Category Archives: Review

Book Review: John (Verse by Verse), Grant Osborne

Commentaries don’t need to be so difficult. Some of them are meant to bring the reader into the world of Greek or Hebrew grammar to understand the nuances of the author’s language. Others bring out cultural details and ancient literary sources to compare and contrast the thoughts of the biblical author to his culture. Others are just easy to read. They let you sit down with your Bible to read without flooding your with extraneous details. Although those other commentaries are important (and I enjoy them), Grant Osborne has decided that at the end of his academic career he would write a commentary on every book of the NT specifically for the layperson. His three main intended uses are for devotional aids, for use in Bible study groups, and as sermon helps. The church needs teachers so that they don’t commit heresy, but studying the Bible doesn’t need to be a”a tedious duty we have to perform” (xi). Osborne wants studying the Bible to be a joy, not a burden.

While Osborne has written a hefty commentary on John (finishing at just under 500 pages), it is still light reading. He doesn’t spend much time looking at differing perspectives; instead he focuses on what he believes the text says. When he does present other views, he represents them with care and grace. Osborne understands the apostle John to be the author of the Gospel, which could have been written in the early 80s AD during John’s ministry in Ephesus. John sets his Gospel around three Passovers, is the most chronological of all the Gospels, and places the “most emphasis on the historical reliability of his material” then the Synoptics (10).

1.1: John’s reference to Jesus as the logos is closer to the Jewish conception of the word as God’s divine creative wisdom (Prov 8:30-31). Jesus is the “Living Revealer” of God, his very voice (24).

2.13-22: Osborne sees no problem with there being two temple cleansings, one at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and one at the end (66).

3.5: Being born “of water and Spirit” refer to the new birth brought by the Spirit. “Water,” here, refers to the Spirit, as it does in John 7.38-39, and it looks back at Ezekiel 36.25-28, which uses water as a metaphor for the spiritually cleansing work of the Holy Spirit.

4.23-24: True worship is that which is given to God through Christ in the Spirit.

5.24-25: There is a now/not yet function to our salvation. Christians are both saved and raised to new life now, but we will also be saved at the coming of Christ and physically raised to new life then.

7.53-8.11: The story of the woman caught in adultery “was undoubtedly not a part of John’s Gospel and was likely added by Christian scribes early in the second century,” it is “missing from nearly all the early manuscripts,” and “no Greek church father commented on this story before the twelfth century, and it is not found in older translations of the New Testament” (204). After a quick discussion of the facts, Osborne says that most believe it was a true story that actually happened. While he doesn’t believe the story is canonical, he agrees that it is likely a true part of Jesus’ ministry. While he wouldn’t make a Bible study out of it, Osborne does think it makes for a good sermon illustration about forgiveness.

10.34-36: Those who are called “gods” were not Israel’s judges but all of Israel. They were considered to be “gods” because they were God’s “firstborn son” (Exod 4:22). 

14.12: The “greater works” are not only miracles but include imitating Jesus in his prayer life, acts of service in love, and his proclamation of divine truth (339). What can be greater than raising the dead? Bringing new life to a dead spirit. We bring the gospel so that God cane make people alive.

19.34: The blood and water which pour out from Jesus’ side represent his sacrificial death and the cleansing work of the Spirit, themes which fits John’s Gospel (446). John could also be battling a docetic heresy which disregarded Jesus as appearing in a physical body.

20.22: The reception of the Spirit here was a “private infilling of the disciples” after Jesus’ resurrection, whereas Pentecost in Acts 2 was the public reception and empowerment of the Holy Spirit who would send out the church to preach the good news.

John 21: This chapter is a fitting epilogue written by John as the ending of his Gospel. It concludes the interaction between Peter and the Beloved disciple and Jesus. All manuscripts of John’s Gospel have this chapter.

Recommended?

