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Book Review – The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate (Michael Kruger)

Michael J. Kruger. The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2013. 256 pp. $24.00.

Kruger CanonDr. Michael Kruger, President and NT professor at Reformed Theological Seminary Charlotte, is a leading expert in Christian origins, early Christianity, and the development of the NT canon. In The Question of Canon, Kruger focuses on the question of why we have a New Testament canon at all (which comparatively has received very little attention) rather than the overworked questions of when and how these twenty-seven books came to be regarded as canon. The status quo, the dominant view in regards to why we have a canon that is challenged in this book, is what Kruger calls the extrinsic model – that the New Testament canon is “a later ecclesiastical development imposed on books originally written for another purpose” (7). The alternative that Kruger proposes and defends in this book is what he calls an intrinsic model – “that the idea of canon is not something imposed from the outside but develops more organically from within the early Christian religion itself. The earliest Christian communities had certain characteristics and also held a number of theological beliefs that, especially when taken in tandem, would have made a new collection of sacred books (what we would call a ‘canon’) a more natural development” (21).

The goal of The Question of Canon is not to prove the intrinsic model, but to demonstrate that the extrinsic model is problematic and thereby raise serious questions about its viability, paving the way for scholarly consideration of and further research with the intrinsic model. Each chapter addresses one of the five major tenets of the extrinsic model. Chapter 1 addresses the first – that we must make a sharp distinction between Scripture and canon. While acknowledging the strengths of the exclusive definition of canon (e.g. it rightly expresses the canon’s fluid boundaries prior to the fourth century), Kruger points out that “on those terms we still do not have a closed canon” (32 emphasis original) and that “the abrupt change in terminology gives the impression that these books bore some lesser status prior to this point; it communicates that Christians only had Scripture and not a canon” (33 emphasis original). Kruger then defines and gives strengths and weaknesses of the functional definition of canon (whereby canon is determined by function instead of presence in a closed list) before proposing the ontological definition as best: “The ontological definition focuses on what the canon is in and of itself, namely the authoritative books that God gave his corporate church…Books do not become canonical – they are canonical because they are the books God has given as a permanent guide for his church” (4o emphasis original). Kruger finally demonstrates the strength of all three definitions of canon being used together in an integrative and multidimensional approach.


Book Notice – The Acts of the Apostles: A Newly Discovered Commentary (The Lightfoot Legacy Set)

Ben Witherington III and Todd D. Still, ed. The Acts of the Apostles: A Newly Discovered Commentary (The Lightfoot Legacy Set, Volume 1). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014. 407 pp. $40.00

Lightfoot ActsJoseph Barber Lightfoot is widely recognized as one of the preeminent New Testament scholars of his time, and perhaps of all time. While on sabbatical as scholar-in-residence in St. John’s College at Durham University in the spring of 2013, Dr. Ben Witherington III discovered in the Cathedral Library hundreds of pages of Lightfoot’s detailed notes on Acts, the Gospel of John, 2 Corinthians, 1 Peter, and early Judaism, most of which had never been published before. Last October, IVP Academic released the first of a projected three-volume set. This first volume covers Acts, while volume two is projected to cover the Gospel of John and volume three 2 Corinthians and 1 Peter. This was an historical discovery, and the publication of these notes a momentous affair for scholars and serious students of the New Testament.

This first volume on Acts contains introductory sections that contain more of the story of the discovery of these notes, background into Lightfoot’s life and scholarship, as well as photographs of pages of Lightfoot’s notes. Concerning the academic quality of the notes to be published in this set the editors write, “Lightfoot’s previously unpublished works on Acts, John, 1 Peter, and some of Paul’s letters was produced when he was at the height of his powers and commentary-writing ability. These heretofore unpublished notes on Acts and other subjects are often as detailed as the published commentaries and are from the same period of Lightfoot’s life” (p. 32, emphasis original).

It must be kept in mind that this is a compilation of unpublished notes that have been edited for publication. As such, at times it will not read/flow like a proper commentary, for the editors sometimes left notes as notes while other times, when Lightfoot’s intended meaning was clear, expanded notes into full paragraphs. Furthermore, what we have of his notes on Acts end with the 21st chapter. While of course we wish we could have a complete commentary on the entirety of Acts from such a formidable historian and biblical scholar, this new volume and series is truly a gift to the world of NT scholarship. Many thanks to IVP Academic for sending this volume, and I know I will be consulting it whenever I study Acts.

