Archives For Interpreting The New Testament

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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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I’m usually skeptical of books like this. However, I was intrigued after seeing someone who teaches astronomy review it on TGC (you’ll notice he has the same feeling I do about books like this). Since I had the ability to easily receive the e-Book from Crossway, I decided it was worth checking into. The endorsements are from a combination of respected astronomers and biblical scholars. The foreword is even written by a guy who is literally a cometographer.

I gave a brief overview of the book already when I posted several excerpts last week. The relevant portion was this:

Nicholl had surveyed what people have made of the Bethlehem star (chapter 1). Then he examined Matthew’s historical account (chapters 2-3), the main hypothesis about the star (chapter 4) before offering his own case that it was a comet (chapter 5-6). Chapter 7 then tackles the question, “why did the Magi interpret the comet the way they did?” In other words, what could the Magi have seen in the night sky that lead them to not only infer a special birth, but then know where to go to see the child?

Nicholl looks briefly at what Matthew says the Magi say. They allude to Numbers 24:17, a text they would have had access to, if in fact they were from Babylon (which is most likely). He then suggests that the astronomical phenomena they witnessed involved a conjugation of constellations with the comet. Then, surprisingly, he suggests that it is described in Revelation 12:1-5

The chapters that follow, which I didn’t mention because I hadn’t read, cover how the Magi would have connected what they saw in the sky to Israel (chapter 8). He suggests the main passages that would have formed their expectations are Numbers 24:17 (alluded to in Matthew 2) and Isaiah 7:14 (quoted in Matthew 2). The latter passage was not necessarily part of the Jewish messianic expectations prior to fulfillment. The Magi could have played a significant role in making that connection explicit. Chapter 9 then turns to a chronology of the Magi’s journey. Assuming the earlier data about what appeared in the sky was accurate, the Magi would have arrived in Bethlehem late November or early December. Jesus is still very much a baby.

Chapter 10 tracks the comet across the sky from its first appearance to its eventual departure. The proposed path Nicholl suggests allows the comet to do some interesting things with the constellations, which might have been what initially caught the Magi’s attention. What he explains about Virgo giving birth (see previous post) would have been the culmination of events that had been going on in the night sky for quite some time.

Chapter 11 and 12 are both on the shorter side. The former makes the case that this would have been the greatest comet in history, given the generally accepted measurements of such a thing. The latter then tells the “on-going” story which mainly includes Herod’s demise (which may have also coincided with an eclipse over Virgo). And with that you are left to pore through the bibliography and notes and the glossary of astronomical terms if you so desire.

Not knowing as much about astronomy, I was actually mostly skeptical of the Revelation 12 connection. It makes sense, but having never heard it before, I was curious to see what the commentaries say. Keener (NIVAC) explicitly denies the connection. He does agree that the term “semeion” can be refer to constellations. However, he notes that the portrayal here differs from Greek mythology, so they can’t be constellations. This seems to be begging the question, or at the very least, assuming that since what is depicted here has no direct correlation in mythology, then the constellations can’t be in view. Not a very strong argument.

David Aune (WBC), as you might expect, goes into the greatest detail and explores the background most fully, especially the combat myth in both Jewish and other cultural backgrounds. I didn’t have all day so I didn’t read his entire section on the passage, but he doesn’t affirm or deny an astronomical connection. He notes such a thing is possible, but not in the kind of detail that Nicholl is arguing.

As far as Beale (NIGTC), Osborne (BECNT), Mounce (NICNT), Morris (TNTC), Kistemaker (BNTC), and Patterson (NAC) go, there is no connection argued. They almost all interpret this passage in purely symbolic terms, but with various literal referents (usually Israel as the woman and Jesus as the boy born). To me this suggests that an actual historical referent is entirely possible. John may very well be describing something that historically happened in the night sky (or rehearsing a version of it) that has multiple symbolic meanings. One of those is the literal birth of Christ in 6 BC. This historical event itself has symbolic meaning against the Old Testament backdrop and John may very well be developing that further in his re-telling of it Revelation (since obviously the passage in question doesn’t end with the birth).

All that to say, I don’t see a good argument against Nicholl’s interpretation of Revelation 12 from any of the major commentaries. They do not argue for it, but what they do argue for doesn’t conflict with Nicholl’s suggested referent. At the end of the day though, it may be best to concur with the previously mentioned reviewer’s conclusion:

So, has Nicholl finally solved the mystery of the Star? I’m tempted to say he has. But until an independent reference to the Christ Comet is discovered in the historical record, I would have to call his theory a speculative historical reconstruction—albeit a sophisticated one that may be the most plausible offered to date.

