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!

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

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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.

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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Book Review: Interpreting the Pauline Letters

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

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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

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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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Book swap?

I bought this volume a couple of years ago because it appealed to me. However, as life moved along I never really was able to get into it much, and so it’s been on the shelf mostly. It’s in pristine condition and it’s a shame for it to just sit on the shelf, so…

If anyone like to trade me for it, I’d be glad to do it. Of course, I would prefer something of comparable value and condition, and something related to NT studies, Greco-Roman  backgrounds, etc.

Let me know if you’re interested and we’ll see what you’re willing to trade.

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Book Review: Jesus the Messiah

Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King by Herbert W. Bateman, IV, Darrell L. Bock, and Gordon H. Johnston

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Thanks to the folks at Kregel for this review copy!

I have had the privilege of studying under both Gordon Johnston and Darrell Bock and both are truly gentleman and scholars. Naturally, when given the opportunity to review a book on which they (and Bateman) had collaborated, I jumped at it. I must say that this book met my expectations and will serve as the go-to guide for many when it comes to messianic expectation in Jewish and Christian literature.

Essentially this book covers three major literary corpora and how each demonstrates, in varying degrees, messianic expectation, promise, and fulfillment. Gordon Johnston tackles various texts from the Hebrew Bible, Herbert Bateman discusses the various messianic expectations recorded in intertestamental Jewish literature, and Darrell Bock tackles the NT teachings on Jesus as Messiah.

Though plenty of readers will find fault with interpretations presented throughout (a given for any book of this sort), I found the hermeneutical approach quite satisfying. There is a stereotype/stigma that attends books of this sort, i.e. that books about messianic issues written by evangelicals are predictable. Many may assume that the sections dealing with the Hebrew Bible and intertestamental literature will default to seeing Christ in every possible text so as to demonstrate the obvious presence of messianic expectation. I must say that such hyper-messianic readings of Jewish literature are off the mark, but you won’t find such a view here. While the authors obviously see messianic expectation in a number of texts in the Hebrew Bible and intertestamental literature, they don’t see it everywhere. They lay out their hermeneutical approach on pages 20-36, which I will not rehash here. The gist of the approach is that God revealed the Messiah via progressive revelation, even from the first of canonical literature. This is not to say that everything about the Messiah, particularly his identity, was revealed, but that there were glimpses that continually built over generations until the Jesus the Christ could be made known.

Permit me a lengthy quote by Bateman that describes the difference in their approach (pgs. 24-25).

Granted, our starting point is not unlike other approaches that acknowledge the value of Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) when discussing Messiah. Yet there is a difference. Many people today unfortunately fail to grapple with the human journey of discovery about “Messiah.” Many preachers who preach sermons about Jesus as the Messiah often over emphasize their theological system with limited or even no consideration of any progress of revelation in human history. Others may read the text historically, often looking exclusively to the long-term reality. But in their quest for a singular historical-contextual meaning throughout all of Scripture, they argue that what a First Testament human author said about Messiah equals that which is stated about Jesus the Messiah in the Second Testament. They tend to suggest that Jesus and the apostles assert that the Hebrew Scriptures testify directly and (or more importantly) exclusively about him. In their mind, the evangelists and epistolarists believe Moses foretold only the death of Jesus the Messiah; David foresaw only the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah; Isaiah predicted only Jesus’ ascension into glory; and that Abraham heard only the Gospel to the Gentiles preached to him. Thus, they stress the work of the divine author and thereby over emphasize an unambiguous continuity between the Testaments. The idea is that most or all of these texts need to be direct prophecies to work for Jesus being the messianic fulfillment in the way the Second Testament describes…We, however, will offer a slightly different approach. Granted, there is most certainly a link, but we will argue, just not a completely exclusive one. One of our goals is to argue that these texts do not need to be only direct prophecies for them to reveal a messianic connections and fulfillment in Jesus. Such an explicit-exclusive reading of the First Testament tends to ignore the complexities of Jewish history as well as God’s revelation and its progress. Such an explicit reading deprives us of historical information that ultimately helps us grasp what was going on in the lives of the Jewish people and what God’s revelation told them about their present and future. While a traditional approach argues for explicit predictions about Jesus, we suggest that while the wording is ultimately messianic, it is often more implicitly stated and becomes clearer only as the entirety of God’s portrait of messiah is eventually and fully disclosed, both by how the First Testament concludes and by what Jesus himself does to pull all the messianic pieces together.

I hate to quote things at such length, but this is the grid through which the texts in the book are read and it leads to a much more suitable interpretation than does a hyper-messianic reading mentioned earlier.

All in all, this is a superb book with little to fault. Again, as with any book (particularly those of an exegetical nature), there will be disagreements on this detail or that and I’ve chosen to leave that for others to discuss. Whatever disagreements you may find, I think most who read this, even those outside evangelical camps, will find a trove of exegetical treasure and plenty of food for thought.

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Book Review: From Eden to the New Jerusalem

From Eden to the New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical Theology by T. Desmond Alexander 

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Many thanks to the kind folks at Kregel for this review copy!

Interest in biblical theology (hereafter BT) has been on the rise in recent years and a number of fine volumes have been published on the subject. One of those entries is T. Desmond Alexander’s From Eden to the New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical Theology . One thing that quickly becomes apparent is that Alexander’s approach is hardly like most others. Rather than an introduction to the discipline of BT per se, it’s more an example of how one can do BT. There is no discussion of the history of the discipline, nor of what constitutes such—it’s simply a demonstration of one approach to BT.

He states that this book has its origins in a study he was doing on what Revelation 20-22 reveals about death and the afterlife. Using that study as a springboard, Alexander explores the meta-story of scripture from…end to beginning? Yes, Alexander puts it in reverse and explores the grand story of scripture by starting at the end—Revelation—and working back to Genesis. By that I mean that his study of Revelation 20-22 serves as a catalyst to study from the beginning—Genesis0—and work through the Bible, tracing the development of particular themes.

You should not expect, however, a detailed walkthrough of the whole Bible, but rather a thematic exploration that hits on some of the more central themes in Scripture, the temple motif in particular. Admittedly, I had reservations about this approach; however, Alexander capably accomplishes the purpose he set out to achieve in this book, which is to answer the questions “Why does the earth exist?” and “What is the purpose of human life?”

Having said this, it seemed a bit odd (initially) that Alexander would have entitled the book From Eden to the New Jerusalem.  Given his approach, shouldn’t it have been the other way around? Not really, because Alexander vacillates back and forth between the two canonical bookends and discusses not only how each serves to frame the biblical story, but how the temple motif figures into the intervening material. Obviously this is not an exhaustive discussion of the motif, but a survey to show at minimum how the temple, from the garden of Eden to the New Jerusalem, is developed throughout the biblical story.

Overall, Alexander’s take on the meta-narrative of scripture is one with which I can mostly resonate. If someone wanted to know what my general take is on the big picture of scripture is, I would recommend this book. While I remain unconvinced that the whole of Scripture is bound by a single unifying concept or theme (Heilsgeschichte would be the most likely contender), Alexander ably answers the questions asked at the outset.

Though a few years old now, I gladly recommend this title, particularly if you are interested in biblical theology in general or the temple motif specifically. This book clocks in at only 208 pages (including bibliography and scripture index), so it will leave many questions unanswered or partially addressed. However, Alexander amply footnotes his discussion throughout. That and the bibliography should provide plenty of resources for additional study.

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