Book Review: Craig Keener, John (ZIBBC 2A)

Keener, Craig. John. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary 2A. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2019. 251 pp. Hb; $29.99.   Link to Zondervan

This new commentary from Craig Keener replaces Andreas Köstenberger’s John commentary in the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Ed. Clint Arnold, Zondervan, 2001). Unfortunately Köstenberger work contained “accidental plagiarism,” something Köstenberger himself has recognized. This led to the decision to remove Köstenberger’s commentaries from the Baker Exegetical New Testament Commentary (2004) and the ZIBBC.

The result of this is another Craig Keener commentary on John. His earlier commentary on the fourth Gospel (Hendrickson, 2003; now Baker Academic) was two volumes and 1242 pages of introduction and commentary, plus another 166 pages of bibliography and 225 pages of indices. The ZIBBC is much more concise at a mere 212 pages of introduction and commentary and 39 pages of endnotes and indices. As a result, this new commentary is a useful tool for laypeople and busy pastors who want to read the Gospel of John with added clarity.

Like other volumes of the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary this commentary has only brief notes on the text, more than provided by a major study Bible. At the title of the series implies, the notes focus on cultural, historical, geographical, archeological, and literary backgrounds which may illuminate the text as one reads John’s Gospel.

As an example of a geographical note, Keener locates the pool of Bethesda (John 5:2) at the church of St. Anne’s in Jerusalem. The editors proved a photograph of the Jerusalem Temple model at the Israel Museum, an artistic reconstruction of the five-portico pool and a photograph of the remains of the pools as they appear to visitors today.

Throughout the commentary there are sidebars explaining cultural and theological issues. For example, Keener provides about a page of material on Second Temple Jewish mourning customs as the background for the mourners around the tomb of Lazarus (p. 114-15). He cites the Mishnah, the apocryphal book Judith and the pseudepigraphical book Jubilees. He provides two pages on the historicity of Jesus’s trial (p. 176-77), citing several texts from the Mishnah.

Keener frequently draws parallels to other Second Temple literature. As an example of literary background, on John 1:4 Keener points our Jewish teachers often associated life with wisdom, citing a series of Old Testament texts along with Baruch 4:1, Psalms of Solomon 14:2 and 2 Baruch 38:2. He includes a brief excerpt of each text since most readers will not have easy access to these books.

This short commentary on John provides the reader with sufficient background material for reading John’s Gospel in the context of the Second Temple period world. Advanced readers will find it too brief, but there are enough footnotes to point interested readers to more in-depth resources. Keener’s commentary will serve well as a supplement to personal Bible study or a small group setting.

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

Published on May 16, 2019 on Reading Acts.

Book Review: Douglas J. Moo, Romans. Second Edition (NICNT)

Moo, Douglas J. Romans. Second Edition. NICNT; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. clvi+1027 pp.; Hb.; $80.00. Link to Eerdmans   

Douglas Moo’s 1996 commentary on Romans quickly became a standard reference on Paul’s longest and most important letter. Pauline studies have blossomed in the last twenty years since the first edition was published. Many important monographs and commentaries on Romans have appeared as well as several important Pauline theologies. Many important responses to the New Perspective on Paul were published, such as the two volume Justification and Variegated Nomism (Baker, 2004). Some of these nuanced and expanded Sanders others sought a return to the traditional view of Paul and Judaism. N. T. Wright’s Justification generated various responses, culminating in Wrights massive Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Fortress, 2013) and a collection of essays in response to Wright, God and the Faithfulness of Paul (Fortress, 2017). Since these developments in Pauline Theology often center on key texts in the book of Romans, an update to Moo’s NICNT commentary is welcome.

The introduction to the letter in this second edition is more or less the same, several paragraphs from the first edition have been omitted or re-worked and there are a few references to recent work on audience and purpose. For example, Moo has added a reference to Michael Gorman and Richard Longenecker as he describes the participationist view of Romans 5-8 (22). He adds a line at the end of his discussion of salvation history as the theme of Romans making it clear that although it is an important conceptual scheme for Romans, “it cannot be called the theme of the letter,” citing Douglas Campbell 2005 work on Paul’s Gospel (25).