I found Osborne’s John commentary to be very refreshing. He fills his commentary with references back and forth to other passages in John, showing how John’s themes recur throughout his Gospel. Osborne is sensitive to building up the faith of the reader through a knowledge and understanding of John’s Gospel. I’ve not read most of the commentaries in this series, but given the Osborne’s faithfulness to Scripture in his more academic works and the readability of this volume, I would highly recommend anyone who wants to study the Bible to pick up any of Osborne’s commentaries: laypersons, pastors, and teachers. Unless you’ve already studied every NT book for years, Osborne will be a great conversation partner for most who want to study the letters of the NT.

Lagniappe

▪ Series: Osborne New Testament Commentaries
▪ Author: Grant Osborne
▪ Paperback: 432 pages
▪ Publisher: Lexham Press (May 2, 2018)

Buy it from Amazon, Adlibris, 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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Book Review, Exodus (AOTC), T. D. Alexander

T. D. Alexander, senior lecturer in Biblical Studies at Union Theological College in Belfast, Northern Ireland, has spent the better part (or all) of his career in the book of Exodus. Having written on the Pentateuch (From Paradise to the Promised Land) and biblical theology (From Eden to the New Jerusalem, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology), he has written two commentaries on Exodus: One in the Teach the Text series and this one in the Apollos OT Commentary series.

Alexander doesn’t spend much time (ca. 32 pages) in the introduction, but he does spend a few pages on the story of Exodus and how it leads to the rest of the OT and NT books. Who wrote the book of Exodus? Alexander doesn’t think it all had to be written by Moses, saying that even though Jesus himself refers to the “book of Moses” (Mk 12.26), that title may just refer to Moses’ influence as a central figure on the Pentateuch. Exodus has a few places where Moses is said to have recorded God’s words, but Moses is not mentioned as “the author.” One does not have to be dogmatic on the issue while still not agreeing with the Documentary Hypothesis (DH), a theory Alexander helpfully and graciously critiques all throughout his commentary.

With each section of the commentary Alexander provides his own translation of the Hebrew text, relevant notes on the text dealing with translational and linguistic matters, the form and structure of the unit, comments on the passage, and a final explanation which often brings together Exodus with the rest of the Bible and pairs it with our daily life and ministries.

I’ve summarized a few of Alexander’s points on debated matters below. I wish I could write more, but you’ll have to get the book for that (or just ask in the comments below!)

4.24-26: The blood of Gershom’s circumcision averts the death of Moses whom God was going to kill. How could Moses lead Israel to live under God’s covenant if Moses himself couldn’t follow his instructions? This scene anticipates the redemption of God’s firstborn, Israel, through the blood of another. Even Yahweh’s own messenger “cannot be presumptuous regarding the continuation of his own life. Those who pronounce God’s judgment on others should also be aware of being judged by God” (109).

6.3: The Patriarchs “knew the name ‘YHWH’ and associated it with the divine promise of land” (117). Alexander agrees that God’s words should be translated as “My name is YHWH. Did I not make myself known to them [the patriarchs]?” (125), and that the Patriarchs didn’t understand the significance of Yahweh’s name like the redeemed Israelites will.

Alexander is extremely insightful with keeping the context of Exodus and of the whole canon in view in his exegesis. God is not an angry deity. Rather, he wants his people to be holy, and he expects them to be loyal and to leave behind egregious sinful ways.

34.11-14: “YHWH involves Moses as mediator in the process by which God will both forgive and punish the Israelites (cf. 34:6-7)” (625). The golden bull of Exodus 32 “stands in sharp contrast” to God’s revelation in chapter 19 and the covenant ratification ceremony in chapter 24 (630). God’s anger and willingness to destroy Israel shows how horrid their sin was: adultery against their marriage partner, the God of the universe who would give them every blessing and to whom Israel said they would obey in every way.

The Spoiled Milks

Alexander provides a few scholars’ outlines as examples of how to structure Exodus and both agrees and critiques aspects of all of them, but he does not provide his own. If you want to know his “outline,” you would have to go through the entire book and write down every heading. He’s divided Exodus into 64 sections, and there are a few broad headings: 1.1-2.25; 7.8-11.10; 15.22-18.27; 19.1-40.38. As you can see, there is no heading for 3.1-7.7 or 12.1-15.21.  How should the reader group these two sections?

