Book Review: Wesley Hill, Paul and the Trinity

Hill, Wesley. Paul and the Trinity: Persons, Relations, and the Pauline Letters. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015. 224 pp. Pb; $26.   Link to Eerdmans with a twelve minute video “book trailer.”

Wesley Hill attempts a theological reading of several important Pauline texts with respect to the Trinity in order to find a new way through the “Low Christology” vs. “High Christology” debate. In the introductory section of the book, he suggests a method for approaching Pauline theology that reads later patterns of Trinitarian theology alongside several classic Trinitarian texts. The result is a “Trinitarian retooling of Christological discussions” (p. 31). In order to achieve this goal, Hill suggests follows the work of Francis Watson and others by defining God in relation to Jesus. This theological use of relationships within the Trinity is not new since the early church used similar language in the development of the doctrine of the Trinity, although it has been challenge

Hill, Paul and TrinityHill begins his book by comparing several approaches to Pauline Christology usually designated as “high” or “low” Christology. For low Christology begins with the work of James Dunn and James McGrath. Starting point for low Christology is Paul’s Jewish, monotheistic heritage. Paul simply would not have conceived of the relationship of God and Jesus and Trinitarian terms. McGrath argued Paul expanded or split the shema. God and Jesus together do not constitute a single God, but rather there is “one God” and there is “one Lord.” In both Dunn and McGrath, there is a conscious effort to bracket out later Trinitarian theology, since Nicaea would “allow an alien question…to obscure what was at stake in Pauline Christology” (p. 19).

High Christology, on the other hand, begins with the idea of Jesus and God are equal. As has been pointed out by Larry Hurtado, the earliest Pauline Christians worship Jesus, considering him in the closest possible relationship to God the Father. Hurtado and others have pointed out “worshiping Jesus was for the early Christians actually a requisite demonstration of the reverence for God ‘the father’” (p. 64).

Hill thinks the high/low Christology discussion is not particularly helpful for understanding “Paul’s God.” Therefore in the the second part of the book Hill discuss is God’s relationship to Jesus. In order to do this, he examines a series of texts in which God is identified by actions done by/to/in Jesus primarily through Paul’s description of the God of Abraham as the same as the God of Jesus. The same God Abraham trusted is the one who raised Jesus from the dead. Galatians is not only a battle for the right interpretation of Abraham’s faith, but also for a right identification of God himself. As Hill concludes, “There is no ‘monotheism’ with Christology” (p.74).

In the third section of the book Hill reverses the direction of the relationship and examines Jesus’s relationship to God in the most significant Pauline texts for understanding the Trinity, Philippians 2:6-11. Hill argues the identities of God and Jesus are “mutually determined” (p. 77). After careful exegesis of Phil 2:6-11, he concludes there is both a unity between God and Jesus in the text as well as distinctions between the two. The Trinitarian pieces are on the table, so to speak, and by applying the insights of Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil, and Augustine, Hill concludes the two aspects of Phil 2:6-11 are “irreducible to one another, equally ultimate and non-overlapping” (p. 108). Yet there is a kind of asymmetrical relationship since Jesus is subordinate to the Father in some ways. But for Hill, this does not render the relationship any less mutual.

In the fourth section of the book examines Jesus’ relationship to God in two important texts from 1 Corinthians. First, in 1 Cor 8:6 Paul affirms there is but one God, but also that there is one Lord, Jesus. Hill considers this interpretation of shema to contain the same unity between God and Jesus found in Phil 2:6-11, but also a distinction between Father and Son. Dunn would see this as an example of Paul “splitting the shema” to emphasize the distinction between the two. McGrath rejects this as an unwarranted division since the same kind of formulation appears in 2 Sam 7:22-24. Bauckham, on the other hand, find this statement to be a strong affirmation of the unity between the Father and Son. Hill sees this text as an example of “non-competitive and mutually complementary” Trinitarianism. God the Father and Jesus belong together as the “one God” of the shema as distinct agents.

He finds the same elements in the “second Adam” Christology of 1 Cor 15:24-28. Hill concludes that this asymmetrical mutuality or “redoublement” does justice to both the priority of the Father (who sends the Son) as well as their unity, since the Father depends on the Son in order to be identified as the Father. The Father and Son are interdependent, but they are not interchangeable (p. 135).

The final section of the book examines the role of the Spirit in relation to God and Jesus. Just as the Father and the Son are asymmetrical mutual, so too the Holy Spirit conveys the presence and activity of the risen Lord and is therefore God- and Christ-determined. Texts such as 1 Cor 12:3 indicate the activity of the Spirit is dependent on the Father and Son since no one can confess Jesus as Lord unless through the Spirit. Yet when Paul speaks of the Spirit, it is the Spirit of God who identifies the Father and Son through their mutual relationships. Hill wants to avoid so-called “binitarianism” associated with C. F. D. Moule, although this perspective itself is guided by the high/low Christology discussion. It is the relationship For Hill the Spirit is the “means whereby Jesus mediates his power or presence to and among believers” (p. 164).

