Book Review: Mike Baker, We Speak: Proclaiming Truth in and Age of Talk

Baker, Mike, J. K. Jones, and Jim Probst. We Speak: Proclaiming Truth in and Age of Talk. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2015. 189 pp. Pb.; $16.00  Link to IVP including a 3 minute video

This book is intended to accompany a set of curriculum produced by Eastview Christian Church in Normal, Illinois where all three authors serve as pastors. Baker says he was struck by Acts 4:20, “we cannot help but speak about what we have seen and heard.” Using this as a kind of mission statement for the church, Baker argues the believer cannot help speak the Gospel since we have witnesses so much through the work of Christ.

Baker-We-SpeakEach of Mike Baker’s seven chapters develop an aspect speaking the Gospel to a distracted world.  These brief reflections (no more than ten pages) are focused on some motivation to communicate the gospel using illustrations from Scripture. For example, two chapters concern speaking the Gospel in weakness (Paul) and suffering (1 Peter). In the second chapter he sketches the basics of the Gospel as “good news” which we ought to freely share to any and all who will listen. This what Peter said in Acts 4:20, but this is difficult for many Christians.

J. K. Jones contributes five “daily devotions” based on each week’s lesson. These are tied to the lesson and are no more than a page each. Like most “devotionals” Jones cites Scripture, offers and illustration followed by a short encouragement to live out the week’s lesson.

Jim Probst a seven-session weekly group study guide by to guide a group as they work through the lessons. He suggests activities for each week (“gather, grow, give, go”), including discussion questions and assignments for the next week. The study guide follows the main text of the book and should be easy for small group leaders to follow.

There is a companion DVD available which includes brief weekly video teachings by all three pastors. I did not view the DVD, but based on the book this seems to be a good small group study which will help Christians to overcome some objections or obstacles to sharing their faith.  We Speak: Proclaiming Truth in and Age of Talk ought to be considered by churches wishing to enhance their evangelism through small group studies.

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

Book Review: L. Daniel Hawk, Ruth (AOTC 7b)

Hawk, L. Daniel. Ruth. Volume 7B, Apollos Old Testament Commentary Series. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2015. 166 pp. Hb; $30.00.   Link to IVP

The Apollos Old Testament Commentary Series intends to accurately interpret the original text of the Old Testament but also to assist pastors and teachers present the Old Testament in a modern context. Daniel Hawk’s contribution to this series on Ruth is an excellent example of commentary writing. The book is neither too brief nor overly burdened with excessive background materials which have had a tendency to inflate commentaries in recent year.

Hawk, RuthHawk begins his twenty-six page introduction to the book by surveying suggestions for the purpose and form of the book. Since the book is somewhat unique in the Hebrew Bible, scholars have suggested a variety of narrative forms for the book (short story, novella, folk-tale) as well as a range of possible purposes for the book (apology for David’s Moabite ancestry, a kind of resistance literature against narrow views of Jewish identity, etc.) Hawk concludes Ruth “resists classification” and “invites the readers to understand its story in conversation with a variety of other texts in the biblical canon” (20). In fact, it is Ruth’s ethnicity which drives the plot of the book. Hawk argues “Ruth takes aim not only at the Deuteronomic legislation that forbids includes of Moabites but also the ascriptions behind it” (23). For example, Ruth 3 reverses the archetypical Moabite woman stalking a Judean male. Ruth is not a threat, but acts faithfully and is eventually incorporated into the Jewish community which eventually leads to Israel’s Davidic monarchy. The marriage of Boaz and Ruth assures the reader that embracing the foreigner can open the possibility of restoration and blessing (31).

With respect to composition, Hawk weighs various suggestions (Solomon’s reign; early in David’s reign; Josiah’s reign, during the exile). He observes the apologetic purpose of the book is speculative and does not necessarily support an early date. In fact, Hawk argues there is a direct textual connection rhetorical agenda of Ruth and “the anxiety about the threat of foreign women as reflected in Ezra and Nehemiah” (33). Hawk follows several recent commentaries on Ruth by concluding the book is “a narrative of dissent” written in response to the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah” despite the last of polemic (36). Although the book was not written until well after the events it narrates, Hawk things the traditions represented by the book are authentic (39).

