Archives For Interpreting The New Testament

If you’re keeping score at home, I’ve now posted on 3 consecutive NIV Study Bibles from Zondervan. First, it was the new NIV Zondervan Study Bible. Then it was the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. Now, it’s the Faithlife Study Bible.

If you’re not familiar (and even if you are), Faithlife is the parent company of Logos Bible Software. As such, this is a resource that has been available on Logos for a while, but not in print. Actually, the idea goes back to 2011. Since then, the notes have been edited and expanded by a team of collaborators, so much so that there are not authors listed for the notes like most study Bibles. There are major articles by specific authors, but the notes are truly a team effort more so than other study Bibles.

In addition, there is a strong visual element to this study Bible. Not that other study Bibles don’t have graphics and/or illustrations. But, it seems to be more of a focus here. You can get a feel for that by browsing the sample that is offered here (also see the infographics offered here).

As you browse that sample, you’ll notice on pages 34-35 that there is an article on How to Study The Bible. While it might seem germane to point out, the purpose of a study Bible is to help people study the Bible. The problem that is often encountered is that people don’t just naturally know how to study the Bible (probably because we don’t always teach how people to study books well in general). While the Faithlife Study Bible provides answers to questions readers will have, it also hopes to help shape readers into study-ers, as they learn how to take their study into their own hands.

From what I’ve gathered, it seems like the Faithlife Study Bible fits somewhere between the aformentioned ones. It retains a good bit of cultural background info (maybe more so than a typical study Bible), but that’s not the main focus. On the other hand, it aims to provide good introductory articles, as well as a side articles on topics important to theology, biblical studies, and even discipleship. It manages to do so with being too bulky, or overwhelming the reader with information. In short, it might be one of the best introductory study Bibles you could give to someone. While I think I’ll always be partial to the ESV Study Bible, I’m going to be checking this one out a little more thoroughly in the coming weeks and months to see if my initial impressions prove true, and if it just might sway me to change by loyalty.

In the meantime, check it out for yourself, and enjoy the video below with Q&A on the book with Michael Bird!

It’s hard to believe it’s been three years since I last made it to an ETS regional. Actually, looking at the timeline, I think I go every three years because my first one was in 2011. I also have presented at each one (you can read the previous papers here), and continue that tradition this year.

I re-worked a paper from my Romans class at Dallas. It need some revision and updating, both for newer resources and evolution in thought. The result is called New Perspectives on Paul: Reconciling Wright, Schreiner, and Thielman on Justification. Here is the intro:

The purpose of this paper is to offer an epistemological framework that is suitable for harmonizing differing positions on the nature of justification. The focus here is first, on introducing the framework, and then second, on demonstrating its usefulness in some recent dialogue, namely, the plenary addresses from the 2010 annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society Rather than a rigorous exegetical defense, this is a proposal using a tool of epistemology to attempt to solve a theological difficulty. While all the different perspectives are not completely resolvable, the three presented at the 2010 annual meeting just might be.

I don’t pretend to think it solves all the problems associated with interpreting Paul’s theology. I do however think that John Frame’s triperspectivalism is a useful tool for navigating the different emphases and integrating various conclusions into a coherent whole. As to whether anyone agrees, I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

14947762_10102921705116878_6154067934945124996_n

You may have noticed over the last week I kept posting pictures of the new ESV Reader’s Bible Six-Volume Set from Crossway. They were gracious enough to send a review set my way, and pictures seemed more apt to capture this Bible than my descriptions.

I implied in my posts that I was working through a reading plan. The particular approach, the Bible Reading Plan for Shirkers and Slackers, was something I stumbled upon in Justin Taylor’s annual Bible reading post from last year. I modified it slightly by moving to a new volume each day and leaving Sunday open. Since we are talking about Bible reading rather than Bible study, Sunday might end up being a good study day. Or, Sunday could be a second round with a rotating volume each week.

15027444_10102937763550648_6181883308533059015_n

The first thing you notice when you crack open the Pentateuch volume is that there are periodic headings, but no chapter numbers. I was expecting no verse numbers and for the text to be laid out like a typical book. I wasn’t quite expecting uninterrupted text for page after page. Throughout Genesis at least, the toledot sections give you a good idea where the various headings show up in the text.