Conclusion. Hill recognizes early on that his method can be described as a projection of categories on to the Pauline texts, resulting in exactly the kind of results he expected in the first place (p. 45). This is of course the danger any theological reading of the New Testament faces, since in many ways the conclusion is assumed from the beginning of the project. By treating Pauline theology and later Trinitarian theology in a kind of dialectic, he opens himself to the charge of petitio principia, begging the question. Fourth century dogma can guide exegesis, or as Hill puts it, “theology and exegesis are, or ought to be, mutually dependent” (p. 47).

There are therefore two things going on in this book. First, Hill offers a correction to the high/low Christology discussion. He think both sides fail to adequately describe Paul’s view of the relationship between Father and Son primarily because they consciously ignore later theological discussions of the Trinity. Second, Hill demonstrates a theological exegetical method which balances the historical critical method with a kind of “rule of faith” common in these sorts of studies. His exegetical discussion of Phil 2:6-11 is excellent. Although I personally would not look to Augustine as an exegetical guide, Hill does a good job showing how later Trinitarianism sheds light on the passage. While Hill achieves his goals, scholars who have been active in the high/low Christology debate may not consider Hill’s goals their own.

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: Constantine R. Campbell, Advances in the Study of Greek

Campbell, Constantine R. Advances in the Study of Greek: New Insights for Reading the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2015. 253 pp. Pb; $34.99.  Link to Zondervan   A Short Interview with Campbell

Campbell’s Advances in the Study of Greek intends to fill a significant gap in the education of a student of New Testament Greek. Most first year Greek classes are concerned with the details of the language (vocabulary and basic syntax). If students move on to intermediate Greek they are only introduced to linguistics in a very general sense.

Campbell, AdvancesChapter 1 is a history of Greek studies beginning the nineteenth century with George Winer.  The chapter consists of short paragraphs describing a particular scholar’s contribution to the field. For the modern linguistics, Campbell includes two pages on Saussure and another page and a half on Noam Chomsky. He considers Porter’s (1989) and Fanning’s (1990) to be “genuine advances in Greek scholarship” in the modern era (45).

Chapter 2 introduces the reader to linguistic theory, although the majority of the chapter is on functional linguistics as applied the study of New Testament Greek. The field of linguistics is rarely taught as a part of a New Testament Greek curriculum primarily because the focus of these classes is pragmatic exegesis of a text for sermon preparation. Campbell recommends Cotterell and Turner (IVP, 1989), Silva (Zondervan, 1990) and Black (Baker, 1995) as the best introductions for New Testament students.

Chapter 3 covers lexical semantics and lexicography. While most students are familiar with a lexicon such as Bauer (BAGD or BDAG) and possibly Louw and Nida, very little time can be spent in a basic Greek class looking at the methodologies used to create these resources. Most students treat a lexicon like a menu of possible meanings; they scan down the list until they see something that sounds about right. Campbell reviews the comments made by Frederic Danker and John A. L. Lee on the practice lexicography in order to show the difficult problem of defining words.

Chapter 4 deal with one of the more obscure issues for a student of New Testament Greek, deponency and the middle voice. One of the more difficult things for beginning Greek students to understand is the middle voice, primarily since it does not do much of anything. Throughout the twentieth century grammarians have slowly questioned describing the middle voice as “deponent,” culminating in Bernard Taylor’s paper in the Danker Festscrhrift (Biblical Greek Language and Lexicography, Eerdmans, 2004). Taylor’s complaint is the Latin category deponent was imported into Greek grammars. This issue was taken up at a 2010 SBL session in which all four presenters agreed the standard definition of deponency is flawed and ought to be replaced. Aside from the apocalyptic sign of four presenters at SBL agreeing on something, the issue is still undecided.

Chapter 5 wades into debate over verbal aspect, “the most controversial and volatile area of research in Greek studies today” (131). Campbell wrote a short monograph on this issue (Basics of Verbal Aspect, Zondervan, 2008) and some of that material is briefly summarized here. Verbal aspect refers to the kind of action (Akionsart) described by the tense of a verb. Most of the focus has been on the aorist although Campbell includes the perfect tense in this chapter. After briefly surveying the work of a dozen studies of Akionsart in recent years, Campbell shows how this often obscure topic relates to narrative structure and “planes of discourse.” While there is more work to be done, Campbell admonishes students of New Testament Greek to be engaged in this on-going discussion.

Chapter 6 covers idiolect, genre and register. Dialect refer to the style of a group, idolect refers to the style of a single writer. As Campbell observes, it is possible to read a few lines and recognize N. T. Wright or John Calvin because they have linguistic and syntactic features that characterize their writings. Genre and register are sometimes synonymous, but Campbell uses register to narrow genre to a particular situation. He uses the online genre of a blog as an example. Some blogs are personal journals intended for friends and family, but others are official statements from major news outlets like the New York Times. The genre is a “blog” while the register is the particular application of the genre. Applying this to the study of the New Testament, Campbell observes that genre and form account for “convergent aspectual patterns” (why things are similar in the gospels or Pauline literature) while idiolect and register account for “convergent aspectual patterns” (why things are different in the gospels or Pauline literature). These observations may be beneficial when examining the Synoptic Problem or the authenticity of epistles.

