Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: Colossians and Philemon, reviewed

Getting from participles to preaching, from grammar to Good News proclamation, can be a challenge to preachers and teachers when working with the biblical text. But if there is theology in those prepositions, as seminary professors have often noted, careful attention to the morphology and syntax of the text can be key in preparing to expound God’s Word with God’s people.

B&H Academic’s Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament “aims to close that gap between stranded student (or former student) and daunting text and to bridge that gulf between morphological analysis and exegesis.” As a volume in a projected set of 20 volumes, Murray J. Harris’s Colossians and Philemon “seeks to provide in a single volume all the necessary information for basic understanding of the Greek text and to afford suggestions for more detailed study.” Similar to the Baylor Handbook series, the Exegetical Guide is not a “full-scale” commentary. This affords the author more opportunity to comment on the original language of the biblical text.

Both Colossians and Philemon in this volume contain a brief but sufficient Introduction. It treats authorship (Harris defends Pauline authorship based on Colossians’ similarity to Philemon, which is more generally accepted as Pauline); date (he puts the two letters at 60-61); occasion and purpose; includes an outline of the letter; and makes commentary recommendations.

Each paragraph of the biblical text has the following features in the commentary:

  • A structural analysis of the Greek. This is in sentence flow style–not sentence diagramming; Harris says the former is “a simple exercise in literary physiology–showing how the grammatical and conceptual parts of a paragraph are arranged and related”
  • Commentary on each phrase in the Greek, which ranges from morphological analysis to syntax to lexical analysis (great helps for word studies in this book!) to textual variants. Much of the Greek ends up translated into English in each passage of the commentary
  • “For Further Study,” a bibliography arranged by topic, e.g., “Prayer in Paul” (1:9-12), “The Will of God” (1:9), etc.
  • “Homiletical Suggestions,” not uncommonly more than one for a given passage

In addition, at the end of each letter there is a full English translation of that letter and an “expanded paraphrase” of the Greek. Colossians 3:12-14 in Harris’s translation, for example, reads:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, who are holy and loved by him, put on heartfelt compassion [σπλάγχνα οἰκτιρμοῦ], kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. You are to bear with one another, and if anyone has a grievance against someone else, you are to forgive one another. Just as the Lord forgave you, so you also must forgive.

The expanded paraphrase reads, “So, then, since you are God’s chosen people, his elect, dedicated to his service and the objects of his special love….”

The structural analysis, in my view, is the best feature of this densely packed and rich commentary. For example, in his analysis of Colossians 3:1-4, Harris visually shows “Christ” (in Greek) lined up in five different instances, so that he can easily show, “Christ is a central theme of the paragraph (there are five explicit references to him in the four verses).” Just reading the Greek straight through, this may not be as obvious as it is when Harris shows it visually and comments on it.

Harris gives great attention to individual words and phrases within verses. He mentions the major Greek grammars: “Blass-Debrunner-Funk, Robertson, Turner, and Zerwick,” as well as BDAG, the Anchor Bible Dictionary, and other such standard references. Just to give one example, on 1:15 Harris writes:

The ‘firstborn’ was either the eldest child in a family or a person of preeminent rank. The use of this term to describe the Davidic king in Ps 88:28 (LXX) (=Ps 89:27 EVV), ‘I will also appoint him my firstborn (πρωτότοκον), the most exalted of the kings of the earth,’ indicates that it can denote supremacy in rank as well as priority in time.

The sermon suggestions are really just suggestions for the body of a sermon; though they are in outline form, they are not complete sermon outlines. And some of the included outlines (“Wrestling in Prayer” from 2:1-2) will preach better than others (“Introductory Greeting” from Philemon 1-3). Yet anything homiletical like this is more than some Greek-focused, exegetical series offer, and the homiletical suggestions–if not always sufficient in themselves–still make for a good point of departure for the preacher. In fact, Harris only intends “to provide some of the raw materials for sermon preparation.”

The “Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms” is one of the best such glossaries I’ve seen in a book like this. It occasionally uses examples from Colossians and Philemon themselves, which is a nice touch.

This Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament is a great companion to the Greek text. Harris is sensitive yet incisive, and always thorough. It’s hard to imagine a better guide for the grammatical analysis of Colossians and Philemon in Greek. I look forward to future volumes in this series. (A James volume is coming soon.)

