Seven Events that Shaped the New Testament World, reviewed

PrintWhat was the world–or, better, what were the worlds–in which early Christians lived?

Seven Events that Shaped the New Testament World answers that question by highlighting seven key “events” in the seven or so centuries surrounding Jesus. Here, from the table of contents, is what the book covers:

1. The Death of Alexander the Great (323 BCE)
2. The Process of Translating Hebrew Scriptures into Greek (ca. 250 BCE)
3. The Rededication of the Jerusalem Temple (164 BCE)
4. The Roman Occupation of Judea (63 BCE)
5. The Crucifixion of Jesus (ca. 30 CE)
6. The Writing of the New Testament Texts (ca. 50-ca. 130 CE)
7. The Process of “Closing” the New Testament Canon (397 CE)

 

Author Warren Carter uses each of the seven “as entry points, as launching pads, to talk about these significant and larger realities.” As one reviewer (whom I read before I read this book) pointed out, these events are not all “events,” per se. Events 2, 6, and 7 above are extended processes. Similarly (as the same reviewer also noted), the writing of the New Testament and the closing of its canon didn’t shape the NT world; they emerged from it.

That’s perhaps just a technicality, though. Carter seeks to be “transparently selective,” using “each event as a focal point for larger cultural dynamics and sociohistorical realities” of New Testament times.

Here is author Warren Carter introducing his book:

 

Carter’s analysis of how historical events shape culture–and how that should influence how we read and understand the New Testament–is incisive and engaging. Early on he writes, “Hellenistic culture did not suddenly replace all other cultures but entangled itself with local cultures to create multicultural worlds.” Given my interest in the Septuagint, I really appreciated his take on that Greek translation as “a way to negotiate a multicultural world.” He deftly explains to readers the intersection between Jewish, Greek, and Roman cultures.

Photographs, sidebars, and occasional footnotes contribute to the level of detail Carter provides. And yet his tone is conversational, and his narrative re-tellings engaging. Last summer I wrote about how I wanted to see Mark Wahlberg or Matt Damon in a film adaptation of 1 Maccabees. Carter’s narrative (ch. 3, “The Rededication of the Jerusalem Temple (164 BCE)”) is nearly as engaging as such a movie would be. In addition to telling the narrative, he has a sidebar on “identity markers” that unpacks the role played by boundaries of identity in Jewish and other religious traditions. His explanation of the difference between 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees was easy to follow and illuminating.

The conversational tone at times was a little too conversational for me. There is frequent reference to “the early Jesus movement,” when “early Christianity” would have sufficed. So, too, “Jesus-followers” could just have been called “Christians,” which I would have found less distracting. Of course, a biblical scholar will note that any of these terms are “problematic,” but the more conventional ones would have made for a smoother read, in my view. And I could have done without reference to early Christians as “reading with Jesus-glasses on” and statements like, “Only bad boys were crucified in Rome’s world,” not to mention the description of Alexander the Great as “a macho man, an action figure.”

I also thought that his emphasis on cultural backdrops was occasionally too strong. For example, comparing Jesus to Alexander, he writes, “In many ways, this presentation of Jesus as the man with great power who rules everything imitates and competes with the presentation of manliness that we have seen with Alexander, the world conqueror.” To speak about Jesus in terms of degrees of “manliness” is perhaps a category mistake. Carter’s mention of Philippians 2 and Jesus’ self-emptying is spot on, of course–I’m just not sure that Paul has imperial powers and the social construction of “manliness” in mind when he writes to Philippi.

Theologically conservative/evangelical readers will bristle a little bit at Carter’s statement about the New Testament that readers today “need to discern when to read against the grain” when it comes to groups that the NT seems to exclude. I don’t read Paul and the NT as “not always gracious to women,” as Carter does, and don’t think he somehow needs to be explained away in this manner. Of course, not all who read this review will agree with me either!

Those criticisms being present, Carter succeeds in the book’s aim: “The seven chapters of this book provide an orientation to some important aspects of the early Jesus movement and the New Testament. Reading it will enlighten you about the beginnings of the Christian movement and help your understanding of the New Testament.”

Though I did not agree with Carter on all his assessments, his description of seven key “events” (as well which events he chose to highlight) has enhanced my understanding of and appreciation for the context into which Jesus came and in which the church was born. As long as one reads critically (as one should always do), Carter provides a wealth of helpful information that is accessible to just about any student of the Bible.

