9780830828234Michael F. Bird, Jesus Is The Christ: The Messianic Testimony of The Gospels. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, February, 2013. 219 pp. Paperback, $18.00

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Michael F. Bird is lecturer in theology at Ridley College in Melbourne, Australia. He has written his share of books, and most recently released Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction, which I am currently trekking through review style.

He is also quickly becoming one of my favorite writers in the biblical studies/theology genre. Mainly this is because he is able to mix serious scholarship with a bit of humor and a playfulness to his writing style. He seems to actually be having fun when he is talking about his subjects, and can do so without devolving into a silliness that would undermine the seriousness of his subject matter.

Look no further than the book in question, Jesus Is The Christ: The Messianic Testimony of The Gospels. Clearly the central confession of Christianity is no joking matter. Perhaps the central question of the book is captured by the Introduction: “When Did Jesus Become Messiah?” Bird’s book is essentially a defense of the answer “He was confessed as Messiah before the Gospels were even written.” It is his contention that “the messianic testimony of Jesus is the earliest and most basic claim of early Christology” (4). In the introduction, Bird examines the evidence to defend this claim. He starts with a brief rundown of the messianic expectations before evaluating Jesus as a messianic claimant. Though he says more evidence could be marshaled, he lists the following key evidence to support the fact that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah (8-9):

  • Isaiah 61 seems to play a very significant role in Jesus’ self understanding
  • His central message pertained to the kingdom of God, and Jesus saw himself as the royal leader of that soon to be restored people of God
  • Jesus’ frequent allusions to David and Solomon and his connection to them
  • The “I have come” sayings associating Jesus with messianic activities
  • Jesus’ final week involved thoroughly messianic activities, especially in terms of the symbolism involved
  • Jesus was executed on charges of being a messianic pretender

In light of all this, Bird then makes the case that the early church was a messianic shaped movement, that grew out of Jesus own self understanding, actions, and pronouncements. It was not a later reaction and invention in light of his supposedly failed mission.

Bird then deals briefly with some alternate accounts of the origin of Jesus as Messiah. He then conlcudes the introduction to set the stage for the book proper by saying, “Out of all the titles and roles ascribed to Jesus, it is the contention of this study that it is the messianic theme that is paramount” (31). He then summarizes:

It is the testimony to Jesus as the Messiah that binds together the theological, literary, rhetorical, and social functions of the four canonical Gospels. Although we could rightly consider the Gospels as collectively teaching the same broad messianic story about Jesus, each of the Gospels articulates the messianic identity of Jesus in a different way, for a different end, in a different context, and with a different set of tools. It is the unique formulation of Jesus as Messiah by the individual evangelists that is explored in what follows. In the end, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are like stained-glass windows offering different shapes and colours about a figure they all regard in their own unique way as the long-promised Messiah (31).

The next four chapters and 100 or so pages are in-depth exegetical and theological treatments of each Gospel. Bird is supporting his claim about the early identity of Jesus as Messiah and unpacking each evangelist’s take on it. In Mark, we see Jesus as the crucified Messiah; in Matthew, he is the Davidic Messiah; in Luke/Acts, he is the Prophetic Messiah; and finally in John he is the Elusive Messiah.

Rather than go into detail explaining what Bird concludes, I’m just going to give you his own summary from the brief conclusion (142-143, line breaks mine):

The Gospel of Mark is an apology for a crucified Messiah where the death of Jesus is both royal and redemptive. It is the Marcan Jesus’ self-giving service as the Son of Man that defines the meaning of the messianic office.

The Gospel of Matthew builds on Mark, rather than repudiating his christological claims, by emphasizing that Jesus is the Son of David and Son of Abraham. He is the deliverer who effects the restoration of the lost sheep of the house of Israel; his messianic charism is both didactic and prophetic; he is the king who ushers in the kingdom of haven, which climaxes in the reconstitution of a renewed Israel built on the Messiah.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is the prophetic Messiah who enacts the Isaianic New Exodus that brings salvation for Jews and Gentiles. For Luke, faithfulness to Jesus as Messiah and Lord is what secures the legitimate identity of the church and places them in a bond of unity with Israel all the way back to Abraham. Luke-Acts is a community-defining narrative that defines the community by its allegiance to Jesus the Messiah.

Finally, in the Gospel of John, messiahship is the nexus in a constellation of christological convictions about Jesus as the incarnate Word, a prophet greater than Moses, the specially sent Son of God, the ascending-descending Son of Man, and even the warrior Lamb of God. John provides a forensic testimony through a stream of witnesses in signs, speeches, symbols, and Scripture that Jesus is the Messiah.

Now, if you want all that unpacked in more detail, this is the book for you. Given the burden of the book, I think Bird does a superb job in the space he uses. The main argument of the book takes up about 100 pages, and you’re given 15 pages worth of bibliography for further reading you might want to pursue. It unfortunately has endnotes rather than footnotes, but this does keep the main text clean. The notes are mostly references, but there is some extraneous discussion and occasional humorous anecdotes. The notes themselves take up about 40 pages.

So, if you’re keeping score, that’s a 200 page book, half of which is the main argument, the other half is an introduction, bibliography, and notations. For the average reader, you’ll probably be content digesting the introduction and main body. For more scholarly oriented readers, you’ll might get annoyed flipping back and forth to the notes, but will find further discussions and resources there, as well as the bibliography. For both types of readers, this will be a great resource on the most importance Christmas question of all: “Who do the Gospels really say Jesus is?” He’s the Messiah of course, and Christmas is an attempt to celebrate that in all its glory as we wait for his return.

Job (Teach The Text)

December 23, 2013 — Leave a comment


Daniel J. Estes, Job (Teach The Text). Grand Rapids: Baker Books, July 2013. 288 pp. Hardcover, $29.99

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Daniel J. Estes is distinguished professor of Bible at Cedarville University and has written many a book on all things Old Testament, but mostly related to the Wisdom literature. 1

Here he offers readers fine commentary on the book of Job. After a brief introduction (where he favors agnosticism toward the historicity of Job), Estes treats each chapter of Job in a chapter of the commentary. Within each chapter, the following format is followed:

  • The Big Idea (stated in a single sentence)
  • Key Themes (bullet pointed in an sidebar)
  • Understanding the Text (the commentary proper)
  • Teaching the Text (suggestive directions for a focal point in a lesson)
  • Illustrating the Text (helpful illustrations from literature, history, movies, etc.)

Because of the format of the “Understanding the Text” section, Estes does not necessarily comment verse by verse. Any many cases, his total comments in the verse by verse section are about as extensive as ESV Study Bible notes (which isn’t a knock on Estes, just a way of giving you a gauge). Some of this is because the “Understanding the Text” section is really composed of 4 parts:

  • Text in Context (usually a couple of paragraphs)
  • Historical and Cultural Background (another paragraph or two, usually very insightful)
  • Interpretive Insights (the actual verse by verse comments)
  • Theological Insights (varies in length depending on the chapter, but doesn’t shy away from issues)

Given that there are a total of 8 elements Estes address in each chapter, and that the book is under 300 pages in total, you have an idea how this commentary goes chapter to chapter. Not every verse is exegeted in detail, but that isn’t the aim of the commentary. Rather, the aim is to prepare you to teach the text (hence the series title). To do that, the framework seems to be given almost equal weight to the exposition. Because of that, this is probably not a stand-alone resource, but it might be for an average Sunday School teacher (especially if used in tandem with an ESV Study Bible).

I could see this commentary being profitably put to use in tandem with a more in-depth exegetical volume that maybe isn’t quite as concerned with communicating the message and theology of Job like Estes’ volume is. For many people, the more extended exegesis and background details of John Walton’s NIVAC volume might be a good supplement. Others might prefer Tremper Longman III’s installment in BCOTWP or Hartley’s in (NICOT). While a supplement isn’t necessary per se, for anything more than an overview of each chapter, Estes’ volume doesn’t have enough meat. If that is all you’re after, this book has the framework and the content for that.

In the end, I think that is what this series is aiming for. That is, the goal is to provide a commentary that gives a thorough framework for teachers of the word to teach that particular book. In my case at least, I would be doing a survey on Job in my Old Testament class, so I have plenty to work with in Estes’ volume. He covers the key background imagery as well as the theological takeaways of the book. That is basically what I’ll cover in the my class. If I were specifically teaching Job, and I was doing so at the university or seminary level, I’d probably still use Estes, but in conversation with the other volumes I mentioned above. Regardless of whether you are using other conversation partners, if you plan on teaching the text of Job, you’ll probably want to consult, if not just go ahead and add Estes to your library.


Scot McKnight, Sermon on The Mount (The Story of God Bible Commentary). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, October, 2013. 320 pp. Paperback, $29.99

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Scot McKnight is professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. Previously, he taught at North Park University. He is no stranger to commentaries, having previously written on Galatians, 1 Peter, and James.

Here, he offering readers the inaugural volume in Zondervan’s new The Story of God Bible Commentaries. He serves as one of the general editors alongside Tremper Longman III. The purpose of this commentary series is to address this particular generation with the Word of God. Based on the NIV 2011, this series is asking authors to “explain what the Bible says to the sorts of readers who pick up commentaries so they can understand not only what Scripture says but what it means for today” (xii-xiii).

The name of the series comes from the fact that the editors want authors to “explain each passage of the Bible in light of the Bible’s grand Story.” This of course “connects this series to the classic expression regula fidei, the ‘rule of faith,’ which was the Bible’s story coming to fulfillment in Jesus as the Messiah, Lord, and Savior of all” (xiii).

To accomplish this, each passage is examined from three angles:

  • Listen to The Story (cites the text and lists a selection of important biblical and sometimes noncanonical parallels)
  • Explain The Story (the actual commentary proper, limited footnotes, but covering backgrounds, historical context, cultural codes, and theological interpretations)
  • Live The Story (directions for how the text might be lived out today, not necessarily applications though)

As you can see, this is similar to the three fold approach of the NIV Application Commentary, but ever so slightly different. I’d say the main difference is that overall the volume more compact and to the point. I haven’t seen the Philippians volume that was also released at the same time, but I’d imagine it’s a bit slimmer than the corresponding NIVAC volume (there isn’t a corresponding one for the Sermon on The Mount).

As for McKnight’s volume specifically, I’ve found it helpful so far. I’m reading it alongside John Stott’s in The Bible Speaks Today and Kent Hughes’ in Preaching The Word. Of the three, McKnight’s and Stott’s most like a typical commentary, while Hughes’ is a series of sermons. McKnight and Stott are fairly closely aligned in their overall aims, so if you are familiar with Stott’s volume, you have an idea about what McKnight’s is like (though also insert your knowledge of McKnight’s differing theological emphases to complete the picture).

McKnight opens with an introduction to ethics, which then situates the Sermon on The Mount into that discussion. He closes with a list of key resources before launching into the commentary proper. He breaks the text of Matthew 5-7 into manageable portions (chapters range from 10-30 pages). He follows the outline mentioned above, and as promised, footnotes are kept to a minimum and discussion stays on the kind of track the average reader will stick with.

Though more could be said, from what I’ve read so far, and from what I know of McKnight, I can say this volume definitely belongs on your shelf if you’re planning to work through the Sermon on The Mount anytime soon. Obviously this isn’t the last word on the Sermon, but McKnight makes for a great conversation partner, and this particular commentary series looks very promising. I’m looking forward to seeing future volumes, especially the ones coming for the Old Testament (and if you remember yesterday’s review, Andrew Shead is the author of the Jeremiah/Lamentations volume). For now though I’ll keep reading through McKnight’s volume and getting a better grasp on the Sermon on The Mount. If that’s what you’re interested in, you would do well to give this series, and McKnight’s volume in particular, a shot.

41Qt7RpiuOL._SL500_Andrew Shead, A Mouth Full of Fire: The Word of God in The Words of Jeremiah, (New Studies in Biblical Theology). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, November, 2012. 321 pp. Paperback, $27.00

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Andrew Shead is Head of Old Testament at Moore College, Sydney, where he lectures in Hebrew, Old Testament, and music (a good trifecta). Here, he is offering readers another stellar installment in the New Studies in Biblical Theology. This is one of the heftier volumes in the series, I think only outdone by Beale’s in terms of page length. It is a dense read, but an important topic to wade through.

Shead did his doctoral work in Jeremiah, but this isn’t a revised dissertation. It is instead further reflections on Jeremiah coupled with “the concern with biblical theology [that] comes from years of teaching,” and “the interest in exploring how the Old Testament may contribute to systematic reflection” on the doctrine of Scripture. As many of his colleagues were involved in the rumination process, Shead says, “what you are about to read is child of Moore College and its faculty” (15).

In his introduction to the work, Shead spends his time clarifying the aim of the book by laying out what he sees as theological interpretation, as well as biblical theology. Shead is self consciously “boundary blurring” and offering a reading of Jeremiah that falls under the title of “theological interpretation of the Bible” (21). Having established this, Shead proceeds to discuss the nature of biblical theology. In his account, biblical theology is “the framework on which theological interpretation grows” and this interpretation “nourishes confessional evangelicalism” (27). In this sense, he defines biblical theology as “knowledge of God as the God of the Bible” (27). He then elaborates:

First of all, the God of the Bible is the God in the Bible, the God of whom the Bible speaks. And by the testimony of Scripture this God turns out to be the God behind the Bible, the one whose word the Bible is. And as a result of this fact, God also turns out to be the God who addresses us from the Bible (28).

With this in mind, a certain way of reading the Bible follows:

First, we read for knowledge of God in the Bible, that is, for its theological message. Along the way it will yield other sorts of information, but they are important only as they throw light on the God of the Bible.

Secondly, the God of whom the Bible speaks is not a fiction or a myth but the God who creates and redeems us, who acts and speaks in history. To speak of this God as God of the Bible means that though we read the Bible as a book written by many hands over many years, behind all these hands we see God’s creative power and speaking voice. We read it as Scripture. It its diverse words we expect to find one word, and by the clear testimony of the New Testament this one word is Christ. How Scripture in its diversity conveys this word to us is perhaps the single question that most exercises biblical theologians, and how to discern this message without descending into bad reading practices is the challenge of biblical criticism.

Thirdly, because God is the God of the Bible in this strong sense, the message of Scripture is one by which he makes himself present to us in judgment and salvation. And so we do not value objectivity and scholarly detachment in quite the same way that those who read the Bible as a secular book do. We read prayerfully, in the Spirit and as part of the body of Christ. Only this way does knowing about God become knowing God (28).

In offering readers a reading of Jeremiah grounded in this approach, Shead argues “that ‘the word of the Lord’ is the book’s protagonist” and “this is not God himself but a divine attribute and self-communication” (38). Further, Jeremiah could be described as “the story of what happened when the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah.” As such, Shead attempts “to read Jeremiah as an authoritative story whose many and varied elements advance the progress of the word of the Lord in their own way and, by so doing, yield a portrait of God that no simpler collocation of elements could do justice to” (39).

Given that his main interest in this volume is “doctrine from Jeremiah” (40), Shead certainly has his work cut out for him. The plan of his book follows this trajectory:

  • Chapter 1: The Word and Words (focus: Jeremiah 1-52)
  • Chapter 3: The Word and Speaker (focus: Jeremiah 1-20)
  • Chapter 4: The Word and Hearers (focus: Jeremiah 21-29)
  • Chapter 5: The Word and Power (focus: Jeremiah 30-51)
  • Chapter 6: The Word and Permanence (focus: Jeremiah 36)

You may notice chapter 2 is missing above. That is because chapter 2 is a detailed analysis of the structure of the book of Jeremiah. He ingeniously employs the analogy to film-making (87-90) to help readers see how the “point-of-view” shifts throughout the narrative. As he concludes:

It is the story of God’s word addressing his people with the utmost urgency, over matters of life and death, with patience and longsuffering, until at last that divine word puts into effect all that it had declared, with devastating results. The suffering that was initially felt only by the speaker of the word (both God and Jeremiah) was ultimately poured out upon his dead audience and, in the end, every nation on earth. And yet, all along – glorious twist in the plot! – it turns out that it is precisely and only through this very devastation that God’s longed-for future can be created. And so that word of God triumphs twice over (105)

After proceeding through the outline listed above, Shead’s final chapter is on the movement from the book of Jeremiah to the doctrine of the word of God. Here, he interacts in a fairly extensive way with Karl Barth, comparing and contrasting Barth’s doctrine of the word of God with the version of the doctrine Shead has exposited from the book of Jeremiah. Though I could say a lot here, I’m going to refrain. Those familiar with Barth’s understanding of the word of God will be given a contrasting voice from Jeremiah. There is some overlap between Jeremiah and Barth, but I guess you’ll need to read the book to see what that overlap looks like.

In the end, this is volume that readers will want to pick up if a) they really like the New Studies in Biblical Theology, b) they are particularly interested in theological interpretation for the use of doctrinal formation, and/or c) they are familiar with Barth’s thoughts and would like to see a case from Scripture brought into brief conversation with him. Certainly you could be all three, as well as be a reader who is particularly interested in a) the doctrine of Scripture and/or b) Jeremiah. Much of what Shead says here would be useful in the inerrancy conversation, though his focus is more on how the words (plural) of God found in Scripture relate to the Word (singular) of God which is not synonymous with them. That conversation alone is worth looking into, and this book can be a good conversation partner.


John Walton, Genesis (ZIBBC)Grand Rapids: Zondervan, May, 2013. 176 pp. Softcover, $16.99

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John Walton is professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College Graduate School. He has written several books and several commentaries and now offers readers the installment on Genesis in the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary.

Because of that, and also because of his consistent scholarly output related to the ancient Near East backgrounds of Genesis (see here, here, and here), he is the ideal candidate to be writing a background commentary on Genesis. He is also the general editor of the complete set of hardcover Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentaries.

For people that aren’t convinced (or don’t need) to drop $200 on the entire set, this volume allows you to get a feel for what this commentary set offers. The advantage to this particular volume is that it’s a) the editor of the whole series and b) someone who knows his way around the backgrounds of Genesis. Plus, it’s illustrated. Who wouldn’t want pictures in a short commentary on Genesis?

I am particularly interested in Genesis, and I found this volume to be insightful and informative. I didn’t consult it extensively when I was teaching through Genesis for our college Bible study, but I did reference it in my prep work. Walton’s comments are limited, and usually concise, but I think the illustrations more than make up for it. In his case especially, if you want the full comments, get his actual commentary.

But, if you’re really interested in Genesis, and would like a manageable background commentary that will help you navigate some of the foreign territory of the Old Testament, this is the volume for you. If you’re a visual learner, all the better, and even if you wouldn’t necessarily consider yourself visual, the many maps, pictures of art and statutes, landscapes, and artifacts will help bring Genesis alive in your studies.


John Hilber, Psalms (ZIBBC). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, May, 2013. 176 pp. Softcover, $16.99

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John Hilber is Professor of Old Testament at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. Before that he was a pastor for 15 years and then in the Old Testament department at Dallas Seminary where I had him for a seminar in ancient Near East literature. 1 In addition to numerous scholarly articles, Hilber offers readers the installment on Psalms in the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary.

Though some receive more attention than others, every Psalm has at least some background comments attached to it. Even if it is just to refer the reader to sidebar that has already covered (or will soon cover) the relevant background issue, every Psalm is accounted for. Interested readers will probably want to just jump to their favorite Psalm and see what aspect of the ancient Near East background Hilber is shedding light on.

Much like what I’ve already said about the Genesis volumes applies here. I haven’t yet gotten to Psalms in either my Old Testament class or college Bible study, but I have been reading through the Psalms a lot this past year. Part of that is because I don’t think I really know my way around the Psalter very well. As I’m getting acquainted though, it is helpful to have Hilber’s volume on hand. His insights in our ancient Near East seminar were very valuable, and I appreciated the perspective and expertise he brought to the discussions. I am anticipating that same level of insight as I continue to consult this volume, and do so more heavily later on this winter. For serious students of the Psalms, this volume is worth picking up.


David W. Baker, Isaiah (ZIBBC). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, May, 2013. 240 pp. Softcover, $19.99

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David W. Baker is professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at Ashland Theological Seminary. He has authored several commentaries and now offers the installment on Isaiah in the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary.

Of these three individual softcover volumes, Baker’s on Isaiah is the longest. While the Psalms and Genesis volumes are about equal length, Baker goes into much more detail in his comments.

Overall, the features are the same as far as the illustrated nature of this commentary. Baker moves section by section through Isaiah and offers insights into the ancient Near East backdrop to Isaiah’s prophecy. Like Psalms, I haven’t gotten to Isaiah yet in my prep work, but I am really looking forward to utilizing this volume when I do.

For people really interested in the ancient Near East background to the Old Testament, I would really recommend buying these three volumes together. I’m not sure about the specific reasons that Zondervan chose to single out there books for individual publication, but I have a guess. Considering that the four most quoted Old Testament books in the New are Genesis, Deuteronomy, Psalms, and Isaiah, you could make a good case that really grasping those four books will also really help you understand the New Testament. By having illustrated commentaries on the background of three of these books, you are well on your way to deepening your understanding of 3 of the 4 key Old Testament books.


  1. And met with him a couple times in his office to ask questions about a potential thesis idea I had that never got off the ground. If you’re interested, the title was “Science as Post-Modern Divination”


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.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Zondervan Academic for the review copy!

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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Thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy!

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.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Zondervan Academic for the review copy!

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.

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