Book Review: HCSB Study Bible

HCSB Study Bible

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Many thanks to the kind folks at Broadman & Holman for this review copy!

This volume is like many others of its kind—big and bulky. As such I would expect most who use this bible (and study bibles in general) leave it in a particular place where they can read and take notes—it’s just a bit too bulky to lug around from place to place. This is not necessarily a bad thing as its necessarily large, but is a factor that users will have to weigh (pun intended!) when considering a study bible.

This copy is the hardcover with dust jacket, which I prefer in a study bible. Because I use study bibles in a very utilitarian manner and not just for reading, I prefer one that is heavier so that it stays open while I flip pages. If I want to read notes on verses in Genesis 12 or Revelation 17, I want to flip there and have the bible stay opened. Obviously that’s not problem with this volume—it weighs in at just over four pounds!

As I expected from this study bible, it is loaded with information designed to take the reader beyond the final translation before them. One of these features that I always find helpful is word studies, which number 290 in this particular volume. There is an inherent danger in word studies of this nature, primarily because they must be condensed and thus are essentially incomplete. Words, no matter to what language, culture, and time they belong, can drastically change meaning and therefore evade simplistic definitions. I’ll not quibble over subtle nuances that are present in the word studies in this volume because I find them to be helpful. Even if the information is incomplete or disagreeable to the reader, they are helpful because they help the reader have a better handle on the text at hand.

There are also a number of other requisite aids in this edition that assist the reader in digging just below the translation’s surface. There are numerous cross references, which like word studies can be helpful is used properly, but the danger is that sometimes readers assume that a cross-referenced text is actually related to another. Another interesting feature is the alternate/literal translation bar. It is a yellow-background insert between the translation and the study notes that provides additional translation information. The “literal” means just that—the translators provide a word’s literal meaning (though this can be misleading), but does not conform to good English style. The “alternate” option provides cases in which the translators considered rendering certain terms or phrases one way, but ultimately chose the option reflected in the text. This is helpful in helping readers gain a glimpse into the complex work of translating biblical texts.

Other features include numerous charts, maps (which I always find helpful), excellent illustrations, actual photographs (though somewhat muddled due to the paper are still crisp enough), timelines, and well-written introductions to each biblical book. These introductions are an asset to this volume. Though by necessity they are only cursory in their treatment, they are still helpful in orienting the reader to the various matters that lay behind the text, e.g., authorship, date, message, purpose, structure, and contribution to the Bible. It is in these introductions that you will also find the timelines mentioned earlier. The back matter consists of the HCSB bullet notes found throughout the text (essentially a glossary of key terms, e.g., atonement, Baal, Mount of Olives, Passover, etc.), a table of weights and measures, topical concordance, Bible reading plans (three-year and one-year plans), and a 52-week Scripture memory plan. In sum, the HCSB Study Bible will certainly provide the reader with ample tools to study the Scriptures in more depth and will hopefully serve as a boon for further research beyond the limitations of the information provided.

One of the things that I noticed while using this Bible was that some of the headings throughout were blurry. Looking at them closely, there appears to be a drop shadow behind them. The font is a burnt orange color and in these this shadow is yellow, which leads to a blurring effect. I suspect this is a printing issue because it’s found throughout and if you look at the sample PDF, there is no shadowing. However, despite this one particular flaw, it remains an aesthetically pleasing volume and I would heartily recommend it to anyone looking for a good study bible.

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Book Review: A Survey of the Old Testament, 3rd Edition

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 10.26.00 AMA Survey of the Old Testament by Andrew Hill and John H. Walton

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

This book is now five years old, and though I’ve not had it quite that long, this review has been in the works for a while.

From the outset, Walton and Hill (hereafter W/H unless otherwise indicated) make it clear that their work reflects their convictions—they are evangelicals. For those for whom “evangelical” essentially amounts to insular theological positions and a reticence in gleaning from the fruits of higher criticism, let it be said that Walton and Hill do not quite fit that mold. They do believe that the OT is “God’s self-revelation” (21) and it is an authoritative work (26), yet those familiar with Walton’s work (I can’t speak for Hill) know that he does not toe the typical conservative line when it comes to interpreting the text. In Appendix A, W/H claim that “Evangelical is a term in vogue to describe those who acknowledge the authority of the Bible” and that it is a bit more precise, perhaps, than the label “conservative” (753). W/H also rightly notes that both “liberals” and “conservatives” employ the same critical methodologies, the primary difference between them ultimately coming down to presuppositions and how they interpret the evidence. So, as evangelicals, W/H will certainly interpret texts differently than would those who do not make “supernaturalistic claims,” yet to dismiss their work on these grounds would be most unfortunate.

As far as the content of the book, W/H cover a tremendous amount of ground, which is virtually impossible to avoid if one is going to survey the vast landscape that is the OT. Concerning their readership, those on both sides of the aisle (read conservative and liberal) will find parts with which they can wholeheartedly agree and strongly disagree. For those in the evangelical camp, a number of things will likely dishearten them. For one, W/H do not hold to Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch (79, 104, 165). Walton notes that there is good evidence for Moses as the editor/compiler, but it is lacking for Moses as author. Concerning the book of Deuteronomy, Walton suggests “Moses can be affirmed as the dominant, principal, and determinative voice in the book, and he is credited with at least some of the writing” (165). Authorship is a prickly issue anyway as those in the ancient world did not write books in the same way that moderns think about it, so W/H are simply following the evidence where it leads them. In sum, W/H have no issue with ascribing Mosaic authorship to sections of the Pentateuch, but not to the final form. Additionally, Walton’s take on the primeval history certainly differs from the opinion of many of his evangelical brethren. Walton has fleshed this out in much more detail in more recent works, so his treatment here is necessarily brief, though it remains informative. On the other hand, the evangelical audience will likely appreciate W/H’s take on other accounts, such as the Exodus.

Perhaps the most notable update in this volume is the amount of visuals included—they are found on nearly every other page! In addition to the numerous charts and excurses an abundance of photographs have been included. While some of them are rather run of the mill, the majority are quite stunning! As someone who benefits greatly from visual representation of data, photography is always welcome. Naturally such embellishments are not always suitable, but for a volume such as this they are and enhance the reading experience by providing visualization of the content matter. Another minor detail that I found helpful is indication of which author wrote which section, though a couple were unidentified.

My criticisms of the book are mostly due to editorial restrictions. For example, the opening section on geography is quite helpful, considering that the physical landscape is important throughout the Hebrew Scriptures; yet, there is a rather brief discussion of the land as a significant element of Jewish theology. Similarly, other sections of the book suffer a bit from comparatively shorter discussions than books/sections that are themselves shorter. For example, the sections on the major prophets are hardly longer than the sections dealing with each of the 12 individually. Again, I understand that there are restrictions on space—this book clocks in just shy of 800 pages—and authors have to be selective. I do wish that some of the sections were a bit longer and that others were a bit briefer.

There really is no comparison between the second and this newer third edition—it’s practically a complete overhaul. This updated volume is reminiscent of other visually-appealing books in Zondervan’s catalog. Expanded content and stunning visuals set this volume apart not only from its predecessors, but also from many other OT introductions available. While Walton and Hill may not win over everyone (primarily outside of more conservative circles), this work is certainly worthy of consideration and could easily be one of the more sought after OT introductions, especially for students just beginning the journey of study beyond an English translation.

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Book Review: Toxic Spirituality

Toxic Spirituality: Four Enduring Temptations of Christian Faith by Eric Gritsch

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Emeritus Professor of Church History at Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary Eric Gritsch offers a “reality check” to the church at large concerning four strains of Christianity that have “weakened, indeed abused, the core of Christian tradition.”  Who are these four horsemen who have run roughshod over Christianity’s core and left it a trampled and disfigured mess?  Anti-Semitism, Fundamentalism, Triumphalism, and Moralism.  Gritsch takes on each rider (keeping with the theme) head on, mincing no words and pulling no punches.  The use of the word “toxic” in the title itself gives readers a glimpse of the book’s tone and readers will come away from this book with no doubt the author views these four “temptations” as having poisoned the well from which Christians throughout history have drunk.  At the outset, Gritsch acknowledges that there are other toxic expressions of Christianity that are dangerous (e.g. racism and sexism), but believes them to have their origins in “the cesspool of the four poisons that threaten historical Christianity” (6).

