Wheaton College Old Testament professor and writer Daniel L. Block has recently written Ruth: A Discourse Analysis of the Hebrew Bible (Zondervan, 2015), which is part of the newer Zondervan Exegetical Commentary series on the Old and New Testaments. Block is also the general editor for the Old Testament portion of the series.
These commentaries separate themselves from other solid commentary series in the following ways:
- Main Idea – Basing itself on all of the work to follow, the main idea of the passage is briefly explained at the beginning of each chapter.
- Literary Context – Each passage is placed in its most immediate context and then within the broader context of the book itself.
- Translation and Exegetical Outline – In my mind this is where the commentary excels. The author provides a fresh translation of the passage which is accompanied by several features: (1) the passage is arranged line by line with corresponding chiastic structured labeling (1a, 1b, 1c – 2a, 2b, 2c), (2) the Hebrew text is line by line next to the translation, and (3) each movement of the text is identified in an outline format with short descriptions.
- Structure and Literary Forms – Here, the relevant and significant structural and literary features of the passage are briefly mentioned. This includes things like word repetition, changes in grammar, stylistic features, verb usages, etc.
- Explanation of the Text – While this is the bulk of any commentary, this section is predominately dominated by the literary structure of the passage. Compared to other exegetical commentaries, this section is noticeably shorter book for book but does not skimp on content. They get to the point and allow the other aspects to fill in.
- Canonical and Practical Significance – This final section links the passages connection to the rest of the book and the whole Bible when applicable. It also bridges the world of the Bible to today’s world with practical application that is sensitive to the context of the passage.
In regards to Block’s commentary on Ruth, the most notable feature under-girding all of his work in the book is his focus on Ruth as a drama. As such the pericopes are seen in terms of act’s in a play. Further, the translation of the book has a more narrative feel to it as compared to other standard translations.
While knowledge of Hebrew is certainly ideal, those who are not familiar with it will still gain much from Block’s work. Block is one of those writers who seems to hit a home run with every book he writes and this book is no exception. Though Block has already written a commentary on Ruth for the New American Commentary series, this time around gave him the chance to visit the text once again with new eyes and provide a fresh take on a familiar book.
I heartily recommend Ruth by Block for anyone looking to gain a better understanding of the book, especially from an exegetical and literary perspective.
I received this book for free from Zondervan 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.”
Christ. Kingdom. Unity. These three words summarize the Christian worldview regarding the message of Scripture. Christ is the central figure of Scripture who accomplished redemption and to whom the Old and New Testaments point to. The kingdom is the “thematic framework” in which Christ the redeemer operates and to which every other theme of the Bible is tied to. Unity describes how Christ and kingdom are presented from Genesis to Revelation. Rather than each book standing on its own, disjointed from the others, and Christ and kingdom being haphazardly presented in Scripture, each theme is coherently and consistently presented in the sixty-six books of the Bible.
It is around these three themes that A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament: The Gospel Promised and A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel Realized have been written (Crossway, 2016). These two books are the product of professors, past and present, at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi and are edited by Miles V. Van Pelt (OT) and Michael J. Kruger (NT).
In short, these two volumes provide lay Christians, seminary students, and pastors with possibly the best biblical and theological introduction to all 66 books of the Bible from a decidedly Reformed perspective. There are several reasons why these books ought to be on your shelf.
First, these books accomplish the goal of presenting the overall biblical messages of Christ and his kingdom through the unity of Scripture. The authors do not take the higher critical road by fragmenting and juxtaposing the books of the Bible to each other. Rather, they see Scripture, as it presents itself; a unified whole with each book contributing to the overall themes, namely, Christ and kingdom. There is unity in the diversity. As Miles Van Pelt states in the preface to the Old Testament volume
Our goal is not to dismantle the Scriptures into as many unrelated parts as possible but rather to show how the vast, eclectic diversity of the Scriptures has been woven together by a single, divine author over the course of a millennium as the covenantal testimony to the person and word of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit according to the eternal decree of God the Father. (13, BTIOT).
Michael J. Kruger says as much in his introduction to the New Testament volume
Because God is the ultimate author of the New Testament writings, the distinctive theologies of individual books and the overall theology of the New Testament are fully harmonious. (23, BTINT)
Second, tying the themes of Christ and unity together, these books focus mainly (though not to the exclusion of traditional systematic theology categories) on the redemptive-historical nature of Scripture. If there were no unity to the books of the Bible we would be hard pressed to find overarching themes and a redemptive-historical focus might be impossible to argue. Much like reading the Bible straight through itself, reading these two volumes straight through will give the reader an amazing grasp on every book of the Bible in terms of its overall content, biblical context, and theological focus. If you need to read another book in order to be convinced of the redemptive-historical narrative of Scripture then this is one to get.
Third, tied to the second feature, each book is presented in its biblical-theological context. While some contributors do more or less than others on which aspect they focus more on, each chapter discusses how each book of the Bible fits into the overall message of Scripture (biblical) and what each book of the Bible uniquely contributes theologically (theological). This combination gives the reader a more balanced and broad understanding of each book of the Bible.
Fourth, as it relates to the Old Testament, they have taken the position to present the books in the order as they appear in final form in the Hebrew Bible. Van Pelt takes a few pages to discuss the history and rational for the varied ways the OT books have been ordered. Many Christians are not aware that there is more than one way the books of the Old Testament have been ordered depending on the text being used. In his chapter The Twelve, Daniel C. Timmer discusses the varied ways in which the minor prophets have been ordered. For some very enlightening discussion on why Proverbs, Ruth, and Song of Songs are in that order see Van Pelt’s chapter Song of Songs (419-20).
Finally, these books are highly accessible to the average Christian who knows their Bible fairly well and provide great content for pastors and teachers to help their congregations go deep into the text. Though the contributors are scholars, most of whom are ordained ministers and many of whom have pastoral experience, their scholarly experience has not prohibited them from producing a highly readable and accessible text. Their diversity of education and ministry experience is brought into these books and makes them that much better. This will probably be the standard biblical-theological introduction to the Bible from a Reformed perspective (or from any perspective for that matter) for years to come.
I cannot recommend A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament and A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament enough. These are solid, conservative, theological, biblical, and informed books that will help Christians better understand the broader message(s) of the Bible (Christ, kingdom, unity) as well as the many sub themes that play out in the text.
These are two books that should be standard texts for pastors and teachers and any Christian who desires to know the Bible better.
I received this book for free from Crossway 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.”