Blogging through The Lost World of Scripture

This blog (obviously!) has been rather sparse in terms of new content over the last year or more. Life is busy with family, work, and school, and any down time is usually gobbled up by some other necessary chore (ask our DVR!). However, I’ve given some thought to doing something I’ve not done before–blogging through a book. This strikes me as both a fun outlet for not only reading and discussing books but also a tremendously likely failure–time simply hasn’t permitted me much in the way of leisurely reading and blogging.

Thanks to the always-generous folks at IVP, I received a copy of John Walton and Brent Sandy’s recent venture–The Lost World of Scripture. The matter of biblical authority and its derivation from Scripture has a long history and its enjoyed a fair bit of attention in recent years. So, as I mentioned, this would be good fodder for discussion methinks, so we’ll see how long I can keep it up.

Αυτω η δοξα

Book Review: New Testament Greek Intermediate

New Testament Greek Intermediate: From Morphology to Translation by Gerald L. Stevens

Lutterworth Press | Amazon | CBD

Many thanks to the kind folks at Lutterworth Press for this review copy! I received this book in exchanged for an unbiased review.

This book is somewhat special to me, so let me explain. My foray into Koine Greek actually started with greater fondness for Hebrew. When I began my MDiv back in 2001, my first language class was Hebrew. Naturally, since it came first, I initially enjoyed studying it more than Greek. When I took my first Greek class, my schedule was such that I usually had to leave class a little early, so I always felt like I was rushing. My professor, though, was a wonderful instructor who usually had some imaginative rubric or associative gimmick to help us remember elements of Greek grammar. That prof was Dr. Gerald Stevens, who is also the author of this book. Dr. Stevens has also written an introductory grammar (here), the pre-published version of which he had us use as our first-year grammar text. It was a behemoth—spiral bound and rather unwieldy, yet I lugged it to and from and wore sections of it out. I remember as part of his proofreading process, he would pay us a dollar for every error we found. I found several along the way, but never reported them (I had forgotten by class time). All that to say, Dr. Stevens was instrumental is helping me “come around” to an interest in Greek, which would ultimately burgeon into my love for it today.

Now, on to the review at hand. Stevens states at the outset that the genesis of this work was “the need to bridge the gap between an initial foray into New Testament Greek by the beginning student and the full-blown analysis of advanced courses that focus primarily or exclusively on syntax” (xxi). Stevens provides four primary purposes for this work: this text is meant as a “leveler” for students of varying backgrounds and differing degrees of exposure to Greek. There is obviously an assumption of previous exposure to/work with Greek language—it is an intermediate after all. Second, Stevens desires that this text will help review all of Greek grammar (limited of course to the Hellenistic period and texts of the NT). Third, Stevens wishes to broaden the horizons of first-year or minimally-exposed students of Greek to more authors of the NT works and provide more contextual support for understanding the selections provided throughout. Fourth and finally, Stevens sets out to expand the student’s vocabulary. So, was Stevens successful in accomplishing these desired ends?

In general, yes—Stevens is nothing if not thorough. This book, like most grammars, is laden with tables, charts, and various other inserts designed to provide visuals for the information discussed throughout. As indicated by the book’s subtitle, this work incorporates a lot of information concerning morphology. I find morphology rather interesting, but not all students will find this information all that enjoyable. Nevertheless, I think it’s helpful to know how words are formed and why certain forms behave the way they do, so I appreciate this element. Some might note that Stevens’ discussion of case function is comparatively brief and that his categories of function are incomplete. Having cut my teeth on Wallace’s advanced grammar, I could sympathize with this initially. However, Wallace could just as easily be criticized for over-categorization of case functions. I do think that more functions of the cases could have been discussed. On the genitive case, for example, Stevens only lists subjective, objective, and ablative functions. Presumably this stems from the belief that many of the ablatival functions (separation, origin, source, etc.) are subsumed under that functional category and thus would be unnecessarily redundant to list them separately. The disadvantage here, of course, is that if you list them separately there is a risk the student could easily be overwhelmed by the number of potential options; on the other hand, the advantage is the opportunity to nuance functions more precisely, though attempts at precision can quickly get out of hand.

Stevens essentially devotes mostly equal amounts of space to non-verbal elements and the verbs themselves, both together comprising the bulk of the book. Appendixes include a glossary, noun and verb paradigms, principal parts, a list of lexical middle verbs, exercise answer key, vocab lists, a list of English words derived from Greek, and a subject index. Like other grammars (particularly those beyond introductory level), this work is data intensive, meaning that there is quite a lot of information to process. If I were a student who was only minimally knowledgeable of Greek grammar, this volume would be rather intimidating (as would Wallace and others). On the other hand, it’s helpful that Stevens provides practice sections at the end of each chapter to help the student review the knowledge presented in that chapter and to practice using that information to work through relevant exercises.

One minor criticism I will levy is while I find the charts and tables helpful, some of the discussions are a bit more cumbersome to work through, but I suppose any scholar is hard pressed to present grammar and morphology in a way that isn’t dry to some degree.

Another very minor issue is that the overall aesthetic of the book is not terribly appealing. The pages are off-white, which is perfectly fine and rather standard, but it just doesn’t look so great. With so many pages being table- and chart-heavy, it makes for a somewhat dull presentation. Also, the cover is bland—it looks computer generated and is not appealing. Obviously a book’s worth is measured in its contents and the reaction/response provoked in the reader and these minor criticisms concerning the aesthetics are perhaps a result of my own preferences, but something I thought I’d mention.

In sum, I do like Stevens’ book–it’s helpful, thorough, and readable enough that students would gain more benefit than they wouldn’t. Grammar texts are not novels and thus can’t be read as such. I think if this book is used as a reference tool, then the benefits will be reaped in due course. If I were a professor, would I use this text in a class? Probably not, but that is less a criticism of the book and more a reflection of my own preferences.

Αυτω η δοξα

Paul’s Revelation

I was reading/translating through Galatians this morning and I happened upon this little grammatical ambiguity in 1:12.

οὐδὲ γὰρ ἐγὼ παρὰ ἀνθρώπου παρέλαβον αὐτὸ οὔτε ἐδιδάχθην, ἀλλὰ διʼ ἀποκαλύψεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.

The phrase in question is διʼ ἀποκαλύψεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. Does Paul mean that he received the gospel at his conversion on the road to Damascus (subjective genitive; by implication the time following that initial encounter) or is he referring to the gospel as it had been circulated throughout his neck of the woods (objective), so to speak? Could it be both? It’s been a long time since I’ve studied Galatians in any depth, so I don’t recall the discussions here. It’s only a minor point in the scheme of the letter, but I was curious how you all might interpret it. Thoughts?

Αυτω η δοξα

Book Review: Interpreting the General Letters

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

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.

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.

Αυτω η δοξα

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.

Αυτω η δοξα

Book Review: From Eden to the New Jerusalem

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

Kregel ǀ Amazon ǀ WTS

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.

Αυτω η δοξα

Book Review: The Handy Guide to New Testament Greek

The Handy Guide to New Testament Greek: Grammar, Syntax, and Diagramming by Douglas S. Huffman

Kregel ǀ Amazon ǀ CBD

This short review is part of Kregel’s blog tour for Huffman’s book. The blog tour is technically past; however, there was a mix-up and this volume was sent to my old address, thus delaying its arrival for several weeks. Thankfully, Kregel sent along another copy.

The title aptly describes the book’s function—it is a guide, not an exhaustive reference. Huffman states that this book is “for second-year Greek students, pastors, teachers, and preachers,” “will not replace grammar and syntax textbooks,” “to be less cumbersome  and more readily accessible” than “larger grammar and syntax books,” “presumes some of the basics of NT Greek,” and is “intended as a useful tool and ready reference.” There you have it—why this book was produced.

The book is broken down into three parts: 1) Greek Grammar Reminders, 2) Greek Syntax Summaries, and 3) Phrase Diagramming.

There is a lot to commend about this book. First, it’s concise, just as you would expect a “handy guide” to be (in contrast, for example, to Brill’s four-volume, 3,600+-page Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus, ringing in at a staggering $1,200). The Brill example was merely to highlight that when we hear terms like “handbook” or “guide,” most of the time we expect something compact, just what this book is. A “handy guide” must be useful. It must glean important information from other volumes and put it in a more accessible work and that’s exactly what you should expect from Huffman.

Second, and perhaps the primary draw of this book, there are helpful little hints here and there that help the reader recall/remember the function of a particular part of speech or a category into which some element of grammar falls. After all, it’s meant to help fairly new students of Greek recall and retain information they had previously studied. These are often found in standard grammars, but I was glad to see some of them here. For example, in the section dealing with the cases, Huffman provides alliterative descriptions associated with each case’s function.

  • Nominative – typically nominates the subject
  • Genitive – typically generates some description
  • Dative – typically names “to/for” whom an action is done, as in “dating”
  • Accusative – makes accusation about what the subject did
  • Vocative – vocalizes who being addressed

Admittedly, these are very simplified descriptions (and even I shortened what was in the book) and don’t draw out the nuances each case can embody, but again, this is a resource for review not advanced study.

Another feature that you don’t find in many Greek grammars is the section on diagramming. My first- and second-year Greek professors instilled the importance of diagramming in us (thankfully so–it’s a very useful exercise), so I can appreciate Huffman’s decision to include them here.

Third, this volume is portable. I didn’t realize it at first, but it’s virtually identical in terms of width and height of the standard editions of the Greek New Testament (NA28/UBS4). It’s like they were made for each other!

As you might expect, there are also charts and tables aplenty! What is a good book on Greek without the requisite tables and charts?!

Though I may only refer to this volume once in a while, I can still appreciate its usefulness. I remember one of the assignments I had for an advanced Greek class was to take Wallace’s advanced grammar and make a summary outline of it, every category and sub-category trimmed down to the essentials (I still have it). The reasoning was so that we would have a more accessible guide handy when working through a Greek text. It was a long and tedious assignment, but I used that condensed outline for some time after the class. This is essentially what Huffman has done, only not having drawn from a single source.

In sum, this is a wonderful little volume that should aid students who haven’t quite found their footing on the sometimes-treacherous terrain of Greek grammar. The book’s greatest strength (its conciseness) will likely be its greatest weakness for some; however, if one keeps in mind the purpose for which it was written, this little volume should serve many and serve them well.

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