Book Review: Jared Compton and Andrew Naselli, Three Views on Israel and the Church: Perspectives on Romans 9-11.

Compton, Jared and Andrew David Naselli. Three Views on Israel and the Church: Perspectives on Romans 9-11. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Academic, 2019. 266 pp. Pb; $21.99  Link to Kregel Academic

This is the second volume in Kregel Academic’s Viewpoint series, joining Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews (ed. Herb Bateman, 2007). The relationship of the church and Israel was part of the progressive dispensationalism debate in the 1980s and several edited volumes appeared with sections on the issue. Chad Brand edited a four views book on this topic, Perspectives on Israel and the Church (B&H, 2015). This is the first multi-view book on specifically on the relationship of Israel and the church based solely on Romans 9-11. Each chapter begins by tracing the argument of Romans 9-11, although chapter 11 contains most of the controversial issues.

Michael Vlach represents a traditional dispensationalist view (although he does not use the term) to argue for a future mass conversion of ethnic Israel. Fred G. Zaspel and James M. Hamilton Jr. also argue for a future mass conversion, but one that does not include a role for ethnic Israel. Theirs is a historical premillennialist approach which is informed by biblical theology. In contrast to these similar views, Benjamin Merkle argues Romans 9-11 does not imply a future mass-conversion of ethnic Israel, although a remnant of ethnic Israel will be saved in the future. All of the contributors to this volume work very hard to avoid supersessionism or any hint of the anti-Semitic attitudes of the church for centuries.

Vlach argues Paul understands Israel in in the same way Old Testament prophets did (p. 21). The prophets looked forward to a time when God would act in history to restore his people and he does not see anything in the New Testament that indicates these expectations were canceled or typologically fulfilled in the church. He argues that Paul’s use the Old Testament in these chapters is “largely contextual inconsistent with the intent of the OT prophets” and he does not use typological exegesis to transform Jewish expectations into Christian theology about the church (p. 63). Many readers will recognize this view as dispensationalism, although this is a word Vlach does not use. He also avoids using any language that might sound as if there are two peoples of God, Israel and the Church. In fact, he states “Jesus’s church encompasses both believing Israelites and Gentiles,” but also that “believing Israelites are still identified with Israel as they participate in Jesus’s church” (p. 71).

Zaspel and Hamilton take what they call a biblical-theological approach to Romans 9-11. They argue Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled in Christ and in the church. The first coming of Christ fulfilled a new exodus pattern yet they do understand that another iteration of this pattern will occur at Christ second coming. Gentiles in this “inter-advent period” are provoking the Jews to jealousy so that when Jesus returns there will be a mass conversion of Jews who will enter into the millennium (p. 123). The millennium is a step towards the new heaven and a new earth. Therefore, there is both continuity and discontinuity between what God has done for Israel in the past and what he is doing through the church in the present. A portion of this chapter is devoted to describing biblical theology as a kind of “drama of Scripture” which is focused on Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament story. There is certainly weren’t for this in the Paul’s letters since he describes Christ is the Passover (1 Cor. 5:7) or the manna in the wilderness as typologically fulfilled in communion (1 Cor 10:1-4). However, they stop short of saying everything in the Old Testament is fulfilled in Christ. Referring to the new exodus patter, they look forward to “yet one more iteration of the pattern at Christ second coming (p. 133).

Merkle does not think Romans 9-11 teaches a future mass-conversion of an ethnic Israel, but rather that there will always be a remnant of Israel until the end of time. The trouble for Merkle is the word “mass.” He does not represent the classic reform position that the church has replaced Israel as God’s people, nor does he want to represent any form of replacement theology. He is adamant the church does not replace Israel (p. 205). He agrees with the view that God has not rejected or abandon ethnic Israel, but he qualifies this with the word “completely” (p. 204). Merkle is the only author contributor to this book who attempts to define typology. Citing David Baker, he defines a type as “a biblical event, person or institution which serves as an example for pattern for other events, persons or institutions” (p. 163). A type is therefore a kind of foreshadowing in historical events (the type) of later, intensified events (the antitype). For Merkle, Israel is the type, and Jesus is the anti-type because he is the fulfillment of Israel; he is the “true Israel” because he fulfills “all did the nation of Israel was to have accomplished” (p. 164).

