Book Review—Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature: An Exegetical Handbook


Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature: An Exegetical Handbook
by Richard A. Taylor
Kregel | Amazon | CBD

In recent years, perhaps decades, there has been a burgeoning interest in apocalyptic. Of course, this fascination has played out in different ways for various sectors of society—I’m thinking of end-times-obsessed preachers/authors of more extreme conservative segments of Christianity—as well as in popular literature and cinema. However, perhaps part of what has spurred the interest and proliferation of scholarly attention to “apocalyptic” has been to offer a corrective to the often wrongly appropriated elements of apocalyptic into these various media ventures, eschatological schemes, etc. Even so, it seems as though scholarship’s attention to apocalyptic has been more of a hermeneutical venture than anything. This has been an endeavor not only to discover what exactly constitutes “apocalyptic,” perhaps the most difficult question to answer adequately, but also to better understand how it figures into various portions of Scripture. As such, the market has been flooded with many fine volumes that seek to answer these questions—and more—and Taylor’s contribution to the discussion is certainly worth your investment, provided you’re not already a seasoned expert.

Predictably, Taylor begins his book by asking the question “What is apocalyptic”? Because this volume assumes the reader is perhaps only somewhat familiar with apocalyptic, this chapter is a natural starting point. Once he walks through a brief history of apocalyptic in scholarship, Taylor turns his attention to a discussion of apocalyptic proper (if such can even be said)—first, the problem of definitions, and second, the unique literary features that give apocalyptic its particular flavor (23–40).[1] Taylor states early in this chapter that the focus of the book will be primarily on apocalyptic as it is found in the OT (26), which may disappoint some readers; however, there is sufficient discussion of non-canonical texts that will inform the reader of the relationship between the two.[2] This chapter is a concise and helpful guide through some of the thornier questions swirling about apocalyptic, e.g., separating “apocalyptic” from its cognates—apocalypticism, apocalyptic eschatology, etc. If I had any criticisms of this opening chapter, it would be this minor quibble. The discussion of apocalyptic as situated in communities that were in some sense marginalized is only given a couple of pages. This, I think, is an important element in understanding the genesis of apocalyptic literature and wish there had been a bit more on this element, though this can be a complex issue and I know authors must be judicious in their use of page space when discussing issues in an introductory capacity.

Chapter two focuses on Major Themes in Apocalyptic Literature and this is the heart of the discussion. Again, because Taylor’s focus in on apocalyptic as found in the OT, attention is given primarily to Jewish apocalyptic texts, the first to be discussed being the book of Daniel. The section on Daniel is a bit longer than the other texts treated in this chapter, which doesn’t surprise me since I know that Taylor has long had an interest in the book of Daniel.[3] For Daniel, Taylor looks at specific components—message, purpose, major themes, and structure. Initially, I suspected this section would be focused so much on these individual elements that the actual apocalyptic elements of Daniel would be somewhat sidelined; however, Taylor does tie these elements together to show how apocalyptic is ingrained in Daniel.  The remaining canonical works discussed here receive more attention on specific apocalyptic emphases, e.g., Isaiah’s “Little Apocalypse” (Isa 24–27), Ezekiel’s windstorm in 1:4–9 (and other elements), Zechariah’s visions, Joel’s vision of the outpouring of the Spirit (Joel 2:28–32), and Malachi’s divine epiphany in Mal 4:1–3. Again, the discussion of these texts is not to be in any measure exhaustive, but simply to highlight various apocalyptic motifs and/elements present in OT texts. Taylor devotes the next section of this chapter to extrabiblical Jewish apocalyptic texts, e.g., the Book of Enoch (with discussion of its major sections), 2 Enoch, Jubilees, 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, Apocalypse of Abraham, Testament of Levi, Testament of Abraham, Apocalypse of Zephaniah, and the Testament of Moses. Taylor also brings the Qumran community (Dead Sea Scrolls) into the conversation—to leave them out, of course, would be criminal! For those familiarizing themselves with Jewish apocalyptic, this is an excellent sampling with which to begin. Having introduced these representative texts, the chapter concludes with a helpful discussion of what makes apocalyptic—its literary features. Though these disincentives have come in varying degrees in the previous section, there are here elucidated with more detail and this is a fitting conclusion for this chapter.

