Book Review: Buist M. Fanning, Revelation (ZENTC)

Fanning, Buist M. Revelation. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2020. 623 pp. Hb. $59.99   Link to Zondervan   

In the preface to this new contribution to the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series, Buist Fanning mentions three pairs of influences on his thinking about the book of Revelation: G. B. Caird and S. Lewis Johnson; Richard Bauckham and Craig Blaising; R. H. Charles and John Nelson Darby. In the strange universe of Revelation commentaries, these are indeed strange bedfellows. As Fanning comments, “Revelation functions as a kind of literary Rorschach test” (p. 23).

Fanning, Revelation, ZENTCIn fact, Fanning observes, the interpretation of Revelation often tells you as much about the interpreter as the message of the book. He therefore identifies himself as an evangelical with a commitment to the truthfulness and authority of Scripture, using “chastened” historical critical method and reads Revelation in the light of other first-century Jewish apocalypses. Following Richard Bauckham, he recognizes Revelation as the climax of the canon. Fanning’s commentary blends a typological method with a futurist reading of Revelation. He certainly takes into account the context of first century Asia Minor and apocalyptic literature of the Second Temple period, yet he does not get lost in the parallelomania which sometimes plagues commentaries on Revelation.

In the introduction to the book of Revelation, Fanning argues John the Apostle is the best candidate for authorship, writing in A.D. 95-98 to churches in Asia Minor.

As is common in commentaries on Revelation, a major section of the introduction is devoted to method. Fanning makes six axiomatic statements with respect to imagery and symbols in Revelation. First, literal does not equal “real, actual” nor does symbolic equal “imaginary.” It is not as though literal is true, and a symbol is untrue. Second, literal and symbolic language can refer to a range of entities with different character and scope. Third, a literal description can include emotive or connotative elements as well as denotative. Fanning offers as an example, “the Big Apple.” This is symbolic language refers denotatively to New York City, but it also evokes certain connotations and emotions. Fourth, a symbol can refer to a real entity without corresponding point-by-point comparisons which relating to reality. Fifth, Fanning follows Norman Perrin by contrasting steno-symbols (one-to-one specific historical figures) and tensive symbols. A tensive symbol cannot be totally exhausted nor adequately expressed by one reference. It “teases the mind into ever new evocation of meaning” (p. 35). For example, the Lamb in Revelation 5:6 refers to Jesus, but there is very little literal correspondence. The reader knows the lamb is Jesus. The trumpets in Revelation 8 build on imagery drawn from the Exodus. “They are intensified and universalized to be sure, but not changed to a different ontological realm” (p. 37).

Regarding the classic hermeneutical approaches to the book of Revelation, he begins by defining each preterist, futurist, historicist, and idealist. With the exception of historicism, he concludes each approach offers something of value for reading Revelation. Like Grant Osborne’s BENTC on Revelation, Fanning grounds his commentary in the world of the first century and finds application appropriate for the contemporary Christian reader, but he is also clear the book refers to future events.

In fact, Fanning has a consistently futurist perspective. With respect to the seven seals, Fanning suggests they are “the initial expression of God’s judgment on sin in anticipation of completing world-wide redemption.” These vivid symbols “referred to “real, this-worldly suffering that the earth and its inhabitants will experience as judgment from God during the future climactic events of this age” (p. 235). The 144,000 are ethnic Jews: “John affirms the widespread ancient Jewish expectation of the regathering in the end-times of all the tribes of ethnic Israel from the exile among the nations” (p. 263). The locust from the abyss are demons functioning in some ways like an invading army (p. 299), but this “nightmarish scenario will be devastatingly real” (p. 306). The mark of the beast most likely refers to Nero, but it is part of John’s typological pattern which foreshadows “the escalated fulfillment in the future antichrist” (p. 380). As for meaning of Babylon in Revelation 17, he rejects the classic dispensationalist view the city as literal Babylon as well as the common preterist view the city is Jerusalem. He argues Babylon refers to Rome as part of John’s use of typology, first-century Rome foreshadows the ultimate future worldwide enemy of God (p. 440-41).

The introduction concludes with a discussion of what Fanning means by typology and how the book of Revelation alludes to the Old Testament (and possibly Jewish apocalyptic, Greco-Roman literature and ancient Near Eastern mythology). The clearest examples of Old Testament types or patterns in Revelation are the reuse of the Egyptian plagues from Exodus in the Trumpets (Rev 8-9) and broader Exodus typology found throughout the book. For Fanning, this typology is more than a matter of how the New Testament uses the Old, it is “grounded in observations about God’s consistency in working out his purposes a crossed human history” (p. 47). Typology should not be limited to Christology or Soteriology, although those are common examples. In Revelation, judgment of the ungodly and opposition to God often conform to patterns found in the Old Testament. Fanning is clear: typology does not “require a metaphysical shift from physical, geographic, or historical entities to some sort of spiritual or eternal realities in the New Testament antitype” (p. 48). His view of typology does not require an antitype to be limited to a single climatic fulfillment. This allows for Antiochus IV Epiphanes to be a type of the future Roman emperors as well as a still-future antichrist (p. 48). Fanning argues this use of typological patterns accounts for John’s references to realities in the first century (preterism) as well as a final climactic period in the future (futurism). He cites favorably Marvin Pate’s progressive dispensationalist approach in Four Views on the Book of Revelation (Zondervan, 1998) and the “already/not yet” rubric.

In the commentary’s body, each unit begins with the literary context of the section followed by a concise summary of the pericope. Fanning’s translation appears in a graphical layout showing the relationship of clauses and the use of interpretive labels. A brief comment on the structure and an exegetical outline follows. The bulk of each unit explains the text. Each verse begins with a translation and the Greek text. Greek words appear without transliteration in the body of the commentary. The introduction to the series suggests readers with two years of Greek and some intermediate grammar will follow the discussion well. As the editors lay out the text, even readers without Greek will find the text accessible. Almost all detailed discussion of syntax and interaction with secondary literature appears in the footnotes. Each chapter of the commentary concludes with a section entitled “theology in application.” These are brief biblical-theological observations rather than pastoral guidance for preaching various sections of Revelation. Nevertheless, these observations often reveal Fanning’s pastoral heart as he seeks to apply the text of Revelation to a Christian reader.