There are a series of exegetical decisions on nuances of the text on which each position must make a decision. First, what does pleroma mean in Romans 11:12 (Israel’s full inclusion) and 11:25 (the fullness of the Gentiles). Is the word quantitative (a full number) or qualitative (“the fullness”)?

Second, the nature of mystery in 11:25 is a key point. For Merkle, the “mystery” need not be mysterious, since it is a hidden thing now revealed, that there is an interdependence of salvation of Gentiles and Israel (p. 193). For Vlach, this mystery is that Israel has experienced a personal hardening which is allowed the Gentiles to come in to salvation, and this is the manner in which Israel will be (49).

Third, the exact nuance of meaning of “until” (achris hou) in 11:25 is important. Does this phrase imply a change of circumstances, so that after the full number of Gentiles is saved then Israel will be saved? Or does this phrase imply a termination: the partial hardening of Israel continues until the fullness of the Gentiles without any change of circumstances afterward? Vlach argues the normal sense of the phrase is a reversal (p. 50); Merkle takes the phrase as a termination (p. 185).

Fourth, the nuance of meaning of “and so” (kai houtos) in 11:26. Should this be read as temporal (and then all Israel will be saved) or modal (in this manner all Israel will be saved.” It may be the case that this is less of an issue since Vlach admits that either a temporal or a modal view would imply a future conversion of Israel (p. 54).

Fifth, what does Paul mean by “all Israel”? If he has ethnic Israel in mind throughout Romans 9-11, would he shift from ethnic Israel in 11:25 to spiritual Israel in 11:26? For Vlach, Zaspel and Hamilton, Paul means ethnic Israel in both cases, or Merkle, Paul refers to ethnic Israel and “remnant Israel”

Sixth, to what does Paul’s citation of Isaiah 59:20-21 refer? Does “the deliverer with come from Zion” a reference to the second coming or does it refer to Christ as deliverer at the cross? The citation certainly has a future sense, however for Merkle, it does not have a future from the perspective of Paul because for Paul it refers to Jesus, who has already delivered us from the wrath to come at the cross (p. 198).

I will now turn to some evaluation of the volume. One issue which the authors only allude to is the promise to ethnic Israel that they will dwell in the land promised to Abraham in peace and prosperity. If ethnic Israel does experience a future mass conversion, will they (literally) be restored to Israel? This is the traditional dispensational view, although Vlach only alludes to this in his chapter. Although Zaspel and Hamilton think Romans 9-11 looks forward to a future mass conversion, they are not interested in the land promises (p. 136 and Vlach’s response, p. 148-49).

I found it somewhat frustrating that the first two positions were so close. As Compton explains in his conclusion, this was certainly not the intention. There were a number of times  I thought the view of Zaspel and Hamilton was more or less dispensational, albeit in a progressive dispensationalist sense. Vlach certainly does not represent a classic dispensationalist in the Scofield tradition, nor does Merkle represent the classic Reformed position. As such, the viewpoints expressed in the book seem as though there an in-house discussion rather than between opposing positions.

A related second observation: the book would have been improved by including one or two more perspectives on Romans 9-11. For example, the book needs to have a representative of the traditional Reformed position, although finding someone to write a chapter espousing replacement theology might be difficult. Chapters written by representatives of newer views of Paul such as the New Perspective on Paul, the apocalyptic view of Paul, or the “Paul was in Judaism” viewpoint would have broadened the discussion of Romans 9-11 considerably.

Nevertheless, this volume is a welcome contribution to the ongoing discussion of these important chapters in the book of Romans.


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

Book Review: Ben Witherington, III, Who God Is: Meditations on the Character of Our God

Witherington, III, Ben. Who God Is: Meditations on the Character of Our God. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2020. 102 pp.; Hb.  $16.99  Link to Lexham Press

In the prologue to the book, Witherington observes that many studies on the character of God focus on adjectives such as “God is holy” or “God is merciful.” Rather than focus on adjectives, he’s proposes to study God’s character by focusing on nouns, God is love, God is light, God is life, God is Spirit, and God is one (the titles of the first five chapters of the book). This focus on nouns also serves to focus discussion on John since many of these statements are found in John’s Gospel or his letters. In the concluding chapter to the book, Witherington points out these nouns about God’s character or all interrelated. The God of the Bible is not only living, he is the God who is loving. It is impossible to discuss the living God without discussing God as Spirit.