Those familiar with this series will know that these volumes are not meant simply to introduce a particular literary corpus, but rather to help its readers know how to better interpret said corpora, and this becomes the focus of the remainder of the book, beginning here at chapter three. Entitled Preparing for Interpretation of Apocalyptic Literature, Taylor guides the reader through what is perhaps the most difficult aspect of encountering apocalyptic—how does one interpret it? Again, not surprisingly, Taylor uses Daniel as his example and provides five areas that will help readers prepare: (1) comprehending figurative language, (2) learning from reception history, (3) evaluating issues of textual transmission, (4) working with the original languages, and (5) benefiting from previous studies (88). Naturally, this section deals with some more technical aspects of interpretation, particularly concerning apocalyptic, but Taylor navigates with aplomb, though it bears repeating that this is introductory in nature and thus should serve only as a springboard into more detailed analyses.[4]

If chapter three addressed the preparatory work of interpretation, chapter four—Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature—puts spade to soil and informs the reader how to go about this task. Tools in hand, Taylor leads the ambitious reader through the rocky and resistant ground that is apocalyptic literature in such a way that they have a handle on how to make their way through these often-bewildering texts and derive a sensible understanding from them. While the foundational material is a critical component of any working thesis/argument, this section begins the real heart of the book. Taylor begins with step one—interpreting grammatically and historically, or what is often referred to as the “grammatical-historical method” of interpreting texts. This means that to best approach any ancient writing is to situate a text within the contexts of its original language and its original historical context, an approach that is well within the mainstream. While I think Taylor’s articulations here are solid and agreeable, I do have pause over one particular point. Using Daniel as his example, he states that the interpreter doesn’t need to be an expert, but needs to have “a working knowledge of the morphology of both Hebrew and Aramaic” (119). I worry that such statements are too generalized and vague and, consequently, may lead some readers to assume that even a basic knowledge of biblical languages is sufficient for competent translation, exegesis, and interpretation. I know Taylor personally and have studied under him and certainly don’t think that he believes this level of knowledge is sufficient, but as stated, I fear it could be interpreted that way by some readers.

The next factor to consider is the matter of genre, where apocalyptic proves to be quite tricky. While Taylor reiterates the various features of apocalyptic, e.g., figurative language, there is less “how-to” as far as interpretive practice and more general caution to be attentive to these matters. Thankfully, the following sections concerning interpretive clues and macrostructure are more helpful and practical. Also of great benefit to less-experienced handlers of apocalyptic are the final two sections of this chapter—respecting the silence of the text and pitfalls of interpretation. On the first point, Taylor rightly admonishes readers to limit their exegesis to what the text affirms—“[w]here the text is silent, we must learn to be silent” (127). On the various pitfalls of interpretation, Taylor also rightly indicates that apocalyptic more than just about any other portion of the OT “presents an opportunity for readers to respond in various ways that are not productive” (127).[5]

Chapter five—Proclaiming Apocalyptic Literature—is geared towards those who will ultimately fashion their exegesis into a sermon and/or bible study lesson. Taylor here provides sounds principles for transition from exegesis to dissemination of the text and its meaning. The last chapter—Sample Texts from Apocalyptic Literature—provides a walkthrough of sorts of two OT passages in which apocalyptic is present: Daniel 8:1–27 and Joel 2:28–32. Taylor chose these passages because they show “two different stages in the use of apocalyptic themes and language in the Old Testament” (153).  Joel, argues Taylor, “is illustrative of a transition from traditional Israelite prophecy to an emerging apocalypticism,” whereas Daniel 8 “is illustrative of a fully developed apocalypticism” (153). Overall, this final chapter provides a helpful rubber-meets-road demonstration of how one should approach apocalyptic literature, at least as it is found in the OT.

The book contains one appendix and I am glad this was included—Antecedents of Apocalyptic Literature. Here Taylor briefly surveys the precursors to apocalyptic in the OT. Just as it is important to know how to approach the apocalypticism in the OT, it is also of great benefit to understand the historical development of apocalyptic in general. The best way to start that endeavor is to study other cultures for whom apocalyptic literature, or at least apocalyptic elements, formed part of their cultural matrix. Taylor touches on Canaanite mythology, Akkadian prophecy, Mesopotamian traditions,[6] Egyptian apocalypticism, Wisdom literature, and temple theology, Hellenistic syncretism, Persian religion (e.g., the dualism of Zoroastrian literature), and prophetic literature more generally.[7]

In sum, I think Taylor has provided a very useful volume, particularly those who are new to apocalyptic. Others who are better versed in apocalyptic will still find some benefit in this work, but substantially less than one would find in more specialized works. While there are some minor shortcomings, Taylor’s work is well written and accessible to students, pastors, teachers, and others who experience the virtually-requisite intimidation resulting in staring down apocalyptic texts in the OT. While I would probably recommend other works that more generally and comprehensively introduce apocalyptic literature,[8] for those hoping to know how to better interpret apocalyptic, especially with the end goal of preaching said texts, this would definitely be a worthwhile recommendation.