In the body of the commentary, Moo begins each section with a translation of the text with footnotes indicating textual issues. In the first edition the footnotes had their own numbering for each pericope, in the second edition the numbers continue the footnotes for a major section. For example, there are now 1291 footnotes for the section Romans 5:1-8:39.

After a brief introduction to the pericope, he proceeds verse-by-verse commenting on key features of the text. Since this is not a Greek text commentary, all Greek appears in transliteration in the body of the text, more nuanced details are covered in the footnotes. His comments on the text not simply exegetical since the book of Romans demands some theological reflection. For example, after dealing with the difficult phrase “faithfulness of Christ” in Romans 3:21, Moo deals with two potential objections his understanding of the phrase as an objective genitive, both from a theological perspective, specifically that his view may violate sola fide and solus Christus. This attention to both exegetical detail and theological importance is well balanced in the commentary.

Moo has updated the footnotes in the second edition to include works written in the last twenty years. A comparison of the Index of Authors quickly shows the inclusion of major commentaries by Jewett, Longenecker, Schreiner, Wright and others. These are not simply appended to existing footnotes; often Moo interacts with these recent works in the body of the commentary.

In addition, footnotes are streamlined by only including a shortened citation. Occasionally only a commentator’s name is used without page number. Readers should refer to the greatly expanded bibliography in the new edition for details. The bibliography for the first edition of the commentary was twenty-five pages, the second has expanded to 156 pages of abbreviations and bibliography.

Some excurses have been expanded, others are added. For example, in the first edition after Romans 6:1-14 there was an excursus entitled “Paul’s ‘With Christ’ Conception.” In the second edition the title is “’With Christ’ and ‘In Christ’” and more than two pages have been added commenting on the 131 occurrences of “in Christ” in the Pauline letters, with references to recent literature. The excursus following Romans 1:16-17 on the righteousness of God has been re-worked and expanded; it now includes a section on righteousness language and Isaiah 40-66 and the section on the phrase “righteousness of God” now includes much more detail from Isaiah. Moo has also updated the essay with references to recent works on the righteousness of God by Mark Seifrid, N. T. Wright, and others.

After the commentary on Romans 9-11, Moo has added about five pages on “Recent Assessments of Paul and Judaism.” This short essay deals with the so-called Radical New Perspective or “Paul within Judaism,” Messianic Judaism, and bi-covenantalism. In every case, these approaches to Paul try to take seriously Romans 9-11 and to avoid supersecessionism. Also new is an excursus on Paul’s reading of the Hebrew text of Genesis 15:16 following the commentary on Romans 4.

Conclusion. Moo’s commentary joins an already crowded field of recent major Romans commentaries, including Richard N. Longenecker’s recent New International Greek Text Commentary (Eerdmans 2016) and Thomas R. Schreiner’s second edition in the Baker Exegetical New Testament Commentary (Baker, 2018). I consider Moo’s 1996 commentary the “first of the shelf” (see my Top Five Romans Commentaries). This second edition is an upgrade to an already excellent commentary, one that should be on the shelf for anyone seriously studying the book of Romans.

Book Review: Ben Myers, The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism

Myers, Ben. The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism. Lexham Classics; Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2018. xvi +147 pp.; Hb. $15.99  Link to Lexham Press

Ben Myers is a research fellow of the Centre for Public and Contextual Theology at Charles Sturt University in Australia and director of the Millis Institute at Christian Heritage College. This short devotional reading of the Apostles’ Creed began as a sermon series Leichhardt United Church in Sydney. This brief book on the Apostles’ Creed is a very basic introduction to the deep and mysterious depths of the Gospel. As Myers confessions in to final chapter, just as “no one has yet breathed all the air” no mind has yet to grasp the creed in all of its fullness. This guide is a first step for a believer seeking to understand the historic faith of the church.

Myers does not focus attention on the origin in the creed in its present form, he is simply not interested historical details in this book. He begins with Hippolytus’s description of a baptism in On the Apostolic Tradition. Before the candidates receive baptism, they are asked if they believe the three sections of the creed. From this Myers suggest the creed was used as a catechism for new believers (p. 4). The creed was memorized and served as the basis for further instruction. But more than an ancient confession of faith, Myers thinks this rule of faith functions as a part of the baptismal declaration of faith, a “threefold immersion into the life of God” (p. 5). The creed was both teaching and a “pledge of allegiance” which provides a framework for Christian thinking and Christian commitment.

Myers moves through the Apostle’s Creed in a series of twenty-three short chapters. Some chapters reflect on only a single word (I, Believe and Amen); most discuss a phrase of the creed. Most only treat a few words, the longest combine a few phrases (“He descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead” and “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father”). Each chapter connects the theology of the creed to the canon of Scripture. Although he does not often set the creed into the context of the Hebrew Bible, the creedal statements do stand on the foundation of the New Testament. The exception to this is the chapter “who was conceived by the Holy Spirit” and “born of the Virgin Mary.” Myers (rightly) sees the virgin birth in the light of the series of miraculous births in the Hebrew Bible.

My main criticism of the book is this lack of interest in the roots of the creed in the Hebrew Bible. For example, in the chapter on “Jesus Christ, God’s only son, our Lord,” Myers focuses on the final two words, “our Lord.” This emphasis is important since the earliest Christian confession was “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9, 1 Cor 12:3, Phil 2:5-11). But this chapter overlooks the both Christ as well as the “God’s only son.” Both of these titles rooted in the Hebrew Bible, Christ is Messiah and “son of God” is a messianic phrase as well (Psalm 2, for example). The same criticism applies to the chapters on “God the Father” and “Almighty.” Despite the fact the term is drawn from the Hebrew Bible, there is no reference to the Hebrew Scripture in the chapter. Perhaps this is simply a result of Myers looking forward from the creed to the history of the church rather than back to the sources for each line. In fact, grounding each line of the creed to the Hebrew Bible would make an interesting companion volume to this book.

Myers also connects these creedal statements to church writers who comment on the theological importance of each line. He often cites Augustine, Irenaeus, Origen and Gregory of Nyssa (along with Karl Barth and Jorge Luis Borges once each). The historical reception of the creedal statements demonstrate how the words of the creed continued to resonate with each generation of the church.

This is a small “trim size” book (5×7 inches) and many of the 147 pages full-page illustrations. Since no chapter is more than a few pages long, the book is ideal for devotional reading or used in a small group Bible study. The brevity of the chapters allow for further discussion and contemplation of each phrase of the Apostles’ Creed. The book can be read in an afternoon but it is best read slowly, with an open Bible and prayerful, open heart.

This guide to the Apostles’ Creed is a theologically rich and historically aware meditation on heart of biblical Christianity.


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


Book Review: John A. L. Lee, Basics of Greek Accents

Lee, John A. L. Basics of Greek Accents. Grand Rapids, Mich. Zondervan, 2018. 110 pp. pb; $14.99. Link to Zondervan

Rarely does an introductory grammar devote much attention to Greek accents. For example Croy (Eerdmans 1999) lists five common rules occupying about a half-page. Although other rules exist and should not be ignored, Croy suggests they are best learned as they are encountered. In his extremely popular beginning grammar published by Zondervan, Mounce relegates the rules for accents to the “advanced information” section and only describes the three accents. For the rules, he suggests students consult his arcane Morphology of Biblical Greek. J. W. Wenham’s Elements of New Testament Greek (Cambridge, 1965) states accents “are to be completely ignored except on rare occasions (which will be mentioned as they arise)” (23). Someone might argue Greek accents are unimportant sine they do not appear in the earliest manuscripts (this was the opinion of an author who submitted an article to a journal I edit). On the other hand, D. A. Carson attempted to rehabilitate Greek accents in his Greek Accents: A Student Manual (Paternoster, 1981; Baker 1985). With 38 lessons over 167 pages (plus exercises), most students of New Testament Greek will slip into despair before mastering accents. At 472 pages (and $245 retail) it is unlikely anyone outside of a Ph.D. student will track down and read Probert’s Ancient Greek Accentuation (Oxford, 2006). Probert did publish a shorter guide (Bristol Classical Press, 2003), a mere 160 pages on ancient Greek accents.

