Archives For Bible Study

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Crossway let me get a hold of an eBook version of John Piper’s latest, A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness (see this sample). If you’ve ever read a book by John Piper, I’m not sure this much here that would surprise you. However, if you happen to be looking for an accessible overview of why we can trust the Bible, this could be a good place to start.

The book has 5 parts that span almost 300 pages. In the first, Piper gives his personal story of coming to trust the Bible. The next part of the book takes three chapters to discuss the basics of canon and original manuscripts. As I heard Michael Kruger frame it recently, the basic questions are, “do we have the right books?” and “do these books have the right words?” Piper takes two chapters to answer the first (one for Old Testament and one for New, obviously) and one to answer the second. While not overly technical, Piper does give a good overview of the same kind of material I studies on these questions in seminary.

The next part of the book asks what these books claim for themselves. Without spoiling too much, the consistent witness across Old and New Testaments is that the Bible claims to be the word of God. Most people tend to feel like this is circular, to which I usually say, “yes.” I’ll then explain that your ultimate authority needs to be self-attesting (verifies itself) if it’s really your ultimate authority.

When we discussed this recently in my 11th grade Bible class, I pointed out that if someone claims reason is the ultimate authority for determining truth, they have to use reason to prove their point. Same problem of circularity, different ultimate authority. Much to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s chagrin, it’s even worse if you claim science as ultimate authority.Since you can’t use the scientific method to prove science is or should be the ultimate authority, you’ll have to provide a logical argument instead, and now we all know that reason is your ultimate authority and that your worldview is just as circular as the Christianity that you like to pick on.

All of that is a roundabout way to point out that it is not a problem, logically speaking, for your ultimate authority to prove itself. That’s kind of what makes it ultimate. It’s the end of the road. The Bible is the Word of God because it says so. Believe it, obey it, and it will prove itself true in your life. To further support that, Piper’s next part of the book take an historical turn and visits Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, and Pascal’s wager. I thought this was helpful after looking at what Scripture claimed for itself.

In the final part of the book, Piper continues to tease out how the glory of God is seen in Scripture and also the means by which it is confirmed for us as the Word of God. Having started with his own story, moved through Scripture’s claims for itself, and what great theological minds have made of it, this is a great way to draw the book to a close (and mention that it has a sequel in the works). It is also the part of the book that is perhaps most distinctive to Piper, since earlier parts are mostly summarizing and translating available scholarship into a more lay accessible format.

Overall, I found this book to be classic Piper, and a helpful refresher on an important topic. I’m still a bit more partial to John Frame’s Doctrine of The Word of God for a stand alone volume on the topic, but I appreciate Piper’s angle on it. I will be interested to see how Piper lays out his thinking further in the planned follow up to this volume, which I think comes out next spring.

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As is my custom, several weeks back I started a series on book recommendations and then promptly abandoned it. I gave some recommended readings in Reformed theology, promised some on systematic and biblical theology, and well here we are. It would be pointless to promise when those posts will arrive, but most likely it will be before Easter (ever the optimist I am).

In the meantime, this is a collection of previous posts with commentary recommendations. What is a biblical commentary you ask? It is a book designed to help you understand either a specific book of the Bible or a collection of books in the Bible. If you have a study Bible, the notes in it a usually a short version of what a full commentary is (although the ESV and NIVZSB are pretty commentaries in their own right). It is a book that should help you understand the literature, culture, and theology of a given book of the Bible. That last point is somewhat disputed when it comes to commentaries that are more technical. That is, those commentaries tend to go into extensive detail on the literary, cultural, and historical side of things, but do not always terminate in explaining the theological message of the book.

Commentaries come in many shapes and sizes. They also tend to get published in series. Some of these are specific to the Old or New Testament, and some are for the entire Bible. The website that I like to gather recommendations from categories commentaries as either devotional, pastoral, or technical. This is roughly a beginner, intermediate, advanced kind of categorization, although the difference has to do more with focus. The devotional commentary is more for the average person who just wants to understand the book of the Bible better as part of their own personal growth and study. The pastoral commentary is generally more for pastors and teachers of the Bible, and goes into more detail in places. The technical commentary is for pastors and professors and as you might imagine, goes into even more detail, often focusing more on literary and cultural dimensions and less on the theological ones.

A couple of years ago, I put together a series of posts with my recommend commentaries for each book of the Bible. Here are the Old Testament lists:

The post on Old Testament Backgrounds gives a good orientation to both the background of the Old Testament and how to select commentaries on it. After I finished the series, I collated my recommendations into a single post, which you can read here.

Here are the New Testament lists:

There isn’t a corresponding New Testament backgrounds post, but this is a similar type of post. Along with all of this, you can read my reviews of specific commentaries, although they are rarely very in depth.

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Long ago, in many times and many ways, I spoke to you about the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. As volume as have been released, I’ve posted about each one:

Then I was able to review how two of the volumes worked in Logos. Now, I’m letting you know about the remaining volumes in the set. The actual full available set can be found here, but I’m commenting on a slightly earlier version of the bundle.

Because you can read my reviews of the individual volumes by following the links above, I won’t be commenting as much about the contents. Instead, I’m focusing on the usability in Logos. However, one thing to note content-wise is that if you get the Acts volume in Logos, it is an expanded digital edition. As the author, Eckhard Schnabel explains:

I thank Clint Arnold and the members of the editorial team for their invitation to write the commentary on Acts, for their comments on the manuscript, and for their willingness to work out a solution when the submitted manuscript was twice as long as contracted. While allowing the print edition of the commentary to be longer than originally anticipated, they arranged with Zondervan that the electronic version of the commentary will contain the full manuscript, with a large number of In Depth sections that had to be omitted from the print edition and with fuller documentation of and interaction with the work of other Acts scholars.

The print edition runs 1168 pages, so I’m not sure if that means Schnabel submitted a manuscript closer to 2500 pages, or if he contracted for a lesser amount and the 1168 was the max for the print and you’re getting a few hundred (or less) bonus pages in the digital edition. In any case, the only downside in this is that the Acts volume doesn’t have page numbers in the Logos edition like the other ZECNT volumes do.

While we’re talking about those “In Depth” sections that are in the Acts volume, I like how they cease to be sidebars in the digital edition. It would be helpful if they were indexed so they could be more easily accessed, but I like how they integrate into the flow of the main text more easily reading scrolling through the digital edition. On the downside, when it comes to scrolling through these volumes, say on your iPhone (even a 6), the The Translation and Structural Layout sections get cut off and can’t be fully seen. In the previous review I showed you what they look like on an iPad. Usually those are fine, but they’re almost worthless when accessing the titles on your phone.

Luckily, I don’t primarily use Logos on my phone. Instead, I do my main reading and highlight on the iPad, but then do more serious study and cross-referencing on the computer. As you can see in this screenshot, I have several commentary series in the New Testament and I’ve integrated the ZECNT volumes into my New Testament studies layout (click to enlarge):

Logos Screen Grab

(see full size)

Within the left panel, you can see, from left to right, TNTC, ZECNT, PNTC, BECNT, and NICNT. If you notice also, there is a small “A” next to the book cover icon. That means I’ve linked the panels so if I change the reference in one, it adjusts the other. So right now it’s set for Acts. But if I change the ESV to Ephesians 4, all the linked commentary panels will also change. With a few clicks I can not only read a section of Scripture, I can toggle over to see what a half dozen different commentaries offer. Also, as a sidenote, you’ll notice I have both the ESV Study Bible and NIV Zondervan Study Bible notes under the biblical text.

