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Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither? Three Views on the Bible’s Earliest Chapters

Charles Halton ed. Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither? Three Views on the Bible’s Earliest Chapters. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015. 176 pp. $16.99.

Genesis CounterpointsIn contemporary evangelicalism there’s hardly a biblical/theological topic more divisive than that of origins. The various topics under this umbrella (such as creation versus evolution, an historical Adam, etc.) are all impacted by how we interpret the early chapters of Genesis. Hence, though recent years have seen a large number of books published in the area of origins (including one on the historical Adam from the same series as the volume currently under review), Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither? offers a unique and complementary perspective by addressing the topic from the perspective of the genre of Genesis 1-11. As editor Charles Halton notes in the introduction, “Readers will first need to understand the genre of the text and how it worked within the author’s cultural environment before they will be able to successfully address the question: ‘What does this text mean?'” (18). Each of the contributors address four issues in their essays: the genre of Genesis 1-11, why this is the genre of Genesis 1-11, the implication of this genre designation, and the application of their approach to the interpretation of the story of the Nephilim (6:1-4), Noah and the ark (6:9-9:26), and the Tower of Babel (11:1-9). Following the common structure of Zondervan’s Counterpoints series, each essay is followed by a response by each of the other contributors.

Interpreting the Prophetic Books: An Exegetical Handbook (Gary V. Smith)

Gary V. Smith. Interpreting the Prophetic Books: An Exegetical Handbook. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2014. 224 pp. $22.99

Interpreting the Prophetic BooksThe Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis from Kregel Academic is a six-volume series (with two volumes yet to be released) designed primarily to help seminary students and pastors exegete and preach from the Old Testament. Each volume covers one of the major genres found in the OT (narrative, law, poetry, wisdom, prophecy, and apocalyptic) and follows a similar six-chapter structure from introducing the genre all the way to putting together a sermon. In the latest addition to the series, Gary V. Smith offers a primer on interpreting the prophetic books of the OT.

The first chapter provides an orientation to the genre of prophetic literature by providing an overview of the three temporal categories of prophecy (narrative, eschatological, and apocalyptic) and the genres according to which prophecies in these three categories were organized (judgment speech, covenant lawsuit, trial speech, disputation, oracle against foreign nations, woe oracle, summons to repent, salvation oracle, proclamation of salvation, sign acts, hymns, and visions). Because most prophecies are written in the form of poetry, Smith also spends some time on two key characteristics of Hebrew poetry: parallelism and imagery. Chapter 2 briefly highlights the main themes of each prophetic book and notes the common themes across the entire genre (e.g. God’s wisdom and sovereignty, His covenant relationship with Israel, oracles of judgment and promises of salvation, the coming Messianic King, and the eschatological day of the Lord). In chapter 3, Smith introduces the basic skills and tools necessary to prepare for faithful interpretation of the prophetic books. He provides an overview of the historical setting, introduces the false prophecies of the ancient Near East, and briefly addresses how to use textual criticism and biblical commentaries.

With the preliminary groundwork in place, the next chapter provides an overview of the interpretive process, focusing on six key interpretive issues in prophetic texts that deal with the future: whether a text is literal or metaphorical, whether it’s limited by its context, whether it’s conditional or unconditional, whether it’s about the near or far future, difficulties between a prophecy and its fulfillment in the NT, and the difficulty of some prophecies not being fulfilled. Next, chapter 5 addresses sermon preparation, discussing “how we can systematically move from an inspired prophetic message to an inspirational sermon that will change the lives of people today” (143-144). Finally, chapter 6 provides two examples to demonstrate how the process taught in this book work practically. Here Smith takes first Isaiah 31:1-9 and then Jeremiah 23:1-8, working step by step through the process outlined in the previous chapter.

Interpreting the Prophetic Books is a helpful primer on studying and preaching/teaching the  prophetic books. For those unfamiliar with this portion of the canon and/or the process from study to sermon, this book provides a helpful guide to the main features of the genre of prophecy, key tools for interpretation, and a step-by-step guide to crafting a sermon. It’s an excellent guide for the beginning Bible student/teacher/preacher as well as the layperson serious about studying the Bible. Those more advanced will likely not pick up any new insight and will at many points long for more detail and depth. But the book cannot be faulted for brevity since the aim of the series is to provide short introductory handbooks. Nevertheless, the brevity is especially stark in this volume since it covers such a huge portion of the OT (17 books!) in around 200 pages, whereas the other volumes in the series cover much fewer books.

Thanks to Kregel Academic for the review copy!

Purchase: Amazon



Book Review – Recovering Eden: The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes (Zack Eswine)

Zack Eswine. Recovering Eden: The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes. Philllipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2014. 272 pp. $14.99.

recovering edenMany Christians struggle to read the Old Testament, getting lost in a sea of genealogies and laws, drawing facts and moralistic applications but failing to see God’s grand story of redemption unveiling at every turn. “The Gospel According to the Old Testament” series from P&R Publishing is designed to help believers see Christ and the gospel in the Old Testament. Written for pastors and laypeople, the series has the following stated aims:

  • to lay out the pervasiveness of the revelation of Christ in the Old Testament
  • to promote a Christ-centered reading of the Old Testament
  • to encourage Christ-centered preaching and teaching from the Old Testament

Sometimes people joke that Solomon must have been “emo” when he wrote Ecclesiastes. And I at times have semi-jokingly said that I love Ecclesiastes because it’s so realistically pessimistic and so depressing. Everyone around me seems so happy-dappy all the time, but I’m often afflicted by a sense of the meaningless of it all, even as a Christian. In those moments I often run to Ecclesiastes to find camaraderie in these Scriptures, without which I’d seriously think something is wrong with me.  But I myself had failed to see the deeper significance of Ecclesiastes; I’ve been reading the Old Testament through a redemptive-historic lens for years, but I’ve never really been able to see the gospel in the book of Ecclesiastes. This is why I was particularly excited about this latest volume in the GAOT series, Recovering Eden. Perhaps you don’t connect to Ecclesiastes at all; or maybe, you connect with the darkness of it but are wondering where the light is.

For both groups, Eswine shows that Ecclesiastes has something to say. Though the words and emotions communicated in Ecclesiastes are not what we expect from the Bible and from “good Christians,” they teach us about God by making us take a good, hard look at ourselves and at humanity in the contradictions, in the mess, in the pain. “He shows us what we were made for and then bids us to look at what has become of us…in Ecclesiastes God intends you to know him by requiring you to look plainly and without polish at yourself, your neighbors, and the world in which you and I live” (3).

It’s hard to see the gospel in Ecclesiastes because this portion of Scripture does not focus on God’s redemptive acts. Sometimes it might not even seem distinctly Judeo-Christian. But Eswine shows us that Ecclesiastes is in many ways like the sermons Paul preached to Gentiles who knew nothing about the Hebrew Scriptures and the God to which they point. Like those Pauline sermons, Ecclesiastes uses the common human experience rather than redemptive history to point to God, not as the Redeemer of Israel but as the Creator and Sustainer of the world; it introduces the tension and the problem without giving all the answers, inviting further questioning and deeper grappling.

Through Ecclesiastes, we learn “how a follower of God is meant to talk about the world as a fellow human being. We learn a wisdom kind of outreach, an evangelism or testimony as those who are human being wrestling with it all. It is as if the Preacher causes us to put off our religious persona and get honest about our human being in a fallen world” (12). As Eswine guides us through Ecclesiastes, he candidly, pastorally, and often poetically shows us not only implications for our personal journey and our knowledge of God, but how we can relate to those around us who do not know Him – to relate as human beings to human beings who do not know the Bible. The purpose is God, and the destination is Eden.

*Thanks to my friends at P&R for sending me a free copy in exchange for an unbiased review!

