Michael Williams, Basics of Ancient Ugaritic: A Concise Grammar, Workbook, and LexiconGrand Rapids: Zondervan, November 2012. 144 pp. Paperback, $49.99.

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Michael Williams is Professor of Old Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary and a member of the NIV Committe on Bible Translation. He has written several books, 1 and I guess he has come to that point in his scholarly career where writing a textbook on Ugaritic seemed like the thing to do.

Ugaritic is an interesting development in Old Testament studies. For one, we didn’t even know about it until the 1920’s (13). It is an older language than Hebrew, so learning it helps shed light on the ancient Near East background as well as some Hebrew linguistic conundrums.

That being the case, it’s kind of hard to nail down a market for this book. The only people who know anything about Ugaritic are people who a) are in seminary or b) graduated from seminary. I knew about it because I was super interested in ancient Near East studies before going to seminary, and I had my eye on the class while I was there. However, I didn’t have time in my class schedule to actually take the Ugaritic class, and since I wasn’t a doctoral student in Old Testament, I wasn’t required to either. All of this is to say that the people probably most interested in learning Ugaritic are in an environment where they can actually take a class on it.

But maybe, just maybe, there are some people like me who are interested enough to buy a book on it so they can get some fundamentals, even if they don’t plan on necessarily mastering the language. That’s probably where this book fits in.

First off, it’s very slim. While it is a textbook on an ancient Near East language (and includes workbook exercises), it is barely over 100 pages. Granted it is over-sized (9×11.5), but still. The opening chapter covers Ugarit (the ancient geographical location) in a nutshell. You know, its brief history, it’s language, it’s stories. Then, in the second chapter, you learn the alphabet, only to then go on a whirlwind tour of nouns (chapter 3), adjectives (chapter 4), prepositions (chapter 5), pronouns (chapter 6), verbs (chapter 7), moods (chapter 8), infinitives (chapter 9), thematic stems (chapter 10), weak verbs (chapter 11), adverbs (chapter 12), and finally, miscellanea (chapter 13). The appendices start on pg. 105, and the noun chapter began on pg. 30, so that gives you an idea how concise it is.

Now, I’m not an Old Testament scholar, but less an ancient Near East scholar. So I can’t really tell you how this book stacks up against other Ugaritic textbooks. However, I do subscribe to JETS, and in the Koowon Kim’s review (56/2, 2013), he notes a couple of shortcomings:

  • The vowel system is not introduced in chapter 2, though he uses vocalized transliterations in later chapters
  • The discussion of particles is almost entirely omitted
  • Some of the grammatical features included are perhaps too controversial or irrelevant to be included in such a short treatment
  • Only vocalized transliterations are used, though it is wiser to include consonantal ones alongside them since that prepares you to actually read Ugaritic
  • The author incorrectly states that you cannot tell which nouns are diptotes (39), although there is somewhat of a consensus that you can

For most people reading this review, I’m not sure how much of the above matters, but since I came across it, I wouldn’t to include it since it’s not something I could actually evaluate on my own. I did think it a bit odd that only transliterations were used, but this also makes the volume accessible to a wider number of interested readers. One of the hardest parts of Hebrew was getting used to reading the different script. Had I just been using transliterations, it certainly would have been easier, but I imagine I would have been shortchanged in the long run. For the type of student picking up a book like this, there might not be a long run to Ugaritic study, so this might not be a problem. But, it could be a detriment to this book being adopted as a textbook in seminaries that are looking to add a class in the Old Testament department (I’m assuming existing classes are set on their choice of a grammar).

On the whole, I will probably dig into this more when I have the time and see if can’t get my feet a little wetter when it comes to Ugaritic. The workbook is helpful and Williams offers students a good amount of reading and translating. If you’re a serious student of the Old Testament, and maybe already have some Hebrew under your belt, this could be a good way of flexing your linguistic muscles. If you didn’t have the time or money to take the class in seminary, this could be a good substitute if you’re willing to sit down and invest the time.

Acts (ZECNT)

December 17, 2013 — 2 Comments

Eckhard J. Schnabel, Acts (ZECNT). Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, November, 2012. 1168 pp. Hardcover, $59.99

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Eckhard J. Schnabel is the Mary French Rockefeller Distinguished Professor of New Testament Studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Thanks to Zondervan, you can watch him explain why the study of Acts is important in this short video:

Clearly Schnabel cares about the study of the book of Acts. So much so that the manuscript for his volume on Acts in Zondervan’s Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series was twice as long as contracted (12). The result of his efforts is a commentary that is well over 1000 pages. In fact, it is so long, the print edition was shortened to make it manageable (it still outweighs the ESV Study Bible) and the excess is being made available in the Kindle edition (once it is published). Specifically, the full manuscript that will be published in the electronic edition will contain more In Depth sections focused on historical and geographical questions, more in depth discussion of lexical, grammatical, and historical matters, more extensive documentation of and interaction with the work of other Acts scholars, and longer Theology in Application sections (12).

As it stands, it is still a stellar volume. Schnabel’s hope for the volume is that the “explanation of Luke’s account of the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ and of the life and growth of the church between Jerusalem and Rome encourages and challenges preachers and teachers, evangelists and missionaries, pastors and students, to learn:

  • from the commitment of the first missionaries and church leaders
  • from their courageous loyalty to Jesus as Israel’s Messiah and as the only Savior
  • from their unchanging commitment to understand, apply, and teach the will of God as revealed in the Scriptures, in the work of Jesus Christ, and in new revelation that helped them grasp the significance of Jesus Christ
  • from their consistent devotion to the task of proclaiming the Word of God to Jews and Gentiles, to believers and unbelievers, irrespective of geographical, cultural, economic, or religious distance
  • perhaps most importantly, from their conviction that all achievements in ministry, all conversions, and all new congregations are the work of God, who is active in the life and in the mission of the church through the risen and exalted Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit” (11)

Given those goals, he has his work cut out for him, but maybe that’s why the work blossomed the way it did. The introduction is rather extensive for this series, and even includes a Chronology of Early Christian History (43-46). From there, the commentary proper follows the familiar ZECNT pattern:

  • Literary Context
  • Main Idea
  • Translation and Graphical Layout
  • Structure
  • Exegetical Outline
  • Explanation of the Text
  • Theology in Application

Though he mentioned there would be more In-Depth sidebars in the full manuscript electronic edition, some of note in the print edition are:

  • The Speeches in Acts (127-129)
  • The Self-Understanding of The Early Church (176)
  • The Self-Understanding of The Church in Jerusalem (288-290)
  • The Reception of the Holy Spirit and the Samaritan Believers (410-411)
  • Pure and Profane Animals (488-490)
  • Paul’s Missionary Work (548-549)
  • Epicureans and Stoics (724-725)
  • Appeal to the Emperor (992-993)
  • The Ending of Acts (1062-1063)

Additionally, he includes sidebars and cities central to Paul’s mission work (e.g. Corinth and Ephesus), so I’m guessing there are either more of these in the expanded edition, or more detail on the cities already included (or both). In any case, this is a work that is sensitive to the literary, historical, and theological dimensions of the text, and goes into detail on all fronts. The final result is probably more detailed than Bock, but less than Keener to give you an idea of its placement, though to be fair, the latter’s is a multi-volume project. In that case, this may be the best one volume Acts commentary that covers exegetical detail and theological application. And given Schnabel’s work in early church history, he certainly brings that scholarly expertise to the text.

Like I’ve said with other ZECNT volumes, I found this useful in teaching Acts as well as for sermon prep. The latter because of the format, the former because of the Theology in Application sections. I didn’t go in depth in Acts in class, so I didn’t use the Explanation of The Text sections as much as I might have liked in order to get a feel for this commentary. But, what I did survey, I found helpful in elucidating Luke’s work in Acts.

If you’re really serious about studying Acts, Schnabel’s work is one to add to your library. Not sure if its worth waiting on the eBook before you pull the trigger, but he’s definitely written a very helpful exegetical commentary on Acts that is historically grounded and theological sensitive to the setting of the early church and its importance for Christian mission today.

Luke (ZECNT)

December 16, 2013 — Leave a comment

David E. Garland, Luke (ZECNT). Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, December, 2011. 1040 pp. Hardcover, $49.99.

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David Garland is Dean and The William B. Hinson Professor of Christian Scriptures at George W. Truett Seminary, Baylor University. He’s a graduate of SBTS (Ph.D) and is no stranger to commentary writing. So far, he’s written on 1 Cortinthians (BECNT), 2 Corinthians (NAC), Mark (NIVAC), and Colossians/Philemon (NIVAC), as well as several forthcoming.

Here, he has offered us the installment on Luke in Zondervan’s Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Like the other volumes, it follows this format:

  • Literary Context
  • Main Idea
  • Translation and Graphical Layout
  • Structure
  • Exegetical Outline
  • Explanation of the Text
  • Theology in Application

As Garland proceeds, there are few surprises. His introduction is concise, and he breaks the text of Luke up into manageable sections. As far as in-depth sidebars, they are rather few and far between. The only really “in-depth” ones are:

  • Synagogue Worship (196-198)
  • Jews and Samaritans: An Adversarial History (443-444)
  • The Rabbis and The Sabbath (569)

There are a few other very short (2 paragraphs or so) ones, but Garland devotes the bulk of his space to exegeting the text. Issues are for the most part, taken care of in the main body of exposition.

Likewise, the footnotes are sparse for an exegetical commentary (compared say to a NICNT volume). However, Garland interacts with all the major commentators, and more often than not, a journal article or special study he references is fairly recent. So, while the majority of Garland’s focus is on explaining the text, he is not doing so in a vacuum, and he is doing so in light of other recent works on Luke.

Since I’ve had this commentary in my possession, I’ve taught a survey section through Luke for my 10th grade Bible class and helped prepare exegetical research for several sermons. On both occasions, I’ve consulted Garland’s work. Because of the layout of this series, it is almost always helpful to see his summary of the big idea as well as his exegetical breakdown. For my teaching and preaching prep, I found Garland’s “Theology in Application” sections useful and usually thought provoking. Unlike Zondervan’s other series, the NIV Application Commentaries, this series is much heavier focused on exegetical work in the commentary, particularly along lines of how you are taught to do exegesis in seminary. Given that, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how theologically helpful many of the volumes in this series are in bridging the gap into a contemporary context. Garland can be provocative in his theological directions suggested for the text (e.g. his “Fantasy Christmas vs. Real Christmas” in the second chapter of Luke), and though he doesn’t move explicitly into application, he nonetheless leaves the door open for you to do so in a theologically grounded way.

All that to say, this volume covers a wide range, all the way from an exegetically rigorous harvesting of the text to a theologically astute analysis of those exegetical fruits. The best way to think of this particular work is that it is situated between Bock’s BECNT volumes and his NIVAC volume, not quite as exegetically detailed as the former, not quite as application oriented as the latter, but bridging the gap between both. While it probably won’t replace Bock’s volumes as the standard exegetical works, it definitely deserves a place alongside them in serious teaching and preaching study.


Owen Strachan, Risky Gospel: Abandon Fear and Build Something Awesome. Nashville, Thomas Nelson, November, 2013. 240 pp. Paperback, $15.99.

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Owen Strachan is executive director of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood and assistant professor of Christian Theology and Church History at Boyce College in Louisville, Kentucky. He also teaches at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also writes books, and he also is a rapper (and Reformed at that). If that’s not enough, he also guest posted on my blog a couple of weeks back (see here), as well as a bunch of other places around the web as part of a promotional campaign for the book I’m getting ready to tell you about.

Risky Gospel: Abandon Fear and Build Something Awesome is easy to read but much more difficult to apply. Though not necessarily a different version of David Platt’s Radical, it certainly shares some affinities. Both are calls to put your faith to action and step out in dependence on God to live life to the fullest. And by “fullest” neither are talking about what most people would classify as “the American Dream.”

In Strachan’s work, he begins by making a play on a popular Joel Osteen book and tries to connect with readers who are perhaps experiencing their “stressed life now.” He wants his book to be a source of encouragement and hope, but also a call to step out and take gospel risks for the sake of the kingdom. Before detailing what that might look like, Strachan spends a foundational chapter explaining how the walk of faith is a call to risk. The cornerstone is his exposition of the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), and this informs his further development of the role of risk in the Christian life.

Subsequent chapters connect the notion of risk to our identity in Christ (chapter 3), our Christian walk (chapter 4), our family life (chapter 5), our daily grind (chapter 6), our Christian fellowship at church (chapter 7), our efforts at evangelism (chapter 8), and our interaction with the broader culture in the public square (chapter 9). Finally, he leaves readers with a chapter explaining the stakes of a life of risk, parting with a final encouragement from those who have gone on before.

Strachan writes in a very accessible style. He is not only concise, but culturally savvy as well and illustrates with everything from Vintage21’s Jesus videos to The Office to Steve Jobs and much in between. He seems equally comfortable referencing John Owen and big stories in the public square, and this is certainly a strength of a popular level Christian living book. That being said, I wasn’t particularly drawn into the book. I recognize the value and the strengths, but it wasn’t a particularly enjoyable or compelling read on my end. That could be because I already am on-board with Strachan’s thesis, which puts me somewhat outside the scope of the intended audience. More likely though, it was just an occasion of a book that I recognize has merit, but just doesn’t really do it for me personally. Take that for whatever it’s worth.

This book seems ideal for high school students, but is definitely not limited to that particular audience. It is really for anyone who could use some encouragement and practical advice on how to live a faithful Christian life that involves taking risks. Those risks are calculated in light of the gospel, and with the proper foundation laid by Strachan, readers will be better prepared to actualize the vision that he has (and is certainly not alone in articulating). Given the approach of the New Year, this might make a good Christmas present for a friend or young person in your life looking for direction and encouragement in their Christian walk.

9780310270898Darrell L. Bock, A Theology of Luke and Acts: God’s Promised Program, Realized For All Nations, Biblical Theology of The New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, June, 2012. 496 pp. Hardcover, $39.99.

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Darrell Bock is research professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, and an all around pretty cool guy. If you have time, you check out The Table podcast that he hosts for The Hendricks Center for Christian Leadership and Cultural Engagement (of which he directs the Cultural Engagement side). Most people though know him for his stellar commentaries on Luke and Acts (both in the Baker Exegetical series) and his work in historical Jesus studies.

All that being the case, he is just the kind of guy that you would want summarizing the biblical theology of Luke’s contributions to the New Testament. Though part of the same series as Andreas Köstenberger’s volume on John’s Gospel and Letters (who serves as the general editor of the series), Bock’s work is organized a little differently.

He begins with an introductory section which provides chapters on the importance of Luke/Acts, the context of the books, a case for their unity, and then an outline and narrative survey. The latter summarizes each unit of the text and provides an intense overview of the books. This seems to be a standard feature of this series since Kostenberger did the same thing.

The bulk of the book (17 chapters and over 300 pages) is the second part, where Bock gets down to laying out the major theological themes in Luke/Acts. He proceeds in more or less traditional systematic theological categories. 2 chapters detail the plan and promises of God, 2 chapters on Jesus as Messiah, 1 chapter on the Spirit, and two chapters on salvation. Then, he discusses in successive order, Israel, the Gentiles and the nations, the church, discipleship, how people divide over their response to Jesus, social dimensions (women, the poor), and the law. The final three chapters in this section deal with ecclesiology and eschatology proper, as well as Scripture in these books. The final part of the book is just two chapters. The first is on Luke within the canon of Scripture, the second is a conclusion.

As I’ve had sermons and lessons to prepare on Luke and Acts, I’ve found this to be a useful reference work. For just about any passage, I can surf the index and find if it receives any extended discussion. Then, when I see under what topic that discussion takes places, I immediately have other passages to connect with. Because of the range of topics covered and the fact that Luke/Acts is almost a third of the New Testament, Bock is generally concise in his discussions. But, the fact that he has written extensive exegetical commentaries on both books means you know where to go to find more in-depth discussion of your passage. That being the case, this book works best in tandem with Bock’s commentaries, though it could be a nice stand alone resource.

When you compare this work with Kostenberger’s first volume in the series, a couple of things are noticeable. First, Köstenberger is more exhaustive and meticulous in his treatment of John’s Gospel and Letters. Though they both more or less proceed on a historical-literary-theological pathway, Bock is exhibits much more brevity. Second, Bock does not have any kind of extended discussion of Luke/Acts within biblical theology studies (which is Köstenberger’s first chapter). Bock instead presents his case for reading Luke-Acts as a unit, which is a biblical theology type question, but it is not entirely clear how Bock conceives of biblical theology, or what kind he is employing in this volume. In many ways, it reads like a theological commentary on Luke/Acts. This of course is a species of biblical theology (he’s clearly tracing themes through Luke/Acts), but a chapter on method would have been helpful. Instead, the introductory matter is typical of what you’d find in a standard commentary, but then the volume proceeds thematically instead of chronological through Luke-Acts.

In the end, this isn’t a huge detriment to the work. While a discussion of method would have been helpful, you can somewhat deduce Bock’s method by looking at his layout and reading through his work. When one evaluates Bock’s work on the basis of the own goals he sets for himself, it is a success. It is only if one is moving from the title of the series (“Biblical Theology of The New Testament”) to a preconceived idea of what that entails (and we all have one or more ideas about that) that it might not seem to be a good fit. However, it is a quality work regardless, and for anyone who is teaching or preaching Luke/Acts, this is a very helpful theological summary of the material in those books. I’m looking forward to the rest of the volumes in this series as they are made available. And if these first two volumes are any indication of what we can expect, then this will be a series to keep an eye out for.

Galatians (ZECNT)

December 12, 2013 — 2 Comments

Thomas R. Schreiner, Galatians (ZECNT). Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic November, 2010. 432 pp. Hardcover, $34.99.

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Thomas Schreiner is James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament and associate dean of Scripture and interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is rather prolific on the writing front, having written commentaries on 1-2 Peter & Jude and Romans, a Pauline theology, a New Testament theology, and most recently a whole Bible biblical theology (among other books of course, it’s not like he only writes giant tomes).

A couple of years back he wrote the volume on Galatians for Zondervan’s Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series. For Schreiner this kind of represents the pre-eminent hat trick (that’s a hockey term) in New Testament studies: Romans commentary + Galatians commentary + Pauline theology.

Though Schreiner is writing as a Reformed Baptist, he still takes the time to interact with recent proposals for re-reading Paul’s letter to the Galatians against a differently reconstructed historical backdrop. I speak of course of the New Perspective on Paul (NPP), and specifically the work of James Dunn and N. T. Wright. Schreiner ultimately takes the more or less traditional position on many issues, but he does so after a fair evaluation of many alternative proposals.

As he puts it in the introduction,

I am not suggesting that we must read Galatians in defense of the Reformation, nor am I denying that the Reformation may be askew in some of its emphases. But it must be acknowledged that none of us can read Galatians as if the Reformation never occurred. Such a reading is five hundred years too late. Nor can we read Galatians as if the twentieth century never happened or apart from the works of Ignatius, Irenaeus, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, and the like. We can consider whether Reformation emphases were wrong (I will argue that they were not), but what we cannot do is read Galatians as if we were the first readers (21).

This gives you a bit of perspective where Schreiner is coming from in his commentary. I would say he is quickly become one of my favorite commentators/interpreters, and much like other volumes in this series, I find this commentary to be a useful resource.

In terms of format, Schreiner follows the other volumes, although there is a glaring error in the table of contents. The section that should be “Commentary” (on p. 71ff) is instead labelled “Theology of Galatians,” while the actual “Theology of Galatians” section is mis-titled “Themes in Galatians.” When you turn to the page in question (387), it is headed “Themes in Galatians,” and this heading title follows throughout the pages of the section. However, you can tell Schreiner is talking about not just the themes of Galatians, but the theology of the book and he more or less moves in systematic theological categories. Also, in every other commentary in this series, this section is called the “Theology of…”  An unfortunate editorial lapse, but not a devastating issue with the book itself. 1

Apart from that though, each section follows the standard outline (which you should be familiar with if you’ve seen my other ZECNT reviews). Particular interpretive sidebars Schreiner takes include the following:

  • The Cities on Paul’s First Missionary Journey (30-31)
  • What is the Role of the Empire in Galatians? (35-37)
  • Is the Background in Galatians Pelagianism? (37-39)
  • Did the Galatian Opponents Believe Jesus Was the Christ? (51-52)
  • Eating With Gentiles (141-142)
  • The Meaning of Justification in Paul (155-157)
  • The Meaning of “Works of Law” (157-161)
  • What Does Paul Mean by the “Faith of Jesus Christ” (163-166)
  • The Meaning of Leviticus 18:5 (212-214)
  • The Law of Christ (359-360)
  • Israel of God (381-383)

As you can see, Schreiner is not afraid of the hot-button issues and hits pretty much all the points of contention in recent discussion of Galatians. The first four listed above are a part of the introduction, and Schreiner spends considerable time in the introduction proper discussion who the opponents are. He lands alongside Bruce more or less and identifies the opponents as Judaizers, similar to the Pharisaic opposition in Acts 15 (49). He nuances this traditional view somewhat, and lands there in light of NPP views to the contrary. That remains somewhat of a theme throughout, and I think the commentary is stronger for it.

Now that Moo’s commentary in the BECNT series released, I’ll be interested to compare it to this. That series is more in-depth exegetical (generally speaking), but because Schreiner’s is in this series, I think it is more suited for sermon and teaching prep. Both scholars are eminent Pauline scholars who more or less follow traditional thought on Paul, but from what I hear, in both cases, their commentaries on Galatians were produced in light of recent scholarship and in conversation with it. That doesn’t mean it will convince people who think differently, but no one could accuse them of ignoring the trends.

That being said, if you’re looking for a quality commentary on Galatians at a quality price, and value it being current, this is the volume to pick up.Those with traditional views on Paul will find this commentary more valuable, but anyone who is teaching or preaching through the book will benefit from the structure of this series and Schreiner’s particular attention to relevant background details.


  1. There is also an odd typo on p. 174 where the typical two column layout of the commentary proper switches to the single column layout of the “Theology in Application” section, but does so a half-sentence before that section actually starts.

David W. Pao, Colossians & Philemon (ZECNT). Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, October, 2012. 464 pp. Hardcover, $36.99.

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David Pao is professor of New Testament and Chair of the New Testament Department at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has authored several books, notably, Thanksgiving: An Investigation of a Pauline Theme in one of my favorite series (NSBT).

Here, he has contributed the volume on Colossians and Philemon to Zondervan’s Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series. While there is no shortage of good commentaries for Colossians (see my list here), Pao’s is a useful addition, particularly if you are teaching or preaching through the book (a refrain I keep coming back to with this series).

Pao gives a concise introduction to the book, though not without a foray into the background issues (the so-called Colossian heresy, and what it might be, if it existed). Then, he settles into the format that is distinctive of this series:

  • Literary Context
  • Main Idea
  • Translation and Graphical Layout
  • Structure
  • Exegetical Outline
  • Explanation of the Text
  • Theology in Application

Pao sticks to the general style throughout. He doesn’t present an innovative approach to the “Theology in Application” sections the way Shogren did, but his sections are more meaty in the different topics that they cover.

As far as specific issues Pao covers in more explanatory detail, the following items come up:

  • The Colossian Hymn (89-93)
  • Vice and Virtue Lists (216-218)
  • Household Codes (263-266)

As you can see, none of these arise in connection with Philemon. However, proportionally, in a commentary that is over 450 pages, almost 100 pages are devoted to the single chapter of Philemon. Though no sidebars appear, Pao is very detailed in his comments, and particularly interesting to me was his discussion of the background circumstances surrounding Paul’s letter.

After surveying the interpretations, Pao puts forward his argument that “Onesimus was sent by Philemon to help Paul,” and so was not a runaway slave (345). This sees “useless” (v. 11) as a wordplay on “Onesimus” and not a statement concerning his value (346). In this way, what is possibly happening is that Onesimus has been sent to help Paul, later confesses his stealing after coming to faith, and Paul is writing on his behalf to mitigate punishment in his return (347). Also insightful in connection with the background are Pao’s thoughts on slavery in the first century world, which he summarizes in the introduction (348-351). This also helps with understanding why Paul didn’t ask for Onesimus to be manumitted upon his return.

Accordingly, the “Theology of Philemon” is more focused on the new reality that is part of implications of the gospel of Christ. He unpacks the nature of redemption and reconciliation as expounded in Philemon, as well as directives for our mission work and how we relate to authority. In contrast, the “Theology of Colossians” section is essentially an extended Christology, rather than a walk through the categories of systematic theology that are discussed in Colossians. Pao still covers some systematic topics, but they are presented in relation to the Lordship of Christ. When this is coupled with his meatier “Theology in Application” sections, this becomes one of the more robustly theological commentaries in this series so far. Some of that might be because it is Colossians after all, but it gives the volume a good balance between insights into exegetical structuring and theological ruminations.

On the whole then, this is a stellar volume on Colossians and Philemon. It is very theological, but it also has a healthy focus on significant background issues in both books. It is probably not a significant enough volume to dethrone Moo’s Pillar entry, but is definitely on par with it and worth adding to your library if you’re teaching/preaching Colossians, or Christology is an specific research interest of yours.

51Eh99TDeQL._SL500_Gary Shogren, 1 and 2 Thessalonians (ZECNT). Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, November, 2012. 384 pp. Hardcover, $32.99.

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Gary Shogren has been teaching at ESEPA Bible College and Seminary in San Jose, Costa Rica since 1998. He’s written extensively on everything from a guide to counseling drug addicts, to a Spanish commentary on 1 Corinthians.

Here, he offers the installment on 1 & 2 Thessalonians in Zondervan’s Exegetical Commentaries on the New Testament. This is probably one of my favorite series for teaching (and/or preaching) prep. This is mainly because of the structure of the commentary, which offers structural and exegetical analysis of each passage before the commentary proper, and then follows it up with “Theology in Application” sections. These sections help the commentary span a range of needs. While not as application driven as say Zondervan’s NIV Application Commentaries, it nonetheless offers suggestive possibility for bridging the passage in question into our modern context.

Shogren in particular is an able interpreter and spends a fair amount of time digging into Greek grammar and word usage. In terms of interpretive issues, Shogren offers extended sidebars on the following topics:

  • Were the Thessalonian Believers Evangelistic? (70-71)
  • “Gentle” or “Infants” in 1 Thess. 2:7? (99-103)
  • Was Paul Anti-Semitic? (118-120)
  • Light and Darkness, Day and Night (205-206)
  • Did Jesus Teach That He Would Return at the End of the Age? (254-255)
  • How to Show Hell’s Relevance (265)
  • The Critical Text and the Textus Receptus in 2 Thessalonians (274-275)
  • Who Is the Man of Lawlessness? (290-291)
  • “Tradition in 2 Thessalonians (305-306)
  • Lexical Note on “Meddle” (327-328)
  • Summary and Conclusion: Who Were These Disruptive People? (331-335)

Particularly distinctive to this volume in the ZECNT is Shogren’s organization of the “Theology in Application” sections:

  • Theology in Thessalonica
  • Biblical Theology
  • Message of This Passage for the Church Today

In this way, he is able to summarize the theology of the particular passage, trace it through other Scripture passages, and then move it into our context. This format is useful, though curiously, he doesn’t stick to it throughout. The very first “Theology in Application” section (1 Thess. 1:1-10) is more in line with other volumes and presents a theology of prayer with three sections. Then, in the next section, he presents the above format, then sticks to it for several sections, but then deviates in 1 Thess. 5:1-11. It is not a drastic deviation, but instead of using the above categories as headings, he presents two different theologically oriented headings that each have the final two categories from above as subheadings. Then, the next section (5:12-22), goes back to a format similar to the first section, only to return to the above format in the next section for the remainder of the book (or at least until the final 3 verses of 2 Thessalonians). This struck me as perhaps an editorial oversight, since it seems unlikely to be intentional. I would have preferred to have the same format throughout since I think it is especially helpful in thinking through the passage.

At the end, like the other volumes, he presents a theology of Thessalonians that moves along systematic theological categories. This can either be read as the culmination of thought at the end of the commentary, or in tandem with the introduction to prepare for teaching the book with the picture theological conclusions in mind.

Other than the odd shift in format in the “Theology in Application” sections, I didn’t find much to critique in Shogren’s treatment of Thessalonians. Granted, I didn’t do an in-depth evaluation, but if that is something you are interested in, there is a review in the most recent issue of Themelios. That particular review is written by an author (Gene Green) who has a commentary on Thessalonians himself, and he gives the book a hearty commendation. I would echo his commendation of the book itself, as well as the value you get for the price. This is a fine exegetical-theological commentary on Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians and should make its way into your library if you plan to teach or preach these epistles any time soon.


Stanley E. Porter & Matthew R. Malcolm, Horizons In Hermeneutics: A Festschrift In Honor of Anthony C. ThiseltonGrand Rapids: Eerdmans, April 2013. 317 pp. Paperback, $40.00

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If you wondering what a “festschrift” is, it is a fancy German word for a collection essays presented to a scholar usually on his 65th birthday (or sometimes 70th). Usually, it is a group of his friends and colleagues writing on topics that have interested him, though this is not always the case (John Frame’s festschrift is essays on his thought specifically).

In this case, editors Stanley Porter and Matthew Malcolm have organized the essays into three parts. The first, “Facing the Other,” presents essays that reflect on texts that come to us from a different horizon than our own. The second, “Engaging the Other,” reflects on engaging ancient texts, particularly in reference to their “reception, evaluation, and effective history” (xii). The final section, “Projecting Possibilities,” the essays “examine and suggest ways in which the interpretive task might provoke” a fusion of horizons of meaning (xiii). The movement then in these three parts is meant to somewhat mirror the way of interpretation advanced by Thiselton in his scholarly career.

Essays that stood out me were Richard Briggs’ “‘The Rock Was Christ': Paul’s Reading of Numbers and the Significance of the Old Testament for Theological Hermeneutics” and Stanley Porter’s “What Exactly Is Theological Interpretation of Scripture, and Is It Hermeneutically Robust Enough for the Task to Which It Has Been Appointed” (Porter says, “No.”) Both of these clearly touch on topics of interest to me, and I benefited from Porter’s engagement with key works in TIS and his misgivings about much of the momentum generated by the movement.

Overall, readers who are very interested in hermeneutics in general, or Anthony Thiselton in particular, will find much to like here. The essays are on the academic side of the spectrum and can be rather dense to get into. However, Thiselton is arguably one of the most important NT scholars working in the field, and his excavating of resources in the philosophical literature is quite the accomplishment. If this is a particularly strong interest of yours, and you are familiar with the general field of hermeneutical theory, this book is worth adding to your library.


Stanley E. Porter and Matthew R. Malcolm, eds., The Future of Biblical Interpretation: Responsible Plurality in Biblical Hermeneutics, Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, October, 2013. 165 pp. Paperback, $18.00.

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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

Very similar to the previous title mentioned, The Future of Biblical Interpretation: Responsible Plurality in Biblical Hermeneutics is a collection of essays edited by Stanley Porter and Matthew Malcolm. However, these essays are little more accessible to the average readers and presented with and to Anthony Thiselton at a conference at the University of Nottingham. Thiselton presents an opening essay to which the contributors (many of whom are also featured in Thiselton’s actual festschrift) riff on in their essays, each of them taking a different aspect.

So, for instance, Thiselton begins by raising the question from which the book takes its title: What does the future of biblical interpretation look like with a responsible plurality of voices? The Bible speaks with a plurality of voices, and so do its interpreters. How then do we responsibly maintain that plurality in our interpretations?

Then, each contributor takes a different area of interpretation and discusses. You’ve got Stanley Porter on theological responsibility (and again dealing primarily with the theological interpretation of Scripture, which makes it a nice companion piece to his essay in the other Thiselton collection), as well as James Dunn on historical responsibility, Walter Moberly on ecclesial responsibility, and Richard Briggs on Scriptural responsibility, to name a few.

The essays themselves are fairly short, and clearly read as original given lectures, whereas the essays in the other Thiselton collection read more like journal articles. There is some overlap in conceptual content (mainly because of some overlap in contributors), but the topic of this collection is much more focused on a single issue (keeping the plurality without negating some level of unity in interpretation). Because of that, I think it is a bit more accessible, and probably of more interest to a wider range of readers. Really anyone who has wrestled with the fact that we are dealing with a plurality of voices across the Testaments and wants some insight on a good interpretive way forward will find it here. Someone looking for definitive answers might be disappointed, but the reader hoping for fresh trajectories and new lines of thought that can be teased out further or modified will be satisfied. If you’re particularly interested in biblical hermeneutics in general and the question of plurality in particular, this book is worth checking out.


Well, it’s that time of year. Time to the all important gift choices for the book lover in your life. Conveniently, it also time for me to consolidate my review shelf and go ahead and preview several titles that I know I won’t get time to engage in detail. I mentioned this a while back, and with Christmas on the horizon, I’d like to spend the next week or so rolling out previews of some great titles I’ve gotten but that won’t get a full-on review. If you’re curious, here’s what I’ve got coming up:

I’ve interacted with all of these in personal study on some level, but haven’t read any cover to cover. I have however read and know enough to give a preview of who might like to have the book on their shelf, as well as what, from my interaction I found personally useful.