Review: John (NTL)

Marianne Meye Thompson, the George Eldon Ladd Professor on the New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, has written a fine commentary on John. She employs narrative and historical criticism, choosing to focus “on the narrative and on the broad cultural milieu” from which John’s narrative arose. Basically, she looks at the story of John’s Gospel and examines the culture and history to illuminate the meanings of Jesus’ actions or words (such as the Festival of Tabernacles to understand Jesus’ words in John 7).

However, Thompson also acknowledges that history cannot ell us everything we need to know about Jesus. Many have pondered over whether John presents “the Jesus of history” to his readers, but “the inadequacy of historical reconstruction is already evident in the opening words of the Gospel, where Jesus the Messiah (1:17) is introduced as the Word through whom the world was made, who became flesh, and who is now ever with the Father” (9). Historical reconstruction cannot go back into eternity. It remains within the world of the created and it cannot inform us about who the pre-incarnate Word is, how he had glory with the Father before the world existed (17:5), and what Jesus has done since ascending back to the Father. The three statements in the quote above present the “cosmic identity of the Word as the agent of life” (9). They are confessional statements who tell us who Jesus really is. He is a Jesus who we could not previously see with our eyes, who we cannot see now, but who we will see. We will see him “as he is” (1 Jn 3.2).

John is clearly different from the Synoptic Gospels. Following Richard Bauckham, Thompson disagrees that John the Apostle, the son of Zebedee, wrote the Gospel of John. Instead the Beloved Disciple, whoever he was, was known to the readers and is trustworthy (21:24). Since he was “the first to believe in the risen Lord and to believe without seeing, [he] is also the witness behind the Gospel, to believe in the witness of the Gospel is to believe the witness of this one who saw Jesus” (428). Thompson says, “What we have in John is a narrative account of who a first-century Christian author understood Jesus to be” (22). Though I disagree with her over the Gospel’s author, John brings his own perspective to the table. He emphasizes Jesus’ postresurrection appearances for they give life to his followers and perspective to his life ministry and teachings (2:22; 12:16).

Thompson writes seven pages on John’s perspective and witness to Jesus, with the introduction itself being only 24 pages. Her introduction, though brief, is not concerned with a Johannine community and its hypothetical problems, teachings, and needs. While John did have an intended audience, we cannot discover that audience based on John’s Gospel. Thompson posits that John’s Gospel was written in the latter end of the first century for believers in Ephesus. Ultimately, his Gospel is written for all people that we may know and understand who this Christ is through his ministry.

Thompson divides John into six section and includes nine excursus (see below). She offers her own translation and provides a few textual notes after each translation. Each chapter in John is divided into a few smaller section, and each section may cover four to eight pages. She illuminates John’s purpose without boring her reader.

Sometimes Thompson doesn’t explicitly answer some kind of difficulty or seeming contradiction. One example would be the timing of Jesus’ temple cleansing in John 2. After noting that both Jesus’ temple cleansing and donkey-ridden entry into Jerusalem occurred on Passover, Thompson says, “At the first Passover, Jesus’ action in the temple prefigures Jesus’ death and resurrection; at the last Passover in the Gospel, Jesus goes to his death.” She then includes a footnote on those commentators who understand the temple cleansing to have happened early in Jesus’ ministry and late in his ministry.

Though I would have appreciated seeing Thompson elaborate on whether she thought this was the same temple cleansing as in the Synoptics, I must also point out that this is not the intended function of her commentary. She shows what John is doing narratively: he’s highlighting Jesus’ death and resurrection with the temple at the beginning and end of his ministry. There are other places in her commentary where Thompson does not “answer” a problem I have. It may very well be because it does not fit with her methodology.

But historically, did this occur twice in Jesus’ life or once? Again, Thompson looks at the cultural (e.g., the woman at the well) and historical events in Jesus’ life (e.g., the various festivals), not over every detail of his (albeit historical) life.

The Chocolate Milk

I don’t want to end this review on a sour note. I very much enjoyed Thompson’s commentary. She shows sympathy to the woman at the well by pointing out that the woman’s five previous marriages would have ended in death or divorce, and if divorce, she would have been cast off by the husband. She may be living immorally with the sixth husband, or perhaps in desperation. Either way Jesus does not condemn her, but “many commentators and preachers have hastened to fill the void!” (103). She doesn’t think that John 6 refers directly to the Lord’s Supper, but that there are legitimate connections between them. In John 3.5, the phrase “water and spirit” refer to a single birth (81). John 21 shows the life-giving and sending work of Jesus to the world through his disciples. He is alive, he validates the beloved disciples’ witness, and he sends his disciples, specifically Peter, out with a mission just as he was sent.

Recommended?

Marianne Thompson has written a fine commentary on John’s Gospel which would be helpful for the student, teacher, and pastor. She helpfully keeps the story in mind as she goes through each section of the text, reminding the reader that Jesus, the Word, exercises God’s authority in his words, actions, death, and resurrection. He gives life so that other may know God and live with him forever.

Lagniappe

  • Series: New Testament Library
  • Author: Marianne Meye Thompson
  • Hardcover: 568 pages
  • Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press (November 6, 2015)

Buy it on Amazon or Westminster John Knox Press

Disclosure: I received this book free from Westminster John Knox Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Review: Interpreting Revelation and Other Apocalyptic Literature

The fourth in a four-volume series, C. Marvin Pate examines “apocalyptic literature as it begins in the Old Testament, develops in Second Temple Judaism, and culminates in the New Testament, especially in the book of Revelation, all the while demonstrating how to communicate the message of that literature to today’s audience” (21). Each volume contains eight elements (which make up Pate’s chapters):

  1. The Genre and Figures of Speech of Apocalyptic Literature
  2. The Historical Background of Prophetic-Apocalyptic Books
  3. The Function of Apocalypticism and the Theme of Israel’s Story
  4. Preparing to Interpret the Text
  5. Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic Literature
  6. Communicating a Passage in Revelation
  7. From Text to Sermon: Two Examples
  8. Selected Sources

Each chapter has an opening “Chapter at a Glance” section and a closing “Chapter in Review” section to help summarize the information. Pate’s book isn’t very long, but he’s able to provide a lot of information for the reader to digest (inhale?).

The first three chapters provide an overall understanding to the apocalyptic genre. In chapter one, using J. J. Collins’ definition (which has now become the standard definition to the genre), the apocalypse “is a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherwordly being to a human recipient disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another, supernatural world” (30). Books in this genre each have a specific kind of form, content, and function-although Pate only defines what the “function” aspect is. The function of the apocalyptic genre is to remind the letter’s recipients that they are still in exile, and defecting from God brings covenant curses on oneself, but staying faithful to him will bring covenant blessings-the presence of the Messiah himself (32).

Chapter two shows how apocalypticism retells Israel’s story “in light of the imminent end/actual fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians” as seen in Isaiah 24-27, 56-66, Joel 2-3, and Ezekiel 38-39 (p. 49). Other retellings of Israel’s story that are examined are Daniel 9-12 and Zechariah 9-14. The Oliviet Discourse and Revelation 6 (as well as the whole letter of Revelation) are apocalyptic reapplications of the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Chapter three provides the function of apocalypticism. Pate examines the main themes of Israel’s story (sin, exile, and restoration) and shows how they are seen in seven apocalyptic books (Daniel, 1 Enoch, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Revelation, the Testament of Moses, 4 Ezra, and 2 Baruch). He shows how other aspects of the apocalyptic genre are seen in these books, such as the covenantal blessings and curses, otherworldly beings, journeys, and mediators, and more.  (Pate also mentioned that, in an unpublished study, he has “applied the entire taxonomy of the genre of apocalypticism to these seven works,” p. 80. Yet, if the study is unpublished, how does that help the reader?).

Chapter four is a short lesson on text criticism and Bible translation (see more on that below). Chapter five focuses on some of the background issues such as author, date of writing, and major system of interpretation. Pate, who admits he is the only person he knows of who has seen this, thinks the Arch of Titus is behind Revelation 4-19. “The Arch of Titus depicts three parts of the victor’s triumph: (a) the pre-parade, (2) the procession, and (3) the sacrifice and feast. Revelation 4-5 includes parallels to the pre-parade; Revelation 6-18 includes parallels to the procession; and Revelation 19 includes parallels to the sacrifice and feast” (153). Some aspects seem to fit, others do not, but that is up to the reader to decide. The syntactical function of words and semantics are briefly covered at the end of the chapter. Chapter six helps guide the reader on how to communicate a passage in Revelation (mainly 1:1-3) to today’s audience. Chapter seven (which I talk more about below) gives two examples on how to bring the text to the sermon.

The Spoiled Milk

Pate’s tables don’t always work.

  • On page 197 is a table comparing the old covenant of Israel in the Deuteronomy with the new covenant in Romans. He tries to show how the order of Romans follows the order of Deuteronomy, but because there isn’t much explanation concerning how these sections work, it made little sense to me.
  • The same goes with the comparison of the covenant format of Deuteronomy with Revelation 1:1-3 (173), only there Pate was able to provide more explanation, which I still found confusing.
  • On page 37, Pate gives a chart which “demonstrates how the covenant structure of Deuteronomy thoroughly informs the letters to the seven churches in Revelation.” Yet strangely, before this point Pate hasn’t provided his outline of Deuteronomy (this doesn’t come until later in the book, see p. 82). So while the reader can see the genre divisions, he won’t know how Pate divides Deuteronomy until later on in the book, which is, again, unhelpful. Most of the other charts, however, were very informative and laid out well.

Chapter four, Preparing to Interpret the Text, was unnecessary. Most of the chapter covered textual criticism, something that the reader-exegete should already know about. It’s too difficult to compress the ocean of textual criticism into a single chapter, especially in such a short book as this one. It would have served the reader better to see textual critical examples in Revelation instead (which is done on a page and a half in this chapter, and a few pages in later chapters).

I was also disappointed in chapter seven, From Text to Sermon: Two Examples, because neither of them dealt with Revelation. Although they deal with apocalyptic literature sections (Romans 11:25-27 and 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7), how does this help the reader with Revelation, especially with the seal, bowl, and trumpet judgments? While chapter six was helpful, that only dealt with the first three verses. How does the pastor take Revelation’s parallels with the other apocalyptic literature and preach that to his congregation? Perhaps he shouldn’t preach it, but at least he’ll have the knowledge stored away for his own knowledge and growth.

There were a few spelling mistakes throughout the book (32, 204), and two times that the parenthetical statements weren’t closed properly (57, 148). Also, see my quote above on the Arch of Titus (p. 153) where, in the three listed items, the listing goes from alphabetical (“a”) to numerical (“2” and “3”).

Recommended?

Unfortunately, if you’re looking for a book to help you with sermon preparation, give this book a pass. Pate has some interesting ideas (like the Arch of Titus), a view I hope to see people interact with, however, his book is too clunky and messy, there is too much going on, and I didn’t find it very helpful to use in interpretation. If you want a book that offers parallels between the apocalyptic books, there is a lot of good information here. However, I don’t see how it is very helpful as an exegetical handbook. Pastors can stick with Keener’s NIVAC volume, along with either deSilva, Beale, Mounce, or Osborne (or all of the above).

Lagniappe

  • Series: Handbooks for New Testament Interpretation
  • Author: C. Marvin Pate
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Kregel Academic (November 27, 2016)

Buy it on Amazon or Kregel Academic

Disclosure: I received this book free from Kregel Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Review: The Pastoral Letters (BHGNT)

The Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament (BHGNT) series is like a prequel, so to speak. When you as a pastor, or professor, or interpreter arrives at your text, you first translate your text. Then you turn to Wallace, Robertson, or any number of other grammars to tease out the details before you turn to your own exegesis. Now that you’ve done your own work, where should you turn next? This is where the BHGNT comes in. Before you turn to another commentary, and after you’ve done your own grammatical analysis, you pull open Larry Perkins’ The Pastoral Letters to double-check your work or perhaps to see what he says on a particularly sticky issue. Your order might go something like this:

Translation BHGNT Exegesis Commentaries

I’ve placed exegesis after Perkins’ BHGNT volume because you may want to double check your grammatical and translational work before you go ahead with your exegesis.

The BHGNT series deals with parsing, grammar, syntax, semantics, discourse (using Runge, but it mostly remains on the sentence level), and some text criticism. If you’ve ever scoured certain exegetical commentaries (e.g., BECNT, NIGTC) looking for answers to your specific Greek questions, you may have come away disappointed.

In his introduction, Perkins doesn’t explicitly come down on who the author of the Pastoral epistles is, but he does say, in his opinion, that “the Greek idiolect employed in these letters fits comfortably in the sixth decade of the first century,” in the final years of Paul’s ministry (ca. 63-65 A.D.) (xix). Household codes were commonly written about in this period (Perkins points to Aristotle, Politics, I.1253b1-13). Paul takes this motif and puts them into his letters to show how God’s household should live before the world. “Approved conduct in God’s household … is foundational for the accomplishment of the church’s mission… [and it] refutes the claims of false teachers” (xxii).

Perkins lists fourteen different kinds of rhetorical features in these three letters, such as: alliteration, asyndeton, hendiadys, paranomasia, periodic sentence, polysyndeton, and more. Deponent verbs are written as middle verbs as scholars have been working on understanding these verbs within their historical context. Perkins gives thirteen different semantic categories for middle verbs which appears in these letters. He has two sections on the use of the article with κύριος and with πίστις and a section on the meanings of οἶκος and οἰκία (xxviii-xxxi).

Example Passages

1 Tim 2.11, ἐν πάσῃ ὑποταγῇ: Manner. The sense of πάσῃ is ‘complete’ and suggests an elative idea. The noun ὑποταγῇ defines the relational posture in such learning contexts. It indicates a deferential attitude that recognizes the authority of the teacher and places a learner in the proper rank or order with respect to that authority. The nature of the deference offered will vary with the situation and the relationship. (43).

1 Tim 2.12, αὐθεντεῖν: “Pres act inf αὐθεντέω …. Baldwin’s analysis … given that the verb functions transitively here, suggests that it probably means ‘to compel, influence,’ or ‘to control, dominate.’ If this infinitive is understood as providing a more specific description of prohibited behavior (n.b. the repeated reference to ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ), a domineering or controlling exercise of authority exhibited by some women in teaching may be the activity prohibited in this verse. (44)

1 Tim 3.11, γυναῖκας: “Accusative subject of the implied infinitive εἶναι. This accusative plural noun continues the series begun with ἐπίσκοπον and followed by διακόνους (3:8). Debate arises over whether γυναῖκας refers to women who function as διάκονοι, to wives of the candidates for this function, or to women filling a function different from a διάκονος. The use of ὡσαύτως in v. 11 suggests another category similar to or belonging to διακόνους. (64)

2 Tim 1.7, πνεῦμα: Perkins understands this to be a reference to the Holy Spirit, referencing Fee who “supports a reference to the Holy Spirit by noting the writer’s use of τὸ χάρισμα in v. 6, which is often associated with the Holy Spirit. Note also the mention of the Holy Spirit in v. 14.” (163)

Titus 2.11, πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις: “Dative of advantage. This dative may also function as the indirect object of ‘επεφάνη, but its placement after σωτήριος suggests that it qualifies this adjective (i.e., “bringing salvation to all people”). πᾶσιν has an inclusive sense (i.e., “all people without exception”). (267-68)

Titus 2.13, τοῦ μεγάλου θεοῦ καὶ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ: Perkins says that “the Granville Sharp rule … seems to apply here” (270). Further down the page he adds, “If the analysis of the previous genitives as part of a TSKS construction is plausible, with this last expression the writer leaves no doubt as to whose glory is going to be revealed and equates Jesus Christ with ‘our great God and Savior.’”

Recommended?

Perkins refers to different grammarians and studies such as Campbell, Moule, Pennington, Porter, Runge, and others. Perkins covers every word, even if just to provide a curt description, while other words will receive a hefty paragraph. This book brings together the best insights to figure out the meaning and function of words. It is not meant to explain Paul’s flow of thought (at least, not broadly) nor how one section relates to another. It is an in-depth look at how the Greek works so that you can understand what Paul is saying before you move on to your own exegesis.

If you’re preparing for a sermon or a Bible study, if your learning Greek, or if you’re trying to keep the rust away, get Perkins’ volume on the Pastoral epistles and grow in the knowledge of God’s word (and the struggle of wrestling with Greek).

Lagniappe

  • Series: Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament
  • Author: Larry Perkins
  • Paperback: 343 pages
  • Publisher: Baylor University Press (August 1, 2017)

Buy it on Amazon or Baylor University Press

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baylor University Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Review: Surviving and Thriving in Seminary

You’ve felt it—a desire, a pull, a call to ministry. Where do you start? Who do you talk to? Should you go to seminary? Where? Which one? M.A.? M.Div? PhD? How long will this take? Will go into debt? Do I have to learn the languages? What about my wife? Husband? Kids? Where do I go from here?

H. Daniel Zacharias (Acadia Divinity College) and Benjamin Forrest (Liberty University) have written Surviving and Thriving in Seminary to provide the budding future minister/academic/exegete with a guide to not only survive seminary, but even to thrive within its classrooms, cafeterias, and late night Greek dormitory study sessions.

Summary

There are three parts to S&TS: (1) Preparation, (2) Managing time and energy, and (3) Study skills and tools.

(1) Preparation

One must understand that he does not know everything, and he will hear and learn new ideas in seminary. It can be overwhelming (especially when the languages are added to the mix). Those who have either received their bachelor’s in theology or have read a lot will likely not be greeted with such a shock, but there days will be consumed with work nonetheless! Not all classes are about “the Bible,” per se.  Counseling and leadership classes are based off of the Bible and will require you to think in ways you haven’t before—especially if your forte is in the theology or music department—and vice versa.

There is an important section on the languages as most people will have to learn them. Start learning early! It will give you more breathing room when you begin your classes to know that you at least know the alphabet (and maybe even a few nouns too). Knowing the alphabet (along with nouns and adjectival forms) ahead of time certainly gave me some breathing room in Hebrew.

But all of your reading cannot replace Bible reading and study. Hopefully you will have good Bible teachers who require you to read the Bible for their class (maybe they’ll require you to read the Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel in a week each—along with the rest of you usual class reading). In seminary, you’re digging a well. You don’t want your thirty year ministry to be only one inch deep. You need to have something to say from the pulpit each week and to those whom you counsel and help throughout the week while still growing in your relationship with the Lord (and your family!). It is vital.

(2) Managing time and energy

If you have a spouse, and if you have kids, both your time and energy will be divided. Whether you are married or single, it’s a good habit to get started on the big projects as soon as you can. If and when possible, frontloading your semesters will bring great ease to the end of your semester when you are tired and ready for it all to be over. In four chapters, Danny and Ben help you to see that you need to keep your family first, set up your calendar, work hard, eat well, exercise (see below), find friends who will work instead of play around and who can critique your papers. Be on top of your classes and always take responsibility. Danny and Ben give helpful tips on managing seminary with the ministry.

(3) Study skills and tools

This section sets you up with some skills for the library, reading books (and remembering what you read), and with writing essays, book reviews, and papers. The final chapter informs you about some of the right tools to use—different apps, word processors, bible software, flash cards, citation software (extremely helpful), and more.

Three appendices

  1. Choosing a Seminary (What does my spouse think? study on campus? online? where to go? who are the professors? cost? will I have to move?);
  2. Paying for Seminary (who will work? part time? full-time? how many years will this take, and are we really willing to wait? Make a budget; if you’re tight on money, consider avoiding a car and using public transportation);
  3. A Word to Spouses (root for your spouse, remind them to work and rest, keep your date night, pray for your spouse, and more).

Two sections which stood out to me were those on exercise and grumbling.

Exercise: Students have so much going on in seminary—classes, reading, papers, exams, work, food, family, sleep—that exercise, for many, is on a post-seminary graduation to-do list. Yet exercise will actually focus your mind more and help you to be more disciplined (and your back will thank you for it). This is important because my back has been causing me problems, yet the nature of seminary requires a lot of sitting. A good swim, plenty of breaks to walks, healthy food and plenty of water make for a better seminary experience (and it will give you more energy and make you feel better).

Grumbling: Before seminary, I had two years of Bible school, one year and a half of teaching the Bible (with plenty of reading), and another year of just reading. I don’t know it all, nor could I explain everything with perfect clarity; at the same time I have been easily frustrated with the classes my degree requires. I’d rather theology, books of the Bible, and language classes than ministry classes. I’d also rather just take a PhD, but that’s not the nature of how this works. While not every class can be a gem, there have been a few that were surprisingly enjoyable (and others that, if nothing else, taught patience).

What should you do when the grumbling, self-pity temptation arises? Remember the Lord’s graciousness in saving you. Remember how he led you to your seminary, the doors that he opened, the jobs and funds he has given you to pay for this, the wonderful friends you’ve made, the church you attend, and for the opportunity to be there, work hard, and learn as much as you can. One day it will be behind you, and you might even miss the days where that one boring class actually turned out to be a nice break for you.

Recommended?

If you are planning to head to seminary, and you aren’t sure what to expect, pick up this book. It won’t solve all of your problems, but it will be your guide on ways that will make your seminary experience. Yes, you will still have to do the work, but you can either have a lot of work and a bad seminary experience, or you can have a lot of work and a great seminary experience. Space out your work, make new friends, enjoy your family, meet your professors and don’t be afraid to ask them questions. Make the most of the time while you have it, for one day you will be serving somewhere else, and you won’t be able to walk into that professor’s office to ask for his or her discernment over your theological dilemma. Instead, others will be coming to you doing just that.

Lagniappe

  • Authors: H. Daniel Zacharias/Benjamin Forrest
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (April 19, 2017)

Buy it on Amazon or Lexham Press

Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Review: Baptist Foundations

Recommended?

This review will begin backwards. Why even be interested in a book like Baptist Foundations? Students and laymen may (and should) take interest in this, whether to know the views of Baptist friends or to be able to interact with a solid book in their own denomination, this book has a lot of weight to it. But Baptist Foundations is pertinent for pastors and elders—yes, of any denomination (to wrestle and interact with)—but certainly of Baptist churches. In the foreword, James Garrett Jr. says,

Most beliefs that have ever been claimed as Baptist distinctives are ecclesiological in nature; for example, regenerate church membership, believer’s baptism by immersion, various forms of close or strict Communion, congregational polity and autonomy, religious liberty, separation of church and state, and so forth. (ix)

Baptist Foundations is written with Ephesians 4.11–14 in mind. The pastors/elders/overseers (and the deacons!) are not to take all of the work upon themselves, but they are to train the church for ministry both within the church body and outside among those whom they rub shoulders with on a daily basis. The local church—the elders and the members—has been given the keys of the kingdom. This book seeks to teach how to use them properly by presenting the proper structure of the church.

Summary

In the Preface, Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman state, “Church polity, most fundamentally, is about exercising God’s authority after him” (xvi). Some revile the idea of being under authority in a church (and some have good reason!), but nonetheless, God has desired to show the world his authority ruled through his church (1 Cor 6.1–8, 9–11). They add, “The congregation is called to exercise one kind of authority, the elders or pastors another kind” (xvi).

After calling for a return to a concern for church polity and an ongoing (or a brand new) humble submission to the Christ-given authority of a local church body, the reader arrives at the Introduction (Leeman). According to Leeman, polity officiates (or “establishes”) a local church, it guards what the gospel message is and who its believers are (and doesn’t mix them with non-believers), it shapes Christian discipleship, strengthens a church’s witness through the hard work of the shepherds to train their members in knowing the Word and understanding our redemption in Christ.

There are five sections to Baptist Foundations. One of the primary distinctives among Baptists is the authority given to the church as seen in Matthew 18.15–18. In part one, Michael Haykin provides the historical background to the rise of congregationalism (ch. 1), and Stephen and Kirk Wellum provide the biblical and theological case for it (2).

In part two, Shawn Wright prepares the reader by five ways through which we should understand the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (3). Wright spends two chapters (5 and 7) on the history and theology of these two ordinances, and Tom Schreiner gives two chapters on how these two ordinances are taught in the Bible (4 and 6). Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are for those who proclaim Christ as their Lord—thus, it is not to be given to infants. In baptism believers remember Christ’s death and resurrection for them. At the Supper, they remember how he died for them, and they look forward to the great eschatological banquet of the new creation.

In part three, John Hammett and Thomas White cover church membership and discipline. Though some churches have used church membership to bring guilt on their members who don’t do or give enough, church membership shows you are committed to the church and it’s members (8 and 9). In this commitment, all have God-given authority to keep one another (including the leadership) accountable. Leeman says, “A local church is a real-life embassy, set in the present, that represents Christ’s future kingdom and his coming universal church” (171). All members are to be regenerate. No church is perfect, but it ought to be easier to maintain sound doctrine with fully regenerate church members than with a mixed membership (for what non-Christian wants to follow Christ’s commands?). This section covers some practical matters as to when and how church discipline should (and should not) occur (10).

Part four covers elders and deacons. Dever scans through history to show how the biblical plurality of elders and deacons changed to what is seen today in many churches and denominations (11). Ben Merckle shows how in the Bible the terms “elder,” “overseer,” “pastor,” and “shepherd” all refer to the same church position (12). There is no notion of a senior pastor nor of an official distinction between elders who teach and elders who rule. Merckle then covers the qualifications (13) for plural eldership and their role (14) in church office. They work hard, lead, admonish, shepherd, equip—all with limited authority over the church members, but equal authority with the other elders (whether full-time or not). Merckle examines the office of deacon (16), and Andrew Davis lays out some practical issues to both elders (15) and deacons (17).

Part five, consisting of two chapters written by Leeman, covers the church and churches. (18) Leeman looks at the unity of the church throughout church history in the dual lenses of holiness (“Who is holy, and what makes a person holy?”) and apostolicity (“Who or what possesses the apostle’s authority, and what is it an authority to do?”—p. 334). Do Christians become members of a church through their status as saints or through what the church has been authorized to do—Christians enter through baptism? For Leeman, the church—the elders and the members—hold the keys to the kingdom (Matt 18.18). All Christians and their churches are united together under the Gospel, but local church members (i.e., those of the same church body) can “participate in the formal discipline of one another, whereas two Christians belonging to different churches cannot” (366).

In the final chapter (20), Leeman provides 25 practical implications from this book for Baptist churches.

Still Recommended?

We live in an anti-institutional age. Many have been burned by churches and have broken away from them. To them, it is appropriate to do so for they are “the church.” However, that complicates matters when we’re called to love one another, discipline one another, treat the unrepentant as not a part of the local church, and so on. What churches need are both humble leaders and a good structure. Being a Baptist myself, I could agree with much in the book. While the practical matters for elders and deacons don’t mean much to me know, they surely will in the future (either when I am one of these things or when I am under the elders), and they will be very handy for those elders who are in a tough spot (like wanting to avoid being sued when church discipline occurs—there are some suggestions on that matter).

I think and hope this book would be read widely. Membership has been abused, but it makes church discipline difficult (how do you discipline someone who isn’t even a member)? We live in a non-committal age, but entering into the membership of a local body means you are committed to that local church body.

This book will not solve everything, but it provides a strong foundation to work on.

*Those in other denominations will probably take beef with Wright’s and Schreiner’s chapters on baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These chapters are short, but longer discussions may be found in their works Believer’s Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Lagniappe

  • Editors: Mark Dever/Jonathan Leeman
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: B&H Academic (June 15, 2015)

Buy it on Amazon or B&H Academic

Disclosure: I received this book free from B&H Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Review: The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing

Jonathan Pennington, Associate Professor of New Testament Interpretation and the Director of Research Doctoral Studies at SBTS, author of Reading the Gospels Wisely and Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew, has written “a historical, literary, and theological exposition of the Sermon on the Mount” (1). He situates the Sermon “in the dual context of Jewish wisdom literature and the Greco-Roman virtue tradition, both of which are concerned with the great theological and existential question of human flourishing” (1). It is laid out in three parts with his own translation and an introduction providing an overall reading strategy for the Sermon.

No section of Scripture has been written about more than the Sermon, and in the introduction Pennington summarizes how the Sermon has been interpreted throughout the patristic, medieval, reformational, modern periods, and he helpfully includes non-western and non-caucasian readings. Although not everyone would be interested in reading the history of interpretation, Pennington says, “We cannot simply identify one of these readings as right and others as all wrong. Each has a contribution to make to our understanding” (13).

Jesus, the true king and embodiment of God’s Law, “is the epitome of wisdom and virtue” (15). Pennington defines what he means by flourishing:

True human flourishing is only available through communion with the Father God through his revealed Son, Jesus, as we are empowered by the Holy Spirit. This flourishing is only experienced through faithful, heart-deep, whole-person discipleship, following Jesus’ teachings and life, which situate the disciple into God’s community or kingdom. This flourishing will only be experienced fully in the eschaton, when God finally establishes his reign upon the earth. as followers of Jesus journey through their lives, they will experience suffering in this world, which in God’s providence is in fact a means to true flourishing even now. (14-15)

Summary

It isn’t enough to translate the sermon and think that words mean to us what it means to Jesus’ audience. What does it mean to be “blessed”? In chapter one Pennington provides and “encyclopedic context of the sermon” by examines Israel’s story, the setting of Second Temple Judaism wisdom literature, and the Greco-Roman virtue tradition and how their worldviews around certain terms Jesus uses. Peace (shalom) was established in God’s original creation. Wisdom and, later, apocalyptic literature came about because the fear of the Lord, faithfully living under the kingship of Yahweh, brought true life, and Israel looked to the end when sin would be vanquished. For the Greco-Romans, true flourishing came with virtuous living. Jesus’ Sermon brings these two ideas together, which can be seen in his use of specific words like “blessing/flourishing,” “perfect/whole,” “wise,” “fool,” “righteous,” and “reward.”

In chapters two and three, Pennington performs a word study on the words makarios (“blessed”) and teleios (perfect)two major concepts within the Sermon. When Jesus says, “Blessed is the one…” he means that in this certain state of being, this one is flourishing. The one who is meek, humble, and looked down upon in society, but who is in covenant with the Lord, is experiencing true flourishing. The idea of teleios (“Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” 5.48) is one of wholeness“the teleios person in the Old Testament… is the one in total submission to God, who has an unimpeded relationship with Yahweh” (75). To be whole is to follow the Lord with all one’s heart, soul, and mind—to follow him with one’s whole self—and not to be a double-minded hypocrit.

In chapter four Pennington concisely examines seven more key terms that recur throughout the Sermon:

  • righteousness
  • hypocrisy
  • heart
  • Gentile//pagans
  • the Father in heaven
  • the kingdom of God/heaven
  • Reward/recompense/treasure

In chapter five Pennington lays out the structure of the Sermon and it’s setting in Matthew, noting that “Matthew’s literary skill is all about structure” (106). He “appears to be less concerned with the individual narratives per se than with how these stories fit together in conjunction with major teaching blocks to tell a larger story” (106). Pennington lays out the broad structure og Matthew and of the Sermon and says that the Lord’s Prayer is located at the center of the Sermon (132-33).

Part two consists of six chapters of commentary on the Sermon—Matthew 5.1–16; 5.17–48; 6.1–21; 6.19–34; 7.1–12; and 7.13–8.1. Part two is filled in with the information from part one, as the structures and word studies give shape and fill the commentary portion.

It is under persecution and slander (5.10–11) that God’s people paradoxically flourish (5.1–9). “Jesus’ macarisms [5.1–11] are grace-based, wisdom invitations to human flourishing in God’s coming kingdom” (161).

For Pennington, the Sermon’s theme is that of “greater righteousness.” Unlike the hypocritical Pharisees who do the right things but have selfish hearts not seeking to honor God, Jesus’ followers are to be fully devoted to God. Rather than following the external instructions of the Torah, they are to follow it with the heart by watching their teacher live it out. In this they will be “whole” like their heavenly Father.

The false prophets of 7.15–23 are not necessarily devious false teachers, but hypocrites (i.e., the Pharisees) who have evil hearts. Pennington sees many parallels with the rest of Matthew (healthy or decaying trees: 3.10 and 12.33–37; lawlessness: 23.28 and 24.12; 7.21–23, cf. 18.6 and 24.4–11).

Part three gives a theology of the Sermon and human flourishing in six theses. The Bible is about (1) human flourishing with (2) God in the center where his disciples live under (3) divinely revealed (4) virtue (5) under his grace. (6) God saves us to know him and to serve and love one another in his creation.

Recommended?

No section of Scripture has been written about more than Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. “The Sermon, standing as it does as the first teaching of the new-covenant documents, likewise reveals much about how one understands several issues of theology and Christian practice” (3). Jesus teaches his new-covenant members—then and now—how to flourish and live virtuously in a covenantal relationship with their Father, the God of the universe.

Anyone studying the Sermon on the Mount would be at a loss without Pennington’s book. This isn’t the end-all-be-all of comments on the Sermon, but Pennington has spent fifteen years in Matthew, and one sees the depth of his research in his insights, explanations, and footnotes. Pennington has an eye for Matthew’s literary techniques such as structuring, inclusios, and word plays. If you’re going to study or teach on the Sermon, or if you simply want to know more about the Sermon, Pennington’s book is a must.

Lagniappe

  • Author: Jonathan T. Pennington
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic (January 17, 2018)

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Buy from Amazon or Baker Academic

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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The Center of the Center of the Center of the…

In his new book The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing, Jonathan Pennington says that in the Gospel of Matthew, “Matthew’s literary skill is all about structure” (106). When comparing Matthew’s stories of Jesus’ healings and miracles with the two other Synoptic Gospels, Matthew generally gives shorter retellings. Throughout the Bible, structure is often just as important as what is said.

The biblical authors didn’t use chapter headings, (parentheses), italics, bold, or different colors to frame different sections. They often used words and themes in a literary technique called an inclusio. Why does this fancy word matter?

Imagine holding a dark, rustic 5×7 picture frame. You intend to hang your annual family Christmas photo (the serious one) in your living room. You are not going to put a 3×5 picture in a 5×7 frame—that would look silly. Neither will you try to cram a 5×7 picture into a 3×5 frame; that would destroy the picture and tell people that you don’t care for your property (and that you have bad taste!) Because you appreciate aesthetics, you place your 5×7 annual family photo into that dark, rustic, 5×7 picture frame. The smooth frame matches the pleasant picture. It fits (while your silly Christmas picture will go into the neon frame).

Matthew’s skill isn’t seen in telling elaborate stories. Pennington says he “appears to be less concerned with the individual narratives per se than with how these stories fit together in conjunction with major teaching blocks to tell a larger story” (106). Matthew presents the message of his Gospel through the shape of his Gospel. He frames texts with intentionality. Beginning with the whole Gospel of Matthew:

Abraham

1.1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

[Matthew’s Gospel]

28.18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In Genesis 12.1–3, Yahweh commissioned Abraham to be a blessing to the nations. Although Matthew doesn’t cite Abraham’s name at the end of his book, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the true King, the new “David,” his disciples receive the commission to proclaim his kingship to every nation that they would be converted and would follow him, continuing his line (or “genealogy”).

The Presence of Christ

1.23 Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

18.20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.

28.20 …And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Three times Matthew states that Jesus (or God) will be with his people. The presence of Christ frames the text, and it is the proclamation of his present-and-coming kingdom which brings a separation among humanity seen throughout Matthew’s Gospel (110).

The Gospel of the Kingdom (of God)

Narrowing our search down, it is well known that there are five major blocks of teaching in Matthew. The Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5–7) is located within a larger block of narrative (4.17–9.38).

4.17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

4.23 And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

[Sermon on the Mount; 5–7]

[Healing and Calling Disciples, 8–9]

9.35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

This block of narrative (4.17–9.38) is framed by a call to repentance, a prayer for more laborers (disciples), and the phrase “the gospel of the kingdom.” Pennington says this whole section is “to be read as one unit, the theme of which is the call to discipleship (through repentance) that comes from the coming of the kingdom of heaven” (114).

The Sermon is meant to be read as the explanation of what it means to live according to God’s coming kingdom” (114). The Sermon is the perfect example of an “exposition of what repentance toward God and his Fatherly reign looks like (4:17), of what the life of discipleship looks like” (114).

The “New Law” of the Sermon

5.1 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

[The Sermon on the Mount] 

7.28 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. 8.1 When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him.

The Sermon itself is framed by Jesus ascending up the mountain (5.1–2) and descending down the mountain (7.28–8.1). Jesus, the greater Moses, taught the people what it should look like to live in God’s kingdom. He spoke with authority, unlike the scribes who pretend to have Moses’ authority (23.2).1

The Law and the Prophets

Pennington provides a three-fold outline to the Sermon:

  1. Introduction: The Call to God’s People (5.3–16)
  2. The Body: The Greater Righteousness for God’s People (5.17–7.12)
  3. Conclusion: Three Warnings Regarding the Prospect of Eschatological Judgment (7.13–27)

The Body of the sermon is framed by the phrase “the Law and/or the Prophets.”

5.17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

[Greater righteousness for God’s people]

7.12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Pennington says that the theme of the sermon is “greater righteousness.” To be a repentant and forgiven disciple in God’s kingdom, and to be in covenant with God and to know his word (Ps 1.1; 2.12), is to live life as it was meant to be lived. It is a “whole” life; it is a flourishing life (cf. the blossoming, fruitful tree by the rivers of water in Ps 1.3, which resonates Garden of Eden imagery). The Pharisees were hypocrites who performed the right actions but with evil hearts. To have “greater righteousness” is to be whole and complete like the Father in heaven (5.48). It is to be “pure in heart” (5.8). It is to follow God’s instructions both outwardly and inwardly. Christ fulfilled the law, and we live under the law of Christ (1 Cor 9.21; Gal 6.2).

Rewards from the Father in Heaven

  1. The Body: The Greater Righteousness (GR) for God’s People (5.17–7.12)
    1. GR in Relation to God’s Laws (5.17–48)
    2. GR in Relation to Piety Toward God (6.1–21)
    3. GR in Relation to the World (6.19–7.12)2

6.1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

[Greater righteousness in one’s piety toward God]

6.19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Here, point two of the Body is framed by a few words/ideas. Both sides speak about rewards/treasures either from God in heaven or with the treasure being in heaven. Good deeds are not to be done to impress people (on earth), but to honor God who is in heaven. The Pharisees, who do not have pure hearts, want to receive all of the honor (as do the scribes, for they sit in the “seat of Moses,” 23.2), yet they give none to God. They will obtain no reward from the Father (vv. 4b, 6b, 18b) for they perform their pious acts in public to gain honor from others who see them (vv. 1, 2, 5, 17).

The Lord’s Prayer

Finally, at “the center of the center of the center of the Sermon” lies the Lord’s Prayer (125).3

6.7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do [cf 5.48], for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this:

[The Lord’s Prayer]

6.14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Being the center of the center of the center of the Sermon, Pennington says, “We should expect that the Lord’s Prayer has much to teach us about the whole, and such is the case,” for it “is a model of what kind of petitions and God-orientation should mark the Christian life. It is the scaffolding around the tower of prayer or the guiding handrails along which the disciple walks in forming his or her own prayers” (222).

In the first half of the prayer (vv. 9–10) oriented toward God the Father, Jesus tells his disciples to ask “our Father” to “give us this day our daily bread” (6.11). Bread is an item that is repeated throughout Matthew’s Gospel. In Jesus’ temptation, he refused to turn stones into bread but obeyed God instead (4.3). Later in Matthew 14 and 15, Jesus feeds thousands of people with bread and fish. At the Last Supper, the bread that was broken represented Jesus’ soon-to-be broken flesh (27.17–30, see v. 28). Within the Sermon, God the Father always knows our needs and provides for us (6.10, 25–34; 7.7–11). Our Father “gives good gifts to those who ask him” (7.11).

The second half of the Lord’s Prayer (vv. 11–13) is the “human-oriented part of the Prayer [which] focuses on interpersonal sin and relational conflict” (226). This is “reiterated in the conclusion to the Prayer” (6.14–15) and is seen throughout Matthew, such as in 5.7, 9.1–8, 12.31–32, 18.15–20, 21–35, and 26.28 (226).

Without giving away too many details about the Lord’s Prayer, Pennington says, “The introduction to the Prayer is an exhortation to focus on heart-driven, simplicity of prayer. The conclusion likewise focuses on the heart and inner disposition” (228). The conclusion seems to come from out of left field, especially as the conclusion to the frame. It doesn’t seem to match the introduction (6.7–8). Pennington adds that this concluding remark “is a commentary on the Prayer that is meant to drive home the weightiness of interpersonal relationships among God’s people” (229). The one who seeks forgiveness is ready to forgive from the heart (18.35).

.

Knowing the ways Matthew frames his whole Gospel and sections of his Gospel helps us to interpret what occurs in the middle. Keeping the larger picture in view, Pennington gives the reader an avenue for even the most difficult parts of the Sermon on the Mount.

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1 Pennington also says that the “flourishing” statements that make up the Beatitudes (in the Sermon—Jesus’ first discourse) are contrasted with the “woes” to the Pharisees in Matthew 23—the beginning of Jesus’ fifth and final discourse in Matthew.

2 I won’t get into how points two and three overlap (they both use 6.19–21) only to say that those three verses serve as a bridge between the two sections.

3 Amongst all of the inclusios I’ve shown, this is not to say that the Lord’s Prayer is the center of Matthew. That should be obvious (it’s the first of five discourses). Rather, it’s more likely that Matthew 13 (the third discourse) is the center (if Matthew is written as a chiasm, p. 110).

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