Following the commentary proper is a chapter entitled “Theology of Revelation.” Fanning argues the book of Revelation is centered on “the true and living God engaged with his good creation.” He observes that Revelation is a “God-saturated book” (p. 568) and offers a series of points summarizing how Revelation describes God. Revelation is also a book about the reality of evil that has corrupted humans as well as creation. The book therefore describes an ongoing enslavement to deception and corruption by Satan and his minions (p. 571). Yet God works to establish his reign over his defiant and rebellious creation. God and the Lamb finally rule over creation, fulfilling God’s purpose of redemption. Revelation also describes a new community of the redeemed, although the word church does not appear in the book after chapter 3. Those who follow Christ suffered greatly in the severe final tribulation to come and the church is called to endure in faith and obedience in these intense trials (p. 573) while looking forward to the final salvation of diverse corporate worship of God.

Conclusion. It seems strange to describe a 600+ commentary as brief, but this only in comparison to the mammoth commentaries from Aune and Beale. Fanning’s contribution is worth consulting, especially as a representative of a future-orientated commentary on Revelation. His approach to symbolic language and typology grounds the exegesis in the overall story of Scripture. It is superior in this regard to Robert Thomas’s overtly dispensational commentary (Moody, 1992) or Paige Patterson’s attempt at a consciously pre-millennial commentary in the NAC series. Like other Zondervan Exegetical New Testament Commentaries, Fanning’s work is exegetically solid and reflects evangelical theological commitments.

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

Book Review: John D. Harvey, A Commentary on Romans

Harvey, John D. A Commentary on Romans. Kregel Exegetical Library. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2020. 400 pp. Hb; $36.99. Link to Kregel Academic

Harvey consciously geared this commentary to non-academics. His goal is to assist readers of Romans who are active pastors, teachers, and Bible students. There is no detailed history of interpretation, no deep dive into extra biblical literature, no closely argued discussions of finer points of Greek verb tenses, and no extensive comments on textual criticism. Readers interested in these issues should consult his Romans: Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (B&H Academic, 2017). Although his bibliography includes commentaries since 1965, his main lights are commentaries by Cranfield (ICC, 1980), Dunn (WBC, 1988), Jewett (Hermenia, 2007), Longenecker, (NIGTC 2016), Moo (NICNT, 1996), and Schreiner (BECNT, 1998). Moo and Schreiner have both published second editions since the completion of Harvey’s commentary.

Harvey, Commentary on RomansHe explains his exegetical methodology as answering three questions about each verse (p. 10). First, what did Paul say? Second, why did he say it? And third, what should I do with it? For more detailed methodological issues, readers should consult his Interpreting the Pauline Letters (Kregel Academic, 2012).

In the 40-page introduction, he argues Paul wrote the entire letter from Corinth in A.D. 56-57. He provides several pages of background for a letter, including a brief historical, social, cultural, and religious setting for Christianity in the city of Rome in the middle of the first century. He believes the audience as both Jews and Gentiles and that the letter addressed as a “cluster of issues.” The introduction also includes several pages and charts on genre and structure of Romans, including a brief look at the rhetoric of the letter.

Each section of the commentary begins with a fresh translation of the text with notes with brief textual critical issues and syntactical observations. These observations include grammatical categories but only rarely make reference to advanced grammars (those details are often found in his Exegetical Guide). Following this translation, Harvey sets the context and structure of the pericope in the overall outline of Romans. This is followed by a brief statement of the basic message of the section and detailed exegetical outline. Following this outline, he offers an explanation of the text, usually covering several verses at a time. In the body of the commentary Greek appears in parentheses without transliteration. Almost all interactions with commentaries appears in the footnotes. This makes for a concise commentary that does indeed focus on what Paul said and why did he say it?” Following the explanation of the text, Harvey makes a few comments under the heading Theology and Appropriation.” In this section he comments on biblical-theological issues in order to answer his third question, “what should I do with it?” In most cases, Harvey concludes with the words “Paul’s primary purpose for including his paragraph…”

Harvey translates the phrase διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ Romans 3:22 “by faith in Jesus Christ” and τὸν ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ. in verse 26 as “the one who is of faith in Jesus.” He states both genitives are objective (p. 127). He does not enter into the scholarly discussion of pistis christou other than a footnote pointing to Schreiner’s discussion and conclusion in favor of the objective genitive.

The same is true for the meaning of “all sinned” in Romans 5:12. He observes there are five common interpretations and cites additional scholarship in the footnotes (p. 168). Harvey does not wade into the deep waters of the various ways the verse is used in systematic theology. Because his purpose in the commentary is the basic meaning of the text, he concludes “Paul’s primary purpose was to inform his readers that righteousness, acquittal, and life now apply to them because of what Christ has done as certain as sin, condemnation, and death previously applied to them because of what Adam did” (p. 169).

Comparing six major views on the identity of the “I” in Romans 7:2-25, he observes that although the options are bewildering, it is “best not to expend time and energy trying to decide, for example, whether ‘I’ describes Paul before or after his conversion” (p. 199).

The purpose of Romans 9-11 is the fulfillment of God’s plan. He argues God will fulfill his plan and keep his word to Israel, using Israel’s unresponsiveness to show mercy to all. On the controversial issue of what “all Israel” means in Romans 11, Harvey compares six recent commentaries in a chart (with Calvin and Schreiner combined). He agrees with Longenecker that “all Israel” refers to “a large number of elect an ethnic Jews near the end of history” (p. 291).

On the usually controversial issue of Paul’s female coworkers, Phoebe is a woman of high social standing in some wealth who was a leader in the church (p. 376). Like Prisca and Aquila, Andronicus and Junia are a husband and wife ministry team who were well known to the apostles (p.382, citing this Exegetical Guide for the details).

The book ends abruptly on page 400. There is no conclusion, no indices and only a select bibliography (pp 15-20).

Conclusion. There have been several second editions of major commentaries in Romans published in the last few years. Harvey’s commentary is less than half the length of the six major commentaries he works with in this book and it is far less engaged with contemporary Pauline scholarship than Longenecker, Moo, et al. But this should not be considered as a criticism, Harvey’s commentary achieves when it’s set out to accomplish, a simple explanation of what Paul said and why he said it for the busy pastor struggling to prepare Bible classes and sermons or Bible student who wants to go deeper than the average Bible study. This commentary is similar in approach to Grant Osborne’s Romans commentary and should not be compared to recent encyclopedic commentaries on Romans.

