Bible Review: The Greek New Testament–A Reader’s Edition

The Greek New Testament: A Reader’s Edition
Hendrickson | Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft | CBD

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

As I noted in my review of the UBS5, I have always preferred the UBS over the Nestle-Aland, and it usually comes down to one aspect—aesthetics. The UBS text is simply more readable and looks better on the page. The font choice and the less detailed critical apparatus yield a less cluttered page, which leads to a better overall reading experience. However, despite my preference of one over the other, these volumes aren’t exactly ideal for just reading, though it certainly can be done and certainly less a chore than reading volumes in Loeb Classical Library. They’re a tad small and for those who are dependent on ocular assistance, it’s more of a effort to read beyond a passage or two.

Enter the heaven-sent concept of a reader’s edition! The idea behind such works is, of course, to facilitate regular reading of the GNT. The reader’s edition assists readers to this end by providing the text and a running dictionary below to aid the process of reading. Rather than stopping and having to consult a lexicon, most of the unfamiliar words are listed below. For this volume (as is probably standard), all words occurring fewer than thirty times are listed at the bottom of the page. Each entry consists simply of the lexical form of the word, its parsing (for verbs), and a gloss. Readers should know, if they don’t already, that the provided glosses are editorial choices and do not necessarily preclude other connotations. One example (of many that would likely be arguable to any given reader) of a gloss that is less helpful than could be is found in Acts 2:22. Jesus was ἀποδεδειγμένον, which is glossed as “commend” in the dictionary. While this is certainly a possible meaning and not necessarily wrong here, it is an editorial choice that perhaps would have been better rendered “display” or “set forth.” Again, “commend” isn’t wrong, but better choices (I think) are available.

Unfortunately, I do not own a copy of the first edition of the UBS Reader’s Edition against which to compare this current edition. However, I can unequivocally say that this is a splendid volume and will certainly become my go-to edition for reading the Greek text of NT. I have been using Zondervan’s Reader’s Greek New Testament for several years now and have enjoyed it, but it is safe to say it will spend considerably more time on the shelf now that I have the UBS reader. Why? There are two primary reasons. First, the GNT-RE’s running dictionary is formatted in two columns, unlike Zondervan’s edition, which runs left to right in an ordinary linear fashion. The UBS layout is much better for dropping down to find the word in question. Second, the GNT-RE’s paper is only slightly thicker, but enough that it more effectively prevents ghosting so as not to be distracting, noticeably more so than the Zondervan edition. One thing I do when reading bibles to mitigate some of the ghosting effect is to place a dark colored piece of paper behind the page I’m reading, which effectively eliminates the effect altogether. This is especially true with the GNT-RE.

There are a few more notable features to mention. For one, idiomatic word combinations are defined. For example, in Acts 1:12, the disciples are returning to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives and Luke tells us that the distance from the mountain to Jerusalem is σαββάτου ἔχον ὁδόν. The UBS-RE translates this idiom in the dictionary “a Sabbath day’s journey = about half a mile or 900 m”. These small measures help achieve the desired goal of facilitating a good reading experience. Though this is not a critical text, there is a small apparatus for the more significant variants for those who may be interested in a brief brainstorm concerning a particular word choice. That being said, there are many pages on which there are no variants listed, so the t-c element is decidedly minimal. Other minor features include OT references in the margins (always helpful!), an appendix that defines words used more than thirty times, and a few nicely colored maps. This volume is also noticeably larger than the UBS/NA texts. Those volumes are approximately 7.5 x 5.5, whereas the GNT-RE is approximately 9.7 x 6.4, which is closer to the average size of a regular book. All this is bound in black flexisoft, which is softer to the touch than the standard binding and also looks quite nice.

In sum, this is a splendid and well-designed volume. I’d be interested in knowing how this edition has changed from the first, other than including the updated UBS5 text, so perhaps I’ll find a used copy somewhere, if only to have a means of comparison. Whatever the other changes from the first edition to the second, this is a wonderful volume that every reader of the GNT should have.

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Bible Review: NIV Pitt Minion Reference Edition

Pitt Minion NIV Reference Edition published by Cambridge

Cambridge University Press | Amazon | CBD

I was pleased to receive this little gem of a Bible from the generous folks at Cambridge! Having just introduced the HCSB Ultrathin Reference Bible into my rotation, I have a measure of sorts with which to compare this bible.

First, I conduct the aroma test. This is the only goatskin bible I have and I’ve not ever handled one that I can recall, so I was not sure what to expect. I opened the box and held the bible close to take in the aroma of its binding. My first impression was it did not have the lovely leathery aroma of top grain cowhide, which was a bit disappointing. There is the smell of leather, but it’s definitely deeper, almost musky, and thus not quite as appealing as cowhide, at least not initially. Though I wouldn’t liken it to the comparison of goat cooking on an open flame to beef (the goat is somewhat off putting), it is an earthier scent. However, I can say after having used this bible for a few months, the aroma is much more subtle and more pleasing than at first.

Second, and the most important aspect, is the bible’s overall usability. This particular bible is smaller than most I have. It is more like a slimline and measures approximately 174 x 120 mm (6.8 x 4.7 in). The downside is obviously the readability; however, despite its smaller size it’s a very readable font face (6.75/7 pt Lexicon) and a very portable bible. Several months’ use has also loosened the leather so that it is more pliable than when straight out of the box. The text is laid out in two-column format, which with a font size of 7 could be a little small for some. Surprisingly, the font and format is quite readable. The two columns are intersected by a center column populated by cross references noted in the text. Other features include the words of Jesus in red, an NIV concordance, and fifteen bible maps, each of which are nicely colored and coded with an index of various features of the maps themselves.

The binding is quite nice, though as I noted, the leather is not as aromatic as others. Nevertheless, the leather having softened a bit is nice and looks really good. There is a very clear grain to the goatskin that seems commensurate with its provenance. It boasts art guild edges and two ribbon markers, seemingly standard fare for higher-end bibles such as these. All these elements contribute to overall pleasing aesthetic and a perfectly nice bible for regular reading and handling.

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Book Review: Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory

Heaven, Hell and Purgatory: A Protestant View of the Cosmic Drama by Jerry L. Walls

Brazos | Amazon | CBD

Jerry Walls, who has published widely on Christianity’s teaching on the afterlife (though this is not a uniform concept), here seeks to articulate and defend a Protestant view of purgatory.

Early on, Walls makes a couple of astute points that are more commonly found in academic circles, but are still struggling to find a foothold in the church. For one, Walls comments that “popular writing about the afterlife is often sentimental, simplistic, and emotionally manipulative” (14). This is especially evidenced by the flood of journey-to-heaven books and movies to the Christian media market.

In his seven truths about heaven (based on Revelation 19–22), Walls dismisses the notion that heaven is an escape from earth. Redemption concerns more than just human souls—it concerns the entire cosmos (30). I have come around to this particular view of salvation, that God’s work of redemption in/through Christ entails the preparation of those who have been justified by faith in Christ for the fullest realization of the kingdom of God—the redemption of the created order as the dwelling place of God.

On these (and other more general points) I found Walls’ arguments agreeable. However, the main idea of the book is that the concept of purgatory is a defensible position for Protestants to hold and Walls spends the first third of the book turning the soil into which he will plant, sow, and reap a Protestant view of purgatory. Walls suggests that every theology needs a purgatory, not just that of the Roman Catholic tradition (93). The assumption underlying this idea is that prior to “entry” into heaven (which I take to simply the entry into God’s immediate presence) souls are still stained with sin, thus, they need to be fully purged. Walls makes clear that the very word purgatory bears the negative connotation that drew the ire of the Reformers, which was a justifiable response. However, Walls contends that the concept of purgatory had been perverted and is in fact a rather gracious work of God, not on men. Walls’ contention seems to be that the necessity of repentance requires some measure of purification between death and entrance into the heavenly kingdom.

As far as the biblical evidence for his position, well, there’s little discussion of that. Walls’ work is more philosophical in nature and does not deal adequately with the biblical data, which is its biggest weakness. Scripture is referred to, but only in such a way as to leave readers wanton for more substantive interaction with the sacred text. Walls is certainly shows himself adept in his interactions with theologians, philosophers, and writers (Dostoevsky, for example) on this issue, but if he had addressed the Scriptures more substantively this book would have been much stronger. As it is, it remains a largely philosophical enterprise, which is not necessarily a critique, but an observation as to its

Deep down I want to believe that there is some post-mortem opportunity for those who die without having surrendered to Christ to repent and enjoy life eternal, but I simply can’t get around the biblical data that suggests otherwise. I’ll admit that perhaps some texts could hint at the concept of purgatory as articulated by Walls, but I think the overwhelming testimony of the NT is that life is the time of opportunity and to miss it means separation from God. I want there to be another chance, but I can’t convince myself there is and Walls’ book, while thoughtful and well written, does not sway me in this matter. However, despite the fact I’m not persuaded by his arguments, Walls is a good writer and makes his case for purgatory well enough, just not strong enough to persuade me.

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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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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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