Category: Biblical Studies

Review: The Old Testament is Dying

17321403Brent A. Strawn is Professor of Old Testament and Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. Strawn received an M.Div. and Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary. He is the author of What is Stronger Than a Lion? Leonine Image and Metaphor in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East, and the co-editor of several important works related to OT and ANE studies, such as The World Around the Old Testament: The People and Places of the Ancient Near East and The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Law. Most recently, Strawn has released a blockbuster book focused on the nature of the Old Testament in contemporary Christianity—a book that should both cause concern and promote change in its readers.

The Old Testament is Dying: A Diagnosis and Recommended Treatment is a straightforward and clear examination of the state of Christianity in North America. Strawn exposes exactly what an observant Christian has likely been pondering for some time now: what’s happening to the Old Testament? As Strawn observes, “the Old Testament has ceased to function in healthy ways in . . . lives as sacred, authoritative, canonical literature. These individuals . . . do not regard the Old Testament in the same way (or as highly) as the New Testament, don’t understand the Old Testament, would prefer to do without the Old Testament, and for all practical purposes do exactly that by means of their neglect and ignorance of it, whether in private devotion or public worship or both” (p. 4-5). Strawn skillfully frames the investigation in terms of linguistic analogy to provide explanatory impact for the reader. Strawn rightly notes, “the Old Testament, like any other piece of literature or art—like any other way of figuring the world—is, or at least can be, a way of constructing reality, a way of understanding the world, and way of perceiving all that is, including ourselves” (p. 8).

The initial section of the book, The Old Testament as a Dying Language, is primarily focused on orienting the reader towards the diagnosis. Strawn overviews the case, provides initial testing by way of Pew Research surveys and the examination of ecclesiastical expressions, and further adds to the linguistic analogy—applying characteristics of pidginized and creolized languages to the modern landscape of Old Testament awareness. The second section, Signs of Morbidity, directs focus upon three groups: (1) New Atheists, (2) Marcionites Old and New, and (3) Happiologists. The interaction in this section is illuminating and telling. There is a clear and variegated problem that Strawn uncovers in these three groups and the reader will do well to observe the discussion therein. The third section, Path to Recovery, brings the recommended treatment to the table and offers readers a clear and detailed way forward, including a renewed passion for Hebrew and the aim to push past a pidginized or creole dialect towards a fully developed linguistic expression.

The Old Testament is Dying: A Diagnosis and Recommended Treatment is timely and important. Strawn combines a unique and observable understanding of both culture and Christian faith in North America, and he makes the symptomatic manifestation of a dying or dead Old Testament is visible on almost every street corner and pew. The diagnosis is soundly established and the recommendation provides a hope for the future. In my opinion, Strawn has rightly identified a problem that deserves immediate and full attention, because once a language dies an identity soon follows. Thus, not only is the book readable and engaging, but the content of the message and the establishment of the thesis are perfectly positioned for readers to engage and act accordingly. If you are looking for a book that will likely challenge and expose some of your own frailties concerning the function of the Old Testament in your daily life, while also offering a feasible solution, then The Old Testament is Dying: A Diagnosis and Recommended Treatment is a perfect next read. It comes highly recommended and could easily be tagged as one of the most important books of the last year!

Advertisements

Review: Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical and Post-Biblical Antiquity

32987886The landscape of specialized biblical and theological dictionaries seems to experience continual growth year-by-year. These dictionaries generally boast more focused and detailed attention on content and tend to provide a more unique product as an end goal. The level of usefulness of these types of dictionaries can vary greatly depending on the academic or personal interest of the reader, as well as the specializations of the contributing roster. Still, because of the distinctive qualities of such works the price-point is generally out of reach for most consumers. The intersection of such usefulness and availability is tellingly rare in this distinctive reference genre, and thus when it is clearly observed attention should be widely merited.

