Book Review – The Righteousness of God: A Lexical Examination of the Covenant-Faithfulness Interpretation (Charles Lee Irons)

Charles Lee Irons. The Righteousness of God: A Lexical Examination of the Covenant-Faithfulness Interpretation. Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2015. 540 pp. $135.00.

righteousness-of-godThe Righteousness of God is the published form of Irons’s 2011 dissertation at Fuller Theological Seminary under Donald Hagner, with Seyoon Kim as second reader and Mark Seifrid as external reader. It’s an exhaustive lexical analysis of righteousness language in the Old and New Testaments that also takes into consideration Second Temple Jewish and contemporaneous extra-biblical Greek usage. More specifically, this monograph focuses on δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ and subjects Cremer’s Hebraic/relational theory to robust lexical scrutiny, strengthening the philological case for a traditional Lutheran understanding of justification by undermining the NPP (New Perspective on Paul) claim that Paul’s δικ-language is sociological rather than soteriological.

Irons begins in Chapter 1 by providing a history of interpretation of δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ in Paul that demonstrates that despite variations in some details, Patristic, medieval, and Reformation interpreters all understood it soteriologically. He also provides a detailed sketch of the interpreters and ideas that led to the NPP understanding of δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ as God’s saving activity in keeping with his covenant faithfulness. Then, in Chapter 2, he lays out the methodological assumptions and considerations of the study, dealing with lexical semantics, Septuagint studies, and Jewish literature composed in Greek. As pertaining to lexical semantics, Irons argues that NPP scholars and their predecessors have been guilty of a subtle form of illegitimate totality transfer in which concepts derived from some contexts are read into the lexical sense of the word as well as reading hyponyms as synonyms where “faithfulness” and “righteousness” are in parallel. In regards to Septuagint studies, Irons shows the Achilles’ heel of the Cremer theory to be the fact that not all stereotyped equivalents (a word consistently employed in the target language as the translational equivalent for a word in the source language) are calques (a stereotyped equivalent that has become fixed in the target language).

The next four chapters are the heart of the study, as Irons investigates righteousness in different corpora of relevant literature. He sets the baseline in Chapter 3 by examining righteousness in extra-biblical Greek, surveying a representative sample from the first occurrence of δικαιοσύνη in the 6th century BCE to the 2nd century CE. Irons’s contention in this chapter is that “the Hebraic/relational theory of righteousness operates with a false contrast between Greek and Hebrew thought. Even extra-biblical Greek recognizes that keeping one’s promise is a subset of ‘righteousness.’ Coversely, Hebrew usage is just as judicialy stamped by the concept of iustitia distributiva as extra-biblical Greek, if not more so” (84).

In Chapter 4 Irons surveys the semantic range of צֶ֫דֶק/צְדָקָה in the Hebrew Bible and δικαιοσύνη in the LXX excluding the apocrypha to test the validity of Cremer’s relational theory with respect to the OT. He then weighs what he sees as the seven primary arguments for Cremer’s relational interpretation: righteousness as “thoroughly positive” (never negative); appeal to Hebrew parallelism to negate the judicial element of righteousness; arguing from the LXX’s use of dικαιοσύνη to render חֶסֶד that righteousness is exclusively positive and that dικαιοσύνη has taken on the covenantal overtones of חֶסֶד; that righteousness involves conformity to a norm; the antithesis between “the righteous” and “the wicked”; Psalm 69:27; and Genesis 38:26. Against Cremer’s argument that the Hebrew usage of “my/his/your righteousness” in reference to God’s judicial activity should be classified as iustitia salutifera rather than the Greek/Latin iustitia distributiva, Irons demonstrates that the righteousness of God in both the Hebrew Bible and the LXX (excluding apocrypha) is precisely iustitia distributiva. Finally, Irons briefly examines a representative sample of OT texts that refer to God’s righteousness and shows that fundamentally, this phrase in the OT “refers to God’s justice in executing judgment on the enemies of his people and thereby vindicating his people in the face of their oppressors” (178).

Next, Chapter 5 provides an overview of the righteousness of God in Second Temple literature to see whether the relational theory of righteousness is a semantic possibility for Paul, surveying the DSS, Apocrypha and OT Pseudepigrapha composed in Hebrew, Apocrypha, OT Pseudepigrapha, and other Hellenistic Jewish literature composed in Greek, and NT literature outside of Paul. Irons finds the Qumran writings to demonstrate the highest degree of continuity with OT usage while demonstrating a development and spiritualization of salvific/delivering usage. This spiritualization is not found in Jewish literature composed in Hebrew, Jewish literature composed in Greek, or the NT outside of Paul. Additionally, “righteousness” in the sense of doing something correctly is seen in a very limited fashion in these texts, dealing a decisive blow to the NPP view that δικαιοσύνη has a Hebraic, relational, and covenantal meaning in Paul. Lastly, iustitia salutifera language is found to be quite limited in the Jewish literature composed in Greek and seems to only occur in messianic contexts.