Witherington, Who God IsThe first chapter is devoted to the statement “God is love.” Witherington uses 1 John 4:7-21 as his starting point for defining God’s love as well as godly Christian love. This kind of self-sacrificial love is radically different from the kind of love gods had in the pagan world. One of Witherington’s main points on the chapter is real love must be free, but this becomes leads to a long discussion of predestination. Considering this short book is focused on the character of God, I find 10% of the book devoted to a discussion of predestination somewhat distracting. This is a theological important issue, but it is a distraction from the topic of God’s love. Witherington’s Arminian roots are clear in this section.

The final chapter of the book briefly discusses an important theological issue, the problem of evil. If God is loving and all powerful, what about natural disasters or other evils in the world? This is an issue worthy of a monograph by itself, but here Witherington observes that evil results from sin and humans are often the culprits in the perpetration of evil. Yet he recognizes the influence of dark spiritual forces in the world.

Each chapter concludes with some personal reflections and a few study questions. This book is designed for personal devotional reading or as the center of a small group Bible study. He dedicated the book to C. S. Lewis and there is some similarity to the first part of Lewis’s Mere Christianity.

The book is hardback with a dust jacket, a rare thing in publishing today! Since Lexham Press is part of Faithlife, the book is available in Logos Bible Software. The Kindle version is currently only $5.99

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: Matthew D. Kim, A Little Book for New Preachers

Kim, Matthew D. A Little Book for New Preachers: Why and How to Study Homiletics. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2020. 127 pp. Pb. $12.00   Link to IVP Academic  

This new addition to IVP Academic’s Little Book series focuses on preaching and teaching God’s word. Kim previous contributed Preaching with Cultural Intelligence: Understanding the People Who Hear Our Sermons (Baker, 2017) and is co-author of the forthcoming Finding Our Voice: A Vision for Asian North American Preaching (Lexham, 2020).

Little Book For New PreachersIn the introduction to the book Kim observes that he never felt he was a preacher. In seminary, he dreamed of living life in an ivory tower, as any good New Testament Skyler does. God challenged him during his seminary years to take preaching as “a glorious calling,” in the words of D. Martin Lloyd-Jones. For Kim, “Preaching is a privilege. God uses us week after week in the moment of preaching to make disciples who look more like a Jesus Christ…” (121).

Kim breaks the topic into three major sections. First, Why Study Preaching? In this section Kim deals with preaching as a “forgotten discipline.” In fact, preaching has a negative connotation in today’s evangelical church. Most churches are far more interested in developing worship experiences or other programs than the old-fashioned sermon. Many have observed the length of the sermon has been reduced radically in church is over the last 20 years. In fact, I would say most churches see the sermon as the “price you have to pay” to have a musical worship experience. As a result, preaching has become a brief devotional integrated into an entertaining worship hour.  For many pastors, preparing for a sermon is a burden. In order to preach a good sermon, a great deal of effort needs to be made and some pastors do not see this use of time as valuable in the overall busyness of ministry.

Second, Kim outlines the characteristics of faithful preaching. He begins with the discussion of faithful interpretation, with some suggestions on selecting passages topical versus expositional sermons and “twelve interpretive processes” which are necessary for developing a sermon. Based on Kim’s earlier work, includes a section on developing a “cultural exegesis.” The reason this is necessary is that there are wide cultural and generational gaps in most churches. Socio-economic and educational levels in most urban churches are diverse, making it difficult for a preacher to create relevant sermons. Kim quotes Keith Willhite, “listeners determine whether the sermon is relevant” (80). The preacher must take the time to address their congregation and determine what cultures will require immediate cultural exegesis. Essentially, he is calling for a faithful application of the scripture in the context of the culture in which the sermon is delivered.