Chapter 7 and 8 form an introduction to discourse analysis, a field which has grown more popular in the past few years. Campbell first describes the system developed by M. A. K. Halliday, then contrasts this method with Stephen Levinsohn and Steven Runge. Discourse analysis goes beyond the sentence to understand the pericope, paragraph and wider units of a text. It is a holistic approach that tries to look at the big picture before moving to the details associated with exegetical method. As he has throughout the book, Campbell begins with a short survey of discourse analysis (SIL, Nida, Louw, etc.) Levinsohn uses connectives and other signals in the text to indicate how the text flows. His often obscure method has been critiqued by Stanley Porter, in fact, many of Campbell’s own criticism is drawn from Porter. Levinsohn’s student Steven Runge applies his method to the entire New Testament and some of his tools are available only through Logos Bible Software. Runge is more functional and he has applied his method to the entire New Testament. Campbell considers Runge’s work a “significant step forward for the advancement of discourse analysis with New Testament studies” (189), although there are some limitations because of his focus on sentence and clause rather than larger units.

Chapter 9 discusses the pronunciation of Greek, suggesting Erasmus may not have been correct (or was even joking) when he developed his system for pronouncing Greek. In fact, Campbell observes it is difficult to mount a serious argument in favor of the Erasmian pronunciation (204). It is simply inaccurate and any defense of the system is purely pedagogical (Dan Wallace, for example). Chris Caragounis, for example has challenged the pronunciation of some of the letters (β, γ, δ, ζ, θ, χ, η, υ, ω) as well as some of the diphthongs. Campbell provides a chart based on John A. L. Lee’s work with several alternative pronunciations, such as β as “v as in van.”

Finally, chapter 10 makes a series of suggestions for teaching Greek as well as how to maintain the formal education is over. Campbell weighs several methods for learning Greek such as Rod Decker’s Koine Greek Reader (Baker 2014) and immersion methods like Randall Buth’s Living Koine Greek (Biblical Language Center, 2007).

Conclusion. I have tried to introduce some of these issues in my second year Greek classes, but to this point there is no single textbook which incorporates basic syntactical issues like verbal aspect with linguistics and discourse analysis and even more obscure topics like pronunciation and idiolect. This book would make an excellent supplementary textbook in a second year Greek class since it introduces topics students will encounter as the advance in their language skills.

 

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

Book Review: Greg Forbes, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: 1 Peter

Forbes, Greg. Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: 1 Peter. Nashville: B&H, 2014. 202 pp. Pb; $24.99. Link to B&H Academic.  Click here for a 21-page sample from the book in PDF format, including front-matter and first chapter.

Forbes, 1 PeterThis new volume in the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament series is a handbook for reading the text of 1 Peter. Following the same format at previous volumes in the series by Murray Harris (Colossians and Philemon, 2010) and Chris A. Vlachos (James, 2013). Greg Forbes, head of the Department of Biblical Studies at Melbourne School of Theology in Australia, is better known for his work on Luke (The God of Old: The Role of the Lukan Parables in the Purpose of Luke’s Gospel, JSNTSup 198; Sheffield, , 2000), but has contributed a few journal articles on 1 Peter.

The purpose of this book is an “exegetical companion,” meaning anyone working on teaching or preaching from 1 Peter can use this guide as the read the Greek New Testament. The handbook does not “give all the answers” by parsing every verb. In fact, it rarely parses forms fully. What is provided is a running commentary on syntactical categories and lexical data intended to illuminate the text for teaching and preaching. This means Forbes only comments on the nuance of a particular case or verb tense if it sheds light on the meaning of the text. He assumes a great deal from the reader, especially knowledge of Greek syntax. The guide makes use of abbreviations for standard works and syntactical categories. These are all families to scholars, but frequent consultation of the abbreviations page will be necessary for beginners. It does not help much to be told a genitive is “partitive” if one does not know what a partitive genitive is! This of course is no different than any tool used in exegesis, whether in a guidebook like this or a computer program which parses all forms with a single click.

The book follows a set structure found in the other volumes in this series. First, Forbes produced a detailed exegetical outline for the entire book. The guide then proceeds through each unit of his outline by providing the Greek text arranged in a syntactical display. Forbes briefly explains the structure of the passage and then moves phrase-by-phrase through the section. He comments on syntactical and lexical issues that bear on the meaning of the text, offering options when syntax may be nuanced differently in the commentaries. For example, in his discussion of 1 Peter 3:10, the ὅτι clause can be translated in three ways. Forbes lists the options along with support for each from various translations, lexicons and commentaries. He comes to a clear decision and demonstrates how that decision impacts his pastoral concerns (p. 109).

Rather than provide glosses for every word, he focuses on the more rare words and provides pointers to more detailed lexicons and theological dictionaries. These are not full word studies since the exegete will still need to look up the cited texts and read the details before making a decision on the meaning of a particular word.

Textual variants are briefly described based on the UBS 4 text, with the addition of eight additional variants found in the 5th edition (which was forthcoming when this book was published). Forbes gives a brief summary and evaluation of the textual evidence and offers an opinion on which variant is preferred.

Homiletical suggestions for preaching the pericope. Like most works of this kind, these outlines are not to be followed slavishly, but are hints for preachers who ought to compare their own work to Forbes’s outlines. While these outlines are brief, they are clearly drawn from the exegesis of the text and are an excellent model for text-based preaching.

Perhaps the most helpful sections of the book are the forty-two appendices scattered throughout the text on topic. After each section Forbes offers a short “for further study” section with monographs, book sections, journal articles and other resources bearing on that particular pericope. Some of these are book sections an exegete might overlook simply because it is embedded in a systematic theology. Others are mini-bibliographies for very specific topics. For example, after the section in 1 Peter 1:22-25, Forbes offers a collection of nine resources on community ethics (list 20; p.52-3). Every resource on the list is excellent and worthy of consideration. While some of the lists are cross-reference to others, there is no master index of all the “for further study” sections in the book. This would be a valuable addition to the series in the future.

Conclusion. The main competition for this book is the Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament. Mark Dubis contributed the 1 Peter volume in that series. Forbes uses Dubis occasionally, but the B&H series has more homiletical goals than the Baylor series. For the most part, the Baylor Handbooks are reading guides, providing far more parsing information than the B&H series. The EGGNT series will assist busy pastors and teachers who want to do quality exegesis by providing them with a quick overview of the major issues of their passage. This strength is also a potential drawback, since this book can become a crutch replacing the necessary exegetical work required to know a passage well. As with all such projects, the reader must know what to do with the information. The exegetical information in the book needs to be used properly in a lecture or sermon, that is the task of the well-trained teacher and pastor.

I recommend this book for anyone who is preaching or teaching 1 Peter, but also to students who want to develop their exegetical method. I see this book being used as a textbook in an intermediate Greek exegesis class. I look forward to future contributions to this series!

 

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

L. Scott Kellum, Preaching the Farewell Discourse

Kellum, L. Scott. Preaching the Farewell Discourse: An Expository Walk-Through of John 13:31-17:26. Nashville: B&H, 2014. 350 pp. Pb; $29.99.   Link to B&H AcademicClick here for a 51-page sample from the book in PDF format, including front-matter and introductory chapter.

Rather than a commentary on John 13:31-17:26, this book is primer for expository preaching. Kellum laments the “unmistakable and disturbing gap between our hermeneutics and are preaching” (p. 5). While there are excellent books on either homiletics or hermeneutics, rarely does a handbook intended for students include both a hermenutical method and homiletical practice.

Kellum, Preaching JohnMany preachers assume that they are doing exposition because they are preaching through a book of the Bible. Kellum suggests this is a mistake, since it is entirely possible to “dismember the application of the passage” through poor exegesis. Even if someone preaches through a whole book of the Bible, they may not be doing “expositional preaching.” I have heard many sermons based on a passage of Scripture having little to do with what the text was actually saying. Usually the sermon was topical, with only a slight nod to the passage.

Kellum’s goal in this book is to move from text to sermon. In order to do this he traces a basic hermeneutical strategy in his introductory chapter. Beginning with the reading of the text, he describes how to identify the genre, and shows how proper identification of genre assists in the exposition of a text. He encourages pastors and preachers to make their own “pragmatic translation of the text,” including observation of textual variants. While a pastor should not discuss textual variants from the pulpit a good preacher will inform his congregation of these matters in some other teaching environment. Kellum only briefly discusses word studies, making the usual sorts of warnings about avoiding cognates, anachronisms and using the whole range of a word. He offers an example of a proper Greek word study used to illustrate the meaning of the text (p. 20).

With respect to historical context Kellum suggests the expositor investigate the perspective of the original writer as well as the writer’s “mindset.” Backgrounds can be as dangerous as word studies. For example, it is a mistake to find Gnostic ideas in Colossians. He therefore encourages the expositor to investigate cultural environment, relevant political civil and religious institutions primarily to illuminate the text. Kellum briefly describes setting a particular text into a canonical context focusing on where the particular story fits into the overall plot of the Bible which he calls covenant dimensions.

In order to prepare to proclaim a passage from the pulpit, he suggests identifying the “main idea of the text” (MIT). Once a simple statement of the main idea is clear, this MIT is converted to the “main idea of the message” (MIM). After identifying the main idea of the text and the main idea of the message, the expositor should begin to find illustrations and applications for the text. I suspect many preachers find a good illustration first, then look for a good passage to preach from. With respect to illustrations, Kellum first suggests other biblical texts. He does encourage personal anecdotes, observations, news reports, biographies, historical allusions and finally statistics. He warns about the overuse of statistics as illustrations since these are often are skewed and intended to create some sort of fear in the mind of the hearer.

