Review: Peter in Early Christianity

26029085Peter in Early Christianity edited by Helen K. Bond and Larry W. Hurtado is a compilation of the nineteen essays presented at a 2013 conference organized by the Centre for the Study of Christian Origins at the University of Edinburgh. The contributors to this volume include internationally recognized scholars of early Christian history, such as Jonathan W. Lo, John R. Markley, Margaret H. Williams, Paul A. Hartog, Willaim Rutherford, and much more.

Larry Hurtado opens the volume with an excellent essay surveying Petrine scholarship within Protestant Christianity. Hurtado’s focus is on the works of three influential scholars from the mid-twentieth and early twenty-first centuries: Oscar Cullmann, Martin Hengel, and Markus Bockmuehl. It is here that Hurtado exposes the reader to the apostle Peter as a topic of serious historical and scholarly consideration within the Protestant tradition—a consideration that is more concerned with historical knowledge than ecclesiastical polemics.

The essays that follow are loosely organized in chronological order and divided into three major sections. The first five essays in the volume seek to contribute to a historical portrait of Peter. Margaret H. Williams essay on the various names associated with Peter was among the best in this initial section. Williams analyzes Jewish onomastic practices and connects such practice to the different names given to Peter in the gospels. Timothy Barnes also has a compelling essay on Peter’s death and the tradition of Peter being crucified. Barnes makes a compelling case from John 21:18-19 that Peter was burned alive, not crucified.

The next five essays are focused on Peter in the New Testament. While all five of the essays are extremely crucial to the overall scope Petrine studies, Jason Sturdevant’s contribution on the character of Peter in the Fourth Gospel was among the best. The final group of essays is the most thought-provoking in the entire book and is certain to encourage additional research. These essays are collectively aimed at examining Peter in the early Christian tradition. Lastly, the volume concludes with a noteworthy essay by Markus Bockmuehl in which he examines Peter within the works of the Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar.

Peter in Early Christianity edited by Helen K. Bond and Larry W. Hurtado is an outstanding collection of essays, that, in many ways, tread on unchartered territory within Petrine studies. This is a book that will broaden your horizon and encourage your understanding of one of the most influential figures of early Christianity. The scope of essays included are comprehensive and detailed, and the organization is appropriately presented. If you are interested in the person and influence of Peter within the early Christian movement, Peter in Early Christianity is a one stop volume that will point you in several right directions. It comes highly recommended!

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Review: Invitation to the Septuagint

25538754The Septuagint is arguably the most significant interpretive window into both the Old Testament and the New. It possesses a rich history in arena biblical studies and interest in its usefulness is only growing. However, for students that lack prior exposure to the Septuagint, the complexity of the current scholarly trends therein can be somewhat overwhelming. Invitation to the Septuagint by Karen H. Jobes and Moises Silva has bridged this gap with a comprehensive introduction that is both informative and user-friendly.

Invitation to the Septuagint appropriately begins with a brief introduction that details the use of the Septuagint in the academic context of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Scriptures. Readers will exit this introduction with an established understanding and framework for the pages that follow. The book is divided into three major sections: (1) The History of the Septuagint, (2) The Septuagint in Biblical Studies, and (3) The Current State of Septuagint Studies. The most helpful sections for most readers will be the former two sections. Lastly, there are a number of useful appendixes, such as a glossary, and a list of differences in versification between English versions and the Septuagint.

The second edition of Invitation to the Septuagint has been revised, updated, and significantly expanded to meet the changing needs of the reader since the first edition. The entirety of this volume demands the attention of serious students, but there are also a few noteworthy chapters to highlight here. The two chapters that I found most beneficial, especially after working through the history and language of the Septuagint, were the chapters on the Septuagint for the textual criticism of the Old Testament and the Septuagint and the New Testament. These two chapters displayed the immediate benefit of the Septuagint within biblical studies. The appendixes are likewise worth mention, as they do well in providing both reference and direction for further study.

Invitation to the Septuagint by Karen H. Jobes and Moises Silva has provided both students and scholars with a much needed second edition of their well-received introduction to the Septuagint. Septuagint studies are notoriously complex, but Jobes and Silva have helpfully distilled the need-to-know information and packaged it in a comprehensive, informative, and user-friendly volume. If you are looking for a reliable and accessible source that will provide a helpful reference point without disregarding the necessary “nuts and bolts” of the Septuagint, Invitation to the Septuagint is by far the best available option. It is a book should be read by anyone interested in biblical studies and consulted often. It comes highly recommended.