When it comes to actually studying the text, I like to read through it a few times and with several translations (you can see which in the enlarged version). Then, the translation/layout in the ZECNT is the next thing I’ll look at. One thing I really appreciate with the ZECNT is the commentary proper breaks down by verse and offers both the Greek and English before comments. From there, I’ll compare comments between commentaries, and ZECNT is a valuable series to be able to use in this regard. While it only has 10 volumes, it’s a good split between Gospels, Paul, and General Letters at the moment. I’m looking forward to more volumes being released and will plan to add them to my Logos library once that becomes an option. As you build your own Logos commentary library, you ought to take advantage of the Zondervan/Thomas Nelson sale and get this bundle today!


Visit the product page

Thanks to Logos for the review copy!

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I’m a big ESV guy. Or at least that’s been the case since the mid-2000’s. My first actual Bible was probably NIV. My first real study Bible was MacArthur Study Bible in NKJV that my mom got me during my first year of college. The next study Bible was a Reformation Study Bible in ESV, although during my time in seminary it didn’t figure prominently into my reading. My most recent study Bible has been a leather ESV, but that was until Zondervan sent along their newest offering.

The NIV Zondervan Study Bible is kind of a big deal. It’s been in the works for quite a while and none other than D. A. Carson is the general editor. As a rule of thumb, if he edits something, either a book, or a series of books, it is probably worth checking out. Up until recently I hadn’t been very high on the NIV, but I’ve come around. Since being sent this earlier this month, I’ve been using it for daily devotions. So far, I’ve enjoyed switching first back to print instead of Logos on my iPad, and second to reading the NIV instead of ESV. Right now I’m in 1 Samuel, Psalms, Jeremiah, and Romans, so I’m getting a good feel for the different feel of the NIV.

On the website for the study Bible, you can find out about the contributors, as well as an overview of what makes this study Bible distinctive. In many respects, it is very similar to the ESV Study Bible. It has fairly extensive articles introducing each section of Scripture as well as each book. It also has numerous articles in the back matter. The key difference is that these articles in the NIV Zondervan Study Bible are covering the main biblical-theological themes in Scripture. The goal is to give readers some basic tools in order to be better equipped to read the story of Scripture. While the ESV seemed to be going for comprehensive resourcing in its articles, the focus here is biblical theology, both in the articles and study notes.

Because of that, it is a nice compliment to an ESV Study Bible. You’ll get a different focus in the study notes, but you’ll also be reading a different translation (and it is actually a translation, not a paraphrase as some suggest). While you may not need a multiplicity of study Bibles, having two or three really solid ones is a good idea. If you only have an ESV, this is the next one you need to get. I round out my trio with a new Reformation Study Bible, but I’ll talk more about that later.

So far, I’ve been very pleased with this study Bible and would recommend you check it out, whether you’re an NIV fan or are looking to understand biblical theology better. If you’re looking to do both then this study Bible was basically made just for you. I may have more to say later, but for now, you might want to jump on pre-order deals with Amazon, or you could wait and see if somewhere like Westminster runs a release special in the next few weeks.

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Because I spend a good bit of my time teaching the Bible, books on biblical interpretation always catch my eye. On my book review page, the “Hermeneutics” section gives you a good idea of volumes I’ve read in the past few years. One of those, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, now has an abridged version. Although it goes by a different title, For The Love of God’s Word follows the same structure as its predecessor and contains much of the same great content.

In terms of differences between the two volumes, the main thing missing is more advanced discussions wrestling with history of interpretation, discourse analysis, original language business and all that jazz. It is not altogether absent, but the authors give us a heads up in the preface that it has been thinned down. This is because, predictably, this abridged version is aimed at the high school to early college age demographic in hopes that someone like me would use it as a textbook. Additionally, the sample exegesis sections from the larger book, as well as sections on preaching got the axe. Bibliographies were likewise trimmed because as you might know, high schoolers are typically not looking for more non-fiction books to spend their time reading (maybe it’s just the ones I know and used to be myself).

