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Laansma, Jon C. and Randall X. Gauthier. The Handy Guide to Difficult and Irregular Greek Verbs. Aids for Readers of the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel Academic, 2017. 80 pgs; Pb. $13.99 Link to Kregel

Kregel Academic recently sent me a copy of their latest volume in the “Handy Guide” series of New Testament Greek tools. The first in the series was Douglas S. Huffman, The Handy Guide to New Testament Greek (reviewed here). Like this previous handbook, Laansma and Gauthier provide a user-friendly quick reference which will be an important supplement to any New Testament Greek course.

The Handy Guide to Difficult and Irregular Greek VerbsThe goal of The Handy Guide to Difficult and Irregular Greek Verbs is to provide a set of vocabulary aids not found in other vocabulary lists. Most beginning Greek students tend to think of the present active first singular forms as a kind of “default” for a Greek verb, but this is often an unfortunate assumption. The authors therefore define a “difficult or irregular verb” from the perspective of that first year Greek student: these are the verbs which have unusual principle parts and are therefore the most difficult to recognize while reading the New Testament.

My typical approach to principle parts has been to have students memorize the 25 most common irregular verbs in the second semester of Greek, and then another 15 in the third semester (reviewing the original 25). The problem with this method is some principle parts are so rare in the Greek New Testament it is not profitable to memorize them. Laansma and Gauthier point out that φέρω occurs 192x in various compound forms, but the second principle part οἴσω only appears three times. It is probably a waste of student effort to memorize the rare form, but it is important to memorize the third principle part, the aorist form ἤνεγκα since it more common and used in compound forms.

The best thing about this book is the four page list of irregular verbs ordered by frequency in the New Testament. Each block of 10-12 forms are assigned a letter (a-j). The list begins with δόντος (the aorist active participle, masculine genitive singular of δίδωμι). Although δίδωμι itself only appears 415x in the Greek New Testament, compound forms run that number closer to 600x. By learning this form, the student will recognize forms of παραδίδωμι and ἀποδίδωμι, for example.

Part 2 of the book is an alphabetical list of verbs with their compound forms. Taking φέρω as an example, they list the six principle parts, printing the most common in bold and indicating which of the lists in part 1 the form appeared. Only the aorist and aorist passive forms are common enough to appear on the lists in part 1, the future active appears online three times and the perfect middle/passive does not appear at all in the Greek New Testament.

The book has two appendices. The first prints the full paradigms of εἰμί and ἵημι in present and imperfect forms. The first is the extremely common to-be verb and appears in numerous compound forms and must be memorized if one is going to read Greek. This second form is not found in the New Testament, but compound forms are common (ἀφίημι for example). The second appendix deals with perfect and pluperfect middle/passive forms as well as the optative mood. Although many of these are formed regularly, they are rare enough to qualify as “difficult” forms in this handbook.

Conclusion. This book should be in the hands of every Greek student as they struggle to read the New Testament. This handbook should be a go-to reference for difficult verbal forms.

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

I just received  the new UBS Greek New Testament, Fifth Edition with the NIV in the mail today from Zondervan.  I obviously have not spent much time with the books since it is only just released, but I will offer a few “first impressions.” This is not a Greek Readers Bible or an interlinear, but a full edition of the newest text from the United Bible Society and the latest edition of the NIV (2011). If you like those two editions of the New Testament, you will likely like this new Bible.

UBS 5 with NIV 02

First, when the volume was announced my immediate question was about the textual critical apparatus. I was worried these extremely important notes would be sacrificed in order to print two New Testaments in a handy format. Thankfully the notes are all present and in exactly the same format as the other editions of the UBS Greek New Testament. I did not check every page, but every note I checked was present. I would not have recommended the Bible if the textual notes were removed.

UBS 5 with NIV 03Second, the UBS 5 text is placed on one page facing the NIV. Since the UBS text includes textual critical apparatus, the English side has about a third of a page blank (sometimes a half page). This is a good space for note-taking!

Third, I think the physical size and shape of the Bible are an improvement over my UBS 4. The paper is a bright white, by UBS 4 was a kind of cream color. I am not sure which I like better, but the print (both in terms of color and typeface) in this new edition is very readable and clear.  The book is the same size as the older Bible although it is 1750 pages (plus another 81 pages in the introduction) compared to the UBS 4’s 918 (plus another 203 for the glossary in the case of my UBS 4).

The Introduction includes prefaces to the first through fourth editions and the introduction to the fifth edition (74 pages) and the Preface to the NIV (7 pages).

UBS 5 with NIV 01

One thing I noticed was missing—there was no card with manuscript dates! The information appears in the introduction, but I miss the traditional trifold card tucked into the front of my Bible. The spine of my Bible is off-center, which might be a trigger for some of the more OCD Greek specialists.

Overall I am well-pleased with the new UBS Greek New Testament with the NIV. Those who are do not like the NIV will probably not appreciate this combination appealing, but for many this will be their new Greek Bible of Choice. It will make a good textbook Bible for Greek reading classes, although students should be issued screens to cover the NIV translation for doing their homework.

 

New Addition to the Family

New Addition to the Family

 

Comfort, Philip Wesley. A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2015. 443 pp. Hb. $29.99.  Link to Kregel

Philip Comfort is well known for his many publications on New Testament textual criticism and especially for his work with papyri. His latest contribution is a running commentary on the text of the New Testament with a special emphasis on evidence drawn from the papyri. While it is not required that this commentary should be used along with Comfort’s early work The Complete Text of the Earliest New Testament Manuscripts (with David Barrett, Baker, 1999) or his revision and expansion in The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts (Tyndale, 2001).

