Book Review: Eckhard J. Schnabel, Jesus in Jerusalem: The Last Days

Schnabel, Eckhard J. Jesus in Jerusalem: The Last Days. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. 680 pp. Hb; $60.   Link to Eerdmans

Eckhard Schnabel contributed a commentary on Acts in the Zondervan Exegetical New Testament Commentary (2011), Mark in the Tyndale Series (IVP Academic, 2017) and Romans in the Historical Theological Interpretation series (in German; Wuppertal: SCM & R. Brockhaus). With David W. Chapman, Schnabel published The Trial and Crucifixion of Jesus: Texts and Commentary (WUNT/2 344; Tubingen: Mohr Mohr Siebeck, 2015; Hendrickson, 2019 forthcoming). Jesus in Jerusalem: The Last Days is similar to his Early Christian Mission (2 vol., IVP Academic 2004) in that Schnabel collects detailed notes on the people and places mentioned in the four Passion narratives. Essentially, Schnabel is interested in identifying who did what, where they did it and when it happened.

In the introduction to the book Schnabel argues this simple outline is an essential approach to help readers understand texts like the Passion Narratives. He rejects form criticism and more recent historical Jesus methods which employ the criteria of authenticity. Further, he wants to avoid the postmodern view that all history is subjective. He observes the fact very few practicing historians are impressed by philosophical objections to the possibility of truth in history (p. 4).

More positively, he reads the Gospels as similar to the Greek bios. The Gospels are expressions of faith, but they also provide examples from Jesus’s life and teaching which preserve the memory of Jesus. Here Schnabel builds on the work of Richard Bauckham and others who have focused on the significance of eyewitnesses for the transmission and preservation of the words and deeds of Jesus. To a large extent, many of the persons surveyed in chapter two of this book were eye-witnesses to the events of Jesus’s last week, and the earliest traditions concerning the authorship of the Gospels claimed Matthew and John were eyewitnesses. Schnabel believes this method of reading the “canonical Gospels as historical biographies of the life of Jesus that are based on the testimony of eyewitnesses and treating them as good historical sources is neither gullible nor uncritical” (p. 7).

Remarkably, Schnabel uses data from all four Gospels. For some this might not be a surprise, but in New Testament studies John’s Gospel is often dismissed as lacking historical details. For Schnabel, John’s chronological details are important (“six days before the Passover” in John 12:1, for example, p. 153). He includes John’s unique contributions to the Passion Narrative such as Jesus washing the disciple’s feet (John 13) and the farewell discourse (John 15:1-17:26).

Since he includes data from all four Gospels, the book can be read as a “harmony of the gospels.” An unfortunate result of this method is the flattening of the four gospels into one story so that the individual theological emphases of the writers are lost. But since this is a historical study of the last week of Jesus’s life not a biblical theology of any one of the Gospel writers, this observation is does not detract from the value of Schnabel’s work.

The first three chapters of the book can be read like a Bible Dictionary since they identify the people and places associated with Jesus’s final week in Jerusalem. The first chapter briefly identifies seventy-two people one encounters when reading the four versions of the passion stories in the Gospels. Some are named individuals like Annas, Caiaphas, Barabbas or Simon of Cyrene. Others sections treat groups of people, Pharisees, Sadducees, or experts in the Law. A few are rather generic, such as the gentiles, pilgrims, crowds, or the blind and lame. Schnabel includes brief units on the “rich people” in contrast to the widow who donates two coins (Mark 12:41). There are even brief paragraphs on obscure persons like the man with the water jar (Mark 14:13) or the soldier with the sponge (Mark 15:36).

Chapter two describes seventeen places, including larger areas such as the city Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives. Schnabel usually includes some discussion of the modern identification of locations such as Gethsemane, Golgotha and Jesus’s tomb. There are units on the residences of Annas, Caiaphas, and Herod and the location of the Sanhedrin building. These are important for reconstructing the trials of Jesus and his movements after his arrest. Throughout this section Schnabel uses detailed historical data to describe the locations mentioned in the Passion narrative.

