Book Review: Interpreting the General Letters

Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook by Herbert W. Bateman IV.

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

Everyone who opens the Scriptures to read will invariably read the text in light of their own experiences, biases, etc.—this is practically a given—and we all know the dangers of reading texts without the appropriate sensibilities. Thankfully, scholars throughout history have provided works that serve as guides to help navigate the complexities of texts and this is no more important than when dealing with ancient texts.

One might also ask, as many do with yet another volume on a particular subject is released, why do we need another book on this subject? As I’ve mentioned in other reviews, I always welcome new works on any given subject because no one person/team could exhaustively discuss all issues relevant to any given topic, much less resolve all of the issues intertwined. However, one of the dangers in this proliferation of topic-specific works is that many will essentially say the same thing, causing us to ask again if we really need another volume on this subject or that.

In the case of Bateman’s contribution to Kregel’s Handbooks for New Testament Exegesis series, there is much to be commended and is an insightful and helpful volume. As the title indicates, Bateman tackles the issues of interpreting the general letters—Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter, Jude (and oddly the Johannine letters, which are typically addressed along with John’s gospel and Revelation, but included here presumably because they are letters). You can expect the standard fare in this volume. Discussion in the first few chapters (1–3) follows fairly typical lines of genre, background, and theological issues that arise and Bateman provides the requisite guidelines on how to identify and assess them in the broader scheme of interpretation. Chapters 4–7 focus more on the spadework of exegesis—translation, grammar and syntax, and interpreting the various components that comprise the letters. Chapter 8 is a bibliography for further reading on the various issues addressed throughout the book.

Overall, this is a rather thorough book. Because it’s not a larger hardcover edition, one might think it to be a lightweight in its field—no so (the whole not judging a book by its cover thing, or even its size in general)! While not a highly technical volume, readers without some knowledge of Greek grammar and syntax may struggle with certain sections. This is not necessarily geared for beginners! When it comes to academic works (which this is, though not geared toward professionals or experts), I expect to see notes/references to works with which the author interacts and/or to which the author points the reader for more detailed discussion—you will find both here. Bateman interacts with a fairly broad range of interpreters, the works of whom you will find on nearly every page. While the whole book was generally good and helpful, there were two sections I found particularly so. The first was Bateman’s discussion of backgrounds specifically concerning the relationship between Jews in Greco-Roman culture and how this affects how one reads the letters in question. The second was the matter of pseudonymity, which is an important issue/problem for interpreting the general letters (see pages 51–56).

One of the risks inherent in approaching a category of works within the canon is that by assigning a label on the basis of common characteristics, some may assume that all guidelines set out for interpreting apply all the time. However, as any interpreter knows, this is not the case. While Bateman does offer any cautionary words on this matter, it should go without saying that titles such as this are meant to be guides, not authoritative works that provide absolute answers for the questions that arise. This volume will certainly serve as a welcome companion to one’s study of the Scriptures that may be called “general letters” and will be a reliable guide through the dizzying array of issues that the “letters” present, if only in a broad sense.

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Strange Text

Yesterday in church, I was following along in the text for the sermon. I carry my ESV compact bible to read in church. As I was reading, I noticed something strange in the inner margin.

text-2

It appears to be Chinese characters. I’ve never seen this before–anyone have any idea why these are here? Is this a common occurrence?

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Twenty Years Ago

It’s hard to believe that it’s been twenty years–twenty years since I trusted Christ for salvation. I still remember the events/circumstances that led up to that decision with great clarity. The sense I got that God was drawing me to Himself was virtually palpable–not a physical feeling necessarily, but a very real and very strong sense that I needed to be reconciled with Him. Looking back over these years as I have grown theologically, I have a better understanding as to how that whole “process” works; yet, much of God’s work of redemption remains mysterious and I wouldn’t change that a bit.

At the risk of sounding cliché, I will say that I really can’t imagine what life would be like if God had not saved me. While I wasn’t the most reckless of sinners, I often think of how things might have turned out had God not intervened and it’s not always a pleasant thought. Thankfully we don’t live in the hypothetical and I am grateful beyond words for God’s infinite love, grace, and mercy. I hope to have many more years of experiencing His goodness!

I am also glad to say that it was one year and one day ago that our daughter also professed faith in Christ, so I rejoice for her as well!

God has been so good, especially in the hard times and I can’t imagine life any other way! Thank you, Lord, for your goodness to us!

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Book Review: A Commentary on Judges and Ruth

A Commentary on Judges and Ruth by Robert B. Chisholm, Jr.

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

The question that is always asked when new commentaries appear is “Do we really need another commentary?” While at times I may be tempted to answer that question with a resound “NO!”, I quickly remind myself that interpretation of the biblical text is a complicated matter and with so many details to consider in any given text, it is always helpful to have different perspectives, if only different in minute ways.[1] One of the special challenges when dealing with biblical interpretation is that the fruit of said interpretation is often meant for the people of God, that they may benefit from the labors poured into the commentary. Of those who use commentaries, they typically fall into two categories and these depend on their level of training: those who need more technical commentaries, e.g., ICC, AB, WBC, and those who need/want less technical series, e.g., NICNT, Pillar, BECNT, NAC, etc. The dividing line between technical and non-technical commentaries is sometimes rather blurred (again, depending on the reader’s level of knowledge), but usually readers can decide fairly easily whether or not a commentary series or single volume is suitable for their purposes.

