Tag Archives: T. D. Alexander

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: From Eden to the New Jerusalem, (T. D. Alexander)

eden

“Why does the earth exist? What is the purpose of human life?” (9). Almost everyone today asks these two questions at some point in their life, and in his short book, T. D. Alexander attempts to answer both of them. T. Desmond Alexander is senior lecturer in Biblical Studies and director of Postgraduate Studies at Union Theological College, Belfast. He is the author of From Paradise to the Promised Land: An Introduction to the Main Themes of the Pentateuch, and he is the coeditor of the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (NDBT) and the Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch (DOTP). He has written two commentaries, one on the books of Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah (TOTC) and the other on the book of Exodus (TTC).

Summary

By examining the meta-narrative of Scripture by use of biblical theology, in chapter one Alexander takes the time to answer two of life’s toughest questions. He intends to achieve his goal by starting at the end—the book of Revelation. Alexander affirms that “a story’s conclusion provides a good guide to the themes and ideas dominant throughout” (10). By seeing the bigger picture, rather than stripping texts out of their literary context, the reader will begin to see the end goal that all of the biblical texts are running towards. In chapter two, what is the longest chapter of the book, Alexander traces the the temple motif throughout the Bible’s storyline to give a “brief overview . . . for understanding how the motif of divine presence on the earth is an important part of the biblical meta-story” (19).

Chapter three examines how God, after Adam and Eve, his first vice-regents, sinned, will re-establish his throne. God’s Son Jesus Christ overcame Satan’s temptations, and, though dying, he rose again and ascended to power as a divine man to rule and subjugate all things under his feet. By obeying Christ, Christians also participate in establishing God’s kingdom here on earth. Chapter four examines how the Garden of Eden’s crafty tempter and his serpent “offspring” will be destroyed by Jesus, the divine warrior, and Christians today are able to stand against him by putting on the armor of our Savior and divine warrior.

Chapter five answers the question, “Why did Jesus need to die” and tells about what his death accomplished, and chapter six gives the reader a display of what life will be like in the new creation. Chapter seven conveys the permanent bond that will exist between God and his people in the new creation, and chapter eight, the conclusion, summarizes the main points of the book. What God’s people will see in the New Jerusalem will be familiar, but it will also be “radically different” (192).

The Chocolate Milk

Alexander stands firmly on evangelical foundations. He sees value in reading the Bible with its meta-narrative in mind, for there is a “scholarly tendency to ‘atomize’ biblical texts [which] is often detrimental to understanding them” (11). To be sure, there will be some outside (and perhaps inside too) of evangelicalism who will think of Alexander as close-minded for even considering the notion that the Bible would be a holistic unit. However, Alexander represents solid, biblical evangelicalism at its finest. His trust in God’s word to answer man’s deepest problems is seen woven throughout his book.

As coeditor of NDBT, Alexander is well-versed in biblical theology and has spent his time well by immersing himself in God’s word to see how each book fills out the entire storyline of the Bible. Alexander is able to guide his reader into a greater understanding of God’s plan. Even the average reader can come away with an understanding of God’s presence as seen through the Old and the New Testaments. By laying out the entire Bible’s storyline about God’s rule, the archenemy of God and his people, why Christ died and what his death accomplished, what we’re looking forward to in the new creation, Alexander gives any reader cause for rejoicing by seeing the magnificent God of the Bible. The “interesting parallel [in Ephesians 5:25-33] between Christ’s love for the church and the love a man should have for his wife . . . is noteworthy, for it conveys something of the intensity of the love we shall experience in the New Jerusalem” (186).

While many might find the second chapter to be too long (59 pages, easily the longest chapter in the book), Alexander accomplishes what he aims to do. Yet this book does not do everything, and at a mere 208 pages (186, really), it cannot do everything. It is roughly half as long as Greg Beale’s magisterial The Temple and the Church’s Mission which is a whopping 458 pages. Yet, while Beale hones in primarily on only one theme (i.e., the temple) and examines its reach throughout the entire Bible, Alexander covers six different topics well enough to be understood and to teach the reader a few of the many dimensions of this diamond we call the Bible. Beale pulls up references from ancient Near Eastern sources, apocryphal sources, pseudepigraphal sources, Qumram and other Jewish and rabbinic material, patristic sources, and, of course, the Bible itself (MT, LXX, and even Theodotion). Alexander, on the other hand, sticks with the Bible.

Alexander doesn’t spend much time in his book combating outside views, and when he does he keeps it in the footnote. His main foe is the “scholarly tendency to ‘atomize’ the biblical text . . . [and b]y stripping passages out of their literary contexts meanings are imposed upon them that were never intended by their authors” (11). He is well aware of this tendency by scholars (as he speaks about it in From Paradise to the Promised Land), but Alexander doesn’t allow these opposing conversations to bog him down. Just as one is able catch a counterfeit dollar bill by having felt many genuine dollar bills, Alexander answers his objectors by showing them the genuine, unified story of the Bible.

The Spoiled Milk

If there’s any disappointment to Alexander’s book, it’s relatively small (though that doesn’t make it any less odd). In chapter two, Alexander writes about every temple that was filled with God’s Spirit except for one major temple: Jesus Christ! He moves from the Jerusalem temple straight to the church as the temple with not even a nod to Jesus Christ as the temple of God. In chapter seven, while contrasting the new creation to the city of Babylon in Revelation 18, Alexander suddenly brings up the topic of capitalism. He writes, “There is nothing that stands more effectively as a barrier to people knowing God than the desire for wealth that comes through capitalism” (183). He then spends two pages giving a few historical facts about America and the small percentage of people who own billions of dollars. Is there a relation to Babylon? Certainly. Does it seem out of place from everything else in the book? Very much so.

Conclusion

Alexander makes reading the Bible easier for everyone, especially for the not-so-average reader. The Bible is a long book with an intricate storyline, and depending on one’s background, he or she may not even know the Bible even has a unified story. So why this book? This short book packs a wallop. This is not the kind of book that exhausts its pages with theological propositions its audience can’t seize—as if they are merely spectators to be dazzled—nor is this meant to be understood by the guild of ivory tower recluses only. Alexander shows that anyone can both understand the Bible and its story and trust the Bible and its story.

In the first line of the first chapter, Alexander asks two of life’s most common questions. If we don’t know God’s purpose, his plan, or the storyline as we fit into it, we will not be able to answer these questions correctly. We won’t understand Ferris Bueller’s thrill over singing Twist and Shout in Chicago’s Von Steuben Day Parade if we don’t know that the entire movie revolves around him ditching one day of school. As such, we won’t understand what our lives are meant for if we don’t know who created us nor the goal he is compelling us to reach: eternal life in the new creation with Jesus Christ himself. The better one knows the Bible’s story, the deeper one will understand God’s goal of redemption. From Eden to the New Jerusalem will bring you one step closer in the right direction.

Buy it from Kregel or from Amazon!

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Book Review: From Paradise to the Promised Land (T. D. Alexander)

From Paradise to the Promised Land

T. Desmond Alexander (PhD, The Queen’s University, Belfast) is senior lecturer in biblical studies and director of postgraduate studies at Union Theological College in Belfast, Ireland, and has co-edited the IVP Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch and the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, and he is the author of From Eden to the New Jerusalem.

In this new (third) edition of From Paradise to the Promised Land: An Introduction to the Pentateuch [2012] (which is about 14 pages longer than the second edition [2002], and 157 pages longer than the first edition [1998]), adds information about Pentateuchal Criticism [PC] (the title of Part 1) and some “refined judgments” by the author throughout the book. He says,

“The present volumes seeks to
(1) guide the reader through the maze of modern approaches to the Pentateuch, and
(2) focus on the main themes of the Pentateuch, viewed as a unified literary work, by drawing on the best insights of recent research into Hebrew narrative techniques” 
(p xiii).

Part 1; Pentateuchal Criticism

Being an introduction, one should expect some discussion on Pentateuchal studies. Alexander spends six chapters going through the history of these studies, introducing the reader to source-, form-, Traditio-historical-, and literary-criticism, and brings the reader’s main focus to the Documentary Hypothesis. Basically, DH espouses that “Moses had compiled Genesis from older documents” (p 8). The proponents of the DH, in general, say the narrative is not unified, some things are needlessly repeated, different uses of God’s name are used (compare the Hebrew of Gen 1 with Gen 2), etc. All of this would eventually bring us to (what some are familiar with now) the New Documentary Hypothesis: “the Pentateuch was composed of four documents that were combined by a redactor” (p 15). These sources would be called JEDP, the Yahwist source (J), the Elohist source (E), the Deuteronomist (D), and the Priestly source (P).

While one should be aware (and probably already expects) that these chapters are not an easy read. However, I actually found these chapters to be quite interesting, much more than I thought they would be. On the one hand, these chapters are quite detailed, showing the intricacies of PC and just what one would expect to find when studying the Pentateuch. Many (but not all!) large, scholarly works will be brimming with information on the legitimacy of the DH, and one should be aware of what they will find when they read those works.

But here Alexander does not side with the DH espousers, but shows criticisms against it. Chapter 5 is titled “The Sinai Narrative – A Test Case” where Alexander “examine[s] afresh the composition of the Sinai Narrative in Exodus 19:1-24:11” (p 64). I found this chapter to be very interesting as Alexander shows the divine structure of the chapters here in Exodus. He shows the divine speeches, how they fit with the positioning of the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments), and how Exodus 19 is a single account.

Admittedly, this section will not float everyone’s boat, but in dealing with introductions it’s still important and informative to those who are interested in a deeper study of the Pentateuch. It’s still ideal to be familiar with the discussions, knowing how to discern books, discussions, even sermons that have concepts of the DH backing them up.

Part 2; The Main Themes of the Pentateuch

This is where the book will become ‘alive’ for many (and probably most) readers. For though as interesting as reading various criticisms and critiques of the Pentateuch may be, reading the very words Moses wrote is far more interesting (as it should be!). Here Alexander looks at a broad range of themes beginning in Genesis and “ending” in Deuteronomy (they don’t really “end” in Deuteronomy. The biblical authors pick up the Pentateuch’s themes and carry them on throughout the Old and New Testaments. But, for our purposes…):

  • God’s Temple City
  • The Royal Lineage in Genesis
  • The Blessing of the Nations
  • Paradise Lost
  • By Faith Abraham…
  • Who is the Lord?
  • The Passover
  • The Covenant at Sinai
  • The Tabernacle
  • Be Holy
  • The Sacrificial System
  • The Clean and Unclean Foods
  • Toward the Promised Land
  • Murmurings
  • Love and Loyalty
  • Why Israel?
  • The Pentateuch and the Biblical Metanarrative

The Chocolate Milk

In looking at Pentateuchal themes, rather than being a collection of different sources, Alexander shows how the Pentateuch is a unified work. God placed man in a garden to be fruitful, to multiply, to replenish the earth and have dominion over it. They would reproduce, grow the garden, and thus bring the knowledge of God throughout the rest of the earth. Thus even still after the fall, Cain builds a city. Nimrod builds cities. Babel-Babylon is built. Abraham’s descendants will become a great nation. The Pharaoh enslaves those descendants so that they will build him a great city. When saved by Yahweh, the Hebrews build Him a dwelling place, and eventually a tabernacle. Once more, we are looking forward to “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12.22).

The final portion of each thematic chapter in Part 2 was the New Testament Connections section, which I always enjoyed reading. Alexander summarizes how a particular theme (‘Be Holy’) is seen in the NT and is fulfilled in some way in Jesus. What defiles a person is not what they eat, but what is inside of them (Mk 7.20-23). We are “to purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit” (2 Cor 7.1). Peter (in 1 Pet. 1.15-16) quotes Leviticus by saying, “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written, ‘Be holy, because I am holy.'” The morality we find in the Pentateuch isn’t always so far removed from our world. Though we do not have to perform animal sacrifices, we are still to be holy just as the Israelites were holy because the same God who rescued them from slavery has done the same for us (Rom 5.21; 7.25).

The Spoiled Milk

One disappointment I had was that more of the Pentateuch wasn’t covered. As important as the themes are (I never really thought much about a lot of the themes mentioned here and their impact on the Five Books of Moses), I think the name of the book may be a bit misleading. Perhaps I’m used to books like deSilva’s An Introduction to the New Testament and Kostenberger, Kellum, and Quarles’ The Cradle, The Cross, and the Crown which both look at themes of the New Testament and summarize each letter (though deSilva has a stronger social-cultural-rhetorical flavor). While one book cannot do everything, I’m left wondering about much of what happens in the Genesis story after Abraham (though Alexander does spend six chapters on Genesis and doesn’t forget about Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph). Not to mention special laws in Leviticus (three chapters), or most of Deuteronomy (only two chapters are spent discussing this huge book).

The only criticism I have about the Old Testament Summary section was that it really wasn’t a summary of how the theme is seen in the Old Testament, but more how it is seen either in that individual book (‘Murmurings’ in Numbers) or in the Pentateuch. Again, perhaps misnamed, but it seems like Pentateuchal Summary” would be more apt.

Recommended?

All in all, this is an excellent introduction to the Pentateuch. Alexander has cross references to boot, and will give me plenty of work as I work my way through the Pentateuch. In this, I hope you will feel as I have, and that you will have a desire to read through the Pentateuch again and again, seeing and learning more about our loving God who has saved us from our sins and who we will see again in the New Creation.

“And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.”    Rev 21.22

Lagniappe

[Special thanks to Trinity at Baker Publishing for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

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