As stated above, Gritsch begins with the notion of anti-Semitism.  With each of these four, he begins with a historical analysis of the birth and development of each, which proves to be a great help, particularly for readers who are not so clear on the history through which the author moves. The author notes writes more of what he calls “anti-Judaism” than pure anti-Semitism, though obviously the former is inextricably bound to the latter. One thing that Gritsch does not do is white wash history–he lays it out in all its ugliness for inspection and interpretation. Gritsch tags such revered early churchmen as Chrysostom and Augustine for their role in at least creating an atmosphere of anti-Judaism and later leaders such as Luther do not escape criticism either. Gritsch also notes the role of supercessionism in the perpetuation of anti-Judaism in the middle ages and beyond. Nazi Germany and the Holocaust are perhaps obvious out-workings of anti-Judaism, but what may be somewhat surprising is the Catholic church’s rather unfortunate cooperation with the Nazis. Though their relationship was not indicative of full blown anti-Semitism, the mere reality of such a relationship is another chapter in the long history of misdeeds by the church. Of course, it wasn’t just the Catholic church that was tangled up in this dark era of European history, but the Protestants as well. The last part of the chapter Gritsch writes essentially that if the apostolic testimony about Christ had been heeded, anti-Judaism perhaps could have been far less prominent. He rightly notes that the NT contains plenty of polemics against particular aspects of first-century Judaism, but nothing that could be considered anti-Semitic (though I am sure plenty would disagree). Given his disavowal of supercessionism, Gritsch holds that the church hasn’t replaced Israel or in any way become the new Israel, but in some mysterious way Israel and the church are both of God’s people and will receive eschatological blessing.

The second chapter concerns fundamentalism and was easily the one I most looked forward to. However, I was quite surprised that Gritsch does not define fundamentalism quite the way I might. I fully expected the discussion to center on KJV-onlyism. What I got was discussion of various evangelicals, their organizations, and the role they played in American church life and politics. Gritsch defines fundamentalism as “an excessive adherence to the literal interpretation of the Bible”, which he says is also know as “bibliolatry” (45). This extreme stance on the bible gave rise to fundamentalism in general and numerous offshoots along various trajectories. Fundamentalism of the evangelical variety prided itself on its desire to separate from the “liberal” wing of Christianity. One aspect of this was what Gritsch calls the “crusade against Darwinism,” a conflict that has been rekindled of late. Any perceived threat to the fundamentals of Christianity, whether Darwin’s theory of evolution or liberal Christianity, was fuel for the fire and fundamentalism thus sought to be wholly separate.

As I mentioned, I was quite surprised that the author did not discuss KJV-onlyism, perhaps one of the best known (or infamous) strains of fundamentalism in modern American Christianity. In addition to the evangelical-political fundamentalism of the 20th century, Gritsch devotes several pages to the discussion of traditionalism, which in turn gave rise to the papacy and Roman Catholic fundamentalism. Let the fun begin! As with evangelicals in the previous section, Gritsch does not tread lightly in his overview of Roman Catholic traditionalism. In Protestant eyes, particularly those of more conservative evangelicals, Roman Catholics are frequently (and unfairly) eyed as suspicious because of the authority given to tradition. Gritsch lasers in on a couple of aspects of RC traditionalism that stemmed from the church’s struggle to define tradition and its role in church governance—the authority of Rome and Marian devotion. The fusing of scripture and tradition by Second Vatican Council as the “single sacred deposit of the Word of God which is entrusted to the church” provokes some Gritsch’s harsher criticism. He claims that Catholic traditionalist fundamentalism gave birth to an unholy Trinity: tradition, Scripture, and the magisterium. Whether evangelical or Catholic, fundamentalism is “an attempt to claim authority over a sacred tradition as an antidote for a society that has strayed from its cultural moorings.” It is “marked by a continual drive for security among anxious believers who feel destined to preserve a certain way of life and thought, grounded in a preferred culture” (77).

