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Let me quote in the full the opening paragraph of James Hamilton’s preface to With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology:

I don’t deserve to read the Bible, much less write about it. What a privilege to have God reveal himself to us in his word. What a great God, keeping covenant and steadfast love, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, and everywhere manifesting his power and love. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars, and yet he also speaks so tenderly that the bruised reed doesn’t break. I join the ranks of the heavenly hosts, the saints across space and time, and everything in this cosmic temple to ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name. Would that I could do so in a way worthy of him. I thank God the Father through Christ the Son by the power of the Spirit for his merciful salvation, full and complete revelation, and gracious provision. (15)

When I read this, I knew I was in for a great book. While it doesn’t tell you much about the content of the book, it does tell you about the heart of the person writing the book. Clearly, for Hamilton, writing this study of Daniel was something he approached worshipfully and humbly. And it shows.

As Hamilton explains in the introductory chapter, “I am here attempting an evangelical and canonical biblical theology of Daniel” (21). In his the rest of the chapter, Hamilton defines biblical theology (“the attempt to understand and embrace the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors”), as well as a defense of the Hebrew ordering of the Old Testament canon. He also articulates and evangelical approach to interpreting the book, which consists of an early date (prior to the prophecies it delivers) and that Daniel, as Scripture, has both a human and divine author.

From here, the second chapter places Daniel in the context of “the wider storyline of canonical biblical theology” (41). Chapter 3 is an in-depth analysis of Daniel’s literary structure. Hamilton presents the thematic links that appear throughout the text and argues for a chiastic structure of the book (1 and 10-12 parallel; 2 and 7-9; 3 and 6, and 4-5 are the center). With this foundational understanding in place, Hamilton turns to an interpretation of the four kingdoms in chapter 4, the seventy weeks in chapter 5, and the heavenly beings in the book in chapter 6, with particular reference to “the one like a son of man.”

Chapter 7 is a kind of turning point. Rather than focusing on themes within the book, or particular interpretive difficulties, Hamilton examines the interpretations of Daniel in early Jewish literature. Particular attention is paid to Tobit, writings from Qumran, 1 Maccabees, 4 Ezra, and 1 Enoch. The following chapter then moves to the New Testament interpretations of Daniel, other than its use in the book of Revelation. Here, he notes that for the New Testament writers, Daniel has both been fulfilled and yet remains to be fulfilled (199). Chapter 10 focuses on Daniel within the book of Revelation before the final chapter wraps up with an explanation of the typological patterns in Daniel, with particular reference to his connection to Joseph.

While I could go into more detail about the depth and riches of Hamilton’s work here, I think you’d be better served by just picking up and reading for yourself. The overall flow of material here is something I would like to see more of in future titles in this series. After setting the book in historical and literary context, Hamilton does a close analysis of the literary structure of the book before tackling major themes. Once he has done that detailed exegetical work, avenues are opened to actually do good biblical theology by seeing how the book fits into the canon as a whole. I also appreciated that Hamilton put a chapter on early Jewish understandings before jumping to the New Testament. Because of Daniel’s apocalyptic nature and time of writing, this helped to show both similarities and differences with how the New Testament writers, particularly Matthew, Mark, and John understood the book to be fulfilled in the person and work of Christ.

I think both the church and the academy are served better by this kind of close attention and exposition of a text within its canonical context. Likewise, for a controversial book in the realm of eschatology, Hamilton does a good job of focusing on major themes of the text. He could have focused on showing how the book supports a pre-millennial understanding of the end times event timeline, which was how the book was taught at the Bible institute I went to freshman year. While that it is Hamilton’s perspective, that wasn’t the focus of his book and even if you’re from a different eschatological position (which I am), there is much to appreciate and learn from in his handling of the key texts of Daniel. In Hamilton’s capable hands, the book of Daniel is allowed to speak for itself as he tracks closely with his sense of the intent of the author (and Author). This kind of reading should be emulated widely.

As I noted back at the beginning, I knew from reading the preface that this book would be an enjoyable and beneficial read. It skipped to the front of my reading queue when it came in the mail and I think I finished it in a few days as I was also reading through Daniel in my daily quiet time. It is a work I think I’ll return to, but in the mean time, I hope Hamilton has another work like this in his hopper. I guess while I wait, I can always go back and re-read God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment as I read through the Bible this coming year. In fact, if you’d like to join me, Dr. Hamilton has a post explaining exactly how to do that!

James M. Hamilton Jr., With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology, New Studies in Biblical TheologyDowners Grove, IL: IVP Academic, August 2014. 272 pp. Paperback, $25.00.

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G. K. Beale holds the J. Gresham Machen Chair of New Testament and is professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. Benjamin Gladd is both a former Ph.D student of Beale’s and now assistant professor of New Testament at RTS Jackson. Together, they have authored Hidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery. The desire behind the project stems from “lack of an exegetical and biblical-theological analysis of mystery, and especially of how the word informs the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament” (26).

As they note in the introduction, “even though the Old Testament anticipates Jesus and his ministry, there is some aspect of unexpectedness or newness to Jesus’ identity and mission, which some would say cannot be found at all in the Old Testament” (17). They go on to say, “an element of discontinuity or ‘newness’ runs through the entire New Testament” (18).  This “newness” may be referred to with the term “mystery,” which “alerts the reader that the topic at hand stands both in continuity and discontinuity to the Old Testament” (19).

In this book, Beale and Gladd are laying out a biblical theology of mystery, and have two primary goals (21):

  • Define the Old and New Testament conception of mystery and grasp its significance
  • Articulate as precisely as possible those topics that are found in conjunction with the term mystery in its various uses throughout the New Testament

They hope that the net result of the investigation will “sharpen our understanding of various topics, such as kingdom, crucifixion, the relationship between Jews and Gentiles, and so on.”

To accomplish all this, the authors start with Daniel, specifically chapters 2 and 4. If one doesn’t get mystery right in Daniel, it is unlikely one will get it right in the New Testament. It is here that Beale and Gladd argue “the revelation of mystery is not a totally new revelation but the full disclosure of something that was to a significant extent hidden” (30). Further, “at its most basic level, the term mystery concerns God revealing his wisdom” (34). This unites the passages in Daniel that refer to it, and Beale and Gladd demonstrate that in the remainder of the chapter.

In chapter 2, they turn to the use of mystery in early Judaism. In examing representative uses in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Targums, Beale and Gladd conclude, “Mystery is eschatological – that is, it concerns those events that take place in the ‘latter days,’” and “central to the revelatory nature of mystery is its twofold aspect – an initial, generally hidden, revelation is often disclosed, followed by a subsequent fuller (even surprising) interpretation of its meaning” (53). This was the case in Daniel as well.

In chapter 3, the discussion moves on to Matthew. The word mystery appears three times in the Synoptics (once in each), but since Matthew gives the most elaboration, the authors follow his discussion (Mt. 13: 10-17). They ultimately conclude that while “the Old Testament prophesied that the end-time kingdom would be established by the defeat of every one of Israel’s enemies all together and all at once, yet Jesus proclaims that his kingdom exists in simultaneity with his opponents’ kingdom” (75). As a result, Israel and its leaders failed to grasp the mystery.

Chapter 4 moves to the epistles, starting of course with Romans. The relevant passages are chapter 11 and 16. Here the revealed mystery is a period of time when the Gentiles would predominate the people of God. In the Old Testament the most clear pattern was “Jew first, then Gentile,” but Paul draws on a plotline in Deuteronomy 27-32 to argue that now in the beginning of the new age, the pattern is “Gentile first, then Jew.” This connection of Deuteronomy 27-32, specifically 29:22-30:10 to Romans 11 as support for a “Gentile first, then Jew” pattern of redemption is a unique contribution of the book.

The next two chapters cover 1 Corinthians and Ephesians, the two books in the New Testament that most frequently mention “mystery.” This survey of relevant passages continues through Colossians (chapter 7), 2 Thessalonians (chapter 8), 1 Timothy (chapter 9), and finally Revelation (chapter 10). In each chapter, Beale and Gladd thoroughly examine the passage that explains something as a “mystery” and traces the connections back to Daniel and the Old Testament understanding of something hidden that is now more fully revealed.

The final three chapters wrap up the study by first looking at areas in the New Testament that are connected to “mystery” but that do not employ the actual term (as is the case in the previous chapters’ survey). Next, the relationship between Christianity and pagan mystery religions is explored in order to demonstrate that Christianity’s conception of “mystery” is not borrowed. The final concluding chapter teases out some hermenuetical implications for how we interpret the New Testament’s use of the Old. As the authors understand it, having a better grasp of how the New Testament authors make use of Daniel’s conception of mystery will “could furnish us with a new lens in grasping the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament” (338). This expanded and supported further in the appendix, which is an adapted and shortened version of a journal article by Beale that was published in the fall issue of WTJ.

As Beale and Gladd explain in the introduction, “this project is intended for students, scholars, pastors, and laypeople who seriously engage the Scriptures” (26). To accommodate a broad audience like that, they “place many discussions of relevant Old Testament and Jewish texts at the end of each chapter in excurses, allowing the reader to grasp more easily the flow of argument in the main body of the chapter.” It may prove helpful then for lay readers leave aside the footnotes and excurses, only venturing there if further argumentation is desired. Likewise, the authors do an excellent job of summarizing the terrain they’ve crossed at the beginning of each chapter. Because of this, it would be easy to break the reading apart across several weeks or months and be able to pick back up without losing ground. The flipside of this is that if you’re reading it straight through in a short time, it can feel repetitive as the conclusion for one chapter is more or less restated in the introduction of the next.

All that being said, you owe it to yourself to pick this up if you like biblical theology in general or G. K. Beale in particular. I felt like this book could have been published along side The Temple and The Church’s Mission in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series. While not exactly light reading, it is very accessible both in style of writing and the organization of the material. By pushing technical matters to chapter ending excurses, a casual reader ends up reading about 100 less pages (excurses + appendix). Yet, for interested readers who might be more steeped in the subject matter, Beale and Gladd do a good job of taking up important peripheral questions in those excurses. I will be interested see what more scholarly responses are to this work. I tend to find Beale very convincing in his argumentation, but since he is wading into the sticky issue of the New Testament’s use of the Old, I’d like to see how this work is received in the coming months. In order to really part of that conversation though, you have to read the book, so you might as well get started now, especially if you’re on Christmas break!


G. K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd, Hidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of MysteryDowners Grove, IL: IVP Academic, October 2014. 393 pp. Paperback, $27.00.

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I know we did August Burns Red last week, but this is one of the new tracks added to their Christmas album for this year. Next week, we’ll broaden our horizons a bit.

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Peter H. Davids is Visiting Professor of Theology at Houston Baptist University and Visiting Professor of Bible and Applied Theology at Houston Graduate School of Theology. Davids has written commentaries on James (NIGTC), 1 Peter (NICNT), and 2 Peter & Jude (PNTC) in addition to numerous articles and a few special studies related to these books. Now, he builds on that extensive background to author A Theology of James, Peter, and Jude: Living in The Light of The Coming King in the Biblical Theology of The New Testament series (see also John’s Gospel and Letters and Luke and Acts).

The opening chapter introduces common themes and issues related to these four general epistles. Davids explains that his book is “primarily a theological readings of the texts,” but is also “a theological reading informed by a social-rhetorical understanding of the texts – that is, what the texts meant in the context of their original cultural settings, as best this can be determined” (23). Before getting to that, Davids rounds out the introductory chapter by highlighting common theological threads between the books.

Each of the remaining chapters tackles a book in turn. 1 Peter receives the longest treatment, but each book takes at least 50 pages of space (with Jude being the shortest chapter). Davids follows a common format chapter to chapter. He begins with a bibliography, then looks very briefly at recent scholarship on the book in question, before mapping out introductory issues. The heart of each chapter is a literary-theological reading of the book which is then followed by a section on the important theological themes that have emerged from this reading, as well as the book’s canonical contributions.

Readers may be curious to note how Davids handles the authorship question of the books. For James, he says, “It is therefore our conclusion that the best explanation of the data is that the letter of James was written shortly after the death of James, the brother of Jesus, making use of sermons and sayings stemming from James (and/or Jesus)” (41). In framing it this way, Davids is attributing the actual writing down of the letter to someone else, but attributing the substance to James. Because of this, throughout the commentary itself, he refers to James as if he were the actual writer of the letter.

Davids makes a similar move when it comes to 1 Peter. Here he says, “We are talking about something closer to an anonymous ghostwriter” He adds:

With our lack of a detailed biography of Peter and especially of the impression he made on educated people during his later ministry, we cannot prove or disprove that Peter could have written this work with the help of some type of amanuensis. The degree to which Peter was or was not involved becomes, then, a matter of faith that is either supported or not supported by the historical context of the letter; as we will discuss later, it is supported if the historical context of the letter could have taken place in Peter’s lifetime. (109)

Concerning this latter qualification, Davids lays out the evidence for the letter being written during Peter’s lifetime, in which case he would be the author but we are hearing his voice through a composer that is more ghostwriter than scribe. He contrasts this with the evidence for the letter originating in the Flavian period (late 1st century, after Peter’s death), in which case Peter would be the inspiration for the contents but not the dictator or directly involved in the writing. He concludes that noting in the letter demands either conclusion and therefore it is a matter of theological conviction and weighing of historical evidence.

In comparing 1 Peter and 2 Peter on the question of authorship, Davids states, “the one responsible for the style, the relationship to the Hebrew Scriptures, and the philosophical sophistication of 2 Peter is different from the one responsible for 1 Peter” (194). While Davids notes that the majority position in the “nonevangelical” world is that 2 Peter is a clearly pseudapigraphal letter, Davids suggests that another entirely reasonable option if one doubts Peter could have written the letters is that 2 Peter, as well as 1 Peter, could have been written after Peter’s death as a testament to what he would have said in the particular circumstances. This I suppose would be suggesting that the letter is in the spirit of Peter’s preaching and teaching and thus attached to his apostolic authority even if not directly authored by him. More conservative evangelicals will probably like neither of these options, but the latter at least preserves a clear connection to Peter and removes the hint of deception in the writing of the letter.

When it comes to Jude, Davids says, “There seems to be no good reason for someone writing under a pseudonym to choose Jude; there would be good reasons not to choose Jude, for the author of such a letter in any area where Jude was known as uneducated (assuming he was uneducated), and also good reasons for choosing a better known leader (even a deceased leader, such as James)” (256-257). In commenting later on the literary style of the book, Davids notes, “[The writer of Jude] has heard the Scriptures read; their reading has influenced the language of his community. As a result, Semitisms, creep into his style. He is probably unaware of it. Conscious quotation would mean that he would have to be aware, but linguistic influence often operates on the unconscious level” (263). From this vantage point, Jude, though he may uneducated in the classical sense, may very well have heard enough Scripture that it influenced his rhetorical style but did not allow conscious or direct quotations.It would seem that this opens the possibility that Jude stands in relation to the letter bearing his name in the same way Peter does with 1 Peter (as argued above).

There are of course other points of interest, but I’ve always been curious about the authorship question and Davids’ arguments were stimulating. I’m not sure if I’m prepared to abandon the traditional attributions, but if I were, I would opt for Davids’ route that keeps the historical person closely connected to the written project. I would like to do more research on the nature of authorship in general in the ancient world, which from what I can tell, is significantly different than our understanding. There are also issues of apostolic authority, but the letters may not need to have come directly from an apostle’s hand so much as represent the apostles’s teaching which is authoritative. In any case, the issues here are far more complex than with the disputed Pauline letters and are worth looking into further.

If you are interested in studying these particular books further, or are interested in thematic biblical theological reading of New Testament letters, this book is for you. Davids has an easy to follow style when dissecting scholarly arguments and is an able guide through these four books. Especially since they tend to get neglected in New Testament studies, this book can fill in a missing gap in your understanding if you’ve spent most of your time vacillating between Paul and the Gospels.


Peter H. Davids, A Theology of James, Peter, and Jude: Living in The Light of The Coming King (Biblical Theology of The New Testament)Grand Rapids: Zondervan, October 2014. 352  pp. Hardcover, $39.99.

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While there are many commentaries series that focus on the New Testament only, there are not an equal number that do so for the Old. A few years back, Zondervan introduced its Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series. Now, they’ve added a new series for the Old Testament: Hearing The Message of Scripture. Rather than simply being a cloned version for the Old Testament, this series has a slightly different layout and purpose.

First, each section of the book being commented upon follows this outline:

  • The Main Idea of The Passage
  • Literary Context
  • Translation and Outline
  • Structure and Literary Form
  • Explanation of the Text
  • Canonical and Practical Significance

Attentive readers will notice that this looks very similar, except for maybe the latter section which is not exactly synonymous with Theology in Application like ZECNT uses. However, in the Series Introduction, series editor Daniel Block explains:

The way in which this series treats biblical books will be uneven. Commentators on smaller books will have sufficient scope to answer fully each of the issues listed above on each unit of the text. However, limitations of space preclude full treatment of every text for the larger books. Instead, commentators will guide readers through ## 1-4 and 6 for every literary unit, but “Full Explanation of the Text” (#5) will be selective, generally limited to twelve to fifteen literary units deemed most critical for hearing the message of the book (11).

As you can see then, the focus is not necessarily on exegeting each and every individual verse in the book. Rather, the focus is on grasping the general big picture message of the book through selective detailed analysis of the particulars.

One of the ways this plays out is that unlike the ZECNT series which generally breaks up the Explanation section verse by verse with English then Greek, there is no Hebrew in the print edition (there is in the electronic). There are select transliterations, but you do not see verse by verse laid out in the original Hebrew in the explanation sections.

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Another way this plays out, and this is seen in the inaugural volume written by Daniel Block himself, is that a book like Obadiah gets a very detailed treatment. Other than I think the Anchor Bible commentary series, I don’t know of an Old Testament commentary series with a single volume on Obadiah. Instead, he always gets bundled with adjacent books in the minor prophets, or in a kind of miscellaneous collection of leftovers (e.g. the NIVAC volume). Here, Obadiah gets full treatment with a rather extensive introduction (20+ pages) highlighting the background to the book, the rhetorical aims and strategy of Obadiah, and a detailed look at the structure of the book. Then for the next 60 or so pages, the commentary proper on Obadiah follows.

In many ways, it was an excellent strategy to introduce this commentary series with a single volume on the shortest book in the Old Testament. It helps to immediately set it apart from other traditional series, and in addition, the format chosen works particularly well for a detailed study of a minor prophet. Considering how neglected the minor prophets can be in Christian preaching and teaching (besides Jonah, see below), with a commentary like this on your shelf, it would be easy to put together a fairly significant small group Bible study for 6 weeks that just focused on Obadiah. I say 6 weeks because Block divides the book into 5 key sections and then concludes the commentary as a whole with the aforementioned section on canonical and practical significance (instead of making it a section at the end of each chapter). If I happen to try that, I’ll let you know how it goes.


Daniel I. Block, Obadiah: The Kingship Belongs to YHWH (Hearing The Message of Scripture: A Commentary on The Old Testament). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, January 2014. 128 pp. Hardcover, $19.99.

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In addition to the volume on Obadiah, Zondervan also released the volume on Jonah at the outset. It would have been to nice to have a book from a different section of the Old Testament, but Jonah is sufficiently different from the rest of the minor prophets to stand out. Rather than a string of oracles, the book is a short narrative, and a commentary like this is perfect for the kind of analysis it needs, as Kevin Youngblood, associate professor of Biblical Studies at Harding University explains:

Jonah was selected as the subject of one of the first volumes for the series because it contains a relatively brief narrative in the style of classical Hebrew, a genre in which many of the greatest advances and the most assured results of text linguistic analysis have been achieved. In addition, the book contains a psalm suitable for piloting a text linguistic approach to the exegesis of Hebrew poetry (13).

So, by releasing these two volumes early, we are able to see how the series handles prophecy, narrative, and poetry. In his introduction proper, Youngblood digs into the canonical and historical context of Jonah, as well as the book’s rich literary context. One of my biggest surprises in seminary was during Hebrew II when I learned that Jonah wasn’t really a kid’s story about a big fish but was a tightly structured literary masterpiece full of irony, wordplay, and intense theological wrestling.

I have tried with varying success to pass these insights along to 9th graders. If I were going to spend more focused time on the book of Jonah in the course of my class, this is the commentary I’d go to. Youngblood divides the book up into 7 subsections, and each follows the above outlined format. Unlike Block’s book, Youngblood offers extended canonical and practical reflections at the end of each subsection rather than the book as a whole. This makes more sense given the content of Jonah, and also makes the study more usable in preaching and teaching contexts.

On the whole, though I’ve been brief about Jonah in particular, I’d highly recommend picking up this volume specifically if you want to check out this commentary series. Not to say there isn’t that much below the surface in Obadiah, but much of the wordplay and nuance in Jonah is inaccessible if you don’t know Hebrew. This volume helps you out and ties Jonah into a broader theological context for many of the issues the book raises. In addition, it has the advantages of honing Youngblood’s text linguistic approach in on the fine literary work that Jonah is. If this volume is any indication, you’ll want to keep an eye out for future releases as they become available.


Kevin J. Youngblood, Jonah: God’s Scandalous Mercy (Hearing The Message of Scripture: A Commentary on The Old Testament). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, January 2014. 192 pp. Hardcover, $29.99.

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1, 2, & 3 John (ZECNT)

December 16, 2014 — Leave a comment

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At this point, I think I’ve commented on every volume in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series:

Except of course for the two most recent volumes on 1, 2, 3 John and Mark. I’ll get to Mark later on down the road, but today we’ll look at the volume on John’s letters. This contribution comes from Karen Jobes, who is the Gerald F. Hawthorne Professor of New Testament Greek and Exegesis at Wheaton College and Graduate School. In addition to this volume, she has also written commentaries on Esther (NIVAC) and 1 Peter (BECNT).

To get a feel for the general flow of this commentary series, you should read this post as well as my review of James (linked above). Jobes volume sticks to the standard form, only altering it slightly because of the books she is commenting upon. She provides an introduction to the 3 letters as a whole before starting into the commentary on 1 John. Then, she offers specific short introductions to 2 John before its commentary, and then the same for 3 John. Then she offers a section summarizing the theology of John’s letters as a whole.

In her preface (13-14), Jobes gives 4 distinctives of her particular work on John’s letters:

  • It works under the assumption that the author of these letters was either the same as the Fourth Gospel, or a close associate
  • It understands the metaphors, images, and theology in the letters by using the Gospel of John as an interpretive framework
  • It does not assume an extended compositional history for John’s Gospel and so does not lean on sources whose interpretations rely on those reconstructions
  • It does not attempt to reconstruct a specific heresy behind 1 John, but assumes the truths in the letter could speak to a variety of issues

Jobes’ introduction to the letters as a whole is short, and is followed by a briefer orientation to 1 John specifically before the commentary proper. Along the way, Jobes delves into the following In-Depth sidebars:

  • Messiah or Christ? (on 1 John 1:1-4)
  • The Johannine Dualistic Framework (on 1 John 1:5-10)
  • “Truth” in John’s Letters (on 1 John 1:5-10)
  • Being of God in John’s Letters (on 1 John 2:15-17)
  • The “World” in John’s Letters (on 1 John 2:15-17)
  • “Love” in John’s Letters (on 1 John 4:7-16)
  • How the Johannine Comma Happened (on 1 John 5:4-13)
  • What We Know (on 1 John 5:14-21)
  • Which Gaius? (on 3 John 1-4)
  • What Was the Problem with Diotrephes? (on 3 John 9-11)

As you can see, many of the flashpoints are covered. In addition to all this, I found Jobes’ Theology in Application sections helpful because they often wrestle with the tension between being loving to others and calling out false beliefs. She notes frequently that although we see these activities to be in tension, there doesn’t seem to be the same issue for John. For some reason, I hadn’t really thought of it this way before, but John talks quite a bit about love and is very adamant of having right beliefs about who God is and what he had done. Though Jobes does not go into extensive detail on the actual practical outworkings, she makes a compelling case in several places that pointing out false beliefs is not antithetical to loving one another. Certainly one could go about it in an un-loving way, but the activity itself should stem from care about the beliefs and soul of the other person and a concern for their understanding of God. Jobes uses the Theology in Application sections to provide brief helpful theological scaffolding for doing this.

While this not the only commentary out there on 1 John, the layout in which it is presented and the wisdom that Jobes offers makes it a good one to consider for your library. If you are teaching or preaching through the book, you’ll benefit from the way this commentary series introduces each section of the text. The comments themselves provide enough explanation to be helpful but not exhaustive for most pastors, and the Theology in Application sections offer instructive direction for moving into concrete exhortations. I would probably situate it between Colin Kruse (PNTC) and Robert Yarbrough (BECNT) and would make those my three go-to volumes on these particular New Testament books (though I hope to eventually add I. Howard Marshall’s volume in the NICNT series). Jobes is a bit more substantial than Kruse but not as extensive as Yarbrough (or other technical commentary series). This volume has the added advantage of the practical focal point, which isn’t necessarily absent from volumes in the PNTC and BECNT series, but isn’t designed to be a specific feature in the outline of the commentary. If you’d like that balance of material in a single volume, you should consider picking this up!

Karen Jobes, 1, 2, & 3 John (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the NT)Grand Rapids: Zondervan, February 2014. 368 pp. Hardcover, $34.99.

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They actually have a whole album of Christmas songs if that’s your jam, and you can check out their label’s Christmas album that just came out.

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A couple months back as I was browsing the Wipf & Stock website, looking through Princeton Theological Monograph Series titles, this book caught my eye. Written by Melanie Dobson, a Methodist pastor with a Th.D in theology from Duke, Health as a Virtue: Thomas Aquinas and The Practice of Habits of Health is a book that uses wisdom from the past for practical theology in the present. I’m finding myself more and more interested in habit formation, and since I teach a health class (read: P.E.) at school, this seemed worth the read.

As I got into it, I discovered Dobson writes as someone who struggles with a chronic illness (ix). During her doctoral work, she was struck by Aquinas making frequent references to “health” in a section of his writings on Habit. Her basic argument is that Aquinas understands health as part of the moral life (ix). In the book, she not only fleshes this out, but she provides evidence of field research she completed involved a Clergy Health Initiative program in the UMC, as well as an evangelical organization called Word Made Flesh. She conducted interviews with participants in both of these programs to see if Aquinas’ insights actually worked. As she concludes her preface,

I offer to you, my readers, not a quick-fix diet book or exercise plan for greater physical health. To practice health as a virtue in accordance with Aquinas’s thinking engages all of our being. However, flourishing with God is worth the moral effort. May you be well. (x)

From here, after brief acknowledgements, she launches into the first part of the book. The opening chapter briefly recounts her personal journey, setting the stage for groundwork in Aristotle in chapter 2. With this foundation laid, she moves to Aquinas’ account of habit in general (chapter 3), and his writing on health in particular (chapter 4). In this latter chapter she correlates the seven aspects of habit with Aquinas’ thought on health. For Aquinas, habits

  • Have a lasting quality
  • Orient to action
  • Bear repeating
  • Increase, decrease, and are corruptible
  • Constitute virtue
  • Can be infused by God
  • Have a telos

She notes in conclusion:

Aquinas adopts, adapts, and elaborates upon Aristotelian philosophy of habit and health to develop his own moral strategy. Aquinas offers dual meanings of health that allow both for health to be a status, and a habit. Health as a status retains no moral component, and fluctuates dependent upon a person’s heredity, immune system, and constitution. At the same time health can comprise part of a virtuous life as a person cultivates lasting habits in order to care for her wellbeing (38).

She goes on to clarify by way of summary that health for Aquinas is not synonymous with the WHO definition, salvation, the summum bonum, or an idol. From here, Dobson moves to a section of four chapters that take this notion of habit and health and apply it into several areas. She starts with the interface of body and soul (chapter 5), before exploring our passions/desires and their relationship to our health (chapter 6). Then, she examines the actions of habits of health (chapter 7) before finishing out the first part of the book looking at the end or telos of habits of health. The final section of the book details her two case studies mentioned above before a brief concluding chapter.

Though I’ve done some reading on healthy living and practical theology, I think this is the first book that is rigorously theological in its approach to health. There is much wisdom to be found in Aquinas on habit formation, so this makes for a helpful read to orient you to health in theological perspective. Because Dobson lives with a chronic illness herself, she doesn’t present the insights as if they will guarantee you won’t get sick or struggle with a disease. Rather, she present health as a habit of the body and soul that one lives out in spite of sickness and disease. Not everyone who gets sick is living an unhealthy lifestyle and not everyone who seems healthy on the outside actually is. Dobson’s work will help provide a theological framework for thinking about this topic, as well as open avenues for further exploration.

Melanie L. Dobson, Health as a Virtue: Thomas Aquinas and The Practice of Habits of Health (Princeton Theological Monograph Series). Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, June 2014. 170 pp. Paperback,$20.00.

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Thanks to Pickwick Publications for the review copy!

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