[1] I appreciate the analogy of Dorothy’s arrival in Oz from The Wizard of Oz to the experience many readers have when first encountering apocalyptic literature—it’s quite fitting!

[2] For those who are interested in further reading about apocalyptic beyond the confines of the Hebrew Bible, Taylor provides plenty of footnotes and bibliographic entries.

[3] Once in a seminar, he was discussing bibliographies and his on Daniel I want to say surpassed 2,000 entries.

[4] Interestingly, Taylor’s discussion of working with the original languages is actually an annotated bibliography of various tools available to assist in working with languages—it does not discuss linguistics, grammar, etc.—the how of working with/in languages.

[5] These various pitfalls are unnecessary ignorance, misplaced certainty, manipulation of details, and creation of arbitrary timetables.

[6] What exactly constitutes “Mesopotamian traditions” is somewhat vague, so readers will have to consult works in the footnotes to obtain a clearer understanding of what these are.

[7] Here Taylor highlights a facet of apocalyptic that has hitherto fore been neglected—apocalyptic as resistance literature. While brief, I am pleased to see this faced of apocalyptic introduced to the reader.

[8] Cf. John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016); Frederick J. Murphy, Apocalypticism in the Bible and Its World: A Comprehensive Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012).


Book Review—A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament

A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament
by Charles Lee Irons
Kregel | Amazon | CBD

Many thanks to the good folks at Kregel for this review copy!
Kregel continues to provide very helpful volumes on the many avenues of studying Greek—the various reader’s lexica (NT [Burer and Miller], Apostolic Fathers [Wallace], LXX [Jobes]), textual criticism (Philip Comfort’s A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament), and now syntax of the GNT—enter the new volume by Charles Lee Irons. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t appreciate that this volume measures up identically to Comfort’s volume. Aesthetical considerations are always important to me—who among us doesn’t appreciate the visual bliss of seeing the Loeb Classical Library series arranged just so? However, as I’ve noted before, it’s what’s on the inside that makes most books worth your investment, so on to the content.

Irons states that the primary purpose of this book, obviously deduced from the title, is to “assist readers of the Greek New Testament by providing brief explanations of intermediate and advanced syntactical features of the Greek text” (7). He further states that this volume doesn’t merely duplicate other works, such as the aforementioned reader’s lexicon by Burer and Miller or the reader’s edition of the GNT (those by Zondervan and DBG), but rather to build upon them. The goal is to help readers “make sense of the Greek text at a level of linguistic communication one step higher than the word to the syntactical level of the phrase, clause, or sentence” (7). All of this is geared toward the ultimate goal of facilitating the regular reading of the Greek text, which in turn (it is hoped) will lead reading of larger sections of Greek text (8). So, the question then is, does this book accomplish the intended goal/s? In sum, yes—these goals are met (to varying degrees depending on the reader).

The book proceeds through the text canonically, so no genre-oriented groupings or other arrangement schemes. Each canonical book is likewise handled sequentially in terms of the verses addressed—Irons goes one verse at a time. This is expected since the goal is to provide information about syntactical features present in a particular text rather than offer commentary or extended exegetical discussions. Each verse, then, follows a standard format—location (book chapter and verse number), Greek text in which the element discussed if found, brief explanation of said element, and various parenthetical references (this depends of the nature of the element at hand). The entries vary in length and detail depending on the complexity of the particular element in question. For example, Irons notes in Matt 1:1 the following:

Matthew 1
| Βίβλος γενέσεως ’Ι. Χρ. – nom. abs. (W 49–50); allusion to “the book of the generations” (LXX Gen 2:4; 5:1)

Perhaps (roughly) half of the entries throughout the volume provide this level of detail (here the “W” refers to Dan Wallace’s Greek Grammar beyond the Basics). Other entries provide substantially more information, such as the notes on Matt 1:18:

1:18 | δέ = “now” (W 674) | οὕτως ἦν = “took place in this way” (ESV), “was as follows” (NASB), adv. functioning as adj. (BDF §434(1); BDAG οὕτως 2) | μνηστευθείσης … gen. abs. (“after his mother 1:18 Matthew 2 : 1 22 A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament Mary had been betrothed to Joseph”) | Subject of εὑρέθη is same as the noun of the gen. abs. (Mary), which is unusual (BDF §423(4)) | πρὶν ἤ = “before,” the Ionic/Koiné equivalent of πρίν in Attic (see BDAG); on πρίν + inf., see BDF §395; W 596 (cp. Matt 26:43, 75); “before they came together [in marriage]” (BDAG συνέρχομαι 3) | εὑρέθη ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχουσα = “she was found to be with child,” εὑρίσκω + supplementary ptc. (BDF §416(2))

This is the pattern throughout the entire book and, in my opinion, is a great plus for this volume. Irons’ organization of the material makes it as easy as possible for readers to find information on a particular text, but also is arranged (akin to the textual apparatus in the UBS5/NA28) in a manner that keeps one element distinguishable from another. It’s also worth noting the useful element found in the back matter—the subject index. Here, Irons provides a list of numerous syntactical elements, all arranged alphabetically. For example, under the group “DISCOURSE STRUCTURE,” Irons includes asyndeton, coordination for subordination, parenthesis, and period. For each of these examples, he provides a reference to a text in which that particular element appears. While obviously not an exhaustive list of syntactical examples, those listed are plentiful and will provide a most helpful guide to locating them in the Greek NT.

Doubtlessly, some will disagree with a particular categorization of one thing or another; however, I would be surprised if those disagreements numbered beyond the point at which the book is useful. If that’s the case, then certainly other volumes are available that will meet whatever needs this one does not. Suffice it to say, Irons has provided a most helpful resource for those looking for something to help them grapple with (and ultimately understand) various syntactical elements in the Greek NT. It will not supplant texts whose design is to be more thorough and exhaustive (e.g., Wallace’s Greek Grammar beyond the Basics; BDF); it will, though, serve as a handy reference to the less intensive task of reading the text.

Read an excerpt here.

Αυτω η δοξα









Book Review—Discovering the Septuagint by Karen H. Jobes

9780825443428Discovering the Septuagint: A Guided Reader
by Karen H. Jobes
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.

Karen Jobes has established herself as a bit of an anomaly in the field of LXX studies—not only is she a woman, but she teaches at an evangelical college (Wheaton), two characteristics not possessed by LXX scholars. If you’ve read her other volumes on the LXX, then you’ll know this is an area about which Jobes is quite learned and passionate and that shows in this volume.

I remember when Kregel first published A New Reader’s Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, I was glad to see a new iteration of such a volume. When the Reader’s Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers was published, the first thought I had was whether or not they would publish a volume on the LXX—imagine my delight when I found out it was so!

This volume obviously provides much of the same kind of information as its kindred volumes from Kregel, yet is much more selective due to the sheer amount of text that comprises the LXX. This volume, then, includes 600+ verses from nine different books (9). The choice of texts stemmed from Jobes’ desire to expose readers to various genres, “distinctive Septuagintal elements,” and a sampling of texts used by the writers of the NT (9). Included are texts from Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Ruth, additions to Greek Esther, Psalms, Hosea, Jonah, Malachi, and Isaiah, all taken from the Rahlfs-Hanhart Greek text. Naturally, some may be a little disappointed in which books were selected, but remember this is an introduction, so the selections, I think, work pretty well for such a text.

After a brief introduction to the LXX and the expected perfunctory front matter, the reader arrives at the heart of the book—the text of the LXX. Each selection includes an introduction to the book (e.g., Genesis, not the reader itself), the readings from that book, and a selected bibliography (just a few entries). As for the text selection itself, each passage is handled one verse at a time, thus enabling a less intimidating foray into the LXX. For example, Genesis begins (not surprisingly) with 1:1–23. Each verse in that passage is reproduced for the reader and is followed with mostly grammatical notes on significant words and/or phrases in that verse (grammatical terms are defined in the glossary in the back). For Gen 1:1, Jobes discusses the phrase ἐν ἀρχῇ, and for Gen 1:2, a number of other words and phrases are analyzed—ἀόρατος καὶ ἀκατασκεύαστος, ἀόρατος, ἀκατασκεύαστος, ἐπάνω τῆς ἀβύσσου, πνεῦμα θεοῦ, and ἐπεφέρετο. For words that are listed by themselves, e.g., ἀόρατος, its part of speech and lexical information are provided as well as a gloss—ἀόρατος | Fem sg nom adj, invisible. Some isolated terms, such as ἀκατασκεύαστος, are parsed and also explained grammatically if there is some significance, as in this case when it is coupled with the noun ἀόρατος. Other phrases, such as ἐπάνω τῆς ἀβύσσου, are provided not only with lexical data, but also a brief tidbit concerning the backgrounds (ancient cosmology in this instance).

Readers will discover that only some of the words/phrases are parsed. Jobes states that words that are left untranslated and/or parsed are those which do not occur in Metzger’s Lexical Aids for Students of New Testament Greek, which assumes a vocabulary roughly correlative to three years of study in the Greek NT (9). Readers will also find that at the end of each textual unit is a translation of the text taken from A New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS) as well as notation if any of the verses in the passage occur in the NT.

There are plenty of volumes out there that introduce the LXX (see Tim McClay’s The Use of the Septuagint in New Testament Research and Timothy Michael Law’s When God Spoke Greek for excellent intros to the LXX and its role in the NT; I might also suggest Jobes’ own LXX intro, though I’ve not read it), but this volume introduces the practice of reading the LXX—a very different aim than those titles just mentioned. For those wishing to expand their knowledge of Greek, reading the LXX is a great way to do it and Jobes’ volume is a perfect primer for the task. Though the scope and selection of texts is quite limited in this volume, it nevertheless serves as a suitable guide for entering the textual world of the LXX.

Αυτω η δοξα

Read a sample here.

Book Review: Eschatology—Biblical, Historical, and Practical Approaches

Eschatology: Biblical, Historical, and Practical Approaches
edited by D. Jeffrey Bingham and Glenn R. Kreider

This review will be an abbreviated version of what I would normally do for a book of this sort, i.e., an edited volume with multiple contributors. Because I’ve not had the time to complete the full review, I thought I’d post what I’ve written thus far.

The book is broken up into four parts: (1) The Doctrine of the Future and Its Foundations, (2) The Doctrine of the Future in the Bible, (3) The Doctrine of the Future in the History of Christian Thought, and (4) The Doctrine of the Future and Christian Ministry.

Chapter 1—The Doctrine of the Future and Canonical Unity: Connecting the Future to the Past (Bingham)

This chapter begins with Marcion and a brief biography, the bulk of which concerns his theology. This early discussion focuses primarily on Marcion’s theological miscues as hashed out by Tertullian, Irenaeus, and other early church fathers and then segues to the topic of the chapter—canonical unity and the doctrine of the future. Bingham essentially looks to Irenaeus as a way to “account for the discontinuities between the Testaments without falling into the error or Marcionism” (48). Overall, this was a decent entry in the discussion and employing Irenaeus’ hermeneutic as means of avoiding Marcionism was an interesting take.

Chapter 2—The Doctrine of the Future and the Concept of Hope (Toussaint)

Toussaint begins with the following definition of hope—“desire accompanied by expectation” (54). Toussaint notes the trouble of defining hope using biblical Hebrew vocabulary and finds support in articles written in the 30s and 60s—surely this concept has been explored in more recent studies? (54) However, he does state this does not undervalue the virtue of the Hebrews (55). After a few notes on the use of the term ελπις in the NT, he moves to a brief discussion of hope in terms of result. The next few paragraphs take on a decidedly homiletical tone, practically reading a sermon manuscript. As above, this isn’t necessarily a criticism. Toussaint devotes the bulk of the chapter to a biblical-theological summary of hope, beginning (obviously) with Genesis, in which he cites the protoevangelium as the “first anticipation of a future good” (Gen 3:15). This, of course, is a much later Christian interpretation and one I don’t think the original audience would have made, but is a common interpretation of the serpent’s fate and isn’t really a surprise here, especially given the dispensational necessity of literal interpretations. The remainder of the OT discussion of hope focuses primarily on the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, with brief references to the prophets and the historical Melchizedek, the brevity of which is due to the number of textual references (too many) and likely publication restraints. The discussion of hope in the NT follows the typical groupings—hope in the Gospels, Acts, Paul, general letters, and Revelation, each which traces the theme of future hope through a dispensational lens (58–69). Toussaint’s is what I would say is a fairly standard dispensational biblical-theological understanding of eschatology, but obviously articulated here around the concept of hope, specifically the hope of future life and restoration.