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. 

Review: Perspectives on the Ending of Mark

19093968Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: Four Views edited by David Alan Black is a tour de force into one of the most significant textual variants in the New Testament. Each of the chapters included in this volume originated from a conference entitled “The Last Twelve Verses of Mark: Original or Not,” held April 13-14, 2007, at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. For those familiar with the textual issues surrounding Mark 16:9-20, the enlisted contributors (Daniel Wallace, Maurice Robinson, J. Keith Elliott, and David Alan Black) inevitably stand within two major persuasions (as the title of the conference suggests) with varying degrees of distance between them.

Maurice Robinson and David Alan Black both argue that Mark 16:9-20 is the original ending of the Second Gospel. Still, of the two contributors, it is likely that the reader will find Robinson to have provided a much more persuasive presentation than Black. Robinson provides interaction with ancient sources concerning the Long Ending (LE), analyzes the vocabulary of the LE, displays an interesting set of parallels between various sections of the Second Gospel (1:32-39; 3:14-15; 6:7-13; 7:24-8:38) and the LE, and closes with fifteen points of conclusion concerning the originality of the LE. However, in my opinion, for many readers, while they may find the chapter by Robinson helpful, they will likely remain unconvinced by the external evidence witnessed in the earliest manuscripts.

Daniel Wallace and J. Keith Elliot both argue that Mark 16:9-20 is not the original ending of the Second Gospel. Similar to that witnessed above, I believe that the reader will find Wallace to have provided a much more persuasive presentation than Elliot. I would submit that the contribution by Wallace is worth admission alone. Wallace begins by delineating the inevitable existence of presuppositions when approaching this issue and provides a personal story of how his personal presuppositions had to be challenged before he was able to best analyze the data. The chapter by Wallace is also the most helpful chapter of the book by way of explanation of the textual issue. For Wallace, both the external and internal evidence suggest that the last twelve verses of Mark are indeed not original to the Second Gospel—a conclusion that Wallace skillfully guides the reader to recognize as the most likely scenario.

Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: Four Views concludes with a helpful summary by Darrell Bock. Indeed, Bock unashamedly sides with Wallace on the matter of the ending of Mark but does an excellent job evenhandedly outlining the implications of each of the preceding chapters. It must be stated here that the chapters by Black and Elliott are certainly worth reading, but are likely to find little outside adherence. In fact, in my opinion, this volume could have been more helpful had it actually eliminated Black and Elliott altogether and provided more interaction between Robinson and Wallace. The lack of direct interaction between the positions was a major downfall in my opinion, and had it been included, in my opinion, this volume would have been much better for the end user.

The lack of interaction that many readers have come to appreciate from the Perspective series is unfortunate—especially given the nature of the discussion and the inclusion of two peripheral views that could have been easily eliminated. Still, the contribution of Maurice Robinson and Daniel Wallace are well worth the cover price of this volume. If you are interested in textual criticism and/or looking to teach or preach from the Gospel of Mark, the issues detailed in this volume will need to be addressed, and I am confident that Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: Four Views edited by David Alan Black will provide you with much food for thought. It comes highly recommended!

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. 

Review: Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity

173611Paul Barnett (Ph.D., London University) is recognized by many in the field of New Testament studies as one of the most respected historical scholars on the origins of Christianity. As well as being an Emeritus Faculty member of Moore Theological College, Barnett is currently a fellow in ancient history at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia and a teaching fellow at Regent College, Vancouver, Canada. Barnett has authored numerous books, including a number of commentaries and monographs related to the various aspects of New Testament studies.

Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity: A History of New Testament Times has been long acknowledged as a quintessential classic at the top of Barnett’s lengthy literary corpus. Barnett guides the reader through the complexities of the Hellenistic backdrop that characterized much of the culture during the ministry of Jesus—from the incarnation to the resurrection—and the development of the New Testament Church. The approach is both comprehensive and readable, and Barnett firmly roots his research in primary source material. This affords the reader a better grasp of the New Testament from within its historical context, and thus, allows for a better recognition of the significance of the early Jesus movement within the first century world.