Historians, take note: even a single brief note of a comet appearing at a certain date and in a particular constellation consistent with Nicholl’s theory would be enough to confirm it.

I was encouraged by reading through this book leading up to Christmas. Even though it is tomorrow, it’s not late to use that Amazon gift card you’re going to get to pick this up for yourself!


Colin Nicholl, The Great Christ Comet: Revealing The True Star of Bethlehem. Wheaton: Crossway, September 2015. 368 pp. Hardcover, $40.00.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Crossway for the review copy!

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Yesterday, the stars aligned in an interesting way. It was the last day of classes before break and I wanted to spend some time reading the Christmas story in class. It was also, as you well know, the opening night for Star Wars: The Force Awakens (which I saw, no comment). I had also been reading Colin Nicholl’s The Great Christ Comet: Revealing The True Star of Bethlehem. As is my custom, I was at Starbucks before the break of dawn with a cold brew and my iPad. I did my initial Bible reading and then switched to Kindle to read chapter 7 in Nicholl’s book.

Up to this point, Nicholl had surveyed what people have made of the Bethlehem star (chapter 1). Then he examined Matthew’s historical account (chapters 2-3), the main hypothesis about the star (chapter 4) before offering his own case that it was a comet (chapter 5-6). Chapter 7 then tackles the question, “why did the Magi interpret the comet the way they did?” In other words, what could the Magi have seen in the night sky that lead them to not only infer a special birth, but then know where to go to see the child?

Nicholl looks briefly at what Matthew says the Magi say. They allude to Numbers 24:17, a text they would have had access to, if in fact they were from Babylon (which is most likely). He then suggests that the astronomical phenomena they witnessed involved a conjugation of constellations with the comet. Then, surprisingly, he suggests that it is described in Revelation 12:1-5. He defends this in much more detail, but here is his conclusion:

In summary, Revelation 12:1-5 reveals the multifaceted celestial wonder that coincided with the birth of Jesus— the very sight that the Magi had seen in the eastern sky and that had prompted them to make a long journey west to Judea to worship the Messiah. In this astonishing celestial nativity drama, Virgo was playing the part of Israel/ Mary, and the comet’s coma was playing the role of the messianic baby. After rising heliacally in Virgo’s womb, looking like a baby, the cometary coma remained there for many days, growing in size in the manner of a normal human baby in its mother’s womb. While the comet rose in altitude, each passing day would have meant that it was observable earlier and in darker skies. Then, after descending within Virgo’s belly, the coma would have moved down out of it, making it seem that the baby was being born. Eventually, the baby appeared to have completely vacated Virgo’s womb and at this point it was regarded as having been born. At that moment the comet as a whole apparently formed an immense scepter that stretched from the eastern horizon all the way to the western horizon. Those attuned to what was happening and interpreting it messianically would have had no question but that the Messiah was born at that very time. Finally, the cometary baby speedily disappeared into the Sun’s light (i.e., heliacally set), bringing an end to the wonder in the eastern sky.

We infer from Revelation 12:1-5 that the comet’s coma became extraordinarily large, equivalent in size to a large full-term baby at the point of birth; that the comet as a whole took the form of a long iron scepter at the point of the child’s birth; and that it must have been very bright. Further, Revelation suggests that, on the eve of the birth, there was a meteor storm radiating from the tail of Hydra.

What John writes enables us to narrow down when the celestial events took place— during the months of Ululu and Tishratu (Babylon) or Tishri and Heshvan (Judea), namely in September and October of 6 BC. Moreover, Revelation 12:1-5 enables us to narrow down the time of Jesus’s birth to mid-October (early Tishratu in Babylon and early Heshvan in Judea) 96 of 6 BC. This is a plausible time of year for Jesus’s birth— it was when the Romans tended to have their censuses and when shepherds would certainly have been out in the fields (Luke 2:1-18). The cometary baby would have heliacally risen on September 29 or 30 and remained in her belly for about two weeks before slowly descending out of it to be born.

Essentially, the wonder that marked Jesus’s birth was an incredible full celestial nativity drama focused on Virgo and a great comet that seemed to bring her to life (Kindle Loc., 4603-4625)

Nicholl then takes this interpretation and connects it back to Matthew 1:18-2:12:

We suggest, then, based on our study of Revelation 12:1-5 and our fresh analysis of Matthew 1:18-2:12, that while the Virgin Mary was giving birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, the zodiacal constellation figure Virgo was giving birth to a cometary baby.

What we have preserved in Revelation 12:1-5 is a series of astronomical observations from 6 BC.

The heavenly birth was the climax of the year-plus cometary apparition. It was also the culmination of a pregnancy that had been apparent from the moment that a cometary baby was observed in Virgo’s womb as she heliacally rose, emerging in the eastern predawn sky. The cometary coma would initially have looked small in her belly, but over the following weeks, as the comet approached Earth, the “baby” would have become larger and larger, just like a fetus in its mother’s womb. In due course, it descended within Virgo until it made it seem that she was in labor. Then, when the coma-baby had fully emerged from its mother’s womb, it was “born.” Revelation implies that this celestial birth coincided with the birth of the Messiah to the terrestrial virgin, Mary. At that time the comet as a whole may well also have formed a massive celestial scepter that stretched from the eastern to the western horizon and seemed to rest on Israel in the west.

According to the New Testament, after the comet completed its time in the eastern sky and crossed to the west, it proceeded to guide the Magi to the place where the terrestrial virgin mother and her child were located. While the Messiah’s Star at its rising had revealed to the Magi the fact, time, and manner of his birth, it subsequently turned into a massive celestial pointer, disclosing to them precisely where the baby Messiah was located. The comet that had played the part of Virgo’s messianic baby in the celestial play eventually led the Magi right to the virgin and her special baby!

The Biblical account suggests that, as the Magi entered the house in Bethlehem, they finally saw on the earth what they had seen in the heavens less than 1 ½ months beforehand: the virgin with her newborn child. Their divine mission was now complete. Heaven and earth were united. (Kindle Loc., 4838-4859)

Ultimately Nicholl then concludes:

From what they saw in the eastern sky the Magi could have deduced certain things about the newborn baby, Virgo’s child par excellence: (1) His mother had conceived him through divine intervention without losing her virginity. (2) He had been born at the point when the cometary coma had in its entirety descended below Virgo’s groin. (3) He was the son of God. (4) He was glorious. (5) He was divine. (6) He had a powerful enemy who was eager to kill him. (7) He was destined to reign over the whole world. However, the celestial wonders by themselves cannot explain why the pagan astrologers came to the conclusion that the one born to a virgin was the Messiah, the King of the Jews. It was the Hebrew Scriptures, mediated through one or more Jews in Babylon, that furnished them with the all-important messianic paradigm (Kindle Loc., 4902-4908)

I still have to finish the book, but I found his explanation pretty convincing and used in class yesterday as we talked through the Christmas story. In a real sense, Christmas was the original “star wars.” The sign of Christ’s birth was signaled long long ago (2021 years to be exact), not in a galaxy far far away, but in our very own corner of the vast universe. While you can read too much into the night sky, it does play a fairly prominent role in the biblical story, and based on Nicholl’s careful study, is something we should perhaps examine more closely.

Especially if you happen to teach at a school whose mascot is the Comets!

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Well, it’s almost that time of year again. You know, that time at the end of the year when everyone gets jazzed about Bible reading plans. I haven’t seen the posts pop up yet, but I’m sure the week after Christmas they’ll be here right on schedule.

While I’m all for Bible reading plans, it really is not that effective if you just power through a reading plan without understanding what your’e reading. I would imagine that’s why many people have a hard time getting through a “Bible in a year” plan once Exodus wraps up. Leviticus and Numbers can join forces to tank any resolve you have leftover from January and put an end to your efforts mid-February.

A way to avoid some of this is to learn the basics of biblical interpretation. There are many, many resources you could use for this, but I’d recommend starting with Sinclair Ferguson’s From The Mouth of God: Trusting, Reading, and Applying The Bible. I wouldn’t necessarily make it the only book you read on the topic, but it is an excellent place to start.

The subtitles give you the three parts that the book is divided into. First, Ferguson offers a trio of chapters on the trustworthiness of Scripture. He provides a good foundation that helps readers to see that the Bible is actually God’s Word. The implications of this should be that we make a priority of reading and then applying it.

Toward that end, Ferguson devotes the second part of the book to helping you read the Bible better. The first chapter in this section covers reading in general. The second chapter gives readers several “keys” for reading well. They are:

  • Context
  • Jesus
  • The unfolding drama
  • Biblical logic
  • Each part of Scripture should be read according to its literary character

These could have been presented in perhaps a more memorable way. But, they give readers “handles” for how to handle the Word of God correctly. When we read, we should ask questions about the background context (historical, cultural, literary), as well how it fits into the larger story of Scripture and relates to Christ. We should also develop the ability to read using biblical logic (which is easier said than done) and then read Scripture according to its genre of literature. These are pretty basic ideas, but they are not necessarily common sense and might not be something that every Christian has just naturally thought of in their Bible reading.

Going off the last key above, Ferguson devotes the following chapter to explaining how to read prose, poetry, wisdom, and prophecy well. Then, the following chapter does the same for Gospels, Epistles, and visions. Notice that these seven genres give us the way the Old and New Testaments are organized. The final chapter in this section is a brief Bible study using the keys to examine Ruth.

This makes for a natural transition to the next section on applying Scripture. The trio of chapters here are short, but help readers navigate the use of Scripture, how it takes root (using the parable of the sower) and how to draw practical applications. Ferguson follows up with several appendices, two on divine guidance through reading Scripture, one with more references for further reading, and the last is a Bible reading plan that I happen to use.(which D. A. Carson blogs on here).

Ultimately, this book isn’t a last word on the topic. It is an accessible introduction to reading the Bible profitably as God’s Word. Since many people can make a renewed commitment to do that as the New Year comes, this book would make a good companion resource to help broaden and deepen your reading. If you’ve read many books already on the topic, you won’t necessarily need to add this to your collection. However, simply because Sinclair Ferguson is the author, you might want to anyway.


Sinclair Ferguson, From The Mouth of God: Trusting, Reading, and Applying The BibleCarlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust , July 2014. 224 pp. Paperback, $15.00.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Banner of Truth Trust for the review copy!

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As is my custom during Christmas and Easter, I’ve been reading some books related to the holidays. Alongside The First Days of Jesus and The Great Christ Comet, I just finished up Robert Hutchinson’s Searching For Jesus: New Discoveries In The Quest For Jesus of NazarethOften, I am skeptical of these sorts of books. After reading it, I would recommend it for the most part, but with a few caveats.

First though, an overview is in order. With the exception of the last chapter, each chapter is framed around a question. They are:

  • Is there eyewitness testimony in the Gospels?
  • Liar, lunatic, or legend?
  • Are the Gospels forgeries?
  • Have archaeologists found Jesus’ house?
  • Did the Church invent the idea of a suffering Messiah?
  • Just how kosher was Jesus?
  • Did Jesus have a secret message?
  • Was Jesus a zealot revolutionary?
  • Did Jesus plan his own execution?
  • Do we have proof for the resurrection?

Notice that some of these seem somewhat neutral, while others have a kind of skeptical edge to them. Part of this is because the author’s path to more academic New Testament study runs counter to people like Bart Ehrman. While growing up as a Christian, Hutchinson “just accepted as a self-evident truth that at least some of the New Testament was legendary” (xxiii). In a sense then, Hutchinson started from a position of skepticism related to the historicity of the New Testament and only after moving to Jerusalem, studying the Jewish culture, and then going to seminary at Fuller did he move the more conservative position.

That being said, Hutchinson doesn’t write as an evangelical per se. His book excels when it discusses cultural context, archaeology, and historical documents. When it comes to theology, the atonement for instance, he seems more or less out of touch with the general contours of the traditional doctrine (chapter 9 gets into this and is also one of the shortest in the book). However, his overall focus is not on the theology of Jesus’ teaching and the resulting development of Christianity. Rather, he is exploring what kind of evidence there is for Jesus’ life and work in the first century.

As far as that element of his work goes, his conclusions are more or less in line with the traditional views that Christians have held since basically the first century. The New Testament contains eyewitness testimony, Jesus was neither liar, lunatic, or legend. The Gospels we have aren’t forgeries and in fact were written very early. The church didn’t invent the idea of a suffering Messiah and in fact there is evidence for the idea in Second Temple Judaism. The Gnostic Gospels are not accurate depictions of Jesus, who also was not a zealot revolutionary. The Gospel of Judas is not the best explanation for why Jesus was killed and we do have pretty solid proof of Jesus resurrection (although Hutchinson is a little more fuzzy on this than you’d hope, even after having read Wright).

Hutchinson supports all these conclusions by bringing readers into scholarly discussions in a digestible way. Because of his background, he reads a bit wider than many evangelicals but also stands in opposition to the many radical revisionists when it comes to early Christian history (he debunks quite a bit of Ehrman’s claims in this book). Each chapter contains a short list of recommend books for further study that often include books that are recommendations and books that he gently refutes. For the most part, Hutchinson is interacting with books rather than journal articles. Often, these books are aimed at the popular level public and so it is helpful for a well-educated layman to take on some of their claims and show that the evidence doesn’t always mesh as well as these revisionist authors claim.

On the whole, I’d recommend picking this up if you’re curious about the background for Jesus life and ministry. If you’ve caught wind of some skeptical questions related to Jesus’ existence Hutchinson’s book can provide solid evidence to undermine some more radical claims. He is a very readable author and conversant with a wide variety of sources. It may be a 350 page book, but it isn’t dense academic prose on the subject. From a traditional evangelical perspective, there is much to agree with historically and culturally, but some variance when it comes to theology. However, I think that might be ultimately helpful because it helps readers not only survey the evidence with Hutchinson but can encourage one to be critical in a healthy way regarding some the theological conclusions he makes.

Robert J. Hutchinson, Searching For Jesus: New Discoveries In The Quest For Jesus of Nazareth – And How They Confirm The Gospel AccountsNashville: Thomas Nelson, October 2015. 352 pp. Hardcover, $24.99.

Buy itAmazon

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Thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy!

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Thanks to Baker Books, I was able to get a copy of William Hendriksen’s More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of The Book of Revelation. Right now I’m looking at launching a Revelation Bible study in January for college and high school students. I’ve read a few shorter works on Revelation (Poythress and Gorman), as well as Morris’ commentary. I’m planning to use Beale, Mounce, Osborne, Keener, Wright, and Aune for the actual study. Given all that, I thought I’d take advantage of an opportunity to read a short commentary from a well respected and prolific commentator.

Hendrinksen lays out several propositions about the book of Revelation in his introductory chapters:

  • The book of Revelation consists of seven sections. They are parallel and each spans the entire new dispensation, form the first to the second coming of Christ. (28)
  • The seven sections may be grouped into two major divisions. The first major division (chapters 1-11) consists of three sections. The second major division (chapters 12-22) consists of four sections. These two major divisions reveal a progress in depth or intensity of spiritual conflict. (30)
  • The book is one. The principles of human conduct and divine moral government are progressively revealed; the lampstands give rise to the seals, the seals to the trumpets, etc. (41)
  • The seven sections of the Apocalypse are arranged in an ascending, climactic order. There is progress in eschatological emphasis. The final judgment is first announced, then introduced, and finally described. Similarly, the new heaven and earth are described more fully in the final section than in those that precede it. (44)
  • The fabric of the book consists of moving pictures. The details that pertain to the picture should be interpreted in harmony with its central thought. We should ask two questions. First, what is the entire picture? Second, what is its predominant idea? (48)
  • The seals, trumpets, bowls of wrath, and similar symbols refer not to specific events, particular happenings, or details of history, but to principles – of human conduct and of divine moral government – that are operating throughout the history of the world, especially throughout the new dispensation. (51)
  • The Apocalypse is rooted in contemporaneous events and circumstances. Its symbols should be interpreted in the light of conditions that prevailed when the book was written. (54)
  • The Apocalypse is rooted in the sacred Scriptures. It should be interpreted in harmony with the teachings of the entire Bible. (58)
  • The Apocalypse is rooted in the mind and revelation of God. God in Christ is the real Author, and this book contains the purpose of God concerning the history of the Church. (59)

These propositions are stated and defended in the first 6 chapters. Then, Hendriksen validates them further in his commentary proper, which runs for the next 8 chapters. After the first chapters that covers Revelation 1, each successive chapter deals with one of the seven sections that Hendriksen mentions above (2-3; 4-7; 8-11; 12-14; 15-16; 17-19; 20-22). I like his idea that they are parallel, but I’ll need to do a bit more study to be fully convinced. All in all, I’m glad I was able to get a hold of this and start my study early.

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Zondervan sent along the next volume in the 5 Solas Series, David Vandrunen’s God’s Glory Alone: The Majestic Heart of Christian Faith and Life. This volume is about 100 pages shorted than Schreiner’s. At the same time, there isn’t much present controversy attached to Soli Deo Gloria as there is with Sola Fide. Perhaps some of that is due to it being the overlooked sola of the five. Regardless, readers would do well to explore it using Vandrunen’s work here as a guide.

His book has three sections. The first is a kind of historical survey of the Glory of God in Reformed Theology. The second provides a biblical theology of the Glory of God in Scripture starting with the cloud in Exodus and moving to the incarnation and ultimately the glorification of God’s people. The final part tackles some practical concerns. The first two, Prayer and Worship in an Age of Distraction and The Fear of The Lord in an Age of Narcissism are particularly relevant and may constitute the chief contribution of this book to your thinking. The final chapter moves into some of the two kingdoms theology that comes from Westminster West and of which Vandrunen has previously written on (here for instance). I’m not a fan, but it doesn’t detract from the overall value of Vandrunen’s contribution to this promising series.

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Finally, thanks to Crossway’s eBook program, I was able to get The Pastor’s Book: A Comprehensive and Practical Guide to Pastoral Ministry (you can read a sample here). Drawing on years of pastoral experience, author R. Kent Hughes and contributing editor Douglas Sean O’Donnell offer exactly what the subtitle of the book suggests. This fairly large (almost 600 pg) volume is divided into three parts. The first focuses on Christian gatherings with chapters on Sunday worship, annual services, weddings, and funerals. Each chapter is a balanced combination of theoretical foundations and actual practical advice and resources. So for instance, the chapter on weddings not only gives tips for how to structure a wedding service, readers are provided with 10 sample wedding homilies as well as a short guide on implementing pre-marital counseling.

In the second part of the book, the focus shifts to the various parts of a public worship service. Here, readers are given chapters on public prayer, Christian creeds, hymns and songs, baptism, and communion. Once again, and especially in the latter two, readers have strong theological foundations coupled with nuts and bolts advice for leading well. This continues into the final part of the book on ministerial duties. Two in particular are highlighted: pastoral counseling and hospital visitations. An appendix returns to weddings and offers sample wedding services from various church contexts.

There is certainly much to glean and use in this book. Large sections of it could be profitably read for theological development. However most of it is more obviously reference type material that would be consulted as needed. I wish I had a book like this when I was preparing to officiate a wedding for the first time. I had somewhat of a blank slate to work with and think I put together a fairly good wedding homily that I can re-use and adapt as needed. But, I would have put together an even better one had I had the chapter in here with all the wisdom for not only the wedding service itself, but the pre-marital counseling leading up to the marriage. I will most definitely come back and consult this before officiating or counseling again.

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Following up from my Tuesday’s post, sometimes it’s a good idea to give seminary a try before fully committing to take classes. Thanks to Dallas Seminary, you can take a full-blown class for free. Specifically, you can take The Gospel of John with Dr. Mark Bailey (the seminary president and Bible exposition prof). The course is delivered by e-mail once a week for 8 weeks. Each week includes a video lecture, reflection questions, and resource suggestions for further and deeper study.

While this is a great option, it’s not the only option to try out seminary. Even while I was at Dallas, I profited from listening to lectures on iTunesU from Westminster and Reformed Theological Seminaries. The latter, RTS, has really developed their online modules since then (this was 6-7 years ago) and now you are basically getting everything you would get by taking a class. Well, that is except, homework, grades, and class interaction. I’m sure you’re fine without the first two, but I know many people thrive on the last one. For many, that might be a big part of why they go to class in the first place. If that’s you, online classes as a trial won’t give you the real feel for a class, or be a long term solution. But, if you listen online lectures and don’t wish you were there to be able to interact, that probably means you might not really enjoy class even if you could be there.

All of this to say, check out the class from Dallas. If you’re thinking about seminary, it’s a good way to try out a real class. Even if you’re not, but you’d like to know the Bible better, this is a great example of how you can go about doing that without relocating and/or spending money to further your education.

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I don’t tend to put a lot of stock in book blurbs. However, when it’s a book on discipleship and wide-range of pastors from a wide-range of backgrounds endorse it, I think that’s worth something. While there is certainly not a shortage of books on discipleship, some have more to offer than others. What makes Robby Gallaty’s Rediscovering Discipleship interesting to me is his focus on understanding how Jesus approached discipleship.

The first part of the book is devoted to this topic and draws heavily on Jewish studies to illuminate the first century context. I had brief Rob Bell flashbacks while reading, but found the insights to be solid. The first chapter gives a general overview of how rabbis discipled others. Chapter 2 nudges readers to “think like a Hebrew” and sketches out the contours of a Hebrew worldview. Chapter 3 deepens this by focusing on how visual the teaching of Jesus was. Chapter 4 gives background on the sociological dimensions of Jesus’ choosing of his disciples (and how it was counter-cultural). The remaining three chapters in this part of the book turn to explaining how discipleship fell on hard times in the local church. Particularly interesting and helpful here is Gallaty’s explanation of discipleship post-Reformation and then Wesley’s role in systematizing it.

The second part of the book unpacks Gallaty’s method of disciple-making and ends with helpful answers to frequently asked questions. It essentially comes to discipleship groups of 3-6 people that have the MARCS of a healthy group:

  • Missional
  • Accountable
  • Reproducible
  • Communal
  • Scriptural

None of this is particularly revolutionary. Given that, if you’ve read widely on this topic, I don’t think you’ll glean any insights that are radically new. You might in the early part of the book, which I found particularly insightful. The strength of Gallaty’s book is not necessarily a new method, but perhaps a new framework (the Jewish first century background) to illuminate that method, and a narrative that explains why discipleship has fallen away in recent times and why it’s difficult in our current culture. The title then is apt as Gallaty is helping readers rediscover something that isn’t new. Rather, it’s something that is very hit or miss in the local churches in our culture.

In that light, I think Gallaty’s book is most helpful to people who have attempted to disciple others and not found much success. His book can help explain why and give the insight needed to press on faithfully. It is also encouraging and empowering for people who haven’t been involved in discipleship. Gallaty takes the command to make disciples seriously, but this isn’t the kind of book that will make people who haven’t discipled feel guilty. Instead, he guides readers by giving them the tools they would need to successfully start discipling others. I would say that everyone is capable of discipling someone else, or even multiple someone else’s. With a brief guide like this, you’ll have what you need to get started.


Robby Gallaty, Rediscovering Discipleship: Making Jesus’ Final Words Our First WorkGrand Rapids: Zondervan, October 2015. 240 pp. Paperback, $15.99.

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Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!

While I might not be at ETS this year, if you are, I thought I’d share some books you should check out. Obviously, even if you’re not at ETS, you can still check these out. You’ll just miss out on whatever deals publishers are offering at their booths. And you’ll miss out on meeting people and all that jazz, but you knew that. Following somewhat in the footsteps of Zondervan, who offered two lists, yesterday was theology and today is biblical studies.

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Thanks to a request I made two years ago before they stopped doing hard copies, Fortress Press sent along N. T. Wright’s Paul and His Recent Interpreters. Because of the gap since Paul and The Faithfulness of God came out, it’s a little more up to date, but nothing you wouldn’t really expect from Wright. Part I of the book gets into questions related to the New Perspective on Paul, offering a history of the movement’s development and current status. Part II is a survey of interpreters that have focused on the apocalyptic in Paul and culminates with a pretty savage review chapter of Douglas Campbell’s The Deliverance of God. Part III then moves into interpreters focused on Paul’s social context and names like Wayne Meeks, David Horrell, and Giorgio Agamben take the forefront.

If you’re a NT guy, and especially someone interested in Pauline studies, you pretty much have to give this a look. It’s not much over 300 pages, so if you made it through PFG, this will be a breeze. It is probably more worth your time than the collection of essays Pauline Perspectives, since those are all published elsewhere (minus Wright’s explanatory notes before each article) and he himself suggests only seven of them are necessary to really grasp his thought on Paul. All that to say, I’d look into picking this up to supplement PFG and see what Wright really thinks about some recent trends in Pauline studies.

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While we’re on the subject of Paul, you might want to grab Reading Romans in Context: Paul and Second Temple Judaism. Thanks to Zondervan, I was able to read a copy earlier this fall. Each of the 20 chapters takes a section of Romans and then shows connections with it and literature from second temple Judaism. They are all relatively brief and each focuses on either a single author from the period (Philo or Josephus) or a single piece of literature. Because of that, the further reading sections at the end of each chapter also provide a guide to the best editions of those works.

This book is a useful introduction to how Paul’s writings are part of a larger context and what that context actually is. It also provides interesting background to Romans, which even people familiar with the theology of the book might not be aware of. While it is not offering exhaustive or detailed exegesis of the sections of Romans, it is slightly technical. However, key terms are bolded and defined at the end, which suggests this is intended to be put to use in an undergrad classroom setting. It’s a good way to get your feet wet in the secondary literature of the New Testament period without worrying about drowning. Not that anyone would actually drown, but you get what I mean.

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Shifting to Old Testament, John Goldingay recently released An Introduction to The Old Testament: Exploring Text, Approaches & Issues. Thanks to IVP Academic, I was able to get a copy last month. So far, I like it. However, it’s not a typical introduction to the Old Testament. As Goldingay explains,

In this introduction to Old Testament study my aim is to help you study Scripture for yourself. I spend little time telling you what the OT says or what scholars say. I focus more on giving you background material, noting approaches to interpretation, raising questions and suggesting approaches to questions. My goal is to provide you with a workbook, based on the material I use with my students and on my discovery of what works with them (7).

The book is then divided into five parts. The first is introductory to the Old Testament as a whole and then the next three follow the structure of the Hebrew Bible (Torah, Prophets, Writings) before a final concluding section that summarizes and looks ahead to the New Testament.

Each section (there aren’t chapters) within each part takes up two pages that lay side by side. Because the material is so concise, it’s not necessarily a book you’d sit and read so much as use as a workbook like Goldingay says you should. Further highlighting the interactive nature of the book is the additional material is available on Goldingay’s website, which is continuously updated (for the most part). When I get a little more into it, I’ll be able to comment further on its use as a textbook, but so far it looks very promising. It is probably useful for high school students, but since I do Old Testament in 9th grade it might be a bit too much. It could however be a good book for an adult Sunday School class, or an introductory undergrad section. I really like the idea and if nothing else, it’s worth checking out to see how Goldingay puts it all together.

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Lastly, I was again thanks to Zondervan able to get the most recent volume in the Biblical Theology of The New Testament series, A Theology of Mark: Good News About Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. Like volumes in this series I’ve previously reviewed (John’s Gospel and Letters, Luke-Acts, James, Jude, and Peter) this is a great resource for anyone who wants to dig deeper into New Testament and biblical theology. Also like previous volumes, it has an introductory chapter orienting us to current studies in Mark. Then, it has an extended literary theological reading of the book. The remaining part of the book is 12 thematic chapters covering subjects like Christological titles, secrecy motifs, kingdom of God, discipleship, and eschatology, to name a few.

Proportionally, this is the most detailed volume since it is almost 600 pages devoted to the 16 chapters of Mark. David Garland has written commentaries on many New Testament books, including Mark. I’ve particularly profited from his Corinthians volume in the BECNT series and look forward to profiting further from his in-depth study here on the Gospel of Mark. The major focal points appear to be Christology and discipleship and that overlaps nicely with much of my reading focus the past few weeks. If you haven’t checked out any of the volumes in this series, this might be a place to start, especially if you can grab a deal on it at ETS!

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Every now and then a book comes along that blows your mind. I feel pretty comfortable saying that this is one of those books. I was somewhat prepared for the ideas that Michael Heiser unpacks in Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches About the Unseen World – and Why It Matters but it was still a game changer. I’m tempted to say it is my favorite book of the year, but I think that award will go to the larger companion volume The Unseen Realm, which I’ll be reviewing shortly.

In short, this book is a popular level mini biblical theology of the storyline of Scripture. The twist, or better, what makes it unique, is Heiser’s specialization in the divine counsel. The key texts here are Psalm 82 and Deuteronomy 32. Heiser’s own mind was opened by reading Psalm 82 closely in Hebrew and noticing that there is a divine counsel of beings associated with Yahweh. These beings are divine, yet still creatures made by God. They dwelled with God and man in the Garden, but then things went downhill so to speak. In Deuteronomy 32, we see that God divided up rule of the nations among these divine beings and that he chose Israel as his special inheritance.

This is a sketch of the basic understanding that Heiser then traces through the biblical storyline. Along the way he makes sense of passages that seem “weird” or “problematic” by referring to the divine counsel of beings at work in the unseen realm. He goes from Eden to the New Jerusalem and explains why it matters along the way. His insights are most illuminating in the Old Testament, but he carries them into the New as well.

While this review is a bit cursory, it fits with the design of the book. In other words, this book is an abbreviated, popular level book that presents the essential ideas of The Unseen Realm which is kind of the main act. Even that though is not complete without the companion website, More Unseen Realm. There, readers can find even more content that goes into greater detail than even the full volume. It is also a work in progress, as is Heiser’s extensive divine counsel bibliography that I think is almost book length itself.

I’ll have more to say once I’ve read the main volume, but this book will immediately start affecting the way I teach my Bible classes since it addresses many of the questions my students come up with for Ask Anything Friday. Several of these questions have dealt with angels and demons and I didn’t find the traditional answers satisfactory even as I was giving them. But, everything makes much more sense in light of reading Supernatural. I was primed for it by taking the doctoral seminar in ancient Near East literature while I was at Dallas and this book has helped me recover my interest in Old Testament backgrounds as a means to understand difficult passages in cultural context. If you’d like to start your own journey toward being able to do the same, I’d start here and then read The Unseen Realm.


Michael S. Heiser, Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches About the Unseen World – and Why It Matters. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, November 2015. 224 pp. Paperback, $16.95.

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Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Lexham Press for the review copy!