In his brief third chapter Schnabel lays out his timeline for the events of Jesus’s final week in Jerusalem. He dates the crucifixion to A.D. 30 (Nisan 14, April 7-8) rather that A.D. 33 (Nisan April 3). He then offers a short description of what happened on each day, concluding with Sunday, Nisan 16 (April 9-10). He includes suggested hours of the day as well.

Chapter four traces the events of Jesus’s final days in Jerusalem from the anointing at Bethany to his resurrection appearances to the disciples. This is by far the longest chapter of the book, covering twenty-four topics in 223 pages. Since the topics are arranged chronologically, this chapter can be read sequentially as a commentary on the events of the Passion Week. Since the burden of the book is historical research rather than exegesis, there is little textual work in this chapter other than identifying Greek words. Schnabel sets important events like the Temple action into an Old Testament context. He states the symbolic action on the Temple Mount “was not anti-temple or anti-sacrifice. It was an action intended to announce the beginning of the messianic era” (p. 164).

He often refers to Second Temple literature in order to illustrate the events. When discussing the trial of Jesus he compares the accusations against Jesus as a mesit and maddiakah (a “seducer”) by comparing Deut 13:5-11 and the Temple Scroll (11Q Temple LIV, 8-LV, 10). When discussing the possibility the messiah was described as “Son of God” Schnabel cites 1Q28, 4Q174, and 4Q246 at length (p. 257-58). He interacts with Greco-Roman literature when necessary, such as Seneca’s description of crucifixion (Ep. 101.14, p. 315).

The final chapter of the book is a short theological essay on the significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Schnabel concludes that Jesus exercised messianic, royal authority in his final week, a fact recognized by Pilate when he ordered “King of the Jews” to be written as the charge against Jesus (p. 377).  With respect to the theological meaning of Jesus’s death, Schnabel begins by reflecting on the suffering of God on the cross and concludes the deal was a sacrificial death “for sinners,” a substitutionary death which turned away the wrath of God (Romans 3:24-25; 5:1-2; 8:1). Using the sermons in the book of Acts, Schnabel argues in the earliest Christian preaching the resurrection did not supersede Jesus’s crucifixion (p. 390). Finally, Schnabel reflects on Jesus’s mission and the mission of his followers. Similar to his Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and Methods (IVP Academic, 2008), Schnabel points to Luke’s commission of the disciples to go out from Jerusalem as witnesses “to the end of the world” (Acts 1:8). Similarly, Matthew concludes his gospel with a command to go, “making disciples” (Matt 28:18-20).

In addition, Schnabel includes thirteen excurses on details of the Passion Week which do not fit his people places and events scheme. For example, he has short notes on the Cursing of the Fig Tree and Peter’s Denials of Jesus. Some discuss historical details, such as Historicity of Annas’s Interrogation of Jesus or the Hour of Jesus’ crucifixion. Several of these sections concern the Greco-Roman context of the Passion Narrative, such as Crimes against the Emperor, The Passover Pardon and Roman Legal Precedent, Carrying the Crossbeam in Greco-Roman Sources, and Jesus’ Shout in Greco-Roman Perspective. He has a brief note on the ending of Mark, although it explains the shorter ending rather than a discussion of how the longer ending developed nor is there anything on the textual history of the longer ending.

The book includes occasional photographs, diagrams, and tables. Schnabel provides extensive endnotes (179 pages). For example, in chapter one there are 652 endnotes for only 90 pages. Although I prefer footnotes, endnotes make this book easy to consult on some detail of the Passion Narrative, further details are found in the notes. The book also includes a detailed bibliography (49 pages) and indices of authors, subjects, Scripture and other ancient writings references (51 pages). This means the body of the book is only 399 pages.

Conclusion. Schnabel’s Jesus in Jerusalem is a major contribution to the study of the final chapters of the four Gospels. The detail provide is staggering, yet the layout of the book is uncomplicated and comfortable for the non-expert.