Other Reviewed Commentaries in this Series:

Duane Garrett, A Commentary on Exodus

Robert B. Chisholm, A Commentary on Judges and Ruth

Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms. Volume 2 (Psalms 42-89)

Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, Volume 3 (Psalms 90-150)

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

Book Review: Elijah Hixson and Peter J. Gurry, eds. Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism

Hixson, Elijah and Peter J. Gurry, eds. Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2019. 372 pp. Pb. $40.   Link to IVP Academic

In his foreword to this volume of essays on textual criticism, Daniel Wallace comments on the chasm between scholars and apologists. Apologists, Wallace suggests, have a tendency to regurgitate other apologetic works. As a result, skewed and wrong data on manuscripts of the New Testament gets passed along to pastors and teachers who present this data as fact. Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism attempts to correct these well-intentioned traditions among both popular apologists as well as other New Testament scholars. The essays in this volume are like much like D. A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies (Second Edition, Baker Academic, 1996). Most readers will recognize some of their own errors after reading Carson’s book; the same is true with Myths and Mistakes. After reading this book there are several places in my own lecture notes which need to be revised and corrected in the light of better, more accurate information.

Hixson and Gurry, Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism

The authors of the essays want to avoid exaggerated claims for New Testament manuscripts as well as correct factual errors. In the introduction to the collection, As Peter J. Gurry and Elijah Hixson explain in their introduction, suggest “if we believe that God inspired the particular words of Holy Scripture, then it is incumbent on us to do our best to identify those words so that we can preach, teach, treasure, and obey them” (p. 25).  Hixson and Gurry offer examples of outdated information and abused statistics which are found in both academic and popular books on biblical manuscripts.

Timothy N. Mitchell discusses myths about the original autographs (ch. 2). It is unlikely any New Testament autographs still existed by the time of the earliest extant copies. Once a book circulated, the writing could not be significantly changed without those changes becoming known.

Jacob W. Peterson deals with how many New Testament manuscripts are extant (ch. 3). One problem with counting manuscripts is the total number of changes: new manuscripts are discovered and there are examples of double counting. Most manuscripts only contain portions of the New Testament, so the total number of early manuscripts of Mark (for example) is far less than the total number. Because of this, using round numbers for total manuscripts is important. Peterson argues more New Testament manuscripts as compared to other ancient literature is not necessarily better. Having 179 manuscripts from the tenth century is not necessarily as valuable as sixty-five manuscripts from the third century.

James B. Prothro discusses myths about Classical Literature (ch. 4). Apologists love to compare the New Testament manuscript evidence to other ancient literature. These statistical comparisons are often based on old data and only demonstrate the New Testament has better textual basis, but not a perfect one.

Elijah Hixson treats dating myths, specifically how scholars date New Testament manuscripts (ch. 5). There is a perception that the earliest manuscripts are more reliable. This motivates some apologists to date some papyri fragments as early as possible, sometimes making dramatic announcements before scholars have done their work. After surveying dating methods, Hixson uses the example of P52, a fragment of the Gospel of John often dated to about A.D. 125 (or earlier). Since the initial publication of the fragment, scholars have revisited the evidence and suggested dates as late as A.D. 200-225. Rather than give a specific date like A.D. 125, Hixson suggests a range of A.D. 100-200 as a “responsible date range” (p. 109).

Gregory R. Lanier deals with the myth that early manuscripts are always better manuscripts (ch. 6). This chapter deals with the Byzantine tradition, the later manuscripts which form the majority of ancient manuscripts available to scholarship. Early textual critics adopted a “later-is-worse” method and more or less considered the Byzantine tradition as secondary evidence for dating manuscripts. Lanier suggests later manuscripts may improve over time as later scribes correct earlier ones.  He uses the examples of the Pericope of the Adulterous Woman and the various endings for the Gospel of Mark as examples. In both cases, later scribes added comments expressing doubt for the authenticity of these additions.

Zachary J. Cole examines what we know about scribes in the Greco-Roman world to examine myths about the copyists of the earliest manuscripts (ch. 7). Overall, the earliest copyists were neither careless amateurs nor professionals. They demonstrate the same level of accuracy expected for any ancient text.

Peter Malik surveys the various ways scribes corrected mistakes (ch. 8). Beginning with P66, he offers several examples scribal corrections. Attention to these corrections can show how readers used the manuscript shedding light on intentional changes.

S. Matthew Solomon describes his collation of more that 570 manuscripts of Philemon copied before A.D. 700 in order to demonstrate the methods used by scholars (ch. 9). He concludes that even if we only had a copy of Philemon from more than nine hundred years after Paul wrote the letter, very little would change (p. 189). Although there are more variants than expected, most of the variants are insignificant.

Peter J. Gurry explains why most variants are insignificant and why other variants cannot be ignored (ch. 10). He begins with examples of large the number of variants in popular books on textual criticism, concluding that “around half a million” is a fair estimate, and most are “awfully boring for most Bible readers” (p. 209). Nearly half the number are meaningless and only a tiny fraction merits a footnote in major English translations. Nevertheless, there are a few dozen that are theologically important and need to be addressed by scholars using established textual critical practices.

What about these theologically significant variants? Critics like Bart Ehrman often claim scribes corrupted texts by changing the text to conform to orthodox theology. Robert D. Marcello deals with this so-called orthodox corruption (ch. 11). He observes Ehrman consistently considers the least orthodox reading to be the original, and the most orthodox to a corruption. Although it may be the case an orthodox change is in fact a corruption, presupposing the orthodox to be a corruption is methodologically suspicious. After examining a few examples of orthodox corruptions, Marcello concludes scribes did sometimes make theologically motivate changes, but some of these variants can be explained by other factors (p. 227).

Andrew Blaski addresses the issue from the perspective of patristics. What did the Church Fathers thought about textual variations (ch. 12). He begins with an oft-repeated claim that compiling the 32,289 quotations found in the church fathers, we could reconstruct the New Testament with the exception of eleven verses. Blaski traces the origin of this folk-tale and concludes it is a myth and should be dropped as an apologetic argument. The church fathers refer to the New Testament in a variety of way and rarely cite it verbatim. As anyone who examines the apparatus in the UBS5 knows, a given church father may be evidence for two or three different variants.

John D. Meade observes that while the codex was preferred by early Christians for canonical books, just because a book was included in a codex does not mean it was canonical (ch. 13). He surveys canonical lists and early Christian descriptions of their literature. This chapter includes several valuable charts collating the date and contents of codices.

The final two chapters of the volume concern translations. First, Jeremiah Coogan discusses the number of early New Testament translations and their value for textual criticism (ch. 14). He doubts there are ten thousand Latin manuscripts as is often claimed, the number may be fewer than one thousand. The chapter also surveys Syriac translations (with several photographs of manuscripts). Second, Edgar Battad Ebojo looks at how modern translations report variants of the New Testament (ch. 15). This is an important issue since footnotes are where most Bible readers will encounter textual variants. For example, when does a translation use brackets to indicate textual variants and when do they use footnotes? How does a modern Bible print John 7:53-8:11 or the long ending of Mark?

The book concludes with a thirty-one-page bibliography and several helpful indices, including an index of manuscripts.

Conclusion. This book is a positive step toward increased clarity on textual critical issues from experts in the field who are interested in helping Christians to avoid “believing what they want to be true” about the state of the New Testament manuscripts (p. 25). Although these essays may be unsettling for some readers, the goal of defending the Bible’s integrity calls for integrity on the part of apologists and critics alike.

Elijah Hixson and Peter J. Gurry are contributes to the popular blog Evangelical Textual Criticism.

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

Book Review: Nijay K. Gupta, A Beginner’s Guide to New Testament Studies: Understanding Key Debates

Gupta, Nijay K. A Beginner’s Guide to New Testament Studies: Understanding Key Debates. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2020. 196 pp. Pb. $24.99.   Link to Baker Academic

In the introduction to this beginner’s guide to the key issues for the study of the New Testament, Nijay Gupta recalls being completely lost in the world of biblical scholarship during his first days as a seminary student. I confess to a similar experience as an undergrad biblical studies student first exposed to the Documentary Hypothesis or the Synoptic Problem. These are important issues, but they are not the topic of church Bible studies. In fact, there were quite a few issues encountered in graduate school that I vaguely recall memorizing for an undergrad exam.

Gupta, Beginner's Guide to New Testament StudiesGupta’s goal in this slender volume is to introduce “relative newcomers to the world of the New Testament studies, not experts” (xi). In these brief chapters he offers a fair and balanced overview of an issue and consciously does not take a side in the debate. His focus is on the big picture rather than fine details. Even so, most beginning biblical studies students can be overwhelmed with these complicated debates. Every chapter in this book represents dozens of monographs on the topic, even at the introductory level. There is no need for despair, Gupta suggests, the messiness of biblical studies is part of the journey.

Gupta introduces each topic with an anecdote in order to demonstrate why the issue is important. He then surveys key scholars and positions, usually with a few footnotes to key works. Chapters conclude with a few personal reflections often reflecting Gupta’s experience teaching these issues. Each chapter concludes with a “for further reading” section divided into beginner and advanced sections. The lists are arranged by topic covered in the chapter. These are not complete bibliographies; Gupta suggests only a few key works for each topic. Interested students ought to read all the suggested beginning books as they move to graduate school.

There are three chapters on the study of the Jesus and the Gospels. The chapters on the Synoptic Problem and Historical Jesus. In the “The Fourth Gospel and History” there are only two sides, John is not historical and John is historical, but he does wonder in the conclusion to the chapter why John’s gospel is often ignored in historical Jesus studies like Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God, “one of the most important Jesus books of the twentieth century” (p. 37).

He offers three chapters on Paul (Jesus and Paul; Paul’s Theological Perspective; Paul and the Jewish Law), although Paul is a major factor in virtually every chapter in the rest of the book, reflecting the soften polarizing nature of Paul’s theology. He divides the chapter on Paul’s theological perspective into Justification by Faith, Salvation History, Apocalyptic Paul, and Participation in Christ. The chapter on Paul and the Law briefly introduces E. P. Sanders and the New Perspective on Paul.

Chapter 7 introduces students to the problems of Interpreting the Book of Revelation. After a short overview of the book he describes the preterist, historicist, futurist and idealist approaches to the book. The section in futurism naturally introduces dispensationalism, one of the few positions in the book he seems dismissive, including four points explaining why most scholars reject the idea of the rapture (p. 97-8).

Chapter 8 discusses Pseudonymity and the New Testament Letters. Since many introductions to the New Testament dispute the authorship of the Pastoral Epistles, 1-2 Peter, James and Jude and have serious doubts about 2 Thessalonians, Ephesians and Colossians, Gupta first explains why these books came to be doubted in the nineteenth century. He contrasts allonymity (writing in another name rather than pseudonymity, writing with a false name) with forgery, Although Bart Ehrman is listed in the “further reading” section, Gupta does not directly deal with his work in the chapter.

In “The New Testament and the Roman Empire” (ch. 9) Gupta introduces Richard Horsley as well as post-colonial readings of the New Testament. It is important to recognize the imperial context of the New Testament, but the extent to which Paul or the writers of the Gospels engaged in a critique of the Empire is an open discussion. This chapter could be improved with additional attention to the book of Revelation since it seems to have a clear critique of the Roman Empire.

It is no exaggeration to suggest the issue of women in leadership is a hot topic in biblical studies (ch. 10). Gupta suggests this is a “convoluted issue with many texts and dimensions to consider” (p. 141). He avoids labels like fundamentalist or liberal and presents the two sides of the debate as “Hierarchical Male Authoritative Leadership” (rather than “complementarian”) and “Egalitarian Authoritative Leadership.” In his conclusion to the chapter, he suggests this debate requires further research into a biblical understanding of gender and how gender is related to culture (p. 143).

Although “Justification by Faith and Judgment according to Works” (ch. 11) sounds as though it might be a Pauline issue (and he does touch on the Wright/Piper debate), Gupta’s focus is on the basis of the final judgment (faith or works) and the relationship of initial justification to final judgment.

The final two chapters of the book discuss hermeneutical issues. The Old Testament in the New Testament (ch. 12) and Application and Use of Scripture (ch. 13). How the New Testament writers used the Old Testament has generated a wide range of articles and monographs, although this chapter manages to avoid the over-used term intertextuality (Richard Hays appears in the further reading section). Gupta’s interest here is hermeneutical strategies used by New Testament authors: did they respect the context? How does Christology influence their reading of the Old Testament?

In the final chapter on application of Scripture, Gupta contrasts a “From-the-Bible” view with a “Beyond-the-Bible” or redemptive movement hermeneutic. A “From-the-Bible” approach recognizes progressive revelation and looks for principles from Scripture to draw applications to modern ethical discussions. The “Beyond-the-Bible” view seeks to follow the trajectory of Scripture to apply earlier revelation to a new situation.