John Lee’s new Basics of Greet Accents falls squarely between the view “accents are not all that important” and Carson’s manual. Lee is a Senior Research Fellow (honorary) attached to the Ancient History Department at Macquarie University where this little book had its origin. Lee suggestions “true competence in Greek cannot be attained without competence in Greek accents” (7). As someone who works regularly in the Greek New Testament, there is some truth to the statement. Greek simply looks wrong if it is printed without accents, and it is very difficult to pronounce properly unless the student pays attention to how the word is accented.

There are eight lessons in this manual, although the eighth contains advanced information rarely encountered in the New Testament (accenting optative, Epic and lesbian dialects, etc.) The first chapter covers the basic rules found in most basic grammars, Lessons 2, 3 and 5 deal with verbs, nouns and adjectives. Lesson 4 focuses on “function words” (demonstratives, articles, etc.)  Lessons 6 and 7 deal with contractions and enclitics. Each lesson has several examples for class discussion followed by an in-class exercise and a homework assignment. Each section has six lines of unaccented Greek words, the student should employ the rules and provide accents for each word. Later lessons contain a short paragraph. I looked over a few examples, and immediately went looking for the answer key in the back of the book (pages 73-85).

The book concludes with four examples drawn from ancient Greek manuscripts: Homer, Iliad 8.433, 435-47 (first or second century papyri); LXX Isaiah 13:3-8 (sixth century Codex Marchalianus); Romans 14:22-23, 16:25-27 (Michigan Ms. 34, fourteenth century); Demosthenes, On the Crown, 119-120 (an 1807 manuscript). Lee provides a photograph of the manuscript followed by a few paragraph of comments and a transcription. This wide range of dates allows the student to track the development of accents and other diacritical marks. These four illustrations are fascinating although I would have preferred additional examples from New Testament papyri given the target audience of this book. It would also be useful for Zondervan to host high resolution photographs for professors to use in a classroom.

Conclusion. Basics of Greet Accents is a handy guide to accents and is an inexpensive add-on to any first year course in biblical Greek. Most New Testament scholars will find this book a helpful refresher and set of exercise to sharpen Greek 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: C. E. B. Cranfield, Romans (Shorter Commentary)

Cranfield, C. E. B. Romans (Shorter Commentary). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. 406 pp. Pb; $40.   Link to Eerdmans

Cranfield’s 1975 commentary on Romans in the International Critical Commentary series is one of the best exegetical commentaries available at the time. N. T. Wright praised the ICC volume as “the finest work on Romans to appear this century” and F. F. Bruce thought it was “well worthy to take its place alongside the really great commentaries on Romans.” But the two-volume commentary was expensive and the dense exegesis of the Greek text made it difficult for many to use.

Cranfield, Romans CommentaryEerdmans originally published this abridged single volume in 1985. In the preface of the commentary Cranfield described the commentary as shorter, less detailed and Greekless. In addition, the shorter commentary does not have any footnotes to secondary literature (other commentaries and articles) and very few references to historic interpreters of the book of Romans.

In the body of the commentary Cranfield breaks each verse into phrases, identical to the ICC volume except the phrases are in English. The Shorter Commentary often follows the ICC verbatim with respect to comments on the text. Cranfield uses his own translation of Romans, which is identical to the fifth impression of the first volume and third impression of the second volume of the original ICC commentary.

The original commentary was known for offering a variety of solutions to several of the more troubling exegetical problems in Romans. For example, in Romans 5:12, Cranfield offers six alternatives for understanding the phrase ἐφʼ ᾧ πάντες ἥμαρτον, “in whom all sinned.” His ICC commentary has more than five pages of discussion including references to ancient commentaries and one quotation in German. The shorter commentary covers the same six possibilities with only one reference to Augustine in passing and no citations of any secondary sources.