Originally published as four paperback volumes, The Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical and Post-Biblical Antiquity edited by Edwin M. Yamauchi and Marvin R. Wilson has now arrived as a single-volume resource lodged in a beautiful hardcover binding. DDL is a landmark resource in the field of biblical studies. It truly is one of those unique cases, like that mentioned above, where the usefulness and availability of the resource intersect at almost every point. This new single-volume edition is jam-packed with both valuable and vital information for understanding the biblical world of the Old Testament and the New. Furthermore, the sheer affordability of DDL should almost guarantee that the intentions of the editors and contributors can be enjoyed by both scholar and interested laity alike.

DDL contains a number of important and unique articles related to the domestic life, technology, culture, laws, and religious practices of the ancient world. While other top-tier multi-volume dictionaries (Anchor Yale Bible DictionaryInternational Standard Encyclopedia of the Bible, etc.) may interact with similar themes and topics as DDL, it would be rare to see them interacting with the same level of detail as DDL, and certainly not in the same helpful format. This complete one-volume edition of DDL includes the same content from the four-volume set, including exhaustive essays unparalleled in other major dictionaries. For example, the DDL article on Abortion is near twice the length of that found in AYBD. The DDL article on dancing is nearly seven times the length of that found in ISBE—an article not even found in AYBD. There is a fascinating 20-page article on Death & Afterlife, as well as a 23-page article on Human Sacrifice. By comparison, ISBE has an article on Human Sacrifice that is roughly 3-pages, and AYBD doesn’t have such article at all. Other relevant and noteworthy articles include Incense, Nursing and Wet Nursing, Marriage, Names, Oaths & Vows, Wild Animals and Hunting, Same-Sex Relations, and Slavery.

The strong points of DDL are discovered in at least three major benefits for the reader. First, the sheer scope and comprehensive nature of each article is unique even among some of the other major, top-tier dictionaries (as noted above). So, while other works may occasionally have similar articles as DDL, they are generally much briefer in scope than that offered in DDL. Second, the organization of each article cultivates a much broader comprehension of the subject matter discussed. Each article opens with a brief summary, followed by six major sections: (1) The Old Testament, (2) The New Testament, (3) The Ancient New Eastern World, (4) The Greco-Roman World, (5) The Jewish World, and (6) The Christian World. Thus, DDL tends to trace the topic of discussion much further (approximately 2000 BC to AD 600) and across a broader scope of cultural boundaries. Lastly, each article concludes with a healthy and up-to-date bibliography that is intentionally curated to catapult the curious reader in the right direction—something that is certain to awaken excitement in fellow bibliography lovers.

The Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical and Post-Biblical Antiquity is a phenomenal achievement in the field of biblical studies. Edwin M. Yamauchi and Marvin R. Wilson have helpfully gathered together some of the most important information about the ancient world and packaged it in such a way to make it accessible and understandable to the average reader. From the far-reaching scope of the articles to the comprehensive exploration therein, DDL is a useful and affordable resource that merits immediate attention from any serious student of the Bible. I couldn’t think of a better reason to invest in this resource today. This is a resource you will use and consult often.

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: Old Testament Theology for Christians

36436636John H. Walton is Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College and Graduate School. Walton received a Masters in Old Testament Studies from Wheaton and a PhD in Hebrew Bible and Cognate Studies from Hebrew Union College. Walton is a household name in the arena of Old Testament studies and a respected voice on the ancient Near Eastern context of the biblical world, contributing to several influential reference works and authoring over two dozen books. Most recently, Walton has provided readers a theological exploration of the Old Testament which embodies a lifetime of reflection and unites the scholarly engagement and scope characteristic of his previous works.

Old Testament Theology for Christians: From Ancient Context to Enduring Belief offers a fresh and unique theological exploration of the Old Testament that is both contextually informed by the environment of the ancient Near East and hermeneutically sensitive to the authorial intent of the biblical authors. Walton is convinced that the Old Testament is both relevant and useful for Christians today, though rightly recognizing that a massive chasm exists between contemporary readers and the ancient world. Walton develops a persuasive portrait of the Old Testament which presents itself as more than a Christological precursor centered on the person and work of Jesus. Rather, the Old Testament is revealed as a contextual expression of an enduring theological worldview ever capable of penetrating the hearts and minds of readers today.