Hawk offers a brief summary of the theology of Ruth (39-43).  He begins by examining the standard theology of Ruth which focuses on God as active in the background of the book, providentially causing various events in the story. He suggests are more nuanced view of Ruth’s theology by focusing on the theme of hesed, which Hawk defines as the “passionate devotion, an unqualified decision for someone else expressed by specific and tangible actions” (41). The book of Ruth portrays God as responding to humans who demonstrate hesed rather than being the cause of their human actions.

The commentary begins with a new translation of Ruth followed by notes on the Hebrew text. Hawk comments on the qere and ketiv readings in this section. All Hebrew appears in transliteration and notes to secondary literature appear as in-text citations rather than footnotes.

Following the notes on the Hebrew text, Hawk offers observations on form and structure. This section traces the flow of a pericope, going beyond a simple outline but falling short of discourse analysis. Hawk breaks the commentary on Ruth into large, chapter length units so this attention to the flow of drama of Ruth is important step in the commentary.

After his comments on the structure of a pericope, Hawk offers a commentary on each sub-pericope within the chapter. This section is a running commentary on the story, including cultural and historical context, insight into the Hebrew words and syntax, etc. Although reference to secondary sources are minimal (using in-text citations), Hawk demonstrates a clear understanding of the Hebrew text of Ruth as well as the Ancient Near Eastern context which illuminates the story.

The final section in each section of the commentary is an explanation of the text. These are theological and practical observations based Ruth. For example, in the explanation for chapter 1, Hawk discusses the problem of resident aliens and suffering in the Old Testament. For chapter 2 his focus is on hospitality and the foreign woman (Boaz’s kindness toward Ruth), oppression of the poor for chapter 3 and finally a few comments on the flexibility of the law for chapter 4 (Boaz marries a foreign woman yet is blessed). Each of these brief sections are tied directly to the story of Ruth and are reasonable and clearly based on his reading of the text of Ruth. Hawk does not take the opportunity to draw application to specific, real-work situations to which the book of Ruth might speak. For example, treatment of the poor and immigration are modern issues which Ruth directly applies, I would have expected a more specific attempt to “bridge the gap” between Ancient Near Eastern practice and modern problems Christians face.

My second observation is a positive benefit of this commentary, although not all readers will necessarily agree. Although he recognizes Ruth is an ancestor of Jesus, this commentary is not overtly theological or Christological. Recent theological readings of Ruth can overplay inter-canonical theology and potentially miss the rich theology of hesed Hawk develops in this commentary.

Conclusion. Hawk’s commentary will serve scholars, pastors as well as laymen as they read and study the book of Ruth. Although it is faithful to the Hebrew text of Ruth, it is not overly technical nor is it distracted by social issues Ruth extraneous to the theology of Ruth.

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

Book Review: Eduard Verhoef, Philippi: How Christianity Began in Europe

Verhoef, Eduard. Philippi: How Christianity Began in Europe: The Epistle to the Philippians and the Excavations at Philippi. London: T&T Clark, 2013. Hb $100.00; Pb $29.99; ePub / Logos $24.99 Link to Bloomsbury T&T Clark  Link to Logos

VerhoefThis monograph is an introduction to the archaeology of Philippi, tracing the history of the city from the time of Paul through A.D. 600. Verhoef contributed an article on the history of Philippi (“The Church of Philippi in the First Six Centuries of Our Era,” Teologiese Studies 61 (2005): 565–92) and has visited the archaeological site many times. This book is aimed at a general readership and does not attempt to be a technical study of the archaeology of Philippi.

Chapter 1 traces the history of Philippi prior to the first century. Verhoef’s interest is in Roman Philippi so he quickly sketches the origin of the old city. After the battle of Actium Augustus refounded the city and settled additional veterans. According to Verhoef, the total number of inhabitants of Philippi at the time of time of Paul’s visit was nearly 10,000 (9), with slaves making up about 20% of the population (12); “Philippi was certainly not a metropolis, even by the standards of its own time” (12). For Verhoef, it “is significant that authors in the first centuries wrote about Philippi virtually exclusively with respect to the battle in 42 B.C.E. Words were hardly ever devoted to the town itself.” (12).