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon


Book Review – Christian Faith in the Old Testament: The Bible of the Apostles (Gareth Lee Cockerill)

OT Cockerill

Gareth Lee Cockerill. Christian Faith in the Old Testament: The Bible of the Apostles. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2014. 256 pp. $14.99

I think it’s fairly accurate to say that for a large portion of lay Christians, the majority of their diet in the Word consists of the New Testament sprinkled with some Psalms and Proverbs. The Old Testament is read more rarely and seen as hard to understand and irrelevant.

We have lost the Bible of the Apostles, and in so doing we have lost much. We end up with an anemic view of Christ, a superficial understanding of the atonement, and an individualistic view of the church. Our God shrinks because we no longer see the majesty of his creation, the grandeur of his work in history, or the glory of his salvation in Christ. We have little basis for social ethics. We live in rootless isolation because we no longer see ourselves as children of Abraham and part of the people of God, stretched out across history and on its way to glory. If we do not have the Bible of the Apostles, we will not have the true apostolic faith.”

(p. 13)

In Christian Faith in the Old Testament, Dr. Gareth Lee Cockerill provides an excellent big-picture overview of the Old Testament for lay Christians. Moving through the Old Testament section by section, Cockerill shows the reader how to read each part and helps the reader grasp how each part fits into the entire scope of biblical revelation and how each part applies to believers living after Christ’s first coming. This book shows how the Old Testament points toward fulfillment in Christ of God’s promises of redemption and restoration. The final chapter covers the New Testament and the accomplishment, experience, and consummation of restoration.Appendix 1 covers why the 39 books of our Old Testament belong there, and none others. Appendix 2 collates several pictures scattered throughout the body of the book that together provide a graphic overview of the unified message of the entire Bible.

Written in an accessible style and at an accessible length, this is a great book for any lay Christian looking for a guide to the Old Testament. It would also function well as a text for Old Testament survey courses in churches and OT survey series in any type of small group context.

*A free copy was provided in exchange for an unbiased review.

Purchase: Amazon

Book Review: Old Testament Today (Walton & Hill)

John H. Walton and Andrew E. Hill. Old Testament Today: A Journey From Ancient Context to Contemporary Relevance, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014. 480 pp. $44.99.

OT TodayThe church is a bit anemic when it comes to the Old Testament; it seems that many Christians mainly read and study the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs. And many who do devote their attention to the Old Testament find themselves lost in genealogies, laws, and obscure prophecies, unable to draw much more than narrative facts and moralistic lessons. John Walton and Andrew Hill, both Old Testament professors at Wheaton College, wrote Old Testament Today: A Journey from Ancient Context to Contemporary Relevance to provide students with an orientation to the Old Testament.

First, we will introduce students to the content of the Old Testament, always showing how to move beyond the details of names, places, events, and dates. Second, we will provide an orientation to the world of the Old Testament through pictures, maps, and other visuals. These will often take students beyond the focus of the textbook and into the world behind the Old Testament text. Third, we will provide an orientation to the study of the Old Testament through principles and methods that will help students read the Bible with confidence. Finally, we will offer an orientation to the theology of the Old Testament in its own right but also as a prelude to the New Testament and as a section of the church’s canon (xv).


Book Review – From Bondage to Liberty: The Gospel According to Moses (Anthony Selvaggio)

Anthony T. Selvaggio. From Bondage to Liberty: The Gospel According to Moses. Philllipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2014. 192 pp. $14.99.

From Bondage to LibertyIn various ways and with differing attributions, I’ve heard concerning the two Testaments that the New is in the Old concealed, and the Old is in the New revealed. This is a marvelous truth. Growth in understanding of either of the two testaments increases understanding in the other. And from beginning to end, Genesis to Revelation, there runs a crimson red thread weaving together the story of God’s redemption of His people. The Lord Jesus Christ and the gospel concerning Him are foreshadowed throughout the Old Testament, beginning in the very third chapter. And after His resurrection and before His ascension, Jesus encountered two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-27), and “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (verse 27).