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

Book Review: Jonathan G. Kline, A Proverb a Day in Biblical Hebrew

Kline, Jonathan G. A Proverb a Day in Biblical Hebrew. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2019. 392 pp.; Pb; $29.95.  Link to Hendrickson

Kline has already compiled Keep Up Your Biblical Hebrew in Two Minutes A Day and Keep Up Your Biblical Aramaic in Two Minutes A Day. This new volume provides one proverb a day with glosses and reading helps from Proverbs 10:1-22:16.

As Kline says in his introduction, proverbs are best internalized by “savoring them slowly in small quantities.” This is because proverbs are often difficult to understand. They are cryptic and ambiguous, and they are especially difficult to translate. His goal in this volume is to help students, clergy, teachers, and scholars who have not yet read much of the book of Proverbs in Hebrew begin to explore how these sayings work in Hebrew” (xiii). This is not a commentary and Kline does not provide any guidance for translating beyond lexical and syntactic glosses, not does he attempt any explanation of the cultural and historical background to obscure elements.

To produce this reader, Kline sorted 365 proverbs from Proverbs 10:1-22:16. The section was chosen since it is labeled the Proverbs of Solomon and it has 375 proverbs. Kline omits ten which are very similar. For example, he omits 11:4 since it is similar to 10:2; 15:22 since it is similar to 11:14. Another advantage to this section of the book of Proverbs is each proverb is formatted into two parallel lines. In Hebrew, the lines are usually three to five words long.

In some ways this is a graded reader. Kline selected proverbs with more common vocabulary for the earlier in the book, less frequent vocabulary towards the end. But there is no attempt to sort the proverbs by morphology and syntax. Although most of the vocabulary on day three is common for Proverbs, the noun עָרוּם is only found twice outside of Proverbs 12 and 14, nine times in the entire Hebrew Bible. A student also needs to know what to do with a hiphel infinitive construct. For most students with a semester or two of Hebrew, this book provides enough to read with clarity.

Each page contains a single Hebrew proverb divided into two lines. Each word is glossed and identified morphologically if necessary. In the example to the left, Proverbs 15:31 is divided into two lines, the first line has three units and the second line only two. The first word אֹזֶן is a very common word (ear, 155x) and does not need a gloss since this is the lexical form. The verb שֹׁ֖מַעַת is identified as a Qal participle feminine singular from שׁמע. Kline glosses this common verb as a participle, (one) that hears/listens/heeds. The final two words of the line are glossed together, תּוֹכַ֣חַת חַיִּ֑ים reproof / rebuke of life. Although literally this is “rebuke of life” it is an idiom for reproof. In the second line of the proverb, בְּקֶ֖רֶב חֲכָמִ֣ים is taken as a unit, קֶרֶב plus the inseparable preposition as the sense of “in” or “in the midst of” and חֲכָמִ֣ים is the masculine plural form of the common noun חָכָם. The verb תָּלִֽין is the Qal imperfect 3fs form of לין, to lodge/stay/spend the night.

Put this together, Kline translates Proverbs 15:31 “an ear listens to a life-giving rebuke, it makes its home among the comprehending.” This English translation is not at the bottom of the page. To keep students from using the English as a crutch he puts his translation at the bottom of the third page to avoid “accidental” peaking. As is clear from the previous paragraph, his translations are more periphrastic than expected. As he explains in the introduction, he is “drawing deeply from the rich reservoir of English vocabulary” to produce a translation which is “fresh, memorable, and—by dint of their novelty—defamiliarizing, thought provoking, and even fun” (xx).  This is an important feature since Kline wants the reader to stop and ponder the two simple lines of Hebrew, to chew on them for a few moments and meditate on what they mean in a variety of contexts and circumstances.

The book includes an alphabetical index and a frequency index. The latter would enable a student to memorize common vocabulary in Proverbs. For example, there are only the fourteen words occurring 25 times or more in the book (even a beginning Hebrew student will know most of them). The book is bound as in green cloth over boards with an attractive green pattern on the front and back. What is lacking is a string bookmark typical of a Bible.