Third, he develops the characteristics of faithful preachers. In his section on application, Kim encourages preachers to apply the text they are preaching first to themselves. In this section on the character of a faithful preacher, he discusses the warmth and directness necessary for preaching well. He recommends humility, realizing that the preacher is not a Superman, they must be themselves and they must like themselves. In addition, he warns against developing a “cult of personality.”  The final chapter of the book is perhaps the most important. Here he calls on preachers to pray for the Holy Spirit to lead their preparation and their presentation. It is quite likely that most preachers will pray for the spirit to guide them while they are presenting their sermons, but more rarely does the preacher daily pray for the Holy Spirit to lead their preparation time. I will encourage congregations to pray for their pastors in their preparation of sermons. If Scripture is challenging the pastor spiritually, then the pastor will preach the Scripture with much more power on Sunday morning.

Although this book is not a textbook on homiletics, it includes some basics for putting a sermon together. He also has included sufficient bibliography two point interested readers to popular manuals and textbooks for preaching in the twenty-first century.

A Little Book for New Preachers is an inexpensive book and would make an excellent gift to a student who is working hard on a ministry degree, whether in a Christian undergraduate program, seminary or at Ph.D level. Like other books in the series, the text is peppered with quotations from famous preachers and older preachers will find encouragement in this book.

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: Brian J. Tabb, All Things New: Revelation as Canonical Capstone

Tabb, Brian J. All Things New: Revelation as Canonical Capstone. NSBT 48; Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2019. 270pp. Pb; $28.  Link to IVP Academic

Tabb previously published Suffering in Ancient Worldview: Luke, Seneca and 4 Maccabees in Dialogue (LNTS 569; London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2017). He edits the online journal Themelios. This new contribution to the NSBT Series began as he prepared the notes on Revelation for The NIV Zondervan Study Bible (D. A. Carson, ed.; Zondervan, 2015).  In the preface to the book Tabb thanks his former professors G. K. Beale and Craig Koester. Although their influence is clear throughout the volume, Tabb has contributed an excellent introduction to major theological themes present in Revelation which serve as a summation of the whole canon of Scripture.

In his introduction, Tabb briefly discuss is the genre and purpose of Revelation as well as some unusual problems one in counters when interpreting the book. Following Richard Bauckham, Tabb argues Revelation is the “climax of prophecy.” The book of Daniel ends with the command to seal up the book of prophecy, but in Revelation John announces the fulfillment or goal of previous prophecy but also discloses what was previously hidden from the prophets before Christ (19).

The first three chapters discuss the Triune God in Revelation. The book of Revelation the presents God as the sovereign who rules over all of creation and is worshiped unceasingly by his creation. He is the Alpha and Omega who announces glorious redemption and transformation of his creation (21:1). In Revelation, God is at the very center of all reality. The second person of the Trinity is the reigning and returning king Jesus. Revelation is in fact framed with the person of Jesus: it begins as “a revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1) the book concludes with the prayer “amen, come Lord Jesus!” (22:19). Although Tabb connects Revelation’s view of Jesus to Daniel’s “son of man,” Jesus is also the faithful witness in the book of Revelation. Although Jesus is presented as the messianic ruler throughout the book, Revelation’s favorite and most distinctive Christological title is the slaughtered lamb (Rev 5).

The Holy Spirit is described as the “sevens for Spirit of God” and “the spirit of vision.” In each of the letters to the seven churches, the one “who has ears to hear” will listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. Tabb also connects the Holy Spirit to the resurrection of the dead, observing that Ezekiel 37:10 describes the “spirit of life” entering in order to return Israel to life.

Tabb offers two chapters grouped under the heading “Worship and Witness.” The first of these chapters examines the various titles Revelation gives to the people of God. This includes a priestly kingdom, lamp stands, the prophetic witness, conquerors, and a new Israel. He sees the 144,000 as representing the church and he argues the child of the woman in Revelation 12 refers to the church as a new Israel. For Tabb, “the apocalypse clarifies in dramatizes the churches true identity, present struggle in future hope” (110).  The nations also featured prominently in the book of Revelation. In some cases, every tribe and nation are singing praises to the beast and are drunk on Babylon’s wine (13:7-8; 18:3). In other cases, John sees the redeemed as a multitude from every tribe and nation (7:9-10).

