June 2014


Interpreting the General Letters by BatemanUnder the editorial leadership of John D. Harvey, Herbert W. Bateman IV has written Interpreting the General Epistles: An Exegetical Handbook as part of the Handbooks for New Testament Exegesis. This series seeks to provide the student of the New Testament with the basic background information such as authorship, historical background, literary context, theological context and interpretive guidance such as how to exegete and communicate the meaning of a text.

General Observations

The first chapter address the genre of the general epistles as letters (Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2 & 3 John and Jude). Through comparative studies with that of other contemporary letters to the NT, Bateman provides a skeletal picture of how letters were structured and functioned. Of particular interest is the issue of pseudonymity whereby the person who actually writes the letter with their own hand is not the one who provides the content of the letter. This is of great interest and contention for biblical critics and historians like Bart Ehrman who dismisses most of the NT letters as fakes over this issue. In the span of five pages Bateman ably defends its use by the general epistles authors showing the charge of the critics to be unwarranted.

In the second chapter Bateman provides the reader with good analysis and conclusions concerning the historical background to the general letters and how it shapes the writing of the books and how we are to interpret them. For instance, James writes against the backdrop of the Disporai. Much of James deals with wisdom and how the Jews were to live wisely during this time. After comparing the relevant extra canonical wisdom literature Bateman concludes that

James emphasizes the values and ethos of God’s kingdom community over which Jesus reigns as Messiah in order to socially orient the Jewish Disporia community in ways that distinguished them from others and encouraged tranquility” (79).

Further, for Peter we see a significant emphasis on household codes of conduct. Looking at the Roman literature on the home Bateman comments that “the Romans believed that disorder was a threat not only to the Greco-Roman family but also to the Greco-Roman society” (81).  So how does Peter make a distinguishing mark with his household codes? Bateman concludes the following concerning wives and slaves:

Using the same categories of those shaped in a predominately Greco-Roman culture in the geographical areas like Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, the province of Asia, and Bithynia (1 Peter 1:1), Peter engaged his Greco_Roman culture in ways that both adopted and yet amended the household ethic for wives and slaved in order to transform culture” (83).

Essentially, Peter “elevated” the status and role of women and slaves within the Christians worldview.

The next chapter deals with the theology of the general epistles in which Bateman focuses on the biblical theology of the books. The aim is to show (1) what theology the letters have themselves and (2) how they fit into and “contribute to the canonical whole” (90). This is accomplished by first establishing an overview of the whole biblical story-line from creation to new creation. Next the biblical covenants are outlined with discussion on how they drive much of the Bible’s development and historical fulfillment. Coming to the NT we are faced with the era of fulfillment or “inaugurated fulfillment”. ” The authors of the General Letters present God’s kingdom-redemption program as having been initiated by God in the historical events of Jesus (Heb. 1:2; 1 Peter 1:20) and later consummated at the subsequent return of Jesus (James 5:7-8:2; 2 Peter 1:16; 3:2, cf. Jude 20)” (103). The kingdom has been inaugurated with the first coming of Christ (104) but there is a future physical establishing of the kingdom on earth during the millennium at the second coming of Christ (113-16). While clearly premillennial, Bateman avoids discussion of the rapture.

Chapters four through six contain the nine step process for interpreting the general letters. The nine step process is summarized as follows:

  1. Initiate a Translation – The goal here is for the interpreter to make their own translation of an isolated text. This is accomplished by diagramming the text according to grammatical function, understanding the placing and function of the verbs and then translating the text.
  2. Identify Interpretive Issues – The various helps to accomplishing this task include a knowledge of the various translations and their philosophies and  understanding textual families. The role of open-ended statements, Greek idioms and English sensitivities are discussed as well.
  3. Isolate Major Textual Problems – The central issue here surrounds manuscript variants. Guidelines are given for isolating textual problems, how to interpret the apparatus in Greek texts, weighing internal and external manuscript evidence. Entry and advanced level advice is given for how to evaluate the evidence.
  4. Interpreting Structures – This deals with how to identify and present the structural outline of a text. This is used to visualize the author’s flow of thought at the clause level (independent and independent clauses).
  5. Interpreting Style, Syntax, and Semantics – Here, Bateman examines the style of Hebrews, syntax of the Johannine letters and the semantics of Peter as examples of how to do the same for the other general letters.
  6. Interpreting Greek Words – Since the same word can have a variety of meanings, the interpreter needs to determine which one the author meant in a given context. Here synonyms, extra biblical usage, LXX usage and the semantic range of a word are discussed in order to determine an authors intended meaning for a given word.
  7. Communicating Exegetically – Here the exegete takes their translated diagram of the text and begins to turn each statement/clause into summary statements. This starts with summaries of each clause and ends with an exegetical outline.
  8. Communicating the Central Idea – The goal here is to further refine the exegetical outline into a single statement that summarizes the whole text under consideration.
  9. Communicating Homiletically – With 3 John as a test case, Bateman provides the reader with an example of a homiletical outline that is based on the exegetical outline.