Conclusion. There are other issues which could be included in a beginner’s guide. Every scholar who reads this book will likely wonder why their area of study was omitted. For example, a chapter on early high Christology would be welcome, or a short introduction to the pistis christou debate. In fact, from the perspective of Pauline Studies, virtually every section of chapter six could be expanded. Along with the historicity of John, a chapter on the value of Acts for early church history would be a good addition. There is nothing on biblical manuscripts or textual criticism. Nevertheless, the thirteen topics Gupta chose are more or less the most important for a beginning biblical studies student to grasp before they begin their studies.

This book should be read before a student begins their academic career in biblical studies, whether that is undergraduate or graduate level. An Old Testament Beginner’s Guide would make an excellent companion to this volume.

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

Book Review: Marvin Sweeney, Jewish Mysticism: From Ancient Times through Today

Sweeney, Marvin A. Jewish Mysticism: From Ancient Times through Today. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2020. 432 pp. Hc; $60.   Link to Eerdmans    Link to EerdWorld to read a twenty-six page excerpt

In his preface Marvin Sweeny explains the need for a new textbook on Jewish mysticism. Since he began teaching both undergraduate and graduate courses, his only choices for textbooks were Gershom Scholem’s Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941) and William Kaufman’s Journeys: An Introductory Guide to Jewish Mysticism (1980). Both volumes begin their survey with rabbinic literature. Sweeney could find nothing which included mysticism from the Ancient Near East, the Hebrew Bible, Qumran and Jewish apocalyptic texts. In addition, Sweeney gives a greater place in his volume to Jewish liturgical and theurgical practices, as well as textual interpretations of earlier mystical works. As he says in his introduction, later mystics built on their predecessors in order to “resolve ongoing problems left open by earlier movements and texts” (7).

Sweeney, Jewish MysticismThe first chapter describes visionary experiences in the Ancient Near East. By surveying Egyptian, Canaanite and Babylonian texts which depict “seeing and hearing the gods” Sweeney argues Ancient Near Eastern had a wide variety of ways of expressing human experience of the gods through dreams, visionary experience, and divine interaction. These were powerful experiences, but ultimately “undependable, self-interested, and frequently amoral.”

Chapters 2-4 survey visionary and dream experiences in the Pentateuch, Former Prophets and Psalms, and Latter Prophets (pp. 50-166). He collects every example of someone “seeing and hearing G-d” through visions and dreams in the canonical Hebrew Bible. Although these experiences often have tangible elements, “YHWH is experienced in the world by divine acts of mercy and justice the stand as the basis of the covenant between YHWH and Israel” (p. 81). For example, the Pentateuch describes YHWH’s enthronement in the tabernacle though the pillar of cloud and fire, but more importantly the Pentateuch “presents a creation narrative modeled on those of the Ancient Near East in which YHWH puts his creation in order, and establishes YHWH’s own people, Israel, in the midst of that creation, and establishes a sanctuary to honor YHWH as the creator” (p. 85).  Isaiah’s temple vision (Isa 6:1-13) and Ezekiel’s throne room vision (Ezek 1-3) are foundational for Heikhalot literature (temple visions) and Merkavah literature (throne visions).

Jewish apocalyptic literature serves as the transition from the Hebrew Bible to the Heikhalot literature. (ch. 5).  He begins with a survey of “proto-apocalyptic” such as Isaiah 24-27, 34-35, 56-66, Ezekiel 1; 8-11, 37, 38-39; 40-48; Joel and Zechariah 9-14. Wisdom literature is important for the development of Jewish mysticism, especially Job, Proverbs, and Song of Solomon. He then briefly discusses two major Second Temple apocalyptic texts 1 Enoch and Daniel (which uses “the setting the Babylonian exile to address issues relevant to the outbreak of the Hasmonean revolt against Seleucid Syria” (p. 189). In his brief survey of the Judean Wilderness Scrolls, Sweeny highlights the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice as “anticipating later heikhalot compositions” (p. 194). Finally, he briefly introduces three late first century C.E. texts, Revelation, 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch. Although a Christian text, Revelation includes a heavenly ascent, throne room visions, and abundant allusions to the Exodus narrative. Bo0th 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch call on Jews to “observe divine Torah” in response to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. This, Sweeny suggests, “constitutes the foundational viewpoint of rabbinic Judaism: to sanctify Jewish life and the world of creation by adhering to the divine Torah in preparation for the time when God would bring about the restoration” as promised in Ezekiel 40-48, Isaiah 40-66, Jeremiah 30-33, and Zechariah 9-14 (p. 206).

Chapter 6 introduces the Heikhalot and Merkavah literature. After the failure of the Bar-Khokba revolt and the development of Oral Torah, rabbis sought to place limits on study of mysticism.  Sweeney cites a parable which illustrates the dangers of mystical study (b.Hag. 14b). Four rabbis entered the Garden (Pardes, paradise), but only Akiva left unhurt. “Entering Pardes” refers to the proper study of the Torah. Only Akiva understood his own knowledge and succeeded in mystical study (p. 216). These experiences of these four are developed in the Heikhalot and Merkavah literature.

Sweeney surveys four texts in this chapter. First, Ma’aseh Merkavah is the most basic account of the four rabbis who ascended to Pardes. The book focuses on the hymns and prayers a mystic must employ in order to undertake ascent the seventh level of heaven. Second, Heikhalot Rabbati describes the ascent of R. Nehunyah ben Haqanah to the throne of G-d in the seventh heaven narrated by R. Ishmael ben Elisha. R. Ishmael was one of the key Tannaitic sages, one of the most prominent rabbis of his day and one the Ten Martyrs. The book anticipates a time when the Torah will be “fully understood and applied to the sanctification of the world of creation” (p. 222). Third, one of the oldest heikhalot texts, Heikhalot Zutari (Lesser Places) begins with the parable of the four rabbis attempting to enter Pardes in order to “specify the experience of the prospective mystics” (p. 231).  The book refers to Metatron, the powerful angel of the presence who sits on the throne of G-d in the seventh heaven when Go-d is not present. The name may be derived from the Greek meta, with, and thronos, throne, but Sweeny suggests it is related to the Aramaic mattara’, “keeper of the watch” (p. 238). Finally, in this chapter, Sweeney introduces Sefer Heikhalot (Third Enoch). The book seems to be a response to the story of the four who entered Pardes but focuses on the visualizations of Metatron.