Chapter 2 traces the origin of the church and Philippi and chapter 3 concerns Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Verhoef observes the city of Philippi had a distinct Roman atmosphere when Paul visited in A.D. 49-50. “The majority of the inhabitants of Philippi were Greeks by birth, but to a great extent the Romans were decisive for the atmosphere of the town” (16). After examining the relevant texts on the founding of the church in the New Testament, he points out there are eleven named individuals associated with Philippi. If families are included, then a reasonable estimate for the original church was about 33 adult members in a city of 10,000 (22). If there was a reasonable growth pattern of 15% growth per decade, the church not have reached 1000 members until the A.D. 300.

For each century after the founding of the church Verhoef examines the archaeology, literary and inscriptional data pertaining to the growth of Christianity in Philippi. In chapter 4, Verhoef examines the archaeological evidence for Philippi in the second century. He observes “no Christians were mentioned as such in inscriptions, nor was there any construction of churches.” (53) The only literary evidence is the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians and a brief mention of the church in Tertullian. There is inscriptional evidence for the cult of Silvanus and Isis. With respect to the archaeology of Philippi in the second century, Verhoef observes the forum was completely reconstructed with impressive buildings erected around it. These buildings reduced Hellenistic Philippi to almost nothing (60).  With respect to the so-called Paul’s “prison,” archaeology shows the location was constructed by the Romans as a water reservoir and was later converted into chapel by Christians. “It has never been a jail” (61).


Reading on an iPad

Chapter 5 examines the archaeology for third century Philippi. There are no third-century literary references to the church of Philippi. There are many inscriptions in Greek compared to the two preceding centuries, but there is “no evidence of Christianity in any inscription that can be dated to the third century with certainty” (67). One inscription mentions a synagogue, indicating a Jewish presence in the third century.

Chapter 6 traces the growth of the church at Philippi in Christian Rome. The most significant change is the conversion of Constantine. This brought Christianity into the open and permitted them to build sanctuaries. “By the middle of the fourth century the number of Christians had grown to 50 per cent of the population of the Empire” (70). For Philippi, this resulted in two churches built during the fourth century. Verhoef speculates Christians took over some of the sacred space, re-using some the water for a baptistery (73), and a second church was built outside the walls of the city. “Surviving inscriptions show the presence of Christians in Philippi” (73), although Verhoef argues “The cult of Euephenes has probably been adopted by the Christians with some adaptations” (74), a position he argues in more detail in his article “Syncretism in the church of Philippi” (HTS 64 [2008]: 697-714). One burial inscription reads “‘Lord have mercy on us and raise us up who passed away in the true, orthodox faith” suggesting there was some tension between rival groups in Philippi (75).

In Chapter 7 Verhoef demonstrates the ascendency of Christianity in Philippi. The century witnesses the construction of at least four basilica and a large church along the via Egnatia in the fifth century. Basilica A was about 55 by 27 meters. Verhoef assumes a space of 1 square meter per person, over 1,000 people could worship in the basilica (78). Two bishops of Philippi are known from this century, Flavianus and Sozon. Flavianus attended the Council of Ephesus in 431. “As far as we know the bishops of Philippi always took the orthodox position” (80).

Chapter 8 describes the increasingly Christian character of the city of Philippi in the sixth century. There is a wealth of literary evidence for the church in Philippi and all of the churches were expanded during the sixth century. Bishop Demetrios was active in Constantinople and his familiarity with churches in the capitol may have influenced changes to the churches in Philippi.

Chapter 9 is a brief note on the decline of the city after a series of earthquakes. This chapter adds nothing to the book and could have been omitted. Chapter 10 is a “walking tour” of Philippi one might make on a visit to the site today. The book also includes relevant texts in Acts and the book of Philippians for reference.

The book is illustrated with a number of color photographs. When reading the book in the Logos Library these photographs can be cut and pasted into other documents or Logos can send the illustration directly to PowerPoint. Although these photos are not high resolution, they can be used to illustrate elements of the city of Philippi. Figures 37 and 38 appear to have the description reversed (public toilets). Verhoef includes a short bibliography of the more important works on the history of Philippi.

Conclusion. This book is a good, popular level introduction to the history of Philippi and it could be very helpful for anyone visiting the archaeological site today. Frequently he refers to an inscription by present location so this book could be used as a handbook for exploring the excavations at Philippi. There is a lack of information on the imperial cult in Philippi, although this can be explained by a lack of evidence for the cult in first century Philippi. Nevertheless, given the pervasiveness of the Imperial cult in the Mediterranean world, I would have expected more focus in the book. There is a brief discussion of the Roman Soter in contrast to Jesus as Savior (29), but this is not supported by any inscriptional evidence. This shortcoming does not distract from the value of Verhoef’s monograph.

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

Book Review: James McKeown, Ruth (Two Horizons Commentary)

McKeown, James. Ruth. Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015. 152 pp. Pb; $22.   Link to Eerdmans  and an interview with McKeown at EerdWorld.

James McKeown wrote the Genesis commentary in the Two Horizons series. This new volume on Ruth attempts to follow a similar method for reading a biblical book canonically and theologically.

He begins with a short twelve-page introduction to the book of Ruth, although the bulk of the introduction is a summary of the plot of the book. Since the goal of the commentary is a theological reading of the book of Ruth, some of the more technical critical questions are unimportant. It is possible the book dates as early as the time of David and intended to explain his Moabite roots, or as late as the time of Ezra-Nehemiah as a more sympathetic view of foreign women. McKeown is inclined to see the purpose of the book as ambiguous, although this does not limit the theological significance of Ruth.

Ruth James McKeownThe commentary proper moves through the book by pericopae. Although McKeown occasionally comments on the Hebrew text, the primary focus of the commentary is on the story of Ruth in English (p. 1). He sometimes compares several English translations, especially for some of the difficult idiomatic phrases in the book, such as the blessing formula in 4:11.  In several sections it is necessary to explain customs of the Ancient Near East, such as the exchange of sandals on Ruth 4:7-8. McKeown interacts with secondary literature on Ruth, but most of this material is in the footnotes. This makes for a very readable commentary, useful for both scholar and layman.

The main feature of the Two Horizons series of the series is the theological interpretation of Scripture. In this commentary there are two chapters dedicated to biblical theology, about half the book. In “Theological Horizons” McKeown examines Ruth’s canonical connections. Although Ruth follows Proverbs in the Hebrew Bible, McKeown is not interested in the juxtaposition of Ruth and the “Woman of Valor” (Proverbs 31:10-31). I find this somewhat remarkable since the Hebrew canon is the original order. If canonical placement is important, I would prefer to see Ruth read as an example of Wisdom Literature, perhaps juxtaposing it with its canonical partners, the final chapter of Proverbs and the Song of Solomon.

Rather than use the Hebrew canon, McKeown points out that in the Septuagint, Ruth appears between Judges and Samuel. Ruth therefore functioned as a kind of bridge between these two books. Following the work of Yizhak Berger, McKeown explores the theme of offspring, land and blessing in Ruth and Genesis. Most commentators use Deuteronomy to illuminate the practice of gleaning or the Levirate marriage, but McKeown argues Ruth illustrates how Israel might show love to the foreigner (Deut 10:17-19). But Ruth also draws into question the exclusion of Moabites from the assembly of the Lord (Deut 23:3-6). Ruth is also canonically related to Judges and serves as a canonical link between Judges and Samuel. While the Judges are sometimes called “men of valor” (אִ֣ישׁ חָ֑יִל Judg 3:29; 20:44), Ruth is a “woman of valor” (אֵ֥שֶׁת חַ֖יִל, Ruth 3:11). Ruth is a righteous person in a dark age of violence.

But the book of Ruth also looks forward to the time of David, a Moabite descendant who enters a levirate marriage with Abigail. Several parallels between Ruth the story of David can be made, but it is not clear to me how this relationship works. This is a problem for all inner-canonical studies since it is almost impossible to prove which direction the influence goes. Did the author of Ruth tell the story with knowledge of David’s relationship with Abigail, or vice versa? On the one hand, this is unknowable, but on the other hand, it might not matter for this kind of theological reading of the book of Ruth. On a literary level, two texts are being compared in order to develop a theological reading. Historical critical questions of sources and dependence are of little consequence when using this hermeneutical method.

The final section of the book, “Theological Issues, Themes and Approaches,” creates a short biblical theology based on Ruth. McKeown demonstrates how Ruth views God as the sovereign creator who provides for his people. God’s providential hand is seen throughout the book, although he appears to be hidden from the characters in the story. It is Naomi’s experience which makes this theme clear and shows the hiddenness of God should not be mistaken for the absence of God (p. 116).

Since the theme of Land is important throughout the Hebrew Bible, it is no surprise to find Ruth highlighting the idea of God as the giver of land to his people. If God has given land to his people, they are responsible for using it ethically, as Boaz’s treatment of the poor widow Ruth demonstrates.

Perhaps the most important theme of Ruth is redemption, and McKeown adds to this the theme of universalism. God will redeem all people. Redemption looks back at the original Exodus, but also forward to the ultimate redemption planned by the sovereign God. While property or a person may be redeemed according to the Law, the broader context of the Canon uses legal redemption as a metaphor for salvation, especially in Job and Psalms. McKeown points out how the theme of redemption extends to the New Testament and salvation through Jesus Christ. Perhaps what is surprising from an Old Testament perspective is redemption will include foreigners, even Moabite women!

McKeown includes a section in this chapter surveying Feminist studies of Ruth. Since it is a book focused on the activities of two women, Ruth has attracted a great deal of attention from feminist biblical scholars. Taking Naomi’s advice to Ruth to return to “her mother’s house” (2:8) as a hint of authorship, Carol Meyers suggested the book may have been written by a woman (p.134). McKeown does not comment on the suggestion, but unlike other critical issues, this observation would have an important hermeneutical impact on a commentary on Ruth.

Conclusion. Like other contributions to the Two Horizons Commentary series, McKeown delivers a canonical and theological reading of the book of Ruth which will stimulate anyone studying the book of Ruth.

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: Robert B. Chisholm, A Commentary on Judges and Ruth

Chisholm, Robert B. A Commentary on Judges and Ruth.  Kregel Exegetical Library; Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2014. 697 pp. Hb; $39.99. Link to Kregel

Long time Dallas Theological Seminary professor Robert Chisholm wrote Interpreting the Historical Books for Kregel’s Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis series. This new commentary on Judges and Ruth in the Kregel Exegetical Library offers a more detailed application of Chisholm’s method from that introduction. He describes this method as a “literary-theological” method (p. 14). By this he means that he attempts to track the author’s literary strategies in the canonical form of the book in order to identify the text’s theological message.

Chisholm, Judges & RuthThe introduction to Judges (88 pages) begins with an overview of the literary structure of the book. With respect to chronology, Chisholm is open to the idea that the three major judges overlap with earlier material (p.22), although this is not critical to a literary-theological reading of the book, although he makes an attempt to create a chronology of the period (p. 34-53). After surveying a number of options, he argues for the Exodus about 1260 B.C., the invasion of Canaan in 1220 B.C. with the completion about 7 years later. The chronology of Judges begins in 1190 (Judg 3:8) and ends with Samson’s 20-year leadership sometime between 1110 and 1070. This overlaps with Eli’s 40 years at Shiloh (1130-1090) in 1 Samuel; the anointing of Saul is about 1050. This chronology does not differ much from other conservative writers, although it will not please everyone.

Chisholm is inclined to date the book before David and he detects something of an anti-Benjamin/anti-Ephraimite agenda (p. 66). While Judges is not wholly “pro-Judah” it does seem to argue Israel needs a strong, godly king. Chisholm is content to see the book as in the context of an early Davidic dynasty, although it is entirely possible this message would have been of interest in the late Solomonic period or just after the split. For example, Dale DeWitt’s unpublished dissertation “The Jephthah Traditions: A Rhetorical and Literary Study in the Deuteronomistic History” argues for a post Solomonic context for Judges.