Second, there are no footnotes. Though it is nice to see the main text fully cover every page, the main text also becomes very crowded and cramped. Those whom Alexander critiques are mentioned in the text, often in between his own thoughts on a passage. With footnotes, the flow of thought is easier to follow. Regardless, these points in no way outweigh the weight of Alexander’s own scholarship and work in this volume.

Recommended?

Alexander’s Exodus volume is a wealth of critical and conservative knowledge. Alexander’s years of research on the Pentateuch and biblical theology show forth in the wisdom of his writing. He is careful and thorough with each section before him, and he is aware both of the rest of Exodus and its canonical setting in the Bible. Alexander brings an understanding of God’s word to his readers as God’s word. Both of his volumes on Exodus (see his Teach the Text volume) ought to be picked up, and, if pastors can only afford (the time and money) to use one scholarly commentary, they should choose Alexander’s volume first above all the others to teach their congregations God’s whole word.

For preaching resources, along with the TTC volume, Motyer is good. I’ve not found Enns to be helpful the times I’ve used him, especially not now when compared to Alexander.

For example (and I’m not foolish enough to think Exodus is “easy” to interpret), on Exodus 21.20-21 Enns asks what the punishment is that the slaveowner would receive for beating his slave if it results in the slave’s death. If the punishment were the death penalty, why say that the master wouldn’t receive the death penalty when the slave doesn’t die? That should be obvious to the Israelites. However, Alexander says the punishment the master would receive if the slave dies  (v. 21) is the death penalty, based on 21.12. However, if the slave doesn’t die, the master is still punished because he has lost time and money because his slave has been out of work. And, depending on how the master injured the slave, the slave could go free (vv. 26-27). Because of context, the details do not have to be so “frustratingly unclear” (Enns, Exodus, 446).

Lagniappe

  • Series: Apollos Old Testament Commentary (Book 2)
  • Author: T. D. Alexander
  • Hardcover: 708 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (July 4, 2017)

Buy it from Amazon, Adlibris, or IVP Academic

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP 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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Book Review: Righteous by Promise (NSBT), Karl Deenick

The New Studies in Biblical Theology (NSBT) series is an excellent series for understanding particular themes in the Bible. While no series is perfect and some have lamented that it has fallen on hard times, this latest volume ought to relieve any lingering doubts. This book doesn’t deal only with the topic of circumcision in the Bible, but “two [other] facets on which this book focuses are the key biblical concepts of faith and righteousness.” The reason for this is seen in Paul’s statement about Abraham in Romans 4.11 that he “received the sign of circumcision of the seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.” Paul believed that circumcision meant something to Abraham about righteousness and faith. But how? Why circumcision? And scholars are in disagreement as to what the circumcision-righteousness-faith complex symbolizes. For N. T. Wright, “righteousness is about covenant membership” (5). For James Dunn, circumcision was “the boundary marker of  who was in the covenant and who was not” (6). But the OT authors look forward to a day when God’s people will be spiritually circumcised and will love and obey God with all their heart (6).

Deenick does not consider every biblical reference to circumcision but only those which help demonstrate how righteousness and faith are woven together with circumcision. In chapter two he shows how righteousness and blamelessness are “both a present status but also a future promise that is appropriated by humble trust in God’s promise to Abraham of a blameless ‘seed'” (211). This is seen in Genesis 15 and 17. Abraham is reckoned as righteous because he believed Yahweh’s word (15.6) and then God called Abraham to walk blamelessly (17.1) before in a unique relationship.

After examining these truths and the ‘singular’ seed in Genesis, Deenick looks at how the sign of circumcision developed throughout the OT: Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 10 and 30, and Joshua 5 (chapter three). How can God call the people to love and obey him when they don’t have circumcised hearts and when God says he will give that to them in the future (Deut 10; 30)? They are to walk with Yahweh (Lev 26) and believe in his atoning promise to Abraham. “The circumcised heart repents and trusts in Yahweh’s words” (95). After Abraham’s call to be blameless, the next time we see something ‘blameless’ in the text is when we get to the sacrificial system. Blameless sacrifices cover the blame of God’s people, something fulfilled completely in Christ. “What God promised, Abraham did not have in full, and yet God reckoned him to have it” (213).

