Archives For Interpreting The Old Testament

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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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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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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.

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Back in the spring, I claimed I was re-booting my Genesis series. At this point, clearly that was wishful thinking. I did however review John Walton’s latest on the subject, The Lost World of Adam and Eve, as well as a multi-view book, Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither? After reading the latter book, I was curious about Gordon Wenham’s thoughts in more detail. I’ve since added his Genesis commentaries (vol 2.) to my Logos library, but before that I read his Didsbury lectures, Rethinking Genesis 1-11: Gateway to the Bible.

You may not have heard of the Didsbury Lecture series, but I’m guessing you’ve heard of N. T. Wright and his book Surprised By Hope? He hashed out some of the ideas in that by giving the Didsbury Lectures in 2005 (under the same title as the book). In 2013, Gordon Wenham gave the lectures on Genesis 1-11 and Cascade Books published them (and others). All of this to say, this might be a slim volume, but it is already a more expansive treatment of the early chapters than Wenham could offer in Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither? and it was helpful for him to point readers this way.

You could probably read this book on a nice Saturday afternoon (or whenever your regular reading time is). It is five chapters and the main text is under 75 pages. The first chapters is focused exclusively on Genesis 1. Wenham interacts some with John Walton’s view and gives a defense of his own “proto-history” view on the opening chapter of Genesis. Chapter 2 reads Genesis 2-4 closely. Chiasms emerge like you’ve never believe. Chapter 3 then turns to the flood and Genesis 6-9. Again, chiasms everywhere and this time Babylonian parallels for good measure. The final full chapter looks at Genesis 5-11. You’ll notice Genesis 5 was skipped earlier, and 6-9 have already been covered. Here though Wenham talks about the infamous Genesis 6:1-4 section and how it parallels Eve’s fall in chapter 3 (look at the verbs leading up to the transgression). He also wisely sees the sons of God as spirit beings, a point Mike Heiser has defended extensively in his recent book. From here, Wenham looks at the Babel incident in more detail, and oh, I meant to mention he has already talked about how significant the genealogies are. The final chapter is an epilogue and gets into wider issues of biblical theology and modern science (very briefly).

Wenham has extensive experience as an Old Testament commentator and careful exegete. In this book he brings that to bear on the early chapters of Genesis and does so in a highly readable way (probably because these were lectures). If you’re at all interested in understanding the early chapters of Genesis better, you ought to pick up this slim volume. You won’t necessarily agree with everything he argues (unless you’re a sycophant), but his analysis should stretch your thinking on how to best understanding the gateway to the Bible.


Gordon J. Wenham, Rethinking Genesis 1-11: Gateway to the BibleEugene, OR: Cascade Books, March 2015. 86 pp. Paperback, $12.00.

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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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New Books of Note

October 21, 2015 — 2 Comments

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In the course of teaching Old Testament to high school freshman for the past few years, several questions will predictably emerge. More often than not these have to do with God’s character and actions, particularly when it comes to the familiar Old Testament stories. I feel fairly comfortable addressing most of these, but I’m always up for reading new explanations. Kregel Academic helped me out on this and sent along a copy of Walter Kaiser’s Tough Questions About God and His Actions in The Old Testament (2015, Paperback, 176 pp). I’ve enjoyed other books by Kaiser that I’ve read and reviewed (Recovering The Unity of The Bible; The Promise-Plan of God) and so looked forward to jumping into this one.

It’s an easy read stylistically, but the questions are some of the tougher ones when it comes to Old Testament study. You know, things like:

  • Did the God of peace order a genocide?
  • Did the God of truth practice deception?
  • Did a just God devalue women’s rights?
  • How and why did a good God create the evil Devil?

Kaiser works through a total of 10 questions like this by guiding readers through the relevant biblical and theological considerations. He also provides additional discussion questions at the end of the chapter that would make this an ideal supplemental textbook in class on Old Testament theology or introductions. The questions are most often aimed at going beyond the material Kaiser presents rather than checking to see if you were paying attention while you were reading. On the whole, I’ve found this a helpful volume and would recommend it to anyone who is wrestling with questions about God’s character and actions in the Old Testament.

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While we’re talking Old Testament books, another worth mentioning is John Goldingay’s Do We Really Need the New Testament? (2015, Paperback, 184 pp., thanks IVP Academic!). If you want a more in-depth critical review, there was one recently posted at TGC. Goldingay is certainly provocative, in his writing, if you didn’t already gather that from the book’s title. He is not essentially asking if the New Testament is necessary, but is writing to point out and highlight how much continuity there is between the testaments. As he says,

Yes, of course, we need the New Testament Scriptures, but they don’t supersede the earlier Scriptures. We need the First Testament for an understanding of the story of God’s working out his purpose, for its theology, for its spirituality, for its hope, for its understanding of mission, for its understanding of salvation and for its ethics (32).

Subsequent chapters tackles these themes, though under different topical headings. The immediate two chapters following the introduction ask “why is Jesus important?” and “was the Holy Spirit present in First Testament times?” Later, Goldingay will also ask if we have misread Hebrews and if theological interpretation of Scripture is all it’s cracked up to be. Along the way he’ll make some controversial assertions like “In none of the Gospels does Jesus tell his disciples to extend the kingdom, work for the kingdom, build up the kingdom, or further the kingdom” (34) and “nor does any church today look like an embodiment of the new covenant. In this sense, the new covenant has surely not been established” (98).

Much more could be said, and Goldingay takes up some interesting topics in addition his provocations. Though not something he details at length, a big take-away for me came through reflection on an early point in the introduction. Goldingay highlights how Jesus’ crucifixion is the culmination of God’s wrath absorbing character in the Old Testament. I had always mainly thought of it as an end point for the sacrificial system. On further reflection, I realized that throughout the Old Testament you see God disciplining his people, but also absorbing much of his own wrath on their account. It made me think of the way many of the Psalms function as a way for God to further absorb anger. By pouring out our anger to God in prayer we are letting him absorb it on our behalf, rather than trying to manage it on our own. If Christ can absorb God’s anger toward us for our sin, he can certainly absorb our anger toward God as well. Perhaps that is the pattern presented in the Old Testament for our own psychological and spiritual well being.

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Lastly, Crossway was gracious enough to send along Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum’s God’s Kingdom Through God’s Covenants: A Concise Biblical Theology (2015, Paperback, 304 pp.). You may remember seeing my series of posts as well as review of Kingdom Through Covenant a couple of years ago. This book is essentially a book accessible abridgment that was compiled in light of the reception of the previous work. As Gentry and Wellum say,

To make this work more accessible, we have kept the footnotes to a minimum, have mostly eliminated the discussions of how our view differs from that of dispensational and covenant theology, and have not given a detailed defense of our view. For the most part, the view argued in the previous book is assumed, yet now written in such a way that the reader is able more easily to discern what that overall view is and how the biblical covenants serve as the Bible’s own way of unfolding, revealing, and disclosing God’s one, eternal plan of redemption. If the reader desires the warrant and bibliographic discussion for the overall argument of this work, all he needs to do is turn to the previous work and find it there (12).

In addition, they note that “we have read with great care and interest every review of Kingdom Through Covenant know to us…only rarely have reviewers actually engaged the extensive exegesis.” They then note Doug Moo as an exception in regards to “pointing out the problems in the treatment of Ezekiel 16 and the relation of Deuteronomy to the Sinai Covenant” and that “further research has resulted in new proposals, which are incorporated into this abridgment.”

Suprisingly, I found myself involved in this process many months ago when Peter Gentry e-mailed me about my review. We went back and forth a bit and I passed on some papers to him that had led me to dispute the pervasiveness of ancient Near East rituals involving walking between separated animals parts as part of a covenant making ritual. He read them with care and then offered me a response e-mail which I then published. I backed off my rhetoric in light of it, but I think my original point still stands. In this abridged version, the discussion of this point is virtually the same (cp. 110 to 251 in KTC) though I won’t say know that Gentry is “wrong” for how he presents his case.

All of that is just a way of saying, if you were interested in the previous larger work, but didn’t want to commit that much time, here’s a great option. It’s less than half as long and contains essentially the same biblical-theological overview of the covenants in Scripture. If you find it compelling or frustrating, you can always pick up the larger version to see more argumentation.

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

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

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

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


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

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It is no secret at this point that I’m a fan of multi-view books. Scroll through my review page and you can see several titles from IVP’s Spectrum Multi-view series as well as Zondervan’s Counterpoints. Most recently I worked through Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither? Three Views on The Bible’s Earliest Chapters. The title is perhaps a bit misleading since the actual views are as follows:

If you follow the above links to each author you can read an excerpt from the book with some context to give a feel for their positions. The reason I say it is a bit misleading because no one fully argues the “Neither” position, although Wenham comes close. His idea of “Protohistory” could still be plotted along a continuum with Hoffmeier’s “History and Theology” position. Arguably, it is not a useful descriptor, something the other contributors lament. Essentially, Wenham sees the chapters as historical in their core, but using language, imagery, and symbols usually connected with mythology. I thought his position was probably the best argued, but I’m not sure I fully agree with him. Also interesting to his position, Wenham believes that all the contributors agree on the theological message of the chapters, and to a certain extent he is right. But, that leaves the question of genre up for debate, which is what the rest of the book tackles.

Sparks on the other hand essentially argues that the chapters are mythological and goes to great lengths to validate a fanciful version of the JEDP theory couched in different language. Clearly, he fits the “Fiction” category in the subtitle and Peter Enns would be proud of his colleague’s work. On the plus side, Sparks’ responses to the other two contributors were the most well thought out. He attempted to capture each argument in a number of theses and respond to each individually with his thoughts. His thoroughness was refreshing, but one might wish he applied the same thorough critical eye to the lack of evidence for anything approaching a viable JEDP theory of authorship for the Pentatuech.

Hoffmeier ruled the day with his familiarity of ancient Near East mythology. While Wenham had the most convincing exegetical arguments, Hoffmeier’s expertise as an Egyptologist shouldn’t be overlooked. While he argues for a more or less straightforward historical reading of Genesis 1-11, Hoffmeier isn’t a young earth creationist. Given that, he still sees no compelling exegetical or cultural reason to not consider the earliest chapters of Genesis aimed at telling history from a theological point of view.

On either end of the contributors essays is an introduction and conclusion from editor Charles Halton (watch a video of him here). There, he first explains how the book provides an interesting case study in genre categorization. In the conclusion he attempts to put together the pieces after it is clear there is strong disagreement on the genre of Genesis 1-11 (strong, yet cordial throughout). He essentially argues that the interpretation of these chapters shouldn’t be a dividing line among Christians, something John Walton also echoed in his recent book.

At the end of the day, I think the value of a book like this is that it offers one the building blocks for putting together their own understanding. Hoffmeier primarily gives important cultural background considerations, and at the same time shows that they do not undermine historicity. Wenham offers a slightly different take on the historicity, but grounded in primarily exegetical arguments (which isn’t to say Hoffmeier doesn’t exegete, but Wenham does more). Sparks offers a creative, yet more or less mainline critical take on the chapters. To the extent that you find either his arguments or data compelling, you’d need to integrate it into how you interpret Genesis 1-11. Wenham may be right that most people agree on the message of Genesis 1-11. But, it is hard to not think it significant whether one sees that message coming from the pages of history (Hoffmeier) or mythology (Sparks) or some blending of both (Wenham). That, I think is the real question, and this book moves in the right direction toward helping readers answer it.


Charles Halton, ed., Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither? Three Views on The Bible’s Earliest Chapters. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, May 2015. 176 pp. Paperback, $16.99.

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Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!

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When I look back at the books I read in seminary, few are as game changing and paradigm shifting for me as John Walton’s Ancient Near East Thought and The Old Testament. It was even for a class, but was recommend by two of my Hebrew professors as a good resource into the cultural background of the Old Testament. That journey into what Walton called the cognitive environment of the Old Testament revolutionized the way I understood parts of the Old Testament. Chief among them was the early chapters of Genesis.

This was accelerated after I read Walton’s next book The Lost World of Genesis One. I’ve blogged about it before, and you can read some of the fruit here. Later I would read The Lost World of Scripture, a kind of sequel, which has another followup on the way. Around that same time I read Four Views on The Historical Adam in which Walton argues for the “Archetypal View.” And then just recently I made my way through The Lost World of Adam and Eveand that brings us up to speed.

Walton’s modus operandi in these sorts of books is to set out his ideas in the form of propositions. Kind of novel right? Each chapter focuses on a different proposition that Walton gives evidence for. They move in a kind of sequential order, but you could still read the chapters in isolation. I don’t know why you’d want to do that, but you could.

For this volume, much of the legwork is done in The Lost World of Genesis One. Walton rearticulates his main thesis from that, which is that creation is primarily functional rather than material. He probably presses this too far, but the functional aspect had been overlooked. This takes the first five propositions, and then from that we move into territory directly related to how we understand Adam and Eve.

He first notes that “Adam” is used in multiple ways (Prop. 6), before suggesting that Genesis 2 is a sequel to Genesis 1 rather than an in-depth focus on the sixth day (Prop. 7). From here, he explains how to reconcile the dust of the ground and rib from Adam’s side reconcile with his emphasis on creation begin functional rather than material (Prop. 8). The next two propositions explain how the archetypal view would have been more natural to both the ancient Israelite audience and the New Testament audience (Prop. 9/10).

Anticipating an objection, Walton next reiterates his belief that Adam and Eve were real historical people in the past (Prop. 11). The next section fleshes out what Adam and Eve’s role would have been in the garden and how it relates to the functional emphasis (Props. 12-16). This also connects to Walton’s insistence that a large part of creation is not the material creation of stuff out of nothing but often the establishment of order out of chaos.

Having established all of this, the final few propositions are probably the most controversial and not helped by an excursus courtesy of N. T. Wright. First, Walton argues that we are subject to sin and death because of disorder rather than genetics (Prop. 17). That is to say, he wants to move past a typical Augustinian paradigm for original sin. The next proposition, that Jesus is keystone of God’s plan to restore a more perfect order in the creation is less controversial (Prop. 18). But then, the next chapter centers on Paul’s understanding of Adam and comes from Wright’s pen. If you’re familiar with Wright, you can guess what he says. You can also guess that his tone is not helpful in the discussion, and Doug Wilson explains it so I don’t have to.

From here, the grand finale is Walton’s suggestion that it is not essential that all people be descended from Adam and Eve (Prop. 20) and that we could be distinct and special creations of God even if common ancestry was true (Prop. 21). Had he led with this, I’m sure most readers would have balked. But, given the territory he covers ahead of time, I think he at least makes a good case for his position.

I am more inclined to buy Prop. 20 and have continued reservations about Prop. 21. Overall, I am sympathetic to Walton is trying to do and tend to agree with him more than I disagree. I think he pushes the functional emphasis too far, but I appreciate his meticulous approach to trying to argue for it. Likewise, I appreciate his understanding and insistence that Adam and Eve were real historical people, and his interest in exploring interpretive options. He strikes me as wanting to be faithful to the text as it stands, rather than being driven by scientific motivations to scrap a traditional understanding of Genesis 2-3.

But, then he concludes the book saying this:

It does not matter whether you as a reader are sympathetic to scientific conclusions or not. It does not matter whether you find the exegetical and theological conclusions in this book persuasive or not. If we can think beyond ourselves and accept the fact that a vital Christian faith need not have exactly the same interpretive profile that we believe, we might see that the church is bigger than any of us (209-210).

He says this in the context of arguing that we need to “stop the hemorrhaging” of young people leaving the church after coming to scientific conclusions that are incompatible with traditional interpretations of Genesis. On the one hand, I agree that we need to deal with the issue. On the other hand, I think he undermines his whole case if I’m free to dismiss his position after reading his book. It seems at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what I think about the early chapters of Genesis as long as I don’t make my interpretation a shibboleth.

To use Walton’s own favored speech act theory (put to interesting use in The Lost World of Scripture), the locutions of the book are about understanding Adam and Eve in Genesis. It would be normal to assume that the illocutionary effect intended would be to adopt the view argued for. Instead, at the end of the book you discover that the real intended effect is to see that other non-traditional interpretations of Genesis are available, so maybe you shouldn’t be so dogmatic about your personal view (especially if it’s the traditional one). It is an interesting twist for sure, but I would have rather not have the author give me the option to dismiss his argument after spending several hours working through it.

The upshot is that I personally benefited from reading the book and am now re-thinking some things of my own. I’m still processing it all, so I won’t share in detail right now what I’m thinking. To give you a hint, it has mainly to do with Genesis 2 as a sequel and Prop. 20 mentioned above. It also ties in with Genesis 6. In the meantime, I’d suggest picking up and reading Walton’s book if you’re interested in the early chapters of Genesis. The conclusion notwithstanding, I think he models a good way to argue your case. The endnotes are an abomination, not because of content though. I look forward to his next installment in the The Lost World series, and will be thinking on this one until then.


John H. Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and The Human Origins Debate. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, February 2015. Paperback, 256 pp. $17.00.

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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!