The scope of this volume is quite impressive. Not only is the reader exposed to the historical landscape of the New Testament, but Barnett has likewise interwoven detailed interaction with contemporary critical scholarship concerning the Historical Jesus and other related issues. It is here that Barnett does well in demonstrating the historical shortcomings of the critical attempt to construct a chasm between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. Moreover, the reader will certainly appreciate the emphasis Barnett places on the Christological motivation that underlined the missionary effort of the early Christian community, as well as the imperative nature of a bodily resurrection in early Christian worship. This is by any measure a breath of fresh air brought to a table that is far too often plagued with canonical discontinuity and confusion, and for this readers everywhere should rejoice!

Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity: A History of New Testament Times by Paul Barnett is an invaluable resource that should be read and re-read by anyone interested in the origins of early Christianity. Barnett is judicious and clear as usual, and his treatment therein is nothing short of comprehensive. Barnett leaves the eager reader with nearly no stones left to turn. This is a volume that should be consulted by many and done so often, both in the church and in the academy. It comes highly recommended!

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Review: From the Maccabees to the Mishnah

24920714Shaye J. D. Cohen is the Littauer Professor of Hebrew Literature and Philosophy in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations of Harvard University—one of the oldest and most distinguished professorships of Jewish studies in the United States. Prior to Harvard, Cohen was the Samuel Ungerleider Professor of Judaic Studies and Professor of Religious Studies at Brown University, as well as the Dean of the Graduate School and Shenkman Professor of Jewish History at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Cohen has written numerous scholarly articles and authored several important books, which include, The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, and Uncertainties (University of California Press, 2001), Why Aren’t Jewish Women Circumcised?: Gender and Covenant in Judaism (University of California Press, 2005), and perhaps his most widely known book, now in its third edition and the subject of the present review, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah (Westminster John Knox, 2014).

From the Maccabees to the Mishnah is a calculated exploration into the history and development of Judaism between roughly164 BCE to 300 CE. It is here that Cohen carefully guides readers through a variegated landscape of transition, both before and after the rise of Christianity. However, Cohen does far more here than provide a mere historical survey of Judaism and its development into the rabbinic period. Rather, Cohen seeks to usher readers into the very heart of the social, cultural, and religious environment of Judaism as it was shaped and molded by the world and events around it.

Those familiar with the two previous editions of From the Maccabees to the Mishnah should welcome the revisions made to this third edition. Cohen has revised and updated the content for clarity and usability, and updated/added footnotes as needed. However, the most significant contribution to this third edition is the addition of a new chapter, titled, “Ways That Parted: Jews, Christians, and Jewish Christians (ca. 100-150).” This new chapter is a shortened and revised version of an essay Cohen wrote, “In Between: Jewish-Christians and the Curse of the Heretics,” in Partings: How Judaism and Christianity Became Two, edited by Hershel Shanks.

The strength of this volume are many, but the weaknesses are equally as numerous. For many readers, the approach to the topic brought by Cohen will be a breath of fresh air. He is lucid and judicious in his treatment of the period and its development, and the scope of material covered therein is well-organized, easily understandable, and presented with clarity. However, Cohen writes from a predominantly liberal Jewish perspective and his presuppositions can be seen on almost every page—especially the material on canonization and its implications. Still, apart from the content proper, the “Suggestions for Further Reading” section that has been included at the end of the book is alone worth the price of admission.

For some readers, Cohen’s approach and perspective will be value-added to their library even if they disagree with many of his conclusions. Others will find it to be rubbish. I am of the former persuasion. I found much of Cohen’s material extremely helpful and I appreciate the enduring nature of his work. But, like any book, this was only realized after understanding and evaluating the presuppositions therein. If you are looking for an informative guide into the social, cultural, and religious development of the Judaism underlying the New Testament, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah by Shaye J. D. Cohen is indispensable. Read it closely and carefully, and interact with it rigorously. It comes highly recommended!

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. 

Review: Q, The Earliest Gospel

5014957John S. Kloppenborg is Professor of Religion and Chair of the Department of Religion at the University of Toronto. He received both an M.A. and Ph.D. in New Testament and Early Christian Literature from the University of St. Michael’s College, where he completed his doctoral work under Heinz O. Guenther on the literary genre of the synoptic sayings source. Kloppenborg has since authored numerous books, including Q Parallels: Synopsis, Critical Notes & Concordance (Polebridge Press, 1988), The Formation of Q: Trajectories in Ancient Wisdom Collections (Fortress Press, 1987), Excavating Q: The History and Setting of the Sayings Gospel (Fortress Press, 2000), A Critical Edition of Q (with James M. Robinson and Paul Hoffman; Fortress Press, 2000), and the focus of the present review, Q, The Earliest Gospel: An Introduction to the Original Stories and Sayings of Jesus (Westminster John Knox, 2010).