15036583_10102938988206428_923372386257604005_n

This trend continues into the Historical Books. With both of these first two volumes, it really does feel like a more natural book reading experience. In the original version of the reading plan, you read back to back days in the Historical Books. However, I moved on to the next volume.

14956545_10102941944317358_8715255265183947380_n

In the poetry books, the Psalms are split up by actual psalm. There is also a move obvious division between the internal books of the Psalms. Job on the other hand is a little bit of a bear because the section with the friend’s dialogue runs without headings breaking it up. Both Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon seem much more readable in a single sitting in this format. Because you don’t necessarily have to start with the first book in each volume as part of this reading plan, I actually began with Proverbs (see previous point about Job).

14947635_10102945675774488_1861286430372048132_n

You’ll notice I did something similar in the Prophets by skipping ahead to the minor prophets. I’m going to try to read each in a single sitting on the days I read this volume. Then I’ll go back and pick up with Isaiah or Jeremiah most likely. That is part of the beauty of this plan, in that you don’t have to stick to consecutive books, you just are trying to read in different genres each day of the week so you are taking in the whole counsel of God over time. And if you miss a day, you just move on to the next volume.

14992016_10102946746304138_3136201237782677969_n

The headings return in the Gospels and make this volume the most user friendly for short reading times. Given the missing chapters and verses, you may notice more connections in the layout. For instance, the “sandwiches” in Mark might stick out a bit more when you read through with typical paragraph headings disrupting the text.

14992078_10102950136939278_5616687211573725354_n

Finally, the main thing I noticed in the Epistle volume is that each is treated like a unit and so has no headings. This appears to suggest you should read each epistle in one sitting, which is honestly a great idea. Once again, you don’t necessarily have to start right off with Romans, but you certainly can.

In terms of an overall assessment, I think ESV Reader’s Bible Six-Volume Set ought to find its way under numerous Christmas trees in a month or so. The $100 price tag is obviously high, but because of the aesthetic appeal and potential impact to your Bible reading, for most people it might be worth it. I received this copy free from Crossway but if I hadn’t, this would probably be the only thing on my Christmas list.

You obviously don’t need this particular multi-volume Bible to do the reading plan I outlined above, but it certainly helps. If you’re looking to change things up in your daily (or semi-daily) reading, definitely check out (and by that I mean try) the plan. And then decide whether the multi-volume Bible is something you’d like to invest in. Or, you know what? Just decide whether to invest in this Bible for yourself or someone who you know would love it.

nivac_banner

Zondervan has historically done a pretty stellar job of sending me various books for review. Although it has never involved a volume in their NIV Application Commentary series, those volumes are on sale in ebook format, this week only. You can see the deals here.

The volumes in this series that I use are mainly Old Testament and all in Logos. I have all the ones on the Pentatuech and the Prophets, as well as a few others. I’ve read several cover to cover and found them profitable. The basic format used moves seamlessly from interpretation to application and is very helpful in brainstorming applications during sermon prep.

A while back, I did a series on commentary recommendations for the entire Bible. Here’s the table of contents:

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. That post also shows you how many of the NIVAC volumes I recommended. 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.

In the meantime, make sure you take advantage of the opportunity to get some of these volumes for just under $5 a piece. If you’re studying a specific book, either for teaching or personal growth, these volumes will help you understand the text and think through relevant applications to your own life. If you’ve got specific questions about them, hit me up in the comments or shoot me an e-mail!

9781433552632

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.

27840610

I am frequently asked about book recommendations. Mostly these are for friends who want to read a good theology book or two. Occasionally I am asked about commentaries by the more adventurous readers (and you can read a response to that here). If you’re not aware (and even if you are), there are a plethora of available modern commentaries on every book of the Bible (for the most part). Knowing what is useful within the available options is a fairly monumental task for the uninitiated.