Finally, having thoroughly examined Paul’s linguistic context for δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ, Irons turns to Paul himself. He critiquing the view that δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ in Paul is a cipher for God’s covenant faithfulness, critically examines the arguments for the claim that δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ in Paul means God’s saving activity or power, and then positively argues for the traditional Reformation sense of “the gift of righteousness from God.”

The Righteousness of God is a must-read for anyone interested in Pauline soteriology, and especially NPP and specifically δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ. Irons’s exhaustive lexical analysis of all the literature that formed Paul’s context not only strengthens the traditional view of this phrase but is a formidable force that must be dealt with by all future studies arguing for Cremer’s relational view. Regardless of where one stands on the NPP/OPP debate, The Righteousness of God is a significant contribution to Pauline soteriology with which all future conversation must engage.

Many thanks to Mohr Siebeck for the review copy! 

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The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown (Second Edition)

Andreas J. Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles. The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (2nd Ed.). Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2016. 1168 pp. $59.99.

For years The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown (hereafter CCC) has been my favorite evangelical NT introduction and one of my favorites overall. I’ve loved it for its comprehensiveness – the first volume was 161 pages longer than the volume with which it is probably most often compared, Carson & Moo’s An Introduction to the New Testament (what can I say, I love big books!). One unique feature of CCC is that it is unabashedly Christian, as can be seen in the opening lines of the preface to the both editions: “For believers who look to Scripture as the authority for their faith and practice, the NT, with its 27 books, presents both a wonderful, God-given treasure trove of spiritual insights and a formidable challenge for faithful, accurate interpretation.” Academic material is presented not in a dry, disinterested way but in a way that is connected to our faith, encouraging devotion and application. CCC presents top-of-the-line scholarship in a spiritually nurturing way for the Christian (one example of the spiritual nourishment provided by this volume is that there is at least one devotional on each NT book).

CCC is also distinctive because it begins with two chapters on foundational issues to which chapters are not typically dedicated in NT introductions. The first chapter addresses the nature and scope of Scripture, covering  the history of canonization, textual translation/transmission and the reliability of the Bible, and the doctrine of Scripture (covering topics such as inspiration and inerrancy). The second chapter surveys the political and religious background of the NT, providing an overview of the Second Temple Period. Usually the serious student of the New Testament, once armed with an NT introduction, must seek out additional books in order to be introduced to the nature of Scripture and the background of the NT. CCC provides a one-stop-shop, and the content of the first two chapters are a unique strength of this volume.

After the two introductory chapters, the remainder of CCC provides a robust overview of each book of the NT using the same pattern – the “hermeneutical triad” of history, literature, and theology (explicated in Kostenberger and Patterson’s fantastic book on hermeneutics, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation). The discussion on theological themes for each NT book is also a distinctive, as many NT introductions do not address the theology of the NT writings. Each chapter begins with a breakdown of what one should know from the chapter if aiming for 1) basic knowledge; 2) intermediate knowledge; or 3) advanced knowledge. This is especially helpful for self-studiers but can also be a valuable aid in the classroom (e.g. professors can communicate which level of mastery is desired of their students and create quizzes and exams accordingly). Other helpful features for the student include the study questions and bibliography at the end of each chapter.

None of what is described above has changed in the second edition. What has changed is that the content (including bibliography and footnotes) has been brought up to date with the latest in NT scholarship. Entirely new content include sections on how to interpret different genres of scripture as well as an epilogue that traces the storyline of Scripture from creation to consummation. All-in-all, the second edition is 223 pages longer than the first. The length and comprehensiveness of CCC is a blessing and in combination with the user-friendly features should be an attractant rather than a repellent. CCC is designed in a way that makes it very easy to cull for precisely the information you need (whether you just want to study a particular book of the NT, or whether you just want information about the history or literature or theology of a book), so the length need not be daunting. This book is both a valuable reference resource for the layperson and preacher alike as well as a fantastic textbook for seminary courses that introduce the NT.

Many thanks to B&H Academic for sending me a review copy of the second edition of The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown!

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Questions and Rhetoric in the Greek New Testament: An Essential Reference Resource for Exegesis

Douglas Estes. Questions and Rhetoric in the Greek New Testament: An Essential Reference Resource for Exegesis . Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2017. 400 pp. $49.99.

While there are almost 1,000 questions in the GNT (making up about 15% of the sentences), most students of the NT have never really thought about the questions, focusing instead on the statements. Questions are similarly neglected in commentaries, grammars, and other literature. Convinced that it is as much the questions in the NT as the statements that make such a great impact on readers (16), Douglas Estes has written Questions and Rhetoric in the Greek New Testament (hereafter Questions and Rhetoric) to help the exegete of the GNT understand and interpret the questions of the GNT, questions that not only influence the theology of the text but also the life of the reader. “[T]he purpose of this book is to help interpreters understand the logic of questions in the GNT so they can explain the rhetorical (persuasive) effect of these questions in their interpretation of the NT” (20, emphasis original).