Chapter 2 of this book is a highly detailed approach to analyzing the literary structure and flow of the passage. He begins at the book level by examining the whole outline of the book of John. Once the preacher has determined a passage to preach on (in this case the Farewell Discourse), Kellum describes how to determine the boundaries of the passage using conjunctions, indicators of time and space, summary statements, rhetorical questions etc. He describes this as a “point of departure.” After determining the boundaries he offers a highly detailed linguistic flow chart in order to track the movements of the passage. This looks a great deal like discourse analysis, similar to Steve Runge and the new Zondervan Exegetical Commentary series.  While Kellum says this method is helpful to track the flow of the text, I find it extremely difficult to follow and may not yield the same level of results for me as it does for Kellum.

After laying this hermeneutical and homiletical background home offers a chapter over viewing the farewell discourse. Chapters 4 through 7 of the book constitute examples of his method applied to particular sections of the Farewell Discourse. First, he examines John 14 “commands that comfort,” then John 15-16:4c, “Commands that unite.”  In his third unit, Kellum describes the “advantages of Jesus’s departure” (John 16:4-33) and Jesus’ final prayer (John 17).

Each chapter offers an example of “relational structure” for the passage, demonstrating the method Kellum developed in his second chapter. Following this chart, he provides a brief analysis of the text in order to indicate the limits of the section. He then steps through the text making brief interpretive comments. This is not a full commentary, but are intended to be examples of how an expositional sermon might deal with some of the details of the text. Finally, Kellum outlines each unit in “sermon sketch.” Here is gives the “main idea of the text” and “main idea of the message.” A brief introduction and sermon outline. He occasionally includes illustrations (although there are more in the appendix to the book) and conclusion to the sermon. As Kellum makes clear in the introduction, these are examples of how an expositional sermon might develop a text and should not be confused with a critical commentary. He is not claiming these sermons are the only way to approach the text, but are the results of his own prayerful study of the text following the method outlined in the first two chapters of the book.

Kellum concludes his book with two two appendices. First, he gives a list of the tools an expositor needs in order to preparing for the study of any text. Kellum offers his opinion on English Bibles and other language tools, Bible encyclopedias, dictionaries, atlases, introductions, chart books and commentaries. He briefly comments on both Systematic and Biblical theologies and other communicator’s tools. For example, most public speakers want to have access to a good dictionary for the purpose of using words properly. However, he warns there is nothing more irritating than someone saying “Webster defines righteousness as…” I agree wholeheartedly: a Greek lexicon for biblical words not an English Dictionary (p. 233). He concludes the section by offering some comments on the use of the Internet and some warnings for using Wikipedia. Most of these are fairly common sense. I found it interesting he included a valuable resource such as Google books since it contains many older commentaries which may be used freely. As the author warns, many of these commentaries are quite old, limiting their value to the expositor.

He briefly comments on choosing a Bible program such as Logos, BibleWorks or Accordance. He warns that there are several mistakes and expositor can make when using Bible software. First, do not think Bible software is perfect. They all rely on human data entry and mistakes can be made. Second, language tools are useless unless you know the basics of the grammar. Knowing a verb is in the aorist tense is of no help whatsoever if you don’t know what the aorist tense is. “Being unfamiliar with the program’s terminology might result in some bizarre heresies.”  He also warns about being satisfied with a single search. Computer program can only search what you tell it to search so there is some skill needed in knowing how to get a program such as log onto recordings to give you the data that you want.

The second appendix is “a sermon series through the farewell discourse.” This appendix is almost 100 pages in includes sermon outlines, main idea of text, main idea of message, introductions, conclusions, and suggested illustrations useful for preaching through this section. Kellum has written out the introductions and conclusions fully, but hopefully no one will read these verbatim as part of their own sermons. They intended as a model for how to do expositional preaching. I found this appendix strange since it often reproduces the text verbatim the main chapters of the book. For example the outline on page 156 is identical to the outline on page 283; the only differences I can see are the illustrations. Perhaps there is a better way to present this material that does not increase the size and cost of the book.

Kellum conclude with a select bibliography useful for studying the book of John as well as several hermeneutical texts. Like his appendix on basic tools, this section is a kind of ‘buyer’s guide” for seminary students. This “expository walk-through” will be useful in a homiletics class, but any pastor or teacher who wants to polish their expositional skills will profit from reading this book.

 

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

 

Book Review: Herbert Bateman, Interpreting the General Letters

Bateman IV.  Herbert W. Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook. Handbooks for New Testament Exegesis. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2013. 315 pp. Pb; $29.99. Link.