Thanks to B&H Academic for the free review copy of the book. I was under no obligation to provide a positive review. The book’s product page is here (B&H), or see it here (Amazon).

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.

Basics of Biblical Aramaic

This textbook is a great one. I’m amazed at how much Aramaic it helped me pick up in just a long afternoon and evening. What follows is my review of Miles V. Van Pelt’s stellar text, Basics of Biblical Aramaic. It’s a winner!

Basics of Biblical Aramaic (BBA hereafter) is a “Complete Grammar, Lexicon, and Annotated Text.” I’ll review each of these components in turn.

Scope, Aim and Audience

BBA seeks to include “everything you need to learn biblical Aramaic” and is “designed for those who already have a working knowledge of biblical Hebrew.” This is a fair expectation, since most students of Aramaic only come to Aramaic having already had Hebrew (and often Greek, too). This allows Van Pelt to use Hebrew as a springboard for Aramaic throughout the book, which he does to great effect. He writes “for those students who desire to study, teach, and preach faithfully from those portions of the Bible that appear in Aramaic.”

I write as a member of Van Pelt’s target audience. I’ve had (more than) a year of Hebrew but no Aramaic to date.


Van Pelt divides the grammar into the following sections:

  • Phonology, in which he introduces the Aramaic alphabet, vowels, and syllabification
  • The Nominal System, in which he covers nouns (absolute, determined, and construct states), conjunctions, prepositions, pronouns and pronominal suffixes, adjectives, numerals, adverbs, and particles
  • The Verbal system, in which he covers the simple Peal stem in all its conjugations (perfect, imperfect, imperative, etc.), followed by the derived stems in their multiple conjugations
  • Six pages of quick-reference Charts and Paradigms

Here is a sample pdf of the Table of Contents and first few chapters. In the book’s layout and in many other ways, BBA is like Van Pelt’s Basics of Biblical Hebrew (BBH), which he co-authored with Gary D. Pratico.

As with BBH the typical chapter layout of BBA is grammar followed by vocabulary. And in this case, since the workbook is essentially included in the text, chapters close with exercises. There is no answer key included, but the book lists the site from which it can be downloaded.

Van Pelt classifies verbs according to the “Peal” stem and its derived stems–also explaining alternate verbal terminology (G-stem, etc.). As he explains the various conjugations, he keeps aspect firmly in mind:

The incomplete (or imperfective) aspect of the Imperfect conjugation is well suited for describing present and future actions and so a present or future tense English translation is common with this verbal form. However, it is important to remember that that imperfective aspect of the imperfect conjugation may refer to actions in the past, present, or future….

One of Van Pelt’s aims in this textbook is “pedagogical sensitivity,” which he notes has not always appeared in Aramaic grammars. (He may have this one by Alger F. Johns in mind, which, good as it is, is not as user-friendly.) He succeeds immensely in this regard. That Van Pelt is a professor in an actual classroom is on display throughout the text; his tone is warm and even encouraging in many places. Each chapter concludes with a “Before You Move On” section, which helps the reader distinguish between things he or she needs to commit to memory and what he or she can leave for future reference.

Van Pelt’s grouping of vocabulary also exhibits “pedagogical sensitivity.” Initial lists have vocabulary that is similar or identical to Hebrew, so that an Aramaic student can get a quick jump on vocabulary acquisition. Van Pelt groups several lists according to semantic domain and also parts of speech. This is merciful to the students who will work their way through BBA (and good pedagogy). He includes all Aramaic words occurring four times or more in the OT, which constitute 91% of the text.


The lexicon is a comprehensive one that includes every Aramaic word occurring in the OT. Van Pelt bases the definitions/glosses on HALOT. There are definitions for different stems of each verb, too. There are no word frequency counts, either here or in the vocabulary lists. (Basics of Biblical Hebrew has frequencies in the vocab lists at the end of each chapter, one of its great features.) However, this may not be as essential as in Hebrew, since the Aramaic corpus in the OT is smaller. Van Pelt does include frequency statistics for many prepositions, conjunctions, adverbs, particles, and stems as he introduces them throughout the text.