Questions and Rhetoric examines the top thirty-six types of questions in the GNT, which are distributed among the four major syntactic formations for questions (variable questions, polar questions, alternative questions, and set questions, covered in chapter 3). Once the syntactical construction is identified, the interpreter must determine the degree to which the question is also driven by semantics (chapter 4). Estes covers twenty-three types of questions driven by semantics, including open questions (questions without a push toward a possible answer), deliberative questions (questions asked of oneself for reflection), indexical questions (questions that introduce uncertainty or ambiguity), phatic questions (questions oriented more toward social than informational or rhetorical purposes), inapposite questions (questions in which the asker knows the answer), and request questions (questions intended to elicit a corresponding action).

The last major chapter of the book addresses questions driven by pragmatics, the most rhetorically powerful yet most difficult to identify category.  This chapter examines pragmatic factors by looking at three main areas: turn, position, and repetition. Turn is related to which speaker asks the question (e.g. a first-turn question is asked by the first speaker in the first utterance of a dialogue, a second-turn question is asked by the second speaker in the second utterance of a dialogue, etc.), position has to do with where the question is within the turn, and repetition occurs when there is more than one question in a sequence. A total of nine question types within these three areas are addressed, such as governing questions (first-turn; asked to assert control over the direction of the dialogue), focus-shifting questions (second-turn; asked to move the dialogue away from the focus of the first-utterance turn), middle-position questions (position; asked in the middle of a turn), and multiple questions (repetition; three or more related questions in succession to amplify the rhetorical goal of the speaker).

Each of the question types in Questions and Rhetoric is covered in six sections: introduction, formation, rhetorical effects, case studies, further examples from the GNT, and key bibliography. While this brief overview of the book did not address rhetorical effects, I think these section are the heart of the book as they illuminate what interpreters have likely missed from NT texts due to not understanding questions and/or interpreting them with alethic logic (the thinking behind propositions). Questions and Rhetoric is a must-have resource for all who take interpreting the NT seriously and have at least intermediate knowledge of NT Greek. Seminary Greek students and instructors, pastors with a working knowledge of Koine, and NT scholars alike would do well to have this book on their shelf of tools for exegesis.

Many thanks to Zondervan Academic for the review copy!

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Book Notice – New Dictionary of Theology (Second Edition)

Davie, Martin, et al., ed. New Dictionary of Theology: Historical and Systematic (Second Edition). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016. 1044 pp. $60.00

First published in 1988, IVP Academic’s New Dictionary of Theology has become an indispensable/definitive resource for pastors and theological students alike, providing an introduction to a host of diverse of topics in systematic, historical, and biblical theology. This new edition reflects some of the most important new issues in historical and systematic theology that have arisen in the past three decades, boasting over 400 new articles. The articles on biblical theology in the first edition have been eliminated due to IVP Academic’s New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (2000), giving this dictionary a specific focus on historical and systematic theology (as reflected in the new subtitle).

New articles address challenging contemporary issues such as abortion, gender, and human rights law and new theological movements such as analytic theology, postliberalism, and the Yale School. I was particularly delighted to see new articles on theology from the majority world, such as African theology, Arab Christian thought, Asian Christian thought, Black theology, Chinese theology, Japanese Christian thought, and Korean theology. Since the first edition did not have a single article on theology outside the West, the presence of these articles seems to reflect a conscious decision on the part of the editors. Old articles have also been rewritten by new authors, including, interestingly, justification (previously by N. T. Wright, now by Brian Lugioyo). The article on justification reflects what seems to be a general emphasis on historical rather than systematic presentation.

With over 800 articles by some of the finest theologians of our day addressing a variety of topics in historical and systematic theology (e.g. figures, movements, doctrines), the second edition of IVP Academic’s New Dictionary of Theology is an essential resource for historical and systematic theology from a broadly evangelical perspective. Those with strong confessional affiliations will likely find irksome the lack of definitive theological position in some articles and those more conservative might be troubled by openness to positions such as a nonhistorical Adam, annihilationism, etc. However, as a one-volume reference, there is no better resource than the new second edition of New Dictionary of Theology.

Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

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Book Notice – Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature: An Exegetical Handbook (Richard A. Taylor)

Richard A. Taylor. Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature: An Exegetical Handbook (Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2016. 208 pp. $21.99.

Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature is the latest volume from Kregel Academic’s Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis series, which offers a basic introduction to exegesis and proclamation of different genres of OT texts. The purpose of this volume is fourfold: to 1) provide an introduction to Second Temple Jewish apocalyptic literature; 2) situate OT apocalyptic literature within the context of ancient apocalyptic thought; 3) provide guidelines for interpreting this genre; and 4) provide a sample treatment of two OT apocalyptic texts.