Chapter 7 surveys the transition from Heikhalot to early Kabbalistic literature. Kabbalah means tradition or “that which is received” and the study of this literature became a major Jewish mystical movement in the mid-twelfth century. Since Heikhalot literature assumes the transcendent nature of G-d who is approached by the mystic through liturgical prayer and theurgic practice, and Torah study, the Kabbalistic literature began to consider the immanent presence of G-d in the world of creation. After an introduction to the development of Jewish life in the Middle Ages, Sweeney introduces several early Kabbalistic texts.

First, Shiur Qomah “is easily one of the most problematic, controversial, and misunderstood writings in all of Jewish tradition” (p. 255). The name of the books means “The Measure of G-d’s Body,” a fair description of the contents of the book G-d’s height is given and 2,300,000,000 parasangs and the crown on his head is an additional 600,000 parasangs. A parasang is 30 stadia, or about 3.5 miles. G-d’s height is therefore more than 80 billion miles and an additional 2.1 million miles for his crown. The point here is that “the divine presence is beyond human capacity to comprehend in any meaningful way” (p. 263). Second, Sefer Yetzirah, the “Book of Formation,” focuses on language has the means by which G-d manifests himself in creation and the creative power of human speech. The book observes that G-d spoke ten times in Genesis 1 and then uses several other numerical observations to outline the Ten Sefirot and describes their role in creation. Third, Sefer Habahir, the “Book of Brilliance” is the first major Kabbalistic work (p. 271). The name derives from Job 37:21, the sun is “brilliant (bahir) in the clouds.” Sweeney suggests the development of the Ten Sefirot in the book is dependent on gnosticism and is highly intertextual. The book is a synthesis of earlier Jewish texts with gnostic ideas to explain how an ultimately transcendent being can be fully present in a finite earthly world. He concludes the chapter with a brief survey of other key movements and figures in the period (The Hasidei Ashkenaz, Isaac the Blind, and Abraham Abulafia).

Chapter 8 focuses on the most well-known kabalistic texts, The Zohar. The name Zohar means splendor or brilliance and is likely drawn from Ezekiel’s description of a human-like figure show lifted the prophet up and transported him to Jerusalem to witness the fall of the city (Ezek 8:2). The book is a mystical comment on the Torah revealing the hidden meaning of the text. Like earlier kabalistic texts, the primary concern of the text is how the infinite character of God is manifested as a divine presence in a finite world (p. 289). The book therefore discussed the Sefirot, God’s shekhinah, his glory dwelling in the world (using sexual language), the nature of creation and the origin of evil and demons.

The final two chapters treat more recent forms of Jewish mysticism. In Chapter 9 Sweeney discusses Lurianic Kabbalah, a popular movement prompting Jews to adopt kabalistic spiritual practices and study in anticipation of the messianic age when the Messiah would appear, the temple would be reestablished, and the world of creation would be completed” (p. 325). After a short review of the Spanish expulsion of Jews in 1492, Sweeny describes the activity of Jewish mystics who gathered in in Safed, a small town in the upper Galilean hills. R. Luria (1534-1572) studied under kabbalist Moses Cordovero (1522-1570) and became the principle kabbalist teacher in Safed after Cordovero’s death. Luranic kabbalah has three basic principles. First, the Tzimtzym is the contraction of the infinite God into the finite world. Second, Luria’s idea of the Abba (father) and Imma (mother), two aspects of God. When they are united, they form the third basic principle, the Zeir Anin, the “Impatient One.” Each of these three principles are tied to aspects of the Ten Sefirot. Luria also believed in the transmigration of the soul: a tzaddik (righteous person) could embody a past tzaddik. Luria thought he was the embodiment of R. Shimon bar Yohai, for example. This form of mysticism had an influence on Shabbetai Zevi (1626-1676), a failed messiah who converted to Islam in 1666. Many of his followers continued to believe he was the messiah long after his death (the Dönmeh).

Chapter 10 concludes with an introduction to Hasidism, the modern manifestation of Jewish mysticism. He is quick to point out modern Hasidism as nothing to do with the earlier movement. In this chapter, Sweeney describes the earlier mystical and pietistic movement led by Baal Shem Tov (1700-1760) in the early eighteenth century and his follower Shneur Zalman (1745-1831). Zalman was the founder of the Schneersohn family line and the founder of Habad Hasidism (p. 379). Habad theology is rooted in the idea God is the only reality in the universe and all other realities are illusions. The chapter traces several movements which developed from this eighteenth century origin, including Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935) and the Lubavitcher Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994).

Conclusion. For each mystical text surveyed in chapter 6-10 Sweeney provides a footnote to sources for reading the text and key studies. He only rarely uses long quotations from the texts, preferring to summarize the esoteric content for the reader. Although I would usually prefer to read selections from the original texts, the esoteric nature of this literature makes me appreciate his careful summaries. Still, a second volume collecting example readings for each chapter would be useful, especially when this book is used in a classroom setting.

NB: Spelling and use of YHWH and G-d conforms to Sweeney’s text. 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: Justin W. Bass, The Bedrock of Christianity

Bass, Justin W.  The Bedrock of Christianity: The Unalterable Facts of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2020. 238 pp.; Pb.  $13.99  Link to Lexham Press    Link to Logos Bible Software

In this short apologetic text, Justin Bass seeks to establish the basic facts of Christianity. Alluding to the introduction to John Meier’s historical Jesus study, The Marginal Jew, Bass imagines a meeting during which Protestants, Catholics, Jews, atheists and agnostics scholars evaluate evidence and determine what basic facts about Christianity everyone can agree on. In his introductory chapter he disregards the mythicist position represented by Richard Carrier. He cites Bart Ehrman description of the view as “foolish,” compares the “handful of mythicist hecklers” to Holocaust deniers (p. 5-7).

In the first chapter, Bass outlines his historical method. Following Bart Ehrman, he says historians want early dating, multiple eyewitnesses, corroboration of those eyewitnesses, and unbiased sources (p. 28). He then asks what we can know about Tiberius Caesar, the Jewish War, Socrates and John the Baptist using these four historical measures. In each case, scholars agree on a historical bedrock based on a variety of sources. With Tiberius, his reign is well known from four literary sources that date long after his death. Comparing this to what we can know about the apostle Paul, Bass argues scholars have an abundance of trustworthy sources for Paul’s life, especially compared to Tiberius and Socrates. However, Bass omits archaeology from his list. Hard evidence for the reign of Tiberius is abundant if archaeology, inscriptions, and numismatics (coins) are allowed as evidence. This kind of evidence is unavailable for characters in the New Testament.