In Revelation, true worship focuses on God and the Lamb who share the throne in heaven. Counterfeit worship praises the beast in his image. Tabb argues the first Christian readers of the Apocalypse faced tremendous social and economic pressure to participate in public displays of loyalty and gratitude to the Roman emperor (125). This connects well with the book of Daniel, in which the Jewish people faced pressure in Babylon to conform by eating food sacrificed to idols.

Tabb groups three chapters under the heading of “judgment, salvation and restoration.” In chapter 7 he focuses attention on the exodus as a pattern of judgment and salvation. He argues extensively that imagery in Revelation is drawn from the theophany at Mount Sinai in Exodus 19 (including prayers of the saints, thunder and other seismic activity). The plagues in exodus are the clear background to the seven seals, trumpets, and bowls. Tabb provide several charts paralleling this material. Salvation in Revelation is seen as a new exodus. For example, Revelation 15 refers to a “new song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the lamb.”

Chapter 8 Tabb contrasts Babylon the harlot in Jerusalem the bride. This is one of the most clear structural parallels in the book of Revelation, as illustrated by Tabb with several clear charts showing the parallel material. Since the prophets frequently used a marriage metaphor to describe Israel’s relationship with God, this chapter could have been improved by grounding both the whore of Babylon and the New Jerusalem as a bride in this important Old Testament imagery, as he did with the Exodus (ch. 7) and New Eden (ch. 9).

Chapter 9 of the book develops the image of the New Jerusalem as a new creation. The creation mandate will be fulfilled, in the end of the canon refers back to the beginning. The New Jerusalem is like a final holy of holies, but it is also like a new Eden. But it is more than that, this even is not just restored or regain, it is a transformed Eden. As Tabb observes, the original garden has been expanded and intensified.

The final chapter of the book examines the theme trustworthy testimony in final pages of the book of Revelation. Jesus is called faithful and true in Revelation 19:9, 11 and John’s testimony is faithful and true because he has reported what he has seen.

Conclusion. Tabb achieves is his goal of demonstrating Revelation uses the entire canon of Scripture and functions as a “canonical capstone.” The author of Revelation intentionally drew upon themes from the Old Testament in order to show that what God has planned for the future will sum up and fulfill what God had intended from the very beginning.

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: Wesley Hill, The Lord’s Prayer: A Guide to Praying to Our Father

Hill, Wesley. The Lord’s Prayer: A Guide to Praying to Our Father. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2019. 120 pp.; Hb.  $12.99  Link to Lexham Press

Like Ben Meyer’s The Apostles’ Creed, this new book in Lexham’s Christian Essentials series focuses on a well-known and beloved section of Scripture, the Lord’s Prayer. This series intends to cover foundational teachings and practices of the ancient church. Every generation has been nurtured by the practice of prayer, often using the model of the Lord’s Prayer.

Wesley Hill, The Lord's PrayerHill is associate professor of biblical studies at Trinity School for Ministry, Ambridge, Pennsylvania. He has previously published Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality (Zondervan, 2010) and Paul and the Trinity: Persons, Relations, and the Pauline Letters (Eerdmans, 2015).

This short book is a series of meditations on each line of the Lord’s Prayer. In the introduction to the book, “Your Father in Secret,” Hill points out Jesus’s prayer in Matthew 6:5-8 was different than the prayers of the Jewish experts in the law as well as the overly theatrical prayers of the pagan Gentile world. Jesus’s prayer is a template a pattern to follow, a “model for approaching God with childlike confidence that he will hear” (4).

Hill divides the prayer into seven petitions, taking each of the phrases of the prayer in order. In most chapters he relates the petition to several Old Testament texts before setting the words in the overall biblical theology present in the New Testament. For example, when praying “our Father in heaven,” Hill begins with God as Father in Isaiah 64:8 and then relates this to Paul’s use of “abba father” in Galatians and Romans.

Hill’s meditations occasionally make use of classic writers from church history (Augustine, Calvin), modern theologians (Sarah Ruden, Rowan Williams), current events such as the Coptic martyrs beheaded in Libya in 2015, and occasionally pop culture.

Finally, Hill offers a brief coda, “Praying the Lord’s Prayer with Rembrandt.” He reflects on Henri Nouwen’s description of Rembrandt’s painting the Return of the Prodigal Son. In his own practice of prayer, Hill has come to relate each line of the Lord’s Prayer to the image of the son kneeling before the father to beg forgiveness and the compassion of the father as he reaches to embrace his son. By drawing parallels between the Parable of the Prodigal Son, as imagined by the Rembrandt painting, Hill suggests one will find themselves praying the Lord’s Prayer in a new way.

Each book in this series is an attractive 5×7 inch hardback book. However, the book is quite short. There are only slightly over 100 pages in the body of the book, but every chapter begins with three pages of illustration, so the actual page count is much lower. This makes for a quick reading, but perhaps the book could have been edited differently to allow for more space in each of the chapters.


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: Peter J. Leithart, The Ten Commandants: A Guide to the Perfect Law of Liberty

Leithart, Peter J. The Ten Commandants: A Guide to the Perfect Law of Liberty. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2020. 146 pp.; Hb.  $15.99  Link to Lexham Press

Peter J. Leithart’s The Ten Commandments is the latest contribution to Lexham’s Christian Essentials series. It joins Ben Meyer’s The Apostles’ Creed and Wesley Hill’s The Lord’s Prayer as a readable series of meditations on well-known portions of Scripture.

Peter Leithart, Ten CommandmentsLeithart currently serves as president of Theopolis Institute for Biblical, Liturgical, & Cultural Studies in Birmingham, Alabama. Leithart is a prolific author on a wide range of topics including a theological commentary on 1 & 2 Kings in the Brazos Theological Commentaries on the Bible (Baker 2006), Solomon Among the Postmoderns (Baker, 2008), Athanasius (Baker Academic, 2011) and introductions to Jane Austen and Fyodor Dostoevsky in the Christian Encounters Series (Thomas Nelson, 2011). Leithart is a regular contributor at First Things and his blog is on Patheos, although it has not been updated recently.

The book begins with two introductory chapters. First, in “Father to Son” Leithart wonders if there is good reason to read the Ten Commandments as God’s word for Christians. He points out the New Testament quote the Decalogue, church fathers use it, Thomas Aquinas wrote a commentary on it, the Reformers included it in their catechisms, and Christian prayer books include it as part of Christian worship. Churches even carve these words on their walls. For Leithart, reading the Bible canonically demonstrates the Decalogue is in fact Christian scripture. As he concludes “Is the Decalogue for us? We might as well ask, is Jesus for us?” (6).

In “Two Tables” Leithart briefly introduce is the Ten Commandments as an introduction to the Jewish law. He observes that the Ten Commandments address every area of human life. This includes “worship, time keeping, family, violence, sex, property, speech, and desire” (17). He considers the division of the Decalogue into two columns of five commands each is significant. After surveying a number of places in Scripture where the number five is used, he observes the Temple itself architecturally symbolizes the movement of God’s word from you always throne, through his house, and into the world. The Commandments reflect this pattern.

The following ten chapters of the book treat each of the Ten Commandments. Each chapter is a brief six or seven pages, not counting two pages illustrating the commandment (the same stained-glass Moses appears opposite the text of the commandment followed by a third page with another illustration repeated from the book cover; three pages in each chapter are non-text!) Despite their brevity, Leithart unpacks the canonical ethical implications of each of the Ten Commandments.

A major goal of this book is to connect the commands in the Decalogue to Christian practice. It is therefore not surprising many of Leithart’s observations concern Christian practice. For example, in discussing the Sabbath rules Leithart sees a continuing practical relevance for the practice of Sabbath. All traditions seem to recognize the necessity of schedule time for worship, and the wisdom of the rhythm of rest and labor. He does not want to spiritualize the Sabbath into some bland analogy for worship, there is something spiritual refreshing about practicing a ral Sabbath.

Leithart relates the sixth commandment, do not murder, to the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, In Matthew 5:21-26 Jesus warns against hatred and anger based on this commandment. Discussing the seventh commandment, do not commit adultery, Leithart draws the obvious application to emphasis on “sexual autonomy” in modern ethical discussions. He says, “every perverse form of sexuality distorts the creative designs of marriage” (90). Here again Jesus has expanded this commandment in the Sermon on the Mount to include lusting in one’s heart. Leithart draws an appropriate analogy to the use of pornography and points out God has always treated in sexual activity as a matter of public concern. Some sexual sins were crimes, and very serious crimes because they affected the entire community.