Chapter 1 provides an introduction to apocalyptic literature, addressing renewed scholarly interest in this genre (with a note on Kasemann), distinguishing helpfully between apocalypse, apocalypticism, and apocalyptic literature, tracing the development of Jewish apocalyptic literature, and sketching the social world behind the literature. Chapter 2 addresses major themes in apocalyptic literature, dealing with major texts and then the genre as a whole. For Old Testament Prophets, a bit more attention is devoted to Daniel than the rest of the texts (which makes sense given the scope and aims of this book), summarizing its message, purpose, major themes, and structure. Then quick overviews are provided for Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Joel, Malachi. For extrabiblical texts, a brief introduction to types of apocalypses is first provided before surveying each of the five parts of 1 Enoch, then 2 Enoch, Jubilees, 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, Apocalypse of Abraham, Testament of Levi, Testament of Abraham, Apocalypse of Zephaniah, and Testament of Moses. Then Taylor addresses the question of whether Qumran was an apocalyptic community and surveys a few DSS texts with apocalyptic elements (Community Rule, War Scroll, and New Jerusalem. Chapter 2 concludes with some general characteristic features (revelatory content, dreams and visions, pseudonymous authorship, hiddenness and secrecy, and pervasive symbolism) and major themes (developed angelology, ethical dualism, deterministic outlook, imminent crisis, faithful remnant, divine judgment, and eschatological hope) of the genre of apocalyptic literature.

Chapter 3 focuses on the book of Daniel (since it contains the only true apocalypse in the OT) to address the issue of how to prepare to interpret apocalyptic texts, noting key exegetical procedures and tools . Taylor covers figurative language, reception history, the issue of bilingualism in Daniel and textual criticism,working with original languages, and benefiting previous scholarship. He provides an annotated bibliography of OT textual criticism, Bible software, lexical resources, grammatical resources for Hebrew as well as Aramaic, and primary and secondary sources for the study of apocalyptic literature. In chapters 4 and 5 Taylor addresses guidelines for interpreting and proclaiming apocalyptic literature, respectively. Finally, Chapter 6 models the process that has been taught in the rest of the book by working through Daniel 8:1-27 and Joel 2:28-32.

Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature is an excellent guide to exegeting and preaching apocalyptic (and proto-apocalyptic) OT texts. It provides a valuable (albeit brief) introduction to the genre and sketches the Second Temple Jewish context, situating OT apocalyptic literature within the broader world in which it was birthed. I think this would be a great text for upper level bible college and introductory seminary OT courses. It would also be a great resource for self-learners unfamiliar with the genre (for whom the annotated bibliographies in chapter 3 would be particularly valuable), especially those with regular opportunities to preach.

Thanks to Kregel Academic for the review copy!

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Book Notice – Ephesians (Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament)

Benjamin L. Merkle. Ephesians (Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament).  Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2016. 272 pp. $24.99.

ephesiansB&H Academic’s Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (EGGNT) series is an essential resource for seminary students, pastors, and biblical scholars alike. Written and edited by some of the finest Evangelical New Testament/Koine Greek scholars of our day, these volumes are crucial supplements to conventional commentaries for those studying the Greek NT. The volumes in this series are designed to do what commentaries do not accomplish (provide robust grammatical/syntactical analysis of the Greek text), not duplicate what can be found in any good commentary. However, reference is frequently made to commentaries and Greek grammars where more information can be found.

The latest volume is Ephesians by Benjamin Merkle  (professor of NT and Greek at SEBTS and editor of the Southeastern Theological Review). As is typical of this series, the introduction is very brief (in contrast to commentaries), providing a concise overview of authorship (Paul), date (AD 60-62 during Roman imprisonment), destination (Ephesus rather than circular), and occasion and purpose (here Merkle summarizes six proposals without noting his preference). Like the other volumes, there is a section of recommended commentaries at the beginning and an exegetical outline in the end. Each section of exegesis of the Greek text begins with a basic sentence diagram and concludes with recommended resources for further study as well as homiletical suggestions, providing valuable aids for both study and preaching. Merkle parses notable/difficult words, provides grammatical/syntactical analysis, and for issues where there is debate, summarizes the main views and places an asterisk by his position. A few examples of Merkle’s analysis will be noted from Ephesians 2:1-22.