Today, Kloppenborg is considered by many in the field to be one of the world’s leading experts on the Q source. The issues surrounding Q can be especially complex for the average reader who is unfamiliar with the synoptic problem and the conversations therein. Of course, this makes the task of creating a widely accessible introduction particularly challenging, as it requires beyond average familiarity with practically every corner of this scholarly discussion. It is here, I believe, that Q, The Earliest Gospel has provided something special for readers of all interest levels to engage. Kloppenborg attentively guides the reader through four fundamental questions—why should we think there was a Q? What did Q look like? What difference does Q make? And what happened to Q?—and provides the reader with ample interaction and examples to evaluate therein. This latter aspect of the book is invaluable for those who are newer to the Q conversation and provides a basis with which to weigh much of  Kloppenborg’s conclusions. Lastly, to the benefit of the reader, Kloppenborg closes the book with an English translation of the Critical Edition of Q that has been slightly modified in translation and noted where he differs with the editors.

Q, The Earliest Gospel: An Introduction to the Original Stories and Sayings of Jesus by John S. Kloppenborg is still one of the best introductions to Q on the market. Kloppenborg is well-qualified for the task and the fruit of his labor shows on nearly every page. Personally, I entered this review with an open mind but largely unconvinced by previous attempts at positing the existence of Q within the synoptic problem. Kloppenborg’s presentation was much better than the past attempts and I think that he may have even moved me forward towards his conclusion, but I am still largely unconvinced upon exit. Maybe I will give it another read with a keener ear towards evaluation. Nevertheless, if you are interested in investigating the various questions related to Q, for the first time or thirty-first time, Kloppenborg’s volume is the best entry point on the market and well worth the investment. It comes highly recommended!

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. 

Review: Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period

9780830826780Larry R. Helyer (Ph.D., Fuller Theological Seminary) is Emeritus Professor of Biblical Studies at Taylor University, Upland, Indiana. Helyer has published numerous articles and reviews and has authored several books, including, Yesterday, Today and Forever: The Continuing Relevance of the Old Testament (Sheffield, 2004), The Witness of Jesus, Paul and John: An Exploration in Biblical Theology (IVP, 2008), and The Life and Witness of Peter (IVP, 2012). Still, it is within the present volume, Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period: A Guide for New Testament Students (IVP, 2002), that Helyer has offered the reader his most notable investment and contribution to the study of the New Testament.

Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period begins with a brief introduction outlining the history and importance of the Second Temple period for NT studies. While the information in this section may be considered foundational for the incoming reader, it is quite brief and could easily be ignored without consequence. However, the content that follows this section exhibits a much different story. Helyer systematically introduces the reader to the wealth of literature produced between the Babylonian exile and the rise of rabbinic Judaism. It is here that Helyer examines literary works generally categorized within groups such as the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Josephus, Philo, Dead Sea Scrolls, Mishnah, Targums, etc. Within each of the sections, the reader is carefully guided through various literary pieces, including information such as genre, sources, purpose, date, composition, structure and outline, content and characteristics, as well as a section devoted to the significance of the particular book to NT studies.

The examination of literature in this volume is impressive and includes such works as Tobit, Enoch, 2 Enoch, 4 Ezra, Thanksgiving Hymns, Damascus Document, Testament of Moses, Jubilees, and much, much more. Each major section of the book ends with helpful discussion questions for small groups or personal reflection, as well as a select bibliography for further study. One of the most impressive aspects of this volume is the sheer number of footnotes that accompany each section. This volume is both comprehensive and well-informed in its examination and research, and Helyer’s familiarity with the literature and context is evident with the turn of every page. Additionally, while the thoroughness of this volume will be enough to warrant its inclusion in your library, the readability will guarantee that it is met with equally good use.

If you are someone with even a remote interest in the study of the New Testament, Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period: A Guide for New Testament Students by Larry R. Helyer is an indispensable resource. I recommend a cover-to-cover read the first time around for familiarization with the content, and then the consultation of the various indexes for future reference. Regardless, this will be a volume you will use often. It comes highly recommended!

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Review: The Canon of Scripture

51rTNoZf4HL._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_The Canon of Scripture by F. F. Bruce is nothing short of a landmark publication on the subject of the biblical canon. It received two 1990 Christianity Today Awards including The Readers’ Choice Award and The Critics’ Choice Award, as well as a 1989 ECPA Gold Medallion Award. Nowadays, while many readers may be too easily willing to write off The Canon of Scripture as outdated and stale given the current landscape of biblical scholarship, the interaction therein by Bruce still provides much to be commended and praised.

The book covers both the Old Testament and the New. Still, only about one-third of the book is dedicated to the Old Testament. This is largely due to the fact that the Old Testament was a settled canon by the time of the New Testament, as seen in the testimony of Jesus and the apostles. Bruce states, “Our Lord and his apostles might differ from the religious leaders of Israel about the meaning of the scriptures; there is no suggestion that they differed about the limits of the scriptures” (p. 28). Bruce’s treatment of the Old Testament is brief, detailed, and overall helpful, but some Protestant readers may be uncomfortable with his handling of the Apocrypha.

The majority of the book is dedicated to the New Testament canon, and Bruce’s interaction with various Church Fathers therein is commendable. Bruce rightly recognizes that “authority precedes canonicity” when it comes to the New Testament documents (p. 123). In other words, the New Testament documents were already considered canonical prior to the recognition of such because of their authority, not vice versa. Still, Bruce offers six criteria in which the recognition of such books would be considered canonical by the early Church: (1) apostolic authority, (2) antiquity, (3) orthodoxy, (4) catholicity, (5) traditional use, and (6) inspiration (p. 256-269). Bruce’s treatment of the New Testament is much more detailed than the Old, and it is here that the primary usefulness of the book remains for the contemporary reader—especially Bruce’s interaction with the Church Fathers.

The Canon of Scripture by F. F. Bruce is a classic work on the canon of the Old Testament and the New. The comprehensive scope of the book and Bruce’s knowledge of the landscape is certainly commendable, and the detail and clarity therein will only work to benefit the reader. Those familiar with the issues surrounding the canon of Scripture should be well-acquainted with Bruce already, but for those seeking to enter into the conversation The Canon of Scripture by F. F. Bruce is a mandatory stop. It comes highly recommended regardless of the publication date!

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Review: Everlasting Dominion

7261Eugene H. Merrill is a seasoned scholarly voice on the Old Testament. Merrill is distinguished professor emeritus of Old Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary and the author of numerous books, including Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel, The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament (with Mark E. Rooker and Michael A. Grisanti), and several notable Old Testament commentaries. Still, the pinnacle of Merrill’s scholarship has been widely attributed to Everlasting Dominion: A Theology of the Old Testament.

Everlasting Dominion is divided into five major sections: (1) God – His Person and Work, (2) Mankind – The Image of God, (3) The Kingdom of God, (4) The Prophets and the Kingdom, and (5) Human Reflection on the Ways of God. Each major section of the book encompasses a mountain of detailed reflection on the Old Testament, and Merrill tends to largely follow a canonical ordering therein. The overall organization of the book is also helpful for reference and research, and the table of contents provides a rather detailed outline to assist in this effort.

The opening section is among the best in the book. It is here that Merrill carefully delineates the person and work of God as revealed in the Old Testament, including the nature, character, revelation, work, and purpose of God. Merrill’s treatment of the nature and character of God is worth the cover price of the book alone. It will quickly and consistently connect your head and heart in worship and adoration before God. Merrill is similarly effective in presenting a theology of the Old Testament throughout the book. Some readers will disagree with the dispensational underbelly of the book, but the undeniable commitment of the author to the inspiration and authority of the Bible should leave such concerns in the dust.

Everlasting Dominion: A Theology of the Old Testament by Eugene H. Merrill is a welcomed volume that follows in the train of worthy works that have preceded it. Everlasting Dominion is Old Testament theology done right! It is both engaging and informative, and written by one who has labored rigorously in a lifetime of prayer and research on the subject. Disagreements are certain to arise due to the dispensational presuppositions seen throughout, but the view of God that Merrill presents is worth every moment of the journey. This is a book that will connect your head and heart in all the proper places. I recommend it with joy and look forward to referencing it often!

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.