Purchase: Amazon
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Book Review – With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology (Jim Hamilton)

James M. Hamilton Jr. With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014. 272 pp. $25.00.

DanielHaving published both an introductory biblical theology (What is Biblical Theology?) as well as a full-scale whole-bible biblical theology (God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment), it’s not much of a surprise to see a volume from Dr. Jim Hamilton in IVP Academic’s excellent New Studies in Biblical Theology series. In With the Clouds of Heaven, Dr. Hamilton provides an evangelical and canonical biblical theology of the book of Daniel that seeks “to understand and explain Daniel’s interpretive perspective…to understand both how Daniel has engaged earlier Scripture to present his message and how later Scripture engaged Daniel to exposit what he wrote” (27).

This volume begins in Chapter 1 with preliminaries. Here Hamilton defines biblical theology as “the attempt to understand and embrace the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors” (21), explores the issue of how we access the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors (a literary and intertextual exercise that assumes that later biblical authors correctly interpreted earlier ones), looks at the relationship between this definition of biblical theology and authorial intent and the implications on salvation historical and thematic studies, and briefly considers the difference between this approach to biblical theology and others. Because this approach to biblical theology is based on certain assumptions about the canon of Scripture, the rest of chapter 1 provides an overview of the canonical framework with which Hamilton works. The heart of this section is a defense of the traditional early date of Daniel. Here Hamilton provides a sketch of the historical evidence as well as theological reasons for an early date. I found the latter particularly gripping because of how common it has been for evangelicals to capitulate to later dates, often thinking it an insignificant/secondary matter. Hamilton convincingly demonstrates that the issue has massive theological and ethical implications:

The author of Daniel encouraged people to be faithful to Yahweh even unto death (e.g. Dan. 11:32-35). The book of Daniel inspires faithfulness to Yahweh because it teaches that God and his kingdom matter more than the preservation of one’s own life. Undergirding this is the fact that Yahweh can deliver people from death (Dan. 3, 6) and predict the future (Dan. 11), including the future resurrection and reward of the faithful. If some Maccabean-era author is making fraudulent claims, if these are fictional deliverances and not future predictions but recitals of what has already happened presented as though being predicted by Daniel, then there is no real proof that Yahweh can either deliver from death or predict the future. This means that there is no proof that he is any better than the false gods who can neither reveal the future nor deliver their worshippers, which is exactly what the book of Daniel claims Yahweh can do, especially by means of the revelations in Daniel 2 and 7-12 and the deliverances in Daniel 3 and 6. (Hamilton 32)


A late date for Daniel requires some later author setting out to deceive his audience, creating in them the impression that things he knew had already taken place were actually being predicted. His purpose in creating this impression was to give himself the moral standing with his audience necessary for him to call them to suffer and die for the cause he advocated – when he knew all along that his claims were false. (Hamilton 37)


Book Review – Paul & Judaism Revisited: A Study of Divine and Human Agency in Salvation (Preston Sprinkle)

Preston M. Sprinkle. Paul & Judaism Revisited: A Study of Divine and Human Agency in Salvation. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2013. 256 pp. $24.00.

SprinkleDepending on one’s affinity to the debates surrounding the NPP (New Perspective on Paul), the very title of this book (harking to Sanders’s groundbreaking 1977 volume Paul and Palestinian Judaism) either elicits a groan (“Another book on this topic? What else could possibly be said?) or delighted interest. Pauline studies is probably my favorite area of biblical studies, and soteriology is hands-down my favorite locus of systematic theology; therefore, I was very drawn to Preston Sprinkle’s Paul & Judaism Revisited, and curious about whether he’d bring anything new to this hotly debated, over-saturated area of NT studies.

In this book, Sprinkle explores in depth things he noticed but didn’t focus on while researching the use of Leviticus 18:5 in Paul and Judaism for his doctoral dissertation. Specifically, this book “revisits” the soteriology of Paul and Judaism. However, because of both the anachronism of soteriology and the diversity of Second Temple Judaism, Sprinkle further qualifies his study by defining soteriology with “the basic sense of the restoration God brings to those who belong to his covenant community” (34, emphasis original) and focusing on the Dead Sea Scrolls; in other words, Paul & Judaism Revisited compares and contrasts Paul’s soteriology with the soteriology of the DSS. The goal is to see how the two understood divine and human agency in salvation and to draw conclusions about continuity and discontinuity.