  • Verse 1 – τοῖς παραπτώμασιν and ταῖς ἁμαρτίαις  could be datives of sphere or cause or both, but sphere is preferred here primarily because of the parallel text  Col 2:13
  • Verse 2 – τοῦ κόσμου is best labeled descriptive genitive (“the age of this world”) but could also be attributive (“worldly age”) or genitive of apposition (“the age, which is the world”)
  • Verse 3 – The prepositional phrase ἐν οἷς could be a dative of sphere (in which case it is structurally parallel to ἐν αἷς in 2:2 with the same antecedents, τοῖς παραπτώμασιν and ταῖς ἁμαρτίαις) or location (in which case the antecedent is τοῖς υἱοῖς τῆς ἀπειθείας from 2:2). Merkle prefers the latter.
  • Verse 14 – Merkle presents the three main views of what τὴν ἔχθραν and ἐν τῇ σαρκὶ αὐτοῦ refer to: both to the previous participle, λύσας (in which case τὴν ἔχθραν is in apposition to τὸ μεσότοιχον and ἐν τῇ σαρκὶ αὐτοῦ modifies λύσας); both to the following participle, καταργήσας (in which case τὴν ἔχθραν is in apposition to νόμον in 2:15 and ἐν τῇ σαρκὶ αὐτοῦ modifies καταργήσας); or τὴν ἔχθραν relates to the previous clause and ἐν τῇ σαρκὶ αὐτοῦ relates to the following clause, with the phrase in apposition to τὸ μεσότοιχον and ἐν τῇ σαρκὶ αὐτοῦ modifying καταργήσας. Merkle prefers the last alternaive and renders this verse “he who tore downthe dividing wall, that is, the partition, by setting aside in his flesh the law.”
  • Verse 20 – In response to those who appeal to the Granville Sharpe rule to argue that the apostles and prophets are identical here, Merkle notes that the rule does not apply here because the substantives are plural. In contrast, he takes the position that the two are distinct and that the apostles are a subset of the prophets, and the single article ties the two together as the foundation of the church.

The Ephesians Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament is an indispensable resource for the intermediate Greek student. Besides using it in studying through Ephesians in Greek, this guide is also a great tool for growing in skills of syntactical and exegetical analysis – choose a passage, work through the syntax, do your own exegetical work, and then check your work with the book.  In addition to those studying Greek, this exegetical guide is, of course, also a valuable resource to preachers and Bible study leaders with at least an intermediate facility with Greek.

Thanks to B&H Academic for the review copy!

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Book Review – Paul’s New Perspective (Garwood Anderson)

Garwood P. Anderson. Paul’s New Perspective: Charting a Soteriological Journey. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016. 457 pp. $45.00

pauls-new-perspectiveThe newest book on the New Perspective on Paul (hereafter NPP) offers a creative way beyond the NPP/TPP (“Traditional Perspective on Paul”) impasse by way of a theory of development in Paul’s soteriology throughout his letters. In the creatively titled Paul’s New Perspective, Garwood Anderson points to both what each side of the debate has right and how each side errs as well as proposes a novel synthesis that provides a plausible explanation of why elements of both perspectives are seen in the Pauline corpus. The thesis of the book is captured by the title: “the new perspective on Paul is Paul’s oldest perspective and the ‘old perspective’ describes what would become (more or less) Paul’s settled ‘new perspective'” (379).

In Chapter 1 Anderson begins by noting four gains of the NPP (reconsidering Paul’s conversion, reappraising the “soteriology of Judaism, reframing Torah observance, and renewing the covenant) before showing how each falls short and needs nuance. Chapter 2  examines a representative sample of texts (Phil 3:1-11,  Rom 3:21-4:8, and Eph 2:1-22) that illustrate the insufficiency of both the NPP and the TPP. Anderson demonstrates that “texts that both paradigms have claimed for themselves actually need to be shared, and once shared, call into question the exclusive rights of both paradigms” (58). With both Philippians 3:1-11 and Ephesians 2:1-11, he shows how half the passage essentially supports the NPP while the other half essentially supports the TPP. In his discussion on Romans 3:21-4:8 Anderson introduces a point that he will repeat throughout the heart of his book (chapters 6-8) and which is a pillar of his thesis: Romans marks a transition in Paul’s developing soteriology. As will be noted and developed in Chapters 6-8, Anderson argues that Paul’s soteriology in his earlier letters is essentially NPP and later “settles” into basically the TPP view. Romans is the transition point where characteristic elements of both overlap. “To put it oversimplstically, the besetting fault of the NPP is to read Romans too closely to (its reading of) Galatians, and the prevailing fault of the TPP is to read it too closely to, say, (its reading of) Ephesians, when the letter is not quite the same as either but marks a theological transition between the two, sharing and combining elements of both” (84).

In Chapter 3 Anderson surveys the NPP and post-NPP landscape. He begins with two primary figures associated with the NPP, James Dunn and N.T. Wright, and shows how their own views have become more nuanced (in the case of the former) and even transcended the NPP (in the case of the latter). Then he examines the views of several prominent post-NPP scholars (Francis Watson, Douglas Campbell, Michael Gorman, Michael Bird, and John Barclay), illustrating the trend toward rapprochement (with the exception of Campbell) and eschewal of false dichotomies. The second part of the chapter examines several common polarizations in Pauline scholarship: whether Paul reasoned prospectively (from plight to solution) or retrospectively (from solution to plight), whether his theology was coherent or contingent, whether justification for Paul is constitutive or incidental, forensic or participatory, and whether πίστις χριστοῦ is subjective or objective. The next two chapters establish the foundations upon with Anderson’s thesis is built. Chapter 4 explains what his developmental hypothesis is and isn’t as well as establishes a working Pauline chronology upon which it is grounded.  Centrally, he argues for the South Galatian hypothesis and Galatians as Paul’s earliest extant letter. In Chapter 5 Anderson argues for the plausibility of Pauline authorship of each of the disputed letters.