Of interest is Chisholm’s eleven page section entitled “What Role Do the Female Characters Play?” (69-80). There are indeed a large number of female characters in the book and many of them are portrayed in a very positive light (Deborah is a judge, Jael kills Sisera, Delilah gets the best of Samson), although others are tragic figures Sisera’s mother, Jephthah’s daughter, the Levite’s concubine). For Chisholm, the book portrays strong women as warriors and leaders in contrast to the weak spiritual leadership of men like Barak and Jephthah. Ultimately the “downward spiral of Judges” paves the way for Hannah, the woman who gives birth to Samuel at the darkest moment in the Judges period, who will anoint David as king.

In his 32-page introduction to Ruth Chisholm surveys the bewildering number of suggestions for the genre of Ruth. Since he does not care much for form-critical categories, he focuses on the literary and theological nuances of the book. He therefore highlights the fact that God is concerned for the needy and rewards those who demonstrate loving kindness (hesed) such as Ruth and Boaz. While he notices the canonical placement of the book of Ruth after Proverbs, Chisholm does not treat the book as wisdom literature. To me this is an important oversight since the book does illustrate via narrative the type of woman described in Prov 31:10-31 as well as the way a person of wisdom demonstrates hesed.

Each section of the commentary begins with a translation and narrative structure analysis. The translation is a “slightly revised version” of his contribution to the NET version. Chisholm breaks English verse into Hebrew phrases in order to visually demonstrate the flow of the original. He then assigns a narrative tag to these Hebrew phrases (initiatory, focusing, complementary, sequential, etc.) These categories are briefly described in the introduction (pp. 81-86) and Chisholm devoted the first chapter of Interpreting the Historical Books to reading narrative. The footnotes in this section of the commentary are concerned with narrative features of the Hebrew clauses and occasionally textual variants.

After a short comment on the literary structure of the pericope, Chisholm proceeds to the exposition of the text. This follows an outline developed from his narrative reading and covers sub-units rather than a phrase-by-phrase commentary.  Hebrew occasionally appears in this expositional section without transliteration, but a reader without knowledge of Hebrew will be able to follow the commentary. More technical details of Hebrew syntax appear in the footnotes. Chisholm occasionally interacts with other major commentaries on Judges and Ruth, although this usually appears in the footnotes. The result is a very reading exposition of the text which provides sufficient detail for pastors and teachers presenting sermons and lessons on Judges and Ruth.

Following the exposition of the text, Chisholm offers a section entitled “Message and Application.” First, he includes a few “thematic emphases” of the pericope. These are exegetical in nature and are closely connected to the text examined. Second, he gives some “theological principles” drawn from the section. These are broader than the thematic observations, connecting to theological themes of the whole book and to the rest of the Hebrew Bible. Not surprisingly, the theological teaching in Judges often centers on sin and its effects, while in Ruth God’s sovereignty is the main feature.  Third, Chisholm offers a few “homiletical trajectories” intended to give a preacher some hints at how they might present the text in a sermon. For each, Chisholm gives a short “exegetical idea,” “theological idea,” and “preaching idea” summarizing the section. For a busy pastor preparing a sermon on Judges or Ruth, these sections will be the most valuable.

Conclusion. Chisholm’s commentary on Judges and Ruth is an excellent exposition of the text from a conservative scholar. For the most part he assumes the historicity of the text and ignores any discussion of potential sources or anachronisms. He specifically eschews these methods in the introduction (p. 15), characterizing these as “creative scholarly conjecture” (p. 30).  He considers revisions of Noth’s Deuteronomisitc History to be a “debate going around in circles” (55). His exposition of the text is based on the assumption the book was intended to be read as a literary whole.

There is less historical background material in this commentary than might be expected. Major commentaries on Old Testament books can become bloated with material accessible in other resources (Bible Dictionaries for example). Since his interests are literary and theological, there is no need to offer descriptions of geographical locations or comments on archaeology (or the lack thereof) as background to the stories.

I would recommend the book to pastors and teachers who are preparing sermons on the often overlooked book of Judges.  Chisholm’s exposition is easy to read and provides excellent illumination of the text for the purpose of serving the Church today.


Review of other commentaries in the Kregel Exegetical Commentary series:


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