The result is a book that follows the same triperspectival outline of history, literature, and theology, but is more compact (yet still over 400 pages). As for its usability as a textbook, I’ll have to see over this coming year. Right now, the curriculum structure at the school I teach at does Old Testament in 9th grade and New Testament in 10th grade, and I only teach the former. Much of the material here might find itself incorporated into my 9th grade class since I do prioritize understanding how to read the different genres of Old Testament literature. Ideally what I will probably do is to add some sections to my lecture schedule that unpacks interpretive principles alongside the typical material you’d expect in an Old Testament survey class.

My main concern in using the book in my current teaching load is that it might be still too advanced for 9th graders and that’s who I’d use it with. I may adapt the material into my lectures, but that’s different than assigning the book as required reading. I’ve typically found that reading isn’t always completed in the way a teacher might like and it has worked better for me to do the reading myself and then distill the information into a more interactive format. That being said, this book will be something I profit from over the next few weeks and months as I tweak and update my classes. If you are looking for a book on biblical interpretation and missed the original version of this volume, maybe consider giving the abridged version a good perusal.


Andreas J. Kostenberger and Richard D. Patterson, For The Love of God’s Word: An Introduction to Biblical InterpretationGrand Rapids: Kregel Academic, May 2015. 448 pp. Hardcover, $34.99.

Buy itAmazon

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Kregel Academic for the review copy!

Apparently, this is the 50th anniversary of the NIV, and there’s a pretty intense new study Bible coming out later this year. I’ll be honest though, the NIV is not usually my translation of choice. I think I grew up with it somewhat, but my first study Bible was NKJV, and then I switched to ESV not long after that. I’ve moved away from thinking of NIV as a second rate (an idea from early Bible college days), as I realized it is just as legitimate as the ESV. If you’re not convinced yet, read this by Doug Moo and this by Bruce Waltke. Over the summer, I’m actually going to try to read the entire Bible in the NIV using a reading plan in Logos. (You could try a similar plan, but stretched out for a year by clicking here)

Zondervan is putting together quite a few resources to really highlight the usefulness and reliability of the NIV. Things like this infographic:WheelGraphic2

You can see more if you click through any of the links above. Given all that, what are your thoughts on the NIV? Do you use it regularly? If not, do you use it comparatively in your studies? I’ve pretty much always been ESV with a splash of NET here and there (and most recently N. T. Wright’s NT translation on occasion). How do you use translations in your reading and studies?

You might remember my series on building a theological library. Several volumes were from the Tyndale Commentary series, which is on sale at Westminster.
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Over the past several weeks, I’ve been continuing on through the book of Numbers as part of my devotional reading. I told you about snakes on the plain a few weeks back, and how they are some very instructive stories scattered through Numbers. The barrier to getting to these stories is usually working through the opening 10 chapters which are mostly geneological, hence Numbers.

Unless you’ve done some background reading, you might not be aware that there are problems with the numbers in Numbers. Mainly, the issue is that the numbers are very large (600,000+ people in Israel) and there is genuine lack of archaeological evidence that a people group that large was assimilated in to Egypt at some point and also wandered the Arabian peninsula for 40 years. While archaeological evidence does not determine the truthfulness of the biblical record, there is something to be said for considering how to take the numbers in Numbers. If nothing else, people were instructed to go outside the camp for certain, shall we say, business, and if there are over a million people present, that’s a long walk for a bathroom break.

Gordon Wenham outlines the four main problems with accepting the numbers at face value:

First, it is very difficult to imagine so many people surviving in the wilderness of Sinai for forty years. When women and children are included, the census figures suggest there were about two million people all told. Even allowing for heaven-sent quails and manna and occasional miraculous supplies of water, there would be great difficulties in providing for all the physical requirements of such a multitude, the more so when they are all supposed to have camped neatly round the tabernacle (Num. 2) and marched together, and so on. The bedouin population of modern Sinai amounts to only a few thousand; and until relatively recent Jewish immigration into Israel, the total population of Palestine, a much larger and more fertile area, was only just over a million.

The second difficulty about accepting these figures is that they appear internally inconsistent. The most obvious point concerns the ratio of adult males to first-born males, roughly 27 to 1. This means that out of every 27 men in Israel only 1 was the first-born son in his family. In other words an average family consisted of 27 sons, and presumably an equal number of daughters. The average mother must then have had more than 50 children! This figure would be reduced if multiple polygamy were common in Israel and only the father’s first child counted as the first-born in the family. But other evidence suggests bigamy was unusual in Old Testament times, and that multiple polygamy was restricted to the very rich.

The third difficulty arises from other texts which apparently acknowledge that initially there were too few Israelites to occupy the promised land all at once (Exod. 23:29f.; Deut. 7:6f., 21f.). But two million Israelites would have more than filled the land. Indeed, in the judges period the fighting men of the tribe of Dan numbered only 600 (Judg. 18:16; cf. Num. 1:38–39).

The fourth point is a mathematical oddity, and does not prove anything, though it may suggest these figures are not quite what they appear. Not only are most of the figures rounded off to the nearest hundred, the hundreds tend to be bunched: 200, 300, 400, 500, 600, 700 occur but never 000, 100, 800 or 900. This concentration of hundreds between 200 and 700 suggests the totals are not random as might have been expected in a census. (Wenham 69-70)

He then suggests four solutions:

  1. The numbers are accurate
  2. The numbers are accurate, but reflect a later time, probably David’s
  3. The numbers have suffered textual corruption
  4. The numbers are symbolic

He leans toward the latter, but still has nagging questions. While we might not be able to completely solve the problem, Timothy Ashley’s conclusion seems appropriate:

No one system answers all the questions or solves all the problems. Rather than assuming this complex (mis-)use of ’lp, one might be better served to assume that a zero needs to be dropped from all the figures involved. This would give a fighting strength of 60,355 and a total population of between 200,000 and 250,000 (still quite high by ancient standards). The flaw in this suggestion is that the mistake in zeros would easily occur only where numbers were represented by figures rather than by words. We have little or no evidence that figures were used in the biblical texts during the biblical period.

A weak point in all the solutions that understand ’lp as “tribal subgroup” is that the text of Numbers understands it as “thousand.” The editor simply totals the figures to get 603,550. Using the ’lp = “group” solution, the total is (according to Flinders Petrie and Mendenhall) 598 groups of 5,550 men. To understand ’lp in any other way than “thousand” assumes a misunderstanding and mistransmission of the text in all the census lists of Exodus and Numbers (not to mention other texts). Since both the LXX and the Sam. Pent. basically agree with the MT, the misunderstanding must have taken place as early as the 5th or 4th cent. B.C.

In short, we lack the materials in the text to solve this problem. When all is said and done one must admit that the answer is elusive. Perhaps it is best to take these numbers as R. K. Harrison has done—as based on a system familiar to the ancients but unknown to moderns. According to Harrison the figures are to be taken as “symbols of relative power, triumph, importance, and the like and are not meant to be understood either strictly literally or as extant in a corrupt textual form.” (Ashley, The Book of Numbers, 65–66)

Ashley’s discussion is worth reading in full if you can get your hands on his NICOT volume. Wenham’s is more accessible (price-wise), and I’d highly recommend picking it up if you want to look into this further. At the end of the day, there is much to learn in reading the Old Testament and often that means leaving certain things in tension and awaiting further resolution.

Genesis Rebooted

April 29, 2015 — 3 Comments

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A perennial interest for me over the past several years has been understanding the early chapters of Genesis. This reached its height while I was in my last couple of years at Dallas and I was able to take Hebrew III and IV, as well as a Ph.D seminar on ancient Near East literature. Couple all this my reading of John Walton, and you get this blog series:

For reasons I don’t quite remember (probably busyness), I obviously didn’t finish Genesis 2. Other concerns came to the forefront as I wrapped up at Dallas, but you can tell by this string of reviews, it was still a subject of interest:

Now, as you can see from the stack of books pictured above, I’ve got quite a few books on the topic to work through. The top 2 are for actual reviews and the bottom three are books I picked up at TGC because they were good deals.