Chapter 3—The Doctrine of the Future and the Weakening of Prophecy (Ryrie)

Ryrie notes a number of questions that might be raised in the modern climate of never-edning prognostications about an impending apocalyptic end to our world—what does this mean for biblical prophecy? “Are they reliable? Were any of them false? How accurately can we expect yet unfulfilled prophecies to come to pass?” Ryrie begins with some “facts” about prophecy in the bible—(1) A true prophet is “someone who announces God’s will to people and/or predicts the future”, (2) some prophecies were wrong, (3) in OT times, false prophets were put to death; in NT times, they were to be tested, and (4) “[t]here are many true and accurate prophecies in the bible” (71–72). Notice that number two above Ryrie claims that some prophecies in the OT were false—GASP! Surely this didn’t come from the pen of a dispensationalist, right?! Yes, but he refers to the serpent’s (read Satan) statement to Eve that if she ate from the tree, she would not die. While I think this stretches things a bit concerning what is/is not prophecy, I’ll concede for the sake of making the point. As you might imagine, these opening paragraphs have very apologetic overtones and continues throughout the chapter. The purpose of this chapter, says Ryrie, is to explore how the existence and/or accuracy of yet-to-be-fulfilled prophecies are being weakened (72). The first example is the changing of traditional dates, particularly as it concerns certain books, e.g., Daniel, that is critical for dispensational readings of the biblical story to hold together. Likewise, Ryrie claims that the book of Revelation has also been subject to scholarly date shifting. His argument is that if Revelation were written in the 90s, then the content of chapters 4–19 would take place in the future; yet, some scholars have argued for a composition date in the 60s, which would then render the book’s prophecies fulfilled by 70 ce, when Jerusalem was sacked and the temple destroyed.

  • This rings with scholarly paranoia to me—just because some scholars don’t buy into a particular dating scheme doesn’t mean they’re out to weaken or otherwise diminish prophetic texts.
  • This leads to the second example, which is essentially an expansion of the first—the embrace of preterism. Preterism is the view that the fulfillment of prophecies in Revelation took place prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 ce. Ryrie’s stringent hermeneutics, especially with regards to the date of Revelation, leads to the outstanding claim that even moderate preterism “eliminates some fulfillment and weakens the force of the entire body of biblical prophecy” (73).
  • His other examples of scholarship’s apparent quest to weaken prophecy are a focus on “genre-dependent” hermeneutics (74) and banking on “chance” (75–76), which is described as essentially waiting long enough that eventually anything can happen.
  • Thus far, this has been the most disappointing chapter. It’s practically a rehash of decades-old apologetics on the reliability of prophecy.

Chapter 4—The Doctrine of the Future, the Doctrine of God, and Predictive Prophecy (John and Stefana Laing)

In their chapter, the Laings set out to “address the reliability of the Bible to speak authoritatively concerning prophecy and future events, as its reliability is ground in God’s self-revelation, sovereignty, and omniscience” (78). Laing and Laing delve seek to ground their discussion in the person and nature of God and have produced what is thus far the most academically engaging chapter, at least through its opening sections. Though it is fairly predictable in terms of trajectory—you know where they will land ultimately—they provide a good discussion of theological concerns that underpin the bible’s reliability, specifically in terms of prophecy. The latter portion of the chapter concerns examples of fulfilled prophecy and, based on the groundwork laid previously, why we can trust in these particular prophecies. The chapter concludes with a few thoughts on how prophecy works and how to approach it. Though notably much less, there is a hint of suspicion cast upon liberal scholarship when they write, “there are examples of successful prophetic prediction that even the most liberal scholars cannot explain away” (101). Despite this, the Laings offer a fairly well written and most heavily footnoted chapter to this point in the book.

Section 2—The Doctrine of the Future in the Bible

  • The second section of chapters turns the focus to the biblical texts and how they demonstrate what the future holds in God’s plans.

