Category: Biblical Studies

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.

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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.

Review: A History of Israel (Revised)

27777600A History of Israel: From the Bronze Age through the Jewish Wars by Walter C. Kaiser has been a classic seminary textbook for nearly two decades. Its detailed structure and organization have provided professors and students the ideal platform needed for thoughtful exploration into the history of ancient Israel. Now, after almost 20 years of academic service, A History of Israel has received a much-needed overhaul.

A full review of the book’s content can be found elsewhere, as this is a revision. That said, at least two comments are worth mention here before attention is turned towards the revision. First, and probably foremost, those familiar with Kaiser’s work will be pleasantly welcomed by the conservative scholarship that is characteristic of his legacy. Kaiser deals with the evidence (and sometimes lack thereof) without compromise in scholarship or conviction. Second, as mentioned above, the organization of the volume has been a large factor of its success in the classroom over the years. Kaiser is detailed and comprehensive, and the editorial effort that has been done to bring this caliber of work into focus is impressive, and it only gets better with this revision.

The revision itself in many ways simply enhances the original beauty of Kaiser’s work. There are a number of enhancements worth discussing here. First, and probably most notable, Paul D. Wegner has been added to the volume as a coauthor, and likely a major reason that the revision was commenced. Wegner is a capable scholar and complements Kaiser nicely. Second, there is more content than before, approximately 200 pages. Some of the added page count is the result of added illustrations, but some is also due to revision within the content of the book. The revisions therein largely focus on Old Testament texts and ancient Near Eastern literary and archaeological sources. Kaiser and Wegner aim to highlight the important modern controversies surrounding this portion of Scripture and treat topics such as current approaches to the study of the history of Israel, common fallacies in modern, secular biblical studies, and the evidence for the historical authenticity of the Old Testament accounts. Third, as alluded to above, there has been a substantial focus on the volumes visual appeal. The revised edition includes over 600 full-color maps, charts, and illustrations to help bring the content closer to the reader, and this is a welcomed effort.

Still, where the above highlights some of the more praiseworthy elements of the revised edition of A History of Israel, it is important to comment on the shortcomings of the volume. It should be said at the onset that apart from some likely methodological differences, for most readers, few content related shortcomings exist. Where the missed opportunities are evident is largely in the hands of the publisher. B&H Academic is known for quality resources, especially when it comes to full-color prints. That said, this volume is likely the first exception to that legacy. First, the book is way too big for a flimsy paperback cover. The binding is stiff, difficult to read beyond the first hundred pages or so, and the cover does not match the caliber of the content therein. The book’s size alone makes it worthy of a hardcover. Second, while the pages are nice and thick, the print quality therein is a little better than what you would get at home on an old HP printer. Third, the 600+ full-color visuals are welcomed, but the overall execution of such was well below even the lowest standard of quality. The colors and print quality are inconsistent, and sadly, the otherwise excellent content appears amateur as a result.

A History of Israel: From the Bronze Age through the Jewish Wars (Revised Edition) by Walter C. Kaiser and Paul D. Wegner is a phenomenal resource. Kaiser and Wegner have done a huge service by bringing the material up-to-date with current conversations. It continues to be a gold standard resource for a conservative position on the matters of the history of Israel. It’s a shame that the physical appearance of the book detracts from the academic rigor therein. Because the content is both needed and done right, it comes highly recommended—but only for those who can look beyond the aesthetics of a poorly printed book.

Review: The World’s Oldest Alphabet

34154998Douglas Petrovich has a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto, with a major in Syro-Palestinian archaeology, and minors in both ancient Egyptian language and ancient Near Eastern religions. Petrovich is the former academic dean and professor at Novosibirsk Biblical-Theological Seminary and currently teaches Ancient Egypt at Wilfrid Laurier University. He is the author of numerous academic, peer-reviewed articles and the groundbreaking new book The World’s Oldest Alphabet: Hebrew as the Language of the Proto-consonantal Script (Carta Jerusalem, 2016).

The World’s Oldest Alphabet is divided into four sections: (1) background matters to the proto-consonantal inscriptions, (2) the inscriptions of the period of Egypt’s Middle Kingdom, (3) the inscriptions of the period of Egypt’s New Kingdom, and (4) concluding thoughts. Most readers will do well to spend time in the initial section of the book. Petrovich does a phenomenal job introducing the issues and methodology of the book, including the placement of the first alphabet among the earliest written scripts, the Semitic language of the proto-consonantal scripts, and the methodological information the reader will need to follow along.

Petrovich presents 16 proto-consonantal inscriptions: (1) the Caption on Sinai 115, (2) Sinai 337, (3) Wadi el-Hôl 1, (4) Wadi el-Hôl 2, (5) Lahun Bilingual Ostracon, (6) Sinai 376, (7) Sinai 345a and Sinai 345b, (8) Sinai 346a and Sinai 346b, (9) Sinai 349, (10) Sinai 351, (11) Sinai 353, (12) Sinai 357, (13) Sinai 360, (14) Sinai 361, (15) Sinai 375a, and (16) Sinai 378. Each inscription is addressed individually as Petrovich walks the reader through the necessary background information, the translation methodology, and the potential historical value of the inscriptions. Readers will find numerous full-color maps, photographs, and illustrations of the inscriptions. The visual aspect of the book complements the meticulously detailed information that Petrovich provides, and readers will appreciate every page. Furthermore, Petrovich includes a number of helpful supplemental items, such as an alphabetic chart of proto-consonantal Hebrew, and index material that provides additional information concerning the original letters of proto-consonantal Hebrew, grammatical guides for proto-consonantal Hebrew, and a chronological chart of relevant ancient Egyptian dynasties. 

The World’s Oldest Alphabet is fascinating. Petrovich has broken academic ground that few have been willing to walk, and done so while yielding faithful witness to the biblical narrative. One of the most exciting, and subsequently controversial findings of the study, is the explicit mention of three biblical figures: (1) Asenath, (2) Ahisamach, and (3) Moses. Hence, not only has Petrovich claimed to have uncovered the oldest alphabet, he also has claimed to have discovered the oldest (1842-1446 BCE) mention of Moses and others. Of course, Petrovich is not without his critics, and for good reason. If The World’s Oldest Alphabet is accurate (and Petrovich presents a convincing case), then Petrovich could be liable for one of the most significant archaeological realizations in the last century. It fits the biblical narrative and further establishes the reliability of the biblical record.

The World’s Oldest Alphabet is detailed and judicious in its research and presentation, and readers will benefit greatly from Petrovich’s efforts. This is an academic work with a particular audience in mind. That said, while it may require more time to read than anticipated, it could be easily understood by a trained or interested layperson. The thesis is simple, explanation is clear, and the implications are enormous. Critics will inevitably argue that Petrovich found that which he was intending to find, but the meticulous work done therein appears to demonstrate otherwise. This isn’t to say that Petrovich deserves (or will get) wholesale support from every reader. It is simply an acknowledgement that Petrovich has done the necessary work to substantiate his conclusions, and for that reason The World’s Oldest Alphabet: Hebrew as the Language of the Proto-consonantal Script comes strongly recommended!

Review: Paul the Ancient Letter Writer

61RDHTMFyTLJeffrey A. D. Weima is a household name in the arena of Pauline Studies. Weima is Professor of New Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary and author of several academic publications, including a massive commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series and the groundbreaking work Neglected Endings: The Significance of the Pauline Letter Closings (Sheffield Academic Press, 1994). Most recently, building off of his expertise as a Pauline scholar, Weima has produced a masterful book on Pauline letter writing, Paul the Ancient Letter Writer: An Introduction to Epistolary Analysis. 

Paul the Ancient Letter Writer is a magnificent book that (almost) instantly allows readers to see the value and importance of reading a biblical letter as a letter, more specifically an ancient letter of the Greco-Roman period. This is a basic hermeneutical rule that often gets overlooked by the average reader and vitally import for every pastor and teacher seeking to communicate the Bible accurately and effectively. Paul the Ancient Letter Writer contains a brief introduction, a helpful test case on Philemon, and four major chapters covering the four major parts of an epistle: (1) the opening, (2) the thanksgiving, (3) the body, and (4) the closing. Each of the four major chapters offers a detailed analysis of various (and diverse) epistolary conventions found within each major part of an epistle.

Where most attention is usually going to be directed towards the body of a letter, Weima does an excellent job showing the importance of each of the major parts of a letter. For example, Weima demonstrates the great interpretive significance discovered in the opening of a letter. He explains an example of such insight, writing, “the sender formula brings the letter opening to a definitive close in a comparable way that the corresponding peace benediction and grace benediction mark out the letter closing and so bring Paul’s correspondence to a definitive close” (p. 44). For Paul, the opening formula actually shapes the boundaries of the correspondence. This is seen in another example found in the closing section, where Weima articulates the peculiar importance of the various conventions observed in the closing of Paul’s letters—namely the peace benediction, the hortatory section, the greetings, the autograph, and the grace benediction.

For those who find joy in the discovery of interpretive treasures of Scripture, Paul the Ancient Letter Writer: An Introduction to Epistolary Analysis by Jeffrey A. D. Weima is both a clear and captivating example that there is a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way to go about reading Paul’s letters and the insights from this volume pay dividends immediately. This would be an excellent companion textbook in a New Testament course, especially where the genre of epistle encompasses a majority of the coursework. It would also do well in an intermediate or advanced hermeneutics course. While the book is rather detail oriented at times, I still found it to be easily accessible and refreshingly saturated with helpful charts and images of Weima’s analysis of Paul’s letters.

This is a book that I am afraid many will overlook. That said, if you’re reading this review, don’t let yourself be one of those sad individuals. Get a copy today. Trust me! It comes highly recommended.

Review: God and the Problem of Evil: Five Views

81MwvV6VpNLSome of the most helpful books in the field of biblical and theological studies have come in the form of multiview dialogs. These books are especially useful for laity looking to survey the landscape of ideas, and the format is exceptional for argument analysis. The most recent of these books, from the Spectrum Multiview Books series, seeks to address an age-old problem with a bit of modern flare—God and the problem of evil.

God and the Problem of Evil: Five Views edited by Chad Meister and James K. Dew Jr. brings together five theological minds with very different views of God and the reconciliation of such to the existence of evil in the world. The book is comprised of two parts. Part one is a positive presentation of each of the five views. Phillip Cary represents the classical theist view, arguing that no evil takes place unless God permits it, and in doing so, his purpose is for a greater good to be brought about in the world. William Lane Craig represents the Molinist view, arguing that divine middle knowledge essentially becomes the solution to the problem. William Hasker represents the open theist view and argues that God created humanity as free creatures. Thus, it is impossible for him to know with certainty what they would do in any given situation. Thomas Oord represented a modified open theist view which he refers to as an essential kenosis view. Oord argues that God, for the sake of love, emptied (kenosis) himself of the ability to control the actions and effects of free creatures, and thus, is unable to stop evil from taking place. Lastly, Stephan Wykstra represents a more philosophically abstract approach to the problem of evil which is labeled the skeptical theism view.

The second part of the book comprises the responses of each contributor to the other contributors’ essays. Each response essay is brief and curated into a single chapter. For example, Cary’s response essay interacts with Craig, Hasker, Oord, and Wykstra in a single chapter. In my experience, the format of the book hasn’t provided as much room for interaction, and actually, makes the book more difficult to navigate then if the each response followed the positive presentation in the first section (e.g. each contributor interacts with a single view immediately following the positive presentation). Consequently, while the content of the interaction between the views is helpful, it is rather brief and sometimes seems outright dismissive (e.g. Hasker’s interaction with Carey). That said this is the biggest shortcoming to an otherwise excellent display of scholarly engagement on a very important and far reaching theological topic.

God and the Problem of Evil: Five Views edited by Chad Meister and James K. Dew Jr. offers an up-to-date engagement with the current landscape on one of the most theologically problematic questions to meet the modern age: if an all-loving and all-powerful God exists, then why is there so much evil in the world? Despite the lackluster organization of the response section, the book shines with deep theological reflection and worthwhile interaction. It’s a well-done primer that I wouldn’t have any problem recommending to others interested in the topic. Trust me, its worth the reflection!