Herb Bateman’s Interpreting the General Letters joins series editor John Harvey’s Interpreting the Pauline Letters in this exegetical handbook series. When I reviewed Harvey’s volume a year ago, my main criticism was the brevity of the book. That is not a problem for Bateman’s book, since he has 100 more pages and considerably less material to cover.

The outline of the two books is similar. After a three chapter survey of the genre, background, and theology of the books, this Handbook provides an exegetical method, from translation to interpretation and finally communication. Since this book is intended as a textbook for classroom use, each chapter opens with an “at a glance” summary and a concluding review highlighting key points. Like other books in the series, the book concludes with a glossary of key terms.

Bateman, General LettersIn chapter 1, Bateman provides an overview of the genre of letter writing in the ancient world. Since this is a topic worthy of a monograph, Bateman must be brief. Nevertheless, this is a good introduction to a complex topic. He gives several examples of letters from approximately the same time as the General Epistles, to commendation letters, one conciliatory letter and two commanding letters. As is often observed, even though the canonical letters are longer than most Greco-Roman letters, the form is quite similar. Bateman briefly looks various “rules” for letter writing from Isocrates (436-338 B.C.E.), Pseudo-Demetrius (first century B.C.E.) and Pseudo-Libanius (fourth century C.E.)  The General Epistles roughly follow the patterns set in these famous manuals, although they sometimes mix genre.

The second chapter gives an overview of Greco-Roman history from Alexander the Great through the Maccabean and Roman periods. While this background is interesting and well-written, it might be too broad for a book on the General Epistles. Part of the reason for the lengthy historical narrative is Bateman’s thesis that Jude was written to Jewish Christian believers in Judea just prior to the rebellion in A.D. 66. The “godless ones” who have “secretly slipped in” are best understood in Bateman’s view in the light of the Jewish War not antinomians. This chapter also compares James to Wisdom Literature and briefly introduces Greco-Roman household codes as background to 1 Peter.

In order to introduce the theology of the General epistles, Bateman begins with an overarching biblical theology of the “strategic plan of God.” This section is a slightly slimmed version of progressive dispensationalism found in his Jesus the Messiah. Despite using the term dispensation, this presentation of God’s plan should not be dismissed out of hand. This is not the same kind of dispensationalism found in the Scofield Reference Bible or popular novels. Bateman presents a way of conceptualizing salvation history consistent with other narrative approaches to biblical theology.

His view of the kingdom is common in current discussions (the cross inaugurates the Kingdom; the second coming consummates the kingdom). He does an excellent job contextualizing this material to the General epistles, illustrating the “era of fulfillment” and “era of consummation” from these letters as much as possible. “In short,” Bateman says, “the corporate followers of Jesus have been transferred into the kingdom, live on earth as God’s redeemed community in anticipation of Jesus’ return and rule on earth, and model kingdom living for all other people so that they will be drawn to God” (118). After this overarching biblical theology, he offers a short, one page summary of the theological contributions of each book.

In chapter 4 (“Preparing to Interpret”), Bateman begins to outline his exegetical method. First the exegete must translate the text. This is a basic overview of how to approach a paragraph in Greek, identifying verbs and clauses. Second, while working through a portion of Greek text, the exegete begins to identify interpretive issues. Comparing English translations sometimes brings these issues to light. Rendering the tense of a verb may vary, as will any idiomatic Greek in the pericope. The final step at this stage is to isolate any textual issues in the pericope. Here Bateman gives a fifteen page introduction to textual criticism.

Once the sense of the Greek text is understood, the exegete moves to interpret the text, beginning with the structure of the passage. Bateman defines independent and dependent clauses and shows how these clauses function in a sentence. He works through 1 Peter 1:3-11 in order to demonstrate the usefulness of an analysis of the structure of the passage. By way of syntax and style, Bateman has in mind features like inclusio, chiasm, etc. He briefly highlights the style of the four writers in this section.

Most beginning exegetes find the syntax, grammar, and structural exercises boring and most want to rush right into word studies. Bateman states the goal in a word study is to “determine the author’s intended meaning of a symbol in his specific literary context” (199). By establishing a range of possibilities, the interpreter is in a better position to hear how the original audience might have understood the word. While he does suggest a study of the use of the word in classical, Septuagint, and Koine contexts, this may be “too much work” for the busy pastor (unless they are using Logos or Accordance!) Bateman does not instruct the student on the use of word-books or “theological dictionaries” (TDNT and the like).

Finally, chapter six deals with how to communicate exegetically, using 3 John as an example). If the exegete has done the work, then determining the “central idea” of the pericope is the next step. Ideally this is done for the larger passage by grouping summaries topically and creating an exegetical outline for the whole passage. But an exegetical outline is rarely preachable. If the goal of exegesis is “communicating homiletically,” then an additional step is necessary. Bateman gives his “homiletical outline” and a few examples of illustrations “sprinkled throughout the sermon” (237). Since this is more or less how I prepare a sermon, I feel at home in this section of the chapter. It is possible this “Haddon Robinson” style of delivery will not resonate with the more narrative style popular among preachers today.

Chapter seven offers two examples of the method outlined in the previous three chapters. Here Bateman shows how to go “from exegesis to exposition.” He selects Jude vv. 5-7 and Hebrews 10:19-25. Again, I find his method and results comforting since they are near enough to my own. But I wonder about application of the text: How can the exegete “bridge the gap”?  I am not sure Bateman does this well. For example, Jude 5-7, his final point is “do not join in the Zealot insurrection against Rome” (269). While this might be an accurate statement of Jude’s intention for writing the letter, how does that “preach” to a congregation today? That final step in the journey from exegesis to sermon seems missing in this book.

In the final section of the book, Bateman offers a list of resources for studying the General Epistles. Some of these are general works on historical and textual issues. Bateman has a very useful chart describing several commentary series (296—302). Here he gives the stated purpose of the series along with the published volumes on the General Epistles in the series with dates. There is some evaluation in this chart, describing the series as technical, critical or popular; conservative or moderate liberal, etc. The series in this list are recent and in most cases still being completed or publishing replacement volumes for older ones, such as the International Critical Commentary. The balance of the chapter is a list of other commentaries or monographs on the book without comment. Some of these monographs are in technical dissertation series and are not readily available for most pastors (WUNT, for example). There are a few unpublished dissertations in the list as well. This list might have been improved with a ranking of the best exegetical commentary or best popular expositional commentary, etc.

Conclusion. Bateman’s book is an excellent introduction to these often ignored letters. It is conservative, since he accepts the traditional views on most issues. There is very little interaction with challenges to the traditional authors of these letters. There is a brief discussion of Pseudonymity in his chapter on genre, but he does not discuss any specific the problems for the traditional view on these letters. Despite my criticism above, this is a very useful handbook, explaining and modeling the exegetical method.

In fact, the Exegetical Handbook series is ideal textbook for classroom use. Two more volumes are planned, David Turner on the Gospels and Acts and Marvin Pate on the Apocalypse. There are three volumes available in the Old Testament series (Pentateuch, Historical Books and Psalms). I look forward to the rest of the series.

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

 

 

 

Book Review: Brevard S. Childs, The Struggle to Understand Isaiah as Christian Scripture

Childs, Brevard S. The Struggle to Understand Isaiah as Christian Scripture. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2004. 332 pp. $35, hdbk. $19.25, Kindle.

When Brevard Childs finished his commentary on Isaiah in 2001, he had some unfinished business. In the Introduction to The Struggle to Understand Isaiah, he explains that writing a commentary does not permit serious reflection on the way Isaiah has been read by past interpreters or the hermenutical assumptions made by these interpreters over the long history of reading Isaiah as Scripture.

Childs summarizes the problem he wants to address in this way: “I am very conscious of the great confusion in the church generated by an endless number of conflicting approaches for reading the Bible. Not only has the subject been heavily politicized both by the right and the left, but the field has become awash with a parade of fads, each promising major advances in personal and communal enlightenment” (x.)

Every generation has sought to read and interpret Scripture as God’s word, and apply that Scripture to the “present day.” And every generation has created a “method” which is believed to be the proper way to read Scripture. While some of the allegorical interpretations of the medieval church are laughable today, it was at one time the “assured results of scholarship.” In the same way, reading a serious scholarly commentary from the late nineteenth-century is usually an exercise in futility since the method used to read and interpret scripture has been completely rejected.

Does this mean that the church was hopelessly confused about the meaning of Scripture for the better part of two millennia until we wise moderns came along to sort things out? Or does this mean that Scripture has no real meaning until enlightened imaginations encounter it and create meaning? Neither option is attractive to Childs. He therefore wants to read a wide selection of commentaries on Isaiah in order to discover any consistency over the centuries of interpretation. My first reaction is “I cannot learn anything from Origen!” But this is not true; as Childs shows there is some consistency from the earliest Christian readings of Isaiah to the present.

Despite the fact that it is pre-Christian, Childs begins with the Septuagint as the earliest interpretation of Isaiah. This is an important step since it shows that Jewish readers in the second century B.C. were already struggling to read Isaiah and apply it to their own situation. After observing how the translators of the Septuagint struggle to read Isaiah, Childs surveys examples of commentaries on Isaiah from the earliest Christians (Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen) through the great thinkers of the Church (Jerome, John Chrysostom, Thomas Aquinas) and the Reformation (Luther and Calvin). He treats the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and postmodern interpretations in single chapters.

By moving through such a large number of representative commentaries, Childs then concludes by looking for what he calls “family resemblances” between these various Christian voices. He finds seven basic characteristics of Christian interpretation of scripture based on his historical survey of Isaiah commentaries.

  1. Authority of Scripture.
  2. Literal and Spiritual Sense of Scripture.
  3. Scripture’s Two Testaments.
  4. The Divine and Human Authorship of Scripture
  5. The Christological Content of the Bible.
  6. The Dialectical Nature of History.
  7. History and the Final Form of the Text.

