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.

Αυτω η δοξα

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!

Αυτω η δοξα

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.

Αυτω η δοξα

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.

Αυτω η δοξα

I Can See Clearly Now

If you aren’t aware, I am a big fan of Evernote. I use it to keep up with notes for research papers, book reviews, and other miscellaneous note-taking tasks. I was browsing their web site recently looking for something and I decided to check out some of their other products. One in particular looked interesting–it’s called Clearly. I would count myself among those of you who despise cluttered, ad-festooned web sites, particularly when it’s a blog (I’m looking at you BeliefNet and Patheos). I want to read the post without my inner consumerist impulses being constantly barraged with ads. 

 Enter Clearly. Clearly, at least for now, is only available for Chrome (which is really the only browser you need anyway). When you click on the icon (which is installed as an extension), it removes all the junk and leaves only the text you’ve clicked to read in the first place.
Before Clearly
before-Clearly
After Clearly
after-Clearly
As you can see, it does a nice job of cleaning up the page so it is much less distracting. Perhaps most folks don’t notice all the other stuff, but I do and sometimes hinders the reading process. Thank you, Evernote, for making it possible to read things more Clearly!
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 

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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.

Αυτω η δοξα

Jim West is Giving Away a Book…But You Might Have to Suffer to Win It!

Jim is giving away a copy of Candida Moss’s new book The Myth of Persecution over at his blog. Want to win it? Entry is simple:

  1. Tweet the giveaway
  2. Post about the giveaway on your blog
  3. Tell why Zwinglius Redivivus is your favorite blog! This last step may result in scorn and misery being heaped upon you–indeed, you may have to suffer. But who among us isn’t willing to suffer a little for a free book?

Giveaway winner will be announced March 6, once Jim has run all the entries through a highly scientific selection process, or maybe after he picks someone randomly. Head on over and enter today!

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

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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.

Αυτω η δοξα

Need an Article

I am trying to track down an article and so far I have been unsuccessful. The article is by Hugo Greßman and is entitled “Mythische Reste in der Paradieserzählung.” It’s in Archiv für Religionswissenschaft 10 (1907). Anyone out there happen to have a copy/scan/pdf of it or have access to it and would be willing to traipse through six feet snow with nothing more than a cold biscuit and worn-out shoes to get it??? I would greatly appreciate it!
*UPDATE* (Boy that was fast!)
I found it here at the library. For some reason it didn’t show up on the electronic search, but I found it on the shelf. So, disregard this post if you haven’t already!
Αυτω η δοξα

Book Review: True for You but Not For Me

True for You but Not For Me: Overcoming Objections to Christian Faith by Paul Copan

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Thanks to the folks at Bethany House for this review copy!

I must admit from the start that I don’t typically enjoy reading apologetics and this book didn’t change that. That’s not necessarily a critique of the book, but of my own disposition toward the subject. Essentially, God needs no defenders; yet, the value in being able to dialogue with skeptics of varying stripes can’t be understated. So, I requested this book to see what he had to say about the multitude of objections that still being leveled against Christianity so that, in the event that I find myself in conversation with someone making these assertions, I might be better able to understand their position and respond appropriately.

Copan covers a broad range of typical objections to Christianity one might encounter. As I read through the chapters, some of them only a few pages long, I found myself treading very familiar territory. That is to say, Copan doesn’t really say anything that hasn’t been said before. There is nothing particularly novel here, but that doesn’t mean the book isn’t helpful. It can be that, if one has not read widely on the subject. As I mentioned above, the reason I requested this book was more or less to reacquaint myself with some of the objections that may be raised in discussion of Christianity. It’s a helpful little volume and should I need a quick reference, it will serve me well. To that end, I would recommend this title to you. For those who live and breathe the subject, they will definitely want to swim in deeper waters.

Αυτω η δοξα