The Kregel Exegetical Library, which consists of a mere four volumes at present, represents yet another effort to bridge the gap that often exists between scholars and non-scholars. In this particular volume, noted OT scholar Bob Chisholm seeks to provide solid exegetical footing for those who will teach and preach the texts of Judges and Ruth by designing this volume “with pastors and teachers in mind” (13). But do not assume that Chisholm has skimped on the richness OT texts have to offer—far from it! Rather, Chisholm guides the reader through the difficult texts of these books and shows how the original audience would have understood them and how modern readers should understand and teach them. Chisholm provides the following questions that he states must be answered in the exposition of a text: what did it mean in its original ancient Israelite context, what theological principles emerge, and how is it relevant to the church? Reading through this volume one will see a number of features that guide the reader to this end.

The commentary begins predictably with an introductory section in which Chisholm orients the interpreter to the structure and primary themes of the book. Chisholm here covers issues that you would expect: literary themes, narrative structure, provenance, chronology, cultural context, and homiletical discussion. All together, nearly 100 pages (of the near 700 total) are devoted to these issues, so the interpretive ground is appropriately plowed before he gets to matters of the text. The commentary proper is well done and will find favor, not surprisingly with those who are more conservative in their theological bent, though Chisholm shows a deft hand when dealing with matters of ANE backgrounds and other pertinent factors. One of the things I appreciate about this commentary is the references to Hebrew are the actual terms, not transliterated forms as found in BECNT (which are unhelpful), for example. This, along with Chisholm’s grammatical-syntactical discussions (primarily relegated to the footnotes) will require knowledge of Hebrew in order to take full advantage of the commentary. This will likely dissuade some from referring to this work more frequently, but the overall quality of Chisholm’s work will certainly keep interpreters returning to its pages. As with Ross’ volumes in the series on the psalms (vol 1; vol 2), Chisholm’s contribution to the series shows that KEL will be a useful and quality series that pastors and students will want to keep at hand.

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[1] This does not imply that all commentaries are equal—indeed they are not!

Ladd on the Gospels

I like G. E. Ladd. In fact, I find myself very “Laddian” on some issues. Reading through his A Theology of the New Testament today, I happened upon this gem (one of many) concerning form criticism, the criterion of dissimilarity and the Gospels:

It is incredible that Jesus as a Jew would not have made use of ideas current in Judaism that in turn rested squarely upon the Old Testament. It is incredible that Jesus would have interpreted the Old Testament at complete variance with the scribes. It is incredible that the early church, looking back to Jesus and remembering his words, would not have made use of his teachings in their interpretations of him. – p. 172

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Book Review: A Reader’s Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers

A Reader’s Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers, edited by Daniel B. Wallace, Brittany C. Burnette, and Terri Darby Moore

Kregel | Amazon | CBD

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

Dan Wallace (and his associates) have embarked on an ambitious trek, namely to provide students of the Apostolic Fathers a lexicon that serves to aid readers as they read and/or translate works of the Fathers. Having used the first in this series, Burer and Miller’s A New Reader’s Lexicon of the Greek New Testament with great benefit, I had the same expectations for Wallace’s addition. In short, if you’ve used Burer and Miller’s lexicon, you already know what to expect here.

First, a few preliminary notes of interest from the preface. This lexicon provides all vocabulary in the AF that occurs thirty times or less in the NT, thus serving not only to strengthen one’s vocabulary in the AF but also assisting with vocab from the NT as well. Also of note are the various lexical data provided. For example, the AF corpus is roughly half the size of the GNT, exactly 4,966 different words occur thirty times or less in the NT while the same list for the AF is 4,052, and the AF vocabulary “stock” is nearly eighty percent of that of the NT. A couple of other interesting facts: the most common word in the lexicon is πυργος, which occurs 148 times and the verse with the most vocabulary in the lexicon is Diognetus 7.2, which has thirty-four words. Obviously these are not the reasons one would purchase the lexicon. This lexicon’s value lay in the subsequent pages, which provide the necessary information to aid one in the task of translating the Greek fathers.

One of the aspects of this lexicon that I appreciate is the fact that the glosses provided are contextually derived. This, of course, does not obviate the need for further lexical work in order to determine the meaning in a more precise manner (when such is possible), but it serves as a more stable starting point. Rather than just providing a possible meaning, the editors have gone to great lengths to provide at least a more probable meaning. Naturally, many of their choices some will find disagreeable, and this is to be expected; however, their extra efforts will serve the reader/translator well.

Perhaps the only negative that becomes readily apparent is that which can be said for any reader’s lexical aid–it’s simply not practical to arrange all such data on a page in a way that makes simple reading more easily accomplished. By that I mean it’s rather tedious, at least initially, to have to stop and jump over to the lexicon in order to see what a word means. At the same time, one must bear in mind that such a lexicon should eventually serve as a minimally-used tool, assuming the reader will eventually possess such a vocabulary that only occasional consultation will be necessary. The layout, then, is not necessarily a fault or hindrance–it’s simply the nature of this kind of work. However, students of Greek who consult BDAG or LSJ know what a cumbersome task that can be and will likely rejoice that this volume has nowhere near the bulk of those volumes (understanding that those volumes serve a different purpose).

Without question, this volume will help readers of the AF bolster their Greek vocabulary, which in turn helps them in their work with the Greek NT. It will serve not only as aid to reading and translating, but also (hopefully) as a boon to further studies in the field. One can only hope that with two reader’s lexica under their belts, Kregel has more in the works.

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