It is fair to question the relevance of a commentary on Romans published in 1985, based on a commentary published in 1975. The commentary reflects the state of Pauline studies before E. P. Sanders and the ongoing debate over the so-called New Perspective on Paul. In fact, there is nothing new about Cranfield’s perspective on Paul. Both his ICC volume and this shorter commentary are excellent examples of the best exegesis behind the traditional view of Paul.

But as with other volumes in the Eerdmans Classic Biblical Commentaries series, this Shorter Commentary on Romans is worthy of staying in print. Cranfield’s commentary is an example of a master exegete who seeks to shed light on the text of Romans so those who are preaching and teaching the book can better communicate God’s word. For a busy pastor, Cranfield’s ICC volume might be difficult to use and priced out of their range, but this single volume commentary distills the larger commentary and will be of value to anyone working in Romans.

It is good Eerdmans recognizes the value of older commentaries. As the series preface observes, these commentaries have been used by pastors, teachers, seminary students, and are cited literary thousands of times by later works.

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: John D. Harvey, Romans: Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament

Harvey, John D. Romans. Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2017. xxxiii + 429 pp.; Pb.; $29.99. Link to B&H Academic

John Harvey’s Exegetical Guide to Romans joins eight other volumes in the EGGNT series published since 2010. I have previously reviewed Greg Forbes on 1 Peter and have used Chris A. Vlachos’s volume on James (2013). These volumes provide exegetical insights based on the fifth edition of the Greek New Testament for students, teachers and pastors from a wide range of exegetical grammars and commentaries. Harvey contributed Interpreting the Pauline Letters in the Handbooks for New Testament Exegesis series (Kregel, 2012) as well as Listening to the Text: Oral Patterning in Paul’s Letters (ETS Studies 1; Baker, 1998).

In the short introduction to the book of Romans, Harvey lists six commentaries he uses throughout the guide: Cranfield (ICC, 1980); Dunn (WBC, 1988); Jewett (Hermenia, 2007); Moo (NICNT, 1996); Schreiner (BECNT, 1998), and Longenecker (NIGTC, 2017). Imagine having these six exegetical commentaries open on your desk at the same time and reading only the comments on grammar, syntax, and textual criticism. This is essentially what Harvey provides in this book. In addition to the commentaries, Harvey identifies various grammatical and syntactical elements of the text, citing advanced grammars such as Blass, Debrunner, Funk (BDF), Dan Wallace’s Greek Grammar beyond the Basics (GGBB) and A. T. Robertson.

Harvey’s outline of Romans appears in the introduction and a more detailed outline appears in the appendix. Each section begins with a short paragraph on the structure of the unit followed by a simple syntactical display of the Greek focusing on coordinating clauses. No syntactical or rhetorical features are noted on this display. The bulk of each section is a phrase by phrase analysis of key words, often citing the six commentaries. For example, in Romans 7:9 ἐγὼ δὲ ἔζων χωρὶς νόμου ποτέ (“I was once alive apart from the law,” ESV). Who is the ἐγὼ in this phrase? For Dunn, it is Adam, for Moo it is Israel, for Longenecker and Schreiner it is Paul himself. Harvey lists these three possibilities but does not indicate a preference. In this same phrase the imperfect verb ἔζων is identified as a progressive imperfect and ποτέ is an adverb of time.

As a second example, for the phrase τὴν λογικὴν λατρείαν ὑμῶν (“your reasonable service”) in Romans 12:1, Harvey points out this noun phrase in in apposition to the preceding infinitival phrase (citing Robertson, BDF and Moule), explains the use of the definite article and the placement of the adjective. He compares Cranfield’s view that λογικν means “consistent with a proper understanding of the truth of God revealed in Christ” with Schreiner’s “eminently reasonable,” Moo’s “true” and Longenecker’s “this is your proper act of worship as rational people.” Harvey comments of lexical issues as well, citing the third edition of Bauer by page and section (for example, BDAG 700c) but also all the major theological dictionaries such as TDNT and he occasionally cites a modern translation.

