Review: Matthew (SGBC)

34460467The Story of God Bible Commentary is an exciting and practical series that seeks to explain the Bible in light of the grand story of the biblical narrative. The editors and contributors for this series are top-tier scholars and pastors with seasoned insight and experience into the world of biblical interpretation and proclamation—making this series an attractive addition to the pastor’s library.

Matthew by Rodney Reeves is a welcomed and (for many a) highly anticipated addition to the series. Reeves is a brilliant scholar and dedicated to helping others understand the riches of the Scriptures. He is College Dean and Courts Redford Professor of Biblical Studies at Southwest Baptist University. Reeves has done doctoral work in Pauline Studies at Oxford University and a received a Ph.D. in New Testament from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of numerous books and is positioned well for the focus on this series.

Matthew opens with a brief introduction to the First Gospel. In general, this series has not offered much in the arena of introductory material. It’s simply not the focal point of the series. That said, Reeves does much to orient the reader towards Matthew’s Gospel, and, in my opinion, offers one of the best introductions seen thus far in the SGBC series. Reeves is transparent about the lack of known information concerning authorship, but still affirms a traditional position. He also argues for a post AD 70 date of composition, comments at some length about Matthew’s use and adoration of the Old Testament, as well as other important introductory items.

As the commentary proper opens the reader is guided passage-by-passage through three major sections: (1) LISTEN to the Story—includes the NIV translation with additional references to encourage the reader to hear the story within its broader biblical context, (2) EXPLAIN the Story—explores and illuminates each passage within its canonical and historical setting, and (3) LIVE the Story—reflects how each passage can be lived today and includes contemporary stories and illustrations to aid teachers, preachers, and beyond.

Reeves does an excellent service to the reader in his engagement with the First Gospel. Not only is the commentary informative and rich, but Reeves is keen to provide practical application that almost always seems to mirror the meaning of the passage. Reeves is sensitive to the partialities of Matthew (i.e. comparing Jesus and Moses) and does much to uncover the original context of the book. Still, I think it is the bridging of the cultural gap where Reeves shines most—both the Old Testament to the New, and the New Testament to today. I was especially appreciative of Reeves comments on the Sermon on the Mount (though McKnight’s volume on the Sermon in the SGBC series is among the best, in my opinion) and his ability to maneuver controversial passages with a close eye to the emphasis of the series (i.e. Matthew 24).

The Story of God Bible Commentary: Matthew by Rodney Reeves is an exceptional contribution that offers a contextually informed presentation of the First Gospel for contemporary readers. I found Reeves to be well-informed and easy to read, and any lack of distinctive contribution to a mountain of literature on Matthew is made up for in his keen ability to keep sight of the whole amid the details. This is definitely a worthwhile read if you are teaching or preaching through Matthew, and comes highly recommended!

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Review: Zondervan Handbook to the Bible (5th ed.)

34460428At over three million copies sold, the Zondervan Handbook to the Bible edited by David and Pat Alexander is arguably the most widely used study tool since it was originally published in 1973. Now, in a newly revised and updated fifth edition, Pat Alexander has built upon the great legacy of the previous four editions with updated visuals, new and revised articles, and more.

The feature list of the Zondervan Handbook to the Bible is quite astounding, and the presentation is even more attractive. Over 800 full-color pages, packed with valuable illustrations and reliable insight. In fact, there are over 700 full-color photographs and illustrations that vividly illumine a world of characters and events known to many through the biblical narrative. Beyond the photos and illustrations, there are a countless number of vibrant, full-color maps and charts of historical background information.

The content of the Zondervan Handbook to the Bible is equally as pleasant as the visual appeal. The contributors to the volume include Richard Bauckham, John Goldingay, R.T. France, Ben Witherington III, Gordon Wenham, I. Howard Marshall, Richard Hess, Michael Green, Walter Wangerin Jr., and many more. The format and organization of the volume is a section-by-section guide to the Bible, including explanatory notes and insights into the biblical world. The volume opens with a sizable introductory section (95 pages) that is devoted to orienting readers towards the Bible and biblical interpretation. There follows a canonical guide through the Old Testament (~ 430 pages) and the New (~ 250 pages), as well as a “Rapid Factfinder” (~ 34 pages) section that serves as an A to Z directory to both the book and the Bible.