This book certainly achieves the goal of providing a student with the necessary information to read a proverb a day and it will facilitate meditation on these important verses in Proverbs.


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


Book Review: Craig A. Evans, and David Mishkin, eds. A Handbook on the Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith

Evans, Craig A. and David Mishkin, eds. A Handbook on the Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2019. 354 pp.; Pb; $24.95.  Link to Hendrickson

This book attempts to be “a comprehensive yet concise primer on the Jewish roots of the Christian faith.” The book therefore contains a series of short articles on aspects of Judaism written from the perspective of Jewish Christianity. Co-editor David Mishkin is a faculty member of Israel College of the Bible in Netanya, Israel and contributor Erez Soref serves as president of ICB. Many contributors to this collection are also associated with ICB, but there are several sections written by New Testament scholars who have done significant work on their assigned topic. In addition to Craig Evans as an editor and contributor of two articles, there are three essays from Andreas Köstenberger, two each from George Guthrie, Scot McKnight, Brian Rosner, and Jason Matson and a section on early devotion to Jesus by Larry Hurtado.

The book has thirteen chapters divided between four sections; each chapter has three to five subsections written by various contributors. Since this is a handbook, the subsections are brief and can be read individually. The book uses in-text citations and each section concludes with a Works Cited. These references can be used for further study of the individual topics.

The titles for the four sections use a metaphor of an olive tree, beginning with the Soil (exploring the Jewish ground from which the Christian faith developed), the Roots (tracing the Jewish world, life and teaching of Jesus), the Trunk (developing the Jewishness of the disciples of Jesus and the apostle Paul) and finally the Branches (the parting of the ways between Judaism and Christianity).

In the first part of the book surveys the Jewish soil from which Christianity developed. The first chapter examines God’s plan for Israel by tracing various covenants in the Hebrew Bible. After an introductory chapter on the kingdom and covenants, there are short descriptions of the Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic and New Covenants. Seth Postell discusses the Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 15 and 17, concluding “the Abrahamic covenant provides God’s unconditional commitment to restore the blessing through the provision of the seed and the land” (16).

Chapter 2 reviews God’s plan for the nations in the Torah, Prophets and Writings. The essays in this chapter recognize the nations as Israel’s enemy and enticer, but also the salvation of the nations “in the last days.” Like the second chapter, chapter three reviews messianic prophecies in the Torah, Prophets and Writings. The section on the Torah focuses on the “prophet like Moses.” Brian Kinzel’s section on messianic psalms is an excellent overview, including both Jewish and Christian interpretations of these Psalms. Craig Evans contributes a frustratingly brief section on the New Testament use of the Old. After about a page on the Dead Sea Scrolls, Evans divides the section into Matthew and John (“the two most Jewish gospels”), Mark and Luke, and Paul and Hebrews. Evans has a second contribution on the Jews and Judaism in the Gospel if John in chapter 9. It is impossible to do justice to Paul’s use of the Old Testament in a half page. Although the handbook has a chapter on Paul, there is nothing more directly on his use of the Old Testament. Likewise, the complex exegesis of the book of Hebrews needs further explanation. Fortunately chapter 9 has a good section on Hebrews by George Guthrie.

The fourth and fifth chapters deal with a few details of Second Temple Judaism. Chapter four surveys the “appointed times” (Sabbath, Passover, Shavuot, Purim and Hanukkah). For each special day, the authors provide a synopsis of the day in the Hebrew Bible, some discussion of the special days in the New Testament, and a short note on the practice today. Chapter 5 is entitled Tabernacle and Temple, although the chapter comprises two sections on the atonement and salvation in the Old Testament. A third section by George Guthrie concerns Jesus and the tabernacle/temple. He connects Second Temple period expectations of an eschatological Temple with Jesus’s apocalyptic prophecies and the “cleansing” of the Temple. Further, he draws attention to Paul’s teaching of the church as a temple of God (Eph 2:19-22) and Jesus’s replacement of the Temple in the Gospel of John. This section could have including the superiority of Jesus to the tabernacle in Hebrews and the apocalyptic replacement of the Temple in Revelation.

