Review: Sinai and the Saints

34372209James M. Todd III is Assistant Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at College of the Ozarks, Point Lookout, Missouri. Todd received a Ph.D. from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author of Remember, O Yahweh: The Poetry and Context of Psalms 135-137 (Wipf & Stock, 2015) and the present volume Sinai and the Saints: Reading Old Covenant Laws for the New Covenant Community (IVP Academic, 2017).

Sinai and the Saints is a clearly written and engaging exploration of the nature and relationship of the Old Covenant to the New for the people of God. The importance of Todd’s work cannot be overstated. It is both relevant and accessible to the average reader, and Todd consistently pulls from the best scholarship to support his position. The premise of Todd’s work is that Christians, as members of the New Covenant community, are not under the confines of the Old Covenant law. That said Todd does an exceptional job displaying the ethical relevance of the Old Covenant law (namely the Ten Commandments) within the New Covenant community, who by all respects are now under a different law—the law of Christ. The book does much for the contemporary readers wrestling with the significance of the Old Testament law to the twenty-first-century Christian life and offers fresh lenses to tackle tough questions.

There are some foreseen disagreements that learned readers might encounter as it relates to the relationship between Israel and the Church. This is not a new problem, nor is Todd’s work an attempt to answer those questions. That said, where I found Todd to be helpful is in his reliance upon the biblical text to further found a pre-established position. Those looking for a resolution to issues regarding “replacement theology,” covenant theology, dispensationalism, etc. will want to look elsewhere. Todd’s position is firmly planted within the stream of covenant theology, and rightly so given the nature of his task here. This peripheral dispute being set aside, Sinai and the Saints has beautifully occupied a needed gap for today’s readers.

Sinai and the Saints: Reading Old Covenant Laws for the New Covenant Community by James M. Todd III is an accessible and relevant book for those struggling to understand the relationship between the Old Covenant law upon the New Covenant people of God. It is a book that will reap immediate and practical fruit for anyone eager to harvest its riches. It comes highly recommended!

Review: The Lost World of Adam and Eve

23055095John H. Walton is Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College. Walton earned his Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible and Cognate Studies from Hebrew Union College. He is the author of numerous peer-reviewed articles, contributor to several academic reference works, and over twenty books both popular and academic. Walton is a household name in the arena of Old Testament Studies and a voice of reason when it comes to the ancient Near Eastern context and background of the biblical world. The Lost World series has sought to target controversial issues related the modern theological assumptions frequently (and unnaturally) placed upon the framework of the biblical audience. The most recent of such explorations has directed attention towards human origins, Adam and Eve, and the early chapters of Genesis.

The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate is comprised of twenty-one propositions concerning the nature and relation of Adam and Eve to both the biblical world and modern concerns. For Walton, the concern of the book is “particularly interested in determining the extent to which the biblical claims may or may not conflict with the claims made in the current scientific consensus about human origins” (p. 198). The book has much designated to the hermeneutical or interpretive concerns related to Genesis 2-3 and allusions to Adam and Eve in both the Old Testament and the New, and Walton does the reader a service as he carefully guides them through the contours of the conversation. Walton views Adam and Eve as archetypes of the human race and finds support for this reality in the pattern of though common among the ANE and its penetration into the biblical text. Thus, for Walton, while Adam and Eve should be considered as historical people, no biblical restraints exist to necessitate Adam and Eve as the first created humans.

There is so much to be praised about this volume and Walton’s approach in general. Walton is keen to the needs of the reader and sensitive of the way he approaches each of the propositions. It is also noteworthy to mention that Walton has included an extended excursus by N. T. Wright on Paul’s use of Adam to further establish a New Testament voice within a predominately Old Testament examination. The organization and structure of the book around propositions is also extremely helpful and user-friendly. These short chapters allow the reader to utilize the book as a reference work for answers to specific claims, or as a cover-to-cover read. That said the latter is to be recommended before the former as Walton’s argument is filled of circumstantial evidence established upon a cumulative case. Still, in my opinion, where Walton does exceptionally well is in bringing the academic ideas explored in this book to a gospel-centered plea to the Church to pursue faithfulness to the Scriptures within their proper context.

The Lost World of Adam and Eve is going to be filled with heated controversy for many modern readers. Nevertheless, in my estimation, the heat generated from Walton’s presentation should only help to produce gospel-light in a different, but still lost world.

 

Review: Scripture and Cosmology

51nnpD2wmvLKyle Greenwood is Associate Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew Language at Colorado Christian University. He earned his M.Div. from Asbury Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies from Hebrew Union College. Greenwood is author of several peer-reviewed articles related to ancient Near Eastern studies, contributor to Ancient Israel’s History: An Introduction to Issues and Sources edited by Bill T. Arnold and Richard S. Hess, and the author of ­Scripture and Cosmology: Reading the Bible between the Ancient World and Modern Science (IVP Academic, 2015).

­Scripture and Cosmology is separated into three major sections: (1) Scripture and Cosmos in Cultural Context, (2) Cosmology and Scripture in Historical Context, and (3) Scripture and Science. Greenwood’s top-down approach is both logical and necessary to build the proper framework for the conversation at hand. For Greenwood, context is everything. The entire first section of the book, nearly a third of the total page count, is dedicated to developing an ANE context for understanding the cosmology of the surrounding world, including Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Israel. The second section details the historical challenges of ANE cosmology and how the Church dealt with the three-tiered (i.e. earth, heavens, and sea) cosmology of the biblical world. The two major worldviews Greenwood discusses are Aristotelian Cosmology (the earth at the center of the universe, with the sun and moon revolving around it) and Copernican Cosmology (the sun at the center, with the earth and everything else revolving around it). The third section is an attempt to offer theological justification for the difference between ANE and the modern scientific cosmologies. Greenwood does an exceptional job connecting the dots for the reader and provides (at least in part) rationale in God meeting the original audience’s cognitive abilities (i.e. “divine accommodation”; 194).

There is much to be praised about Greenwood’s effort in ­Scripture and Cosmology. This is a wellspring of interaction with ANE sources and a fair and balanced treatment of a controversial subject to evangelical circles. Both Greenwood’s approach and organization are suitable for the outcome of this book, and the emphasis that he placed on the ANE context is to be applauded. The subject matter of ­Scripture and Cosmology is generally challenging to digest for the average reader, but Greenwood is both engaging and accessible throughout. Moreover, while readers will inevitably find some disagreement with Greenwood’s conclusions at points due to the nature of the topic, his eagerness to engage the issue and continue to uphold a high view of Scripture is both admirable and praiseworthy. ­Scripture and Cosmology is a thorough survey that will inform and equip readers concerning ANE cosmology. In short, Greenwood is not only qualified for the task established in ­Scripture and Cosmology, but after reading this book, I am confident that he will be preferred.

Review: Biblical Theology

30010115John 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 Testament, The Theology of the Book of Isaiah, the three-volume Old Testament Theology, and many more. Most recently, in Biblical Theology: The God of the Christian Scriptures, John Goldingay has uniquely navigated across canonical lines and produced a biblical theology that both encapsulates the grand narrative of the Bible while simultaneously transcending traditional theological categories.

Biblical Theology is a sizable tome, covering over 600 pages and divided into eight major sections: (1) God’s Person, (2) God’s Insight, (3) God’s Creation, (4) God’s Reign, (5) God’s Anointed, (6) God’s Children, (7) God’s Expectations, and (8) God’s Triumph. The keen reader will be able to detect the close parallel between Goldingay’s major category organization and that of classic systematic approaches to theology. That said, it is quickly visible that Goldingay has sought to venture off the beaten path to pave his own way. Those previously acquainted with Goldingay will be met with his familiar wit and lucid writing style as he reframes the conversation towards an understanding of God and the world as it effortlessly emerges from within the Christian Scriptures (p. 13).

Where I think Goldingay shines in this volume is in his willingness to allow the text of the Old and New Testament to speak for itself. Goldingay avoids trying to unnaturally harmonize tensions within the text, and instead seems to intentionally allow them to remain unresolved. I found this to be refreshing at times and frustrating at others. It is also here I presume that Goldingay is going to find himself in a familiar place with many conservative evangelicals. Among other things, this seemingly intentional ambiguity is most recognizable in Goldingay’s omission of an affirmation of penal substitutionary atonement (p. 332). It is here, and his comments on justification, that will likely generate the primary buzz within the ears of readers committed to traditional categories of Protestant Christianity (myself included)—none of which will detract from the usefulness or brilliance of this volume.

Biblical Theology: The God of the Christian Scriptures by John Goldingay is a masterpiece of excellence and a new benchmark in the arena of biblical/theological studies. Goldingay has an uncanny ability to keep his eye focused on the bigger picture of the Bible as he brilliantly unpacks a compelling portrait of the God revealed therein. While Biblical Theology is a large and somewhat intimidating book, Goldingay is accessible and easy to read. There will be some inevitable areas of disagreement along the way for many readers. That said, for most of those looking to engage with this volume, such points of disagreement are likely to be known by virtue of its author. Biblical Theology is a unique and praiseworthy work that merits the widest readership possible. If it hasn’t found its way on to your 2017 reading list yet, it should!

Review: The Old Testament by Richard S. Hess

28268170Richard S. Hess is Distinguished Professor of Old Testament at Denver Seminary. Hess earned his Ph.D. from Hebrew Union College and has authored numerous books, including Israelite Religions: An Archaeological and Biblical Survey, Studies in the Personal Names of Genesis 1-11, and commentaries on Leviticus, Song of Songs, and Joshua. Hess is the current editor of the Denver Journal, former editor of the Bulletin of Biblical Research, and the associate editor of Old Testament, archaeology, and maps for the NIV Zondervan Study Bible. Most recently, Hess has released the present volume, a much-anticipated introduction to the Old Testament.

The Old Testament: A Historical, Theological, and Critical Introduction is an up-to-date, sizable, and comprehensive introduction to the OT and the current landscape of OT studies. Hess leaves virtually no stone unturned while he guides the reader through the various layers of the field. The Old Testament is divided into four major parts (Pentateuch, Historical Books, Poetic Books, and Prophetic Books) and covers all thirty-nine of the writings of the Old Testament. Hess opens with a suitable introduction to the structure, canonization, text and textual criticism of the OT. As attention is directed towards the content of the OT, the organization and arrangement of the volume provide readers a unique framework for optimal engagement with each OT book. Each chapter is divided into four major units: (1) Name, Text, and Outline, (2) Overview, (3) Reading, and (4) Theological Perspectives. The third unit (“Reading”) surveys six methods of interpretation, including, premodern readings, higher criticism, literary readings, gender and ideological criticism, ancient Near Eastern context, and canonical context. The fourth unit (“Theological Perspectives”) examines the major themes in each book. Lastly, each chapter includes a brief bibliography for further study.

There is much to be praised about this volume. The organization and arrangement of each of the chapters is easily at the top of the list. Where Hess does exceptionally well is the “Reading” section included in each chapter. Not only does the reader have an opportunity to engage with the standard introductory information expected, but Hess surveys the far-reaching hermeneutical landscape that has interacted with the content. Aside from the chapters, Hess has also included a number of sidebar articles, various maps and photos scattered throughout, and a handful of full-color plates in the center of the volume. The book is targeted towards a graduate-level audience and is scholarly and academic in nature. Nevertheless, as usual, Hess is both engaging and accessible, and thus, The Old Testament should find itself useful for a wide readership. Of course, the most praiseworthy aspect of this book is Hess’ ability to make the OT exciting and applicable for the student, and thus, indispensable for the professor.

The Old Testament: A Historical, Theological, and Critical Introduction by Richard S. Hess contains all the marks of a go-to standard for the field of OT studies. Hess’ expertise in ancient Near Eastern studies and his breadth of knowledge in the OT are on full display. The Old Testament is a must-have resource for scholars, students, and interested laypeople alike. It is accessible, extensive, and overflowing with riches. It comes highly recommended!

Review: The Sacred Bridge

28044788The Sacred Bridge has been recognized by many as the gold standard atlas of the biblical world. I’ve heard about this resource for several years and had received numerous requests to review the title on my blog, but didn’t see much value in spending $120 on an Atlas. I mean, any good Study Bible is littered with similar information, right? Wrong. It wasn’t until I actually held The Sacred Bridge in my hands and began to interact with its content that I became a believer, and now, I’m not sure that I would ever want to study the Bible without it.

The Sacred Bridge is much more than a typical atlas. It is a wellspring of scholarly research, geographical insight, and archeological consideration, pulled together with diagrams, beautiful full-color maps, and illustrative pictures. The atlas covers the entirety of biblical history through 135 CE and is the first resource of its kind to adopt the modern approach to the study of the Levant as a geographical and historical entity. Moreover, when it comes to New Testament geography, The Sacred Bridge has provided readers a tremendous gift as it seeks to interpret such in light of new archeological discoveries such as the Dead Sea Scrolls. In short, it would be appropriate to summarize The Sacred Bridge as an analysis of nearly every corner of biblical history, built upon over a decade of the most up-to-date, reliable and comprehensible academic research, displayed for readers alongside some of the best maps ever produced.

The Sacred Bridge is a massive and well-constructed resource. The typeset is extremely readable (even with the book’s three-column format), and the nearly 450 pages are sewn together between a beautiful hardcover. Original language fonts are color-coded throughout, and inline citations (also color-coded) allow the reader to easily establish the origin and integrity of the scholarship. The pages are thick and glossy finished, which allows the vibrantly colored maps to shine off of the white text-filled pages. Furthermore, the paper contrasts the font and typeset perfectly, and makes long reads comfortable and easy on the eyes. In short, The Sacred Bridge is an impressive volume that is likely to leave book enthusiasts with a sense of appreciation and gratitude. While the footprint of the book itself is rather large (9.25” x 13”), the groundbreaking nature of the content is effortlessly complimented by a beautiful display, both inside and out. It’s what you would expect for a resource at this price point.

There are plenty of atlases of the biblical world on the market today, and many of us already own a Study Bible with maps, charts, etc. Before getting my hands on a copy of The Sacred Bridge, I was somewhat ignorant of the usefulness and benefit of a standalone Atlas—especially one that retails for $120. The Sacred Bridge has completely altered the way that I study the Bible. The amount of information that is crammed between the covers of this book is nothing short of astounding. It contains a lifetime worth of knowledge and insight into virtually every geographical, historiographical, and sociological corner of the biblical world. My primary regret is waiting this long to mine the riches of this treasure trove. The Sacred Bridge is a resource that should to be on the shelf of every serious student of the Bible. It’s well worth the investment! Take it from me! I was hesitant once too.

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

51obtebyel-_sx331_bo1204203200_The landscape of specialized biblical and theological dictionaries produces continual growth year-by-year. These dictionaries generally boast a more focused intention on content and tend to provide a unique product as an end goal. The level of usefulness of these dictionaries can vary greatly depending on the academic or personal interest of the individual. However, because of the distinctive quality of such works the price-point is generally out of reach for the average consumer—especially for a multi-volume work like that being reviewed here. 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.

This final volume of the Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical and Post-Biblical Antiquity (DDL) edited by Edwin M. Yamauchi and Marvin R. Wilson completes a landmark resource in the field of biblical studies. DDL is one of those unique cases, like that mentioned above, where the usefulness and availability of the resource intersect at almost every point. The series is jam-packed with both valuable and vital information for understanding the biblical world. 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 Dictionary, International Standard Encyclopedia of the Bible, etc.) may interact with similar 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 format. This fourth volume covers articles from “Oaths & Vows” to “Wild Animals and Hunting.” While all the articles provide an abundance of information, the articles on “Same-Sex Relations,” “Slavery,” and “Time” were among the most interesting in my opinion.
The strong points of DDL overflow with at least three major benefits. First, the scope and comprehensiveness of each of the articles are unique even among some of the other top-tier dictionaries. 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 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—and this is something that is certain to awaken excitement in my fellow bibliography enthusiasts.

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 series today. Trust me; this is a resource you will want to consult often.