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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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Giveaway – No God But One (Nabeel Qureshi)

NGB1No God But One: Allah or Jesus? A Former Muslim Investigates the Evidence for Islam & Christianity is Nabeel Qureshi’s follow-up to his NYT Bestseller Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity. Qureshi contrasts these two books by describing Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus as the heart of the story and No God But One the mind of his story; whereas the former is largely a testimony, the latter is a tremendous apologetic resource. No God But One is a fantastic book to help Christians understand the core tenets of Islam and the foundational differences between Islam and Christianity. As such, it’s both a must-read for Christians  seeking to grow in their understanding of Islam and their ability to engage their Muslim friends in spiritual conversation, as well as for Muslims who are questioning their faith and asking questions about Christianity.

As a former Muslim, Qureshi has a rare insider’s perspective. As an apologist on the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries speaking team and a New Testament Ph.D. candidate at Oxford University, he is well-equipped with first-rate training on the subject matters pertinent to No God But One. These two factors combine to make the book a superb resource on the differences between Islam and Christianity. The arguments are robustly defended and winsomely presented, and Qureshi’s passion for the gospel and for his kinsmen according to the flesh to come to saving knowledge of Jesus Christ is pervasive throughout the book. This really is a book that every Christian with a passion for evangelism/apologetics should read, but especially those with a burden to see Muslims come to faith.

Zondervan and the No God But One publicity team have sent me a number of copies to give away, and I’m excited to give away three copies on my blog. Instead of running one giveaway and selecting three winners, I’m going to run three separate giveaways in succession. Whenever I post announcing a winner, that post will also be the way to enter the subsequent giveaway. I will also post a full review with the last giveaway.

The book officially releases on August 30. Check out the website for an overview about the book, quotes, a video, as well as some sweet preorder offers.

Giveaway Details:

***Giveaway is now closed and winners will be announced shortly.

Each of the following gets an entry, just comment saying you did it (comment separately for each method for them to count as separate entries). This first giveaway will close this Friday at noon EST, at which time I will choose a winner from the comments using a random number generator. Giveaway open to residents of the contiguous US.

  1. Visit the book website
  2. Follow me on Twitter
  3. Tweet the giveaway (tag me please!)
    • sharing on any social media platform will gain additional entries, just comment separately
    • additional entries can be gained each day by mentioning the giveaway on social media
  4. Follow my blog

Thanks to Zondervan for the Advance Reader Copy and giveaway copies!

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NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (Walton & Keener)

Craig S. Keener and John H. Walton, ed. NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2016. 2400 pp. $49.99.

CBSBProlific OT scholar Dr. John Walton and NT scholar Dr. Craig Keener have teamed up to bring us a new study Bible that illuminates the cultural, historical, and literary context of the Scriptures. Not only are Walton and Keener experts in OT and NT studies, respectively, but they are especially known for their research in backgrounds (as can be seen, for example, in the two-volume IVP Bible Background Commentary they edited). With the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, the kind of information that could previously only be found in massive dictionaries/encyclopedias or specialized monographs has been made accessible to the person in the pew in a stunning study Bible that uses the most popular and trusted modern translation.

While this study Bible contains many of the elements shared by most study Bibles (e.g. book introductions, maps, charts, photographs, study notes, etc.), here everything is distinctly focused on context and background (social, political, cultural, historical, literary). For example, at the beginning there is a chart that provides explanation and select key verses of key Hebrew words that have no exact equivalent in English and an article explicating major background issues from the ancient Near East. Before the New Testament text there’s a section on “Key New Testament Terms” that clarifies cultural concepts behind key terms. In this section not only terms in the NT itself are defined (e.g. Christ, law, Satan, etc.) but also terms from the Jewish (e.g. Dead Sea Scrolls, Qumran community, Maccabees, etc.) and Greco-Roman backgrounds of the NT (e.g. client, Cynic, etc.).

For the purpose of this review I read all the notes in the Gospel of Luke and will highlight the features and a few notable insights. First of all, a brief two-page introduction briefly addresses genre, authorship, provenance, and date. There are charts that detail Mary’s allusions to Hannah’s Song, compare Caesar and Christ, present the parables of Jesus across the Synoptic Gospels, and display the resurrection appearances across the four Gospels, Acts, and 1 Corinthians. There’s also an image and description of the Capernaum Synagogue, a brief description of disease and medicine in the ancient world, and a two-page spread on “Qumran and the New Testament.”

