Archives For Interpreting The Old Testament

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m a study Bible connoisseur, but I’m in the neighborhood. I’ve used and profited from several different ones over the years, mainly the MacArthur Study Bible, the ESV Study Bible, the Reformation Study Bible, and more recently the NIV Zondervan Study Bible.

Even more recently, I had the opportunity to check out the newest Zondervan study Bible, the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. You can find a good deal of insights on it at the book’s website. The project is headed up by John Walton and Craig Keener, the former of whom was highly influential in my own understanding of Old Testament contexts. While there is an editorial team involved, those two scholars are responsible for the bulk of the study notes found throughout this Bible.

One particular book of the Bible where these kinds of notes are handy is Job. Notoriously one of the hardest books to translate from Hebrews, it also has the distinction of being enigmatic even after translation. It is one of the few books in the Old Testament than mention Satan, and he also has dialogue with God in the early chapters. The end of Job is just as curious and open to a range of interpretations.

If you’re utilizing the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible as you’re reading, you not only have notes throughout the text, there are numerous sidebars that go into detail on key issues. Here are some that you’ll find in Job:

  • Satan
  • Innocent Suffering in Ancient Near Eastern Texts
  • Retribution Principle
  • How the Book of Job Differs from Ancient Near Eastern Thinking
  • Ways in Which Job Still Thinks Like an Israelite
  • Mourning
  • Death and Sheol
  • Cosmic Geography

Those are all within the first 10 chapters. After that, they are a little more sparse, but thankfully, there’s an entry for the Identification of Behemoth and Leviathan. Many of these may eclipse what the average person wonders when reading Job, but they hit all the hot-button topics that tend to come up in a seminary classroom (or at least in some of mine).

Drawing on some of these sidebars, you would learn that Job most likely takes place before Moses, or is at least set in that time period. You’d also learn that throughout Job, “Satan” has a definite article before it (“the satan”) and in Hebrew that is something that is not done. In all likelihood, “the Satan” character who appears in Job is not the same as the devil of later parts of Scripture, specifically the character who tempts Jesus in the New Testament (you’ll need to read the sidebar for yourself to see the whole argument).

You’d also learn that there are many different versions of a story like Job throughout the ancient Near East. They do not however have a prologue quite like Job. Along those lines, you’d see in detail how Job presents a much different take on the problem of righteous suffering than its ancient Near East counterparts. Even though set before Moses, you’d see some evidence that Job thinks like you’d expect an Israelite to do.

You’d read about the connection between death and Sheol in the OT and ancient Near East (and that the latter is not necessarily “hell”). This ties into what you’ll find out about ancient understandings of cosmic geography and how they differ dramatically from modern scientific understandings (but still have their own logic based in observational evidence). You’ll also find out why it is extremely unlikely that either Behemoth or Leviathan refer to current or past zoological specimens (i.e. they aren’t real animals).

All in all, just within Job there is much to glean from this study Bible. The insights don’t necessarily change any major doctrinal understanding of the book, but they certainly enhances one’s understanding of what’s going on. In my experience, that is often the best of what cultural studies have to offer. They give insight into context and the thinking of the original audience but they don’t need to lead to major revisions (although they might). If that’s something you’d find interesting to explore further, I’d highly recommend picking up your own copy of this next study Bible.

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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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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.

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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!

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Apologetics is becoming more and more about finesse. Maybe it always has been. Straightforward presentations of facts and figures don’t usually cut it. There’s gotta be an angle.

I think some of this comes down to the audience. If you’re writing apologetics for other Christians, you don’t have to pay as much attention to persuasion. They’re already persuaded, but want to know the underlying foundations of Christianity. On the other hand, if you’re writing for people other than Christians, you have to pay attention to persuasion.

Along these lines, I’d recommend True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World by David Skeel. Thanks to IVP, I was able to read a copy at the beginning of summer. Skeel is S. Samuel Arsht Professor of Corporate Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He’s also an elder at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. In his book, he takes five key topics, ideas, beauty, suffering and sensation, justice, life and the afterlife, and explains how Christianity offers a better explanation of these given phenomena than materialism does. As he puts it, “My claim is a very simple one: Christianity tells us more about each of these paradoxes than you may think” (15)

While the ideal reader will be fairly intellectual, the tone and style are highly accessible. Perhaps because Skeel is a professor of law by trade, his writing is particularly clear in the midst of sophisticated discussion. It’s a short book but I’d imagine it making for many good pub discussions with an atheist friend or two. Skeel also writes as someone who didn’t grow up in a religious environment. After his curiosity was aroused in college lit classes and he read the Bible for himself that his journey toward Christianity began. Again, as he says, “The sheer beauty of the Bible is what first drew me in, and it’s still what I go back to when I’m asked over a beer late at night why I believe Christianity is true” (86).

All this to say, if you’re looking for a concise, yet compelling presentation of Christianity’s explanatory power, this is your book. I’m tempted to make it a late addition to one of my Bible classes, but I might just save it for book club.

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In a similar vein, and also at the beginning of the summer, I read through John Dickson’s A Doubter’s Guide to The Ten Commandments thanks to BookLook Bloggers. It is a follow up to A Doubter’s Guide to The Bible, and from what I can now tell, part of an on-going series (next book is a A Doubter’s Guide to Church). Dickson seems to be primarily writing for a secular audience and tackles the idea that our ideas of ethics come from Moses and Jesus.

The opening chapter illustrate how pervasive the Ten Commandments are in the world (past and present). Next, Dickson raises the question of why we aspire to be good in the first place. He then offers three keys for understanding the Ten Commandments. These have to do with how Jesus “transposed” the commandments, that they can be divided into two tables (related to God and man), and that they are a “charter of freedom.” From here, Dickson goes command by command to finish out the book. He spends more time on the first five, and notes on the 6th that the remainder are fairly self explanatory (119). This is probably fair, and I’m sure there were certain constraints that kept the page count under 200.

All in all, I think this is great book to pass along to someone interested in ethics, law, justice, and perhaps politics. It is written with skeptics in mind (hence the title), but I would imagine many Christians would benefit from reading it as well. As a side note, I wish it had an index, but I appreciated that in the absence of footnotes, we were given parenthetical citations with publication info rather than endnotes. Combine this with the previous book I talked about and you’ve got a book skeptics book club reading list going.

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Lastly, thanks to Moody I was able to get a copy of Mark Sayers’ Disappearing Church: From Cultural Relevance to Gospel Resilience. The subtitle gives you the two parts of the book. In the first, Sayers analyzes our current post-Christian culture and our craving for relevance. He then connects this analysis to an ancient heresy. In this case, it’s gnosticism, which he sees as a “gospel of the self.” In a perceptive chart, he compares ancient and modern versions of gnosticism to what the true gospel actually teaches. To give you an idea what he sees as contemporary gnosticism, here’s that column (65):

  • Your world is inferior [to mine]
  • The mundane is the problem
  • Turn your body into a perfect-looking body
  • Look inward to find the real you
  • Escape the mundane to the amazing life
  • Move toward the perfect life through tips, tweaks, hacks, and the secrets of success
  • You are a seeker, pursuing fulfillment through incredible experiences and pleasure
  • Move past organized religion and find spirituality
  • Move toward fulfillment by breaking past the barriers set by tradition, religion, and others
  • It’s all about you

If you ask me, that’s a pretty good snapshot of contemporary culture. This underlying philosophy gives rise to all kinds of movements and trends. With this description and critique in place, Sayers spends the second half of the book sketching the path of gospel resilience. He deals with rejecting the implicit prosperity gospel, how churches can stop catering to public opinion, and the need to deliver truth among other topics. As is often the case, the solution is only as good as the diagnosis is accurate. I think if Sayers is right about his cultural analysis (and I think he’s on to something), then what he offers in the second half of this book is probably something many church leaders need to interact with. I’ll probably need to ruminate a bit more on it, but I’m also probably gonna pass the book on to my pastor and see what he thinks.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!

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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.