Comfort CoverThis new commentary is similar to Bruce Metzger’s companion volume to the United Bible Society Greek New Testament. Metzger only commented on the variants as they appear in the UBS textual apparatus by giving a brief report of the reasoning behind the committee’s decision. Occasionally there is a dissenting opinion from one of the editors of the UBS. Metzger’s goal is to explain why a particular reading is more likely than another. There are two editions of Metzger’s Textual commentary, the first comments on the variants in the third edition of the UBS Greek New Testament, the second is keyed to the fourth UBS Greek Bible. Since there are many variants no longer listed in the fourth edition, it is necessary to have both volumes available.

Comfort offers a 23-page introduction to the manuscripts of the New Testament. As expected, his main interest is the papyri, especially several examples he considered to represent the original reading of the New Testament. Although he briefly discusses Epp’s canons of internal textual criticism, Comfort gives priority to manuscript evidence (31). In addition to prioritizing the papyri, Comfort is one of the few text critics to give the nomina sacra, abbreviations of sacred words in the manuscripts. Words such as Lord, Jesus, Christ, and God are regular written as a shortened form of the word with a line over the letters to indicate an abbreviation. A significant section of the introductory chapter and an appendix are devoted to the importance of these sacred words.

The second introductory chapter is an 83-page annotated list of manuscripts of the New Testament. Entries include the designation of the manuscript, original publication (editio princeps) and current location. Comfort then suggests a date for the manuscript along with a brief explanation of this date where necessary. Finally, Comfort offers an assessment of the manuscript for textual criticism. For p2, he states the Greek-Coptic manuscript is too small to assess textual affinities,” for others he concludes they contain “fairly reliable texts” (p70, for example). Comfort includes 127 papyri listed in the UBS/NA editions as well as four others not assigned an official number (Egerton Gospel, for example). He offers similar annotations for significant Uncial manuscripts (Sinaticus, Vaticanus, etc) and a few minuscules (usually families). He offers short introductions to versions (translations) and a simple list of key church fathers. Except for the papyri, this is not a complete list and Comfort suggests Aland for a comprehensive introduction.

Since this book is not tied any one edition of the Greek New Testament, Comfort’s comments are on readings found in the manuscripts rather than why one reading is preferable to another. Since his comments are brief, he is able to list more variants than appear in the UBS textual apparatus. Using John 1 as an example, the UBS text lists variants in verses 3-4, 4, two in 13, 18, 19, 21, 26, 28, 34, 41, and 42. Comfort’s commentary only includes two of these variants, but includes eight other variants, all of which are found in the NA edition. With the exception of verse 18, all his comments are brief observations citing the nature of the variant as well as the presence of a nomina sacra. For significant textual problems such as the long ending of Mark, John 7:53-8:11, or the doxology in Romans 16:23, Comfort offers a more extended discussion.

Despite the fact the book is a commentary on Greek manuscripts, all Greek is transliterated and variants are cited in English. A typical entry begins with the reference followed by an English translation of what Comfort takes to be the original wording of the text in question. Following this heading Comfort offers support from the manuscripts, versions or church fathers. These explanations are brief and to the point, making it easy for a student to check variants as the read their Greek Bible.

This is a sharp looking book designed to be a companion of the UBS and NA28 Greek New Testaments. It is well-bound and printed on thin but quality paper with a sewn in book-mark (like a Bible). Since it is designed to be used as a manual, Kregel should be thanked for printing the book with durable materials.

Conclusion. Philip Comfort’s method for evaluating manuscripts will not appeal to everyone who works in textual criticism. Some of his early books were heavily criticized for being overly optimistic about papyri manuscripts and dating some of these texts too early. But that sort of critique is typical of people who do textual criticism. The two introductory chapters are a convenient collection of material which will aid anyone trying to make sense of a textual variant. There are very few books on textual criticism which give such an important place to identifying nomina sacra. Since the commentary is based on English with all Greek in transliteration, a layperson with limited Greek skills can use this volume without too much difficulty.

Metzger’s textual commentaries will still be the first off my shelf, but this resource from Comfort will be a close second.

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

 

 

 

Schmitt, John W. and J. Carl Laney. Messiah’s Coming Temple. Updated Edition. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2014. 248 pp. Pb; $16.99. Link to Kregel.

This book is an update to Schmitt and Laney’s original 1997 Messiah’s Coming Temple, adding three chapters and about 50 pages to the original. In addition to this new material, there are a number of new illustrations including new 3D models of the temple. All illustrations are in black and white, some of the 3D images are on Schmitt and LaneySchmitt’s Future Hope Ministries website. Like the original, this is a popular level introduction to Ezekiel’s vision of a future temple. The book is designed to be read by laymen, so there is little discussion of wider scholarship on the vision.

The first two chapter of the book survey the history of the Temple in the Old Testament. After a description of the Tabernacle, Schmitt and Laney give a brief sketch of the history of the Tabernacle and the Temple. The section on the Tabernacle creates a typology between various elements of the Tabernacle and Jesus Christ. For example the “single entrance” to the Tabernacle foreshadows Christ is the one door of access to the Father (citing John 10:9). As popular as these typological observations are, I have never found them convincing. Several key Hebrew terms appear in these chapters, but unfortunately the authors define temple by using Webster’s Dictionary rather than a Hebrew lexicon. The chapter does not compare Solomon’s temple to other Ancient temples. The history section begins with Solomon, runs through the the destruction of the first Temple and the rebuilding of the second Temple, Herod’s renovations and finally the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

Chapters 3, 5 and 8-10 focus on the book of Ezekiel. The third chapter introduces the reader to the prophet Ezekiel in offers a general overview of the book. Chapter 5 is a new chapter in this edition of the book, comparing the temple in Ezekiel’s vision to several to the Solomonic gates at Megiddo, Hazor and Gezer. The chapter includes excellent photographs and several charts illustrating similarities. My only criticism here is the chapter relies on Biblical Archaeology Review articles rather than direct reports from archaeologists. This is simply the nature of a popular book, but a “for further reading” section would have enhanced this chapter greatly. Schmitt includes a section on Mount Gerizim since the Samaritans built a temple there after then time of Ezekiel’s vision. Unfortunately the temple has not been fully excavated because of Byzantine church was built on top of the Gerizim Temple, but it would be interesting to compare the general layout of the Samaritan temple to Ezekiel.

In chapters 8-10 the authors examine the details of the prophecy in the book of Ezekiel, beginning with a survey of the various interpretations of the vision. Some take the vision as a “memorial of pre-captivity temple,” others see it as the real postexilic temple. Others have understood the vision as an allegory of the heavenly state or the present church age. For Schmitt and Laney the vision is a literal temple, a “building in the future kingdom.” The section is good overview although I would have appreciated footnotes to commentaries espousing each of the five views presented. The rest of these chapters survey the vision and offer some architectural comments. Reading the text in Ezekiel is difficult, these notes attempt to summarize and clarify the visions.

Chapter 6 is a new section in this updated edition. Schmitt and Laney survey several other predictions of future temple, calling these predictions “different temples.” Perhaps this chapter was added in response to critiques of the first edition of the book, which did focus on only Ezekiel. Chapter 7 offers a short introduction to Schmitt and Laney’s view of eschatology. “What is next on the Prophetic Calendar…” Chapters 6-7 were an interruption of the theme of the book (Ezekiel’s temple) and the book could be improved if these chapters were moved either before or after the survey of Ezekiel.

Chapters 10-15 concern the future temple, often moving beyond the text of Ezekiel. Here Schmitt and Laney develop the outline of eschatology presented in chapter 7 and deal with a number of “problems” associated with a literal future temple. First, chapter 10 discusses future predictions of the temple and the antichrist attack on that temple. They are adamant the future temple is designed for the Messiah. The problem is: are there two temples, one during the tribulation and a second, new Temple during the kingdom?

Second, Schmitt and Laney discuss the problem of an altar and sacrifice in the future temple (ch. 11). This of course is only a problem for premillennialists who believe that Christ’s  sacrifice on the cross puts an end to Old Testament sacrifices. For some Jews, Ezekiel’s references to an altar are also problematic since it is been two millennia since sacrifice has been made in the Temple. The authors conclude there will be sacrifices in the millennial kingdom and they will serve as a continuous memorial that the Messiah has come (140).

Third, the last new chapter in the book answers the question “Can Sacrifices Be a Part of a Future Temple?”(ch. 12). This chapter answers the question of the previous chapter. It explores the purpose of the sacrifices in the temple during the millennial kingdom. They conclude that Ezekiel’s temple sacrifices do not violate the mosaic system of worship because they are another in system entirely (158).

Fourth, Schmitt and Laney discuss the future temple and the land of Israel (13). Here the authors deal with several suggested locations for the original temple, but also the prophetic location of the future temple. Ezekiel’s map of Israel is idealized for the messianic Kingdom and there are a host of problems with the order of the tribes and the position of the temple.

Fifth, chapter 14 describes what Schmitt and Laney see as “life in the messianic age.” This chapter goes far beyond the confines of Ezekiel to describe what the eschatological age looked like in Old Testament prophecy. This age will be a time of peace, joy, holiness, comfort, healing of sickness, freedom from oppression, and economic prosperity. It will be a time characterized by the personal presence of the Messiah and the universal knowledge of God. It is a time when Jerusalem is at the center of all worship in the world.

Last, Schmitt and Laney list a few items missing from the future temple and offer some explanation for their absence (ch. 15). There are eight missing items listed in the book: the wall of partition, the court of the women, the laver, the golden lampstand, the table of the showbread, the altar of incense, the veil separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple, and the Ark of the Covenant. In addition to the missing items division has a different view of the altar in the temple. Ezekiel uses a different word for altar in 43:15b, אֲרִיאֵל (ʾărîʾēl), although the altar is also spelled הַרְאֵל (harʾēl) in 43:15a. On pages 190-1 the authors transliterate this as ariel and state the root of this unusual word means “lion of God.” They then argue the name of the altar in Ezekiel “lion of God” is an allusion to Judah as a lion in Gen 49:9 (אֲרִי, lion, plus אֵל god). This in turn looks forward to the Messiah is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Rev 5:5). While the word could be construed as a proper name meaning lion of God, their argument seems to me to be quite a stretch. The Mesha Stele uses the related word אראל in reference to a “hearth of an altar” (HALOT) and a similar word appears in Isa 29:1 as a metaphor for Israel as a whole. The etymology of “lion of God” may not be valid and it is even stranger to force the name of the altar into a typology of the Messiah. My criticism here is driven by the popular level of the book. An introduction like this book is probably not the place to discuss the complicated problems of the etymology of Hebrew words. On the other hand, since the problems exist it is probably safer to make typological claims more tentatively.

Conclusion. This is a very easy to read introduction to the Temple both past and future. Premiliennialists (and dispensationalists) will feel comfortable with the ideas presented in the book, although this terminology is not used in the book. The closest they get is in chapter 7 where they discuss the rapture of the church; Laney is pre-tribulational with respect to the rapture and Schmitt leans to mid-tribulational rapture (88). This is the language of dispensationalism, even if the writers want to avoid the term. I find it strange these terms would be omitted from a book so friendly toward dispensationalism. In fact, Laney has a doctoral degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. I suspect this is simply to create some space between the book and more popular (and strange) forms of dispensationalism.

While the sub-title of the book clearly states the book is about Ezekiel’s vision for the future temple, I would have appreciated a chapter relating Ezekiel’s vision to the New Jerusalem vision in Rev21. Since the book is not concerned only with Ezekiel, I think there is space for Revelation.

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

 

 

 

Garrett, Duane A. A Commentary on Exodus. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2014. 741 pp. Hb; $39.99. Link to Kregel, including a sample PDF of the first 50 pages of the introduction.

Duane Garret’s commentary on Exodus is the latest installment in the Kregel Exegetical Library (Alan Ross on Psalms, Robert Chisholm on Judges and Ruth). Garrett is well-known for his work in Wisdom Literature (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs in the NAC series, Song of Songs / Lamentations in the WBC, and a forthcoming commentary on Job in the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary series from Logos) as well as the Hosea and Joel volume in the NAC series. He has contributed a textbook Classical Hebrew (B&H).

Garrett ExodusIn his introduction, Garrett identifies several features of his commentary. First, he attempts to give readers short introduction to Egyptian history culture language and geography. While this appears primarily in the introduction, the commentary itself often sets the text in a historical context. Second, he attempts to state the “evidence and arguments over crucial questions.” Obviously these will include things like the date of the Exodus and the location of Sinai. His goal is to “walk readers through the complexities involved.” Although he reaffirms the reliability of the text, he does not distort the evidence in order to produce a “conservative answer.”

Third, Garrett analyzes Hebrew prose on a clause-by-clause basis. This is truly an exegetical commentary on the Hebrew text of Exodus. In this respect, the commentary is challenging to read for those with limited Hebrew language skills. Fourth, Garrett tries to argue the book of Exodus contains a series of poems in addition to the Song of the Sea (Exod 15). Fifth, Garrett attempts to make this commentary useful for pastors and Bible teachers. He does not want to neglect what he calls “thorny problems,” but often relegates the details of his arguments to the footnotes. Last, Garrett reads Exodus is as a Christian theologian. He pays attention to the New Testament and Christian doctrine knowing the commentary will be used by Christian ministers, pastors, and Sunday school teachers as they prepare sermons and lessons based on this important Old Testament book.

The commentary is worth purchasing for the 145 page introduction to the book of Exodus. If I were teaching a class on Exodus (or even the Pentateuch) I would assign this section as a textbook since it summarizes many of the key problems for interpreters of Exodus in a very readable format.

First, the introduction discusses the sources and composition of the book of Exodus. While he does briefly treat the documentary hypothesis, he is more interested in recent studies in the “Book of the Covenant (Joe Sprinkle) or T. D. Alexander’s study of the unity of Exodus 19:1-24:11. If someone attempts to study the sources of Exodus, there are more up-to-date methods to explore than “continually flogging the dead horse of the documentary hypothesis” (20).

Second Garrett deals with the Hebrew text of Exodus and the translation method used in the commentary. For prose, he translates each clause separately, for poetry he attempts to make use of the cantillation system for translating lines of Hebrew text.

Third, Garrett been offers a lengthy discussion of Egyptian History, including brief summaries of the reigns of key Pharaohs in the New Kingdom since this is the period in which the Exodus occurred. He follows Kenneth Kitchen closely with respect to chronology.

The fourth section of the introduction is perhaps the most important. In reading a commentary on Exodus, most readers will immediately turn to the section on date of the Exodus. In this sixty-page section, Garrett discusses a range of options for the date of the Exodus. This introduction covers both the early and late dates for the date of the Exodus, but also “very early” and very late” dates. Garrett even includes several “eccentric positions.” This is one of the best essays I have read on the date of the Exodus! Garret points out each one of these positions have support from Scripture when interpreted in a literal, “most obvious” sense and each has at least some archaeological support. None of these positions should be described as the “liberal” or “conservative” view.

He concludes: “the exodus, we may be sure, did happen as described in the Bible. On the other hand, we must be humble about our ability to assign it to a specific date” (101). He recommends that a Bible teacher for Pastor should simply avoid specifying the exodus took place during the reign of any specific pharaoh. The book of Exodus is simply called him “the pharaoh.” Having surveyed several eccentric views, Garrett also warns readers to avoid any revisionist Egyptian history. As he says “the Internet is awash in a weird theories of who the Pharaoh of the Exodus was together with major revisions of Biblical chronology that supposedly solve all the problems” (102). Despite the fact that Garrett does not specify a particular date or pharaoh for the Exodus he says that “I see nothing the causes me to distrust the Biblical account” (103). This sort of faith commitment to Scripture and agnosticism towards history may frustrate some less-conservative readers of the commentary. His dismissal of eccentric views will certainly anger readers who are committed to these fringe views. Yet I find Garrett’s comments appropriate and measured considering our lack of knowledge for the details of this period of Israel’s history.

Another major issue users of a commentary on Exodus are interested in is the location of the Red Sea (yam suph) and Mount Sinai. He summarizes a “southern Sinai Peninsula theory” supported by Hoffmeier and a “NorthwestArabia theory” offered by Colin  Humphreys, a physicist from Cambridge University. A third view begins with Paul’s statement in Galatians 4:25 that Sinai is in Arabia. Garrett asks, which Arabia would Paul refer to? It is entirely possible that Transjordan and the region of the east of the Dead Sea could be described fairly as Arabia when Paul wrote. Garrett concludes that Humphreys’s solution is the best available and that the Red Sea is the north end of the Gulf of Aqaba (134).

After all of this historical detail Garrett concludes the introduction to the commentary with a brief eight page summary of the message of Exodus. This section places Exodus is within the overall narrative of Old Testament theology. Particularly useful is the section on the nature of Yahweh. He also offers a few comments on the presentation of Moses in the book. Garret devotes about a page on “Egypt as a symbol of worldly power.” Since there is a great deal of theology of liberation based on God’s rescue of his suffering, poor people from the oppressive government of Egypt, I would have expected a longer section here.

The body of the commentary breaks the book of Exodus into sections. Each section begins with a phrase by phrase translation. In sections Garrett finds poetry, he includes the phrase-by-phrase translation along with the Hebrew portion and an indication of syllable count. This will help the reader to follow the flow of the Hebrew poetry. Garrett deals with Hebrew grammatical matters in footnotes. These notes deal primarily with matters of Hebrew syntax although occasionally he will discuss lexical issues.

Each section structured into an outline prior to the commentary proper. Within the commentary Garrett occasionally refers to the Hebrew or Greek text without transliteration. For the most part Garrett does not interact a great deal with other commentaries, but occasionally there are a few footnotes pointing to key articles for positions in other commentaries. After the commentary section Garrett offers a few theological summaries by way of bullet points. These are simple observations based on the commentary and will be very useful for pastors and teachers working through Exodus. There are a few excursus scattered through the commentary.

Conclusion. I find this commentary to be one of the best that I have read in the Kregel Exegetical Library so far. The introductory material is superlative and worth the price of the book alone. Garrett writes as a believer, yet as a scholar who is intimately aware of the historical complexities of the book of Exodus. His comments on the Hebrew text are excellent and reflect an expert knowledge of Hebrew syntax and grammar. While these features may challenge some readers this commentary is nevertheless an excellent resource for pastors and teachers hoping to preach the book of Exodus.

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

 

 

 

Brooks, Christopher W. Urban Apologetics: Why the Gospel is Good News for the City. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2014. 176 pp. Pb; $16.99.   Link to Kregel

Christopher W. Brooks is a graduate of Biola’s Master’s program in Christian Apologetics and is currently the senior pastor of Evangel Ministries in Detroit. This short book summarizes the sort of apologetic for the Christian faith Brooks does as a part of his ministry in downtown Detroit. While Brooks is involved in urban ministry, this book is targeted at a more broad audience and will appear to anyone looking for a basic introduction to some of the issues facing the church today.

Urban ApologeticsAfter initial chapter on the relevancy of the Christian message Brooks describes apologetics in evangelism as related disciplines. Before a Christian can become an effective apologist they must become a passionate evangelist (41). Brooks sees this method as essentially following the pattern of Jesus, who brought his message to where people are crossing cultural and traditional boundary lines in order to confront them with the Gospel. Brooks recognizes that one of the greatest roadblocks to evangelism is hypocritical behavior on the part of Christians. Many people who are apathetic about the gospel have experienced hypocrisy when in dealing with Christians in the past  and are therefore less interested in hearing the Gospel in the present (51). Chapter 3 deals with Christian morality in general. Brooks briefly describes relativistic and postmodern approaches to ethics. He contrasts the social uncertainty generated by these approaches with the Christian view of God as a higher moral agent and ethics rooted in God’s character.

Chapter 4 deals with what many would consider to be the greatest ethical difficulty Christians face today, abortion. Brooks addresses some of the important issues such as when life begins, the intrinsic value of human life, and the rights of the unborn from a scriptural perspective. It is remarkable however that he does not include up-to-date statistics describing the problem of abortion in an urban context. The most recent statistical data he cites is dated 2003, although this report supports Brooks’ theme. While there has been a steady decrease in abortions among white women, there has been a rise in abortions for black women over the same time period.

Chris BrooksChapter 5 deals with sexuality primarily with homosexuality. After providing some historical background to the present debate, Brooks examines six biblical passages that directly address homosexual behavior. His brief study of these passages supports the traditional Christian view of homosexuality. After surveying these texts, Brooks devotes several pages to the social impact of homosexuality, primarily of the effects of HIV and AIDS in urban communities. This struck me as odd since HIV/AIDS is not restricted to the homosexual community. Certainly this argument could be extended towards all sexual ethics, although that is not done in this chapter.

In chapter 6 Brooks deals with the urban crisis of family. Here he describes the problems faced by churches attempting to do discipleship in communities where there is virtually no emphasis on marriage or parenting. He briefly describes the biblical family model and compares this to the crisis urban churches face. The statistics concerning urban families in this chapter are in fact frightening, although I would have expected Brooks to relate this failure of the family in urban neighborhoods to a break down in social ethics. It is the task of the church Brooks argues, to model positive marriages and to clearly present the biblical message that marriage and parenting is important. Brooks says “the pulpit is arguably the greatest platform for urban revolution and change” (106).

Chapter 7 he deals with religious pluralism in the attraction of non-Christian religions in the urban context. For anyone doing ministry and intercity like Detroit, Islam is clearly the leading competitor to Christianity. Brooks therefore spent several pages describing Islam in some challenges and myths concerning Islam confronting the church. In addition to Islam, Brooks indicates there is a rise in skepticism in American life. Some of this comes from intellectually respectable sources (such as books and blogs), but most Americans have become increasingly apathetic towards religion in general. Instead of atheists many are “apatheist;” they simply no longer care whether there is a God or not. I’m not sure Brooks (or anyone) has an answer to this apathetic attitude in America. It seems to me that this great challenge faced the modern church should be approached as Jesus approached the sinners, with humility and grace.

His chapter on social justice (chapter 8) is particularly interesting in the light of recent events in Ferguson, Missouri. Conservative Christians are usually nervous when African-Americans begin to speak about social justice. Brooks therefore begins his chapter with Calvin’s commentary on Isaiah 58. Calvin believed “the Bible charged believers to stand against injustice, while challenging us to model the lifestyle that shows generosity and care for the poor” (132). Brooks therefore briefly describes six major social justice issues the church must address. These include economic fairness, educational quality, immigration reform, sanctity of life, women’s rights, and religious liberty. This list is remarkable since most of social justice activists would not include sanctity of life or religious liberty.  Brooks suggests “Christians ought to take seriously the call to action given to us by our Savior to protect all people, including homosexuals, from abuse, violence, and ask of hatred” (137). If we are failing on these issues Brooks says we lose credibility for doing evangelism. After having described several approaches to economic justice Brooks speaks positively towards capitalism something unusual when speaking about social justice (143).

Brooks offer some thoughts on doing urban apologetics in the local church (chapter 9). Unfortunately the church in an urban environment often has to take the place of parents. The church therefore is responsible for training constructing and developing believers until they reach maturity. In addition to parenting the local church can partner with other organizations to create a platform for ministry.

In an appendix, Brooks deals with interest in Islam and other new religions especially among African-Americans in urban environments. This is interesting to me because I was unaware of things like Moorish science temple of America or the nation of gods and earth or the Black Hebrew Israelites. Certainly the Nation of Islam is well-known, but some of these other smaller groups are not at all known in White suburban America.

Conclusion. This is an excellent introduction to several apologetic issues that are of interest in any environment not just an inner-city, urban, African-American church. What I found remarkable about this book is that there was less specific information on doing African-American ministry than expected. Having read interviews with Christopher Brooks in the past I expected a more targeted apologetic. There is some of this in this chapter on sexuality, but the statistics he cites are just is true for suburban in teens as inner city. Another example might be challenges faced for people attempting to reach urban teens. In a recent interview, Brooks commented “the Christian hip-hop artist is the modern equivalent of the ancient prophet” (CT interview). I particularly liked the way he put this but I don’t see that kind of attitude in this book. This is not a problem since the book is not on the “doing ministry in a black community.”

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

Pettit, Paul and R.Todd Mangum. Blessed Are the Balanced: A Seminarian’s Guide to Following Jesus in the Academy.  Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2014. 137 pp. Pb; $14.99. Link to Kregel.

This is a short guide to maintaining a spiritual life in Seminary. There is nothing here on research skills, how to write seminary level papers or tips on memorizing Greek and Hebrew vocabulary. Pettit and Mangum’s focus is entirely on helping a new seminary student not only maintain spiritual fervor while studying at the graduate level, but also grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

BalancedFirst, Pettit and Mangum discuss Christian Maturity as a balance between the head and the heart. Here the authors draw a contrast between higher education and spiritual life. They use Psalm 26:2 as a model, “Examine me, O Lord, and try me; test my mind and my heart.” I think they overplay the meaning of heart (לֵב, lev) as “emotions” in contrast to the head (כִּלְיָה, kilyah) as “motives or understanding, the mind” (31). The nouns appear in in parallel lines of poetry and were not intended to refer to distinct elements of human life. The noun כִּלְיָה refers to the inner parts of a sacrificial animal (Exod 29:13) probably the kidneys (Job 16:13, Lam 3:13). The word refers to deep, inner emotions (Ps 73:21). The noun לֵב refers to virtually the same thing, including emotions and inclinations, even determination and courage. While I agree there is a need for balancing the “heart and the head,” to appeal to these particular Hebrew words seems to go beyond the evidence. I think their point is good, although the way they make the argument is flawed. (Ironically, the fact I make this point might well indicate I am an arrogant seminary graduate who needs to balance my heart and head better!)

The second chapter contrasts learning about God with living for God. The authors make the excellent point that good doctrine and training does not make a good leader. Having an M.Div does not automatically qualify someone for a pastorate. Seminary can breed a kind of arrogance which seriously hinders the effectiveness of a young pastor. I appreciate Pettit and Mangum’s honesty in describing seminaries as “ideological entities.” Most seminaries exist to serve a denomination and it is possible someone can come out of a seminary with the idea they are the ones with all the answers. Most people “in the pew” are not particularly interested in the things Seminary professors get excited about. (How many sermons to you hear on the New Perspective on Paul or the current state of the Documentary Hypothesis?) The training is important, but so too is real world experience serving people where they are at.

Third, Pettit and Mangum develop their “head and the heart” and argue for the practice of spiritual discipline for the Seminarian. They list some 22 spiritual disciplines as well as 14 academic disciplines that are essential if a person is to succeed in Seminary. Most of these are obvious (prayer, devotions, meditation, fasting, worship, etc.), although I was happy to see practices like retreat and secrecy listed as spiritual disciplines. So too the academic disciplines are somewhat obvious (attend class, do good research, respect your teachers), but there were a few items on the list I thought were excellent suggestions most people do not consider. For example, eating right and exercising is a good academic discipline. Most students do not see a connection between classroom performance and their diet, but professors who are cursed with after-lunch lectures know how a fast-food lunch affects the brain of the learner! I was happy to see “citation” as an academic discipline, since plagiarism is a major problem in graduate school, even in seminaries. Citing a source properly is not only honest, it will save the student work later when they develop their work further. (Nothing is more embarrassing than discovering something you thought you “wrote” was actually something you learned and failed to cite properly!)

The fourth chapter warns the potential seminarian of “spiritual frostbite.” Here they have in mind the old joke (usually told by old pastors): “When I was in cemetery, oh, I mean seminary….” It is very easy for one’s spiritual life to wither and die while intensely studying Scripture in seminary! Pettit and Mangum suggest the seminary study clarify their motives (why are they in school in the first place) and work hard at spiritual disciplines. They warn against the sort of critical spirit common among graduate students, looking down on teachers they consider beneath them. While they do not give any real examples of this, think of how Rick Warren or Mark Driscoll is vilified among the “intellectual elite” (including myself). It is very easy for someone who does not like the New Perspective to mock N. T. Wright (he lived in a castle, bah!)

One of the best antidotes for arrogance and pride is humble service. Chapter five therefore focuses on service as a part of graduate studies. Most seminaries have strong service components as part of their programs, so it is possible a seminarian thinks of themselves as “serving the church.” But there is something healthy about serving in ways that humble – an M.Div student teaching the JrHigh AWANA group might be just the thing to keep one’s pride in check. (I did this in seminary, and it was indeed humbling!) While a person might be qualified to preach to thousands on Sunday morning, maybe it is necessary to serve by being a camp counselor, or playing games with the youth group.