I’m not particularly sure what this series, if it even becomes that, will look like. Needless to say I’ll probably be posting thoughts on my reading over the summer. But beyond that, I’m not sure if it will all take systematic shape. I’d like to pick back up with Genesis 2, but I might need to go back and reshape my thoughts on the first chapter in the process. My views, to pardon the pun, haven’t evolved drastically since I wrote the Genesis series and then taught high school biology for a year. But, there are many questions I still have and am working through so I thought it’d be best to do that on here. If there’s something particular you’d like to see me wrestle through, let me know!

BlueStarIn my daily Bible reading plan, I just started Numbers over the weekend. I’ve been following the M’Cheyne plan and working through D. A. Carson’s For the Love of God (you can do so as well at this blog). Numbers is not usually high on anyone’s list of anticipated devotional reading. I can generally sympathize with this, but I think Numbers gets a bad rap for at least a couple of reasons.

First, most people encounter it after committing to read the Bible in a year, and they’ve gotten to Numbers after all the rules and regulations in Leviticus. The excitement of the Exodus is long gone, and the story seems stalled. If this is the only Bible reading you’re doing every morning, it can seem tedious and boring.

Second, the book starts off with the type of Scripture we seem to cherish the least: lists of names. Most people don’t relish reading genealogies and organizational flow charts, but the early chapters of Numbers seem to be very much that. Censuses and camp layouts are not exactly something I feel like I can apply to my life today.

But, as you continue reading, Numbers has actually has some pretty interesting and important stories. While everyone’s familiar with John 3:16, not everyone may realize the story involving Moses in John 3:14-15 comes from Numbers. In chapter 21, because of their continual grumbling, the Israelites are dealing with very deadly snakes on the plain. In order to be saved they must look to a bronze serpent that Moses has been instructed to lift up on a stick. Those who look to the serpent will be healed from their bites. The name for this serpent on a stick is the Nehushtan, and it may be an underlying source or inspiration for the Rod of Asclepius, which you might recognize from being on the emergency services star of life (among other places). If that’s the case, the symbol of healing in our medical services is also the symbol John said represents true healing found in Christ.

Further, consider what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.

Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:1-13, ESV)

While most people might be familiar with the last verse, the stories that Paul alludes to mostly take place in Numbers. He says in verse 6 that these stories took place as examples for us. The “us” in the original was Paul and the Corinthians, but it also applies to “us” today. Especially considering how often we draw correlations between the Corinthian climate and our American culture, it seems like what Paul thought was applicable for them is easily applicable for us. As Gordon Wenham comments,

For the writers of the New Testament the book of Numbers stands as a great warning. Despite the miraculous deliverance from Egypt, and the daily evidences of God’s provision for their needs, Israel refused to believe and rebelled against their Saviour. Numbers records a trail of spectacular judgments that ought to provoke caution in every believer.

In this passage Paul describes the experiences of Israel in the wilderness in such a way as to make clear the parallels with the situation at Corinth. Most of the sins of Corinth are thus prefigured in Numbers, and if Israel was punished so severely, what can the church of the new covenant expect?(Numbers, 56-57)

In their Introduction to The Old Testament, Longman and Dillard suggest “Each generation of Christians should place themselves in the position of the new generation of the book of Numbers. God has acted redemptively in our midst, and by so doing, he has given our lives meaning and hope. Just like the Numbers generation, we are called upon to respond to God’s grace with obedience” (100). Reading Numbers in that light, genealogies included, can surely prove profitable to the Christian life. At the end of the day, the struggle may simply be that reading Numbers well requires thought beyond the time it takes to read the chapters in order to see Christ more clearly and understand how this part of Scripture can be profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and ultimately training in righteousness. I’m hoping to see that in the coming days and weeks and will have some more to share as I move along.