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

Charts on the Life, Letters, and Theology of Paul by Lars Kierspel

Kregel | Amazon | CBD

Thanks to the kind folks at Kregel for this review copy, which I received free of charge in exchange for an unbiased review.

For many readers in the fields of theology and biblical studies, the juxtaposition of “charts” and “theology” in a book’s title may conjure images of elaborately composed end-times scenarios or depictions of history’s progression toward that end. Thankfully, we need not entertain such possibilities here, for Kierspel has done a fine job amassing a wealth of material and condensing it all into a single reference volume. In fact, it’s really rather stunning to consider how much work must have gone into this volume when you begin poring over its pages. While it’s a bit overextending to say that Kierspel has left no Pauline stone unturned, it’s not far from the truth to say that he has indeed surveyed the landscape that is Paul and has put together a map of sorts to help students navigate his eventful life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kregel ǀ Amazon ǀ WTS

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

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.

Αυτω η δοξα

Thought for the Day

Vincent Branick comments,

In pointing out Paul’s apocalyptic thinking, Beker joins K. Stendahl, J. Munck, and other great Pauline scholars who correctly eschew a modern ‘privatized’ and anthropocentric interpretation of Paul. Paul is not wrestling with the question, ‘How can I experience a saving God?’ or ‘How can I assure my personal salvation?’ Paul’s task is rather to understand what God is doing for his creation, how God has overcome and is overcoming the powers of death in the universe (“Apocalyptic Paul?” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 47 [1985], 666).

*just noticed the page number*

Αυτω η δοξα

 

Herod

So, I am thinking of writing on Herod Antipas for a short paper this semester (paper concerning some aspect of the historical background of Luke) and need some suggestions for resources. I have volumes like the IVP black dictionaries and NT introductions, but nothing that is devoted to historical backgrounds, at least in detail.

What volumes would you recommend?

Αυτω η δοξα

Paul and His Theology

One of the books that I’ve been reading for a paper this semester is Paul and His Theology. It’s a collection of essays from various scholars on, as you have brilliantly deduced, various aspects of Pauline theology. In fact, I would love to own a copy of this book, but because it is published by Brill, it’s outrageously expensive. $196 for a single book? I don’t think so. Not even Amazon offers this bank-busting volume at their signature discounted rate! I could, however, get a used copy for a mere $192!

Guess I’ll pass on this one.

Or, maybe Jim will buy a copy for me–he’ll do anything to support Brill! :-)

Αυτω η δοξα

Scholars Are So Hip

I read on Larry Hurtado’s blog this morning about the hoopla already brewing about the discovery of the lead codices in Jordan. Director of Jordan’s Department of Antiquities, Ziad al-Saad, is quoted as saying, “They will really match, and perhaps be more significant than, the Dead Sea Scrolls,” and “maybe the most important discovery in the history of archaeology.”

Hurtado’s response?

“Chill, dude.”

If only all scholars were so hip!

Αυτω η δοξα

Fall Schedule Redo

Well, I was all excited about my fall schedule (OT in the NT and NT in contemporary culture) when I found out today that it wasn’t going to work out. This just means I’ll revert to my initial schedule of the Gospel of Luke (with Darrell Bock) and the Epistle to the Hebrews (with Buist Fanning). It will be a very challenging and rewarding semester either way, so I’ll look forward to it!

Plus, I have pretty much decided on my stage 1 thesis topic, so I’ll be exploring that via a paper in Romans this semester.

Αυτω η δοξα,

Jason

 

Summer and Fall

I registered for the summer and fall semesters this past week, but I’ve reconsidered my fall schedule and I think I am going to change courses. I am presently registered for the Gospel of Luke and the Epistle to the Hebrews, but I am thinking of changing to the NT in Contemporary Culture and the Use of the OT in the NT. There are two reasons for this change: 1 – The NT in CC is not primarily focused on exegesis, but gives a lot more attention to NT backgrounds. Though later I will have to take a seminar that is fully dedicated to this subject, I’d like to get into some of these issues now. Here’s part of the catalog description:

This course will engage in discussion of contemporary issues about the origins of the Jesus tradition, the apostolic teaching, the New Testament as a canon, and the origins of Christian orthodoxy as seen in the New Testamentand important collateral writings of the period. Attention will be given to major first-century cultural features, both Jewish and Greco-Roman, that serve as a backdrop for the original Christian message leading to a greater appreciation of the New Testament message.

The second change is from Hebrews to the Use of the OT in the NT. This is a subject that has piqued my interest and I’ve not been able to do much here at present, so this would be a great opportunity.

2 – This class schedule will not be as spread out over the week as the other, so that’s always a plus.

This summer I will be leaping into Theological German, which I am eager to get into! Obviously for reasearch this is essential, but just think–I’ll be able to read all those other posts that Jim foists upon the bibliblogging world! :-)

Anyway, should be a great remainder of the year, but I’ve got plenty to finish this semester!

Αυτω η δοξα,

Jason

Sermon Series: Hebrews

I’ve mentioned in a number of comments how my study/prepartion for preaching through 1 Corinthians has been quite informative pastorally. In our evening service I have recently begun a series in the book of Hebrews, and, I must say that it has been a laborious, but rewarding, task.

If you’re familiar with Hebrews, even just the English translation of it, you knowt that it can be a diffiicult book to understand at times. I’ve just spent several weeks working through chapter 1, a most fascinating chapter to be sure. It seems odd for me to think of anyone in the church to have an overly-high view and fascination with angels (I don’t believe the audience of the epistle were to the point of angel worship), but one must always ask: “Why did the author feel it necessary to include this?” This is especially true considering Jesus’ superiority over the angels occupies most of chapter 1.

Hebrews 1 is not terribly difficult grammatically (there are a few tough spots), but what is somewhat challenging is working through the numerous OT references. I was convinced of the full deity of Christ many years ago, but studying this chapter has reaffirmed this essential truth to our faith.

I am referring primarily to the following c0mmentaries in my study:

I may post some comments or questions as I continue through the text, time permitting.

Αυτω η δοξα,

Jason