Review: A Handbook on the Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith

handbook on jewish roots of christian faith

A Handbook on the Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith, Edited by Craig A. Evans and David Mishkin. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2019.

Summary: A topical handbook on the Jewish background of the Christian faith, informed by the perspectives of both Jewish and non-Jewish Christian scholars.

A variety of scholars have called attention to how important it is to understand the Jewish background to the ministry of Jesus and the origins and development of the Christian movement. This background is critical to understanding the New Testament, the relationship between the two testaments, and indeed, the relations between Jews and Christians.

What makes this handbook distinctive from others that cover similar ground is that it is a multi-authored work, in which some of the contributors are well-known scholars like Scot McKnight, Larry Hurtado, Craig A. Evans, Andreas Köstenberger, and George H. Guthrie, and most of the rest are Jewish and/or Israeli citizens who believe in Jesus as Messiah and have had some affiliation with the Israel College of the Bible. Because of this, the book has something of an “insider” feel of those who have lived the context about which they write.

The “Roots” in the title are reflective of the organization of the book around Soil, Roots, Trunk, and Branches. Here are the chapters under each:

Soil:

  • God’s Plan for Israel
  • God’s Plan for the Nations
  • Messianic Prophecies
  • Appointed Times
  • Tabernacle and Temple

Roots:

  • The Jewish World of Jesus
  • The Jewish Life and Identity of Jesus
  • The Jewish Teachings of Jesus

Trunk:

  • The Jewish Disciples
  • The Jewish Paul
  • The Jewish Message: Resurrection

Branches

  • The Parting of the Ways
  • The Mending of the Ways

While the title says this is a handbook, in the acknowledgements, the editors note that the impetus for this volume was an online course on the Jewish Roots of Christianity, and the book has the feel and continuity of a textbook, or supplemental text meant to be read sequentially, as I did for this review. That said, it was an engaging read that is both concise and surprisingly comprehensive, and reflective of recent scholarship. Each section of the chapter includes extensive bibliographies of source materials for further reading or research.

There were both reminders of past reading, and some delightful gems. One was the reminder of how God’s plan for Israel and the nations works hand in hand and runs through scripture. I loved this summary of the major Jewish holidays: “They tried to kill us; we won; let’s eat!” The article on Jewish groups in the first century is essential reading for any student of the New Testament, as is the article on messianic expectations. Andreas J. Köstenberger helpfully shows how Jesus was like and unlike other rabbis. I had never seen the connection between the Lord’s prayer and the Kaddish until Scot McKnight pointed it out in his article. Much ink has been spilled in recent years on Paul. The chapter on the Jewishness of Paul covers much of this ground quite concisely.

A surprising chapter of this book was on the Jewish message of the resurrection. This argued for a much more significant basis for eschatological salvation, and eternal life, than one finds in most discussions of Jewish origins.

In the concluding section, the authors include a helpful summary of the parting of Jewish and Christian communities and some of the sad history of enmity between these. I appreciated the hopeful note on which the handbook concluded in describing the Messianic Jewish presence in Israel, and the relationships formed through the Israel College of the Bible between Jewish and Arab Christian pastors.

This is both a helpful reference work to have on one’s self for biblical studies, and could be used as a text for an adult ed course on Jewish roots of the Christian faith or a college or seminary level course. It also makes for an enjoyable “refresher” course should one read through it.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: The Lost World of the Torah

lost world torah

Review: The Lost World of the Torah (The Lost World Series Volume 6), John H. Walton and J. Harvey Walton. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019.

Summary: Like other books in this series, argues that Torah must be understood in its Ancient Near East context as a legal collection teaching wisdom and covenant stipulations rather than legislation, and cannot be appropriated into a system of moral or social ethics today.

The first five books (Torah) of the Bible are challenging for any person who believes the Bible inspired by God and having authority in one’s life. John Walton, joined in this volume by his son, have written a series of books premised on the inspiration and authority of the Bible, as well as the fact that it is an ancient work, reflective of its Ancient Near East context. The Walton’s argue that we often read these texts through our own cultural lens of how law and legislation work, and may be used to establish biblical “positions” or “precedents” for all sorts of modern moral questions. This is problematic not only because what we have is not a codified system of laws (there is much that is not addressed), and some of the laws support practices like slavery or requiring that a rapist marry the woman he has raped, that we would judge unacceptable. Like other “Lost World” books, they proceed by a series of propositions, with an appendix on the Decalogue.

The Walton’s, identifying similarities between Torah and other ancient legal collections, argue that the purpose of these collections is not legislation but to articulate wisdom about how society is to be ordered under the ruler of the state. The purpose is order that reflects well upon the king. Additionally, in the case of Torah, it is a covenant document similar to Ancient Near East (ANE) suzerainty treaties, where the various provisions outline how the people are to remain loyal to their suzerain, in this case Yahweh or God. The statement, “you shall be holy for I am holy” is a conferral of status rather than an objective for the people of Israel, and Torah is wisdom for how they might be who they are by status. There is a distinction between ritual instructions in Torah and other codes. For others, rituals serve to meet the needs of the gods. Yahweh has no such needs and instead, these serve both as means of worship, and maintain and restore covenant order.

The Walton’s then move beyond noting the similarities and differences of ANE codes and Torah to consider similarities and differences of context. They note that many of the similarities in provisions reflect not dependence on other codes but rather that they are both embedded in the same cultural “river.” What differentiates Torah from these other codes is that it also reflects God’s covenant with Israel and God’s presence among them, instructing them how they might retain the enjoyment and blessing of that presence.

The final part of their work addresses the church’s use of Torah and particular focuses on what Torah is not, and what interpretive practices are invalid. They discourage the common practice of dividing Torah into moral, civil, and ceremonial law, arguing that these divisions are both artificial, and undermine understanding Torah in context as an integral whole. Typically, we lift out the “moral” teachings, and seek to derive principles for our contemporary situation, perhaps along with New Testament teaching, which is situated in a different, Greco-Roman cultural river. They point to a number of areas in the Torah where this is problematic: marriage, economy, political system, social status and hierarchy, international relations, warfare, and diplomacy, respect of personhood, taxation, property ownership and rights, crime and punishment, and sexual ethics. They contend that Torah was not for salvation, but arose as instruction for living under the covenant. It is a metaphor of health, not a system of moral instruction, and cannot be used as prooftexts for contemporary problems. Taking Torah seriously reads it as a wisdom text disclosing the gracious character of God toward his people and God’s intention that they flourish under his care as their suzerain, as they pursue covenant faithfulness in adhering to his wise instruction.

There is much here that is helpful. Instructions we would find morally objectionable (those upholding slavery or patriarchy, for example) fall in line with the kind of order one would expect in the Ancient Near East and commend Yahweh as ruler of his people, but do not serve as legislation for the contemporary church.

What I find missing, and perhaps troubling is how then we are to read scripture, including the New Testament, also embedded in a cultural river, and according to the Walton’s, also not a source of moral instruction for us, but rather “wisdom.” They write:

“The decision between ‘do not conform to the pattern of this world’ (Romans 12:1-2) and ‘become all things to all people so that by all possible means [we] might save some’ (1 Cor 9:22) does not default in either direction. It means that we exercise wisdom in knowing where to conform to the culture of our day. This wisdom must be exercised by those who can understand the culture well enough to understand the cost of either decision, and it is these people whom we should appoint to lead the community. But making those decisions is not the same thing as following a rigid set of rules, especially not a rigid set of rules that was written to a different culture” (p. 230).

I recognize the value of reading contextually and avoiding prooftexting, but I’m troubled here with language that seems to elevate the wise interpreter above the “rigid set of rules” they interpret. The language of “rigidity” reveals a disposition toward scripture that seems troubling. Were Paul’s instructions to the Ephesians or Corinthians about how to lead a life worthy of their calling rigid? Or those of Jesus on divorce, grounded not in a particular culture but in God’s creational intent? I agree that the Bible is not primarily a book of moral instruction, yet does not scripture aid those saved by grace, God’s workmanship, who created for good works in which we are to walk (Ephesians 2:8-10)? The Waltons’ conclusion smacks of a “hidden knowledge” accessible to the wise that seems a long way from the perspicacity of scripture. I would have been helped if they would spell out more of how scripture may be appropriated, and not mostly by how it may not.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Husband, Wife, Father, Child, Master, Slave

Husband Wife Father Child Master Slave

Husband, Wife, Father, Child, Master, Slave, Kurt C Schaefer. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2018.

Summary: In contrast to many biblical scholars who argue that the “household codes” of scripture do indeed, for various reasons, affirm cultural role expectations, this work argues that Peter’s version is actually a subtle satire that opposes the cultural norms of Greco-Roman culture.

Contemporary biblical interpreters and teachers have explained the presence of the “household code” passages (Ephesians 5:21-33; Colossians 3:18-4:1; 1 Peter 2:13-3:7)  either as representing enduring role differences or as an accommodation of a nascent movement to powerful cultural norms eventually to be transcended. One thing that is true of most interpreters is that they agree that the biblical writers are affirming the existing “household codes,” perhaps with minor modifications. Of course this raises questions about slavery, as well as misogynous and patriarchal treatment of women. Most of those who endorse the permanent relevance of these role expectations sidestep slavery, substituting employment relationships, which in fact significantly differ from slavery.

Kurt C. Schaefer, a Calvin College economist, has ventured into this discussion, which may not be as disconnected from economics as one thinks since the word derives from the Greek words oikos and nomos, the word used for “household.” and “law” or management. Schaefer focuses his study on 1 Peter and contends that while Peter uses the form of a household code, the substance of what Peter says both in the immediate text and the context suggests that Peter is engaged in a subtle form of satire, a kind of parody of Aristotle, that actually dissents from the cultural norm, calling the Christian community to very different kinds of relationships.

Schaefer builds his case for this contention by first carefully studying the Aristotelian household codes that shaped Greco-Roman culture, observing how these are premised in underlying differences in the essence of different human beings–men and women, masters and slaves, parents and children. He goes on to show how Rome re-purposed these codes to undergird their imperial power.

Then Schaefer turns to 1 Peter. He argues that both the beginning and conclusion of the book emphasize the church’s non-conformity to the culture of the empire and the radical equality of all under divine grace, and that it just doesn’t make sense to include a section that urges conformity to cultural codes premised on fundamental inequality. But the reader then asks, how then ought we understand the household code passage? Schaefer handles this by a side-by-side comparison of Aristotle and 1 Peter.

Space prohibits a complete account of Schaefer’s treatment but a few key elements include the paradox that they live as servants of God and free people; that slaves should suffer for doing right, which assumes that slaves will not submit to the idolatrous worship of masters or any other sinful practice; that there are no instructions to masters, perhaps because Peter assumed that no Christians would have slaves (there are such instructions in Paul, however); and that wives not focus on outward adornment (the expectation of Roman culture) but inward character and virtuous behavior.  He notes there is no parallel passage in Aristotle to Peter’s instruction to men, and that the language of husbands “honoring” wives reverses cultural expectations. Schaefer is essentially arguing that Peter turns the Aristotelian household code on its head, even while following the form of such a code.

One area where Schaefer may be challenged is in his proposed translation of hupotasso, often translated as “submit” or “subordinate oneself to,” as “engage with.” Part of his case is to argue that “engage with is both more complicated, and relationally rich, than merely “to obey” or conversely “to rebel.” This helps explain how a slave may remain “subject” to a master and yet suffer for doing right. They do not give implicit obedience in all things, or become recalcitrant. They may try to loyally serve while giving ultimate allegiance to God, and suffer if a master is unwilling to accept this. Schaefer’s proposal is tenuous in that he does not offer lexicographical support for this translation, either in discussing the root words or the usage of this word in extrabiblical literature. (Ann Nyland has argued that the primary extrabiblical usage of this word is found in various papyri, mostly private letters, where context suggests it means something like “support.”)

In his epilogue, Schaefer discusses the subsequent history of treatment by the early fathers of the church, and proposes that the early fathers follow his interpretation of 1 Peter. He notes the later reversion to Aristotelian understandings with the rise of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. He concludes by noting the continued embrace of Aristotelian versions of household codes in some parts of the church:

“In the twenty-first century, the Aristotelian impulse still has its advocates. Some of the church’s most influential leadership counsel male superiority relative to women, strong parental authoritarianism toward children, and social constructions that reinforce racial/ethnic privilege. As we have seen, this impulse is denounced by Peter’s great epistle.”

I think the strength of this work is the extensive cultural background work on household codes that serves as the basis for showing how 1 Peter parodies these codes as a form of dissent from them rather than support for them. His approach of setting 1 Peter and Aristotle side by side is instructive for showing how Peter’s vision of the household of God (1 Peter 2:5; 4:17) contrasts with the Aristotelian household. This reading removes the stumbling block of these texts’ implicit support for slavery and the subordination of women without treating the texts as anachronisms or accommodations. It also reminds us that it is possible for biblical writers to use satire and wit in their writing, something we may overlook in our seriousness about biblical authority.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 

Review: The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest

the lost world of the israelite conquest

The Lost World of the Israelite ConquestJohn H. Walton and J. Harvey Walton. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017.

Summary: Explores the biblical accounts of the Israelite conquest of Canaan, looking closely at the ancient Near East context and arguing that this was not a divinely commanded genocide or Holy War.

One of the more troubling parts of the Bible are the narratives of Israel’s conquest of Canaan, and the apparent genocide of the Canaanite people at God’s command. Often this is justified as a judgement on the wickedness of the Canaanites. It is even more disturbing when these texts are appropriated to justify other “Holy Wars” or culture wars against evil in society.

In this fourth installment to the “Lost World” series, John H. Walton is joined by his son J. Harvey Walton, in a close study of the biblical texts often understood as God’s command of Holy War against Canaan as divine judgement. Similar to Walton’s approach in other books in this series, the authors combine careful work on cultural backgrounds with close reading of the pertinent biblical texts. Like other books, they present their study as a series of propositions, grouped into six parts.

First, they lay groundwork in asking the question of how we interpret the Bible, emphasizing that it is an ancient document and that often our problem is what our expectations of what the Bible is, which differs from its true nature. In this case the Bible is neither defining what goodness is for us nor telling us about how to produce goodness, but rather in the context of God’s covenant with Israel, how God is bringing about the goodness he purposes. Thus, we must never read these texts as warranting Holy War or a kind of jihad in our own context.

Second, the Walton’s argue that the Canaanites are not depicted in scripture as guilty of sin and that the usual textual indicators for divine retribution against the Canaanites are absent. Critical to their argument is showing that Genesis 15:16 does not indicate that the Canaanites were committing sin, but that God is deferring his action against the Amorites, with whom he had allied.

Third, they argue that the Canaanites are not guilty of breaking God’s law because they did not partake of the covenant and its stipulations. Their expulsion from the land is not analogous to the expulsion of Israel from the land for their unfaithfulness to the covenant.

Fourth, the Waltons look at the language and imagery of the conquest and contend that the descriptions of the Canaanites follow ancient Near East conventions for describing an enemy as “invincible barbarians” Likewise, the behaviors described as “detestable” are from the framework of God’s ideals for Israel under the covenant and not indictments against the Canaanites for crimes against a covenant they are not under. And finally, the language of conquest recapitulates that of creation, in which disorder (chaos) is replaced with order (cosmos). Disorder must be cleared, not as punishment against the Canaanites, but to establish God’s covenant order through Israel.

The fifth part is perhaps most significant in its discussion of herem, most often translated as “utterly destroy.” They argue rather that it involves the idea of removing something from use, so that a new order or use can be established. Killing people is not inherent in herem, but rather the destroying of the identity of a community, particularly the identity markers associated with idolatrous worship. Killing may happen in the course of this, as it tragically does in all ancient wars, but this is not the focus of herem.

Finally, the authors contend that this offers a template for understanding the New Testament, not in attacking those outside the community of faith, but making herem all identities in conflict with absolute allegiance to the Lordship of Jesus. What is to be attacked and removed from use is not outsiders, but our own false allegiances, false identities or any identity that competes for paramount status with our identity in Christ.

This, along with the argument that God does not command ethnic genocide in these passages is important. Yet this argument left me troubled. The plain reality is that even if this wasn’t genocide, people died to set up this new order of God. If they died, not because they were guilty of sins or crimes against God (because they were outside the covenant and its stipulations), but simply as part of a process of destroying the identity of a community, this seems a distinction without a difference. The idea of retributive action at least seems to carry the sense of a just judgment, even if it does involve bloodshed. “Removing an identity from use” driving them from the land, seems more humane, except that the same number of people die, only as “collateral damage” of the conquest. There is something about this that seems more heartless. It also seems to dance around the plain sense of texts that herem in the context of the conquest does involve the destruction of lives in city after city. I did not feel the authors dealt adequately with this problem.

What I’m left with is that these are difficult texts, similar to Genesis 22 in which God commands the sacrifice of Isaac. The last minute substitution of the ram does not make this less challenging. Likewise demonstrating that these texts offer no warrant for genocide is only marginally comforting. Perhaps our difficulty is that we expect God to be nice, a “tame lion” as it were. We would rather a God who remains above the fray than one who gets involved in wars of conquest to effect his purposes. We don’t like the idea of trying to justify the ways of God when they seem unseemly. We likewise are uncomfortable with a God who takes on flesh and blood and dies for us. Many Christian heresies are efforts to sanitize this event. I don’t want to say that is what the authors are doing here. They obviously care deeply about scripture. But I also don’t think we can soften the shocking effect of these passages, or should. These passages remind us both of the tragedy of the human condition, and that God accommodated that human condition in not remaining aloof from war and death even as God worked out redemptive purposes for humankind, first through Israel, then for all of us.

 

 

 

Review: From Good News to Gospels

From Good News to Gospels

From Good News to Gospels David Wenham (Foreword by Donald A. Hagner). Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2018.

Summary: Explores the role of oral tradition as a source for the written gospels.

Depending on the gospel and the scholar, anywhere between roughly 30 and 60 years elapsed between the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and the accounts of the mission and message of Jesus we know as the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Most scholars propose that Mark was the earliest of the gospels and that Mark’s material served as one of the sources for Matthew and Luke. At the same time these gospels share material not in Mark, often posited to originate in “Q” (short for Quelle, German for “source.”). There is also material unique to Matthew (“M”), and Luke (“L”). Most have considered these “literary sources,” that is written and circulated, but all we have are the canonical gospels. Q, M, and L exist only hypothetically.

David Wenham argues that serious consideration needs to be given to oral sources. The cultures in which the gospels arose were oral cultures and the possibility of accurate transmission is far greater than often credited. He contends that significant portions of Jesus life, teaching, as well as passion were proclaimed as early believers pursued the mission of Jesus. Wenham notes the emphasis on teaching, learning, remembering, and witness in Acts, as well as the four gospels, all having to do with the faithful transmission of the accounts of Jesus.

Wenham then turns to the writings of Paul, the earliest written documents. 1 Corinthians 15: 1-3 provides the clearest evidence of Paul’s reliance on what were probably oral traditions in speaking of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 is another example, as he speaks of what he received regarding the Lord’s supper. He goes on to note a number of passages including the “thief in the night” of 1 Thessalonians 5:2 and other teaching about the Lord’s return, teaching on non-retaliation in Romans 12:14-19 that echoes the Sermon on the Mount, “love fulfilling the law” in Romans 13:8-10 echoing the great commandment, and a number of others.

He also discusses the places where Matthew and Luke record material that is in Mark but seem to be drawing on another source that overlaps Mark. Traditionally, this is the hypothetical “Q” but Wenham argues that oral tradition is an equally plausible explanation. He also focuses on two incidents of oral tradition in the gospels and also in Paul’s writing, the references to the labor being worth his hire, and the discussions of “the thief in the night” and the surrounding material. Wenham argues that these are strong examples pointing to oral traditions around the mission and return of Jesus. He then considers how extensive this oral tradition is and notes that Paul’s writings show evidence of the whole story of Jesus–his ancestry, birth, ministry, last night, death, resurrection, and commission to evangelize the nations.

Wenham then concludes with some fascinating proposals, that the hypothetical Q might be oral tradition rather than a lost written document, and that Matthew and Luke may have drawn not only upon Mark, but perhaps upon oral material that pre-dated Mark. Rather than drawing on a couple of hypothetical literary sources, these writers may well have drawn upon widely circulated oral traditions, instead of or in addition to these.

Aside from offering a possible explanation as to why we have not found any manuscript evidence of hypothetical Q, L, or M, the primary contribution this makes is to help us see an alternate route to how oral traditions preached and taught became the written gospels (though there is little here about John), and how oral traditions may offer a good explanation for the connections between the gospels and Paul’s letters. I suspect if Wenham’s proposal gains traction, many will continue to find Q, L, and M helpful for delineating the departures of Matthew and Luke from Mark but that, increasingly, these may be posited as oral traditions rather than literary sources. There is a parsimony and explanatory power to Wenham’s proposal in this slim volume that is worth far more study.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 

Review: Interpreting Old Testament Wisdom Literature

interpreting old testament wisdom literature

Interpreting Old Testament Wisdom Literature, Edited by David G. Firth and Lindsay Wilson. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017.

Summary: A collection of articles on the wisdom literature of the Bible, discussing each book as well as recent developments in Wisdom literature scholarship.

Many of us find the Wisdom books (commonly Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs) as both confusing and compelling. Is there some rhyme or reason to the organization of Proverbs? What is the point of Job, his suffering, and all those long speeches? Is everything really hebel or as it is sometimes translated, empty, as Ecclesiastes would tell us? And Song of Songs, is it a sensuous love story, or something more?

The collection of essays in this volume touch on all these questions and more in their survey of the recent scholarship of the Wisdom literature. The work begins with Craig Bartholomew’s overview of current Wisdom literature scholarship. I found his framework of seeing this scholarship in terms of a series of “turns” quite helpful: historical criticism, then literary criticism, followed by postmodern criticism, and finally theological criticism. He surveys the important contributions of each. His most helpful advice:

“What Christian scholars should not do is continue to work away at sites in wisdom studies determined by others who have no interest in reading Old Testament wisdom as Scripture. We always need to be in dialogue with scholars of diverse views, but a Christian perspective will alert us to particular work sites crying out for hard labour if we are to retrieve Old Testament wisdom as Scripture today” (p. 33).

Part Two of the work devotes a chapter each to Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs. Ernest Lucas covers a wide range of issues from questions of structure in Proverbs, the focus on character and consequences in its nuances and contradictions, the personification of Wisdom, and the use of women in various personifications, questions of gender in who is speaking at different points in Proverbs, and the connection of wisdom and creation. Lindsay Wilson’s essay of Job focuses on the faith of Job, and how this is expressed both in the trial he undergoes, and the trial to which he would subject God. Katherine J. Dell’s essay reviews recent scholarship in Ecclesiastes, considering particularly the question of the unity of the book and the tension between pessimism, realism and joy, all of which one will find at some point. Rosalind Clarke explores the question of what wisdom might be found in the Song of Songs, finding evidence that there is wisdom for women, parallels to the personified Woman Wisdom of Proverbs, and in the role of Solomon.

Part Three on Themes considers broader issues. It begins with a delightful essay asking “Is Ruth Among the Wise?” In Hebrew scriptures (as opposed to those most of us read) Ruth follows Proverbs 31 and Gregory Goswell proposes that this “encourages an appreciation of its heroine as an example of the wisdom ethic that is taught in the book of Proverbs” (p. 117). Leonard Boström takes on the theme of retribution in Wisdom literature, that our actions will bring good or bad consequences based on the character of the act–that the righteous will prosper and the wicked suffer. The discussion of the differing portrayals of this principle in different books was helpful under the common but sometimes challenging understanding that retribution traces back to a sovereign creator who ordains in his creation certain consequences for actions, but that this does not reduce to an uncomplicated formula as, in the case of Job, the righteous suffer, and the wicked sometimes prosper. David G. Firth looks at wisdom in Old Testament narrative, and the paradox that the wise often are not approved by God, when “wisdom” is not accompanied by obedience to God. Christopher B. Ansberry considers the contribution of Wisdom literature to biblical theology, where there often seems to be a disjunct between the two. He highlights contributions to cosmology, anthropology, and ethics, and also how Jesus is presented as the wise man par excellence. Simon P. Stocks calls our attention to the “wisdom psalms” and the way their voicing parallels Lady Wisdom of Proverbs 8. Brittany N. Melton concludes the book with what I thought was one of the highlights of the collection, an exploration of “divine absence” in the Wisdom literature. She concludes:

“Wisdom is the way to God, but is not always attainable. As such, the determination to find wisdom was fuelled by the sages’ search for divine presence. And yet, even if wisdom is found, the mystery of God is preserved. In the wisdom literature we have a prime example of the tension between divine presence and absence. Insofar as wisdom is personified and takes on a much larger literary presence than God in these books, this speaks to divine absence. Where is God? He is hidden behind Wisdom (p. 216).

What I appreciated about this collection of essays was not only the many connections they made for me (including that of thinking of Ruth in light of Proverbs 31), but also that they exemplified Craig Bartholomew’s exhortation to scholars. Each studied these works as scripture, and engaged in their retrieval as scripture today, nourishing in this reader the desire to read these works of wisdom once more to hear in them the word of the Lord. This is an important resource not only in the academic setting, but for all who would teach the Wisdom literature, and who want their students or congregants to not only be informed of the latest scholarship, but to be shaped by hearing these books afresh as “scripture today.”

Review: Conformed to the Image of His Son

Conformed to the Image of His Son

Conformed to the Image of His Son, Haley Goranson Jacob (Foreword by N. T. Wright). Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018.

Summary: An in-depth exploration of the meaning of Romans 8:29b-30, arguing that conformity to the image of the His Son has to do with our participation in the Son’s rule over creation, which is our glorification.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Romans 8:29-30, English Standard Version

Generations of believers have thrilled to the language of this passage in Romans 8 and its description of the glorious destiny of believers to be conformed to the image of Christ the Son. But what does that all mean? This was the question Haley Goranson Jacob asked, and the answers she found in commentators, when they did address the language of “conformed to the image of his Son” and “glorified,” was all over the map. That question became Jacob’s dissertation study, and subsequently this book.

Jacob contends that instead of some form of spiritual, moral, physical or sacrificial conformity or a reference to a shared radiance with Christ’s glory, this verse points to our participation in the exalted calling of Christ as the last Adam and glorious king to rule with him over the creation as his vicegerents. And she argues that this is what it means for us to be glorified–to share in the Son’s glorious rule over creation.

Jacob makes a careful case for her thesis. She begins by a study of the background of the use of cognates for “glory” in the Septuagint and Apocalyptic literature, applying semiotic theory, and concludes that while there are varied usages, the most common, whether applied to humans or God is not radiance or splendor, but rather on exalted status or honor. She turns to Romans, noting echoes of Genesis 1:26-27 and Psalm 8, in the glory of the Son, the lost glory of humanity’s dominion over creation, and its restoration through the work of Christ. To strengthen the link between Christ the Son and humanity, she looks at the language of participation in Paul’s writing and contends that it is participation in the vocation of Christ, both in suffering and in exaltation over all creation.

Having laid this groundwork, she turns to Romans 8:29b-30. First she looks at the language of Sonship, and the echoes of the promised Davidic King and the last Adam. He is the firstborn, the first raised from the dead of a large family who rules over the creation he has redeemed. Believers participate as adopted sons in this rule and share in his glory–are glorified. One of the distinctives in Jacob’s argument is that she argues for the truth of this in the present and that we already participate in the Son’s work of redeeming a groaning creation, that this is the purpose Paul speaks of in Romans 8:28, that we participate in the working for good of all things.

The prospective reader should be warned that this is scholarly work, the turning of a doctoral thesis into a book, and that there is extensive use of Greek, and some Hebrew in the text. Nevertheless, Jacob’s writing is clear and her argument is set forth step by step for the reader to follow. Her intent is not mere scholarship, but scholarship in service to the church and the edification of believers.

Jacob’s point is not to deny the reality of moral transformation in Christ but to set it in the context of a larger vocation–to participate with the family of the redeemed in the rule of Christ over all creation, both now and in the new heaven and earth. This work challenges us to lift our eyes from our own spiritual progress, to the exalted Son, and the work he calls us to join him in. This is a calling to become who we were created, and then redeemed to be–image bearers who with mercy and love, care for the very good creation. The implication of this understanding extends meaning to all of our work, and has implications for the groaning creation in environmental crisis. To realize that all this comes through the foresight and wisdom of the exalted Father ought swell our hearts with renewed love and deepened affection toward the Father, Son, and Spirit whom we worship with wonder at the incredibly rich life we’ve been called to share.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Best Bible Books

Best Bible Books

Best Bible Books: New Testament ResourcesJohn Glynn, edited by Michael H. Burer with contributions by Michael H. Burer, Darrell L. Bock, Joseph D. Fantin, and J. William Johnston. Grand Rapids: Kregel Ministry, 2018.

Summary: A review of commentaries, dictionaries, and other scholarly resources related to the New Testament, singling out those the contributors deem of greatest value.

Theological students, pastors, and anyone serious about Bible study face a dilemma. There is a surfeit of resources in English and for most, limits to their budgets. What are the best resources to purchase to have a useful library at hand for study, preaching and teaching and academic scholarship?

John Glynn, a freelance academic writer, edited ten editions of Commentary and Reference Series before his death in 2007. This new 11th edition carries on much of the tradition he established while expanding it by separating New Testament resources from Old Testament and theological resources (forthcoming).

The work begins with the editor’s recommendations for building a Personal Reference Library, a valuable starting list for anyone building their library. This is followed by a chapter on commentaries series. Favored are the Word Biblical Commentary and the New International Greek Testament Commentary, the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary, and the Pillar New Testament Commentaries. For preaching and application, the New International Version Application Commentary was not commended here, but most volumes in the series were commended in the reviews. The Bible Speaks Today series was also commended for expositional works.

There are then sections listing recommendations of New Testament Introduction, Survey, and Theology books, and books on Jesus and the Gospels. These are in standard bibliography comment, some including very brief comments. Commended works are highlighted by shading.

The bulk of this work is reviews of commentaries, by books of the Bible. Each review includes comments on the approach of the commentary–types of critical approaches, emphases, format–how the material is organized, and usability–including who the commentary might be most useful for. Commentaries are rated by Good, Better, and Best. Commentaries are included from a variety of theological positions–evangelical (the most), more liberal Protestant, denomination (particularly Lutheran and Anabaptist), and Catholic (Sacra Pagina). While the “Best” ratings tend to go to well-executed works by evangelicals, a number of the Anchor Bible (or Anchor Yale Bible, which has succeeded it, some Sacra Pagina, and Hermeneia work also receive these ratings. Commentaries are organized by “Technical/Semitechnical” and “Exposition” categories.

Following the commentaries are further bibliography lists by categories and subcategories. These follow the format of the bibliographies at the beginning of the book, highlighting commended works, with a sprinkling of brief comments about selected works. The categories are:

  • Scholarly One Volume Commentaries
  • New Testament Background
  • Popular References
  • General References
  • New Testament Greek Resources
  • Exegesis, Interpretation, and Hermeneutics

The work concludes with a listing of “the Ultimate New Testament Commentary Collection” selecting one from the Technical/Semitechnical category and one from the Exposition category. In this list, the Baker Exegetical Commentary New Testament and the New International Version Application Commentaries were the most often commended.

Of course, those familiar with the commentaries may not always agree. I was pleased to see commentaries by Linda Belleville and G. Walter Hansen receive “best” ratings as did several of Ben Witherington’s rhetorical commentaries (these scholars are personal friends), as well as much of the work of Colin Kruse, Craig Keener and Craig Blomberg, as well as classics by C. E. B. Cranfield (Mark), C.K. Barrett (Acts) and others. It did seem on the whole that rhetorical critical approaches did not rate as highly. More liberal or Catholic works of exceptional merit were singled out, but these seemed fewer than the evangelical works. Likewise, recent scholarship is favored, but some classic works do receive “bests.” There is a dearth of commentaries or other scholarly works from English speakers in the two-thirds world, or African Americans and Latinx Americans,  and women are still significantly in the minority though represented.

This work is valuable especially for the student or young pastor acquiring a theological library. I was also impressed with how many works I acquired twenty to thirty years have been revised or replaced, and some series, like the Baker and Zondervan series weren’t even around (as well as the new Evangelical Exegetical Commentaries published through Faithlife/Logos). If you acquired many of your books more than ten years ago, and intend to continue to be active in ministry, you might find this a helpful tool. This would also be a helpful source when one begins to preach on a New Testament book, or as a source for a beginning bibliography on some New Testament question. It might even suggest a way to organize your library!

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Echoes of Exodus

echoes of exodus

Echoes of ExodusBryan D. Estelle. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018.

Summary: Traces the exodus motif from creation, through the paradigmatic event, to its later usage, culminating in the pilgrimage of the church as the people of God and the realization of the exodus promises in the new Jerusalem.

The exodus story is a compelling narrative that has shaped the Jewish people, Christians, and particularly peoples in slavery and oppression. It is a story of God raising up a deliverer, demonstrating his power in plagues, leading them out of the land following Passover and the death of Egyptian firstborn, the passage through the Red Sea, where God wars against the Egyptians, the wilderness wanderings, Sinai, testings, and finally after one generation dies, the entry into the land of promise and eventual worship on the mountain of Jerusalem. This story echoes through the pages of scripture, alluded to and transformed as the saving purpose of God works through the periods of judges, kings, exile and return, and the coming of Christ, his death and resurrection, the birth of the church as a new people of God, on pilgrimage, awaiting the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem.