And yet, apart from the Psalms and Proverbs, most Christians struggle with reading the Old Testament. Many who do faithfully read the Old Testament mainly learn the facts of the narratives and draw moralistic applications to their lives, failing to see the grand story of redemption that is unfolding at every turn. I don’t believe it’s an exaggeration to say that when you begin reading the Old Testament through the redemptive-historic hermeneutic, everything changes. “The Gospel According to the Old Testament” series from P&R Publishing is designed to help us do just that. Written for pastors and laypeople, the series has the following stated aims:

  • to lay out the pervasiveness of the revelation of Christ in the Old Testament
  • to promote a Christ-centered reading of the Old Testament
  • to encourage Christ-centered preaching and teaching from the Old Testament


Book Review: The Psalms – Language for All Seasons of the Soul

Andrew J. Schmutzer and David M. Howard Jr., ed. The Psalms: Language for All Seasons of the Soul. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2013. 288 pp. $26.99.

4405_ThePsalms_Bookcover_Final8-12.inddThe Psalms are probably the most read and most cherished section of Scripture. They contain, as the title of this new book from Moody Publishers suggests, “language for all seasons of the soul.” Whether one’s soul is bursting forth in praise or languishing in the depths of lament, in the Psalms we find inspired and beautiful language expressing what our souls long to cry out – to our own souls and to our God.”The Psalms are expressive of the whole gamut of human emotions and reveal the creative gifts of human, inspired authors” (46). They are “replete with the spiritually transcendent and the mundanely common matters of human existence” (51).

Perhaps because of its accessibility and its nature as poetry and prayer, it is all too easy to study the Psalter poorly or not study it at all, employing these Scriptures solely as devotional material and not dedicating to them the rigor of study and exegesis that we devote to the rest of Holy Writ. Therefore, this collection of essays is a great resource for both the pastor and informed layman as an aid in study of the Psalms. This book includes all the papers presented in the first three years of the “Psalms and Hebrew Poetry Consultation” (now ‘Section’) of the Evangelical Theological Society, which was formed in 2009. Four sermons preached to local congregations round out the volume.

The book’s purpose is fourfold (pp. 15-16):

  1. to celebrate the enormous impact the Psalter has had and continues to have in Christian faith;
  2. to highlight the insights and work of present-day scholars who have studied the Psalms and understand both its tradition and current trends.
  3. to weave together some primary theological, literary, and canonical themes of the Psalter; and
  4. to offer a book that both trained pastors and professors of the Psalms can use as a tool.

Book Review – Joseph and the Gospel of Many Colors (Voddie Baucham Jr.)

Voddie Baucham Jr. Joseph and the Gospel of Many ColorsWheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013. 176 pp. $15.99.


Joseph is on one of the most beloved characters in the Bible, and his story is one of the Old Testament’s most familiar. And yet, the way that it’s typically written about and preached from misses the point completely: it’s really not about Joseph at all! “Our tendency is to look at the story in isolation as if it were one of Aesop’s fables with a moral at the end: ‘Let ’em hate you. If you’re faithful, you’ll end up rich, powerful and vindicated.’ However, this interpretation not only misses the mark, it also perverts the very message of the narrative in particular, and the Bible in general. Joseph is not a mere example of what awaits us if we’re ‘good enough.’ His story, like every story in the Bible, is part of the broader redemptive narrative designed to cause us to recognize the glory of our great God” (15).

Contra the popular hermeneutic influenced by moralistic therapeutic deism, Voddie Baucham Jr. presents in this book a refreshing and much needed gospel-centered/redemptive-historic exposition of the story of Joseph. This book is not a collection of sermons; nor is it a distillation of the best of what commentators have written on Genesis 37-50. In fact, Baucham has intentionally not included many notes from commentaries or other sources. His desire is for the reader to grasp the significance of the text. This is about good observation – something all Christians can and should do. And his goal is not to find Christ under every rock, but rather, to be mindful of the gospel at every turn. The Bible is not a book of character studies; it is a book of redemption. Therefore, a correct reading and interpretation of the life of Joseph will exalt in God’s redemptive work; and this is precisely what Baucham hopes his latest book does.