Some interesting background insights include the note for 6:29c-d (“If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them”), where we are told that the coat is “[t]he one possession that a creditor could not legally seize from a debtor” (1755), and the note for 9:60 (where Jesus responded to a man who asked to bury his father before following Jesus, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God”) tells us that “burying one’s father was one of society’s greatest obligations” (1766). Both of these background notes give us deeper insight into what Jesus is saying about discipleship. The note at 18:25 debunks the commonly preached erroneous insight that there was a gate in first century Jerusalem called “Needle’s Eye” (saying this drastically lessens the force of the point Jesus was making). Regarding the tearing of the temple in 23:45, in addition to the commonly preached insight about the tearing of the curtain perhaps signifying new access to the Holy Place we are told that it “probably implies the departure of God’s presence from the temple, prefiguring its destruction” (1797-98).

The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible will help the serious Bible student who does not have advanced knowledge of the worlds of the biblical text enter those worlds. Key background and contextual insights will open up new riches of spiritual and theological understanding that will also have practical implications for the Christian life. This study Bible is a great one-stop-shop on cultural, historical, and literary backgrounds to the Bible. Find out more about the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible here!

Thanks to Zondervan Academic and AcademicPS for the review copy!

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Philippians (Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament)

Joseph H. Hellerman. Philippians (Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament).  Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2015. 368 pp. $29.99.

EGGNT PhilThough B&H Academic’s Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (EGGNT) is a fairly new series with only 5 volumes released so far out of a projected 20, it has already established itself as an essential resource for seminary students, pastors, and biblical scholars alike. Written and edited by some of the finest Evangelical New Testament scholars of our day, these volumes are crucial supplements to conventional commentaries for those who have a working knowledge of Koine Greek and desire to exegete the Greek NT text. During my Greek Exegesis courses (Colossians & Philemon and 1 Peter) last year I always consulted the EGGNT after doing my own work in the text and consistently found my understanding of what’s going on grammatically and syntactically to be enriched by these exegetical guides.

One of the newest volumes in the series is Philippians by Joseph H. Hellerman (pastor and professor of NT language and literature at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University). Like the rest of the volumes in the series (and unlike typical commentaries), the introduction is just a few pages and provides a very brief summary of basic introductory issues such as authorship, provenance, occasion, etc. In keeping with the aim of the series to bridge the gap between the Greek text and the available tools, the introduction of these volumes also addresses important grammatical features of the respective NT books when present (e.g. the introduction to the volume on 1 Peter addresses the imperatives and imperatival participles; the introduction for the present volume on Philippians addresses time and aktionsart in the Greek verb). The EGGNT is designed to do what commentaries do not accomplish (provide robust exegesis of the Greek text), not duplicate what can be found in any good commentary. These volumes also provide 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.

A look at how Hellerman handles one of the most beloved (and most academically debated?) passages of Philippians, the Christ-hymn, will provide a good windown into his perspective. Interestingly, Hellerman argues that Paul’s argument here is primarily sociological and not ontological, i.e. less about Christ’s divine nature and more about Christ as a model for relationships among members of the Philippian church. While Hellerman believes it likely that Paul composed Philippians 2:6-11 himself, he explains why nothing is at stake exegetically even if the text is a pre-Pauline hymn. His expertise in Roman history also comes out as he illuminates the cursus ideology that was central to the cultural values and social codes of Philippi as well as expressions of honor/shame found in the Christ-hymn. All of this enlightening and perhaps less well-known background information is contained in a robust introduction to the section.

Regarding verse 5, Hellerman summarizes the arguments for the two main interpretations of ὃ καὶ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ (Christ’s mind-set in the incarnation and crucifixion versus the believer’s mind-set in union with Christ); while affirming the difficulty of the decision and the maintenance of Paul’s paraenetic aims on either reading, Hellerman prefers the former with some reservations. He takes ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ in verse 6 as referring to Christ’s preincarnate “social status”; while he has no problem with a secondary argument for the deity of Christ from this clause, Hellerman believes that making this theological corollary primary underemphasizes the sociological thrust of Paul’s argument. He argues for taking the following ὑπάρχων concessively, noting why its preferable to a causal interpretation (espoused by, e.g., O’Brien). Similarly to his argument for μορφῇ θεοῦ, Hellerman contends that εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ should not primarily be taken ontologically.