The design of the Zondervan Handbook to the Bible is to offer readers a supplemental resource to be used alongside the Bible. This is not necessarily a reference work or textbook, as some might imagine. It is a resource that has been intentionally organized and presented to bring the reader into the biblical world by gathering together information only otherwise found in a number of different reference works. In this sense, the Zondervan Handbook to the Bible functions as a supercharged Study Bible that is divorced, or separated from the biblical text. This affords the room necessary to illuminate the biblical world in a way not possible in the space provided by a standard Study Bible, and this to the benefit of the reader.

The Zondervan Handbook to the Bible is a classic by any count. There is a reason so many have found this volume to be a blessing to their personal Bible study. It’s clear and concise, readable and informative, and attractively presented. It truly is the best book to have next to your Bible. I would recommend getting the Zondervan Handbook to the Bible over all major Study Bibles on the market. The content and visual appeal are attractively paired, and the list of contributors is as good as one could ask. Skip the Study Bible and grab the Handbook! It will offer more to your personal study than you think. Trust me!

Review: Zondervan Handbook of Biblical Archaeology

35720745The Zondervan Handbook of Biblical Archaeology: A Book by Book Guide to Archaeological Discoveries Related to the Bible by Randall Price with H. Wayne House is an up-to-date and comprehensive illustrated examination of the biblical world. Readers will encounter numerous full-color photographs, charts, maps, and illustrations that inform the historical context of Bible and offer insight into landscape of biblical archaeology.

The Zondervan Handbook of Biblical Archaeology opens with an informative introduction that is to be considered essential reading for most readers. Price and House do much to position readers towards the field and usefulness (or lack thereof in some cases [i.e. the limitations]) of biblical archaeology, including methodology, practices, and the significance of archaeology to the field of biblical studies. The Zondervan Handbook of Biblical Archaeology is organized into three sections: (1) Archaeology of the Old Testament, (2) Archaeology of the Intertestamental Period, and (3) Archaeology of the New Testament. With the exception of the second section (which is primarily concerned with the Second Temple Period and the Dead Sea Scrolls), Price and House guide the reader book-by-book (Genesis through Revelation) investigating the most important discoveries that enhance an understanding of the biblical text. Additionally, readers will find a full-bodied glossary, detailed atlas maps, and an updated bibliography.

The feature-packed pages of the Zondervan Handbook of Biblical Archaeology make this volume an essential addition to the library of any serious student of the Bible. It’s a perfect companion to any major Bible Atlas. Moreover, the quality of images compliments the content and seriousness of the material presented. Price and House are appropriately cautious and transparent about the limitations of archaeology, though they are also equally forward about the significance of such discoveries for the study of the Bible. Still, the uniqueness of this volume comes in its canonical approach to the task at hand. Not only is this helpful for the reader to pinpoint where and how the archaeological discoveries supportively enhance the biblical narrative, but it brings a contextual edge to the biblical text that allows the reader to connect the historical dots with ease.

The Zondervan Handbook of Biblical Archaeology: A Book by Book Guide to Archaeological Discoveries Related to the Bible by Randall Price with H. Wayne House is an exciting resource that will quickly find its way into the academy as a textbook standard. That said, it’s well written and attractively presented to allow for a broad array of readers. If you’re serious about the Bible and desire to understand the world in which it emerged, then this up-to-date and comprehensive biblical archaeological resource could not be recommended more strongly. It will be used and consulted more than you think!

Review: Learn to Read New Testament Greek

6882444David Alan Black is Professor of New Testament and Greek and Dr. M. O. Owens, Jr. Chair of New Testament at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He received a D. Theol. from the University of Basel, Switzerland, under the advisement of Bo Reicke and has taught in numerous seminaries around the world. Black is author, editor, and contributor to numerous influential publications, but most notably known for the present volume.

Learn to Read New Testament Greek (3rd edition) is a user-friendly introductory Greek grammar which aims to streamline the learning process and usher readers into the New Testament with ease. There are several excellent Greek grammars available for teachers and students of New Testament Greek, but few are as pedagogically balanced and linguistically informed as Black’s Learn to Read New Testament Greek. Black has a unique way of presenting the material in a targeted and simplified manner that speaks to the concept with precision and clarity. Additionally, Black includes a number of helpful exercises throughout that are designed to prepare the reader for work ahead, as well as several useful charts and grammatical examples to aid memorization.