The next three chapters develop Anderson’s thesis and are the heart of this book. Contra norms of Pauline scholarship that analyze the seven undisputed Paulines synchronically, Anderson investigates the whole canonical corpus diachronically according to his proposed chronology. Against the prevailing tendency to read the entire corpus through the lens of a letter or part of a letter, Anderson lets each letter speak for itself. His chronological survey of usage reveals fresh and interesting insights. Chapter 6 traces the development of “works of the law” and “grace. In Galatians Paul speaks only of “works of the law” and never “works”; after Romans he speaks only of “works”; and both are found in Romans, the “transition” letter. Anderson proposes that this pattern reflects a “development in Paul’s conception of the matters at hand, from a soteriology originally grounded in the dilemma of Gentile inclusion to a more formal rejection of human attainment as the antithesis of grace” (228). He detects a similar pattern of development for χάρις. In chapter 7 Anderson traces Paul’s use of salvation language and finds a corroborating development, that of the language of “justification” transitioning to that of “salvation.” This marks a transition from a past-forensic to an eschatological-transformational conception. Anderson also  examines the emergence of reconciliation as a metaphor. “Together these linguistic and metaphorical transitions mark a reenvisioning of salvation that transcends, while never forgetting, the inclusion of Gentiles into the covenant, increasingly to stress the reconciliation of all to each other by means of their prior reconciliation to God” (282-283). Finally, in Chapter 9 Anderson offers a series of observations that confirm the largely lexical evidence proffered by the preceding two chapters. The book draws to a close with a chapter of summary and conclusion.

Paul’s New Perspective offers a new perspective on Pauline soteriology that is interesting and nuanced. At the very least, readers will come away from this book with greater appreciation for the strengths of the other side (whether NPP or NPP) and a greater awareness of the weaknesses of their own. Anderson’s study provides a fascinating new account of how elements of both the NPP and the TPP hold together and a convincing explanation for why we find characteristics of both patterns of soteriology in the Pauline corpus. The connections he draws by showing how “works of the law,” “grace,” and salvation language develop in parallel ways from Paul’s earliest to latest letters are intriguing.

Yet fundamentally/methodologically, much of the broader guild will likely not accept Anderson’s thesis because it’s grounded on a handful of minority positions (e.g. Pauline authorship of all 13 letters, Galatians as Paul’s first letter, etc.), some of which will be regarded as unacceptable/untenable by critical scholarship. As interesting as Anderson’s thesis is, the degree of its explanatory power depends on highly debatable matters of authorship and chronology. Nevertheless, this is a highly commendable read for all who are interested in Pauline soteriology, but especially those of a more traditional/conservative bent. Those who align strongly with a more traditional, so-called “Lutheran” view will likely find themselves uncomfortable and in disagreement at times, especially those more of a “theology” (in the North American sense) than “biblical studies” bent, as they find their systematizations criticized and challenged. But the challenge is good and necessary.

Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

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A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament (Charles Lee Irons)

Charles Lee Irons. A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2016. 608 pp. $39.99.

syntax-guideEarlier this year I read the published form of Irons’s doctoral dissertation, The Righteousness of God: A Lexical Examination of the Covenant-Faithfulness Interpretation (review forthcoming) and have been excited about his second book, A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament (hereafter “A Syntax Guide“), ever since I heard that it was in the works. This is an utterly unique resource; while there are several different reader’s GNTs that present difficult/rare vocabulary with the biblical text, prior to A Syntax Guide there was no one-volume tool that helps intermediate Greek students navigate the intermediate and advanced syntactical features of the entire GNT (although, of course, there are two excellent serial guides to the GNT: the Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament and B&H Academic’s Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament).  As Irons writes in the introduction, this syntax guide picks up where other tools leave off and s designed to “provide concise notes enabling the reader to make sense of the Greek text at a level of linguistic communication one step higher than the word to the syntactical level of the phrase, clause, or sentence” (7).

While A Syntax Guide sometimes provides lexical information, parsing, text-critical information (for significant variants), and limited exegesis, the focus is syntactical, clause-level features. Categories of usage are mainly those in BDF and Wallace. While some might criticize Irons for using traditional categories enumerated by outdated grammars, he defends his choice in light of the fact that reference grammars based on insights of modern linguistics have yet to be published. One aspect that I find a bit odd is that often a common English translation (e.g. NASB, ESV, NIV) is provided with no additional notes. For a beginning exegesis student even notes of categories of usage would be more helpful than a translation. Below are two examples of notes from 1 Peter, the first  representative of the shortest type of note and the second representative of the most in-depth:

1:9| σωτηρίαν is in apposition to τὸ τέλος

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One could quibble about the conciseness of some of the notes or disagree with some of the exegetical decisions; I even read one review that criticized A Syntax Guide saying that most of this information can be found elsewhere. But this criticism is missing the point of what this volume is intended to be. Sure, if one is doing an in-depth study of a passage or book and consulting reference grammars, Greek handbooks, technical commentaries, etc., then one probably wouldn’t find additional information in A Syntax Guide. But this guide is designed to facilitate reading, for one of the most important ways for beginning/intermediate students to improve their Greek is by consistently reading through large chunks of text. And it’s easy to lose steam in reading if one has to constantly flip through a number of reference books to understand the text.

So while there are elements that can be criticized about A Syntax Guide, at the end of the day there is simply nothing like it. In a volume roughly the same dimensions as the GNT, A Syntax Guide goes verse-by-verse through the GNT providing concise notes on the most important syntactical features. This is a valuable tool for all who are at the intermediate level in NT Greek and want to keep/improve their Greek, from Bible college and seminary students to pastors and laypeople. I will be using A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament as I read through the GNT in 2017.

Thanks to Kregel Academic for the review copy!

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Book Review – New Testament Theology: Exploring Diversity and Unity (Frank Matera)

Frank J. Matera. New Testament Theology: Exploring Diversity and Unity. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007. 520 pp. $55.00.

matera-nttFrank Matera is a prolific Roman Catholic New Testament scholar who had published books on NT ethics and Christology prior to this New Testament theology (hereafter “NTT”). He conceives of NTT as a specifically theological task and feels that history of Christian religion should be a separate discipline. Matera further contends that for those who see the NT as inspired Scripture, the presupposed internal coherence should be seen in how we carry out the task of NTT – that is, NTT should display the unity of the writings while doing justice to the diversity. This is a primary aim of Matera’s NTT, as made plain by the book’s subtitle and throughout the introduction. His method of achieving this aim is by taking into account the implied narrative of Scripture.

Matera’s NTT takes an author-by-author approach, with the book broken into the three great voices (Synoptic tradition, Pauline tradition, Johannine tradition) plus “other voices.” He sees the distinctive starting points of the three great traditions as the key to their diverse theologies – the Synoptics in Jesus’s proclamation of the Kingdom of God, the Pauline in the gospel of what God has accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the Johannine in the incarnation. He puts the Acts of the Apostles in the Synoptic tradition and presents the books in the order of Mark, Matthew, Luke-Acts in order to show the development in the Synoptic Gospels as well as “how Luke envisions the transition from the preaching of Jesus about the kingdom of God to the proclamation of the early church about its risen Lord” (1).

For the Pauline tradition, Matera deals with all 13 letters together; although he believes some to be deuteropauline, he sees the canonical letters as together forming a Pauline tradition that originated with the Apostle Paul. Because Matera’s goal is not to construct a historical account of Paul’s theology but to construct a theology of the canonical Pauline corpus, methodologically he doesn’t need to distinguish between the undisputed and disputed Paulines. However, I think bringing up the authorship issue but not saying more about it will incite questions from both the conservative and critical. Matera organizes the Pauline tradition into five groups, each with its own focus: (1) the Thessalonian correspondence in light of its election theology; (2) the Corinthian correspondence in light of its theology of the cross and the resurrection of the dead; (3) Galatians and Romans in light of their theology of justification by faith apart from during the works of the Mosaic law; (4) Philippians, Philemon, Colossians, and Ephesians in light of the imprisoned apostle’s theology; and (5) the Pastoral Epistles in light of the theology of handing on the Pauline Tradition to a new generation” (102-103).

Matera excludes Revelation from the Johannine tradition because of its differing starting point – God’s victory in the slaughtered lamb. I think that even on the basis of starting point Revelation could be placed with the Johannine Gospel and Epistles, and that separating it needs more justification. For example, I think you could make a case for the starting point of Revelation also being the incarnation – in Revelation Jesus is the lamb of God slain before the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8). What Matera notes as the distinct starting point of Revelation as God’s victory in the slaughtered lamb could be tweaked – God’s victory in the incarnate lamb who was slain.Nevertheless, Matera notes that the Gospel and Epistles of John share the common starting point of incarnation, as well as themes such as faith, love, light, and life. He also mentions diffs within this tradition such as genre, theological implications of the incarnation (revelation of Son from the Father in Gospel, communion of believers with God and each other in letters).

The “other voices” are Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter, Jude, and Revelation. Matera expounds upon the rich Christology of Jesus as high priest in the order of Melchizedek in Hebrews, the counterbalance to Paul provided by the General Epistles, and the Christology of Jesus as the lamb who was slain and will be victorious in Revelation. These “other voices” share several theological motifs: “(1) the need for conduct that coheres with the gospel, (2) the assurance that there will be a final judgment at which the wicked will be punished and the just rewarded, (3) a conviction that suffering and affliction are part of the Christian life in the time before God’s final victory, (4) warnings that false teachers will appear in the last days, and (5) exhortations for the faithful to persevere and maintain the apostolic teaching they have received” (334).

In the introduction Matera notes that the unity of the NT, while touched upon here and there throughout the book, will be explicitly presented in the conclusion. The conclusion first summarizes the implied narrative mentioned in the introduction:

The unity of New Testament theology is grounded in the implied master story to which these writings witness. This story can be summarized in this way: Humanity finds itself in a predicament of its own making from which it cannot extricate itself. This predicament, which is experienced as a profound alienation from God, is the result of humanity’s rebellion against God. It affects Jew and Gentile alike. Because humanity cannot reconcile itself to God or free itself from this predicament, God has graciously sent his own Son into the world to redeem the world. Those who believe and accept this gracious offer of salvation, Jew and Gentile alike, are incorporated into a community of believers that God has redeemed and sanctified through Christ. Redeemed and sanctified, this new community lives by the power of God’s Spirit as it waits for the consummation of all things. Although this consummation is expressed in different ways (the parousia, the general resurrection of the dead, the final judgment), the New Testament writings agree that God will be victorious and Christ will be the agent of God’s victory (427-428).

Then the New Testament witness to this narrative is summarized under the headings 1) humanity in need of salvation; 2) the bringer of salvation; 3) the community of the sanctified; 4) the moral life of the sanctified; and 5) the hope of the sanctified. These are basically what we traditionally call anthropology, Christology, ecclesiology, ethics, and eschatology.

The conclusion was a bit of a letdown for me. From the introduction I was expecting it to be a synthesis, but it was instead mainly summarizing author-by-author under the aforementioned headings; I did not perceive a satisfactory synthesis of the unity of the NT and NTT. The body of the book also felt most of the time like an NT introduction, with a lot of summarization. However, Matera’s NTT is a good book by a great scholar. It’s provides a solid theological overview to the New Testament that intellectually-minded Christians would benefit greatly from as a robust introduction to the New Testament. It would be a great book in NT intro/theology courses in Bible college courses and perhaps lower-level seminary courses. In preparing to teach/preach through a book of the New Testament, reading the pertinent section from Matera’s NTT would be fruitful. That being said though, it’s not a particularly exciting book, especially if you’ve read other NTTs that pursue a specifically theological task and aim to do justice to the unity of the NT (e.g. Thielman, and especially Marshall). However, for those who have not read an NTT of that type, Matera’s is an excellent representative/choice.

Thanks to Westminster John Knox for the review copy!

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A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles (Kregel Exegetical Library) – Eugene H. Merrill

Eugene H. Merrill. A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles (Kregel Exegetical Library). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2015. 640 pp. $39.99.

chronOne-year Bible reading plans that don’t die in Leviticus most likely meet their demise in 1 Chronicles, with its nine opening chapters of genealogies. Preachers don’t often tackle 1 and  2 Chronicles, either. For these very neglected books, Eugene Merrill’s commentary in the Kregel Exegetical Library is a great historical, theological, and exegetical guide  for the academically oriented lay-person, preacher. Seminary students, scholars, and higher-level laypeople will probably want a more technical commentary.

The 50-page introduction is robust and goes beyond typical introductory issues such as authorship, genre, and historical/cultural context. Merrill comments on the canonical placement of these books, noting that it “is in keeping with the notion propounded in this work that the major objective of the Chronicler was to provide a theological interpretation of Israel’s past interlaced with great hope for an eschatological renewal of the Davidic house, one bound to Yahweh its God by an indissoluble new covenant” (46). He dedicates several pages to the historiographical issues in Chronicles and addresses, among others, the problem of differences between Chronicles and the “Deuteronomic History.” Merrill also provides an introduction to text-critical issues of Chronicles, and these are noted throughout the commentary proper. Another notable section of the introduction is the one on the theology of the book; here, Merrill provides overviews of the house of David, the renewed covenant, and the restored temple.

Each section of the commentary proper begins with the text in the NIV, a few key text-critical notes (from the ones I looked at, they are what you can get from the BHS critical apparatus), and then a brief exposition. Most of the notes I read were exposition rather than exegesis; there is a lot of summarization and provision of context and less exegetical work. Most of the treatments are rather brief, with commentary taking up about the same amount of space as the translation (if the English text had not been included I would guess that this volume would only be about 1/3 the length!). Scattered throughout the commentary are twelve brief excurses addressing topics such as the Angel of YHWH, Holy War, and OT historiography, as well as nine theological discourses addressing the theology of the genealogies, the rise of David, the exploits of David, the royal succession, Solomon’s temple, as well as the divided kingdom.

This is a good conservative commentary for your typical person-in-the-pew as well as for preachers. I think one of its unique strengths is its attention to theology; this comes out in the introduction, commentary proper, as well as theological discourses. Unlike other volumes in the series that have homiletical helps, Merrill’s is less attuned to application. A major weakness for me is that this commentary is not as exegetical as I would have expected based on the fact that it’s in an exegetical series. The commentary sections are also often quite brief. Seminarians will definitely (and perhaps preachers as well!) need more technical and robust commentaries on 1 and 2 Chronicles.

Thanks to Kregel Academic for the review copy!

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