One of the most valuable contributions of this Exegetical Guide is the “for further study” section following a unit. In fact, these short bibliographies are worth the price of the book. They focus on a particular exegetical problem in the unit which have generated significant secondary literature. For example, after Romans 5:1-11 Harvey collects articles, book sections and monographs on peace (5:1), hope (5:2), and reconciliation (5:11). There is more than a page on the very difficult problem of the identity of “I” in Romans 7. These bibliographies are brief compared to the massive output of scholars over the years, and they are focused on exegetical topics rather than theology or history of interpretation. In all, there are ninety-six of these units, providing students with the basic bibliography for the major interpretative problems in Romans.

Each unit concludes with a few homiletical suggestions. For the most part these are brief outlines showing how the exegesis might be used in a sermon. Harvey’s homiletical suggests look very much like passage outlines.

It is possible someone might look at this books and wonder if they could not do all of this with good Bible Study Software (Logos, BibleWorks, Accordance). The short answer is: no. Since this book is not a reading guide, Greek verbs are only rarely parsed and no vocabulary is glossed. A student might create a reading guide with one of the Bible Software tools, or use a reading guide from another publisher. What Harvey provides is a summary of the exegetical issues for a given phrase, picking out the data from all of the major resources and gathering them into a single paragraph.

This exegetical guide is a valuable tool for doing exegesis in Romans. However, the book does not replace learning koine Greek. For example, in one of the examples above, Harvey identified a word as a “progressive imperfect.” Without taking an intermediate Greek grammar course or the equivalent, the student will not be able to make an interpretive point without knowing what a “progressive imperfect” is. But this common criticism of “reading guides” for the Greek New Testament does not apply here since Harvey’s exegetical guide requires much from the reader in order to fully use the wealth of detail he provides.

This book will be welcome for anyone studying the Greek text of Romans, especially for students working on exegetical papers. But for there is much in this book to help the pastor or Bible teacher to prepare to present the message of Romans to their congregations.


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

Logos Free (and almost free) Books of the Month – Todd Wilson, Galatians: Gospel-rooted Living

The first Logos Bible Software “Free book of the Month” for 2018 is Todd Wilson’s Galatians: Gospel-rooted Living. This 2013 commentary is in the Preaching the Word series from Crossway Books. Todd Wilson is has a PhD from Cambridge University and serves as the senior pastor of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois. Wilson recently edited Becoming a Pastor Theologian: New Possibilities for Church Leadership (IVP Academic 2016). I happened to attend his paper on Galatians at the 2017 ETS meeting in Providence and found it very stimulating, so I am looking forward to this commentary.

Michael Bird blurbed the book:

“Todd Wilson has written a deeply pastoral and theologically competent commentary on Galatians that is an exemplary effort at Biblical exposition. There are some doozy passages in Galatians, especially on the Law, and Wilson provides a plain explanation and then shows readers how these texts relate to modern Christian living. A wonderful synergy of homiletical energy and honest exegesis.”

For only $1.99 more, you can add Ray Ortlund Jr.’s Proverbs:Wisdom that Works (2012) in the same Preaching the Word series.  Graeme Goldsworthy said “The strength of Ray Ortlund’s study of Proverbs is its Christ-centeredness. The wisdom of Proverbs loses none of its practical value, but rather is given its ultimate fulfillment as an expression of the wisdom of Christ.”

Logos is also offering Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s Acts 1-8 for $9.99. The Lloyd-Jones commentary was originally in six volumes, so Logos will add six separate resources to your library; that works out to $1.67ish per volume.

The giveaway this month is the Crossway D.A. Carson Collection (7 vols.,  $105.99 value). There are several ways to get chances to win this collection, visit the Logos Free Book of the Month for details. The free books (and almost free) books are only available through January 2018.