Chapter 5—The Doctrine of the Future and Moses: “All Israel Shall Be Saved” (Block)

Like Toussaint before in chapter two, Block begins with the planting of the seed of eschatological hope in humanity’s heart that’s recorded in Gen 3:15—the protoevangelium—but proceeds for the length of his contribution to discuss Deuteronomy. Though I’ve known of Daniel Block for a number of years and have read some of his works, I was surprised to read the following statement in a volume saturated with Dispensational thought: “In His addresses Moses offers the most systematic instruction of Yahwistic theology to be found in the Hebrew Scriptures” (108; emphasis mine). My surprise is that this wording suggests a preservation of the old documentary-hypothesis view (JEPD) of the Pentateuch’s authorship, a view I assume most/all Dispensationalists would take issue with. Perhaps Block doesn’t subscribe to D/dispensationalism, but in any case, I was surprised by this statement.

Because this is a volume written for Craig Blaising (a leading Dispensationalist) by numerous scholars who hold to some form of Dispensationalism, it’s no surprise that it colors every chapter. Because of the prevalence of this interpretive matrix, perhaps the title could have indicated that. That it doesn’t is not necessarily a criticism, but just a point of note—this book concerns eschatology from a dispensational perspective. As such, each chapter is fairly predictable if you’re familiar with the tenets and tendencies of Dispensationalism in its various forms. If you’re friendly towards D/dispensationalism, then much of this book’s contents will ring familiar and true; if you’re not, then I doubt this volume would change your mind.

Αυτω η δοξα

Bible Review—NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible


The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible
Zondervan | CBD | Amazon

I would like to thank the kind folks at Zondervan for this review copy!

Yes, another study bible has been published. One could easily (and perhaps in some cases should) bemoan the many editions of the bible that appear to be nothing more than a marketing grab. However, when it comes to study bibles, plentiful though they are, each one boasts its own strengths and unique features, thereby making each useful in its own way. Enter the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (hereafter CBSB).

Personally, I own several study bibles and I have used them with great benefit, so I certainly don’t mind adding an additional volume to the mix. What is appealing about this study bible is its focus on biblical backgrounds—one of the most interesting and important areas to study when it concerns understanding the world of the biblical writers. Plus, most of my own doctoral research involves Greek and Roman culture, so I was anxious to see the various elements of these cultures that were discussed.

First, as with other bibles I’ve reviewed, I’ll begin with the aesthetics and physical properties. This bible, like other study bibles, is certainly big—2,358 pages—but is slightly less so than Zondervan’s recent NIV study bible. This edition is the hardcover, so there isn’t much to say about that except hopefully it will hold together over time as I intend to refer to it regularly. Visually, the layout and overall design of the bible is quite nice. Unlike the NIV Zondervan Study Bible (read my review here), the pages are slightly tinted with a sepia-like hue, a design choice I rather enjoy as I find it’s often a little easier on my eyes than the starker black-type-on-white-paper format that is more typical.

As I’ve come to expect with most products from Zondervan, the CBSB includes numerous full-color photos throughout. Though the paper used is obviously not the heavier stock capable of displaying the detail of hi-res images, the photos appear very sharp and crisp on the page—a nice addition that adds to the overall usefulness and visual appeal of this volume. At the risk of sounding somewhat juvenile, pictures can have a great impact when studying the scriptures, so I appreciate the attention to this detail. I flipped through my HCSB study bible and found there were virtually no photos included in that volume, so this is a plus for the CBSB. In addition to the numerous photos, the CBSB contains a copious amount of various information-laden inserts—full-color maps, graphs, timelines, essays (320+), introductory articles, glossaries, cross references, and footnotes, all of which serve the obvious purpose of illuminating the backgrounds relevant to the particular biblical book you might be reading.

For this review, I was asked to pore over and comment on a particular book of the NT, so I chose 2 Corinthians. The introductory article tackles the most frequently discussed issue concerning 2 Corinthians—its literary integrity (or lack thereof, depending on your view). The issues of authorship and date are only provided as data in a side bar while the article/essay is essentially an argument for the literary integrity of 2 Corinthians. Just to point out the aim of this bible, if that hasn’t been clear, the first page of text (1:1–12a) is undergirded with the same amount of page space dedicated to footnotes, most of which concerns information about letter writing and speeches in the ancient world. Most of the notes key in on a particular phrase from the text and provide a brief glimpse into the culture to help explain that particular concept, thought, etc. Since one could go on for quite a while talking about specific instances, since I was asked to focus on 2 Corinthians, I thought I’d look at a couple of passages in which cultural backgrounds could really illuminate the text and help the reader understand it, so I chose 2 Cor 5:1–10 and 12:2–4.