Thanks to Baker and NetGalley for the e-galley to review. The book is on Amazon here. Its Baker product page is here. You can download a sample pdf of the book here. There is also a helpful interview with Carter here.

Review of Beale’s Handbook at The Blog of the Twelve

I’ve just recently learned about The Blog of the Twelve. Based on what I’ve seen so far, it’s recommended reading, especially for folks with an interest in the Minor Prophets.

There is a good book review from that blog of G.K. Beale’s Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. (That book was a text for one of my classes this semester.) An excerpt:

The usefulness of this book can hardly be stated for those seeking to rightly handle the Scripture, whether student, pastor, or laity. Beale’s clear writing style, in addition to the uncharacteristic conciseness of the book, makes the method accessible to a wide audience. Furthermore, Beale, while emphasizing the indispensable value of learning the biblical languages, formats the book in such a way that those not familiar with Hebrew and Greek are able to profit just as well from the work.

Read the whole thing here.

Paul and the Old Testament

There are over 100 explicit quotations of Scripture in Paul’s letters and at least double that number of allusions. However, what is potentially more useful than just citing Paul’s answers to first-century questions is to study how Paul interpreted Scripture, and that is the theme of this book. (1)

This summer I reviewed the third volume of a de facto trilogy by Steve Moyise. In that same series is Paul and Scripture: Studying the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (click on book cover image to see at Amazon). In 160 packed pages Moyise surveys Paul’s use of the Hebrew Bible/Septuagint.

Moyise’s approach is a thematic one, rather than book-by-book. This helps the reader focus on how Paul treated the same topic across his various letters.

The author begins with an introduction to Paul, his “conversion” experience, his missionary activity, and a wonderful problematizing of the issue: because Paul was familiar with Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic versions of Scripture, “[W]hen Paul introduces a phrase or sentence with an introductory formula (IF) such as ‘it is written’, we have to ask ourselves which version of the Scriptures he has in mind” (10). For Paul “would not have had our concept of ‘Bible’, a bound volume of 66 books (for Protestants) residing on his bookshelf” (10).

Moyise keeps his and the reader’s eye on this issue throughout Paul and Scripture. He explores how Paul used:

  • “The figure of Adam” and creation accounts (with Christ as a Second Adam)
  • The story of Abraham, including a brief but helpful look at “Abraham in Jewish tradition”
  • Moses–“an ambiguous figure for Paul. He speaks to God face to face, but his use of a veil is interpreted as a lack of openness” (59)
  • The law. This was perhaps the most interesting section of the book, as Moyise surveyed not only Paul’s use of Scripture, but how modern theologians have tried to make sense of what looks on first glance like conflicting statements about the law. This section is what led me to write:

I don’t even mind that at the moment I’m a bit perplexed by how Paul could both praise the law as being from God yet also refer to it as a “the ministry that brought death.”

  • The prophets–both to develop a theology of Israel and the Gentiles, and to provide instructions for how the Christian community should live
  • The Psalms, Proverbs, and Job

The final chapter is a more detailed survey dealing with “modern approaches to Paul’s use of Scripture,” which Moyise divides into “an intertextual approach,” “a narrative approach,” and “a rhetorical approach” (111 ff.).

Appendices include a focus on Paul’s quotations from Isaiah, an index of Paul’s quotations of Scripture, and pertinent excerpts from the Dead Sea Scrolls.

As with The Later New Testament Writings and Scripture, the book is accessible to a non-scholar or non-specialist in this field, though it will require some work. Due to the book’s brevity, and what I assume was Moyise’s desire to still cover all the proper territory, the book is dense. This means that even a short volume like this will be a great reference to me for some time, as I seek to better understand the ways in which Paul used the Old Testament, and the ways in which Christians have tried to make sense of that use for some 2,000 years, especially recently.

The gray shaded boxes throughout explain key concepts such as the Septuagint, Origen’s Hexapla, Greek grammar, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and so on. As with Moyise’s other book, one does not need to know Greek or Hebrew to read Paul and Scripture, but he does not hesitate to use transliterated Greek to aid his explanation.