With the nine step process in place, Bateman shows how it is to be used on two sample texts (Jude 5-7 & Hebrews 10:19-25). After wading through a lot of detail on each step some readers may be overwhelmed with everything there is to do in the process of interpreting a passage. The two samples really go a long way to putting it all into perspective and I feel they eliminate much of the anxiety some will feel as they consider the exegetical task. No doubt it is daunting but with continual practice the process with become more natural and less cumbersome. Chapter eight finishes off the book with a list of helpful resources for further study on all of the chapter topics, the nine steps and a list of helpful commentaries for each book.

Conclusion

As a handbook, Interpreting the General Letters definitely hits the mark. The quality work and high standard set by John Harvey in the inaugural Interpreting the Pauline Letters is no doubt continued here. This is a must have for graduate level study and should be in every pastor and teachers library for reference. Bateman shows himself to be well acquainted with the material and his explanation and exemplary use of the nine step process will serve readers well. This book deserves a wide audience and a long shelf life.

I received this book for free from Kregel for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Pic of Great Kings of the Bible by RajuSome of the most riveting and engaging historical narratives in the Old Testament are the accounts of the lives of king Saul, David and Solomon. Their lives are a mix of heroism, tragedy, accomplishments and great loss. Israel wanted a king to rule them like the other nations and they got what they asked for and more.

In a colorful, biblically faithful and Christ centered book, Deepak Raju traces the lives of the three kings of Israel in Great Kings of the Bible: How Jesus is greater than Saul, David and Solomon. Raju is the pastor of counseling and families at Capitol Hill Baptist Church where Mark Dever is senior pastor. He received his theological training at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and serves on the board of directors for the Biblical Counseling Coalition.

Written for children between 5-11, Raju captures the central story line of each king with accompanying full page color pictures that grasp the focus of each event in the kings life. Raju does not sugar coat the lives of the kings but shows them in all of their glory and disgrace. This is all done to highlight the central character in the book – Jesus Christ the true and better king!

Throughout the book Raju shows time and time again how, despite the failures of the kings of Israel, there is a king coming who is better in every way. This king is Jesus. Though Saul disobeyed the Lord and rejected Samuel, Jesus perfectly obeyed His Father. Though David lied, stole, murdered and committed adultery, Jesus did not murder but used His power to protect the weak and raise the dead to life. Though Solomon acted like a fool, despite his great wisdom, and gave his heart away to idols and false gods, Jesus was perfectly wise in all He did. Though all of the kings of Israel died in sin, Jesus died for their sins and rose again that they might have life apart from the punishment for their sins.

Great Kings of the Bible is a great book to read again and again. Your kids will want to read it for nights on end. This is a great reading tool to teach young children the lives of the kings of Israel and how Jesus is a better king.

I received this book for free from Christian Focus for Kids for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Pic of Titus fro you by ChesterTitus is the third of the Pastoral Epistles written by Paul. It is the shortest of the three but is packed with lots of doctrinal and practical content. According to Tim Chester, in Titus Paul “is giving us a vision of a life that touches people in small but decisive ways – a life that has eternal consequences. He is setting out the truly good life” (9).

Tim Chester unpacks how Paul presents this message to Titus in Titus For You which is part of the God’s Word For You series from The Good Book Company. This series of devotional commentaries is designed to aid Christians in reading the biblical text either just as a book, as a devotional or as a group discussion guide.

As a devotional commentary, Titus For You is designed to all Christians to learn more about the book of Titus through personal devotions or in a group setting. The chapters are broken into two parts and there are discussion questions at the end of each section. When words are used, like sovereignty, that might be more unfamiliar to readers they are placed in bold lettering indicating that a short definition or brief description is given at the end of the book.

In Titus For You, Tim Chester unpacks this powerful message from Paul, a mature Christian, to Titus, a pastor left in Crete who is charged with identifying and training leaders for the church there. At the heart of all that Paul instruction Titus to do is how the gospel shapes church leadership. Chester tackles topics like the sovereignty of God in salvation and evangelism (16-18), discipleship (29-42), legalism vs grace (54-56) and the function of structures within the church (12, 29).

Titus For You is a must have for any Christian or small group studying the book of Titus. The God’s Word For You series is a must use for churches and something churches should encourage their members to use for personal Bible study.

I received this book for free from The Good Book Company through Cross Focused Reviews for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Pic of Comm on Judges and Ruth by ChisholmAs of late, commentaries on Judges and Ruth have been sparse especially when it comes to exegetical work. Judges is an important book theologically and historically for the life of Israel and the reader who continues onto Ruth is given a glimmer of hope after the depressing events in Judges. What are we to learn from the failure of Israel in Judges and what hope does Ruth bring us?

Dr. Robert Chisholm Jr. answers these questions and more in A Commentary on Judges and Ruth in the Kregel Exegetical Library commentary series. The objective of this commentary series is to provide the reader with the cultural background of the text, give a detailed exegetical treatment of the passage with thematic analysis and to give direction towards the theological implications of the text along with practical application.

Judges

In regards to Judges, Chisholm tackles a number of hot topics within the book. Regarding the literary structure of the book Chisholm prefers to deal with the final form of the book and sees tracing the evolution of its literary history as a fool’s errand (15, 55). The chronology and date of Judges is worked out over the course of twenty pages and Chisholm takes the late date of 1260 for the Exodus and concludes that the date for Judges is inconclusive (56). For Deborah’s role as a judge, Chisholm takes the conservative view that the text indicates that her presence is odd which is born out through the texts “word choice and syntax” (223). In regards to the tests Gideon gives the Lord with the dew and wool fleece (Judges 6:36-40) Chisholm’s opinion is that “Geiden’s choice if signs was not arbitrary or random” (278). “The tests were designed to demonstrate the Lord’s control of the dew,” says Chisholm (278). Chisholm believes that the text leaves the event open to interpretation but those who side against Gideon on this encounter with the Lords might not be convinced.

Ruth

Amidst the depressing events in the book of Judges Ruth is a shining example of the faithfulness of God to His people despite the vast unfaithfulness of many of the Israelites. It is within the life of two women, Naomi and Ruth, and one man Boaz, through whom we see God working among Israel during the time of the Judges. Amid the themes of God’s care for the needy and His faithfulness to His people, Chisholm sees the necessary connection to Christ (566). Chisholm ably explains the tricky Hebrew text concerning Ruth’s sleeping at the feet of Boaz in chapter three (650-53). The conclusion to the message of Ruth is that “God cares for the needy people like Naomi and Ruth; he is their ally in this chaotic world” (682).

Conclusion

As was started with Allen P. Ross’ inaugural commentary on the Psalms, Chisholm’s A Commentary on Judges and Ruth continues in the same tradition as the rest of the Kregel Exegetical Library contributions. For those who are not adept at Hebrew, the breakdown of the text and allocating of the grammatical and literary function of each clause is indispensable. Chisholm has spent a lifetime of scholarly study on these two books and it shows. Along with the exegetical work done, the theological and practical guidance is helpful for the modern reader to see how these ancient books still speak to God’s people today.

I received this book for free from Kregel for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Active Spirituality by HedgesChristian theology has many tensions and mysteries including: divine sovereignty and human responsibility, the immanence and transcendence of God and the two natures of Christ as fully God and man. We recognize that we will never fully comprehend these truths that can at times feel contradictory. Alas, we are human and trust in the divine wisdom of our Creator God.

Currently there is a debate among evangelical Christians about the doctrine of sanctification. Books and blog posts have been written in an effort to hone in on the Christian’s active responsibility in their sanctification process. The debate has centered on what the Christian is to do now that they have a new identity in Christ. There is no argument that our salvation is made possible on the basis of Christ’s work for us through His death and resurrection. But for some evangelicals this is where it gets tricky. Does the Christian life require effort? If it does, then are we no longer relying on Christ’s work but rather ours? With a theologians mind and a pastor’s heart, Brian Hedges has jumped into the discussion with his new book Active Spirituality: Grace and Effort in the Christian Life. Brian is no stranger to this discussion on sanctification as he previously touched on this topic at greater length in his book Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change. Readers of Active Spirituality who have not read Christ Formed in You will be well served and strengthened in reading both.

The essence of Active Spirituality is to give a biblically faithful presentation of the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. As Brian rightly emphasizes throughout the book, this doctrine has balanced emphasis on both the grace of God through the working of the Holy Spirit in our sanctification process and the responsibility of all Christians to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). At the beginning of the book Brian notes the emphasis on action in the Christians life

The Christian life is called a walk, a race, a contest, and a fight. We are told to run, to wrestle, to watch, and to stand. And the victors – those who conquer and overcome – receive great promises whereas terrible warnings go to those who grow sluggish and neglect the great salvation secured for us by Jesus. (13)

Hedges wants the reader to see that while God’s grace is certainly at the heart of our growth as Christians, we need to couple that with a serious desire to fulfill the many commands God has given the believer to obey as Christians. Though we are saved by grace and no longer under the Law, we are still under the Law of Christ and Christ has required of His people to live a certain way and work towards obeying His Word.

Active Spirituality is written in a unique style in that each chapter is crafted like a series of correspondences between Brian and a friend seeking spiritual counsel. The friend is fictional and the reader is not provided the content of the letters they might have written. What we are given are the responses by Brian to this person. For Brian though, he has in his mind the lives of those within his congregation that he counseled as well as friends outside of his pastoral ministry. The way the book is set up really helps the point of the book to hit home with the reader. The writing is warm and inviting and his skill as a pastor shines through. Additionally, Hedges knowledge of Scripture and theology are just as strong. He interacts with much helpful literature on the subject such as John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Thomas Schreiner and Ardel Caneday’s book The Race Set Before Us.

Active Spirituality packs a powerful punch in a short space. Hedges walks the line between grace and responsibility in the Christian life with care and wisdom. I recommend this book for new Christians and any Christian who is going through a time of great struggle over how to work out the so great a salvation that they have been given in Christ Jesus.

You can also listen to an interview with Brian Hedges about his book on Bible Geek Gone Wild’s author podcast by going here.

I received this book for free from Shepherds Press through Cross Focused Reviews for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”