Book Giveaway: T. Desmond Alexander, Face to Face with God

GiveawayIt has been a while since I gave a book away as a promotion on Reading Acts. Since it is the beginning of a new Academic year, it is time to celebrate by sending out some free books! Really, though, do you need an excuse for a chance at a free book?

I recently reviewed T. Desmond Alexander, Face to Face with God (Essential Studies in Biblical Theology). IVP Academic was kind enough to send an extra copy to pass along to readers of this blog.

Alexander does an excellent job describing the importance of the sanctuary and sacrifices in the Old Testament as well as the role of high priest as intercessor and covenant mediator. He examines these as “shadows of the reality in Christ” through the lens of Hebrews and focuses on that book’s description of Christ as priest, intercessor and mediator of a new covenant. In fact, this book could be considered an introduction to the theology of Hebrews. Go read the review for the rest of my comments.

If you want a free copy of this book, leave a comment with your favorite Hebrews commentary and your name and email (if it is not in your profile already) so I can contact you if you win. I will put all the names in a spreadsheet, randomize them, then use a random number generator to select a winner on September 21.

If you don’t win this book, check back next week for another book giveaway.


Dean R. Ulruch, Now and Not Yet: Theology and Mission in Ezra–Nehemiah

Ulruch, Dean R. Now and Not Yet: Theology and Mission in Ezra-Nehemiah. NSBT 57; Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2021. 184 pp. Pb; $28.  Link to IVP Academic

Dean Ulrich has served both the church and academy. His North-West University (South Africa) PhD dissertation was published as The Antiochene Crisis and Jubilee Theology in Daniel’s Seventy Sevens (Oudtestamentische Studiën 66; Brill, 2016). He has also published a commentary on Ruth (P&R, 2007) and served as pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Wexford, Pennsylvania. His experience in both church and academy is clear in his Now and Not Yet: Theology and Mission in Ezra–Nehemiah. In this new NSBT volume, Ulrich shows that participating in God’s mission for his world is a key message of Ezra and Nehemiah.Ezra-Nehemiah

As Ulrich describes in his introduction, there are many reasons for academic and pastoral inattention to the books of Ezra-Nehemiah. For many, Ezra-Nehemiah is a legalistic jumble of sources, lacking a coherent theology and littered with obtuse lists. For others, Nehemiah stands as a model for leadership (usually by contemporary writers looking for proof texts for their leadership principles). Ulrich argues Ezra-Nehemiah is a literary unit with rich missional theology which illustrates how God’s people continue to experience his salvation in the post-exilic world.

After a chapter outlining what he means by biblical theology and Ezra-Nehemiah’s contribution to biblical theology, Ulrich works his way through the books thematically (although this follows the order of the books themselves). The first section of Ezra deals with the return from exile (ch. 3), the rebuilding of the temple (ch. 4), and the security of Jerusalem (ch. 6). Throughout these chapters, he integrates the prophets Haggai and Zechariah in order to offer a narrative of the rebuilding of the early community in Judea after the exile.

Most Bible readers associate Ezra-Nehemiah with rebuilding the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem, but Ulrich also points out that the books are interested in rebuilding the people of God (ch. 5). By the time Ezra arrives in Jerusalem, the people have been worshiping in the rebuilt Temple for many years. For most modern readers, the problem of foreign marriage seems strange, and Ezra’s solution seems drastic: divorce foreign wives and exclude them from the people of God! This is even more surprising since there is no evidence the Gentile women were encouraging their Judean husbands to worship idols, as with Solomon. Ulrich admits the measures “may seem harsh, gut the identify and mission of God’s people after the exile were at stake” (94). The new community must take steps to preserve its distinctiveness or it will “transmute into something quite different from the original vision of the founder” (94).

Perhaps another reason for scholarly and pastoral inattention to Ezra-Nehemiah is the books ends unsatisfactorily (156). We know that the post-exilic community continues to struggle, and the tensions present in these books continue through the Maccabean Revolt and into the first century. This is the “now, not yet” from the subtitle of the bool. Although the Temple is rebuilt and the walls of Jerusalem are complete, the people continued to struggle with certain practices such as tithing, Sabbath, and intermarriage. Ulrich draws Malachi into his discussion of the end of Nehemiah, since that late prophet deals with the apathy of the Judeans. The book of Daniel addresses some of these issues from the perspective of those still living in exile. There were faithful Jews living in the Diaspora, even if Judeans struggled with certain practices.

Conclusion. Ulrich’s Now and Not Yet will serve as a theological commentary for both pastors and academics teaching through Ezra-Nehemiah, two overlooked Old Testament books.


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.

Matthew S. Harmon, The Servant of the Lord and His Servant People

Harmon, Matthew S. The Servant of the Lord and His Servant People: Tracing a Biblical Theme Through the Canon. NSBT 54; Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2021. 262 pp. Pb; $27.  Link to IVP Academic

Matthew Harmon (PhD, Wheaton College) serves as professor of New Testament studies at Grace College and Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. He recently contributed Rebels and Exiles: A Biblical Theology of Sin and Restoration in the ESBT series (IVP Academic 2020) and a recent Galatians commentary (Lexham 2021). This new monograph traces the theme of the servant of the Lord through four key figures in the Old Testament and Isaiah’s suffering servant, all of which point towards Jesus as the ultimate Servant of the Lord.

Harmon, Servant of the LordAfter a short introductory chapter, Harmon surveys for examples of individuals identified as a servant of the Lord in the Old Testament: Adam, Moses, Joshua, and David. Adam was the image bearer in the garden who served as a priest in Eden, a temple sanctuary for the Lord. Moses served in both royal and priestly roles with a focus on the prophetic fulfillment of God’s purposes. Joshua seems like an unlikely addition to the list, but Harmon argues he is a priestly character who mediates God’s presence to the nations and intercedes on behalf of the God’s people. David is called a servant king (1 Samuel 23:10-12) and the Davidic covenant calls David a servant ten times. Since much of the evidence for David as a servant of the Lord comes from the psalms, Harmon refers to him as the singing servant” based on Psalm 89.

After surveying these four examples, Harmon turns to a discussion of the suffering servant in the book of Isaiah (chapter six). In the four examples surveyed in the first part of the book, the servant of the Lord ultimately fails in that role. The Lord’s response is to raise up a new servant who will succeed as the light to the gentiles (141). Although he briefly detects a few instances of servant language in Isaiah 1-39, his focus is on the servant in Isaiah 40-66, and specifically Isaiah 40-54. The question has always been: who is the suffering servant in Isaiah? Sometimes, it is Israel as the servant nation of Israel (42:1-9). In other examples, the suffering servant is an individual (49:1-13). The servant in Isaiah 53 experiences the curses that came from Adam’s failure in the garden. This song also looks forward to restoration and blessing after the servant has offered himself as a sacrifice for the sins of his people. He sees a hint of the resurrection. After the servant’s self-sacrifice, he will “see his seed.”

In Chapter 7, Harmon discusses Jesus as the servant of the Lord par excellence. The New Testament uses Isaiah’s servant language and often applies it directly to Jesus. Harmon begins with Philippians 2:5-11, perhaps the earliest use of servant language to describe Jesus. Into the Christ hymn, servant language focuses on the obedience and humility of the servant as he lays down his life. But Philippians also describes the exaltation of the servant as God vindicates him in the resurrection. Harmon detects about a dozen keywords and phrases found in Philippians 2: 5-11 that draw on Isaiah’s servant songs. He then surveys the gospels and finds allusions to the servant songs in the birth, early childhood, baptism, and ministry of Jesus. These allusions are more intense in the death and resurrection of Jesus. When the apostles preach the gospel on the day of Pentecost, they identified Jesus with the Isaiah’s suffering servant (Acts 3:13, for example).

For Harmon, Jesus is the fulfillment of the previous servants. Adam, Moses, Joshua, and David in some ways served as prophet, priest, or king, and he failed in that role. He concludes, “there should be no doubt that the New Testament presents Jesus as the servant of the Lord par excellence” (178). In fact, the New Testament presents the totality of Jesus’s identity as fulfilling the role of Isaiah’s servant of the Lord. Harmon refers Adam as a servant, but also as a prophet priest and king. Likewise, both Moses and David are royal servants who also served in priestly and prophetic roles. To a large extent, servant language was common for prophets, priests and kings in the ancient world, opening the door for the connection to Jesus as “prophet, priest, and king,” similar to Ben Gladd, From Adam and Israel to the Church (IVP Academic, 2019).

The final two chapters of the book discuss the apostles as servants of Christ, highlighting self-designations as “servant” in the epistles. The work of Jesus as the servant par excellence would produce a servant people (201). In Luke 2: 46-49 and Acts 1:8, Jesus transfers his mission as the servant to his people. Much of this material detects allusions to Isaiah’s suffering servant in the New Testament, but sometimes it is not clear that there is, in fact, an allusion. This is the problem with any sort of intertextual study. Once you look for servant language, you find it everywhere. Nevertheless, Harmon demonstrates Jesus as the Lord’s servant becomes a template for how the church ought to serve in the world today.

The book does not have much on slavery or servanthood in the ancient world. There are many other studies discussing of slavery for New Testament studies (which Harmon acknowledges). Perhaps some background on servant language in the Ancient Near east would be helpful since more than half of the book concerns the image of a servant in the Old Testament. Unfortunately, this rich background material is outside the goals of the 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.

Emerson B. Powery, The Good Samaritan

Powery, Emerson B. The Good Samaritan. Touchstone Texts. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2022. 156 pp. Pb; $24.  Link to Baker Academic

This is the second volume of the Baker Academic Touchstone Texts series. The series addresses well-known passages from the Bible and provides exegetical, theological, and pastoral concerns. As series editor Stephen B. Chapman says in the series introduction, these texts are “deserving of fresh expositions that enable them to speak anew to the contemporary church and its leaders.” This first volume treated Psalm 23 (Richard Briggs, The Lord is My Shepherd, 2021). This new volume discusses one of Jesus’s most beloved parables, the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

Powery Good SamaritanEmerson B. Powery (PhD, Duke University) is a professor of biblical studies at Messiah University. He is the author of Jesus Reads Scripture: The Function of Jesus’ Use of Scripture in the Synoptic Gospels (Brill, 2002) and Immersion Bible Studies for Mark (Abingdon, 2011). He coauthored The Genesis of Liberation: Biblical Interpretation in the Antebellum Narratives of the Enslaved (WJKP, 2016).

Powery begins with the question, “the contemporary reader must decide whether the goal is to get the meaning right or to enjoy the journey” (1). The two are obviously not mutually exclusive; this book seeks to read the parable right, but also create an enjoyable journey toward contemporary application for the modern American church. He observes, “Jesus’s imaginative use of the Samaritan confirms the creative power of difference to challenge the status quo of our lives together” (153).

Powery builds a community of conversation partners around this well-known parable to continue answering the question of Luke 10:29: “who is my neighbor?” In chapter one, the conversation partners include Frederick Douglass, Toni Morrison (A Mercy), the Amish community after the 2006 mass shooting at West Nickel Mines school, the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and their response to Dylann Roof shooting nine people in their church, and Desmond Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (1996). For some readers, this might seem like an unusual way to begin a book on the Parable of the Good Samaritan, but Powery is teasing out the shocking image of a “good Samaritan” in a first-century Jewish context.

The second chapter deals with the Good Samaritan in Christian Tradition, beginning with Augustine’s famous allegorizing interpretation of the parable. Citing John Dominic Crossan, Augustine is simply wrong since his interpretation is neither Jesus’s nor Luke’s original intentions (41, note 34). Books on parables usually use Augustine to show the failure (and foolishness) of allegorical interpretation. But Powery points out that is only one aspect of Augustine’s method: he also treats the literal meaning and a moral-example model. What the parable means, Powery suggests, “depends on where you stand.”

He demonstrates this by examining the parable from the prospect of civil rights leader Howard Thurman’s 1951 sermon on the parable (a sermon which influenced Martin Luther King). He then introduces readers to the Solentiname Bible Study, a community discussion of scripture in 1978 led by Ernesto Cardenal. Reflecting a liberation theology perspective, the members of the Bible Study read the parable from the perspective of the poor and oppressed. “The Gospel made us political revolutionaries” (63). Powery then turns to Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861). Jacobs discussed the Good Samaritan in the context of the church and slavery. In her story, a white preacher tells the slaves to obey their masters; the gospel provides no comfort for the enslaved. For Jacobs, the wounded man in the parable represents enslaved black people and the white church does nothing to help the wounded Samaritan.

Powery does not turn to a reading of the parable until chapter 3, asking “what might the story (have) mean/t?” This chapter is an exposition of the parable, which most resembles a commentary, interacting with the details of the parable. He sets aside some misconceptions: “The Good Samaritan is not a statement about the general priesthood or the absence of compassion among the Jews” (97) and certainly it is not antisemitic. The usual American individualistic reading of the parable wants to encourage people to “be the Good Samaritan” and take care of the people in the ditch. But what about the people who are in the ditch? How does a victim of trauma understand this parable? This chapter employs modern studies on trauma as part of his interpretation of the parable. This is something unique (and helpful) since it focuses on the victim more than the Samaritan.

He entitled his final chapter provocatively: “Samaritan Lives Matter.” As his first two chapters showed, readers of the Good Samaritan parable tend to think of themselves as the victim, the man in the ditch in need of help. There are two ways to look at the Good Samaritan parable. It is a story about an individual response to an individual need. But second, the parable is about a community’s response to a community’s need. How does the church today respond to the needs of others in the community? Jesus often upsets the status quo; so Powery relates “the other” in the parable to the civil rights movement (citing MLK and John Lewis) and then asks how the parable can frame a Christian response to the murder of George Floyd or Breonna Taylor. For some Christians, Black Lives Matter is “an expression of Christian faith in action” (148).

Conclusion. Like most of Jesus’s parables, the Parable of the Good Samaritan is quite clear. Other than understanding the background of the Samaritans, most of the details do not need a great deal of exegesis to get the main point. The difficulty is in drawing a reasonable application from Jesus’s original parable that challenges the modern reader. Powery’s book certainly challenges the modern reader to think more deeply about the victim and the Samaritan by listening to various voices who suffer trauma in the contemporary world.


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.


T. Desmond Alexander, Face to Face with God: A Biblical Theology of Christ as Priest and Mediator

Alexander, T. Desmond. Face to Face with God: A Biblical Theology of Christ as Priest and Mediator. ESBT 6; Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2022. 156 pp. Pb; $24.  Link to IVP Academic

T. Desmond Alexander is senior lecturer in biblical studies and director of postgraduate studies at Union Theological College in Belfast. Has contributed the Apollos commentary on Exodus as well as numerous other works on biblical theology, including From Paradise to the Promised Land: An Introduction to the Pentateuch (fourth edition, Baker 2022) and Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission (with Andreas Köstenberger; second edition 2020).

Jesus Priest Alexander, Face to FaceThis new volume in the Essential Studies in Biblical Theology presents a biblical theology of Christ as Priest and Mediator. What does it mean to speak of Jesus as a priest? Alexander answers this question beginning in Genesis with Adam as a priest in Eden, but the primary text he uses is the book of Hebrews. Hebrews is an exhortation centering on the priesthood of Jesus Christ. How does this portrayal of Jesus as a priest and mediator contribute to a deeper understanding of our relationship with God?

The first three chapters of the book look back to the Old Testament description of the Tabernacle as a model of the heavenly sanctuary, representing God’s holy presence on earth. Here he follows closely the work of John Walton, who argued the cosmos is God’s temple and Eden is an archetypical temple. Alexander thinks the evidence is strong, but he also acknowledges Daniel Block’s caution: sanctuaries resemble Eden rather than the other way around. After all, God never dwelt in the garden of Eden (27).

The Tabernacle is a model of the cosmos and a “portable Mount Sinai,” the place where Israel experienced God’s presence. The innermost part of the sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, is the place “where God is.” This anticipates Israel’s experience in Jerusalem in the Temple. The closer one approaches the holy place, the closer one comes to God, therefore, high levels of holiness and consecration are required.

Only the high priest can enter the innermost part of the sanctuary, and then only after fully consecrating themselves. The next four chapters deal with the role of the high priest as an intercessor and mediator of the covenant. Alexander begins with Moses in the tent of meeting (Exodus 33), a story deliberately incorporated into the Golden Calf incident. This highlights the importance of intercession: Moses is the covenant mediator who enters God’s presence because Israel’s covenant relationship is in danger. The Aaronic high priest follows the same pattern. Aaron is a mediator in the book of Numbers, in contrast to the rebellion of the sons of Korah. The Aaronic high priests make daily intercessions in order to maintain Israel’s covenant relationship. The high priest sacrifices for the sins of the people who cannot themselves approach God.

To explain what a priest is, Hebrews looks back to Exodus and Leviticus and the nature of the sanctuary and the Aaronic priesthood. What happens at the tent of meeting? The high priest makes intercession for sinful humanity and reconciliation with God. Turning to Hebrews 7:27, Jesus Christ as priest makes a once for all sacrifice on behalf of the people for the sins of the people. Hebrews also compares Jesus to the mysterious Old Testament priest Melchizedek. “The introduction of Melchizedek enables the author of Hebrews to unite the priestly activity of Jesus with his royal status as the ‘son of David’ and the ‘anointed one/Christ/Messiah’” (106).

The final two chapters of the book deal with Christ as a mediator of a “better covenant.” Beginning with the discussion of the new covenant in Hebrews 8, Alexander describes the new covenant as a better covenant because it ensures the two parties will be reconciled (115). Just as Moses was the mediator of the old covenant (Galatians 3:19-20), Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant. Alexander observes there are no priests in the Christian Church because the church itself is a community described as a royal priesthood. Adam served as a royal priest in the garden and failed; Israel served as a Kingdom of priests and failed. Jesus is the ultimate high priest because he succeeds by reconciling sinful humanity to God through his sacrifice.

Conclusion. Alexander does an excellent job describing the importance of the sanctuary and sacrifices in the Old Testament as well as the role of high priest as intercessor and covenant mediator. He examines these as “shadows of the reality in Christ” through the lens of Hebrews and focuses on that book’s description of Christ as priest, intercessor and mediator of a new covenant. In fact, this book could be considered an introduction to the theology of Hebrews.


Other reviewed commentaries in Essentials of Biblical Theology series:

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