Book Reviews New Testament Paul

Book Review: Handbook on Acts and Paul’s Letters (Tom Schreiner)

Many commentaries and introductions spend copious pages on authorship, date, setting, provenance, etc. This handbook, which is neither a commentary nor an introduction, spends most of its pages on the content of these NT books. This series of handbooks aims to allow you to turn to a specific section and gain a foothold on the meaning without having to read much of the surrounding discussion. Since the NT often uses the OT, the authors in this series (here, Tom Schreiner) shows how the OT text adds meaning to the NT passage you’re reading. 

Besides the series and author’s prefaces, the book has no introduction and dives right into the book of Acts. Schreiner continues after by working through Paul’s letters canonically from Romans to Philemon. Each chapter ends with some 7-10 pages of bibliographic lists of important commentaries, monographs, essays, and articles to help you understand that particular NT letter.

I recently reviewed Schreiner’s commentaries on Romans and 1 Corinthians, so it was a big bonus just to be able to read through and get a snapshot of his commentaries (especially for certain sections like Romans 7, 9-11, and 1 Corinthians 12-14).

Two Examples

I’ve always been a bit confused with Stephen’s speech in Acts 7. It’s always seemed to me that Stephen goes on a rant talking about something a bit “other” than what the high priest asked. I was glad to see Schreiner make the same observation, “At first glance, it might seem as though Stephen didn’t answer the accusations. He seems to lapse into telling Bible stories that have nothing to do with the complaints lodged against him….” Then he adds that “a closer look reveals that his speech represents a profound response to the charges” (18).

  1. The holy place is wherever God meets his people. It does not have to be in the temple, and it has not always been in the temple. Neither did God give the original command for a temple to be built. It was David’s idea. God is bigger than any building anyway.
  2. Many of the people and leaders in Israel rejected God’s messengers. The leaders are rejecting Christ, God’s own Son and the new eschatological temple. Reading the law requires one to read it rightly within redemptive history. Many were rejecting the very one whom the law said would come.

Having studied the NT for so long, Schreiner is acutely aware of the ancient Greco-Roman way of thinking, especially when compared to our western enlightenment mindset. In Ephesians 4:9, Paul says that Jesus descended “to the lower parts of the earth.” Some understand Paul to refer to the earth itself, but, as Schreiner writes, “most in the ancient world would think of the underworld with this expression, and the phrase ‘the lower parts’ could be easily omitted if the earth is in view” (284).

Also, in regards to spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6:11, Schreiner writes

Some argue that literal demonic beings aren’t in view, but such a reading represents a Western enlightenment mindset, which domesticates the biblical text and also imposes onto reality a particular scientific worldview. Paul clearly believed that there were invisible demonic powers and being the oppress and stand against unbelievers (291).

Recommended?

Along with being a Pauline scholar, Schreiner has taught these books for years in his NT II class. In a recent interview, he talked about the pleasure he had in writing this book. He was able to write most of the book on his patio! I find this volume to be extremely valuable. I’ve taught through only a few of Paul’s letters, and I haven’t dipped too deeply into Acts either. Tom’s book helps you get an idea of what is going on in a specific chapter without having to spend an hour reading pages of details in a commentary. This volume is beneficial for pastors, teachers, students, and laypeople. 

Lagniappe

  • Series: Handbooks on the New Testament
  • Author: Tom Schreiner
  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic (November 5, 2019)
  • Sample: Read half of the chapter on Acts!

Buy it 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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