The second section of the book is focused on the life and teaching of Jesus as a representative of the Jewish world. Chapter 6 covers the archaeology, literature, social groups and institutions of Second Temple Judaism, including a section on Jewish messianic expectations prior to the time of Jesus. Sheila Gyllenberg contributes an excellent article on the archaeology of Jesus, briefly summarizing place names and material remains which bear on Jesus research. She contributes a second section in the chapter on the Jewish literature of the period, Jim Sibley surveys Second Temple social groups and Andreas Stutz has sections on Jewish institutions (synagogue, temple, etc) and Messianic expectations in the Second Temple period. After a short comment on general messianic expectations, he divides the expectations into three sections, Hellenistic Judaism, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Rabbinic Judaism.

Chapter 7 examines the “Jewish life and identity of Jesus” beginning with Craig Evans’s overview of the ministry of Jesus, Andreas Stutz gives a short piece on the Son of man in Daniel 7.  Stutz points out Daniel 7:13-14 was “unequivocally related to the messiah” and that Jesus applied the title Son of Man to “exclusively and unambiguously to his return (see Matt 24:30; 26:64, Luke 21:26-27)” (158). Andreas Köstenberger contributes two sections to this chapter, one on the I Am statements in John and another on the trials and crucifixion. Finally in this section, Larry Hurtado gives a brief summary of his view on early Christian devotion to Jesus. For Hurtado, although Jesus was revered during his ministry, devotion to Jesus as God “seems to have been a major escalation in which the risen Jesus was given the kinds of reverence that are otherwise restricted to God” (175).

After a short section by Köstenberger on Jesus as a rabbi, chapter 8 discusses two examples of Jesus’ teaching, the Lord’s Prayer and the Sermon on the Mount (both sections by Scot McKnight). McKnight points out Jesus was not a moral philosopher in the Greek (or modern) traditions, but a Jew, and Jewish ethics derive ultimately from God. Jesus’s teaching is therefore based on the law, prophets and wisdom (189). Russell Morton has a short section on one of Jesus’s most Jewish forms of teaching, the parables.

The third section of the book (“the trunk”) is devoted to the development of Christianity first by the Jewish disciples of Jesus (ch. 9) and then by Paul (ch. 10). The goal of both these chapters is to highlight the Jewishness of the earliest followers of Jesus. As Jim Sibley points out, the early church “did not need to conduct a careful search for its Jewish roots. It was entirely Jewish!” (206). For many Christians, Paul is an example of a Gentile Christianity which rejected the Law. But as Brian Rosner says in his section on Paul in modern scholarship, Paul was a Jew “who believed Jesus of Nazareth, Israel’s long-awaited Messiah, had called him to the servant, prophetic, and priestly task of heralding the gospel to the nations” (235). Although Paul is clear the Gentile followers of Jesus are not “under the Law,” he often has a positive view of the Law (242). Chapter 11 is devoted resurrection as key to the Jewish message of Christianity. Resurrection was anticipated in the Old Testament, developed in the Second Temple period and was the central to Paul’s theology.

The final section of the book concern the parting of the ways in early Judaism (David Mishkin), early Christianity (Jason Matson), and the Middle Ages (Ray Pritz). Although neither Mishkin nor Matson point to a specific event which forced Judaism and Christianity to develop in separate directions, Christianity’s developing Christology and devotion to Jesus as God forced Jews to consider Christians as blasphemous (286, following Larry Hurtado and Michael Bird).

The final chapter of the book offers some suggestions for the “mending of the ways.” Erez Soref traces the roots of the Messianic movement in modern Israel. This movement includes both Jews and Arabs (302), an alliance which is not without its problems. Messianic Jews and evangelical Arabs often view one another with suspicion, but hope to have a “weighty missiological effect on a war-torn land” (306).

