Book Review: James in the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament

James (Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament)

B&H | Amazon | CBD

Thanks to the kind folks at Broadman & Holman for this review copy! I received this copy free of charge in exchange for an unbiased review.

At first sight of this new series from B&H I wondered if this were simply going to be another commentary series. In part, it serves much of the same purpose as a commentary, though slightly different. While there are features present that you could certainly find in most commentaries, e.g., brief introductory discussions of date, authorship, structure, etc., there are a couple of primary differences that distinguish this series from a typical commentary.

First, these volumes are almost strictly exegetical in nature. As the series title suggests, each volume concerns the various elements that constitute exegesis of a text, though exegesis in reality involves a number of factors beyond what is presented in these volumes. The primary exegetical focus here is grammatical-syntactical and foregoes many of the elements found in traditional commentaries. Here, Vlachos discusses virtually every significant and/or difficult syntactical question, provides evidence for his interpretation, and surveys other sources to demonstrate how a particular clause, word, or other syntactical element is handled. There is little theological, historical, or other information provided, save for the instances in which historical usage helps explain a particular element.

Second, this volume (and each in the series presumably) also provides a short list of works one might consult for further study. While this is not uncommon in commentaries, these are slightly different because they are arranged thematically, rather than as simply a list of commentaries on the book of James. In addition, pastors and teachers will benefit somewhat from the inclusion of homiletical suggestions at the end of each section.

In sum, this is a very handy volume for those working through books of the NT. If you’re looking for a volume that discusses matters outside of grammar, you’ll need to look elsewhere; however, if syntax is your focus, this volume will be a handy addition to your library.

Read a sample here.

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Book Review: Roman Imperial Texts: A Sourcebook

Roman Imperial Texts: A Sourcebook by Mark Reasoner

Fortress | Amazon | CBD

Thanks to the kind folks at Fortress Press for this review copy! I received this copy free of charge in exchange for an unbiased review.

In the field of biblical studies, recent years have seen a resurgence of titles concerning one element or another of the Greco-Roman world, many focusing on the Roman empire and reading the New Testament in light of the hulking shadow it cast over the world of Jesus, Paul, and many others. Works that examine particular facets of Roman culture in the first century are certainly helpful, but Reasoner’s volume proves its usefulness not because of extended examination of Roman culture (though there is an ample of amount of such), but by providing relevant texts that depict and describe the Roman emperors and the kingdom they built and expanded. To study and attempt to understand a culture, more often than not the best place to begin is with its literature. Thankfully, ancient Romans produced a treasure trove of material to be mined.

Reasoner’s work is comprised of three parts: 1) Emperors, 2) Community and its various components, and 3) the city of Rome. The discussion of the emperors focuses primarily on texts and numismatic evidence that speak of them in terms of divinity, beneficence, and their status as sons of the gods. This, naturally, is important for studying the NT concept of Jesus as the Son of God, though Reasoner does not push terribly hard to convince the reader that Son of God language in the NT is directly related to empirical sonship, though Reasoner does believe it important. For example, Reasoner suggests that the use of the term euangelia in the Priene inscription is the use alongside which one should read the canonical Gospels’ association of Jesus’ birth, life, and teachings (30). Part two concerns community in ancient Rome and how participation in various societal events and customs helped establish and define Roman identity. For early Christians, according to Reasoner, this provided a starting point of sorts for understanding their place in the body of Christ, particularly in light of Paul’s multiple references to such through his writings. The creation of an alternative society, i.e., the church, is illuminated when reading against the various texts here provided by Reasoner. Likewise with the collegium and domus, both of which are important for understanding many things Paul (and others) teach. In part three, Reasoner discusses a few aspects of Rome as a city, particularly as it concerned its far-reaching influence in the Mediterranean and beyond. War, commerce, and games were some of the means by which Rome wielded its influence. Early Christians, of course, lived in this immense shadow and Reasoner briefly discusses how these texts might illuminate references in the NT.

One of the strengths of this work is that there is a steady eye on various concepts prevalent in the NT (e.g., Son of God) while discussing the Roman texts. This does not mean that Reasoner deviates from the path by engaging in efforts to demonstrate that certain NT ideas and/or texts are anti-imperial or otherwise; rather, he simply notes these potential connections and provides brief commentary. The reader, then, is given ample food for thought and hopefully ignites a spark to investigate any such connections further, however tentative or substantial they might be. While Reasoner occasionally tips his hand, for the most part he writes with the objective of providing a springboard for further investigation.

