According to my back-end stats page, here are the top 10 posts on the blog this year:

  1. Why I Dropped The Horner Bible Reading Plan
  2. 4 Steps To Better Bible Study
  3. Inception Within Inception
  4. How To Worship When You Think The Songs Suck
  5. How To Be More Productive In College
  6. Why The Spinning Top in Inception Doesn’t Matter
  7. My Adjustments To Prof. Horner’s Bible Reading Plan
  8. Faith That Moves Mountains: A Prosperity Gospel Blunder
  9. A Flexible Bible Reading Plan For 2013
  10. Christ Centered Biblical Counseling

It is interesting to me, but not all that surprising that only one book review made it into the top 10. Part of that is the transient nature of book reviews. The other part of that is for some reason I do really well in SEO when it comes to a) Inception and b) Prof. Horner’s Bible reading plan. The other posts that have done well have been because they were shared on other blogs, something that doesn’t happen too often with book reviews, and when it does, doesn’t necessarily generate many clicks.

I realize all this of course, and part of that is why I pushed so many reviews into the last month. I’d like to start reviewing less and less (for reasons I’ll explain later), and refocus on actually writing original material more. I know I’ve said that before, but hey, it’s almost a new year, so things like that come with the territory.

Looking back though, because of the end of the year push, I actually out-did last year’s total of 72, and got up to a nice round 80 (it’ll actually be 81 New Year’s Eve and almost doubles 2011′s 41 total). To be fair, not all are full-scale reviews, and not all are of equal quality. Some are rather extensive, others not so much. But, here they are, broken up by the old category system I had on the review page (click here to see the new more easy to use one):

Biblical Studies

  1. Proverbs: Wisdom That Works
  2. Paul’s Missionary Methods: In His Time and Ours
  3. God’s Saving Grace: A Pauline Theology
  4. Paul’s Letter to The Romans (PNTC)
  5. Exploring The Religion of Ancient Israel
  6. The Book of Judges (NICOT)
  7. Song of Solomon: An Invitation to Intimacy
  8. Ephesians (ZECNT)
  9. Simon Peter: In Scripture and Memory
  10. Jesus The Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King
  11. The Unfolding Mystery of The Divine Name
  12. The Invention of The Biblical Scholar
  13. Charts on The Book of Hebrews
  14. Romans (Teach The Text)
  15. Charts on Paul’s Letters
  16. 40 Questions About Interpreting The Bible
  17. Between Babel and Beast: America and Empire in Biblical Perspective
  18. Jesus Is Lord: Caesar Is Not
  19. The Epistle to The Hebrews (NICNT)
  20. Interpreting The Pauline Letters: An Exegetical Handbook
  21. Preaching The New Testament
  22. Jesus On Every Page
  23. Matthew (ZECNT)
  24. What The Old Testament Authors Really Cared About
  25. The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ In The Old Testament
  26. In The Beginning We Misunderstood: Interpreting Genesis 1 in Its Original Context
  27. Horizons in Hermeneutics and The Future of Biblical Interpretation
  28. Galatians (ZECNT)
  29. Colossians/Philemon (ZECNT)
  30. 1 & 2 Thessalonians (ZECNT)
  31. A Theology of Luke and Acts: God’s Promised Program, Realized For All Nations
  32. Luke (ZECNT)
  33. Acts (ZECNT)
  34. The Basics of Ancient Ugaritic: A Concise Grammar, Workbook, and Lexicon
  35. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentaries
  36. A Mouth Full of Fire: The Word of God in The Words of Jeremiah (NSBT)
  37. The Sermon on The Mount (The Story of God Bible Commentary)
  38. Job (Teach The Text)
  39. Jesus Is The Christ: The Messianic Testimony of The Gospels


  1. The End of Our Exploring
  2. Words For Readers and Writers
  3. Popcultured: Thinking Christianly About Style, Media, and Entertainment
  4. Echoes of Eden: Reflections on Christianity, Literature, and The Arts
  5. Renewing The Evangelical Mission
  6. The New Calvinism Considered: A Personal and Pastoral Assessment
  7. Gray Matters: Navigating The Space Between Legalism and Liberty

Historical Theology

  1. The Quest For The Trinity
  2. Calvin and The Reformed Tradition
  3. The Unrelieved Paradox
  4. Scripture and Tradition: What The Bible Really Says
  5. Classical Christian Doctrine
  6. Church History Volume 2: From Pre-Reformation to Present Day

Practical Theology

  1. Who Do You Think You Are? Finding Your True Identity in Christ
  2. Center Church & Gospel Treason
  3. Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling
  4. Father Hunger: Why God Calls Men To Love and Lead Their Families
  5. Understanding Spiritual Warfare: Four Views
  6. Sex & Money: Pleasures That Leave You Empty and Grace That Satisfies
  7. Outreach and The Artist: Sharing The Gospel With The Arts
  8. Prepared By Grace, For Grace
  9. The Big Story: How The Bible Makes Sense Out of Life
  10. Saving Eutychus: How To Preach God’s Word and Keep People Awake
  11. Formed For The Glory of God
  12. Is God Anti-Gay?
  13. Death By Living: Life Is Meant To Be Spent
  14. A Neglected Grace: Family Worship In The Christian Home
  15. Finally Free: Fighting For Purity With The Power of Grace
  16. Reading The Christian Spiritual Classic: A Guide for Evangelicals
  17. Awakening Faith: Daily Devotions From The Early Church
  18. Preaching? Simple Teaching on Simply Preaching
  19. Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret: Why Serial Innovators Succeed Where Others Fail
  20. Risky Gospel: Abandon Fear and Build Something Awesome

Systematic Theology

  1. Sojourner and Strangers: The Doctrine of The Church
  2. The Mystery of God: Theology For Knowing the Unknowable
  3. Pilgrim Theology: Core Doctrines for Christian Disciples
  4. Rethinking The Trinity and Religious Pluralism
  5. Justification By Grace Through Faith
  6. Four Views on The Role of Works At The Final Judgment
  7. The God of The Gospel: Robert Jenson’s Trinitarian Theology
  8. Five Points: Toward A Deeper Experience of God’s Grace



This post will be much briefer than yesterday’s. I’ve seen a lot of great deals for Kindle books, and just thought you’d like a list of them. Even if you don’t have a Kindle, this can be a great opportunity to get digital copies of some great resources. Much like yesterday, I’m listing these according to the categories I use for my book review page.


Biblical Theology

Christian Worldview

Christian Living


Historical Theology


Old Testament

Practical Theology

Systematic Theology


It’s the day after Christmas. Some of you all got those books you wanted for Christmas. Others got books, and others got the most versatile gift of all for the bibliophile: the Amazon Gift Card. 1

While my not-so-well-publicized Great Christmas Book Preview was an attempt to help with Christmas shopping, this is a much clearer stab at helping you post-Christmas shop. I’ve got about $100 myself to work with ($50 for Amazon, $50 in cash), so we’re all in the same boat together.

Given that several people have asked if I was going to jump on the “10 Best Books I Read in 2013″ bandwagon, this is my roundabout way of doing so. According to Goodreads, I read 159 books this year (make that 160+ by Tuesday). Now, in some cases, “Read” means I’m through with the book, not that I read every page cover to cover (because that’s not how you read a book in many cases, see more here). For the majority though, it means I did what you normally think of when you think “Read.” Let’s say a good 120-130 were cover to cover trips.

As you’ll see tomorrow, I posted 80 book reviews this past year. Many of the 159 total books I read were reviewed, though some of the books reviewed and recorded I didn’t check as read (and you can figure out how that works, here’s a hint though: they were reference books for the most part). Let’s say in general though, I was reviewing about 50% of the books I read.

The more interesting stat, and what this post is ultimately dedicated to, is the number of 5 star rated books I read this past year. As I’ve said before, I don’t give many 5-star ratings, And I think the stats bear that out. Of the 159 books, I gave 5 stars to 38 of them (that’s around 25% of the total). I’m going to throw in 2 honorable mentions to make this my “Top 40 Books I Read in 2013” post.

I’ve decided to break it down into categories, and I’ll follow the new category system I’ve added to the book review page. I’m adding the category “Leisure” since many of the 5 star books fall into that category, though no book reviews generally do (and you can maybe guess why). I’m also removing the category “Commentaries,” because though I did rate a few 5 stars, I’m just not including them on this list of “Read” books. If you’re looking to pick up commentaries, you should consult these two series that I completed this year:

Since most people that got a gift card for books got one for Amazon (I’m assuming), that’s what site I’m linking you to, but in the interest of your savings, you might want to double check Westminster Bookstore for a better price. Without further delay though, here’s my top 40 of 2013:


Biblical Theology

Christian Worldview

Christian Living

Historical Theology



Old Testament


Practical Theology

Systematic Theology


  1. Still others did not want books, and so were not disappointed by not getting them. If that’s you, then this post (and really my blog in general) has nothing to offer you

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

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

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

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Baker Books for the review copy!

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

Buy itAmazon

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!

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

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

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

Buy itAmazon

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!

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.