deserved reputation in scholarship for his contributions to biblical geography. He edited the The New Moody Atlas of the Bible (Moody, 2009; reviewed here). His new edited volume contains forty-eight essays written by fifteen New Testament scholars who have contributed to the field of New Testament geography.

The chapters are roughly chronological, beginning with the infancy narratives, baptism and temptation before moving on to the ministry of Jesus. The book could function as a “Harmony of the Gospels” since each of the forty-eight chapters include Gospel parallel passages when available. A chapter on John 4 appears early in Jesus’s ministry, chapters on John 7:37-39 and John 9 are placed in a series of chapters on the teaching of Jesus.

Some of the essays in this book concern geographical problems. For example, Benjamin Foreman’s essay on the location of the baptism of Jesus. Todd Bolen assess the evidence for the location of the “drowned pigs” in Matthew 8:28-42 (Gadara? Gerasa? Gergesa? Kursi?). Benjamin Foreman examines evidence for the burial of Jesus, comparing the Holy Sepulcher to the Garden Tomb and concludes the Holy Sepulcher is more likely even if there is value is far more spiritually uplifting to for Protestants. But most of the essays describe locations which are less controversial, such as Perry Phillips on the Well at Sychar or Todd Bolen’s contribution on the Temple, “Magnificent Stones and Wonderful Buildings of the Temple Complex.”

Other essays in this collection deal with elements of cultural in the background of various stories in the Gospels. Elaine Phillips’s article on domestic architecture in Capernaum, Carl Laney on “Fishing the Sea of Galilee” and Chris McKinney’s “Pig Husbandry in Israel during the New Testament.” Aubrey Taylor’s chapter on the “Historical Basis of the Parable of the Pounds” deals with Roman taxation. (As a side note, this chapter does not have a single illustration in the print version of the book.)

A few of the chapters make a connection between a geographical location and a theological issue. Gordon Franz contributes a fascinating essay on the Valley of Hinnom as a metaphor for Hell. In this revised paper first read at the national Evangelical Theological Society meeting in 1987, Franz points out the earliest reference to Hinnom as a garbage dump comes from A. D. 1200. He therefore argues the word is not based on a Second Temple reality (a garbage dump), but it refers to a place of eschatological judgment (325).

Each article in this Geographical Commentary is well researched and written. Each has detailed bibliography pointing interested readers to detailed studies on the topic considered. The book can be used as reference or as a running commentary as one is reading through one of the Gospels. Since the articles are rich in details, the book would be an excellent companion for someone traveling to Israel for a study tour.

iPad Screen Shot

Logos Bible Software Version

Like most Lexham publications, this book was published in both print and Logos Library formats. The electronic version of the book makes full use of the Logos system, including indexed searching and linking key words to other resources. For example, all biblical text is linked to your preferred Bible, or users can hover over the reference to read the text.

The electronic version of this book has many more images and graphic than the book and cab include videos. For example, in the five-page section entitled “Millstones in Capernaum” (Matthew 17:24-18:14), the print edition has two photographs. The Logos format book has a map of Galilee, an info-graphic of the synagogue at Capernaum, and links to two videos, a walk-through of Capernaum which plays in the Logos software itself and a link to a seven-minute video, “Capernaum: Jesus’ Base of Operations in Galilee” on This video is from The Cultural Context of the Bible series with David A. deSilva (although the narration sounds like it was produced with speech-to-text software). Maps, photographs and other graphics can be copied and pasted into your own documents (Word and PowerPoint, be sure to cite your source!). Many of the inforgraphics and other resources appear in many other Faithlife resources.

The electronic version includes all the same footnotes and bibliography as the print version, and includes a “see also” section which lists all the links appearing in the section. One advantage to the electronic version is the ability to cut/paste these references into a document, or to copy them to BibTex for use in bibliography management software. Usually Logos resources are tagged to open a resource if you owe the book, but I noticed Anchor Bible Dictionary articles are not tagged to open the article within Logos.

One feature missing in the electronic version is page numbers. Since the Logos version was published first and was initially intended as a fully interactive multimedia resource, there was no need for page numbers. Now that a “real book” has been published, Logos could enhance the value of this resource by adding page number tags to the text in the electronic version. Since Logos Bible Software does an excellent job assisting users to properly cite their sources, it would be an improvement to sync the print pages to the text in the electronic book. One other minor quibble, there are a few repeated graphics; this is forgivable in the electronic version but a waste of limited space in the print version (the millstone on page 112 and 311).


The Lexham Geographic Commentary on the gospels is a joy to read. The articles are stimulating and well-illustrated.  This book will make an excellent addition to the library of any student of the Bible, but especially for those visiting Israel. Lexham has a second volume on Acts through Revelation in production; hopefully additional volumes on the Old Testament will follow.

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.

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