Conclusion. A Handbook on the Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith is just that, a handbook. As such, the articles are tantalizingly brief, but the authors provide sufficient bibliographical material to point interested readers in the right direction. Since many of the writers are associated with Israel College of the Bible or other Messianic Jewish organizations, some readers will find the perspective of the book too narrow. Given the purpose of the book to draw attention to the Jewish roots of Christianity, this should not be a reason to avoid the book. For readers interested in exploring the Jewish Christianity from the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, this Handbook will be a valuable guide.

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

Book Review: John Goldingay, Old Testament Ethics: A Guided Tour

Goldingay, John. Old Testament Ethics: A Guided Tour. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2019. 278 pp. Pb; $28.00.   Link to IVP Academic

Goldingay describes this book as a spin-off from his popular commentary series The Old Testament for Everyone (SPCK and WJKP). Like N. T. Wright’s New Testament for Everyone these short commentaries targeted the average Bible reader looking for some guidance in personal Bible study. Old Testament Ethics has a similar goal. The book contains forty-three short reflections divided into five parts. Each chapter is a brief self-contained reflection on some aspect of Old Testament Ethics. Each contains key texts using Goldingay’s own First Testament translation (IVP Academic, 2018) and concludes with a few questions for reflection and discussion. The book is written a familiar style and lacks the sort of scholarly trappings which would make the book difficult for the non-specialist. This format makes the book ideal for personal devotional reading or in a small group Bible study setting.

The first section collects eight character traits a person needs to lead an ethical life. These include Godlikeness, compassion honor, anger trust, truthfulness, forthrightness and contentment. In the second section of the book, he examines nine aspects of life (mind and heart, wealth, violence, shalom, justice, reparation, Sabbath, animals, and work). The third part of the book deals with relationships with friends, neighbors, women, husband and wives, etc. In the fourth section of the book Goldingay comments on a series of texts: Genesis 1 and 2, Leviticus 25, Deuteronomy 15 and 20, Ruth, Psalm 72 and the Song of Songs. Like part four, the fifth section of the book reflects on a series people in the Old Testament. Some are well known (Abraham, David, Nehemiah) others are obscure (the women in Moses’s life, Shiphrah and Puah, Yokebed and Miryam).

Since each chapter contains a large amount of Scripture, it might be fair to describe this book as a sort of topical Bible. For example, the chapter on truthfulness is about five pages with about three pages of texts drawn from Proverbs. The chapter “Good Husbands, Good Wives” is similar, reprinting all of Proverbs 5:15-20, 6:28-35 and 31:10-31. This immersion on the Scripture is an important part of Goldingay’s goals for the book, even if some readers would prefer more expert commentary from him as the author.

A book on Old Testament ethics needs to deal with a few difficult problems. For example, the Old Testament is sometimes vilified for its view on women. Dealing with the unusual procedure for determining an accused adulterous woman’s guilt in Numbers 5, Goldingay observes “it’s not very egalitarian,” but there are aspects of the Torah which handle men and women in similar ways (126). He deals the troubling issue of the Canaanite genocide in a postscript. He admits “To exaggerate somewhat, the Canaanites got annihilated; and to exaggerate somewhat, the Israelites got annihilated too” (271).

There are a few topics which will be controversial. In chapter 22, “Who You Can’t Have Sex With,” Goldingay deals with rules for marriage and observes many of these commands have little to do with genetics, but with what causes disorder, scandal and disruption of the family (137). In addition, he says some of the prohibitions are based on the “built-in order about which we should adhere.”  Men, for example, are designed to have sex with women. “In Western culture we may but like that one, but it’s worth our seeing its rationale” (138). The next chapter deals with same-sex marriage under the title “People Who Can’t Undertake a Regular Marriage.” Goldingay thinks same-sex marriage falls short of the biblical vision for marriage (in fact it is “miles away from the vision that emerges from Scripture.” But Goldingay points out “but so do lots of other forms of marriage” (143).

There are a few unexpected topics for a book on Old Testament ethics. Several seem to cross over into biblical theology, but it is a fine line between a “biblical theology of friendship” and social ethics. Goldingay includes an interesting discussion of cities (ch. 27) He offers six observations about urban culture drawn from the book of Deuteronomy, concluding “if Christians want to play a part in the shaping of urban policy, we need to nurture economists, lawyers, planners, and civil servants in our churches” (168). The fourth and fifth sections of the book are engaging meditations on biblical characters are an attempt to illustrate ethical principles from the text of the Bible.