Old Testament Theology for Christians appropriately begins with an introduction that provides a detailed discussion of Walton’s hermeneutical consideration, which becomes the foundation for the entire book. Walton is understandably clear about his approach and readers are encouraged to evaluate the presuppositions therein. The book is ordered thematically around six corresponding concepts: (1) Yahweh and the gods, (2) Cosmos and Humanity, (3) Covenant and Kingdom, (4) Temple and Torah, (5) Sin and Evil, and (6) Salvation and Afterlife. Each chapter is saturated in comparative analysis of the ancient Near Eastern thought as it relates to these biblical concepts, and Walton does a tremendous service to the reader by bridging such gaps with both clarity and precision.

My overall impression of the book is favorable. I admit that Walton has challenged my thinking on several occasions in the past, and Old Testament Theology for Christians was no exception. It is quintessential Walton in every respect—engaging, readable, and occasionally controversial—and each chapter overflows with an intentional goal of understanding the Old Testament as an ancient person. It can be theologically uncomfortable to follow at times because it is so different than our contemporary context of a developed Christian theology, but Walton does an excellent job synthesizing the content into a theologically timeless and meaningful package. Throughout Old Testament Theology for Christians readers will discover numerous sidebar discussions and excursus sections, as well as several tables displaying comparative material across the cultural divide. In short, Walton has effectively brought the Old Testament to life by breathing a fresh sense of worth upon its seemingly devalued theological bones, and readers emerge with a new appreciation for the God revealed therein.

Old Testament Theology for Christians: From Ancient Context to Enduring Belief by John H. Walton is the culmination of a lifetime of reflection on the ancient Near East as the contextual backdrop to the Old Testament. Walton is readable, engaging, and controversial enough to keep your interest captive. I honestly couldn’t put it down. If you are looking for an Old Testament theology that takes the Old Testament seriously, then Old Testament Theology for Christians is the next book to set on your nightstand.

Review: Old Testament Law for Christians

9780801049040Roy E. Gane is Professor of Hebrew and Ancient Near Eastern Languages at Seventh-Day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Gane received an MA and PhD from University of California, Berkeley, and has authored numerous books, including a commentary on Leviticus and Numbers in the NIV Application Commentary series. Most recently, Gane has provided a comprehensive volume on Old Testament Law that will help Christians better understand and apply such to everyday life.

Old Testament Law for Christians: Original Context and Enduring Application aims to “show Christians how OT laws are relevant, interesting, accessible, and useful; how to navigate around them; how to uncover their wise values; and how to arrive at answers to questions regarding their interpretation and application to modern life” (p. xiv). The book has been divided into four major sections: (1) Getting into Old Testament Law, (2) Literature and Background of Old Testament Law, (3) Applying Old Testament Laws, and (4) Values in Old Testament Law. These divisions provide a logical order in support of the overall objective of the book, and thus, most of the content is naturally centralized within parts 3 and 4.

Gane is a well-known and accomplished scholar of Biblical Law, and the scope of Old Testament Law for Christians demonstrates such with minimal effort. In part one, Gane offers justification and rationale for the relevance of OT law for New Covenant Christians. Gane focuses on Jesus and Paul’s view of OT law and sketches the trajectory. Gane also devotes a fair amount of space to the introduction of Old Testament law prior to establishing the contextual background in part two. Gane is especially strong on areas of literature and background of OT law, and the attentive reader will glean insight after insight as they follow him in the second section.

In part three, Gane introduces the difficult task of application and spends a portion of the time surveying the various approaches advocated both past and present. Those who appreciate methodology will enjoy Gane’s discussion here. Gane contends for a Progressive Moral Wisdom (PMW) approach to understanding and applying Old Testament law. There are five components of a PMW model: (1) analyze the law by itself, (2) analyze the law within the system of OT laws, (3) further analyze the law within the content of its ancient life situation, (4) analyze the law within the process of redemption, and (5) relate findings regarding the function of the law to modern life (p. 202-203). Then, after detailing the PMW model, Gane uses Exodus 23:4 as a test case for readers to engage the approach and witness its benefit. His approach is firmly built upon a solid hermeneutical methodology and readers will do well to take notes.

In part four, the reader is taken on a tour de force into the world of OT law. Here Gane addresses the Decalogue in two chapters before considering additional law related issues, such as the value of social justice and ritual laws, OT law and theodicy, etc. Gane also provides a sizable chapter on keeping OT laws today, where he specifically addresses the OT laws that seem most strange to the modern reader, including various occurrences of forbidden mixtures, vast dietary restrictions, sex during menstruation, etc. Gane is reliably informative and pastorally sensitive to the difficulty that Christians face concerning the implications of these issues, and the reader will appreciate the candor and attention that is found therein. Gane is constantly canonically oriented in his approach and keen to offer explanations for New Covenant Christians.

Old Testament Law for Christians is outstanding as an introduction to OT law and equally as helpful as a hermeneutical model. That said, for many readers, I am confident that there will be inevitable disagreement with Gane at several points during the journey. Gane is unashamedly honest when his conclusion differs with the common position among Christians (especially in the chapter titled “Questions about Keeping the Old Testament Laws Today”). Still, his consistency is to be commended despite disagreement. Where most readers will find Gane helpful is in parts 3 and 4. Overall, Gane has succeeded in his objective and does much to elevate the usefulness of the OT law for New Covenant Christians. Gane removes an unfortunate false dichotomy in the contemporary church and encourages Christians to take the Torah as serious as Jesus and Paul. The Progressive Moral Wisdom approach is properly established and the outcome is a step in a much-needed direction.

Old Testament Law for Christians: Original Context and Enduring Application by Roy E. Gane is a timely resource. Gane has provided a comprehensive examination of OT law that will serve the New Covenant people of God for years to come. Any shortcomings will be found in the inevitable disagreement that arises out of a topic as such addressed here. That said, shortcomings aside, while I didn’t agree with Gane on every turn, I am very pleased to recommend this much-needed book.

Review: Sermon on the Mount: Restoring Christ’s Message to the Modern Church

12925065Charles L. Quarles professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology and Director of PhD studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Quarles received both an MDiv and a PhD from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of numerous books, including a newly released commentary on the Greek text of Matthew in the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament series, The Illustrated Life of Paul, and The Cradle, The Cross, and The Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (with Andreas J. Köstenberger and L. Scott Kellum). Still, Quarles is likely most notably known for his outstanding commentary The Sermon on the Mount: Restoring Christ’s Message to the Modern Church.

The Sermon on the Mount begins with a 34-page introduction that traces the Sermon’s history of interpretation, the relationship of the Matthew 5-7 to Luke 6:17-49, the structure of the Sermon, and the theological framework for understanding the content of the Sermon. Quarles offers both careful and accessible interaction within the introduction, and allows readers to embody a sense of familiarity with the Sermon before attention turns towards the content. The reader will do well to acquaint themselves with Quarles’ brief history of interpretation. This context is pivotal for the pages that follow, as it provides readers a sense of historical direction and allows them to pinpoint the origin of various presuppositions concerning the passage. That said, the introduction is not an essential read for readers simply stopping by for insight into a specific passage.

The commentary proper is positioned well to excite the reader about the content of the Sermon. Quarles writes with an enjoyable demeanor and tone, which the reader will appreciate as the exposition unfolds from depth to destination. Quarles treats the Sermon in a passage-by-passage manner. This approach is beneficial for pastors and teachers who generally tend to focus on sections. Quarles is sensitive to the Jewish context of the Sermon, including its inherent connection to the Old Testament within early Judaism. Moreover, Quarles rightly recognizes the need to provide an exposition that is established within a biblical-theological approach to the Matthean Gospel holistically. The Sermon on the Mount demonstrates a proper balance between practical application and ministry-driven insight that is uniquely packaged with a shared depth and breadth of academic rigor.