Learning Greek can be an intimidating endeavor on its own. Some Greek grammars actually cultivate a type user-intimidation by overwhelming readers with an overabundance of material. Black has detached much of the perceived grammatical pressure in Learn to Read New Testament Greek and created space for readers to enjoy (once again?) the process of learning the language of the New Testament. I’ve been reading and recommending Basics of Biblical Greek by Bill Mounce for years. BBG is the introductory grammar that I used in first-year Greek, and there is still much to be praised about Mounce’s approach. But, now having worked through Learn to Read New Testament Greek, alongside BBG, I can confidently say that Black is a strong contender. In fact, while I think the two complement each other well overall, I found myself appreciating Black over Mounce at a number of points—most of which had to do with the brevity of his discussion and its applicability in the classroom.

Learn to Read New Testament Greek (3rd edition) by David Alan Black is an outstanding introductory grammar. Its usability is almost unparalleled and the clarity of discussion provides immediate room for application. There are ample charts and paradigms, and excellent appendix material for reference and review. Of course, there are limitations to the depth of an introductory grammar (i.e. Black could have spent more time on verbal aspect, etc.), but there is no doubt that Learn to Read New Testament Greek will confidently position the reader for intermediate Greek and allow them to read the New Testament in its original language with aid (i.e. A Reader’s Greek New Testament). If you have BBG and you’re looking for a supplementary textbook, I couldn’t recommend Black more strongly. If you don’t have BBG and you’re looking for an introductory grammar to get you started, then Learn to Read New Testament Greek (3rd edition) by David Alan Black is an excellent option. It comes highly recommended!

Review: Believer’s Baptism

274555The multifaceted debate concerning baptism (specifically paedobaptism vs. credobaptism) is well-known and fervently defended. There has been much ink spilled on this topic and many friends have been lost in the process. Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ edited by Tom Schreiner and Shawn Wright aims to bring clarity to this debate with a thoroughly grounded demonstration of the credobaptist position.

Believer’s Baptism is a multi-authored work with essays from some of today’s most well-known scholars and churchmen, including Andreas Köstenberger, Robert Stein, Duane Garrett, Stephen J. Wellum, Mark Dever, and more.  Organizationally, the volume guides the reader through the New Testament, into the early Church and Reformation Church history, and concludes within the context of the local Church. The essays are well presented and informative, especially the essays on the New Testament baptismal texts and the patristic writings. Moreover, the tone of the volume is well-postponed to instruct both sides of the debate, as the authors are collectively concerned with what the Bible says rather than what tradition requires.

Despite the noble attempt of the authors and editors, Believer’s Baptism is going to be approached with much criticism and disagreement. This is simply the nature of the conversation. That said I appreciated the tone of argument and the biblical-historical emphasis of the volume. Those coming from a tradition where paedobaptism is both adhered and administered will beg to differ on points of exegesis, but it would be hard not to applaud the effort presented here. I would have appreciated more discussion concerning the rise of the practice of “believer’s baptism” within Second Temple Judaism, as the New Testament texts are handled in depth presupposing such background. Nevertheless, Believer’s Baptism is a thorough and judicious effort on all fronts of the conversation.

Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ edited by Tom Schreiner and Shawn Wright is the best defense of credobaptism on the market today. The scope of the essays included is comprehensive and the contributing roster is paired well with the topics covered. Readers will appreciate the tone and approach of the volume, and much will be learned in the process. If you are looking to discover the rich heritage of believer’s baptism, then look no further, as Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ is still the best point of reference. It comes highly recommended!

Review: Do We Need the New Testament?

23055101John Goldingay is David Allan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He is the author of numerous articles and books, including An Introduction to the Old TestamentThe Theology of the Book of Isaiah, and the magisterial three-volume Old Testament Theology. Goldingay is well-known for his enthusiastic approach to the Old Testament and his desire to allow the ‘first’ Testament to function as authoritative Christian Scripture.

Do We Need the New Testament?: Letting the Old Testament Speak for Itself is a brief volume that seeks to turn a popular question within Christian circles on its head. Now that Jesus has come and we have the New Testament, do Christians really need the Old Testament? Goldingay points the question back at the well-intended interrogator: Do we really need the New Testament? After all, what’s new about the New Testament? And what happens when we look at the Old Testament, not as a deficient old work in need of a Christological makeover, but as a rich and splendid revelation of God’s faithfulness to Israel and the world? (back cover). It is here that Goldingay begins to dismantle contemporary misnomers concerning the deficiency of the Old Testament.