Deenick then observes how the NT authors picked up the metaphors of ‘walking’ and ‘being blameless’ (chapter four). Blamelessness comes through union with the resurrected Jesus Christ, the ‘seed’ of Abraham. Deenick ends the chapter looking at contested passages in Philippians 3, Colossians 2, and Ephesians 2. Chapters five and six cover Romans 2-4 and Galatians. Faith in God’s promised seed, Jesus, humility, and repentance over sin are what matter.

For Christians, as Deenick points out, the imputation of christ’s righteousness teaches us that “it is not enough to be ‘not guilty’: we must also be reckoned to be perfectly obedient and holy” (213). Abraham’s circumcision was a seal that he was humble and righteous by faith. The continuing acts of circumcision pointed God’s people to the future seed who would fulfill God’s promises to Abraham. It meant nothing to follow God’s law while rejecting his promise of a future seed. Instead, believing the promise meant fulfilling God’s law as your trust was in the future seed who would make you blameless. Christians don’t need to follow circumcision for we are circumcised in Christ. The flesh has been put off, and we are baptized in him. We have died and are raised with him.

Recommended?

I hope Deenick’s book will be read widely by students, teachers, and the scholarly community. While it is not written for the layman, teachers and pastors who pick this up can easily bring the information to life. Neither does Deenick give bland facts in his book. He fits his information within the story of Scripture, allowing the story to illuminate the details, and the details the story. We are the circumcision of Christ who have put off the old flesh, have received a spiritual circumcision, and love and desire to obey God. I highly recommend this book.

Lagniappe

  • Series: New Studies in Biblical Theology (Book 45)
  • Author: Karl Deenick
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (May 1, 2018)
  • Press Kit available here

Buy it from Amazon, Adlibris, or IVP Academic

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP 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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Book Review: Echoes of Exodus (Roberts and Wilson)

Isaiah 43.16, 18-19:

16 Thus says the Lord,
who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters… 
18 Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old. 
19 I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.

The exodus was God’s grand display of his mighty arm. He drowned the world’s greatest army, Egypt, in their own sea and rescued his people who had been their slaves for 400 years. Israel had been redeemed, and this language permeates both Testaments. However, I myself have missed most of these connections. The idea here is the same as that in Bryan Estelle’s Echoes of Exodus (review): show how the biblical writers incorporated exodus  imagery into their stories, psalms, and praises. But Roberts and Wilson take a different tactic in this book. Instead of showing how one or two ideas are seen throughout a particular passage, the authors take the whole image of the exodus and apply it to different passages of Scripture.

Many find the Bible to be dissonant. Stories are boring, they don’t make sense, the heroes are hardly heroic, and the Big Man Upstairs has it out for the humans. The authors present the analogy of the Bible as a song. Some notes seem to be out of place. Some are sharped. Some are flattened. Some are repeated over and over. “You can’t prove logically that West Side Story is based on Romeo and Juliet. The echoes cannot be proved, any more than you can prove that a joke is funny. Rather, they have to be heard” (13). The exodus, like a song, and like a joke, must be heard. It cannot so easily be explained, but it must be understood for Israel’s story is ours (1 Cor 9.10; 10.11; Luke 9.31). The authors express our generation’s desire for freedom. But yet despite all of the liberation, people continue to fall into bondage, often by their own doing (Prov 26.27). The Church needs to understand that the God who redeemed Israel, and who has redeemed his Church through the blood of Christ, has played exodus riffs all throughout his story.

This book is really only about 150 pages, yet it took me a long time to read. Once I came to the First Movement: Out of the House of Slaves, I pulled my Bible out ready to take notes. Little did I know, this would not be a quick read. Adam and Eve were to be fruitful and multiply, extending the garden for the King. But they were out-crafted by a serpent. In Egypt, God’s people are fruitful and multiplying, yet they are building a kingdom for the serpent-king. Moses is put in an “ark,” passes through the water, and is saved by the serpent-king’s daughter, just as Israel will be saved from the waters. When Israel passes through the Re(e)d Sea, the waters divide and they walk on dry land, just as at creation when the waters above and below divided and dry land came to be (Gen 1.6-10). Jesus, the one who tabernacled among men, housing the presence of God, walked through the Jordan just as Israel had done before. Sinai brought national apostasy; Pentecost brought national blessing. Instead of 3,000 people dying at Sinai, 3,000 are cut to the heart at Pentecost and repent.

Missionary progress in the second half of Acts is a continued exodus cycle. Believers are forever leaving cities—often where they have been suffering—before venturing off into foreign lands, flourishing and succeeding, incorporating Gentiles in their number, and returning in triumph. More specifically we have Peter, who was going to be killed at Passover by the wicked king, waking up at nighttime, being told by the angel of the Lord to get dressed and put on his sandals, escaping captivity, and passing through a gate that opens for him “of its own accord” (Acts 12:10)… And in the final chapters, as Paul approaches Rome, we have yet another echo of the exodus: Paul escapes from the chains of captivity, goes on a journey for which we have an unusual level of geographical detail, and plunges into the sea, before emerging vindicated on the far side, revealing the healing power of God, and continuing toward his final destination. (140)

There is so much more to say, but so little space.

There are four movements. In the first, Israel moves from Egypt to the wilderness to the promised land. In the second, we see the exodus in Genesis in the lives of the patriarchs (see especially the wonderful section on Lot). The third movement leads the reader through Israel’s prophets and writings: Ruth, Samuel, Kings, the prophets, and Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. In the fourth movement, the reader is brought through the greater work of Godthe second exodus.

The Spoiled Milk

If there’s a downside to all of these connecting webs, it’s that some are hard to believe. Perhaps because there are too many connections between the stories, but cross-references really would have helped. Although perhaps that would have caused the book to feel more like a chemistry book than a concept album. Regardless, some connections are too difficult to find in the text. Commenting on Abraham & Co’s journey in Genesis 12-14, the authors state, “As they move from the north to Shechem in the center, then down to Bethel and Ai, and finally into the Negeb in the south, they are doing what Joshua will later do, and claiming the land for the Lord” (67). I tried searching for the terms, but, without a map, I just couldn’t see how this worked.

Speaking about the man of Judah and Jeroboam in 1 Kings 13, the authors note that “as the man from Judah is killed by a lion, so the Lion of Judah will be killed by men” (103). This seems to have been placed here more as a convenient fit than because it is a real connection. There are others for sure, but for the majority of the time I looked at what they said and searched my Bible to see if I could find it. If I did, my pen was ready. Already in the Prelude the authors have tipped their hats that their readers won’t agree to everything. Sometimes it may feel like they’re reaching, but sometimes some over-extending needs to be done to get us to use our imagination.

Recommended?

I highly recommend this work. I was baffled that I had neither seen nor heard of too many of these exodus riffs. Yet nonetheless, here I was hearing many of them for the first time. And for those riffs which were not new to me, I could listen and hum along as they were played. Echoes of Exodus  brings out the story of the Bible. This won’t revolutionize the way you read the Bible, but it will give you a greater appreciation for the artistic ability of the biblical authors to subtly reveal how God has woven his exodus redemption into the lives of his peopleboth past and present.

Between this book and Bryan Estelle’s Echoes of Exodus, this book is shorter, less “academic,” and more enjoyable to read. Buy this book.

Lagniappe

  • Authors: Alastair Roberts/Andrew Wilson
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Crossway (March 31, 2018)

Buy it on AmazonCrossway, or Adlibris!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Crossway. 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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Book Review: The Lord is Good (Christopher Holmes)

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“Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps 34:8). In his new book, The Lord is Good: Seeking the God of the Psalter, Chris Holmes says that “God’s goodness is a spiritual and moral good that must be experienced before the theology is truly understood” (7). David calls out to God to be something God hasn’t been to him beforehis helper. David knows God will be his help because God is good. Holmes says, “God does good because God is essentially good. God is what he always is, his own goodness, world without end, and thus does good” (32). In fact, “Goodness and God are one in the same, even if there were no world” (29). It is not only God’s works that are good, but God himself who is good. God’s goodness is why everything he does and says is good. God doesn’t aiming at perfection. Rather, he is perfection. He is the standard to which we compare everything else.

In this work, Holmes uses systematic theology to examine how the Lord can be called good, and it is done primarily within the Psalter. Why is the Lord called “good,” his law is “good,” and his wonderful works express his “goodness”? Psalm 119.68 says, “You are good and do good; teach me your statutes.” What is it about God that is so lovable and desirable that his people want to know his law, and how can they say it is “good”? It is through the law that Israel could know God, though not so fully as in Christ, the perfect image of the good God.

Throughout his book Holmes has a chat with Aquinas (particularly from his Summa Theologica), Augustine, Calvin, and Barth. The point here is to listen to those who have spoken about many of the Bible’s grand ideas and to think about how they relate to the Psalter’s language of God’s goodness (Pss 4:6; 23.6; 25.8; 86.5). Holmes is not trying to impose anything on the Bible (as he notes in his first chapter on God’s simplicity). He is merely using certain systematic ideas (such as ‘simplicity’) to show certain patterns in the language of Scripture. Gos is love, is honest, is loyal, is good, is holy. His goodness is a loving, holy goodness; his honesty is a loyal, holy, loving honesty. We die because we do evil (Ps 14.1, 3; 53.3) and move away from the perfect One. Like David, we should cry out to God to teach us his ways that “to heal us of our propensity to invert and reverse the Creator/creation relation” (113). God’s law teaches us that we belong to him who is good and who belongs to no one else.

Recommended?

For a short book, this requires a slow read. One should not zoom through Holmes’ work. With topics ranging from the Trinity, to God’s creating works, to evil, to the law, to Jesus, there is plenty for of space for readers to become absorbed in. Readers interested in the Psalms and/or systematic theology will enjoy eating up this book. Biblical theologians shouldn’t be ruled out, though this book isn’t so much on the Psalms as it is on God’s goodness as seen in the Psalms. Holmes doesn’t examine most of the psalms, nor does he try to show a psalm’s original context or meaning. Looking at the whole of Scripture, and particularly Psalms, how can the Psalter say and know God is good? Holmes gives his readers plenty to feed on to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps 34.8).

Lagniappe

  • Series: Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture
  • Author: Christopher R. J. Holmes
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (January 30, 2018)

Buy it from Amazon or IVP Academic

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP 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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Book Review: Old Testament Wisdom Literature (Bartholomew and O’Dowd)

What does the Bible have to say about wisdom? Can pithy poetics really form character? In their new book Old Testament Wisdom Literature, Craig Bartholomew and Ryan O’Dowd present a theological introduction to the Bible’s wisdom books—Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes. Proverbs 3.19 says God created the world by wisdom, yet most 21st century Westerners have lost the wonder of creation. Christians are saved through the blood of Christ, what do we need to understand about the world? Being in a real covenantal relationship with Yahweh brought Israel together with the God who both created the universe and who redeemed Israel out of Egypt. Knowing his law meant knowing how to life. It meant wisdom and understanding (Deut 4.6). How can man expect to find it, and how can 21st century Christians apply 3,000-year-old Old Testament wisdom to their lives?

Summary

Chapters 1-3 bring us into (1) Israel’s world of wisdom—they believed that they were in covenant with the one God who created all of reality and who was the source of knowledge. Yet, as Job expresses, they knew their knowledge was limited. Next (2), the authors take a tour through Egyptian and Mesopotamian wisdom to bring us into the flow of thought around Israel. Chapter 3 makes a plea for poetry, which “gives us a nuanced understanding of people, language and culture” (51). Stating a mere proposition such as “God is omnipotent” is very different than “declaring that God rules ‘the raging sea'” or that he can “draw in Leviathan with a hook” (69). Poetry brings imagery to the stories which make up our life. 

At 160 pages, Chapters 4-9 make up the core of the book. The authors spend two chapters on each of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes. In the first chapter on each book, rather than rehearsing the main gist of each book, they describe the book’s theological function. Each book’s second chapter (“Chapter B” as I call it) explores a particular theme in that book.

Proverbs

Proverbs 1-9 develops a character-consequence scheme. Here, your character (wise/foolish) determines the consequences in your life (life/ruin). Proverbs 10-30 nuance this idea and bring exceptions to the rule. These proverbs are not categorized by topic, but seem to be written chaotically and at random, just the way life is. In chapter B, the authors examine how wisdom is embodied in the Proverbs 31 woman, though she is not a real person for no one person could do what she does. Rather, that figure represents the extent to which wisdom reaches and the practical ways of living in which wisdom is required.

Unlike Proverbs 1-9, Job and Ecclesiastes “focus on profound experiences of apparent contradictions to the character-consequence theme,” which deepen our faith and our wisdom and form our character (285). The authors note, “Ecclesiastes is performatively enigmatic, just like suffering, and Job is long, at times tedious, with all those speeches, just like suffering” (318). Sometimes the text’s form is just as important as what it says.

Job

Job asks “Where can wisdom be found?” (28.20). His friends think they know it all, yet in the end Job is to make sacrifices for their foolish words. Job replies like a human being—he gives strong responses, fears, worries, and contradictions. Just like the process of suffering, all people learn as the conversation of suffering goes on. They change their answers from one idea to another, even being hopeful at points (Job 28), before plunging back into suffering again, and still yet before God shows up in a revealing way. Chapter B examines Job 28 and how we, limited in our understanding of all things, must go to the One who stands outside of creation to obtain wisdom.

Ecclesiastes

Similarly, Qohelet in Ecclesiastes looks for meaning in the world through his own autonomous wisdom—which is actually “folly” because Qohelet’s search occurs apart from God. The book “ultimately affirms life and joy… but only as the end result of a ferocious struggle with the brokenness of life” (189). Job presents bodily suffering; Ecclesiastes presents mental anguish. It’s not enough to have a high IQ. Job had money. Qohelet asked difficult philosophical questions. But wisdom requires us to admit our finite creatureliness before the infinite Creator. We, like the woman in Proverbs 31, can embody wisdom and image God. Chapter B takes up the topic of time, seeing the larger story, and using our time well.

Chapters 10 looks at wisdom in the NT through the coming of Jesus. Chapter 11 gives an OT theology of wisdom. The chapter both summarizes and expands on what has been said previously. Wisdom is related to creation and how the world works. It is brought about by the Creator who is also Israel’s Redeemer. God’s good creation links his wisdom with his law/covenant with the prophets. Chapter 12 applies wisdom to our present life concerning education, politics, spirituality, the ordinary, and the dark night of the soul. For example, even after we receive salvation, we still want to be the captains of our souls. We have “false selves” that we want to put on to protect ourselves, and God uses suffering to dismantle those false selves. The authors refer to C.S. Lewis’ image of someone buying a small cabin in the woods. She thinks it’s great to have God come live with her… until he begins to tear down walls and change out the stairs. He wants to revamp the whole house, and it hurts. But believing that he is great and good will help carry us to the end of the darkness that feels like our closest friend.

Recommended?

I greatly appreciated Bartholomew and O’Dowd’s theological interpretation. According to Ecclesiastes, how can we know if we truly have wisdom? Job 28 tells us that man searches high and low for treasure, yet even Abaddon and death themselves do not have wisdom (v. 22). God doesn’t come out and give us all the answers we need. How can man expect to find it, and how can a 21st century person apply 3,000 year old wisdom to their lives? The authors look at the meaning of the texts and what is really going on. Teacher and pastors would do well to read this book. Hopefully more people will grasp the importance of these important, often ignored Old Testament books. All people of all statuses everywhere can receive wisdom and they can use it, but it starts with fearing the Lord who both calms the raging seas, who condescends to know us, and who has descended and ascended to save us.