Like the other books in the series, the physical book is an attractive 5×7 format, ideal for personal devotional reading or use in a small group Bible study. The text in this volume is more substantial than the others in the series and Leithart includes copious endnotes directing interested readers to resources for further study and reflection.



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: F. Scott Spencer, Luke (Two Horizons Commentary)

Spencer, F. Scott. Luke. Two Horizons New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2019. 831 pp. Pb; $50.   Link to Eerdmans

Spencer serves as professor of New Testament and biblical interpretation at Baptist Theological Seminary, Richmond, Virginia. His monograph Salty Wives, Spirited Mothers, and Savvy Widows: Capable Women of Purpose and Persistence in Luke’s Gospel (Eerdmans, 2012; read the 2012 interview “Confessions of a Male Feminist Biblical Scholar” at Eerdworld on this book.) He has also contributed a commentary on Acts in the Readings series (Bloomsbury1999), a volume on Luke and Acts in Abingdon’s Interpreting Biblical Texts Series (2011), Journeying through Acts: A Literary-Cultural Reading (Baker Academic, 2014) and the Song of Songs volume in the Song of Songs in the Wisdom Commentary Series (Michael Glazier, 2017).

The book begins with twenty pages introduction defining Spencer’s methodology for the commentary and a brief introduction to his view of theological interpretation. Spencer is not interested in writing a compendium of previous work on Luke. He avoids the tedious repetition other commentaries. He strives toward a “rigorously sequential development, mindful of interpretive journey” (5). The commentary has very little interest in redaction criticism. Spencer is not concerned with how Luke handled his sources, rather he wants to let “Luke be Luke on his own terms” (6).

Nevertheless, the commentary must deal with some introductory matters. Spencer chooses to avoid usual lengthy introduction typically found in commentaries. He is concerned about being caught in a circular argument. If he describes Luke’s Gospel in detail at the beginning of the book, then the commentary which follows is going to support those conclusions. He uses the example of authorship: If we assume “Doctor Luke” wrote the Gospel then we will be inclined to see medical language in the Gospel or read the healing stories differently as a result of that assumption. The fact is the book is anonymous and it is far better to allow that anonymous author speak for themselves. He does think the same author wrote the book of Acts, but he is not convinced the author intended a two-volume work from the beginning. This means reading backward from Acts to Luke is not particularly helpful. There is no evidence to two books were ever read together (there was no “boxed set” of Luke-Acts in the ancient world). This means the Luke commentary should not anticipate the sequel.

Spencer suggests the author of the third Gospel wrote in elegant style which suggests the author was “an educated, cosmopolitan Greek writer” (21). Although scholars frequently consider him to be a Gentile, but he could very well have been a Hellenistic Jew like Saul of Tarsus. Nothing can be known about the addressee Theophilus and the provenance of Ephesus is “as good a guess as any” (22). Since the author is at least one generation removed from the eyewitnesses, he suggests a date of 80-90. Following Parsons, Spencer describes Luke as a “historical storyteller” (639).

The body of the commentary does not include a new translation of the text. All Greek and Hebrew words appear with transliteration. Although there is some interaction with grammatical and lexical issues, this commentary is primarily on the English text. Spencer approaches the texts by means of larger pericopae. His interaction with other scholarship is minimal and mostly in the footnotes. Occasionally includes brief theological and pastoral comments on the meaning of the text. But overall, Spencer is a guide helping the reader to understand the text of the Gospel of Luke. This is an extremely readable commentary.