Annotated Text

This is the best feature of an already great textbook. In the same way that Van Pelt and Pratico’s Graded Reader of Biblical Hebrew helps the student to really dig into the text, the Annotated Text in the back of BBA allows the student to put his or her new knowledge of Aramaic into practice. Every OT verse and passage in Aramaic is included: Genesis 31:47, Jeremiah 10:11, Daniel 2:4b-7:28, Ezra 4:8-6:18, and Ezra 7:12-26. The footnotes link back to specific chapters and sections of the text, and Van Pelt includes detailed morphological and lexical analysis of various words.

Further reflections

I have only two (minor) critiques of this textbook, which are as much as anything hopes for small adjustments that might be made in a future printing or edition of this book.

First, there is little about Aramaic in its Northwest Semitic context. This isn’t an oversight; Van Pelt says his grammar is not “written for Aramaic scholars or for students interested in comparative Semitic grammar.” Instead he wants to help produce a “working knowledge” for those who will “study, teach, and preach faithfully” from the Aramaic portions of the Bible. Fair enough. And he does allude to further discussions of Aramaic as a language in his footnotes. But as I imagine myself teaching and preaching Aramaic portions of the Bible, I think it would be helpful to know something of Aramaic’s context and development, to explain to my congregation. This could simply be a few paragraphs in a future edition.

Second, the verbal diagnostics Van Pelt highlights (using “the identification of distinctive verbal features unique to a group of related verbal forms”) are explained in the individual chapters, but not color-coded in the paradigm charts. They are given in red in the Hebrew textbook Van Pelt co-authored, and this was one of the most useful parts of that book–it really aided in learning the paradigms. Van Pelt does explain what diagnostics to look for, but I’d love if a future edition or printing could color-code the vowels/consonants that constitute the various verbal diagnostics. (UPDATE: I had thought that perhaps the lack of color in verbal diagnostics was a print cost issue. I’ve now been able to confirm that there will eventually be an electronic release of the grammar with color.)

Also, though this might be asking a lot of a single text, I found the English to Hebrew composition exercises in the BBH workbook to be a great way to improve my Hebrew. Perhaps supplemental composition exercises could find their way onto Van Pelt’s site in the future?

I initially thought a $45 retail price was steep for a paperback. But considering that this includes a grammar text, workbook exercises, a comprehensive Aramaic lexicon, and an annotated text of all the Aramaic in the Old Testament… it’s actually reasonable. In the Hebrew and Greek equivalents to this textbook, the text, workbook, and set of annotated readings are all separate volumes. This was a good move on the book’s part, I thought, and makes it easy to refer to it time and again as a one-stop shop for Aramaic acquisition and development.

What stands out most to me about Basics of Biblical Aramaic is the very-nice-to-have Annotated Text at the back with all the Aramaic OT passages. And another standout feature of this text is that Van Pelt truly does display “pedagogical sensitivity” throughout the text. Who would have thought an Aramaic textbook could have such a conversational tone without sacrificing thoroughness and good pedagogy?

Five stars. I imagine this textbook will become the standard in seminary and upper-level college courses where students learn biblical Aramaic.

My thanks to Zondervan for the review copy of this textbook. Find it here on Powell’s or here at Zondervan’s product page.

James (Zondervan ECNT), reviewed

James is no “epistle of straw,” as Martin Luther once (in)famously said of the book. But many–with Luther–find it difficult to reconcile Paul and James on faith and works.

Paul: “A person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

James: “A person is considered righteous [i.e., justified] by what they do and not by faith alone.”

Here I review James by Craig L. Blomberg and Mariam J. Kamell, from Zondervan’s Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (ZECNT) series. (Click here to find my review of Luke in that same series; below I use some of my same wording from that post to introduce the ZECNT series more generally.)

Like the rest of the ZECNT series, James is “designed for the pastor and Bible teacher.” The authors assume a basic knowledge of Greek, but Greek is not required to understand the commentary. For each passage the commentary gives the broader literary context, the main idea (great for preachers!), an original translation of the Greek and its graphical layout, the structure, an outline, explanation, and “theology in application” section.

The introduction covers an outline and structure of James, the circumstances surrounding its writing, authorship and date, and significance of the book. It is shorter and less detailed than the introductions in Douglas Moo’s James commentary and that of Peter Davids. Immediately I looked for how the authors would resolve the Paul/James (alleged) discrepancy, but they note in the introduction that they discuss James’s theology after “the commentary proper.” (The ZECNT series has a separate “Theology” section at the back of the book that most other commentaries include as part of the introduction.)