Pertaining to the controversial doctrine of kenosis derived from verse 7, Hellerman notes that it is erroneous to assume that ἐκένωσεν needs a modifier; rather, he contends that the ensuing participial modifiers demonstrate that ἐκένωσεν “is intended metaphorically to signify a lowering of rank (vis-à-vis v.6) by means of the incarnation” (114). In verse 8 Hellerman notes that “humiliated” is a better translation that “humbled” for ἐταπείνωσεν because the latter denotes an attitude or state of mind, whereas the former signifies action performed in a social context with social implications. He argues for reading τὸ ὄνομα τὸ ὑπὲρ πᾶν ὄνομα in verse 9 as referring to public acclaim rather than the name of YHWH.

Though I mainly highlighted some of Hellerman’s notable exegetical conclusions and decisions, he provides robust word studies and grammatical/syntactical analysis. Like the other volumes in the series, on points of debate the arguments for every side are presented fairly before Hellerman offers his own conclusion. One unique aspect of this volume is the emphasis on the sociocultural background of the Epistle to the Philippians. I have gained much insight that opened up greater depths to my understanding of certain texts, but there are also areas where Hellerman’s arguments initially made me uncomfortable (e.g. the Philippian Christ-hymn). Hellerman argues for a sociological interpretation for many of the elements in which I saw a primarily ontological argument, and I feel a bit like one of the pillars of the early high/divine-identity Christology argument is crumbling! So, in addition to looking forward to exegeting through Philippians with Hellerman’s exegetical guide, I feel I need to study the Christ-hymn again!

Joseph Hellerman’s Philippians (Exegetical Guide on the Greek New Testament) is an essential resource for students of Greek exegesis as well as teachers and pastors who work from the Greek text.

Thanks to B&H Academic for the review copy!

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon

Book Review – What Christians Ought to Believe (Michael Bird)

Michael F. Bird. What Christians Ought to Believe: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine Through the Apostles’ Creed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2016. 240 pp. $24.99.

WCOBDr. Michael Bird‘s latest offering, his most accessible book yet, is both enlightening for the average person in the pew and edifying for the student and scholar. Bird spends the first two chapters of What Christians Ought to Believe providing an introduction to creeds and an apologetic for why we need them. To a Christian world where the dominant creedal affirmation is “no creed but the Bible,” he argues that “by ignoring the creeds those who consider themselves to be orthodox are effectively sawing off the theological branches upon which they are sitting” (13). Bird shows how creeds are biblical, summarize the New Testament tradition, and marked out the boundaries of the faith. He provides an overview of the canonization process that demonstrates that the creed and canon were mutually creating and mutually reinforcing. Finally, he argues that creeds can both invigorate our faith and provide a sure anchor for biblical faith.

The rest of the book (twelve chapters) is devoted to a systematic exposition of the theology of the Apostles’ Creed. Beginning with “I believe,” Bird explores the meaning of (Christian) faith itself and reveals it to be “our trusting response to what God has done for us and promised us in the gospel, which in turn pervades every aspect of our lives” (46). In illuminating the fatherhood and omnipotence of the Creator-God he addresses the controversial issues of the patriarchal language and the creation accounts and shows how the ultimate issue in both cases is the identity of God and our relationship to him. Bird introduces the doctrines of incarnation and hypostatic union as well as some of the Christological heresies; he helpfully spends a chapter on the life and ministry of Jesus (which is not mentioned in the Creed), showing how “Jesus’s messianic career is not simply the hors d’oeuvres to the atonement” (87) and probing the depths of what it meant to call Jesus “Lord.” He engages with critical views of the virgin birth but also highlights five dimensions of the its true significance (it was not so that Jesus would be without sin!).