Many of us, as we’ve read through scripture notice the ways the story of exodus recurs. What Bryan D. Estelle does is trace the exodus motif throughout scripture and how it is appropriated and developed by later biblical writers–the psalmists, Isaiah, the exilic and post-exilic writers, and the New Testament writers of the gospels and Acts, Paul, Peter, and the Revelation. Estelle describes his purpose in this study as follows:

The biblical writers’ use of the exodus event is no mere repetition, no base recapitulation. Rather, it is taken up, transformed, “eschatologized,” and ultimately repackaged into a tapestry that mesmerizes readers and draws them into the drama of salvation. No biblical reader can walk away from the performance unchanged. To trace the allusions throughout this corpus of biblical literature is not only an exercise in curiosity and aesthetic entertainment. Consider the following questions: Why would Paul refer to the exodus event as “under the cloud”? Why would Peter address his church in language evocative of Israelite identity? Why would the prophets invoke the ancient creation combat motif to express theology if they were committed monotheists? What is the purpose of the “way of the Lord” language in Isaiah 40:1-11, arguably one of the most influential passages at Qumran and elsewhere in the Second Temple period? Why would Jesus himself, at the transfiguration, discourse with Elijah and Moses about his own exodon? What, we may ask, is the purpose of these allusions? Are they poetic influence, metaphor, citation, or something altogether different? My goal throughout this book is to help readers grow in their “allusion competence,” especially in their ability to recognize scriptural allusions to the exodus motif. (p.2)

Perhaps one of the major strengths of this work is the first chapter, on “Hermeneutical Foundations,” in which he engages in an extended discussion of intertextuality (further amplified in an appendix), and the various forms of allusion and the hermeneutics of a forward-looking typology. He notes that the biblical authors use direct quote, subtle citation, allusion, and echo or reminiscence (which may or may not be conscious). He also begins this work not with exodus, but with creation, showing how this is prologue, and how exodus arises out of the Genesis events. Throughout the work, he offers in depth discussions of texts that echo Exodus, none perhaps more illuminating than his extended treatment of Isaiah 40–55, and the Isaianic New Exodus to which Mark recurs.

Estelle looks beyond articulating the biblical theology of exodus. He writes, “My own project attempts to bridge a huge gulf that has been created between participationist and forensic descriptions of salvation.” Throughout the book he shows how exodus is both-and rather than either-or. He engages N.T. Wright’s proposal that the idea of Israel being in continued exile shaped the thought of the time as well as the ministry of Jesus. He argues instead that the idea of the new Exodus was dominant, one delivering from the bondage of sin and Satan, and forming a New Israel.

This is an important work that moves beyond typical cross-referencing, or prophecy and fulfillment discussions to a more nuanced study of how later writers and readers of scripture engage with the exodus material, and how this theme is basic to an understanding of the ways of God with his people. It is not simply a “mash-up” of exodus ideas, but takes seriously the understanding of exodus at each stage of the development of the biblical canon and the unfolding purposes of God. More than modelling careful, intertextual hermeneutics, Estelle gives us an exegetically, theologically, and devotionally rich study of this important biblical theme.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Introducing the Apocrypha

introducing the apocrypha

Introducing the Apocrypha: Message, Context, and Significance, Second Edition, David A. deSilva (Foreword by James H. Charlesworth). Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018.

Summary: An introduction to the books of the Apocrypha, covering matters of content, authorship, date, setting, textual transmission, and theological themes and influence in both second temple and post-second temple Judaism and early Christianity.

For many from Protestant denominations, the collection of books that fall under the title “Apocrypha” are considered ones that “didn’t make the cut” and perhaps suspect. However, most of these books are part of the Bibles of two-thirds of all Christians in the world. In his Introduction to this work, David A. deSilva also makes the point that this collection is invaluable in understanding second temple Judaism that is the setting for the ministry of Jesus and Christian beginnings as well as the influence of these writings on the New Testament authors and what they wrote. He also introduces us to the fact that there are different collections (Septuagint, Vaticanus, and Alexandrinus) and the challenges of defining this collection.

This work is an introduction and, like introductions to Old and New Testaments, covers introductory matters like the message of the work, authorship (often difficult to pin down), date, and setting, as well as the textual transmission, and different extant textual traditions. In the cases of Daniel and Esther, he shows how the additions are woven into, and differ from the canonical text. It is helpful, therefore to read this work with a copy of the Apocrypha at hand, preferably the New Revised Standard Version with Apocrypha, which is the version used throughout.

The author explores the distinctive theological themes and influences of particular books. He considers an overall Deuteronomistic theme of the promise of covenant blessing for Israel when they obey, curse when they disobey, and restoration when they return, cry out, and obey Torah. The theme emerges in the prayers, narratives, and precepts found in this collection. In some texts, such as 1 Maccabees, Israel faces a crisis, and faithful Jews experience deliverance. In others, martyrs receive assurance, or potential martyrs are delivered while the apostate or Gentiles face punishment. One can see how these books encouraged post-exilic Jews, particularly under Greco-Roman rule, as well as subsequent generations of Christians.

David A. deSilva states that this is a complete revision involving every chapter, far more consultation with experts in the field, incorporation of the latest scholarship, and an expanded bibliography. His clear summaries of content, theology, influence, and technical introductory matters make this a valuable adjunct for sitting down to read this collection. For those like myself, who have managed to avoid a reading of books that have encouraged Jews and Christians through the ages, deSilva made the case to change that. He neither resolves the canonical issues, nor argues a change, but that we read these works for what we can learn both about Christian origins, and for the encouragement we might derive from them.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.