Selectivity is an unavoidable constraint on works such as this and will perhaps deter some in favor of other more extensive (and expensive) volumes, but for most this volume will serve as a highly accessible and immensely helpful resource for better understanding the imperial context of the NT world.

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Best Commentaries on Revelation

My last seminar this spring will be focused on the catholic epistles and Revelation. Though I haven’t narrowed my research topic for this semester yet, I will likely pick up a few commentaries on Revelation and was wondering what recommendations you might have.

I already own volumes by Osborn (BECNT), Smalley (IVP), Blount (NTL), and Mounce (NICNT). Beale is an obvious choice and I will likely invest in it as well as Aune’s in WBC, but what others? Malina’s volume I’ve considered, though I’m not sold. I’ve pondered Koester’s as well, but I don’t know that I’m going to plunk down that much change for a single commentary.

Any thoughts would be welcome!

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Book Review: A Commentary on Exodus

A Commentary on Exodus by Duane A. Garrett

Kregel | Amazon | CBD

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

I received this book for free in exchange for an unbiased review.

Virtually any commentary on the books of the Pentateuch that has been produced in my lifetime (and well before) invariably address the so-called “documentary hypothesis” and Garrett here is no exception. Perhaps not surprisingly, Garrett eschews the usefulness of the theory, claiming (among other things) that even scholars who espouse some form of the hypothesis as a window into understanding the sources and composition of the Pentateuch “themselves continue to use the terms P and J while no longer holding to anything that may be meaningfully called a consensus” (17). However, an elusive consensus does not itself preclude the validity or veracity of a particular theory. Nevertheless, I resonate somewhat with Garrett in that I’ve long had my reservations about this theory and though Garrett only briefly broaches the subject, he notes some common objections and boldly declares that the discussion of the theory should not remain in the 19th century—“that path is dead” (19). More sardonically, Garrett states “[c]ontinually flogging the dead horse of the documentary hypothesis is pointless” (20).  On the matter of authorship, Garrett notes the book’s anonymity, though suggests that Moses certainly could have had a hand in editing it (20). Also, the book is a unity despite not knowing the process by which it came to be (20).

The bulk of the introductory material is focused on the cultural and historical background of Egypt. Here Garrett shines by dispensing a wealth of information (pp. 24–135!) on the various cultural components that figure into rightly understanding the story of the exodus against its Egyptian backdrop. Matters concerning geography, chronology and history, and language all receive a few pages of attention, with the lion’s share of this section devoted to questions concerning the date and historicity of the exodus from Egypt (56–92). Garrett suggests that Exodus is in some ways more foundational for OT theology than is Genesis—“For the people of Israel, their founding event was not the call of Abraham; it was the exodus” (137). This would explain in part Garrett’s lengthy discussion of the exodus event.

As for the commentary proper, Garrett shows a deft hand both exegetically and theologically when dealing with the text. He does this all the while keeping a keen eye on the Egyptian background. Garrett’s strength is obviously his knowledge of the Hebrew text and the culture it reflects, but his ability to accessibly convey that information clearly and concisely enhances this particular volume’s usefulness.

Perhaps the one drawback that some will find with this commentary is that Garrett, at points, can come off a little sharp when discussing the exodus event. As noted previously, Garrett sees the exodus as a defining event in the life and history of Israel and goes to great lengths to argue for its historicity. For those who believe it to be a fictional addition to the story of Israel will no doubt be at odds here, though Garrett’s arguments can’t be summarily dismissed. One might even say there is an apologetic bent to his discussion, the merit of which each interpreter will have to decide.

In sum, Garrett’s contribution to the study and interpretation of Exodus is a fine one and should serve well those looking to better understand the book and interpret its text.

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Book Review: UBS5 Greek New Testament

The Greek New Testament, 5th Revised Edition w/dictionary

Hendrickson | CBD | Amazon

Many thanks to the kind folks at Hendrickson for this review copy! I received this book free of charge in exchange for an unbiased review.

Like many other students of Koine Greek, I have a small stack of Greek New Testaments, which may inevitably lead others to ask why in the world I need another one! For most students, there are two primary options for studying the Greek texts that comprise the NT—the UBS edition and/or the Nestle-Aland edition. Each edition has its own merits and users will usually decide which volume they prefer, which probably boils down to the task for which they consult the GNT in the first place. The most obvious dividing line between these volumes is the critical apparatus, which is the strong point of the NA edition. For text-critical study and work in the GNT, the NA28 is the preferred edition.