Like other volumes in the series, the book is divided into two parts, interpretation and theological reflection. Unlike the Matthew volume in the Two Horizons series, the commentary forms the bulk of the volume (608 pages). The biblical theology section is only ninety-three pages compared to about half the pages in the Matthew commentary in this series). He lays out a “minifesto” in the introduction outlining six key planks in his view of theological interpretation of Scripture. First, theological interpretation of Scripture should be theologically centered. By this Spencer highlights Luke has a narrative about God and his dealings with his people. The gospel is a theological biographical history written by an insider, someone who believes! Second, theological interpretation of Scripture should be philosophically expanded. The Gospel of Luke has an epistological and sophological thrust. Jesus embodies progressive knowledge of God’s will and God’s wisdom. Third, theological interpretation of Scripture should be canonically connected. Since all writings are intertextual, Luke did not write in ignorance of other texts. He wrote alongside other canonical gospels and the writings of the apostle Paul. These can be used to shed light on Luke without suggesting literary dependence.Fourth, theological interpretation of Scripture should be salvifically aimed. Second Timothy 3: 16-17 and John 5:39 declare that the purpose of studying Scripture is salvation. And this is a key theme for the Gospel of Luke. There is a “soteriological principle” in the gospel as tracing God’s saving actions in Christ. Fifth theological interpretation of Scripture should be a clear ecclesially located. Primary locus of Scripture interpretation is in the church. Readers read Scripture in some ecclesiological context. Spencer himself is a moderate Baptist with considerable interaction with others faith in both church and Academy. This context informs his theological interpretation. Sixth, theological interpretation of Scripture should be emotionally invested. This seems like an unusual point to include sense writing is logical but emotional. Biblical characters did not come with full psychological profiles. However, Luke’s Jesus is emotionally invested with God in God’s saving mission to his people.

His biblical theology chapter is divided into six sections. First Spencer discusses theological knowing in Luke’s Gospel. Here he focuses on the resurrection stories which demonstrate legs open and earthly theology embedded in the risen Jesus. There is no secret knowledge here reserved for insiders.

Second, Trinitarian theology is the bread and butter of commentaries using a Theological Interpretation of Scripture methodology.  Spencer points out several “Trinitarian moments” in the prayers of Jesus. In addition, there are several examples of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit in the context of sending. This includes the sending of the sun, but also the sending of the disciples.

Third, the section on “spiritual theology” focuses on Christian spirituality. Spencer is clear that spirituality should not be some sort of a free-for-all or anything goes. It ought to be guided by the Holy Spirit and scripture. He sees a hint of desert spirituality in Luke, Jesus is often described as being alone in the wilderness for prayer. An additional feature of Luke’s spiritual theology is his Focus on the human condition as lost. It is Jesus’s spiritual quest to find those who are lost. The section also includes a “rehabilitation of Martha” (667-74). This is a theological reflection on spirituality of both Mary and Martha within the Baptist tradition.

Fourth, in the section entitled creational theology Spencer points out several creation allusions in the gospel, which in turn allude to the redeeming events of the Exodus. In Luke, redemption is enacted through the sacraments, faith and works. Redemption flows out of creation has the natural work of a holy, mighty and gracious Creator-Redeemer-Lord. Sacraments such as Sabbath and Jubilee reinforce the creation-Exodus link. As Spencer admits, “none of this sounds very Baptist” (681). This leads to a lengthy discussion of how Baptist theology and ecumenicalism intersect.

Fifth, by “social theology” Spencer means social ethics (693).  The largest portion of this section of the book is a survey of Old Testament social ethics. Jesus stands within the tradition of the prophets as he reaches out to the poor, tax collectors, prostitutes, and even women. But Spencer is also quick to point out that to tag Jesus as a Marxist, a socialist, a revolutionary, or a feminist is anachronistic. That he is clear that any theology that does not include social ethics is not a full Christian theology.

Finally, passional theology emphasizes the emotional stir of the gospel. He begins with the emotional pathos of the profits, any outlines this over several pages. In the Old Testament “God gets thoroughly emotionally caught up in the lives of people” but he is never carried away into a rash or harmful or in reasonable emotion. Similarly, Jesus is not impossible in the gospel in fact he is described as compassionate towards his people. Spencer examines the Garden prayer in which Jesus his emotions come to the foreground.

Conclusion. Each volume of the Two Horizons series has a slightly different approach to doing Theological Interpretation of Scripture and how the author approaches theological issues which arise in the exposition of the book. Spencer’s commentary is a useful contribution to the study of Luke which does not get bogged down in technical details of redaction criticism, not is he overly focused on historical details. The commentary is a clear explanation of the details of the text, but he is always interested in drawing out the theological application of Luke’s presentation of Jesus.


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

Reviews of other commentaries in this series: