Category Archives: book reviews

How to Write a Lot

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Writing. That daunting tasks that looms ahead of every student and professor. Most people don’t have time to “write a lot” or at least so they think. The 8–10,000 word article sits before us like brocolli sits before a child wanting to get up from the table to play with the other kids. The task has to be done but it is difficult to begin. The book How to Write a Lot by Paul Silvia provides many practical tips on how to write a lot or more accurately as he describes in his final chapter How to Write More Productively During the Normal Work Week With Less Anxiety and Guilt (130)." The first three chapters: 1) Introduction 2) Specious Barriers to Writing A Lot and 3) Motivational tools are extremely helpful. The final four chapters provide many helpful tidbits but overal are focus more specifally for writing for the sciences.

Writing is hard and not natural. The act of writing takes practice, determination, and a set plan. Far too often academics long for the days off, spring breaks, and summer vacations to “get writing done” but then complain afterwards because of how much they did not accomplish. Writing is a skill that needs developed not a talent that comes naturally (6). Silvia provides four “specious barriers” that inhibit the writing process:

(1) “I can’t find time to write” also known as “I would write more if I could just find big blocks of time (11).” This is a blatant lie. Don’t believe it. Productive writing comes in smaller scheduled chunks throughout the week. If you are trying to find time to write then you will never find time but will fall into the trap of “binge writing.” This means that you have one “successful” 6 hour writing period every couple weeks and it makes you feel good inside. Don’t believe the lie. Rather, allocate your time throughout the week to write and defend it as you would your teaching schedule, time with family, and other activities that are important to you.

(2) *“I need do to some more analyses first,” aka, “I need to read a few more articles* (18).” Use your scheduled writing time to do “prewriting” as well. If you need to review some more research then do it during your scheduled time. This is help not hinder your productive writing if you are on a schedule.

(3) “To write a lot, I need new computer (see also a ”laser printer,“ ”a nice chair,“ ”a better desk") (19). This is just a lame excuse!

(4) “I’m waiting until I feel like it,” aka “I write best when I’m inspired to write” (23). Waiting for “inspiration” does not work.

We all need motiviation to help us continue writing. The third chapter outlines several motivational methods for writing:

  1. Setting specific goals
  2. Setting project goals
  3. Set concrete goals for each writing day

Goal setting is needed when it comes to writing constantly If you run out of specific goals then you are likely to become disinterested and forget why you are writing. Next, you need to write down specific project goals (journal article, thesis, book section, etc.). This allows you to track and prioratize your goals. Once you have completed steps one and two you need to write down concrete goals for the writing session (number of words, pages to research, articles to review, etc.) Everyday can’t be a certain amount of words because writing involves more than just writing it takes preperation, research, and revisision. Finally, you should monitor your progress so you can look back and see how well (or poorly!) you did. Oh, and writers block only happens to those who believe in writers block…writing begets writing so take up and write (38)!

As I said in the introduction the first three chapters are chocked full of wisdom and practical advice (along with a swift kick in the butt to get to writing!). The fourth chapter encourages you to form a writing group to help you with peoples individual goals. Chapter five examines writing helps specifically in the style of your writing. Silvia notably points out that the writing and editing process are not one in the same. Write then edit do not try to do both at the same time. Chapters 6–8 are specifically focused on writing for the sciences. Many of the same principles can be used for other fields of writing (such as theology) but practically they are aimed for a different audience.

Overall, I found this book a helpful motivator to begin writing more. I hope to take many of the principles—especially in scheduling and goal setting—in my academic career. Did I mention that it is also only 132 pages so it is an easy read for one session.

Book Review: Stylish Academic Writing

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Flip open to many academic journals and you are greeted with dense and specialized prose, default structure, and a writing style that has been passed down from supervisor to student for many years. The stuffy academic prose hinders the reader from engaging, understanding, and yes, even enjoying the research and arguments that is taking place. Helen Sword, professor at the Centre for Academic Development at the University of Auckland, specializes in literature, teaching philosophy and academic writing. Stylish Academic Writing argues that “elegant ideas deserve elegant expression” and that even in the academic world writing can be engaging and imaginative while still keeping within the professionalism that the guild requires. The research behind the book engaged in many interviews with scholars, an analysis of thousands of journal articles, and further investigation into 100 recent books on academic writing.

By default most academics do not engage in “stylistic” writing. First, writers must be open to new ways of presenting their ideas and then discipline themselves to write in such a way that is not stuffy and filled with jargon from the profession. Sword argues that writers learn from (29):

  1. memories of what our dissertation supervisor told us
  2. peer feedback
  3. examples in journals

Scholars tend to focus on styles that have been the norm within the writing they encounter rather than branching out and innovating new writing styles that are more engaging and enjoyable to the reader.

Sword addresses a variety of writing situations that create this dense prose that exists within the academy. She begins with the impersonable way in which many writers present their work. Why do writers try to engage the reader in the third person? This creates a distance between you the writer and the reader. If we write to change the mind of the reader then writing in the third person is contrary to this goal (44). Another way to become more engaging in the writing process is to use concrete language for abstract concepts. Much of our research (especially in my context of theology and biblical studies) is in the abstract but we as writers can give a concreteness to our language by taking abstract thoughts and making them more concrete. Academic prose is often filled with “to be” and passive verbs. Try changing many of your “to be” and passive verbs with “active and unusual verbs” (60).

Movies, fictional novels, and short stories generally are experts at captivating the audiences attention from the start. Writers do this in two ways: the title of the work and the introductory paragraph or scene of the piece. Sword challenges writers to come up with catchy titles that are also descriptive of the work. This is most often seen in the two-part title: Catchy Title: Descriptive Title. Sword also challenges the way in which many writers introduce their work. Too often academic article follow the same dull “4 step process” with the CARS method (77):

  1. Establish the research is significant
  2. Summarize previous research
  3. Present the gaps in the research
  4. Answer the gaps

The article needs a “hook” which engages the reader. She says, “an effective first paragraph need not be flashy, gimmicky, or even provocative. It must, however, make the reader want to keep reading” (84). She notes that in many of the journals that she examined generally one or two of the articles supplied a “hook” for the reader. Begin the work with a question, anecdote, conversation, or other methods in “hooking” the reader to keep reading the article.

In order to stray away from the abstract writing scholars should employ a variety of literary techniques in the writing such as using exmaples, anecdotes, case studies, figurative devices, allusions, and analogies (101–102). This will “revive the readers attention” (100). She provides a helpful paradigm for practicing integrating this into your writing (110–111):

  1. Choose a bland sentence of your writing
  2. Find the subject and come up with concrete similes
  3. Transform the noun into one of the figurative devices
  4. Push the limits
  5. Rework it into your sentence.

Overall, this books provides many helpful ways into making you into a better and more engaging writer. The book is filled with actual examples from academic journals and books and Sword carefully analyzes these examples and provides alternative ways of writing for each one. The end of each chapter provides a “Things to try” section that shows you how to actually improve your writing. Rather than staying in the abstract and theoretical she guides you into transforming your writing with specific steps. After reading this book I have noticed many areas in my own writing in need of improvement and will be implementing many of the suggestions noted in this short but helpful book.

Book Review: Reading Backwards by Richard Hays

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Richard Hays, Dean of Duke Divinity School, changed the landscape of understanding Paul’s use of the Old Testament with his Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul and now seeks to write a “Gospel-focused sequel” to this work (ix). Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (Baylor University Press) is the product of the Hulsean Lectures in the Faculty of Divinity at Cambridge University and with minor changes made for this publication. Thus, this book feels like a primer for understanding the Gospel writers use of the Old Testament primarily focused on their figural Christology. I look forward to a full-fledged “Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels” type work that examines the fourfold witness in more detail. Nevertheless, this work is a helpful starting point in understanding the Gospel writers figural interpretation.

The thesis of the book argues that “the Gospels teach us how to read the OT, and at the same time—the OT teaches us how to read the Gospels (5).” Hays works this out by primarily focusing on how this effects the Christology of each of the Gospel writers. He does this through six short chapters (lectures):

  1. “The Manger in Which Christ Lies”: Figural Readings of Israel’s Scripture
  2. Figuring the Mystery: Reading Scripture with Mark
  3. Torah Transfigured: Reading Scripture with Matthew
  4. The One Who Redeems Israel: Reading Scripture with Luke
  5. The Temple Transfigured: Reading Scripture with John
  6. Retrospective Reading: The Challenges of Gospel-Shaped Hermeneutics

At the outset Hays lays out his methodology building on the work of Erich Auerbach and his definition of “figural interpretation.” According Auerbach,

Figural interpretation establishes a connection between two events or persons in such a way that the first signifies not only itself but also the second, while the second involves or fulfills the first. The two poles of a figure are separated in time, but both, being real events or persons, are within temporality. They are both contained in the flowing stream which is historical life, and only the comprehension, the intellectus spiritualis, of their interdependence is a spritual act (2)[1].

Thus, figural interpretation can only occur after both events have happened, which changes the significance of each event. Hays argues that this form of interpretation is not necessarily dependent upon the authorial intent of the original writer but respects the historical reference of the text being used (15). When the Gospel writers employ this type of hermeneutic they are not twisting the Old Testament scriptures but are reading backwards in light of the revelation of Jesus Christ. Only after his life, death, resurrection, and ascension can we go back and reread the Torah, Writings, and the Prophets.

Hays then argues that each Gospel writer has a distinct voice and purpose for their figural reading of the Old Testament. The Gospel of Mark is shrouded in mystery and the figural exegesis is “evocative” shedding light into this mystery. For example, Hays argues that Mark 1:2–3 is subtely showing that the Lord of the Old Testament is Jesus, which is spoken about in Isaiah 40:3. This example alone is just one of the many places Mark quietly shows that Jesus is the Lord of the Old Testament (21). Mark’s Christology is a narrative that can only be understood by putting together the pieces of the whole story. Each figural reading builds upon one another to give us a robust but mysterious portrait of Jesus.

Unlike the mysterious Mark, the Gospel of Matthew is bold, clear, and didactically explains Jesus’ divine identity. Beginning and ending with the “Emmanuel” theme Matthew shows how Jesus is God incarnate explicitly through Old Testament fulfillments and figural rereadings of the Scriptures. One interesting figural rereading that Hays examines is a possible subtle allusion to Genesis 28:12–17 in Matthew 28:20. Hays argues that Jesus is playing the same role as God when he says in Genesis 28 “Behold I am with you…” and Jesus tells his disciples, “Behold I am with you…” in Matthew 28:20 (48). Along with the explicit high Christological statements through Matthew this subtle allusion shows a figural rereading of the Genesis story showing Jesus’ “embodiment of Israel’s God (52).”

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:27).” This passage, Hays argues, “is to bring us up short and send us back to the beginning of the Gospel to reread it, in hopes of discerning more clearly how the identity and mission of Jesus might be prefigured in Israel’s Scripture (56).” This rereading will show how Luke shows Jesus’ divine identiy narratively. Hays explains that Luke presents this narrative divine identity in two ways (58): 1) mouths of characters in the story (see Luke 4:16–21) and 2) implicit correspondences (allusion and echo). These allusions and echoes manifest themselves in several ways:

  1. Jesus as the awaited Lord of the new exodus (62)
  2. Jesus as Kyrios (64)
  3. Receptin and rejection of the divine visitation (68)
  4. Jesus as object of worship (69)
  5. Jesus desires to gather Jerusalem under his wings (69)

Hays concludes by arguing that the modern assumption of Luke’s “low” Christology does not take account of his many allusions and echoes that show Jesus is divine and the one who will redeem Israel (72).

The Gospel of John is the most “figural” of the Gospels but also contains the least amount of explicit Old Testament citations and allusions. Hays argues that John 1:45 gives us the clue to understanding and seeking out the figural rereading of John. Hays argues, “If Luke is the master of the deft, fleeting allusion, John is the master of the carefully framed, luminous image that shines brilliantly against a dark canvas and lingers in the imagination (78).” When Jesus references Numbers 21:8–9 in John 3:14 Hays argues that this allusion is more “visual” rather than “auditory” (78). The allusion to the serpent is only given by a couple words: Moses and serpent. Hays then suggests that John may also be alluding to the “lifting up” of the suffering servant in Isa 52:13 (LXX).

The conclusion is worth the price of the book alone. Not arguing against modern critical readings but arguing that we need to broaden our hemerneutical lense lest we miss what the Gospel writers are saying. Hays asks, “what if we learned to read Israel’s Scripture not only through the lenses of modern critical methods but also through the eyes of John and the other authors of the canonical Gospels (93)?” This book aptly gives us a taste of the imagery and figural readings the Gospels present us.

The final chapter gives a helpful overview of the strengths and weaknesses of each Gospel writers figural rereading. For example, the strength of John’s gospel is the “poetic reading of the texts (101).” This allows us to Jesus as the divine Word that “underlies and sustains all of creation (101).” John’s weakness is that it can lend its hand to “anti-Jewish and/or high-handedly supersessionist thoelogies (102).” This opens the door for some readers of the Gospel for “ahistorical quasi-gnostic spirituality (102).” But as stated at the beginning a figural rereading of the Old Testament does not “deny the literal sense but completes it by linking it typologically with the narrative of Jesus and disclosing a deeper prefigurative truth within the literal historical sense (102).” Hays then examines 10 ways the Gospels teach us to read the Old Testament.

So, what can be said about this provocative argument that we should be engaged in a figural rereading of the Old Testament scriptures? I think that Hays’ overal argument is valid and that the Gospel writers do present us with a model of how to read the Old Testament in light of Christ. Many ways which the Gospel writers reference the Old Testament are only valid because of the resurrected Jesus. To say that Moses lifting up to the serpent speaks of Christ being lifted up on the cross can only happen after the subsequent event. This involves a “rereading” of the story in Numbers.

One area of critique that I would have of Hays’ own rereading of the Gospels and his rerereading(?) of their interpretation of the Old Testament is that he sometimes seems to stretch the ways in which the Gospel writers allude to Old Testament passages. Is John really symbollically alluding to both the serpent being lifted up and the suffering servant being lifted up? Personally, it seems better to possibly argue for our own rereading of both the Gospels and the Old Testament. Is it possible for us to say that this John’s allusion to the lifting up of the serpent can also be reread figuratively (to use Hays’ language) to that of the suffering servant in Isaiah? That is, do we need to discern some type of authorial intent of John alluding to Numbers and Isaiah or can this be our own rereading of the text?

With this critique aside, the overall argument of this book is one which New Testament interpreters need to wrestle with. Indeed, the Old Testament teaches us how to read the Gospels and likewise the Gospels teach us how to read the Old Testament.

You can purchase the book here.


  1. Erich Auerbach, Mimesis (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), 73.  ↩

Latest RBL Reviews Related to NT Studies (2014-07-03)

Reviews pertinent to New Testament studies in the latest RBL (2014–07–03)

Book Review: Interpreting the General Epistles: An Exegetical Handbook (Kregel)

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Kregel Academic is continuing their helpful Handbooks for New Testament Exegesis series with Herbert W. Bateman IV’s Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook. Bateman is also the author of Jesus the MessiahCharts on the Book of Hebrews, and A Workbook for Intermediate Greek.

The book is broken down into 8 parts:

  1. The Genre of the General Letters

  2. The Background of the General Letters

  3. The Theology of the General Letters

  4. Preparing to Interpret the General Letters

  5. Interpreting Passages in the General Letters

  6. Communicating the General Letters

  7. From Exegesis to Exposition of the General Letters

  8. Selected Sources

The book’s format lends itself well to being a helpful guide for students when they begin to exegete the general letters. It contains a number of charts that allow the student to quickly summarize the content presented in the book. Following a standard hermeneutical approach Bateman guides students in the following steps of interpretation:

First, the student must identify the genre and background of the text. Next, he provides a 9-step outline from interpretation to teaching the letters:

  1. Initiate a Translation
  2. Identify Interpretive Issues
  3. Isolate Major Textual Problems
  4. Interpret the Structure
  5. Interpret the Style, Syntax, and Semantics,
  6. Interpret the Greek Words
  7. Communicate Exegetically
  8. Communicate the Central Idea
  9. Communicate Homiletically

He concludes with helpful examples from Jude 5-7 and Hebrews 10:19-25. At the close of the book the author provides students with a guide through major commentaries by giving the name of the commentary series, the stated purpose of the series, and the titles and authors of relevant volumes along with other resources for specific books.

Overall, the book is a helfpul guide for both students and pastors. The book is easy to read without simplifying the information. Coupled with the numerous charts this book provides convenient text to both read through and refer to when encountering the general letters.

A couple concerns came to mind when examining this text. First, it would have been helpful for the author to provide a brief introduction to his exegetical method before diving into the genre of the letters. When I first started the book I was left wondering what is overall purpose and goal was for interpreting the text. Is it to get to the original thought and mind of the author? Is it to provide both an individual and canonical interpretation of the text? Is there more to teaching and preaching a text than the steps outlined in the book? My general sense after reading the book is that the author’s goal in interpreting a text is to get back to the original meaning and find a relevant application for intended audience.

Also related to the previous point, no discussion of other prominent hermeneutical approaches are mentioned. Within the last 20 years there has been a push to incorporate other approaches in the interpretation process such as a canonical reading, biblical theology, history of interpretation, and more. The book employs what Jonathan Pennington in his Reading the Gospels Wisely book calls a “behind the text” and “in the text” reading1. If the author is against or for an “in front of the text” or canonical/theological approach to interpretation this would have been helpful to know in the beginning.

These concerns aside the book is still a helpful text for students and pastors. My only advice would be to supplement this book with other hermeneutical approaches that also integrate a more holistic approach to interpretation.

Many thanks to Kregel Academic for this free review copy.


  1. Pennington argues for an approach that integrates a “behind the text”, “in the text”, and “in front of the text” reading. See chapters 6-7 in Reading the Gospels Wisely ↩

Book Review: Dale Allison – James (ICC Series)

Many thanks to T&T Clark for this free review copy

 

 

Dale Allison, James, T&T Clark, 2013, 848pp., $130 (Purchase)

Dale Allison, Richard J. Dearborn Professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary, has written the new standard on James. This is not surprising given his past publications such as the ICC commentary on Matthew, Studies in Matthew: Interpretation Past and Present, and numerous books on the historical Jesus. This commentary is going to set the new standard in scholarship on the letter of James.

Introduction

The commentary itself is massive covering 848 pages (the introduction alone is 108 pages). Despite its length Allison has a way of writing academically but also engaging. He never seems to stray from his argument and his sentences short and pithy. His attention to detail and the breadth of information that he covers is staggering. One of the unique aspects of his commentary is his focus the history of interpretation and reception of James.

This is refreshing for a commentary that prides itself as “unapologetically continues the ICC tradition of pursuing historical-critical issues (1).” Allison argues that examining the reception history of a passage is not only valuable to the task of exegesis but can also just be interesting for the commentator and reader.

The rest of the introduction covers common topics found in all commentaries such as authorship, sitz im leben, genre, structure, and more. In short, Allison argues for a pseudepigraphon (see this PDF for a more detailed summary of the arguments for and against Jacobean authorship) from 100–120 AD, which was written “for a group that still attended synagogue and wished to maintain irenic relations with those who did not share their belief that Jesus was the Messiah (43).”

The genre of James, Allison argues, is a “didactic letter” that is also “parasitically oriented (74).” The letter of James is meant to “remind rather than inform” the hearers (75). The goal of paranesis is to remind the hearers how to live out the philosophy or religion that is being taught. The letter of James is meant to exhort its hearers “that disallow discussion and instead call for obedience(76).”

Commentary Proper

The commentary proper is set up in three parts: history of interpretation, overall analysis of passage, and finally a verse-by-verse commentary. Similar to his commentary on Matthew, Allison provides more than enough background and analysis for the average scholar. For those wishing to pursue more analysis than what is provided, his extensive use of sources will provide an aid.

Example passage: Faith and Works (James 2:14–26)

This is one of the more hotly debated passages within the New Testament. Does James contradict Paul? Does Paul contradict James? Allison explains six ways the reception of this passage has been analyzed (426–428):

  1. James and Paul wrote independently of each other
  2. Paul responded to James (and his followers)
  3. Paul agreed with James but with clarification
  4. James responded to Paul polemically
  5. James seeks to clarify Paul’s argument
  6. James is reacting to a negative “antinomian” reading of Paul.

As one reads through this analysis the reader will be greeted by interpretations of Augustine, Gregory the Great, Venerable Bede, Origen, and many others (along with copious footnotes of sources for further study).

In the exegesis section Allison outlines six different methods that scholars have more recently used to analyze James 2:14–16. He then continues to examine the similarities that this passage has with Paul such as δικαιόω in the passive + ἐκ, ἐξ ἔρων, and other parallels. Allison concludes that we (in line with his proposed sitz im leben) should read this directed at two groups: Christian Jews and non-Christian Jews. Christian Jews would have seen James’ polemic as correcting a “misrepresentation of Christianity” that some outside the community held. Secondly, non-Christian Jews would have seen a Christians do not put “belief above works (456).” Allison then continues with his verse-by-verse analysis of the passage in light of this argument.

Reflection

In usual Allison fashion he leaves no nook and cranny untouched and covers the wide range of scholarly arguments concerning Jacobean authorship. One of the imitable aspects of his discussion on authorship is the way he shows the weakness of arguments in favor of his own position. Too often in the academy scholars will pile on arguments that agree with their conclusion even if they are weak. Allison on the other hand provides helpful critiques for positions that argue both for and against his conclusions. I still hold, along with most of the early Church Fathers, an early date for James and the brother of Jesus as the author.

Both sides, as Allison states, have plausible arguments. In my opinion, the weight of Church history, use of Jesus logia, and underdeveloped Christology weigh in favor of an earlier dating. This does not go without questions that I have regarding this position, mainly, if James was a pillar of the church why do we not find use of his writings until Origen? For the other side I would ask how do you explain acceptance into the canon. If apostolic authority is assumed for the texts were the Church Fathers then tricked into believing that the brother of Jesus wrote the letter? Both sides leave these questions unanswered.

Conclusion

To conclude, I highly recommend this commentary for any scholar interested in James. The attention to detail and the wealth of sources leaves one with ample information for study of James. For those interested in the history of interpretation and reception this provides a both/and that is often missing from critical scholarship. Along with historical critical exegesis Allison provides a wealth of reception history both separate from and integrated in the exegesis of the text. This is a rare combination.

Finally, if you are at all familiar with the rest of Allison’s works you will know that this commentary is written in a humble manner. Allison admits when the evidence is scant and recognizes that he does not hold all the answers but will point future scholars in the right direction.

You can purchase the commentary here.

You can download a PDF of the review here.

Book Reviews to Note in the Latest RBL Pertaining to NT Studies

In the latest RBL there are several book reviews to note pertaining to New Testament studies:

Early Judaism: A Comprehensive Overview edited by John J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow

“…what makes this volume so valuable is a condensation of some of the best scholarly reflections on early Judaism. Prior readers of the larger textual ancestor will not want to duplicate their purchase. However, it presents a viable academic Cliff Notes option for newer lay readers where less may indeed be more.” – David M. Maas

Colossians in the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary Series by Nijay K. Gupta

“…for the person who desires a commentary that gives a responsible overview of the flow and meaning of the biblical text, while also providing suggestive theological reflection to inform one’s teaching and preaching, then one would be well-served by this commentary.” – Brian Small

Two reviews of The New Testament: A Historical and Theological Introduction by Donald A. Hagner

“This comprehensive introduction to the New Testament is intended mainly for students, but it will also be useful for scholars of any theological field. In all likelihood, Hagner’s (conservative) views with regard to the authorship or the recipients of many of the books of the New Testament will limit its broad acceptance. Nevertheless, his work will be a useful tool, as he includes an extensive part of the history of previous research in this field.” – Moschos Goutzioudis 

The Son of Man as the Last Adam: The Early Church Tradition as a Source of Paul’s Adam Christology by Yongbom Lee

“…I found the majority of Lee’s work exceedingly insightful and consider it a new approach that provides a helpful contribution to discussions regarding the Adam Christology present in Paul and other New Testament writers and discussions based in issues of source and redaction criticisms, particularly within and among New Testament documents.” – Haley Goranson

Canonizing Paul: Ancient Editorial Practice and the Corpus Paulinum by Eric W. Scherbenske

“Scherbenske supports a new direction of textual criticism that tries to understand the history of the New Testament as the history of an edition rather than the history of a disembodied text. I commend him for this approach, and I hope this book will encourage colleagues also to engage in this new line of study.” – David Trobisch

 

Book Review: A Reader’s Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers

Many of you will be familiar with Michael Burer’s A New Reader’s Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. Covering all words that occur 50x or less in canonical order, it has assisted many students of the Greek New Testament.

Following in the same vein, Daniel B. Wallace along with Brittany C. Burnette and Terri Darby Moore, have produced an extremely helpful work in the Reader’s Lexicon of the Apostolic Father’s. The Apostolic Fathers (AF) are seeing a new wave of interest among scholar’s today. Larry Hurtado notes in a recent article that many scholar’s are releasing new publications concerning the AF, including Wallace’s new work. This area of study is fruitful both for students of the New Testament and students of Early Christianity. Hurtado continues by saying these texts “include some of the earliest most important and fascinating texts from ancient Christian circle.” The corpus provides insights into the first interpretations of Holy Scripture, use of other early writings, agrapha, and customs and practices of the earliest Christians.

The Reader

A Reader’s Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers covers all words that occur 30x or less in the Greek New Testament (GNT). By choosing to compare the frequency to the GNT and not the AF corpus it allows students of the New Testament an easier transition to begin reading the AF in the original Greek. This is arguably the most important aspect of the reader’s lexicon. Students will be able to approach the original text immediately with their current vocabularly set in confidence.

The ordering of the words follows Michael Holmes’s third edition of the Apostolic Fathers. The lexical form of the word along with a definition and frequence of occurences (within the AF corpus, individual author, and individual verse). The glosses are determined in the following order: BDAG, Lampe’s Patristic Greek Lexicon, LSJ, J.B. Lightfoot’s translation of the Apostolic Fathers, and Michael Holmes’s text[1] .

Example from Reader
Taken from p. 12

Related Works

The importance of this work cannot be overstated. Currently, there is no other work that fills this need. The most comparable works are the diglots by Erhman (Vol 1. and Vol. 2) and Holmes. These are helpful but do not assist students in reading the orginal in a natural manner. With a diglot one is dependent on a complete English translation for vocabularly, which hinders students from making exegetical and translational decisions for themselves. Other works that are similar are Rodney Decker’s Koine Greek Reader and Rodney Whitaker’s A Patristic Reader. Both are these resources are helpful in what they are trying to accomplish, an aid to assist students in learning Greek other than that at the New Testament. They cover a selection of the AF corpus but are not meant to be comprehensive.

Conclusion

I highly recommend this to any student of the New Testament or Early Christianity. The AF is an enriching corpus that will be serve as an aid for students. Greek students will also be able to improve their Greek knowledge by working through unfamiliar territory with different vocabularly and syntax. Daniel Wallace, Brittany C. Burnette, and Terri Darby Moore are to be commended on this excellent volume.

Thanks to Kregel Academic for this free review copy.


  1. Note that this only covers the Greek text. There are parts of some text that are only extant in other various languages such as Latin.  ↩

Brief Book Review: How We Got the New Testament: Text, Transmission, and Translation

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Stanley Porter makes another excellent contribution to New Testament studies in his most recent book, How We Got the New Testament: Text, Transmission, Translation. The book stems from a series on lectures in the Hayward Lectures at Acadia Divinity College during 2008. The purpose of the book is to serve as an in depth introduction into the origins of the New Testament and its subsequent translations. The book has three chapters, which cover these issues:

  1. The Text of the New Testament
  2. The Transmission of the New Testament
  3. The Translation of the New Testament

Text of The New Testament

The goal of this chapter is to introduce students to the text of the New Testament and the purpose of textual criticism in general. Porter explains the traditional purpose behind textual criticism in finding the original autograph of the authors (12–13). In doing so he introduces the student to the “major players” throughout the history of textual criticism. He then engages with Bart Ehrman’s, Misquoting Jesus, which he concludes “despite the bravado that accompanies his text, [Ehrman] provides lless-than-compelling arguments that the New Testament in fact misquotes Jesus, or any other text, in a way that presents destabilizing textual difficulties.”

I found this chapter particularly helpful in introducing the many aspects of textual criticism. This is a field that I am largely unfamiliar with but after reading I now have a base of knowledge that I can begin to engage in further research.

The Transmission of the New Testament

In this chapter Porter discusses the transmission of the text of the New Testament (hence, the title of the chapter). He does not enter into debates about the dating of specific books but the reader will be introduced to these in the chapter. Porter does believe that all the books of the New Testament were written in the first century. This chapter is helpful because it covers the manuscript evidence in a straight forward and succinct manner. One that has not been introduced to these issues would do well to read this particular chapter.

The Translation of the New Testament

This chapter traces the history of the translation of the New Testament covering the Septuagint (as a backdrop for discussing other issues), Syriac, Latin, and Coptic translations (149). He then begins a discussion on English translations with Wycliff, Tyndale, Authorized version, and others. The most fruitful part of the chapter is his discussion on the major issues in translation. He shows the convuluted history in theories on translation by providing quotes from history showing how many people thought differently of translations. For example, Cicero argues for a more thought for though translation by saying, “I did not translate them (orations) as an interpreter but as an orator…not…word for word, but I preserved the general style and force of the language (174).” Towards the end of the chapter he discusses the ever heated debate of “literal” versus “dynamic” translations. He argues that the formal equivalence method must “be done with the word group (or phrase) as the minimal translational unit-protests regarding the individual words notwithstanding—because it seems to be at this level that much of the translational work is being done.” Therefore, he concludes the “literal” versus “dynamic” debate has much more in common than is commonly purported.

Conclusion

Overall, I found this book extremely helpful. Porter has a knack for presenting difficult and often times confusing topics in a straight forward manner. I especially found his discussion on translation to be even handed. Often times in debates it is “literal” versus “dynamic” and Porter rightly diffuses this by saying that each are closer than they appear. He is open to different translation methods and says that this is an area where scholars can make much ground in the areas of discourse analysis for translation help. Overall, I highly recommend this book.

You can purchase the paperback copy here or the Kindle version here.

Thanks to Baker Academic for this free review copy.

Book Review: Origen and Scripture by Peter Martens

Oxford University Press, 352 pp., $125.00

Oxford University Press, 352 pp., $125.00

Many thanks to Oxford University Press for this free review copy.

In Peter Martens’ latest work, Origen and Scripture: The Contours of the Exegetical Life, he seeks to sketch a picture of the life of Origen as an exegete. Scholarship in Origen studies has produced many books and articles focusing on the specific aspects of Origen’s exegesis such as his hermeneutical method, allegory, and his doctrine of Scripture. Martens is unique in focusing on the whole of Origen’s interpretive enterprise. How did Origen view the ideal interpreter and what tools did he use to achieve this goal? Origen viewed the practice of interpretation as a holistic experience. Indeed, scriptural interpretation was both a scholarly endeavor and a spiritual exercise. Martens goal is to “advance a new and integrative thesis about the contours of the ancient exegetical life as Origen understood it, and as best we can gather, also practiced it (6).” By building on the work of Lubac, Hanson, Torjesen, and Neuschäfer, Martens examines the exegete, Origen, for his understanding of the ideal interpreter and how he practiced it.

The first part of the book deals with Origen the philologist. Martens helpfully paints a picture of the academic setting in Origen’s day to provide the basis for his philological work. Turning to the pedagogical setting that Origen would have been teaching the reader learns that Origen taught many students who did not have the skill set or the motivation to pursue the intense study of Scripture as Origen did. He often referred to his pupils as “simpliciores, that is, the ‘simple ones (27).’” The takeaway here is that Origen was not demanding this theological rigor to a group of highly educated and motived students but rather the simpliciores, the people in the pew and students.

What was this directive that Origen gave his students and himself? He called his students to a life academic rigor studying the scriptures. Origen was trained as a philologist and this is the practice that he deems fit for the proper study of the scriptures. According to Origen, the philologist must be trained in general education and philosophy and use the insights from these disciplines in the interpretation of Scripture. Martens shows how his ideals of the interpreter and his own life were synchronized. Both his detractors and proponents all agree that Origen was competent in all these areas. Martens says, “he helped his puipls realize this ambitious project for themselves. Origen, in other words, issued a scholarly mandate that he had already appropriated, and was eager to promote in his own circles (38).”

Chapter three describes four main philological exercises: text critical analysis, reading the passage out loud, literary and historical analysis, and aesthetic and moral evaluation. It is in the philological practice that we see Origen’s wide use of his secular general education. He employs his background in zoology, arithmetic, cosmology, and many other areas to give himself the complete picture of scripture. How does this relate to Origen’s reputation of an allegorist? Martens says that the “answer is clear: allegorical interpretation was a legitimate dimension of philological inquiry…philology, in other words, could be practiced in a literal or allegorical mode — but it was always philology.” Allegory is rooted in the historic literal sense of the scripture. Only when this is understood can the interpreter then seek out a loftier interpretation.

The latter part of the book addresses how Origen envisioned the ideal interpreter in the Christian faith. Origen sought to use the best of Greco-Roman scholarship and integrate it with Christianity. Since God is creator, Origen saw Greco-Roman scholarship profitable for the interpreter. In the same way, the study of philology helped one understand the divine Scriptures and contemplate the mind of God. The study of the Scriptures in this way was a pathway of salvation for the interpreter. The more devotion one has for the Scriptures the more devotion one has for the faith (92).

What are the boundaries in the study of Scripture? In chapters 6–7, Martens explains Origen’s exegesis against the Jewish interpreters and the heterodox. Against the heterodox he does this by saying, “Scripture is not discerned according to its spiritual sense, but is understood according to the mere letter (107).” It would be easy to assume that Origen thinks his opponents should read allegorically. But this is not the distinction that Origen is arguing for. Martens argues that Origen’s two main issues with this group was their uncritical use of secular teaching and not staying within the Church’s rule of faith (108). When his opponents interpret outside these two boundaries that is when they are reading the “mere letter.” Martens goes on to say that “as a rule, Origen was targeting a more basic and deficient doctrinal current that ran through Gnostic scriptural interoperation: its phonology was deficient when (and only when) it promulgated a teaching at odds with the sort of Christianity Origen represented (115).” This section continues to show that Origen was not just a mere allegorist who did not take literal meaning (in modern terms) seriously. Origen believed the ideal interpreter should read the scriptures within the rule of faith that had been passed down by the apostles (113). This rule of faith is one of the boundary markers in exegesis. When one interprets outside these boundaries then one is not following in the tradition of the apostles.

In a similar manner when Origen is writing against Jewish interpretations he charges them with “literal” exegesis. Commonly held assumptions think that Origen was only against their “literal” interpretations of the Scriptures. Martens carefully shows that this line of thinking needs to be carefully articulated and is not as simple as “literal” versus “allegorical.” Against the Jews, Origen argues that their “literal” exegesis is deficient because it does not take into account that Christ had fulfilled the law. When the ceremonial aspects of the law were interpreted literally they were in error precisely because they did not realize that Christ had fulfilled the law. Ceremonial laws now needed to be interpreted allegorically because they had no literal bearing on Christians now. Origen does not throw out their literal exegesis in full. Many times he has actually in agreement with their exegesis on other issues (143).

In the last three chapters of the book Martens addresses Origen’s view on the moral conduct of the ideal interpreter and the salvific value of Scriptural exegesis. For the ideal interpreter, one must be morally upright in order to interpret Scripture faithfully. The interpreter is to seek after God in prayer asking for divine aid in his study of the Scriptures. The “meaning of Scripture was inaccessible” without divine aid. The reason the ideal interpreter needs study and understand the Scriptures with the help of God is because the Scriptures show the way (and aid the way) in the salvation of the interpreter. Martens notes that the Scriptures are “useful or beneficial, serving as an instrument in the divine plan of salvation for those who read and heard it well (194).” Since the intent of the Scriptures is to transform the life of its hearers one must meticulously read and stud them in a faithful manner.

In the final chapter Martens concludes his book by arguing that study of Scripture was part of the beginning, middle, and end of the plan of salvation for the interpreter. When interpreting the Scriptures, one is seeking to “reverse or counteract the original fall, in an attempt to reprise, as best as possible, the prelapsarian communion and contemplation for God (234).” Origen understood that before the fall there was a state for the soul that cont
emplated and communed with God but this was lost in the fall. The reason Scriptural interpretation is so vital is that it brings the interpreter in direct contact with the God who revealed himself in Holy Scripture. Even though the ideal interpreter read with veiled eyes he was on his way in the plan of salvation to communing with God once again. After death if one has been studying the Scriptures they are in a place to “resume the scholarship they now practiced in the middle act (242).”

In this detailed study Martens successfully shows how Origen envisioned the ideal interpreter. In many instances he is correcting incorrect readings of Origen in the past. In many instances he shows a more nuanced and articulated understanding Origen’s exegesis. One example is in his discussion of Origen’s disagreement against the Jews. Some scholars think of it as an enigma that Origen would argue for an allegorical reading of certain passages when Jewish interpreters read allegorically on certain passages. Martens carefully argues how Origen was broadly against “literal” interpretations. 

After reading this book, one will gain a holistic picture of Origen, the ideal interpreter he sought to become. This book fills a missing link in scholarship that focuses both on the hermeneutical practices of Origen and the biographical journey of the ideal interpreter. I highly recommend this book.

Download the PDF of this review here

Peter Martens is the Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Saint Louis University.

 

Book Review: Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters

You can purchase the Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters: A Historical and Biographical Guide ed. Marion Ann Taylor here.

The study of women interpreters has regretfully been neglected in the recent interest in the history of interpretation. Often this enterprises focus on the ecclesiastical leaders whose writings have been past down. The focus on male interpreters paints an incomplete picture and is a failure to show the full voice of how Scripture has been understood throughout the ages. In the pre-modern period much of women’s influence has been lost because they did not produce formal writings but their influence should not go unnoticed.

One can think of Paula (347–404) who traveled with Jerome and set up a monastery for for women and also a hospice for travelers (400). Through the writings of Jerome we can paint a picture of her hermeneutics focusing both on the spiritual and historical meaning of Scripture. Undoubtably, Paula would have had a major influence on the women of this time in her monastery. There is also Macrina, the sister of Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa, who was a teacher and leader in female monasticism (338). Gregory calls her “my teacher in all these things” and her influence on him was great. Just a glimpse into the influence these women played in the history of Christianity opens our eyes to a fuller view of history.

These are just two small examples of how this handbook helps give a voice to women throughout history. It is important because many of the overviews of past interpreters of Scripture predominantly focus on male interpreters because they have had the loudest voice throughout history. This collection of entries seeks to remedy this and show the voice of women throughout history in the interpretation of Scripture.

The women included in this handbook are those whose “interpretations were influential, distinctive, or unique in terms of ideas or interpretive genre, or representative of the kind of interpretive writings done by a number of women at a certain period of time (5).” The editor notes that there is a disproportionate amount of women in the post-Reformation period because of the increase of female literacy, education, and access to the Bible. There are 180 entries covering from Faltonia Betitia Proba (ca. 320 – ca. 370) to Elizabeth Rice Achtemeier (1926–2002).

The book is setup in a way to be helpful for a variety of different purposes. If one is seeking the history of interpretation they can go to the Scriptural index or if one is looking for a certain time period they can look at the chronological lists of entries. The bibliography at the end of each entry shows additional resources that one can pursue on each specific interpreter.

The editor, Marion Ann Taylor, is to be commended for putting this volume together. It is a much needed addition to the field of biblical studies and will be especially helpful for anyone interested in the history of reception of the Scriptures. I highly recommend it.

Many thanks to Baker Academic for this free review copy.

You can purchase Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters: A Historical and Biographical Guide here.

Watch the interview with Marion Ann Taylor to hear about how this book came about.

Book Review: James and Jude (Baker Academic)

Many thanks to Baker Academic for providing this free review copy

John Painter and David deSilva contribute to the one of the latest additions to the Paideia Commentary Series. Painter, who wrote the James portion, has written numerous books and articles on the person of James and has also on the Johannine epistles in the Sacra Pagina series. DeSilva has written numerous publications covering the New Testament and other Second Temple Judaism literature.

Goals of the Series

The Paideia Commentary Series is a somewhat newer series that tries that has three goals:

  1. Give contemporary students a basic grounding in academic New Testament studies by guiding their engagement with the New Testament texts
  2. Reflect the facts that the texts of the New Testament are literary units shaped by the educational categories of ancient writers and readers
  3. To form the theological convictions and moral habits of the individual authors

Both Paint and deSilva do a great job of bringing their expertise of the subject to a level that is easy for the beginning student to take in. This is not at all to say that the commentary is “fluffy” or “easy” but it is to say that it is clear and articulate on the issues. Instead of assuming one’s knowledge of “scholarly” terms these are often times defined and described showing the importance of different ideas. Another excellent feature is the use of “mini excursuses” that describe in detail particular ideas. These are excerpted out in an easy to read form that does not take away from the flow of the commentary itself. See image below

Methodology

Each author covers the basics that most commentaries cover (authorship, date, genre, theology etc.) in a compact form that is easy to digest. Painter says that even though there is much connection with early Jesus sayings it does not seem that James, Jesus’ half-brother, did not actually write the letter but is rather a pseudonymous letter written after his death. deSilva posits that the letter of Jude does not “fit characteristics associated with postapostolic writings” and is presumably written by Jude, the half-brother of Jesus, in the latter stage of his life (181–182).

Strengths

One of the strengths of the Paideia series is that it is not a “verse by verse” commentary but rather analyzes larger units together. This serves two useful purposes: 1) it allows the student to easily see the overview and complete message of each book 2) allows the authors to deal more easily with the final literary composition of each book. I found this approach to be well suited for the purpose of the commentary. By doing this it allows the authors to give adequate space to each literary unit and not have to become superficial in its analysis by going verse by verse in a shorter commentary.

Conclusion

Overall, I would highly recommend this commentary to both students and pastors. Any student or pastor that is beginning their study in either one of these books would be well advised to read through this commentary at the start of their study to be able to adequately grasp the books as a whole. The Paideia series is a welcome addition to the plethora of commentary sets out there that helpfully analyzes not only the cultural background and literary devices used but also the themes and theology of each book of the New Testament.

Book Review: Jesus is the Christ by Michael Bird

Many thanks to IVP Academic for this free review copy

Jesus is the Christ: The Messianic Testimony of the Gospels is the follow-up volume to Bird’s earlier work Are You the One Who Is to Come?: The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question, which explores the the historical question whether Jesus knew and claimed to be the Messiah. He concludes in that work that indeed Jesus saw himself as the Messiah outlined in the Scriptures. Jesus is the Christ builds on this conclusion and shows how the primary purpose of the four Gospels is to show that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.

If you have not read his previous book then you are in luck. The introduction to the book provides a basic analysis of the claim that Jesus knew and claimed that he was the Messiah. Bird is clear and concise in this introduction and gives the new reader sufficient background to this topic. This leads into his thesis:

“a significant purpose of the Gospels is to convince readers — Jewish readers in particular — that Jesus is the Messiah. THe Gospels consciously set out to answer Jewish objections to the messiahship of Jesus, they perceive in Jesus the climax of the Jewish hope, and they proclaim Jesus as the savior of Israel (33).”

Bird has a special knack for taking the major themes of the Gospels and weaving them together in such a way that is coherent and enjoyable to read. Starting with the Gospel of Mark he combines a narrative, linguistic, rhetorical, social-scientific, and Christological analysis on the Gospel. I especially found the social-scientific analysis enlightening. Bird shows how the shameful act of crucifixion is actually “honorable” because Mark presents the cross as the “vindication, honor, and glory” of Christ (44–45). Somehow Bird then weaves together the theological masterpiece of Matthew into a narrative showing the Matthean focus of Jesus as the Davidic messiah coming to bring deliverance to both the Jews and Gentiles. Bird then combines the Luke-Acts narrative showing that Luke’s main purposes are showing that Jesus is the messiah and that "those who express faith in Jesus and join ‘the Way’ are constituted as the people of God in the messianic age. Finally, the Gospel of John is summed up beautifully in his final paragraph:

“The confession that Jesus is the Messiah, and the mode of sonship that it claimed for him, make it clear that Jesus is from, of, with, and even is God. Jesus fulfills the scriptural hopes in such a way as to eclipse the place of the law and Moses from the centre of Jewish belief, and Jesus stands in an unparalleled unity with the Father — that is what it means to call him the Messiah (140).”

I found Bird’s approach to the Gospels both compelling and engaging. Reading through each chapter the reader is hit with a whirlwind of ideas and themes related to the Gospel writers portrayal that Jesus is indeed the long awaited Messiah. I especially enjoyed his emphasis that the Messianic titles in the Gospel of Mark, while important individually, come together as a whole to “form a mutually interpretive christological spiral where one defines the meaning of the other (45).” Bird is able to fly above the Gospels and provide narrative overview while swooping down to show how the individual parts make up the whole.

Many people reading this will already have in their mind that the Gospels present Jesus as the Messiah but this book still has much merit for those readers. The insights into the themes and theology of the Gospels are worthy to be read for anyone being introduced to the Gospels. After reading this book students will be able to read the Gospels individually and understand how each story stands in relation to the whole. If one is not convinced that the Gospels present Jesus as the Christ they too should also pick up this book because one would be hard pressed to argue against this notion after reading Bird’s analysis.

I am a footnote snob so I was disappointed when I opened the book to find that it had endnotes. This makes for a slower read for someone who is interested in the “extras” with each endnote. The introduction alone has 92 endnotes in 30 pages of writing, which makes for slow reading. I ended up just noting particular endnotes that I wanted to look at later and found this a more fruitful enterprise and to just read Bird’s analysis without stopping to check out each one. With that being said, this minor negative point should not detract someone interested in the Gospels from reading this book.

To conclude, I would highly recommend this book to any student of the Bible. The Gospels, as Pennington puts it, are the “archways of the Canon[1]”. Understanding the themes and theology of them in relation to how they present Jesus as the Messiah will not only enrich the students understanding of the Gospel themselves but also the rest of the writings of the New Testament. With Birds engaging writing style and way of turning a phrase (such as "Mk. 14:61–62 looks like a bit of a christological blender…(51)) will leave the student with both an enlightening and enjoyable read. Highly recommended.

Also check out my other reviews of IVP Academic books:

Also check out his upcoming book, Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction.


  1. Pennington, Jonathan T. Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction. Baker Books, 2012, 229.  ↩

Book Review: Early Christian Thinkers edited by Paul Foster (IVP)

Many thanks to IVP Press for providing this review copy

Title: Early Christian Thinkers: The Lives and Legacies of Twelve Key Figures
Edited by: Paul Foster
Price: $23.00 (Amazon Link)

There is an ever-growing interesting into early Christian history and the Church Fathers. This interest is two pronged: Many are seeking to understand the rise of Christianity and another related group is interested in the interpretive method of these early Christian thinkers. These are not new categories but the larger interest of a younger generation is growing. It is difficult to dive into these early writings without understanding the context of the writers life situation and other writings. This book finds its niche in providing a scholarly overview of these writings and the impact it had on later Christian writings. This is why this book, Early Christian Thinkers is a needed addition to the plethora of introductory resources of the early Church.

As it is with literature, all writing builds and is related in some ways to other similar (and not so similar writings) writings. This volume seeks to show “the way in which these early Christians, while being rooted in their own cultural contexts, made innovative contributions towards developing Christian thought, theology, and piety (xi).” Many of these contributions to early Christianity are intertwined with other Christian thinkers and are responses to others outside the faith. This collection of essays successfully shows the development of the writer, the importance of his/her writings for the Christian faith, and the effects it has on later Christian writers.

The book is laid out in twelve distinct chapters covering the following early Christian thinkers:

  1. Justin Martyr (Paul Parvis)
  2. Tatian (Paul Foster)
  3. Irenaeus (Denis Minns)
  4. Theophilus of Antioch (Rick Rogers)
  5. Clement of Alexandria (Judith L. Kovacs)
  6. Tertullian (Everett Ferguson)
  7. Perpetua (Sara Parvis)
  8. Origen (Rebecca Lyman)
  9. Cyprian of Carthage (J. Patout Burns)
  10. Hippolytus of Rome (Ulrich Volp)
  11. Gregory Thaumaturgus (Michael Slusser)
  12. Eusebius of Caesarea (Timothy David Barnes)

Each chapter seeks to give a paragraph length introduction, a short biography, an overview of the writings, theology, legacy, and a concise bibliography. Overall, most of the authors successfully wrote within this context. The essays by Lyman (Origen) and Kovacs (Clement of Alexandria) were especially insightful. Lyman’s portrait of Origen was fair and even-handed in giving an overview of his life and the controversies surrounding his writings. Kovacs gives a helpful overview of Clement’s theology by summarizing it in five key ideas:

  1. What is the purpose of human life?
  2. Who is God and how can he be known?
  3. How is the revelation of scripture to be understood?
  4. What is God’s plan for human salvation?
  5. How are believers to become perfect?

I was also excited to see the inclusion of Perpetua’s writings. Often in introductions to early Christian thinkers a female presence is neglected. The essay was interesting and insightful but it did seem out of place for this volume. Each other essay shows how the persons writings and thought were unique and influenced other Christian thought. But with this essay it is more of a biographical sketch of the author and her theology. The essay concludes by saying, “If Perpetua is not the early church’s greatest theologian, what she has going for her is yet something fairly rare: we have convincing portraits of both her family and her public life, and they add up (109).” This conclusion sums up the essay, a fine biography of the life of Perpetua but lacking in the influence she had as an early Christian thinker.

There was one particular essay that did not seem to fit the purpose of the book, Tatian by Paul Foster. In this essay Foster seemed to focus an unduly amount of time on text critical issues in Tatian. This seemed out of place within the context of the rest of the essays, which rarely focused on text critical issues of the writings. When others did mention them it was concise and to the point. The essay still has redeeming qualities though. Foster provides several helpful charts showing some of the content of Tatian’s writing. His section on whether Tatian was a heretic is insightful too. He concludes that most likely Tatian’s writings were not “unorthodox” at the time and some of his followers later formed unorthodox doctrines that Tatian was linked to.

The bibliographies of most of the works are especially helpful for the student and scholar. The bibliographies were often times broken down according to each work and then a select list of monographs concerning the writer. It is difficult for beginning students to know which works/translations to consult for academics and this provides a helpful guide.

Overall, I would recommend this book to any student that has an interest in early Christian thought. The essays written found the niche needed, they were neither to short and basic or too narrow focused on singular issues. I found myself understanding the writings of each of these thinkers better and with an eye towards the context that they are writing in. The bibliographies are especially helpful for the student or scholar wishing for sources of their works. I think that students who are interested in reading the writings of any of these early Christian thinkers would do well to first consult the relevant essay to understand the life and context of the writer. For students interested in the history of interpretation this book is a valuable read in order to better understand and utilize the writings of this era for interpretation today.

Related: See Brian Leport at the Near Emmaus blog give his thoughts on each chapter here.

Book Review: James: A Handbook on the Greek New Testament

Many thanks to Baylor University Press for this free review copy. You may purchase this text here.

Baylor continues its Handbook on the Greek New Testament series with the book of James by A.K.M. Adam. The hopes of the series are to:

“provide a convenient reference tool that explains the syntax of the biblical text, offers guidance for deciding between competing semantic analyses, deals with text-critical questions that have a significant bearing on how the text is understood, and addresses questions relating to the Greek text that are frequently overlooked or ignored by standard commentaries, all in a succinct and accessible manner.”

Adam is a lecturer in New Testament in the School of Critical Studies at the University of Glasgow. He has written many books on hermeneutics and even a Greek grammar.

Highlights of the Baylor Handbook Series

  • Concise grammar and syntax explanations of the Greek text
  • Linguistic and rare syntax definitions defined
  • Presentation of arguments on key grammar and syntactical issues
  • Explanation and rejection of deponency
  • Translation of each passage
  • Easy to use layout
  • Interaction with recent scholarship
  • Text critical issues explained
  • Accessible to students

Analysis of Adam’s Work

Adam succeeds in providing a clear and concise analysis of the grammar and syntax of the Greek text of James. His writing style is short and to the point but also expands his explanations when needed. This allows the exegete to quickly reference Adam for a quick and detailed analysis of the relevant passage. It is helpful for the person working through the Greek text to not be bogged down by erroneous information related to the grammar and syntax of the passage. I found this refreshing when compared to other recent “handbooks” on the Greek text. Adam does not spend much time explaining the meaning of words unless a discussion warrants. For example, in James 2:1 how one understands τῆς δόξης affects how one understands the genitive construct. He gives two quick possibilities and then gives his conclusion.

Throughout the book he also provides insights into discourse features by often referring to Steven Runge’s recent work, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament. Discourse features are helpful in understanding the flow of thought in any given passage and it is a welcomed addition to the handbook. For example, in understanding the flow in James 1:16 he cites Runge saying, “…(he) astutely notes that ‘the content verse — both the verb and the address form — contributes little to the propositional content. This lack of contribution may explain the difficulty of determining its connection.’ As such, he proposes treating the contraction as a ‘janus verse,’ looking both backward to the origins of sin and death, and forward to the contrasting creation of goodness in humanity (18).”

Comparison to Recent Works

How does this compare to the other similar series from B&H? I found Adam’s book to be more helpful in the analysis of the Greek text of James. While there is a similar focus in both series’ Adam’s commentary is pointed and concise when needed but also offers more detailed explanation on difficult passages. In his definition’s of words he provides a quick gloss and explanation and the reader does not have to sort through the history of a word to come to a conclusion. Overall, I found the Baylor Handbook to be easier and more helpful to use when studying the text of James.

Conclusion

Overall, I recommend this handbook to anyone who is studying the Greek text of James. The size and layout of the book makes it easy to use when studying a particular passage. Adam recognizes the limit to this commentary to solely focus on the grammar and syntax in an accessible manner to any Greek student. The student using this commentary will not only improve their understanding of Greek but will also be able to understand James more fully.