Lagniappe

  • Authors: Craig Bartholomew/Ryan O’Dowd
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (May 27, 2011)

Buy it from Amazon, Adlibris, or IVP Academic

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP 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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Book Review: The Decalogue (Baker), Theologygrams (Wyld)

We’ve come along way from the giving of the Ten Commandments (AKA, the Decalogue or the Ten Words).  Do we still need them? Are they still relevant? Who doesn’t know that murder is wrong? If so many don’t believe in God, why have them around anyway? Should we enforce them as laws?

The Decalogue consists of two groups of five commandments concerned with loving God (1-5) and loving one’s neighbor (6-10). In his book, the Decalogue, David Baker believes the Decalogue “expresses the essence of the covenant but is not a treaty document in itself” (12). There are strong parallels between the commandments of the Decalogue and that of other ANE treaties (e.g., not to commit murder, adultery, theft, etc.). However, other ANE texts are not “as comprehensive in scope as the Decalogue” (19). The ethical appeals of the Decalogue are grounding in God’s character and how he says his “holy nation” should live to be holy as he is holy.

The Decalogue was spoken by God to all of Israel, the “whole people of God” (32). Baker believes it is Israel’s constitution. Far from being a burden to slog through life under, it (and the Book of the Covenant in the following chapters of Exodus) is their “charter of freedom to be embraced and celebrated,” as Psalms 19 and 119 point out (35).

After his introduction, Baker gives a chapter to each commandment, setting each of the ten commandments against their surrounding ancient Near Eastern cultures to compare and contrast the uniqueness of God’s instructions to his people. He then reflects on how that commandment was (or wasn’t) lived out through examples in the OT and NT. Baker makes comparisons with the Decalogue that is repeated in Deuteronomy 5, noting any changes and why they might have been made.

In his final section he looks at how we, as Christians, the people of God, should live in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection. He says that the Decalogue is the basis for Old and New Testament ethics. It reveals the character of God to us, and from there we can explore the rest of the Bible to see what he is like.

Lagniappe

  • Author: David Baker
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (April 3, 2017)
  • Press Kit available here

Buy it from Amazon or IVP Academic

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A picture is worth a thousand words, and often a picture is easier to look at than 1,000 words. Rich Wyld has created a host of diagrams to help distill some of theology’s deeper points into forms that visual people can digest. Until I get permission to share some pictures, I’ll share some links to his blog. Some of these from his blog are found in his book, others are not. Wyld begins with (1) the Old Testament, then moves to (2) the Gospels, (3) the rest of the NT, (4) the life of the church, and he ends on (5) the life of the church.

In section 4, Wyld, an Anglican, uses references mostly from the Anglican church, but tries to be fair when representing other churches too. Some sections found here are:

  • A “breakdown of time spent during a hymn”
  • “Ministry in the church” (those being pastors and teachers, evangelists, prophets, apostles, and people who hoover and make tea).
  • And the very humorous looks at “what’s going on in the mind of the person reading the Gospel in church,” which, if you’ve ever had to read in front of a crowd, you can very well relate.

In section 5, Wyld asks where wisdom can be found, and looks at Proverbs, Jesus, James…and Mr. T.

Some examples which can be found on his blog are:

Bible references are provided for most pictures. The intention isn’t only to be silly, but to provoke thought and have the reader go back to the Bible to read that verse or section again. The intention isn’t to mock or belittle God, his creative works, nor his redeemed people.

Lagniappe

  • Author: Rich Wyld
  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Books (November 14, 2017)
  • Press Kit available here

Buy it from Amazon or IVP Academic

Disclosure: I received these books free from IVP Academic and IVP Books. 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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