Chapter three concerns triumphalism, which Gritsch traces back to the “unholy alliance” of the state and the church initiated under the rule of Constantine and perpetuated by his successors.  Gritsch astutely notes “It is an irony of history that the first political benefactor of Christianity used the title ‘Prince of Peace’ for his ambitious climb to the autocracy” (89). Gritsch continues with an overview of Constantine’s successors and their own quasi-theocratic desires. This breed of Christianity, at least in part, was as oppressive and murderous as extremist sects of Islam are today. Gritsch also give attention to such theocrats as Thomas Müntzer and groups of like-minded folk such as the Anabaptists. The less-theocratic also are discussed, e.g., Calvin, Puritans, Montanists, monastics, Hutterites, etc. Gritsch may be criticized for going after low-hanging fruit in some sections of this chapter; however, the sins committed by Christians throughout history have been fairly well documented and there is little here that will surprise students of Christian history and Gritsch is right to point out some of the more significant people and movements that exemplify what he calls “triumphalism.”

The next chapter concerns moralism, which Gritsch does not so much define as he describes with examples throughout church history, as in the previous chapters. From the seven deadly sins of Pope Gregory I and Dante’s The Divine Comedy to various church councils, from the Enlightenment to the rise of Fundamentalism, moralism is apparently an effort to bring about moral unity among Christians, which ironically enough, tends to happen along denominational or other exclusionary lines.

Chapter five is a concluding section in which the author offers some measure of synthesis and analysis of these dreaded four horsemen whose rampant plodding through Church history have left not only real casualties in the paths they’ve trod, but a damaged witness to those who examine, however briefly, the history of the Church. Gritsch says “Anti-Semitism, Fundamentalism, Triumphalism, and Moralism embody sin in their direct, or indirect, rejection of Christian life as penultimate, and they fall victim to a realized eschatology—as if the hope for the ultimate, eternal life with God in Christ had already been fulfilled. This historical perversion is the most visible symptom of spiritual poisoning” (160).

This being my first read of Gritsch, I must say it was quite good work—astute, brutally honest, and fascinating. Though not without its faults (e.g., I don’t know that I’d quite say that evangelizing Jews is representative of anti-Judaism), Gritsch is spot-on in his analysis of these four elements of Christian history. While other aspects of Christian praxis have likewise morphed into damaging offshoots, Gritsch ably demonstrates the dangers of these four. A great read—plenty of food for thought and prayer here.

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Book Review: Learn to Read New Testament Greek

Learn to Read New Testament Greek, 3d edition by David Alan Black

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Thanks to the kind folks at Broadman & Holman for this review copy!

Of the making of Greek grammars there is no end! Thankfully, as with the seemingly endless production of commentaries, each grammar has the potential to offer unique insights and strategies for learning the language of the New Testament. David Black is an experienced teacher of Greek and the fact that his primer is now in its third edition is a testament to its usefulness for learning the Koine of the NT. Though this update is now five years old, its usefulness has hardly subsided.

One of the most debated elements concerning ancient dialects of Greek is pronunciation. Thanks to Erasmus of Rotterdam, most students learning Greek (at least in the West) adopt the pronunciation scheme he conceived and which was perpetuated by his academic descendants. I myself learned Greek this way and still default to it for the most part; however, I have modified that approach a bit (whether for ill or gain). Black confesses that the scheme adopted in his book (Erasmian) is a compromise between how the letters were probably pronounced and the way they are spelled (2). His approach is largely pragmatic—students will learn each letter with a distinct sound rather than shared sounds (e.g., ο and ω are pronounced with short and long “o” sounds respectively).

Every Greek grammar I’ve read through over the years takes a slightly different path on the way to introducing the various elements of Greek. Once the alphabet is covered, what comes next will depend on the strategy of the book’s author. Here, Black offers a “bird’s-eye” view of the Greek verbal system and introduces the present and future indicatives first, arguably the simplest of Greek forms to learn. Expectedly, he does not delve much into matters of morphology, except when it is necessary to explain changes in form that might be unexpected. Following this brief discussion of present and future active verbs, Black introduces nouns, beginning with the second then first declensions. Following that is adjectives which are then proceeded by remaining verb forms and other primary components necessary to build a foundation upon which more complex matters of syntax and exegesis may be learned. Black’s linguistic knowledge also shows throughout the book, though he keeps such references to a minimum and only includes them when it helps explain. Another helpful element included here is the last chapter in which Black offers helpful suggestions for reading the GNT. After all, the book’s approach is not learning to speak Greek, but to read and understand it and this short chapter is helpful toward that end.

One thing I like about this volume more than others is that it is rather concise. Black provides enough information for the reader to understand the very basics of learning to read Koine Greek and doesn’t belabor points, neither are his pages festooned with sidebars, charts, and other informational tidbits. Looking at Mounce’s third edition, it comes near to information overload. While all is intended to reinforce the section’s most important points, Mounce’s book is distracting at times; Black’s is not—it is simple and to the point. Presumably Black’s volume is intended for classroom use primarily as such brevity throughout is likely meant to complemented by the instruction of a prof/teacher to answer questions not explicitly answered in the book. This could also serve as the book’s primary weakness. If someone interested in learning Greek picked up this volume, I am confident that it would serve them well as a foray into the language, but without supplementary instruction and/or discussion, concision could work against them.

In sum, I think Black’s volume will continue to be a helpful and accessible guide to learning NT Greek. The essential elements of the language coupled with a straightforward presentation without gimmicks and unnecessary verbiage make this an excellent starting point for learning the language of the NT, to which its to which a third edition attests.

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Blogging through The Lost World of Scripture: Proposition 3

Part 1, Proposition 3 – Effective communication must accommodate to the culture and nature of the audience

Walton here tackles the prickly issue of accommodation, an area in which he has greatly helped me in my understanding of Scripture me over the years. Essentially Walton argues that God has accommodated the medium of human communication as the avenue of interaction between Himself and His creation. In so doing, God has chosen a means that would in some respects be temporally and culturally bound. This is an unavoidable tenet of communication since people are a part of a culture in which language, customs, and other elements change over time. Walton cites Kenton Sparks here, who says “in many cases God does not correct our mistaken human viewpoints but merely assumes them in order to communicate with us” (40). This is the nature of accommodation—the communicator must speak in terms that are relevant to the recipient if they desire the communication to be important and to evoke a response.

Because some elements of the beliefs held by the ancients were bound by their time and culture, readers/hearers of the Bible’s accounts must be conscious of them and interpret them in light of the culture they depict. One of the ways Walton suggests interpreters do this is through Speech-Act theory, which basically suggests that “communication is an action with particular intentions” (41). There are three levels at which speech works in this theory: locution, illocution, and perlocution. The gist is that elements of the text, e.g. genre, words, sentences, rhetorical structures, etc., or locutions, embody illocutions, and this is where the question of inerrancy should be addressed. Walton (not surprisingly) offers the example of cosmic geography to illustrate his point: “God may well accommodate the communicator’s view that the earth is the center of the cosmos. But if God’s intention is not to communicate truth about cosmic geography, that accommodation is simply part of the shape of the locution—it is incidental, not part of God’s illocution” (42).

In general I think that Speech-Act theory is helpful as one tool in the interpreter’s bag, though various approaches and methods should be employed to get to the meaning in the text (Walton doesn’t suggest Speech-Act theory as the only method). At the same time, there is a balancing act here. This allows interpreters to hold to a high view of Scripture without attributing historicity or scientific accuracy to accounts in the Bible; yet, if taken too far one could be left with a collection of stories that have been gutted of their value as truthful historical accounts (albeit often told with a theological slant). As with most things, the devil is in the details.

Whether or not one accepts Walton’s arguments thus far, he has done a service for the larger community of interpreters, though his refrain will echo more loudly in evangelical circles. If nothing else, Walton helps readers of Scripture to understand better how communication works between differing cultures, a matter that becomes highly complicated when you toss in the idea of divine inspiration of texts that purport to record such communication. Walton doesn’t seek to end the debate over inerrancy and authority, but seeks to shine much-needed light on the discussion of these important matters, and this he does well.

“We are not free to take the communicator’s locutions (whether considered divine or human) and use them to formulate our own fresh illocutions and associated meanings—authority is compromised at best or lost entirely when we do that” (42). 3

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Proposition 1, 2

Cover Art

Despite the recurring admonition to refrain from judging a book by its cover, I routinely do just that. When it comes to books, movies, TV shows, musical works, etc., the artwork is an important element for me. Obviously the contents are of greater importance than the artistic veneer; yet, I think sometimes the art is passed over all too quickly. Again, the treasure of a good book or musical work is in its innards–not exterior components– and I would never pass up a good book or album just because I don’t like the cover. If that were the case, then many a great title on my shelves would be elsewhere right now!

The cover art is in many ways the first impression you have of a work (not always, obviously)–it can say a lot or a little, can draw you in or turn you away.

Musically, there are simply too many examples I could point to, but this is one of my favorites in recent years: Strongarm’s Atonement.  strongarm atonementNot only was this one of my favorite albums musically when it came out, but the artwork has always struck me. It’s incredibly simple, but the message is clear, especially if you read the lyrics. And it’s not just the message the image communicates that has endeared it to me, but the particular style of art it is–it looks like a painting. Many of my favorite album covers are similar to this one.

For books, one of my favorite covers belongs to a volume edited by Richard Horsley, several sections of which I read last year: In the Shadow of Empire: Reclaiming the Bible as a History of Faithful Resistance

Here I not only love the helmet, but again the simplicity, the connection the art makes with the title.

I’ll also mention another recent book cover I love for pretty much the same reasons–it’s Mark Reasoner’s Roman Imperial Texts: A Sourcebook.

The cover of this book is superb–the black background provides excellent contrast for the for the statue and the font is perfectly suited both in style and color. This jacketing is also my favorite–that soft, almost velvety feel (perhaps someone could tell me what that technical name is for this kind of paper?).

So, these are just a few examples of covers that have caught my eye. What about you–what are some of your favorites?

Αυτω η δοξα

Blogging through The Lost World of Scripture: Proposition 2

Part 1, Proposition 2 – Expansions and revisions were possible as documents were copied generation after generation and eventually compiled into literary works

This section practically reads like a primer on textual criticism, at least a couple of its components. Essentially Walton considers the role of the scribe in the transmission of what would become the canonical text. Here he asks an important question, one whose answer still evades satisfactory explanation: “Which version of a tradition found its way into a document?” The discussion here revolves around, as mentioned above, the role of the scribe. Walton suggests that scribes had a measure of latitude when it came to copying texts, though this varied depending on historical factors in the culture and the scribe’s level of accomplishment. Many of the changes made in the text over the centuries were what Walton describes as updates—language and place names, explanatory glosses, added sections, updated formulations, and integrated revisions to address new audiences (33–34). These are indicative of the changes that occur in language and the community in which the oral tradition is circulating. Beyond this, there were more significant changes that were introduced to the text, a phenomenon Walton describes as “innertexuatlity”—actual changes within the tradition itself. This might include new laws, wisdom sayings, narratives, etc. Here I wish that Walton would have provided concrete examples of such additions.

Walton makes an important point in this section. He suggests that changes that were introduced by the scribes would not have been seen as “destructive, deceptive, or subversive” (34), but rather advantageous. This is so because they (the scribes and the community they served) did not see their work as tampering with authority. Since authority resided in the authority figure who inaugurated the tradition, updating the text to be relevant to an ever-changing culture was necessary and would preserve the core of the tradition, though it would be couched in different language than that of its original form.

Walton continues (with many before him) to dispel the notion that the canonical text is indicative of word-for-word preservation of what Abraham, Moses, or others actually said. The distance between the origin of the oral tradition and its transcription into a document is simply too great. For Walton, this does not diminish the authority or importance of the text we have, but serves as a reminder that the text is the product of a culture that was only much later oriented around a written text. As such, the original form of the tradition recorded would have been quite different, though this is not seen as a detriment to the current text.

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Proposition 1