2 Cor 5:1–10 is a notoriously difficult passage to deal with because of several issues, one of which concerns the imagery Paul uses, e.g., the “earthly tent”, the “building from God”, being clothed with our “heavenly dwelling”, etc. Most see Paul here harkening back to the imagery of the wilderness wanderings, but the author of this section (of the CBSB, not 2 Corinthians!) makes mention of what Diaspora Jews and Greeks thought about the body, not necessarily if Paul is alluding to the OT imagery of the tabernacle. In the notes on vv. 2–4, the writer comments on what Jews, Greeks, and Romans thought about the unclothed body and how that factors in to the point Paul was trying to make. There are also notes about kingdom restoration (v. 5), different views of the resurrection (v. 8), and judgment (v. 10). In general, the notes here are helpful, so long as the reader remembers these are simply notes that will (hopefully!) spur them on to research particular issues more deeply outside of this bible.

The second passage, 2 Cor 12:2–4, concerns the account of the man caught up to the third heaven. Most of the notes for this section concern then-contemporary views of boasting, since it’s mentioned several times throughout this chapter (this issue also receives an article insert on the previous page). But here, unlike the previous passage, the editors have included an insert on the opposing page that gives a bit more background on the experience of the third heaven. Basically the article interprets the passage as Paul describing his own experience in the third person, a practice they state was employed by apocalyptic writers (does this assume, then, the writer of this insert sees Paul as an apocalyptic writer?) and offers a few thoughts on Jewish and Greek views of the heavens and how one experienced them according to ancient texts. So, much like the previous passage, the notes here are somewhat brief (as they must be), but remain helpful.

In sum, I think many will find this bible immensely helpful, so long as they don’t use it as a final authority on particular matters. The worlds of the biblical writers were as intricate and complicated as our own it seems and we can’t distill entire cultures and their practices down to a few footnotes, regardless of how many there are. Also, reading through the list of editors involved in this bible, many are from more conservative points of view, so this will obviously skew some things a certain way (I mention this not as a criticism, but merely an observation). You can read Pete Enns’ recent post about the CBSB where he points out some of these tendencies. However, let me reiterate that this is a wonderfully helpful study bible and will be of great benefit to all who use it. From the excellent overall design to its most important features—the information behind the accounts in the text—this bible is a grand achievement and will serve well those who wish to enhance their knowledge of the culture the biblical writers reflect.

For more information on this bible and some helpful info-graphics, head over to

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Book Review: The Romans and Their World

The Romans and Their World: A Short Introduction

by Brian Campbell

Yale University Press | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

So much can be and has been said about one of history’s most formidable entities. Thankfully, Brian Campbell has distilled some of the critical times and personas that comprise historical Rome into a relatively brief (248 pages) introductory text that not only provides a chronological accounting of the beginnings of Rome, nor merely a discussion of the powers that built, sustained, and ultimately destroyed her, but provides a glimpse into the lives of its people. This was perhaps my favorite element of the book. I enjoy reading purely historical texts for the sake of learning about people, places, and events of the past, but it’s the stories and accounts of the people that make it most interesting—after all, what is history without people? Campbell provides ample references to the primary sources, though some sections are more amply noted than others. There are also a number of diagrams (mostly related to military issues; some are geographical) interspersed and a handful of photographs that illustrate some aspect of Roman life and culture (these are black and white).

This has served as an immensely helpful text, not only for getting a bird’s-eye view of the Romans, but also as a quick reference guide. Many times I would reach for this volume while reading something else that made a reference to some aspect of ancient Rome so that I could read a little more about it. Campbell’s book is great for such use—it’s not a cumbersome encyclopedia, but neither is it a miniscule handbook. It finds a middle ground between these two and is a perfect reference for those who need a slightly more detailed account or description than provided in a few general sentences. Also, as a student of the NT and its contexts, I found this book to be quite informative about the various exploits of Rome that had immediate impact upon the world of the NT.

In sum, Campbell’s volume will be a great introductory text for readers who want a foray into the illustrious history of Rome—deep enough to inform yet succinct enough to be accessible.

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