Conclusion. This book does not treat Old Testament ethics using traditional categories, nor does it approach modern ethical issues through the lens of the Old Testament in a systematic way. Goldingay does deal with modern ethical issues like violence and war, animal rights, status of women and immigrants, and homosexuality, but only as they arise in the texts he has selected. Although the title of the book suggests some similarities with more systematic works like Christopher Wright’s Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (IVP Academic 2013) or John Barton’s Understanding Old Testament Ethics (WJKP 2003), Goldingay’s book is more of a meditation on the text of the Old Testament.


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: René Breuel, The Paradox of Happiness: Finding True Joy in a World of Counterfeits

Breuel, René. The Paradox of Happiness: Finding True Joy in a World of Counterfeits. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2018. 95 pp.; Pb; $12.99.  Link to Lexham

This small book is about finding happiness by encouraging the reader to stop buying the consumerist model the world is selling. Instead, René Breuel suggests following the model of Jesus and focus on serving one another. He says “I wrote The Paradox of Happiness, ironically, because I felt unhappy about our current understandings of happiness.”

The book is divided into three parts. First, Breuel destroys the “Drama of Modern Happiness.” Humans hunger for happiness, but modern culture only provides a “plastic happiness” which does not ultimate satisfy. Most people either deny or redefine happiness, chase artificial ideas of what makes someone happy, or even pursue imaginary pleasures. The problem, Breuel suggest is that these are all centered inwardly. We are trying make ourselves happy.

Jesus’ “paradoxical alternative” to this mindless pursuit of happiness is the subject of part two of the book. Breuel examines Jesus’s “paradoxical call” to take up one’s cross and follow Jesus (Mark 8:24-37). The goal of happiness can only be obtained if it ceases to be the goal (45). This kind of selflessness opens us up to the “banquet flourishing all around us” (50). It rejoices in the happiness of others.

For Breuel, following Jesus’ call to self-denial opens us up to proper expression of self and even self-love. He calls this the “the Rhythm of the Liberated Life” in part 3 of the book. By “living Jesus’ happiness” we escape the plastic happiness of modern life and live a life of genuine satisfaction.

The book is rich with illustrations from Breuel’s life, church history, theology, and pop culture. Breuel presents his ideas in clear prose, but those ideas will challenge the consumerist mindset of most western Christians.

Breuel (MSt, Oxford; MDiv, Regent College) is the founding pastor of Hopera, a church in Rome, Italy. Many of his illustrations in this book are draw from his like and work pastoring in Italy. Breuel blogs at, is a contributor for Evangelical Focus, and is the editor of


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: Adrio König, Christ Above All: The Book of Hebrews

König, Adrio. Christ Above All: The Book of Hebrews (Transformative Word). Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham, 2019. 100 pp.; Pb; $12.99.  Link to Lexham

This short book is the third in a new series of Bible study books from Lexham. The Transformative Word series is edited by Craig Bartholonew and David Beldman and intends “identify a key theme in each book of the Bible, and each volume provides careful Biblical exegesis centered on that gripping theme.” Lexham has published Carolyn Custis James, Finding God in the Margins: The Book of Ruth and Dru Johnson, The Universal Story: Genesis 1–11.

König begins with a short overview of the book of Hebrews and an outline of the main themes of the book (the magnificence of and humanity of Christ, chapters 2-4). This first chapter also briefly introduces a few problems for the reader of Hebrews, namely the use of the Old Testament (chapter 5), the six warning passages (chapter 6) and the unforgiveable sin (chapter 7).

He begins his three chapters on Christ with a close look at the first three verse of Hebrews, followed by a chapter on the humanity and sinlessness of Christ. The longest chapter in the book is devoted to the magnificence of Christ (ch. 4). Here König tracks how Hebrews describes Jesus as “greater than” a wide range of things from the Old Testament. He concludes this section by suggesting the recipients of this message were Jewish Christians in danger of returning to the synagogue as a result of persecution.

König then examines both the positive and negative uses of the Old Testament in Hebrews (ch. 5). Even a cursory reading of Hebrews will demonstrate the writer’s knowledge of the Old Testament. In many places his argument hinges on a particular detail, such as his allusion to Melchizedek. To illustrate the negative, he points to the several statements in the book in which “it is impossible” for a sacrifice to take away sin, etc.

One of the more difficult aspects of Hebrews are the warning passages. König deals with these in two separate chapters, the first asking if grace can be lost. After a short survey of the six warning passages, he offers evidence for both yes and no. He includes short lists of biblical support for both sides of this troubling issue and concludes “we have to accept this open situation” (80). He then focuses specifically on the warnings in 6:4-6, 10:26-27 and 12:14-17 as “The Unforgivable Sin.” He draws the analogy to Matthew 12 (where the language is “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit) and suggests “we have more or less the same depiction of this sin” in Hebrews (88). I am not convinced the sin in Matthew 12 is what the writer of Hebrews has in mind. König does not take into account real possibility the readers of Hebrews are warned against recanting their faith in the face of persecution. In addition, there is more exegesis to be done in Hebrews 6 to decide whether this is “unforgiveable sin” is a real possibility. This is impossible given the limits on this brief book.

Within each chapter are short sidebars explaining some detail in the text (Marcion, the Historical Trustworthiness of the Gospel) or a list of Scripture on a theological point (Christ Called God; Jesus is Greater Than, etc.) Each chapter ends with a collection of parallel biblical texts for further study and a set of reflection questions. These questions are designed to facilitate a small group Bible study. In addition, König introduces a discussion without necessarily answering all the questions. This should lead to a lively discussion.


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.

The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew by Brandon W. Hawk and The Protevangelium of James, by Lily C. Vuong

Tony Burke announced the first two volumes of the North American Society for the Study of Christian Apocryphal Literature series are now available. Along with Brent Landau, Burke edited New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 1: More Noncanonical Scriptures (Eerdmans, 2016, reviewed here). The two serve along with Janet Spittler as the editors of this new series. As Burke points out, these two new volumes are numbered volumes 7 and 8 because NASSCAL is continuing a series, the first six volumes of texts for Polebridge Press. Burke explains the relationship of NASSCAL and the More New Testament Apocrypha series on his blog if you are interested. For a short readable introduction to the New Testament Apocrypha, see Burke’s Secret Scriptures Revealed: A New Introduction to the Christian Apocrypha (Eerdmans, 2014).

Now available are The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew and the Nativity of Mary, by Brandon W. Hawk, and The Protevangelium of James, by Lily C. Vuong. Pseudo-Matthew was ” a bestseller of mainstream medieval Christianity, this Latin apocryphon is a keystone in the explosion of apocryphal literature in the Middle Ages.” Matthew Hawk discusses some of the details of the document on his blog.  The Protevangelium of James is perhaps more well-known; it collects legends and stories in life of the Virgin Mary.

The new volumes are now published by Wipf & Stock and are available as inexpensive paperbacks. Forthcoming Volumes in the Series include:

  • The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, by Tony Burke
  • The Ascension of Isaiah, by Catherine Playoust
  • The Apocryphal Epistles of Paul, by Philip L. Tite
  • The Gospel of Peter and the Preaching of Peter, by Ruben Dupertuis
  • Legends of the Holy Rood Tree, by Stephen C. E. Hopkins

Earlier volumes published by Polebridge Press:

  1. The Acts of Andrew, by Dennis R. MacDonald
  2. The Epistle of the Apostles, by Julian V. Hill
  3. The Acts of Thomas, by Harold W. Attridge
  4. The Acts of Peter, by Robert F. Stoops Jr.
  5. Didache: The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, by Clayton N. Jefford
  6. The Acts of John, by Richard I. Pervo with Julian V. Hills