Book Review – Hidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery (G. K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd)


G. K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd. Hidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014. 393 pp. $27.00.

HiddenThe past few months have seen the release of several books co-authored by G. K. Beale, who needs no introduction – 1) An Interpretive Lexicon of New Testament Greek: Analysis of Prepositions, Adverbs, Particles, Relative Pronouns, and Conjunctions; 2) God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth; and 3)  the volume presently under review, Hidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery. I want to read everything Beale writes, but out of these three I was most excited about Hidden But Now Revealed because of the presence of “biblical theology” in the title.

Co-written with Dr. Benjamin Gladd, who wrote his doctoral dissertation under Beale at Wheaton on the use of mystery in Daniel and Second Temple Judaism, Hidden But Now Revealed explores the biblical conception of mystery, a term found in conjunction with key doctrines such as eschatology, soteriology, relationship between Jew and Gentile, etc. in the New Testament. The authors’ goal for this book is that “the church would gain a greater appreciation for the concept of mystery and the intersection of the Old and New Testament. The gospel itself contains both ‘old’ and ‘new’ elements that stand in continuity and discontinuity with the Old Testament” (8). In this study, mystery is defined generally as “the revelation of God’s partially hidden wisdom, particularly as it concerns events occurring in the ‘latter days'” (20).

Hidden But Now Revealed begins with a look at the use of mystery in the book of Daniel, where “Revelation of a mystery can be defined roughly as God fully disclosing wisdom about end-time events that were mostly hitherto unknown” (43). The second chapter continues providing background into the New Testament’s use of mystery by analyzing the use of mystery in early Judaism, looking at a few key texts in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Targums. Like in the book of Daniel, mystery in Second Temple Judaism is eschatological and characterized by an initial hidden revelation followed by a fuller interpretation.

Having illumined the background of the use of mystery in the book of Daniel and early Judaism, Beale and Gladd devote the next eight chapters to an examination of every one of the twenty-eight occurrences of the word mystery in the New Testament. For each occurrence, the immediate NT context and the wider OT/Jewish context are both examined, concluding with an analysis of how the NT occurrence stands in both continuity and discontinuity with the OT and early Judaism.

Recognizing that studying a biblical theme isn’t as simple as just doing a word study, the penultimate chapter looks a few key NT topics that fit within the category of revealed mystery without using the term mystery – the staggered nature of the resurrection, the christological understanding of the Old Testament, Jesus as the temple, inaugurated eschatology, and the gospel itself. Finally, the last chapter compares and contrasts biblical mystery with pagan mystery religions and demonstrates that they do not have much in common and that the NT concept of mystery should be understood from the background of the OT, not pagan mystery religions.

Finally, the appendix provides a condensed version of a forthcoming paper by Beale entitled The Cognitive Peripheral Vision of Biblical Authors. Because hermeneutical presuppositions shaped this study and because it has implications on our understanding of the NT’s use of the OT, the essay is a helpful read. It argues that “Old Testament writers knew more about the topic of their speech act than only the explicit meaning they expressed about that topic. If so, there was an explicit intention and an implicit wider understanding related to that intention. It is sometimes this implicit wider intention that the New Testament authors develop instead of the Old Testament author’s explicit or direct meaning” (341).

Hidden But Now Revealed provides a robust study of an important biblical concept that’s connected to many key New Testament doctrines. It’s accessible to the serious layperson, but detailed footnotes and plentiful excursuses also provide much to think about for pastors, students, and scholars. An exegetical and biblical-theological study, this book fills a lack in the literature on the biblical concept of mystery. All with interest in biblical theology, NT use of OT, or the biblical concept of mystery would greatly enjoy this book.

Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon

Book Review – Jesus is the Christ: The Messianic Testimony of the Gospels (Michael Bird)

Michael F. Bird. Jesus is the Christ: The Messianic Testimony of the Gospels. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2013. 219 pp. $18.00.

jesusI grew up an atheist in an unreligious home and never had any exposure to Christianity. Once in a while when I did hear the name “Jesus Christ,” I assumed that Christ was Jesus’s last name. To most evangelicals, however, the affirmation that Jesus is the Christ/Messiah is perhaps the most obvious fact about our Lord; it’s akin to saying that Bird is the Conan-esque Australian biblical scholar. Duh. Of course he is. But in the (critical) academic world of Jesus/Gospel studies, it’s commonly argued that Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah; rather, “the identification of Jesus as the Messiah is something of an ad hoc addition to the tradition, made in order to indicate that Jesus is a person of some importance in the divine plan” (3).

In Jesus is the Christ: The Messianic Testimony of the Gospels, Michael Bird argues that “the designation of Jesus as Messiah is not a late, secondary, or dispensable category applied to Jesus. The messiahship of Jesus comprises the primary framework in which the sum of all christological affirmations in the Gospels are to be understood, that is, all Christology is a subset of Messianology” (4). A follow-up to Are You the One Who is to Come: The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question, this book offers a narrative and theological look at the messianic Christology of each of the four canonical gospels whereas the earlier title is a historical Jesus study that argues for Jesus’s messianic self-understanding.


Book Review – The Historical Jesus: Five Views

James K. Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy, ed. The Historical Jesus: Five Views. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009. 312 pp. $26.00.

5 views HJ

At the end of the first quest of the historical Jesus in 1906, historical Jesus research was thought to be more or less dead. Yet today the field is as alive as ever as we find ourselves in the midst of what many are calling the third quest. Exciting work is being done by participants all along the spectrum from no belief that Jesus even existed to evangelical faith in Jesus Christ. This diversity of perspectives and voices can be confusing for the uninitiated.

The Historical Jesus: Five Views from IVP Academic’s Spectrum Multiview series is an excellent introduction to the field. In the 46-page introduction editors Beilby and Eddy survey the four stages of the scholarly quest for the historical Jesus, highlighting the most significant scholars, publications, and ideas. They also provide an overview of the important issues and debates in the current phase (“third quest”) and introduce the contributors to this volume – five noted scholars of the present phase. I have no quibbles with any of the contributors chosen, but I do find the absence of N. T. Wright surprising. Apart from the introduction, this book is structured such that after every essay, each of the other contributors presents a brief response.

Robert Price
Robert Price is the only contributor to this volume who does not believe Jesus was a real person. He first lays out his methodological presuppositions: principle of analogy, criterion of dissimilarity, ideal type, consensus is no criterion, and scholarly conclusions must always be open to revision. Price then presents an overview of the traditional Christ-myth theory (where he makes the claim that there are no secular sources that mention a miracle-working Jesus, dismissing the oft-cited section of Josephus as inauthentic), argues that “virtually the whole Gospel narrative is the product of haggadic midrash on the Old Testament” (67), that many facets of the Jesus story parallels ancient myths, and that alternative traditions regarding dates related to Jesus demonstrate an attempt to anchor a mythic Jesus in recent history (80-81). Crossan, Johnson, and Bock all address secular literary evidence for the life of Jesus; Johnson, Dunn, and Bock all take issue with Price’s use of the criterion of dissimilarity. All four of the other contributors dismantle Price’s arguments from ideal type/hero typology.


Book Review – The Lost World of Scripture (John Walton & D. Brent Sandy)

John H. Walton and D. Brent Sandy. The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture and Biblical Authority. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic 2013. 320 pp. $24.00

lost worldThe inerrancy debate among evangelicals has recently received heightened attention, with last year’s Evangelical Theological Society meeting having inerrancy as its theme and Zondervan subsequently releasing the published version of the “5 Views on Biblical Inerrancy” panel. The debate amongst those who hold a high view of Scripture is largely between those who feel that an affirmation of the classic position on inerrancy (a la the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy) is essential to evangelical integrity, and those who feel that the classic position is inadequate and needs to be nuanced/recast.

In The Lost World of Scripture, Wheaton professors John Walton and Brent Sandy aim “not to deconstruct inerrancy but to put it on surer footing by carefully accounting for the worldview of the biblical world, which is different from the worldview of modern Western culture” (303). The chapters are laid out in propositions in a manner similar to Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis.