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.

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.

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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Too Long for Twitter

I found this thought by Krister Stendahl worth sharing. I shared here because it’s too long for Twitter and no one like multiple tweets that try to communicate a single thought or comment.

“The believer has the advantage of automatic empathy with the believers in the text—but his faith constantly threatens to have him modernize the material, if he does not exercise the canons of descriptive scholarship rigorously.” Krister Stendahl, The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 1:422.

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Here’s Your Sign

We usually read church signs. They’re big, bright, and meant to be read. So, out of a habit formed over the years, we read church signs if we’re able. The other night, on the way home from my daughter’s basketball practice, I noticed a church sign that caught my eye. What did it say?

church-sign-2

Before I comment, let me offer a disclaimer of sorts. The fact that “educated” is set in quotes gives me a little pause. I don’t know what prompted this particular thought, nor do I know to whom the sign may be referring–all I have is speculation. However, regardless of the referent, the comment is offensive in a couple of ways.

First, even if a particular person, institution, etc, is in view here, it surely would offend anyone who has either pursued education beyond what is required to finish high school and/or those who have committed themselves to teaching others. My wife has been teaching for 12 years and has earned her master’s degree, so she would fit both categories. Also, this church is located only a few blocks from the school district’s central headquarters!

Second, as readers here likely know, theological education has been a major component of my own life. As I am about halfway through the PhD program at DTS, this sentiment is very offensive to me and others who have walked this path.

There is a notion in the minds of many Christians that is, sadly, all too common, namely that all we need is the Bible and the Holy Spirit to understand the Scriptures. Again, I don’t know if seminarians or biblical studies/theology students are in mind on this sign, but I can’t shake the suspicion this is so. Admittedly there are always seminary grads who parade their achievement in the face of others who have not received the same education and/or use it to prop themselves up as the authoritative arbiter of biblical interpretation. Such attitudes are indeed deplorable. However, many (perhaps most) PhD students in biblical/theological studies are not there to bolster their own knowledge in order to lord it over others; rather, they pursue knowledge in order to serve God by helping others sort through the numerous difficulties one faces when reading the Bible.

Whatever the referent, it is simply ignorant to claim that education (of whatever sort) moves a person farther away from God. Yes, knowledge that is built up for its own sake can certainly achieve that end, but knowledge also serves to help us know God better. Because I don’t know what prompted this particular statement, I realize I may be wrong; however, such a blanket statement about being educated is simply wrong. Education is a virtuous thing, one that many people do not have the opportunity to pursue. I have devoted my life to this and it hasn’t been easy on my family or me, so to read such a statement on a church sign, well, bothers me to say the least.

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A Conspicuous Absence

Wow–I haven’t posted anything in quite a while (now that inexplicable void in your life is explained!). What have I been up to?

  • Work
  • Family
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Tutoring
  • Grading
  • Sleeping

That’s about it. Maybe I’ll post something more substantial another day. Until then…

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Book Review: Interpreting the Pauline Letters

Interpreting the Pauline Letters: An Exegetical Handbook by John D. Harvey

Kregel | Amazon | CBD

Thanks to the kind folks at Kregel for this review copy!

The number of books concerning Paul are seemingly without end. So, when a book of this sort is published, we may ask, “Do we really need another one?” I, for one, am typically glad that numerous books on a particular subject are published because no one person can say all that needs to be said.

Harvey’s book is a helpful volume that combines the task of digging into the world of the text and making the text understandable to us, the text of an alien culture. It’s divided into eight sections:

  1. The Genre of Paul’s Letters
  2. The Historical Background of Paul’s Letters
  3. The Theology of Paul’s Letters
  4. Preparing to Interpret Paul’s Letters
  5. Interpreting Passages in Paul’s Letters
  6. Communicating Passages in Paul’s Letters
  7. From Text to Sermon: Two Examples
  8. Selected Resources

In general, the book is well done and very informative. The first chapter discusses a number of issues concerning the genre of Paul’s letters, a helpful chapter that helps orient the reader to ancient letter writing and why it matters to interpretation. The second chapter on Paul’s historical background is not exactly light reading. Harvey meanders through the historical data in an effort to reconstruct a timeline on which to place Paul’s life and mission. This is a task that has occupied the pursuits of biblical scholars for centuries and Harvey ably navigates the difficult terrain. While some will doubtlessly disagree with some of his conclusions, but he is to be commended for the attention to detail he has given.

The chapter on Paul’s theology is more thematic than anything. Harvey makes no attempt to construct the theology of Paul (or even a theology), but rather a method, which he proposes to be antithetical in nature, particularly as it is conveyed through the Adam-Christ paradigm. He then spends a few pages discussing various themes that show up throughout the Pauline corpus. This is a helpful section in that it is concise enough to whet the appetite and (presumably!) prompt further study, yet does not pretend to answer all the questions that arise in such a study.

Chapter four primarily concerns textual issues–text criticism, grammar and syntax, and translation(s). Essentially, this chapter follows the dictum that before we can exegete the text, we  must establish the text. As some of you may/may not know, I am not a big fan of doing textual criticism, but I acknowledge its importance and am glad to see Harvey has given it a place of importance in the process of interpretation.

Chapter five delves into other necessary elements to exegesis: historical background, geography, and literary and theological analysis. Here Harvey shows the same skill as with the construction of a Pauline timeline–he ably guides the reader on a necessarily truncated survey of Paul’s world and the events that led to its shape.

The next two chapters put wheels on the work that the previous chapters have helped create. Harvey guides the reader through the process of crafting a sermon based on the hermeneutical process detailed in the preceding pages.

The final chapter is essentially an annotated bibliography, offering readers a snapshot of the numerous tools available for the work of interpretation.

In sum, Harvey has written a very helpful book that will be of benefit to all who read it, though it is aimed at interpreters who have had less formal training.

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Book Review: Charts on the Life, Letters, and Theology of Paul

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 to say that he has indeed surveyed the landscape that is Paul and has put together a map of sorts to help students navigate his eventful life.

This review was a bit of a challenge simply because Kierspel covers so much ground. Thankfully, he organizes the book into four main sections: Paul’s Background & Context, Paul’s Life & Ministry, Paul’s Letters, and Paul’s Theological Concepts.

In the first section, Kierspel covers the ever-important topics of Roman rule before and during Paul’s lifetime and the Judaisms before and during Paul’s life that have been the subject of intense study over the last several decades. Given this tendency to focus on Paul’s Jewish roots, it is a tad surprising to see that  Kierspel actually devotes a bit more space to Paul’s Greco-Roman context. That’s not to say that the Jewish culture in which Paul lived and preached is in any way diminished, but simply a statement of fact concerning the author’s choices.

The second section concerns Paul’s life and ministry and covers many important topics, including a chronology of Paul’s life, parallels between Paul and Acts, autobiographical information, a comparison of Paul’s conversion accounts, his missionary journeys, and a host of other geographical and historical information.

The third section concerns Paul’s letters and it is here that many will find perhaps the most useful collation of data. Kierspel charts 40+ topics related to the Pauline corpus, including introductory information for the disputed and undisputed letters of Paul, the issue of amanuenses, manuscripts, OT allusions, quotes, and parallels, hapax legomena and a handful of other entries.

The fourth section concerns the many theological concepts on which Paul wrote. This chapter, as was the third, was/is immensely helpful. As you should expect with book of charts, there are no elaborations or scholarly discussions here, at least not in the sense that you would find in a commentary or NT intro. These topics include various references to God, Christological concepts (humanity, divinity), pneumatology, sin, death, and judgment, soteriology, salvation metaphors (!), eschatology, and a variety of other theological topics.

Some will register their disagreements here and there, particularly with matters of dating (Paul’s missionary journeys, the dating of various epistles, etc.), which one should expect any time dates and timelines for historical figures and/or events are the subject of discussion. Some will also quibble with the discussion of various theological themes, as in whether or not Paul was as specific about a particular topic as perhaps Kierspel suggests. However, these minor issues aside, Kierspel has put together an immensely useful volume that will serve as a welcome guide for many. This book may be likened to a map, in a way, in that it provides a general orientation to the Apostle Paul in his primary contexts. This will be a great resource, particularly for those who need a quick reference to a particular detail about Paul’s life that perhaps had not been cemented in their memory.

Additionally, this volume will prove to be beyond handy for those who wish to study a particular letter, concept, or theme of Paul’s. With so many issues concisely covered and topically arranged, this will be a go-to guide.

This is a wonderful tool and I look forward to other volumes that Kregel has in the works!

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