I have begun to appreciate Moyise’s even-handedness in presenting various viewpoints and interpretations. Even when discussing potentially controversial aspects of Paul (which books Paul authored, the “New Perspective,” or the idea of some that Paul actually exhibited “contradictory” and inconsistent views of the law), Moyise is fair and presents the various views in a way that the reader is left to consider them for herself or himself. (And the reader knows where to go to find more.)

One thing that seems rare in a work like this is that Moyise generally writes out a Scripture he is citing, rather than just placing a slew of references in parentheses for the reader to slowly work through. This latter method is not all bad, but Moyise’s quotation or summation of the references he cites makes for a smooth read.

I found helpful Moyise’s employment of “an eclectic view, using whatever methods or approaches were helpful for understanding the particular quotation” (111). Moyise doesn’t conclusively answer all the questions that arise when studying Paul’s use of Scripture, nor does he seek to. He hopes “that this book has both laid a foundation and stimulated an interest to go on and read further” (125), a mission he very much has accomplished (at least in this reader) with Paul and Scripture.

Thank you to Baker Academic for providing me with a review copy of the book. See its product page at Baker here.

Leslie C. Allen’s Liturgy of Grief for under $5 (ebook)

Leslie C. Allen’s Liturgy of Grief is under $5 this month in ebook form. It’s here on Amazon ($4.99) and here on CBD ($3.99). It’s a good deal for a great “pastoral commentary” on Lamentations.

I reviewed the book this summer, as well as interviewed the author.

Enter in: One good reason to study how the New Testament uses the Old Testament

I’m reading the book shown at right for a seminary class I’m taking. The class is called “The Old Testament in the New.” Its syllabus is here (pdf).

I’ll offer a review of Beale’s Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament later, but for now, this:

The aim of this chapter [3], and indeed of this entire handbook, is to obtain a better understanding of the way the NT is related to the OT at just those points where the New refers to the Old. The ultimate purpose in this exercise is more clearly to hear and apprehend the living word of the living God (cf. Acts 7:38), so that we may encounter God increasingly and know him more deeply, and so think and do those things that honor God.

He notes that he realizes “that this purpose is not shared by all in the academic guild,” but I believe that if the biblical authors meant for their writings to be read in a “participatory mood,” we actually do some injustice to the text when we don’t read them that way.

Review: Accordance 10’s Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, by Beale and Carson (part 2 of 2: the content)

Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, edited by G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson, is available as an add-on module in Accordance 10. In the first part of my review of the module, I focused on Accordance’s presentation of the commentary. Here I review the content of the commentary itself, but still with a close eye on how I’ve experienced it in Accordance.

I mentioned in my last post that for reading this commentary straight through (e.g., if I want to spend some time absorbing the introduction to any given book), I can easily detach it from a given workspace where it has shown up as a “Reference Tool.” I also noted that navigating through the various headings and sub-headings of the commentary is very easy, as Accordance lays it out.

To quickly view hyperlinks you can do a “Popover” for Instant Details by holding a click on a hyperlink or by pressing option-click. Or, as I’ve begun doing since my last post, you can just have the Instant Details always open. This way I can quickly read the text of a verse that is merely referenced in the commentary, and not lose my place in the body of the commentary.

Highlighting is also mercifully easy, so that my commentary currently looks like this:

One thing to appreciate about the content of the commentary right off the bat is that it succeeds in its hope that

Readers will be helped to think through how a particular NT book or writer habitually uses the OT; they will be stimulated to see how certain OT passages and themes keep recurring in the various NT corpora.

Take D.A. Carson’s introduction to 1 Peter, for example:

The OT is cited or alluded to in 1 Peter in rich profusion. In a handful of instances quotations are introduced by formulae: dioti gegraptai, “wherefore it is written” (1:16, citing Lev. 19:2), dioti periechei en graphē, “wherefore it stands in Scripture” (2:6–8, citing Isa. 28:16; Ps. 118:22; Isa. 8:14), or, more simply, by dioti, “wherefore” (1:24–25a, citing Isa. 40:6–8) or by gar, “for” (3:10–12, citing Ps. 34:13–17). About twenty quotations are sufficiently lengthy and specific that there is little doubt regarding their specific OT provenance. For a book of only five short chapters, there is a remarkable record of quotation. Yet the quotations tell only a small part of the story, for 1 Peter is also laced with allusions to the OT.

Andreas J. Köstenberger’s introduction to John is remarkably thorough in this regard, containing (among other things!) a table of introductory formulas John used for OT quotations, a comparison between how John uses a given OT text and how other NT writers use it, how John’s quotations relate to potentially underlying Hebrew and Greek texts, and so on.

As noted above, there are several ways I can easily use Instant Details to look up each of the verses mentioned in the commentary, without losing my place in the main body. Note that the commentary uses transliteration for Greek and Hebrew throughout. For those who are not huge fans of transliteration (myself included), this is offset by the ease with which I can look up any of those verses in Accordance in the original texts, right alongside the commentary.

In the below screen shot I have the GNT-T text at bottom left tied to the Beale-Carson Commentary. This is simple to set up with a right click on the tab, then going to “Tab Ties.” This means that as I advance through 1 Peter, for example, the GNT-T text follows me. In the instance below, I have the parallel NET open, so that a Greek-English diglot follows me through the commentary. In the “Context” zone at the right I have the Hebrew Masoretic Text and the Old Greek (LXX) open with my favorite corresponding English translations (NET and NETS) below.

One thing I sort of stumbled on that is really neat. Besides clicking on a hyperlinked verse in the text (to show me that single verse in the Context zone), command-clikcing on a hyperlinked verse gives me all the verses in my commentary’s paragraph that are hyperlinked. Note the “Verse 1 of 12” below, and how Isaiah 8:14 is right below Leviticus 19:2 in my LXX. What a nice feature!

Okay. Back to the content of the commentary itself. The introductions to each NT book, then, do well to orient the reader to trends in how that particular writer interacts with the OT text. The list of contributors is impressive–see it here. The commentary seeks to analyze not only instances where the NT quotes the OT, but also “all probable allusions” as well.

Generally speaking, each citation or allusion in question is organized around these facets:

  • The New Testament context: “the topic of discussion, the flow of thought, and, where relevant, the literary structure, genre, and rhetoric of the passage”
  • The Old Testament context of the source of the quotation or allusion–already things get interesting here, because NT writers do seem to feel free to recontextualize or resituate OT passages…
  • How early Judaism literature understood the given OT text. Even when there is little evidence of citation in early Judaism, there is still explanation. Köstenberger, for example, on John 2:17 briefly discusses the Jewish valuing of zeal, drawing on Phinehas, the Maccabees, and the Qumran community.
  • Textual issues, e.g., changes in verb tense from the LXX to the NT, and explorations of what text (proto-MT, LXX, etc.) or texts might inform the NT author’s quotation, including good discussion of textual variants (in the MT, LXX, and GNT!)
  • “How the NT is using or appealing to the OT,” i.e., are they so steeped in the OT that its language comes out naturally and not as a deliberate quotation? Does the NT writer have fulfilled prophecy in view? Etc.
  • The “theological use” of the OT by the NT writer

This last category ties much of the other content together. For example, on the theological use of Mark 1:2-3, Rick E. Watts says, “As such, eschatologically, in Jesus Isaiah’s long-delayed new-exodus deliverance of Israel has begun in Malachi’s great and terrible day of the Lord (Mal. 4:5).” Watts is dense here, but delightfully so, in my opinion. He develops these themes further–especially that of the new exodus–throughout his analysis on Mark.

I mentioned in my last post that you can search this module in a dozen different ways. The search bar is similar to Google, in that you can search English content by a single word, but also by a phrase in quotation marks, so that that exact phrase comes up in your search. Unfortunately the “Greek Content” and “Hebrew Content” searches (which search using Greek and Hebrew letters) are not available in this module, but that’s no fault of Accordance’s, since the commentary uses transliteration.

Fortunately, “Transliteration” is a search option, so you can easily look up how the commentary treats a given Greek or Hebrew word. Searching hilastērion, I see that all seven of its uses in the commentary are at Romans 3:25.

There were a few times when I wanted to go deeper into a passage than the commentary allowed. For example, Paul’s citation of Malachi in Romans 9:13 has, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” It’s hard to imagine anyone using a commentary who doesn’t want at least a little explanation of “hated” here. The commentary, to be fair, does have, “This choice of Jacob meant the rejection of Esau,” but doesn’t connect this rejection with the verb “hate.”

This just means that Beale and Carson’s commentary won’t be the only place I turn for in-depth study of a passage, but all my seminary professors say don’t use just one commentary anyway! Not a major loss here. The book is already huge (though not on a computer, thankfully), and attempts to be only “reasonably comprehensive” (which it very much is), not exhaustively so.

Besides that, it took me about three seconds to find in Accordance the NET Bible note on Malachi 1:3:

The context indicates this is technical covenant vocabulary in which “love” and “hate” are synonymous with “choose” and “reject” respectively (see Deut 7:8; Jer 31:3; Hos 3:1; 9:15; 11:1).

This commentary is what we book reviewers like to call a monumental achievement. It sits in the carrel of many a student in my seminary’s library. For good reason. And Accordance has done a magnificent job if seamlessly integrating a rich and multi-facted commentary into its software. This is a five star commentary with five star integration into Accordance 10.

Beale and Carson say in their introduction:

If this volume helps some scholars and preachers to think more coherently about the Bible and teach “the whole counsel of God” with greater understanding, depth, reverence, and edification for fellow believers, contributors and editors alike will happily conclude that the thousands of hours invested in this book were a very small price to pay.

After consulting the original biblical texts, this commentary will always be the first place I turn when I am looking to better understand (and share with others) how the New Testament uses the Old. I am grateful for those “thousands of hours invested in this book.”

Thank you to Accordance for providing me with a copy of the Beale/Carson commentary module for review. Scroll through for all six parts of my Accordance 10 review here.

Review: Accordance 10’s Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, by Beale and Carson (part 1 of 2: the module)

Baker Academic has made its way to Accordance 10 Bible Software. The first offering is Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, edited by G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson. Here I review it, with this first part of the review covering Accordance’s version of it.

One nice thing about Accordance’s setup is that I can use Commentary on the NT Use of the OT just as any other Accordance tool (for the below and all images in this post, click or open in new tab for larger):

Or I can right-click on the tab to “detach it,” so that it’s its own workspace. For reading through a good deal of text at once, this is ideal. One other great feature, as you’ll see in the left sidebar below, is how easy it is to navigate through all the sections and sub-sections of the book:

But what about how I’d actually need to use this resource? To really make sense of it, I’d need the Hebrew MT, Greek LXX, possibly English translations of each, and the Greek NT all open and easy to view. Combining that kind of layout with the hyperlinking in Accordance’s version of this commentary would be sweet. Wonderfully… it’s possible. Check this out:

For a resource that can be had in print for under $40, it seems like paying nearly $60 for the Accordance module could only be justified if the electronic version could do things the print version can’t. The electronic version can, indeed, do some unique things. (See the image above.) Especially for a commentary like this with lots of cross-references and constant movement between Greek, Hebrew, and other versions, being able to see multiple versions at once–together with the commentary–is a huge benefit. It saves time and allows me to better grasp how NT writers used OT texts by seeing a quotation alongside its original context.

The Instant Details (which I happen to have closed above to maximize screen space for different versions) show whatever hyperlink you hover over–this gives you yet another window for text display, and is particularly useful for, say, quickly seeing a longer passage in English. Things did get a little buggy when I opened the Instant Details the first time, but I assume that was because of how many windows I had open (not the module itself, necessarily):

I was able to get rid of the jumbling on the top right by closing and re-opening the Instant Details. See now below:

One really nice feature about Accordance’s Beale and Carson commentary module is how many ways you can search it. Accordance then tells you how many hits come up for your search, and using the “move down one mark” arrow keys, you can easily move through the results. You can even see the “real” (i.e., print) page numbers! Look again at that image at right–that’s 12 different ways you can search Beale/Carson. Pretty handy.

Most folks interested in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament likely know of its solid reputation and are perhaps now merely trying to decide between a print and electronic version. (In a second post I’ll review the content of the commentary.) If you use Bible software regularly already, I think it is well worth the extra cost to own Accordance’s module. It’s facile to get around, hyperlinked nicely, easy to line up with original language texts, highly searchable, and quite readable as a detachable resource. I, for one, am really glad to have this module on my computer.

Thank you to Accordance for providing me with a copy of the Beale/Carson commentary module for review. Scroll through for all six parts of my Accordance 10 review here.

UPDATE: Read the rest of my review of Beale/Carson here.