In regards to the atonement, Bird interestingly points out that while the early church formulated statements about the nature of Christ, it never attempted to reach a consensus on the precise mechanics or effect of the atonement. He provides a good overview of the main theories of atonement and rightly notes that while each is saying something true, some have a greater capacity than others to be the integrating theory. In a move that will surely ruffle some conservative feathers, Bird notes that he favors Christus victor as that integrating theory. Unlike many modern versions of the Apostles’ Creed, Bird uses “He descended to the dead” rather than “He descended to hell.” He helpfully explains the Descensus ad Inferos (explicating what the Bible says about Hades/Sheol and what Christ did there on Holy Saturday) and points out the main facets of the significance of the resurrection. The next chapter on the ascension is particularly helpful, as the ascension is probably the most neglected facet of Jesus’s career; it’s not just “Jesus’s return trip to heaven” (162). In expounding upon the person and work of the Holy Spirit, Bird warns us of the twin dangers of neglecting the Holy Spirit and overemphasizing his manifestations. He passionately argues for the importance of ecclesiology, of the church being part of the content of theology rather than just its packaging (193), and finally, reminds us that heaven is not the end of the world.

What Christians Ought to Believe is one of the best examples of scholarship serving the Church. In this book, one of the finest biblical scholars of our day has written an accessible, popular-level  introduction to the basics of the Christian faith. Biblical, theological, and historical concepts are simplified but not simplistic, and at every turn informed by responsible and robust scholarship. This is a great book for intellectually oriented new believers, Christians just starting to get serious about doctrine, as well as mature believers and beginning formal theology students. I can also see this being a great book to study together with someone you are discipling or in small groups. Most of all, this book needs to be devoured by any and all who are either anti-creed or have never studied the Apostles’ Creed.

Many thanks to Mike for having a copy sent to me! I’ll buy you a cup of coffee at SBL 😉

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Book Review – Heal Us, Emmanuel: A Call for Racial Reconciliation, Representation, and Unity in the Church

Doug Serven, ed. Heal Us, Emmanuel: A Call for Racial Reconciliation, Representation, and Unity in the Church. Oklahoma City, OK: White Blackbird Books, 2016. 326 pp. $16.99.

heal usI tried countless different ways to introduce this review, but they were all either risky (i.e. potentially controversial and/or off-putting) or trite (because of vagueness and generality). I tend to not say much online on issues of racial injustice and racial reconciliation because I’ve seen online conversations crash and burn as two sides misunderstand and offend/hurt each other, and I didn’t want a touchy introduction to turn people away from reading this review. Heal Us, Emmanuel is an important book for the Church, especially its more conservative wing. No matter where you stand on race issues, my hope is that you will read the entirely of this review and consider reading the book. Written by 30 PCA pastors and leaders of various ethnic backgrounds and ministry contexts, this diverse collection of essays chronicle personal journeys into awareness of racial inequality/injustice and stories of racial reconciliation, provide historical insight into some of the issues and biblical/theological rationale for pursuing ethnic diversity, unity, and reconciliation, and issue a passionate plea for the church to labor to break down dividing walls of ethnic hostility.

The essays in Heal Us, Emmanuel are divided into six sections. One of the hardest and most important things to do in the race conversation is to listen, so it’s fitting that the first section is entitled “An Invitation to Listen.” Here, five minority voices (four African Americans and one Asian American) share their painful experiences of racism and racial injustice, as well as stories of astounding gospel-empowered forgiveness and reconciliation. The opening essay by Rev. Lance Lewis kicks off the book well, as he expounds upon the weaknesses of the typical political mindset with which we approach issues of race and ethnicity and calls us to embrace a biblically grounded redemptive mindset. The second section is entitled “Awakening to Privilege” and contains five essays written by Caucasian Americans. The first essay by Rev. Dr. Timothy R. LeCroy is detailed, multifaceted, and gripping from beginning to end. He chronicles his journey from oblivious to racist to seeing the reality of systemic racism. He tells of the mighty move of the Holy Spirit at the 2015 PCA General Assembly when a resolution was proposed for the denomination to repent of its sins during the Civil Rights Era, and the confession, repentance, and prayer for healing that ensued for about an hour. LeCroy notes his subsequent realization that he needed to be active with regard to these issues not only at the denominational level but also in his local context, and detailed his following steps he took of confession from his pulpit and in the local paper and making contact with a local African American pastor. Finally, he tells of what he saw and heard of the University of Missouri protests locally versus the distortion by national conservative media.

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