The Apostle Paul is therefore Bass’s “Bedrock Eyewitness.” Chapter 2 sketches a biography of the apostle Paul drawing only on his epistles. He uses Acts for his chronology of Paul’s life, working backwards from Paul’s hearing before Gallio (A.D. 51/52; Acts 18:12-17). Having established that Paul is an early eyewitness, he presents his “Bedrock Source,” 1 Corinthians 15:3–7 (ch. 3). Bass argues this is a pre-Pauline creedal tradition delivered to Paul by the apostles (p. 74). He follows James Dunn who suggested the beginnings of this creedal statement may go back to the first few months after the resurrection (p. 82). But at the very least Paul must have received it during his brief visit to Jerusalem in A.D. 37 (Gal 1:18-19).

Having established the creedal statement in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 constitutes early eyewitness evidence from multiple sources, Bass then examines the three key claims of the creed. First, the creed establishes the bedrock fact that Jesus was crucified: “Christ Died for our Sins and He was Buried” (ch. 3). After a short discussion of crucifixion in the Roman world, he draws together several texts from Paul’s early letters which demonstrate that Jesus was not just crucified, but that his crucifixion was “for our sins.” Bass argues these statements are based on the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53 and he suggests  the historical Jesus may be the origin for the idea his death is in some ways like the servant of Isaiah 53. Here Bass goes to another tradition Paul received from the apostles, the inauguration of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:24-25. Although he considers the crucifixion of Jesus under Pontius Pilate as a historical bedrock fact, he does not think the phrase “he was buried” can be counted as a bedrock fact. For Bass, it is likely Jesus was buried as recorded in the Gospels, but the evidence is not clear that someone named Joseph of Arimathea buried the body of Jesus.

The second element of the creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 is the claim Jesus was “raised on the third day.” Bass shows that there were no traditions drawn from the Hebrew Bible to indicate a belief in the first century that the Messiah would be die and rise from the dead. Although there is a hint of resurrection in Daniel 12:2-3 and 2 Maccabees 7:9-14, a dying messiah is unknown. Bass argues there are three innovations from the earliest Christ followers. The first innovation is a positive interpretation of a crucified Messiah. There is no other crucifixion in the Greco Roman world seen in a positive light. The second innovation is the claim this crucified Messiah had been raised from the dead. This claim is unanticipated in Second Temple period Judaism. Third, that this crucified Messiah who God raised from the dead is the divine Lord of the world is an unparalleled innovation. Here Bass cites another early Christian tradition passed along to the apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 8:6. This is the almost shocking insertion of Jesus into the Jewish shema. Bass cites Larry Hurtado, “this worship of the risen/exalted Jesus comprises a radical new innovation in Jewish monotheistic religion” (129).  Bass is using the so-called criterion of dissimilarity used in historical Jesus studies. Essentially, this criterion argues that if something is different than the Judaism of the Second Temple period, it is more likely to be authentic. In this case, the crucifixion and resurrection of the Messiah is not something that a group of Jewish theologians would have created.

The third element of the creed is the list of post-resurrection appearances. That Jesus appeared to Peter, the Twelve, more than 500 at one time, and James is a wide range of witnesses. Bass recognizes that Paul has added himself to the list. He quotes skeptics Bart Ehrman and Paula Fredriksen as saying they might not know what Paul saw, but Paul believed he saw Jesus (p. 162). Bass argues Paul was not lying by using Paul’s “foolish speech” in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27. This speech lists various ways Paul has suffered for his preaching of the Gospel. If he was lying about the resurrection of Jesus, then his life after his Damascus Road experience is inexplicable. In the conclusion to his book, Bass cites E. P. Sanders, “That Jesus is followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know” (Historical Figure of Jesus, 279-80). Bass’s challenge to this agnostic view of the resurrection is to push past agnosticism and “give the risen Jesus welcome” (p. 207).

Paul’s suffering serves as a transition to the final piece of Bass’s argument, the fast rise of the Nazarenes. For Bass, it is difficult to account for not only the persistence of followers of Jesus from the days just after the crucifixion, but also the willingness of those followers to suffer and die for their faith in a resurrected messiah who is the Lord of the world. This is a common apologetic strategy, but it may fail because there are many other movements that encouraged martyrdom from their adherents, yet they were based on horrible distortions of the truth (Jim Jones and David Koresh, for example). This chapter includes sections on Christianity’s unique origins, continuing influences, and skeptics who have converted to Christianity throughout history. Similar to the willingness to die for one’s beliefs, someone might suggest Islam has had a similar influence on the world, and no one wants to argue Christianity has always had a positive influence. This strategy is typical in apologetic textbooks, but I’m not sure how it contributes to the bedrock of Christianity as defined in the first chapter of the book.

Bass often cites skeptical scholars who agree with him such as Bart Ehrman or Paula Fredriksen; even Crossan and Bultmann make a few appearances. This is a rhetorical strategy designed to show these are in fact “bedrock facts” of Christianity. The book is richly footnoted and includes an extensive bibliography which will point interested readers to more detailed studies. The book will reaffirm the beliefs of committed Christians and perhaps encourage Christians who have some doubts. I’m not sure it will convince skeptics, but that’s the nature of apologetics. Bass’s book supports the contention the bedrock of Christian faith is reasonably historical.

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

Book Review: David Bomar, Journeys of the Apostle Paul

Bomar, David. Journeys of the Apostle Paul. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2019. 154 pp.; Hb.  $29.99  Link to Lexham Press

The essays in this volume are collected from a five-part series on Paul’s missionary journeys originally published in Bible Study Magazine, edited by David Bomar. After a brief section on the Paul’s Damascus (including two short essays on Acts 9:1-22), the book is divided into units based on the three missionary journeys and the trip to Rome.

Journeys of the Apostle PaulSince the front cover of the book puts Craig S. Keener at the head of the contributor list, it is disappointing to find only two brief contributions at the beginning and end of the book: “Who Was Saul of Tarsus?” And “Rome: To the Empire and Beyond.”  Keener suggests Paul was motivated to preserve his Jewish traditions by nationalistic zeal modeled by the Maccabees and Phinehas (Numbers  25:11). Keener explains why the book of Acts ends so abruptly by pointing out Luke’s narrative reaches a climax in Rome, but it also ends with a foretaste of the continuing mission to the nations.

Five essays on Paul’s ministry are scattered throughout the volume. First, Eckhard J. Schnabel “Paul the Missionary: Preaching to Everyone, Everywhere” (p. 46-49), including a chart of sixteen phases of Paul’s ministry suggested by Schnabel in his Early Christian Mission (IVP Academic 2004).

Caryn Reeder’s “Paul the Traveler: A Day’s Journey with Paul” (p. 61-61) Braves what it might have been like for Paul and his companions to travel 18 to 20 miles a day. As she points out, staying in an in was always dangerous; they were well known for lice, fleas, robbers and prostitution. During the second missionary journey put often stayed with members of the Christian community.

James W. Thompson’s “Paul the Pastor: Cultivating Faith, Nurturing the Church” touches on themes from his 2006 monograph, Pastoral Ministry according to Paul (Baker). For many of his churches, Paul focused on nurturing church is like a family. He considered the members of his church his children, and he took it upon himself to raise them in the faith.

Randolph Richards contributed a section to Rediscovering Paul (Second Edition, IVP Academic, 2017) on Paul’s letter writing, summarized here as “Paul the Writer: Spreading the Gospel through Everyday Letters” (p. 96-101). While admitting it is difficult to place into a timeline, he lists Galatians is the earliest letter in his chart of the Pauline letters (although the date range overlaps with 1-2 Thessalonians). He discusses letter writing as a collaborative effort, since most of Paul’s letters reflect the ministry team. The section briefly discuss is the process for writing letters, and there are illustrations of papyri documents (although not a letter, the editors chose to use p46 as one of the oldest New Testament manuscripts).

Brian M. Rapske distills his monograph Paul in Roman Custody (Eerdmans, 1994) int two pages, “Paul the Captive: Even in Chains, He Remained Christ’s Ambassador” (p. 131-35).  According to Rapske, “Imprisonment, far from being an interruption to or disqualification from ministry, was a true expression of it” (p. 132).

The book includes four essays each from Caryn A. Reeder, Joseph R. Dodson and Timothy Gombis. In addition to her essay on Paul the Traveler, “Who Were the Pharisees,” “Who Were the Christians Saul Persecuted?” and “Thessalonica: Turning the World Upside Down.”  Two of these sections were entitled “backdrops.” Unfortunately, these are the only two background essays in the book.  Joseph R. Dodson contributes “A New Hope and Divine Direction,” “Lystra: A Visit from the Gods?”, “Troas & Philippi: Who’s Calling?” and “Mediterranean Sea: A Tale of Two Storms.” Gombis wrote “The Jerusalem Council: The Good News Crosses Ethnic Borders,” “Philippi: Defamed & Vindicated in a Roman Colony,” “Miletus: Paul’s Emotional Farewell,” and “Caesarea: Threat, Trial, and Vindication.” Since he has four essays like Reeder and Dodson, I wonder why Gombis was not on the front cover of the book.

David B. Schreiner, has two essays, “Antioch: Paul’s Gateway to the West” and “Corinth: Paul’s Boomtown.” Stephen Witmer also contributes two essays, “Pisidian Antioch: The Good News of Salvation,” and “Troas: A Life-Giving Miracle” as does Andrew Sutherland, “Athens: Preaching Christ in a Place with Many Gods” and “Jerusalem: Receiving the Unexpectedness of God.”

There are single essays from Matthew D. Aernie, “Transformed by the Messiah,” Thomas W. Davis “Cyprus: A Turning Point in the Apostolic Mission” John Barry, “Paphos: The Gospel Advances with Power, Susan Wendel, “Jerusalem: The Challenge of the Gospel.” The essay on “Tyre and Caesarea: ‘The Lord’s Will Be Done’” appears to be anonymous.

Four other essays deserve mention. In “Ephesus: Shaking the Foundations,” Lynn H. Cohick suggests “Paul’s years in Ephesus revealed the typical pressures he faced in several common results of his gospel message” (p. 95). Preaching the gospel provokes opposition, whether this be from Jews who have a different understanding of Judaism than Paul, or Gentiles who simply fail to understand the life-changing power of the gospel.

Ruth Anne Reese Focus his attention on The Collection (“Macedonia & Achaia: Paul’s Collection for the Jerusalem Church”).  She points out that without Paul’s letters, we would not know about this collection for the poor with a generous giving of Paul’s churches (p. 104). In fact, her essay focuses on the importance of generous giving to the poor in Paul’s letters. She does not deal with the perplexing question of what happens to the collection once Paul finally reaches Jerusalem.

Holly Beers deals with Paul’s testimony before the Sanhedrin in Acts 22:30-23:11 (“Jerusalem: Testifying About the Messiah”). By claiming that the real reason that he was on trial is his believe in the resurrection of the dead, Paul is able to argue that the Messiah Jesus makes the reality of God’s kingdom available to everyone.

Joshua W. Jipp contributes on “Malta: Stranded, Shipwrecked, and Still Sharing the Gospel.” This episode is central to the thesis of his recent Saved by Faith and Hospitality (Eerdmans, 2017). According to Jipp, Paul is does not demonizing the locals he encounters on Malta, but rather he operates “within the pagan culture and religious mindset” in order to reach them with the message of the risen Christ (p. 147)

Conclusion. This book is beautifully published as an 9×11 inch hardback with rounded corners. Text pages have large margins with are occasionally used for quotations from the text on the left margin and a running geographical timeline (locations, not dates) on the right margin. Map pages use the whole page and new units have a fold-out page tracking that leg of Paul’s journeys. The individual essays are no more than two or three pages each including illustrations. This is something like a coffee table book in the best sense possible.

By way of criticism, the illustrations are good but could have been improved. The photograph of Saint Paul’s columns at Paphos is beautiful, for example. But I would have preferred to have more full-sized photographs of locations associated with Paul’s travels. There is no real need for a 9×11 print of a David Roberts illustration from 1839 (p. 53) or a seventeenth century painting of Paul (p. 85) while including no photographs of Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea or Athens. I suspect part of the reason to keep the cost of the book low. The image credits at the end of the book indicates all illustrations are public domain except for seventeen, and seven of the image credits listed are from wikicommons.org.

Nevertheless, this is an intriguing book which will be helpful for tracking Paul’s missionary journeys as one reads through the book of Acts.

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.