A number of changes have been introduced to this edition of the UBS. First, the readings from papyri 117–127 are now cited, thus providing students with access to the most recent discoveries in the manuscript evidence. Second, readings from the Editio Critica Maior are included in the Catholic Epistles, 33 to be exact. These readings are also included in NA28 and their inclusion in the UBS5 evens the playing field a bit between these two primary GNT editions. Third, the discourse segmentation apparatus has been thoroughly revised in this edition and now includes a number of GNT editions and modern translations cited that offer an alternative translation that agrees with the segmentation of the UBS and are noted at the end of the variant’s listing. Translations cited are English, French, German, and Spanish. Fourth, the textual apparatus has been redone using the Coherence-based Genealogical Method, a method that could very well provide new and useful insights into the history of the text.

Aside from matters of textual criticism, the UBS and NA editions stand fairly evenly in the grand scheme of things. However, I have always preferred the UBS text to the NA, primarily because it was more readable. While the UBS certainly has a critical apparatus, it’s not nearly as robust as that of the NA and this is part of what makes it more pleasing for the reader. Beyond that, the font choice of the UBS editions, especially the fourth and now fifth editions, is more readable. Though the NA28 is better than the NA27 in this regard, the UBS continues to be less crowded and thus slightly less distracting.

In sum, one’s preference for the UBS over the NA (or vice-versa) will ultimately come down to the task at hand and one’s own preferences for reading/translating the Greek. If text-critical issues are not at the fore of your work, then go with the UBS5.

Read a sample of the UBS5 here.

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Book Review: The Devil: A New Biography

Cornell University Press | Amazon

Many thanks to the kind folks at Cornell University Press for this review copy!

The devil (or Devil if you prefer) is a common figure in modern Christianity. Though his presence in the Bible is comparatively minimal, he figures prominently in a few key points in the overarching narrative of Scripture. However, despite his minor role in the stories of Scripture, tradition and history have shaped and molded this antagonist into a creature quite different from his earliest portrayals (perhaps more so visually than anything). This evolution, we might say, is the object of Almond’s work. The subtitle, A New Biography, might suggest a totally new approach to understanding the devil or perhaps bringing to bear new research that yields new insights. Perhaps neither is purely presented in this volume, though that does not negate its usefulness in providing a valuable resource for those interested in the matter.

Almond claims that it was the story of Enoch’s watchers that birthed the notion of places beneath the earth as abodes for evil angels/demons (5). This conception of evil angels was nurtured by early Christian apologists and ultimately spawned the conception of the devil as a wholly evil being whose primary purpose was to thwart the work of God. Almond also suggests the book of Zechariah (composed around 500 bce) is a turning point in the history of the Devil (18) and traces the origins of Jewish (and ultimately Christian) demonology to Second Temple Jewish works such as the books of Enoch and Jubilees. Almond provides a brief discussion of early Christian writers’ perpetration of the devil as Satan, Lucifer, etc., or the bad guy.

Almond essentially argues that the devil’s place in Christian thought was borne out of a commitment “to the doctrine of one God who primary attribute was goodness” and could not accept that there was an opposing principle of evil that had existed from eternity or that God himself had created a being who by nature was evil. Thus, Satan became the fall guy—the explanation for evil in the world (47). It seems as though the Devil has been mistreated throughout history, being blamed for many things that could ultimately be explained naturalistically or by other means.

Almond takes the reader down a long historical road, along the way demonstrating the ways in which the Devil had morphed from an anonymous though testy adversary in the pages of the Hebrew Bible to the outright malevolent enemy of God in the Christian church. Along the way the Devil is gradually depicted in more overt gestures of evil and wickedness and linked to all manner of demonic and ungodly practices, e.g., magic, witchcraft, sorcery, possession, etc. Despite centuries of debate and research concerning the nature and activity of the devil, ultimately, according to Almond, the devil was relegated to the domain of credulity and superstition (205).

This book is similar to volumes that survey a history of interpretation of a particular text, theological problem, etc., only this concerns the development of Satan from tester and adversary in the Hebrew Bible to the malevolent antichrist enemy of God of the early church and beyond. This book also achieves two ends that are too frequently mutually exclusive—useful information and entertainment. That is not to say that Almond sacrifices historical detail for anecdotal tidbits all for the sake of entertaining the reader, but one cannot help but come away with at least a grin after reading some of the ways in which previous generations attempted to understand and explain the role of the devil in various practices and beliefs. Perhaps it is too much of a gesture to suggest that Almond is intentionally being humorous; rather, it is the historical data that is simply humorous at points.