Charles L. Quarles is accomplished scholar and The Sermon on the Mount: Restoring Christ’s Message to the Modern Church is testimony of his unique ability to reach multiple audiences at once. Honestly, there isn’t much to dislike about this volume. Quarles delivers as expected and does so with excellence. It would have been nice to see an original translation of the Sermon by Quarles with annotations concerning textual and translational matters. It also would have been enjoyable to see more intentional interaction with source and redaction critics. But neither detract. Quarles is unapologetically conservative in his approach and conviction regarding the Sermon, and the outcome reflects these values. Those who share similar convictions or not will be foolish to overlook this volume. It brings insightful exegesis and application, and comes strongly recommended.

Review: Commentary on Romans (BTCP)

32611690David G. Peterson is Emeritus Senior Research Fellow and Lecture in New Testament at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia. Peterson has an MA from the University of Sydney, a BD from the University of London, and a PhD from the University of Manchester. Peterson is a prolific scholar and the author of numerous books, including a commentary on the Acts of the Apostles in the Pillar New Testament Commentary series and Possessed by God: A New Testament Theology of Sanctification and Holiness in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series. Most recently, Peterson has released a much-anticipated commentary on Romans in the Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation series.

Commentary on Romans begins with a somewhat brief introduction to Paul’s infamous epistle. Peterson addresses some of the usual introductory issues, but surprisingly omits meaningful interaction with others (e.g. authorship, date, etc.). Peterson provides useful detail concerning the character and structure of the epistle, including comments on various approaches to the epistle. The purpose of Romans, according to Peterson, “was to secure the support of the Roman Christians for his proposed mission to Spain . . . [thus] Paul’s theological, pastoral, and mission agendas were brought together in the writing of this extraordinary letter” (26). The introduction closes with a short outline of the letter, which structures the commentary that follows.

The “Biblical and Theological Themes” section that characterizes the series immediately follows the introduction. This is unique from the other volumes, which both position the section after to the commentary proper. Peterson does a phenomenal job communicating the major themes of the epistle, including Israel and God’s election, God’s promises to Abraham, God as Trinity, the Gospel, Israel and the Church, and more. That said, while Peterson provides readers an excellent survey of the major biblical-theological themes of Romans, those familiar with the other volumes in the series will find his treatment somewhat bland. The section is significantly shorter and the treatment isn’t nearly as consistent as the others. These thoughts could be the result of reading more broadly on the epistle and its theology, or it could be a familiarity with the depth of the other volumes. Regardless, it’s mediocre at best.

The commentary proper is where Peterson demonstrates the value of careful exegesis that has been informed by countless hours of biblical-theological reflection. To be fair, the task of writing a commentary on Romans is no easy undertaking. Not because the epistle is difficult or long (which it is both), but because the amount of material on the market overflows with rich insight and usefulness. That said, the mere fact that Peterson has written a commentary that carts a potential to stand out among the crowd is impressive in itself. Peterson is strong on grammatical matters and he does a tremendous job providing accessible and insightful information to the reader. Peterson is also intentional to keep the major themes ever-before the reader, offering a depth that doesn’t sacrifice breadth.

Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation: Commentary on Romans by David G. Peterson is not just another commentary on Romans. Peterson is both clear and accessible without conceding to the neglect that with matters most—careful and informed exegesis that is firmly grounded in the biblical-theological themes of the Bible. The shortcomings of this volume are largely confined to the introduction and the “Biblical and Theological Themes” section. Beyond that the riches await the diligence of the reader. If you are looking for a commentary on the book of Romans that strikes a balance between scholarly depth and practical accessibility, then Peterson will be a welcomed add to your library.