Last, Pettit and Mangum discuss the need for the seminarian to work hard at preserving relationships with family and friends. When I first picked up this book, I expected it to have a major section on preserving one’s marriage while pursuing a seminary degree. Many seminaries see this as a major issue and have programs to help the spouse of a potential pastor cope with their support role (usually far more than “how to be a good pastor’s wife” is needed!) There is less in this chapter on marriage than I expected, however. Pettit and Mangum encourage the seminarian to develop quality friendships in order to balance education and social needs, for accountability and personal encouragement.

Conclusion. This is a very positive book that encourages someone entering seminary to consciously dedicate themselves to spiritual growth during their years of preparation for ministry. I think there is room for an additional chapter that is “less positive,” perhaps some warnings away from behaviors which can deaden spiritual life. I expected to see something about managing one’s time and avoiding things like excessive video gaming. I have known far too many students with a great deal of potential who failed courses due to video game addiction. Inappropriate use of the Internet seems to be another obvious problem missing here. Despite it being an obvious problem, it seems young men especially need to be warned about internet porn (although this is mentioned on page 38, the topic is not developed beyond a few lines). Since the book is about personal spiritual development, there is nothing in the book about managing finances during grad school. Most married seminary students know the struggle of working full-time in order to pay for classes, books, and living expenses. Being a married couple studying for ministry puts enormous strain on a marriage and finances is usually one of the major flash-points in a marriage.

This is still useful book, the kind of book a church might give to a person heading off to a Bible College or Seminary to prepare for ministry.

 

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

 

 

 

Seevers, Boyd. Warfare in the Old Testament: The Organization, Weapons and Tactics of Ancient Near Eastern Armies. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2013. Hb. $34.95   Link to Kregel

While there are a few books on warfare in the ancient world, there are few that attempt to cover how the military functioned in the biblical period for the major people groups of the Bible. Boyd Seevers offers a historical survey of warfare in Israel, Egypt, Philistia, Assyria, Babylon and Persia. Because of the wide range both historically and culturally, the book is necessarily brief on details. It does, however, provide a basis for understanding biblical descriptions of warfare, which is likely the interest of most readers of the book.

Seevers, WarfareEach section begins with a fictional story of a battle, told from the perspective of a soldier. For example, in chapter one Seever creates the narrative of Judah ben-Eliezer, a soldier about to participate in the attack on Jericho. In chapter 5 the story of Dagarat the Philistine introduces the reader to the Philistines as they engage King Saul. In chapter 9, we read about Chrysantes, a commander in the Median cavalry. These short stories are engaging and offer an insight into the content of the chapter. They are not the sort of thing one expects in a scholarly book, but Seevers intends them as a creative way to draw his readers into the topic at hand.

After setting the stage with a short story, Seevers offers a short “background” section explaining how a particular people connect with the story of the Bible. This means that the section is far from a comprehensive history of the nation, but only that narrow period of contact with Israel. After this background, Seevers describes the military structure and weaponry of the people. The chapters are divided into sections (infantry, navy, role of the gods, types of weapons, etc.) marked by marginal comments. Seevers does a good job describing the psychological warfare and cruelty of the Assyrians, something that can illuminate many prophetic texts (Jonah and Nahum, for example).

One special problem of warfare texts that Seevers treats is the meaning of the Hebrew word ‘eleph, traditionally translated as “thousand” (p. 53-55). As is well known, the word may refer to a military unit rather than a literal 1000. This means that instead of approximately 600,000 soldiers at the time of the Exodus, Israel had something like 5,500 units. This solves the problem of the extreme numbers in the Pentateuch. When Israel entered the Land in Joshua, they are portrayed as a small people compared to the Canaanites, but with an army of more than a half million they would have overwhelmed the Canaanite city states! In addition, when the city of Ai kills 36 men out of 3,000, Joshua sees this as a terrible defeat. If it is 36 men out of three military units, then perhaps a third or more of the soldiers were killed.

There are many line-art illustrations drawn from Ancient monuments or other illustrations.  Rather than reproduce a photograph of the siege of Lachish, for example, the author’s brother Josh Seevers faithfully reproduced parts of that wall relief to illustrate elements of the text. This is the same style as Othmar Keel’s Symbolism in the Biblical World. This means that the Assyrian image of the Siege of Lachish appears many times in the text. I would have liked a section that collected photographs of the original as well as the line art, but the illustrations work well in the text.

At the end of the book, Seevers includes a “further readings” section for each unit of the book. These brief reading lists point the reader to more detailed studies of the military in the Ancient Near East. The book uses endnotes placed at the end of each chapter. I prefer footnotes, but the use of endnotes does make for smooth reading.  When Hebrew appears in the text it is transliterated so the reader without Hebrew can follow the text without difficulty.

Missing in this book is any discussion of a theology of warfare in the Hebrew Bible. In addition, the problem of Holy War, sometimes called the Canaanite Genocide is not discussed. Almost nothing is said on the topic and there is no reference to placing a city “under the ban” (herem) as was Jericho (Joshua 1-6) and the Amalikites in 1 Sam 15. In addition, in 1 Sam 22 Saul puts the village of Nob “under the ban” when he orders the priests who helped David destroyed. While this book is historical in orientation and interested mainly in the material evidence of how Israel fought, a section on this extremely difficult problem would have been a valuable inclusion. On the other hand, the problem of war in the Old Testament is worthy of a monograph, perhaps a few pages would not be enough to do justice to the topic.

Conclusion. This book is a good introduction for the layman to the way the military functioned in the Ancient Near East. While the text does use some technical terminology, it is written for the non-professional. Most students of the Bible will benefit from reading this book alongside Joshua, Judges Samuel and Kings.

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

Hellerman, Joseph H. Embracing Shared Ministry: Power and Status in the Early Church and Why it Matters Today. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2013. 313 pp. Pb; $17.99.  Link

In 2005 Joseph Hellerman published Reconstructing Honor in Roman Philippi: Carmen Christi as cursus pudorum (SNTS 131; Cambridge University Press). There are a great deal of similarities between Reconstructing Honor in Roman Philippi and this new book published by Kregel Ministry. In fact, Embracing Shared Ministry draws on the insights of that earlier work and attempts to show that Paul’s vision of the church is counter to the Greco-Roman pursuit of honor and status.

HellermanThe first part of Embracing Shared Ministry concerns power and authority in the Roman world. Hellerman first describes social stratification in the Roman word, demonstrating that there was a rigid social order in the Roman world, from the extreme minority elites who had virtually all the power to the majority slaves who had absolutely no power. In fact, Roman life can be described as a “Quest for Honor” (cursus honorum). The second chapter of the book shows the lengths to which a Roman might go in order to gain honor. Hellerman offers by way of example a tombstone of C. Luccius (A.D. 134), on which all of the honors achieved by the man are listed. In contrast to this, Paul offers his own list of honors in Phil 3:5-6, which he considers “rubbish.”

Any status Paul has as a Roman citizen or an elite member of Jewish society is of no value to him whatsoever. As Hellerman points out, this turned the Roman world upside down (p. 77). While members of Roman culture were motivated by self-promotion, members of Paul’s churches were to seek the honor of others and to think of others more highly than themselves. This flies in the face of the Roman world, and as Hellerman points out, it flies in the face of power relations within the church (p. 99).

In the second part of his book, Hellerman applies the background he surveyed in the first part to the letter to the Philippians. He begins by point out that Paul simply identifies himself as a “slave” in Phil 1:1, despite the fact that a slave is the lowest class of person in the Roman world. In fact, Phil 2:5-6 will use that same language to describe Jesus.  In the Christ-Hymn Paul states that Jesus set aside his status as God and took on the status of a slave. Hellerman makes the point that this would be equivalent to a Roman senator setting aside his toga (his mark of status) and taking on the rags of a slave (also a mark of status). Because of that humble obedience, Jesus is exalted to the highest status imaginable, even above the emperor of Rome! That Jesus is called Lord is counter to a Roman world where Caesar is Lord and worshiped as a god (p. 167).

Is this view of Jesus “anti-imperial”? As Hellerman points out, “Paul’s agenda was not to influence the political process of Rome” (p.168). This means that “trendy academic portraits of anti-imperial Paul” are anachronistic.  Paul was not anti-Rome, although his gospel did subvert the social order by advocating Jesus as the Lord of a new social group. As I read Paul, I think that Hellerman is right that Paul is not consciously anti-Imperial, he in no way was advocating some sort of rebellion against the Empire. But the Gospel was so radical that it would erode the Empire if that Gospel practiced consistently. Perhaps the sad story of Church history is that by the time Christianity was the majority religion, it had become thoroughly Roman with respect to honor and status.

The third section of the book draws some very point application to contemporary Evangelicalism. At this point the book shifts from stories and illustrations drawn from the Greco-Roman world and focuses on real-world illustrations of the pursuit of honor and status in the church today.  These illustrations are drawn from Hellerman’s own experiences as a pastor and seminary professor. He is most interested in the problems of “corporate Christianity.” American Evangelical churches frequently turn pastors into CEOs who are expected to run their churches like they are big businesses. The problems with this church model are amply illustrated in two chapters with a number of anecdotes.

In the final chapter of the book, Hellerman makes some suggestions for returning to Paul’s vision for authentic ministry. It is no surprise at this point in the book that Hellerman argues that the church ought to have a “cruciform vision” for ministry. Rather than a CEO pastor, he advocates a “community of leaders” who together work as servant leaders who urge one another toward spiritual maturity and greater accountability. Just as Jesus set aside his honor and status as God in order to be a servant, Paul told his churches to set their own honor and status aside to serve one another. For Hellerman, that is the only effective model for the church today (p. 286).

Conclusion. What I find remarkable is that this book published by Kregel Ministry. It certainly is a book that pastors ought to read and the application of the book is important for developing vital ministry that seeks to live out the model of Jesus as the ultimate servant in modern communities. But this is not some sort of a post-emergent “let’s get back to Jesus” book. Nor is this book a popular leadership manual with plenty of pithy quotes and trendy jargon. Hellerman presents the data from the Roman world, applies it to the letter to the Philippians in order to tease out the nuances of the text modern readers simply miss. He then bridges the gap between that world and the modern world in order to challenge modern churches to follow Christ in a more authentic fashion.

I think that this book will appeal to scholars who study Greco-Roman backgrounds to the New Testament. Do not ignore this book because it was published in a ministry series since it collects most of the data from Reconstructing Honor in a handy (and less expensive) format. Pastors may find this a challenging read, but there is a treasury of background material here that will enhance teaching and preaching of the letter to the Philippians.

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

Jason reviews Charts on the Life of Paul, by Lars Kierspel.  I reviewed this book in May.  Check out what Jason has to say on this useful book.

Εις Δοξαν

Charts on the Life, Letters, and Theology of Paul by Lars Kierspel

Kregel | Amazon | CBD

Thanks to the kind folks at Kregel for this review copy, which I received free of charge in exchange for an unbiased review.

For many readers in the fields of theology and biblical studies, the juxtaposition of “charts” and “theology” in a book’s title may conjure images of elaborately composed end-times scenarios or depictions of history’s progression toward that end. Thankfully, we need not entertain such possibilities here, for Kierspel has done a fine job amassing a wealth of material and condensing it all into a single reference volume. In fact, it’s really rather stunning to consider how much work must have gone into this volume when you begin poring over its pages. While it’s a bit overextending to say that Kierspel has left no Pauline stone unturned, it’s not far from the truth…

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