Goldingay begins with a broad chapter that uncovers many of the issues examined in more detail as the book unfolds, such as ethics, spirituality, and various aspects of theology (i.e. salvation, etc.).  Most of the chapters in the book arose as papers presented at the Society of Biblical Literature, the Society of Old Testament Study, and others (p. 10). This explains the somewhat random organization of the book, which may come as a frustration to some readers. Goldingay’s conclusion is that, “Yes, of course, we need the New Testament Scriptures, but they don’t supersede the earlier Scriptures” (p. 32). According to Goldingay, we need the Old Testament for understanding the story of God’s working purpose, for its theology, spirituality, hope, understanding of mission, salvation, and for its ethics (p. 32). Goldingay not only substantiate such statements, but he does so by guiding readers towards a newfound appreciation for the Old Testament.

There are aspects of Goldingay’s approach that will undoubtedly cause some readers distress. The book as a whole is stimulating and exciting, but some statements can appear oversimplified and even somewhat misleading at times. For example, he states that “in none of the Gospels does Jesus tell his disciples to extend the kingdom, work for the kingdom, build the kingdom, or further the kingdom” (p. 34). This is certainly a thought provoking statement. But, is it an accurate statement? I’ll let the reader decide. Other examples of similar weight could be given as well. Where I think Goldingay shines is in the continuity that he brings between the portrait of God in the Old Testament and the New. This is helpful for many reasons, but the origin of the initial questions concerning the Old Testament tend to arise on this point and Goldingay hits the nail on the head.

Do We Need the New Testament?: Letting the Old Testament Speak for Itself by John Goldingay is not without its shortcomings. But, what he does well, he does really well! Goldingay is witty and sharp in his interaction with the questions at hand, and readers will appreciate his serious desire to hear from the Old Testament as Scripture. If you’re a looking for a thought-provoking book that will turn your heart and mind todays the Scriptures, and consequently towards the God to whom the Scriptures reveal, then this is a book worth reading. It comes highly recommended!

Review: Rediscovering Paul (2nd Ed.)

36899330Rediscovering Paul: An Introduction to His World, Letters and Theology by David B. Capes, Rodney Reeves, and E. Randolph Richards is a unique resource that offers itself as a manageably sized textbook aiming to tackle a number of key Pauline related introductory matters in a single volume. Capes, Reeves, and Richards guide the reader through an analysis of Paul’s background, an introduction to the letters and a survey of the ministry surrounding Paul’s letters, and an integrated study of Paul’s theology and spirituality. Now, with the recent release of a second edition, Capes, Reeves, and Richards bring a welcomed update and revision to an increasingly useful introductory textbook.

Capes, Reeves, and Richards do much to strip away many of the preconceived notions that readers may have concerning Paul (particularly Western interpretive influences). But more than simply deconstruct the readers understanding, Capes, Reeves, and Richards offer a new set of lenses guided by a biblically informed and contextually sensitive worldview. Rediscovering Paul begins with a biographical approach in the initial two chapters, providing readers with a background to the Apostle and his conversion. Next, Capes, Reeves, and Richards discuss Paul as a writer and the nature of his epistolary corpus, before the reader’s attention is turned towards his writings. Lastly, attention is directed towards the life, impact, and legacy of Paul’s theology and spirituality. Throughout, the readers will discover “So What?” and “What’s More” sections that provide further detail and application to specific topics. These have been revised and expanded in the second edition. Additionally, most of the chapters in the book conclude with a “Read More About It” section, including a brief list of recommended resources and a list of relevant articles from the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (IVP, 1993).

There is much to be praised about Rediscovering Paul. First and foremost, as with the previous edition, the authors have done a fantastic job synthesizing and updating the need to know information relevant in an introductory textbook. Both teachers and students should rejoice in their collective effort. Second, the updates included in the second edition provide readers interaction with many recent conversations within the arena of Pauline studies. Interestingly, readers are afforded an opportunity to observe some of the updated conversation if they follow the recommended articles from the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, which is nearly twenty-five years old now. Third, the intentionality of the authors to connect readers to the world of Paul is refreshing. It will be difficult to have read this volume without learning something new about the Apostle and not being challenged along the way.      

The second edition of Rediscovering Paul: An Introduction to His World, Letters and Theology by David B. Capes, Rodney Reeves, and E. Randolph Richards is to be both welcomed and celebrated. Capes, Reeves, and Richards have refined, expanded, and updated a book that has impacted many, and influenced many more. Rediscovering Paul is an introductory investigation that guides readers through the deep forest of contemporary Pauline studies. It’s well-written, appropriately challenging, and surprisingly enjoyable. If you are looking for a recent book on Paul that will rightly orient you towards the Apostle and everything that made him tick, then Rediscovering Paul: An Introduction to His World, Letters and Theology couldn’t be recommended more!    Just make sure to grab the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters while you’re at it.