Thankfully, Zondervan recently published (and sent my way) A Guide to Biblical Commentaries and Reference Works by John F. Evans. According to the cover, this is the 10th edition, but from what I can tell, this is the first actual published edition from Zondervan. While there are other options (notably the guides that cover Old and New Testaments separately from Baker Academic), I think this should be the new go-to for interested readers and virtually every seminary student.

It is a hefty volume in its own right, coming in at just over 450 pages. The print is small as well, so there is a plethora of information to wade through. Thankfully, there is a guide to the many symbols early on, and then an excellent introduction that not only points readers to other available commentary bibliographies, but gives an overview for evaluating commentaries.

The next section gives a thorough rundown on the available commentaries series out there. Evans is generally evaluating the series from a middle of the road conservative evangelical viewpoint. Basic distinctions are drawn out so that for instance, the reader can have a general idea of the difference between a volume in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (TOTC) and a volume in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament series (NICOT). This material alone is a significant help. Just to know what a given series aims to do within the world of biblical commentaries, apart from the next considerations that go into each and every volume in that series, is something that may not come until late in a student’s seminary studies.

For roughly the next 400 pages, Evans takes readers through the Bible book by book, shedding light on the available commentaries for each. He very helpfully includes available reviews in published journals for many of the commentaries. He also offers sections on reference works related to sections of Scripture (i.e. Pentateuchal Studies). This culminates in the terminal sections which offer a short bibliography for a bare-bones library, then an ideal basic library for a pastor, followed by the ultimate reference library of roughly 8-10 key volumes per biblical book.

While I obviously didn’t read this book cover to cover, it wasn’t meant to be used in that way anyway. It is meant to purchased by most seminary students and pastors so they can consult it before making commentaries purchases. This may be the first edition published by Zondervan but you can tell it has been honed and refined over many years leading up to this edition. And while new commentaries will continue to be published, many of the best references are already available. If you use this tools provided by this volume, you ought to be able to evaluate new commentaries more accurately and so continue to make wise use of your resources.

9780830826391

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a new title in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series is in want of a place on my bookshelf. On first glance, today might seem better suited for a different kind of post. But, as I read recent events, it’s a call to start taking prayer seriously. With that in mind, I’d really commend this book to you for its analysis of prayer and it’s timeliness.

Calling on The Name of The Lord: A Biblical Theology of Prayer is J. Gary Millar’s second work in the series. It is also an excellent companion to Tim Keller’s Prayer. Here, as is true in many titles in this series, Millar traces the nature of prayer from Genesis to Revelation. His chapters are divided by traditionally Old Testament divisions (Torah, Former Prophets, Latter Prophets, Writings). Before turning to the New Testament, he devotes a chapter to the Psalms. He then offers chapters on the Gospels, Acts, Paul, and the later New Testament letters. The afterword ties everything together and applies it to our current evangelical context.

Millar defines prayer as “calling on the name of the Lord,” hence the title of the book. In the introduction he offers an important clarification about what his work is trying to do (beyond just tracing out the passages most germane to prayer):

Initially the focus will be on showing how “calling on the name of the Yahweh,” or prayer that asks God to deliver on his covenantal promises, is the foundation for all that the Old Testament says about prayer. On moving to the New Testament it will become apparent how calling on the name of Yahweh is redefined by Jesus himself, and how, after his death and resurrection, the apostles understood praying in the name of Jesus to be the new covenant expression of calling on the name of Yahweh. Prayer throughout the Bible, it will be argued, is to be primarily understood as asking God to come through on what he has already promised; as Calvin expressed it, “through the Gospel our hearts are trained to call on God’s name” (18).

Without editorializing too much, that’s exactly what the present moment in our nation (and world) calls for. The gospel trains our hearts to call on God’s name to bring restoration and redemption to a broken world. We are asking God to come through on what he has already promised and we do so in the name of our new covenant Mediator and his Holy Spirit.

It is in that afterword that Millar laments the downturn in evangelical emphasis on prayer. He then offers several reasons that he thinks the church is praying less (233-235):

  1. Life is easy
  2. The communications revolution
  3. The rise of Bible study groups
  4. The availability of good teaching
  5. The dominance of pragmatism
  6. The vacuum created by cynicism

If 3 and 4 seem weird to you, you’ll have to read the book to see why he includes them. Having diagnosed the issue, Millar offers these insights for relearning to pray in light of his biblical theology of prayer:

  1. We pray recognizing our greatest need(s)
  2. We pray realizing that it is always going to be hard work
  3. We pray patiently (while looking for interim answers to big prayers)

He then suggests five no brainer prayers that the New Testament teaches us to believe God will always come through on:

  1. Forgiveness
  2. To know God better
  3. For wisdom
  4. For strength to obey/love/live for God
  5. For the spread of the gospel

Ultimately, we are praying for God to do his covenant work through the gospel (239). I mentioned earlier that this book is a good companions to Keller’s. I think the main reason for that it is this book shows in a fairly exhaustive fashion what the biblical prayers look like and then draws summary conclusions. Keller’s book provides good historical analysis and pastoral how-to. Millar’s book, through extensive biblical quotations (more so than a normal volume of NSBT) shows the logic of prayers in the Bible.

Because of that, this is definitely a book you want to add to your library. Not only that, you ought to read it and apply it. I’m in the process of doing that now and I hope you’d join me in doing the same.


J. Gary Millar, Calling on The Name of The Lord: A Biblical Theology of PrayerDowners Grove, IL: IVP Academic, March 2016. 264  pp. Paperback, $24.00.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

9781433546075

Vern Poythress can’t seem to stop publishing books. Since In The Beginning Was The Word came out in 2009, he’s published 10 books, with an 11th coming out later this year (making it the third this calendar year). On the upside, he’s applying his unique triperspectivalistic vantage point to variety of topics (math, philosophy, biblical interpretation, sociology, etc.). On the downside, many of these books are fairly boring to read and often seem like Van Tillian class syllabi prepared for publication rather than individual works in their own right.

Such is the case with The Miracles of Jesus, which after a useful template for analyzing miracles in the first part of the book, proceeds to analyze each and every miracle in the gospel of Matthew in successive short chapters. It is repetitive and dull when read straight through (e.g. chapters 11, 21, 23, 34 are all called Many Healings, and chapters 27 and 29 are variants called Healing Many). It would however serve as an excellent resource to anyone preaching through Matthew who would like to consult Poythress’ analysis of the various miracles that occur. It is also useful for the template in the first part of the book discussing how to think about miracles typologically and within the history of redemption. Beyond that, it is, like several other Poythress releases, not riveting chapter by chapter reading. Nonetheless, I value the way Poythress approaches the issues and will continue to try to get my hands on each and every new book he pumps out (even if sometimes I’m doing so as a collector).

9780830840915

On a different note, It is fashionable among contemporary New Testament studies to suggest that the Reformers were less than adept when it comes to reading Paul. I’ve suggested a recent monograph on the topic, but now there’s a volume of direct readings of Paul from various New Testament scholars and systematic theologians. Reformation Readings of Paul: Explorations in History and Exegesis is edited by Michael Allen and Jonathan Linebaugh. In it, they curate paired chapters in which the first examines a Reformer’s reading of a Pauline text (Galatians, Romans, Ephesians, Corinthians, and other Pauline letters are the categories) and the second compares the text of that letter and the theology of that Reformer (and they are Luther, Melanchthon, Bucer, Calvin, and Cranmer). The former comes from the pen of a theologian and the latter from a New Testament scholar. The paired essays are finished off with a concluding essay from Gerald Bray that is rather devastating to anyone suggesting the Reformers mis-read Paul.

If something like that is your cup of tea, you will most likely want to grab a copy of this book. I personally was not that drawn in, but I think it may come in handy later on. While I have a recurring interest in Paul, my local church and school context doesn’t generate a lot of buzz around this issue. There are a handful of guys that I hang out with at church that are aware of the discussion in Pauline in studies. Some have even read N. T. Wright. But, none of them are asking questions about whether the Reformers read Paul well. I realize that question has more bite/teeth in the larger online world that I participate in. And because of that, I’d recommend this book if those questions perplex you.

26309282

In a different vein, you might be interested in checking out Christopher J. H. Wright’s How to Preach & Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth. It is presented as a follow up to How to Read The Bible For All Its Worth (and visually looks like it, as well as How To Read The Bible Book by Book). Like the previous books, it is very user friendly, but unlike them, has a more niche audience. While I’d recommend the previous two volumes to pretty much everyone (especially older high school and college students), this volume is mainly for pastors, and others like myself who teach from the Old Testament.

The first part of the book explains why we should preach and teach from the Old Testament, while the second half explains how we can preach and teach from the Old Testament. The first part is very helpful when it comes to typology and preaching Christ from the OT. The second part is likewise helpful, as it goes genre by genre in paired chapter explaining first the nature of the genre and second, how to preach and teach from it. Wright is a seasoned OT scholar, and if you spend time preaching and teaching from the Old Testament, you’ll probably benefit from his insights. While it might not be a one-stop handbook for understanding the Old Testament better, it does collate the basics you need to know to handle the different Old Testament genres effectively.

TheHeartOfRevelation_hires+spine.indd

Lastly, let’s say you were interested in getting a better grasp on the book of Revelation. There’s many ways you could go about this, but a helpful thematic way would be to pick up J. Scott Duvall’s The Heart of Revelation. After a brief introduction and a glossary that introduces the “cast of characters,” Duval proceeds to trace 10 key themes through the book of Revelation:

  • God
  • Worship
  • The People of God
  • The Holy Spirit
  • Our Enemies
  • The Mission
  • Jesus Christ
  • Judgment
  • The New Creation
  • Perseverance

Read in tandem with a commentary to answer your further questions as they arise, I can’t think of a better way to get a big picture understanding of one of the most bewildering books of the Bible. While Vern Poythress’ The Returning King goes section by section (and provides a good companion to this volume), I think Duvall is on to something with his thematic overview. Sometimes, in a complex book like Revelation, the forest gets lost as you try to examine each and every tree. Not the case with this book. If you’ve frequently been mystified by Revelation, this book might not answer all your questions, but it will give you a better framework for making sense of the book as a whole.

I’ve actually since passed it along to a student of mine who has been interested in the book. I’ve tried tackling it in class at various times (and in vain promised a forthcoming Revelation Bible study), but to no avail. Part of this because, hey, it’s hard to teach Revelation. The other part is that it doesn’t neatly fit with the subjects I currently teach (Old Testament, Systematic, Biblical and Practical Theology). In any case, if I give it another go, I’d like to be able to utilize the thematic approach here. Maybe that’s even the basis of a good summer Bible study. Who’s to say?

25946728

Although I don’t blog about the topic very often, I have had a research and personal interest in the church’s relationship with the gay community for quite some time now. Notice I didn’t say “what the Bible says about homosexuality.” Despite some revisionist attempts to re-read certain passages, I think a traditional understanding of sexual ethics is correct. I realize that claim itself is open to interpretation. However, I think the intention for sexual relationships set forward in Scripture entails typical heterosexual monogamous unions.

Having said that, I still think it’s a different story when it comes to moving from what Scripture teaches to how we should apply that teaching to our contemporary situation. While homosexual behavior is soundly rejected in Scripture, certain other issues like transgender and intersex are not even mentioned. Much less is the question of how to care for and love those who either openly live a gay lifestyle, or are struggling not to do so.

Often in conversations like this, there is a divide between Biblical teaching and personal experience. What I mean by that is that some proudly proclaim what the Bible says but don’t have any experience with the gay community. Others have the experience, and so have a difficult time taking Scripture at face value. As an example, the strongest book offering a revisionist account of Scripture so that it is open to affirming homosexual relationships is James Brownson’s Bible, Gender, and Sexuality. However, the author tells readers in the introduction that he began to re-think things when his son came out to him as gay. Once I read that, it was no surprise where he landed by the end of his reconsideration of the relevant New Testament passages.

When I was reading Preston Sprinkle’s People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just An Issue, I could tell he was up to something different. After an opening chapter that orients readers to Sprinkle’s experience with both the people and the issue, he spends 6 chapters working through all of the main Biblical passages related to homosexuality. He is well acquainted with both the traditional arguments and revisionist accounts and is not afraid to critique either. While his tone makes you feel as if he is going to land in an affirming position toward homosexual relationships, he instead offers a well nuanced traditional understanding of sexual relationships.

This helps illustrate the two different audiences Sprinkle is writing to. On the one hand, he is writing to those who hold a traditional (non-affirming as he calls it) position on homosexuality. To them, he encourages a stance of sympathy and love that lacks the the moral hypocrisy that can creep in. He also takes away some less than sound arguments that can be used to condemn homosexuality from Scripture. On the other hand, he is writing to those who might hold an affirming position and pleads with them to reconsider what Scripture says. He gently critiques affirming arguments, while also writing as someone who is acquainted with those who live a gay lifestyle and those that affirm those who do.

While I don’t fit neatly into either of these categories, I benefited from reading Sprinkle’s book and would strongly recommend it. It is hard to imagine a more pressing discussion about what faithful Christian living and response involves. The final three chapters of this book dig more deeply into that, and Sprinkle offers some wisdom for a way forward. His style throughout is very conversational (in a way that may annoy some), and so for many may serve as a gentle corrective to their current views. For those it doesn’t convince, it still represents a viewpoint to be reckoned with. If this is something you wrestle with (either theoretically or existentially), you should pick up a copy of Sprinkle’s book.


Preston Sprinkle, People To Be Loved: Why Homosexuality Is Not Just An IssueGrand Rapids: Zondervan, December 2015. 224 pp. Paperback, $16.99.

Buy itAmazon

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!

On of my abiding reading interests is books on the Trinity. Ever since I took Trinitarianism as a course at Dallas, I keep coming back to try to understand the biblical teaching on God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Recently, I finished three (of course) new volumes that each engage in theological exegesis to some extent. They are rooted in a close reading of the New Testament, but for the purpose of enhancing our understanding of doctrine. Each contributes to the advance in understanding in significant ways.

9780198729563

Matthew Bates’ monograph The Birth of The Trinity: Jesus, God, and Spirit in New Testament & Early Christian Interpretation of the Old Testament was until recently cost-prohibitive. Thanks to Oxford University Press, I got my copy for free. You can now get the hardcover for just over $40 on Amazon and you can pre-order the paperback edition for less than $25. I say that because were this a $90 book, I imagine that most of you reading this would pass regardless of what I tell you about it.

While not a long book (just over 200 pp), it will surely be significant. It is a book for “general readers of theology, history, and religion, as well as professional scholars and students.” The argument of the book, as Bates explains, is that “a specific reading technique, best termed prosopological exegesis, that is evidenced in the New Testament and other early Christian writings was irreducibly essential to the birth of the Trinity.” He goes on to say that, so far as he knows, no one has “ever systematically explored Trinitarian inner dynamics of Christology  in the New Testament and second-century Christianity from this angle” (2).

At this point, you are probably wondering two things: (1) what is prosopological exegesis and (2) what does Bates mean by “birth of the Trinity”? To the latter, Bates means “the arrival and initial sociolinguistic framing of this doctrine in human history by the nascent church” (4). To the former, Bates spends the better part of the opening chapter explaining the nature of prosopological exegesis. It is borrowing from a Greek theater called “prosopopoeia” (“character-making”) to then read the Old Testament theodramtically. While many people acknowledge Paul’s use of prosopopoeia, Bates’ significant contribution is to argue that latter part about how New Testament authors read the Old Testament.

As such, this study not only studies the development of Trinitarian doctrine, but uncovers a hermenuetical practice through the study of the New Testament’s use and reading of the Old. Like a good extended argument that is worth your time, it can’t be neatly summarized in a short post like this. Rather, I would encourage anyone seriously interested in the study of the Trinity or New Testament interpretation (or both) to get a hold of this volume. It might need to wait until the more accessible paperback is available, but the dip in hardcover price certainly helps.

9780802869647

The next book worth noting is Wesley Hill’s Paul and the Trinity: Persons, Relations, and the Pauline Letters. I received this one thanks to Eerdmans and it was the first book I finished in this new year. It is similar to Bates in that it overlaps study of Trinitarian doctrine and New Testament interpretation. However, Hill is focused closely on Paul (you might have known that from the title) and restructuring the understanding of Jesus’ divinity in relational terms rather than the typical “low” or “high” polarities. Ultimately Hill’s study is more Christological focused throughout as we seeks to construe our understanding of Jesus in terms of his relation to the Father, not necessarily how high or low he is on the vertical axis toward divinity.

The opening chapter charts the general lay of the land, both in terms of Pauline Christologies and Trinitarian theologies. Since Hill’s work intersects the two, this makes perfect sense. He is writing to theologians and exegetes, and that is no easy task. But, Hill shows he is grounded in both worlds before his study proceeds. As a caveat, he concludes the first chapter saying “Although my argument is largely aimed at the guild of biblical and Pauline interpreters, the conviction underlying the argument – and, it is hoped vindicated (in part) by the argument – is that theology and exegesis are, or ought to be, mutually dependent” (46-47).

In chapter 2, Hill looks first at God in relation to Jesus, particularly focusing on Romans 4:24; 8:11, and Galatians 1:1. In the following two chapters, Hill turns to Jesus in relation to God. The first focuses primarily on Philippians 2:6-11, the second on 1 Corinthians 8:6, and 15:24-28. The final chapter turns to the Spirit in relation to God and Jesus, looking closely at 1 Corinthians 12:3, Galatians 4:4-7, 2 Corinthians 3:17, Romans 1:3-4, and 8:11 among others.

In his conclusions Hill, referring to other interpretive efforts argues that,

Instead of starting with God and attempting to fit Jesus and the Spirit in alongside or underneath him somewhere on an axis of nearness, it is better – these interpreters have posited – to see neither God, Jesus, nor the Spirit as enjoying primacy on their own but to see them as all equally primal, mutually determinative, relationally constitued (168).

Hill suggests this was the “perspective of the mainstream of mature fourth century (and later) trinitarian doctrine” (169). His work as a whole seeks to defend this approach, while also showing that “exegesis of Paul does not reach its full potential without trinitarian theology” and “trinitarian theology is impoverished if it neglects biblical exegesis in general and exegesis of Paul in particular” (171). He concludes by saying that “Theology and the reading of Scripture belong together. And that belonging is both a description of the history of Pauline and trinitarian studies and a summons to practice those disciplines in a renewed form today” (172). If that is something that intrigues you, or something you are already pursuing, then you need to grab a copy of Hill’s book sooner rather than later.

81V-Qi92U3L

Lastly, Rodrick Durst’s Reordering The Trinity: Six Movements of God in The New Testament is worth checking out. Durst argues that we should pay closer attention to the “ordering” of the persons of God when they are mentioned together in the New Testament. There are, obviously six potential combinations:

  • Father-Son-Spirit (18x)
  • Son-Spirit-Father (11x)
  • Son-Father-Spirit (15x)
  • Spirit-Father-Son (14x)
  • Father-Spirit-Son (9x)
  • Spirit-Son-Father (8x)

Each of these orders gets its own chapter of exposition where Durst looks at each occurrence briefly. Before getting to those chapters, there are 4 chapters of background dealing with the status of Trinitarian doctrine in modern theology, basic issues in New Testament interpretation as it relates to the Trinity, triadic presences in the Old Testament, and the traditional development of Trinitarian doctrine.

When it comes to unpacking the orders, Durst sees a theological significance to each:

  • Missional sending
  • Formational shaping
  • Evangelical saving
  • Christological indwelling
  • Liturgical standing
  • Ecclesial uniting

In other words, Durst suggests and argues that the order of the divine persons relates to the function the particular New Testament author is highlighting. He supports this with exposition, numerous charts and diagrams, and concludes with the practical significance this might have for one’s prayer life or preaching.

I found the argument intriguing, and I think well-defended. The strongest counter-argument might be that there is not the level of intentionality on the NT author’s part that Durst suggests. However, he has gone to great lengths to demonstrate the patterning, and if one believes in an over-arching divine author, it’s not really that much of a stretch. Instead, it is a practical strategy for reading the New Testament more closely so that you come to understand the Triune God better.