There was a current than ran beneath the entirety of this book, a current that seemed to feed the vegetation atop the soil—the devil was an invention, a means by which to explain evil and to account in some way for its origin and continued presence in the world. This will be the primary point of departure for readers who believe in the existence and activity of the devil, regardless of the extent. However, despite this, Almond never writes in such a way that is critical (in a negative sense) of or in any way derogatory of those who hold this belief.

In sum, Almond’s book is indeed helpful and useful and is quite a feat considering the amount of material available for study. Though one could levy the criticism that Almond is minimally selective in his choice of texts and their interpreters to analyze, he does well and tackles many of the important voices in this long-debated subject.

Errata were minimal, the only noticeable error being his use of ὁσατανᾶς instead of ὁ Σατανᾶς (23).

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Book Review: HCSB Deluxe Ultrathin Reference Bible

HCSB Deluxe Ultrathin Reference Bible

Available at B&H

Many thanks to the kind folks at Broadman & Holman for this review copy!

I have a lot of bibles—I have no idea how many—and enjoy them all for different reasons. I certainly don’t consider myself a “collector” at all because, as I said, I use all my bibles for one purpose or another—I don’t just admire them on a shelf. The volume at hand will be added to the stack and will certainly be enjoyed for many years to come.

I now own four leather bibles and this is certainly the first I’ve had that is top grain cowhide. Having used it now for a little while, I can say that it is an exquisite binding! When I first opened the box, I noticed it was enveloped in black paper, presumably a protective measure. Before I even took it out of the box, I raised it to my nose and breathed in the intoxicating aroma of fine leather—I felt like I was in a boot shop! I love the smell of leather, so I lingered a moment before removing the bible from the box. As you might expect, the feel of this Bible is quite lovely. The cowhide cover is very soft and supple, almost a velvety smooth texture that feels good to hold. The top grain cowhide feels as luxurious as I hoped, better than even genuine leather. Being premium leather, I also expect that this cover will hold up for many years with the proper treatment and care.

 

12.11.2014_15.29.24Another feature that is requisite (or should be) for premium Bibles is a binding that is sewn, which this one has, of course. In fact, the box boasts that this particular Bible has a “hand-crafted deluxe binding.” I’m not totally sure what the difference between this kind and a non-deluxe sewn binding might be, but this one certainly feels sturdy.

I used this Bible not long ago when I preached and found the dimensions to be suitable for the task. For many years I preached with two Bibles—a Thompson Chain Reference NIV and later an HCSB Minister’s Bible. The NIV was bonded leather and was as tough as a burlap sack. It was heavy and bulky, but I rather liked that since it sat on the pulpit most of sermon. The HCSB is genuine leather and is a very nice Bible, one I used for the latter days of my pastoral ministry. It, too, is a rather heavy Bible, but like the NIV it sat on the pulpit, so the weight was not an issue. When I preach these days, however, I prefer a smaller volume and this Bible was just right. Because it’s an ultrathin, it’s quite portable and its leaner build makes it easy to handle. Did I mention how nice the cowhide feels?

I also rather like the font choice for this edition. It’s more akin to an Arial-style font than Times, which makes it a littler easier on the eyes. The pages are also printed on fairly standard paper that results in ghosting, but surprisingly less so than most Bibles I own. That in concert with the font choice and the readability is a bit higher than average. This is especially so with sections in the OT that are poetic. Because the text is not a running narrative and the spacing is different, it restricts the layout on the page, thus eliminating some of the crowding that is evident elsewhere. This is a two-column format, so that makes for less space in which to cram the text, but nevertheless very readable. There are also center column references that don’t interfere because of their smaller font.

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I do have one complaint about this particular Bible. Those first couple of pages, one of which is opposite the inside cover, are glued together ¼ up from the binding. This is not only annoying visually, but practically—the Bible can’t rest fully opened to the front (or back) unless a few pages are laid on it first. The same is the case in the back, so I assume this is part of the design, perhaps for some measure of support for the heavier material lining that page (I’ve seen this my other Bibles as well).

12.11.2014_15.31.21 12.11.2014_15.31.09

Assuming this is part of the design, I can live with it, especially since there would be no good reason for me to need it open to those parts anyway since they’re blank.

That one gripe aside, this is an excellent Bible. The size, readability, and lovely cowhide result in a lovely Bible, one that I will enjoy for the foreseeable future.

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