In the end, I think that Childs has collected the basic consistencies in this wide variety of literature. At least the first five of his points (and probably the seventh) would be true for any commentary I have read and found useful for teaching and preaching. I would also hope that my own reading of the Bible is consistent these points as well.

I do have some reservations, however. I do not think that every passage from the Hebrew Bible must be read Christologically. Certainly Isaiah 7:14 must be, since there is warrant in the New Testament for this topological reading. But what about Hezekiah’s illness in Isa 39? Must I read Christ into that account? It seems to me that the text has nothing specific to say about Christ and a great deal to say about how God is dealing with his people at that time and place in history. To find a Christological principle in Isaiah 39 seems to rob the text of the original meaning.

Childs provides an excellent overview of how thoughtful Christians have read Isaiah in the past.  This alone makes the book a valuable contribution.  His conclusions show that there is much consistency between the various Christian voices which have struggled to read Isaiah.  Whether this is a platform for developing a “Christian Hermenutic” remains unclear, but Childs certainly shows that one cannot read Scripture as a Christian unless Scripture is central.

Book Review: Douglas Sean O’Donnell, The Beginning and End of Wisdom

O’Donnell, Douglas Sean. The Beginning and End of Wisdom: Preaching Christ from the First and Last Chapters of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. Wheaton: Crossway, 2011. 235 pp. $17.99, pb. Link to Crossway

The plan of this book is to help the reader “build a fire” by helping them to know and enjoy Wisdom literature. More importantly, O’Donnell wants to show the reader “how to build the fire” by giving them some tools for reading Wisdom literature. What makes this book different than most short books of Wisdom Literature is that O’Donnell specifically wants to read this material through the lens of Jesus and the Cross. He wants the reader to “put on Gospel glasses and look at this text” in order to preach Christocentiric sermons on Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. In order to do this, he provides six sermons based on the beginning and end of the three Wisdom books. After these illustration sermons, he offers a chapter describing his Christological method for reading Wisdom.

What O’Donnell does not do in his sermons is exegesis of the text. By this I mean that there is little reflection on the meaning of words or the context of the ancient world. In his sermon on the opening section of Ecclesiastes, his title is “Why Work?” and the content of the sermon is on the importance of working hard for the at righteousness. He looks at work through “Gospel Glasses” and examines Jesus work doing the will of the father, then draws a line to his audience, urging them also to do the will of the father. I find this style of sermons as more or less thematic, based on some theme in the text, but in the end totally unconnected with the text read at the beginning of the sermon.

In his last chapter, O’Donnell shares several tips for preaching Christ in Wisdom literature. He recommends that the preacher not draw a straight line from the Old Testament to some ethical / moral teaching for his congregation. Rather, a Christocentric preacher will draw the line from the Old Testament, through Christ, and then to an ethical command for his congregation.

How is this to be done? O’Donnell recommends a judicious use of typology. For example, his sermon on Job 42 focuses on the sufferings of Job as a type of the sufferings of Jesus. “What Isaiah foretold, Job illustrated and Jesus embodied.” (125). I think that this style of typology is not particularly helpful if my goal is presenting what Bible actually says. There is nothing at all in Job 42 or in the later use of Job’s story that makes me think that this typological analysis is valid. In fact, I find it scarcely better than allegorizing the text. O’Donnell does not want to allegorize the Old Testament, and claims that this typological study is not allegory. I cannot see the difference. He does state that typology is “not an easy skill,” it takes time, hard work, and spiritual illumination (127).

I find this characterization intimidating since it implies that my resistence to typology is the result of non-illumination, even if it is the result of hard work and time spent in the text. The Holy Spirit may very well illuminate a pastor who takes the time to exegete a text and reflect on historical, cultural, and literary contexts in order to apply the text to his congregation. I think that a sermon on a section of Proverbs, for example, does not have to jump from the text of the Hebrew Bible to Jesus in order to be valuable for a Christian congregation. I certainly do not think that this is necessary for Job or Ecclesiastes. This is where I seriously differ with O’Donnell, I am after the original intention of the author. The application of a text ought to be drawn from that text. By using“gospel glasses” in parts of the Bible which are not expressly Christological, I think the meaning of the text suffers.

I found his appendix on reading Hebrew poetry well written and helpful, although he is standing on the foundation of Robert Alter. He provides a nice introduction to the forms of Hebrew poetry and gives some good advice on dealing with biblical imagery. For example, he urges his readers to not overanalyze imagery, allowing the fluid language of the text to be evocative and moving. I think that this section could be enhanced by taking into consideration the use (and abuse) of metaphors in poetry, but there is still much here that will help a preacher to better approach the poetry of the Hebrew Bible.

This was not the book I expected it to be when I began reading it. Rather than a short introduction to Wisdom Literature, it is book about how to preach Wisdom Literature with a decidedly Christ-centered approach. I think that O’Donnell achieves that goal, I just wonder if that goal is the right one for the pastor who preaches from Wisdom Literature.