They give just two paragraphs in their theology section–with a bit more in the body of the commentary–to “Faith and Works” (compare Moo’s lengthier discussion in his introduction), but they have their reasons for this:

Contrary to what the extent of the discussion of the topic might suggest, faith and works is not the main focus of James’s letter. It is a subordinate point that grows out of his concern for the poor and the dispossessed (2:14-26; cf. 2:1-13).

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that this idea of faith and works as a subordinate point in James had not really occurred to me prior to working with this commentary. (A good trait in a commentary to produce such thoughts!) But if you click on the references above or look through James 2 (and the rest of James) in your Bible, it’s easy to see where the authors are coming from.

In fact, the “three key topics” in James, according to Blomberg and Kamell, are “trials in the Christian life,” “wisdom,” and “riches and poverty.” They follow Davids here, and note that James 1:2-11 lays out each of the major themes, which James then restates in 1:12-27. 2:1-5:18 then consist of “the three themes expanded,” in reverse order, followed by a closing in 5:19-20.

Blomberg and Kamell are “the first to grant that we may still be imposing more structure on the text than James had in mind.” All the same, their outline of James makes it easier to work through the book, and then finally does, I think, justify their claim in the theology section that “faith and works” is not the central theme of the letter and should be considered in its broader context. Still, they do have a good way forward in understanding Paul and James together: “But this action, these deeds or works, are not put forward in any attempt to merit God’s favor but as the natural, spiritual outgrowth of one’s faith.”

As with Luke, the graphical layout of each passage (in original English translation) is a unique contribution in James. Being able to see main clauses in bold with subordinate clauses indented under them (plus how they relate back to the main clause) gives the reader a quick, visual grasp of the entire passage at hand. See page 45 of the commentary in this sample pdf to see how it looks. This is a highlight of the ZECNT series, and the fact that it’s in English makes it all the more accessible. The translation is smooth and readable, doing great justice to both the Greek it translates and the English language.

James has the full Greek text of James, verse by verse, and the full English translation (passage by passage in the graphical layout, then again verse by verse next to the Greek). As I’ve said before, a value for me in using reference works is not having to pull five more reference works off the shelf to use the first reference work! The authors make comments like this one in 1:5 throughout the work, wedding grammatical and lexical analysis to exegetical application:

We are told to ask of the “giving God” (διδόντος θεοῦ). Here the present participle suggests that “giving” represents a continuous characteristic of God.

To take another example, on James 2:20, which they translate, “Do you want to know, O empty person, that faith without works is workless?” they write:

James incorporates a pun on the word “work” (ἔργον), using the negative adjective from the same root–“workless” (ἀργή). The term can also mean idle or useless. Faith that lacks works does not work! In other words, it is entirely ineffective to save.

Teachers and preachers especially will appreciate the “Theology in Application” section that concludes each passage. James may already strike the preacher as a book that just preaches itself, but the authors do well in helping the preacher connect the text with today’s concerns. For example, for 2:14-17 they note that although James

provides no treatise on the most effective ways to help the poor…, true believers will take some kind of action. At the very least, they must cultivate generous, even sacrificial giving to help the poor as part of their ongoing personal and corporate stewardship of their possessions. But in light of systemic injustice, we probably need to do much more.

Amen. The authors go on, “James certainly would share the concern of liberation theologians to do far more for the poor, individually and systemically, than many branches of recent Christianity have attempted” (my italics). Moo agrees–though he wants to distance himself “from an extreme ‘liberation’ perspective,” he says “we must be careful not to rob his denunciation of the rich of its power.” And James 5:1-6 are pretty damning of the powerful rich who use their power to oppress the poor.

The authors write,

[These oppressors] are the financially wealthy in a world where the rich occupied a miniscule percentage of the population. James does not call them to change their behavior. Instead, he warns them of impending disaster in their lives by commanding them to mourn their coming fate. …”Wail” [ὀλολύζοντες] appears in the LXX of the Prophets in contexts of judgment and can refer to inarticulate shrieks of terror. …James makes it clear that these rich people are going to undergo a terrible ordeal.

There were a few times in the “Theology in Application” section that I wondered (as other reviewers have) whether the authors weren’t getting a bit off-topic from the text. For example, on 3:9-12 they say,

Abortion and euthanasia offend God deeply because they take lives made in his image. But abuse or neglect of the poor and outcast (including the homosexual) proves equally offensive because such treatments likewise demean individuals God made to reflect himself.

They say this to argue against the “stereotypical agendas of both the political and religious ‘right’ and ‘left,'” but it was hard for me to decide whether this was a case of applying an ancient text well to a contemporary set of issues, or if it was an anachronistic stretch. Nothing they say here is incongruent with James, but I did wonder here (and in another place) whether those verses in James really speak to issues like abortion and homosexuality. A minor critique, though.

Those working their way through the Greek of James may still want to have Davids on hand. But as with the Luke volume in this series, the combination of close attention to the Greek text with contemporary application makes James a commentary very much worth using. I know I will want to go back to this commentary right away when I am doing work with the book of James in the future.

(I am grateful to Zondervan for the free review copy of this commentary, which was sent to me with the understanding that I would then write an unbiased review. You can find the book on Amazon or at Zondervan.)

Review of Malachi (Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Text), part 2

In this post I both explain the jarring Malachi 2:3-4 as well as offer part 2 of my review of Malachi: A Handbook on the Hebrew Text by Terry W. Eddigner (Baylor University Press, 2012). Part 1 of the review is here.

Eddinger begins each passage with his own English translation, then analyzes the Hebrew text verse by verse. Any reader will appreciate that Eddinger prints the full Hebrew text of a given verse, then reprints the various clauses and words when commenting on them. (This eliminates the need to constantly refer to another book when using Malachi.) The Hebrew font is large, clear, and easy to read. It’s fully pointed and includes the Masoretic markings that one would find in the BHS. Though at first I had wished to see the English translation verse-by-verse alongside the Hebrew, Eddinger’s decision to have English translations primarly at the beginning of a passage does force the reader more into the Hebrew itself. For the intended audience of “a second-year Biblical Hebrew student” whose focus is translation, grammar, and syntax, this is a good thing.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that Eddinger discusses textual variants throughout the handbook. He especially focuses on LXX/Septuagint variants that receive attention from the BHS editors. His conclusions regarding variants often end with something like, “X makes sense in context and so should be retained.” Thoroughgoing text critics may be left wanting more evaluation or interaction with variants than this (as I was at times)–but this is a short handbook. The fact that the author highlighted such variants at all was an added bonus, as far as I’m concerned.

Eddinger gives excellent attention to grammatical and syntactical detail–down to an assimilated dagesh lene (1:13)! He treats clauses as wholes–for example, highlighting word order and fronting for emphasis. And he treats individual words and parts of speech. He never loses the forest for the trees, and he gives the trees their due attention, too. In conjunction with the “key words” chart at the beginning of a section and the appendix of all Hebrew words in Malachi, Eddinger often notes rare Hebrew words as such, giving something of their context in the rest of the Hebrew Bible. He seems to have HALOT, TDOT, BDB, and other technical commentaries readily at hand as he comments on the text. On 1:14 he writes,

נוֹכֵל is a rare word in the Masoretic Text, occurring only four times (only here in Malachi) and means “one who acts cleverly” or “deceitfully” thus, “a cheat.”

That is the sort of insight I could come to expect on a regular basis by the end of the handbook. I loved it for that.

In terms of grammar, his discussion of individual words includes syntax and morphology, with every single word parsed / morphologically analyzed and often more detail than that. Eddinger uses the qatal and yiqtol verb classification system. This may not line up with what every Hebrew student has read regarding tense/aspect in their first-year Hebrew class, but it does (at least according to some) carry significant advantages over “perfect” and “imperfect.” (See a mini-primer on the Hebrew verbal system here.)

Regarding the verses from Malachi with which I led off part 1 of this review, Eddinger explains them well:

פֶרֶשׁ refers to the contents of the bowels of sacrificed animals, which the priests were to burn as refuse at a location away from the altar (Exod 29:14; Lev 4:11; 8:17). The phrase [feces upon your faces] is a double entendre in meaning as the act is an act of humiliation and contact with the ‘unclean’ matter makes the priests ‘unclean’ for their priestly duties.

(I allude more to Malachi 2:3 here.)

I’ve found Malachi to be an indispensable companion for reading through Malachi in Hebrew. I do have one minor critique and one larger one, though.

First, the English Bible versification at the end of Malachi gives the book four chapters; it is just three in the Hebrew text. Malachi nowhere notes this (although it does note regarding the last three verses that “some LXX texts have these verses reordered.” Again, this is a handbook on the Hebrew text, but a simple explanatory note here as to why English Bibles have four chapters in Malachi and Hebrew Bibles three would have been beneficial.

Second, I found myself often distracted (though I didn’t want to be) by the presence of typographical errors or comma splices or run-on sentences. I hope future printings can correct these, since they take away from an otherwise great book. There would be no benefit in listing typos here, but there were some 20 or more spots where either a word was misspelled, there was disagreement of number between verb and subject, punctuation was missing, and so on. Fortunately the vast majority of these are in English and so easy enough to spot. (I.e., the reader can trust the Hebrew here.) But the author’s English translation sections especially seemed to be in want of a closer edit. I do hope future printings or editions can make adjustments here; I imagine students of Malachi will want to make use of this book for years to come.

Eddinger in the end is a worthy guide through the Hebrew of Malachi. The prophets often (suddenly!) shifted pronouns or speakers or subjects in their writing. Who is talking now: God, the prophet, both, or the people? Eddinger coolly walks the reader through such grammatical challenges, and others besides.

While the obvious use of Malachi is as a reference work in which to look up a given passage, it reads well as a whole, too. I eagerly await future books in the Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Bible series.

Thank you to Baylor University Press for providing me a free copy, in exchange for an unbiased review (which ends up being a two-part review in this case–by my choice). You can find the Baylor product page for Malachi: A Handbook on the Hebrew Text here. It’s on Amazon here.

Review of Malachi (Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Text), part 1

“Because of you I will rebuke your descendants; I will smear on your faces the dung from your festival sacrifices, and you will be carried off with it. And you will know that I have sent you this warning so that my covenant with Levi may continue,” says the Lord Almighty.

–Malachi 2:3-4 (NIV)

Although Words on the Word has since taken fuller shape, two primary motivations in my beginning this blog were (a) to read and review good books and commentaries and (b) to interact with the original Biblical languages. This post offers a good opportunity to do both. Here I review Malachi: A Handbook on the Hebrew Text by Terry W. Eddigner (Baylor University Press, 2012).

The Hebrew prophet Malachi holds a significant place in the Hebrew Bible. Malachi is the last prophet of the Book of the Twelve (minor prophets) and the last book in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. The last two verses of Malachi are Yahweh’s promise to send the prophet Elijah–a promise fulfilled, Christians believe, by John the Baptist. It sets up the beginning of the Gospels well.

The Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Bible series is a deliberately unique contribution to the field of commentaries on the Hebrew Bible. Okay, I suppose all commentary series intend to make unique contributions, but this one really does. It fills a void. Although the student of the Hebrew of the minor prophets is fortunate to perhaps be able to access Baker’s fine exegetical commentary (Malachi is in this volume), there is still a dearth in general of OT commentaries that comment extensively on the Hebrew text and grammar. In that sense I’ve been happy to see the careful attention this series gives to the Hebrew text. (Bonus: this book and some the others in the series that I’ve briefly glanced through give good treatment of discourse analysis.)

It’s important to note from the outset that Malachi (as a book in this series) is not a “full blown commentary.” It’s a “Handbook on the Hebrew Text,” which does “not attempt to replace the second step of consulting commentaries and secondary literature….” In keeping with this aim, Terry W. Eddinger gives the reader a short (five pages) introduction, yet it is plenty to be able to work well within the Hebrew text of Malachi. (And a bibliography with references throughout points readers in the direction of other Malachi-related literature.) Eddinger especially emphasizes the structure and “literary forms and devices” in Malachi. He views the structure of Malachi as consisting of a superscription, six oracles, and two appendices. Literarily, Eddinger says, Malachi is a prose and poetry hybrid, “perhaps the best example of such in the Hebrew Bible.”

There is a linguistic glossary at the back of the book, so when Eddinger says, “Hortatory style is the predominate literary form and is found in all but two verses,” the uninitiated reader can quickly determine that hortatory means “a word, clause, or sentence of direct dialogue.” This is perhaps an over-general or vague definition (the Jonah book in this series has, “Hortatory discourse is meant to exhort someone to act in a particular manner”), but I found that not to be the norm for the succinct and useful glossary.

One commendable feature is the “key words” chart at the beginning of each oracle. Malachi is the first book in this series to offer such a feature. Eddinger highlights important words that the reader will want to know as he or she makes his or her way through a pericope. Then–in what was my favorite part of this book–Eddinger has a chart at the back of the book that lists every Hebrew word in Malachi and verse references for all its occurrences. (Future printings or editions of this book could soup up this chart even more with English glosses of the Hebrew words, for the purposes of vocabulary acquisition.) Several times in making my way through Malachi and this handbook, I referred to the Hebrew word chart.  A second appendix lists all the times the “divine messenger formula” (e.g., אָמַר יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת) occurs in Malachi.

Eddinger begins each passage with his own English translation, then analyzes the Hebrew text verse by verse. In part 2 of this review (to post Monday), I’ll look at the guts of Eddinger’s handbook, that is, the verse-by-verse exposition, including his explanation of the verses that led off this post.

UPDATE: Part 2 of the review is here.

Thank you to Baylor University Press for providing me a free copy, in exchange for an unbiased review (which ends up being a two-part review in this case–by my choice). You can find the Baylor product page for Malachi: A Handbook on the Hebrew Text here. It’s on Amazon here.

William L. Lane free downloads on the Gospel of Mark

Here’s a link to a Mark teaching series that Dr. William L. Lane led at Christ Community Church in Franklin, TN in 1998. He’s the author of the commentary pictured at right, one of the best for the Gospel of Mark. (Click on the image to look inside the book at Amazon.) From the By/For site:

This Mark teaching series is led by Dr. William L. Lane, author of The Gospel According to Mark from the New International Commentary on the New Testament series. This series was the final time Dr. Lane lectured on Mark.

The study page includes a pdf file of class notes and 13 lectures by Dr. Lane. See it all here.

“How do I get more out of my Bible reading?”

“How do I get more out of my Bible reading? What was going on during the gap between the Old and New Testaments? How do all the books of the Bible fit together as a whole?”

It is the aim of Understanding the Picture of the Bible: A Guide to Reading the Bible Well to answer those questions and put “clear, readable Bible study aids at your fingertips.” (All quotes from back cover and also found here.) Here I review the book for another installment of Magnificent Monograph Mondays.

The book begins with “An Overview of the Bible’s Storyline,” then continues with three parts, one for the Old Testament (subdivided into OT Theology, Pentateuch, Historical Books, Poetry/Wisdom Literature, and Prophets), one for New Testament background (intertestamental history and literature), and one for the New Testament (NT Theology, Gospels/Acts, Epistles, and Revelation). Each author gives a thorough yet concise overview of the section of the Bible he (all authors are male) treats. Each also discusses themes within a given section of the Bible and how they connect with the larger Biblical narrative.

What first stands out in Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible is that almost every author has a knack for simply explaining important concepts and terms. The summary overviews of sections of the Bible provide the reader with a firm foundation for better understanding the purpose and scope of that section. For example, Paul House’s excellent chapter on the prophetic books has an excursus on “pronouns in the prophets.” He begins: “As prepositions are to the letters of Paul, so pronouns are to the oracles of the prophets: crucial for meaning, but often puzzling” (72). In the five following pages he does much for the reader to make prophetic pronouns (and how they often shift person and gender) easier to understand. Other highlights are Gordon Wenham’s chapter on the Pentateuch and Dennis Johnson’s essay on Revelation.

Timelines and charts throughout are a great feature. In addition to timelines in the back of the book covering all of Biblical history (including intertestamental times), there are charts throughout the book that aid the reader. Thomas Schreiner lists all the Epistles, their authors, dates, place of writing, and recipients. Johnson uses nine separate figures to visually (and clearly) display the differences in how Christians interpret Revelation. And House has a table that lines up the prophets with the kings during whose time they prophesied. (A couple of similarly simple and clear maps could be a great addition to future editions of this book.) Here’s an example (taken from a pdf sample of the book):

And then there’s the middle section, part two of Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible. That section alone makes this book worth more than its purchase price. It contains the following:

  • “The Time between the Testaments,” by J. Julius Scott Jr.
  • “The Roman Empire and the Greco-Roman World at the Time of the New Testament,” by David Chapman
  • “Jewish Groups at the Time of the New Testament,” by John Delhousaye

Take just this short quotation from Chapman as an example:

Amid this history, Jesus Christ launched his ministry in a Galilee governed by a Roman client king, a Judea under Roman procurators, and a Judaism tinged with Hellenism. After his crucifixion by the Romans and his resurrection, his gospel was carried by the apostles directly into the heart of Greek culture and Roman power. (94)

Having this background in mind when approaching the New Testament will greatly advance the efforts of any Bible reader. Most Bible overview guides that I’ve seen go right from Old Testament to New Testament. But what about all that time in between? I’ve written more here about why that time period is essential to NT understanding. This book really gets that, and covers that period well. Someone with no knowledge of NT background would find this section easy to follow, and even a budding scholar would appreciate the clarity of the historical overview.

While it’s hard to discern what is the work of the editors (this book has three: Wayne Grudem, C. John Collins, and Schreiner) and what is the work of the writers, this book could have benefitted from a little more careful editorial oversight. There are a few little typos scattered throughout the book (tehillah instead of tefillah for Hebrew prayer, e.g.). I found the use of the sex-specific “man” to refer to all of humanity–even when not quoting the ESV–distracting (although this may not bother other readers).

But there is a bigger editorial oversight. While the book excellently helps the reader to better understand the “big picture” of the Bible, it never directly answers the question it seeks to answer of “How do I get more out of my Bible reading?” The authors present all the necessary information to better understand the background (context) and foreground (content) of the Bible, yes. But understanding context and content is only necessary and not sufficient for “reading the Bible well.” I wish the editors would have made sure the book gave more attention to how one can read the Bible, for example, devotionally… or for transformation rather than just the receiving of information. In other words, I wanted this book, based on its title, to answer: How can I grow closer to God as I read the Bible? How can I allow the Bible to convict me of my sin? What about the importance of reading Scripture in community and corporate worship? David Reimer’s essay gets closest to this when he says, “[T]he art and craft of the Bible’s poems offers an invitation to read slowly, to have one’s vision broadened, once’s perception deepened… to see literary reflection in the service of worship and godly living” (54). I wanted to hear more about this. The key question for me is: Is overview knowledge of the Bible’s context and content sufficient to read the Bible well? Necessary, yes. Sufficient, no.

However, even if the book doesn’t execute its aim listed in the subtitle, it is still a valuable work to have in hand while reading through the Bible. Its unique contribution to works of this kind is in the middle section. I’d imagine this book sitting well on someone’s shelf next to his/her Bible and notebook. (It has on mine these last few weeks!) It would benefit a serious Bible reader to read, say, Darrell Bock’s essay on the Gospels and Acts before reading those Biblical books through.

Thank you to Crossway who provided me with a review copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. You can find Understanding the Bible Picture of the Bible at Amazon here.

Congratulations to…

… Clifford Kvidahl, the winner of the Ephesians ZECNT commentary giveaway. Congratulations, Clifford, and enjoy your new book!

Thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway. I’ll do another one in the not-so-distant future, so keep coming back. You can subscribe to this blog using the “Follow” button on the right sidebar, or follow me on Twitter. Here’s my weekend recap of Words on the Word posts:

BibleWorks and the Septuagint / How to Speed Read / Best pastoring site

Also, in today’s Magnificent Monograph Monday, I review Leslie C. Allen’s “Pastoral Commentary” on Lamentations, A Liturgy of Grief (amazon). Review here.

By the way, what I would ask Paul over coffee: “Can you tell me more about Junia?”

Free Book! Ephesians commentary by Arnold (Zondervan)

I am giving away a book at Words on the Word this weekend. It’s a commentary on Ephesians by Clinton E. Arnold, from Zondervan’s Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series.

Last weekend I reviewed Luke from that same series. You can read that review to find out more about the structure and layout of each book in the series. Anyone who is preaching, teaching, or just studying their own way through Ephesians will find this book illuminating. Those who know even a little Greek will benefit most from this book, but Arnold translates everything, so those who know no Greek will benefit, too.

I will choose a winner at random. To enter the drawing, comment on this blog post with your answer to the question, “If you had a chance to sit down for a cup of coffee or tea with the apostle Paul today, what is the first thing you would ask him?” (I know what I would ask!)

Then if you link to this post on your Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc., come back here to tell me in the comments section that you did, and you’ll receive a second entry. I will announce the winner on the blog first thing Monday morning.

If you want to skip the giveaway contest and just buy the book for yourself, you can find it here.