Christian Apologetics: free book giveaway

One good giveaway deserves another.

The other day I noted that Zondervan has just put out a primary source compendium called Christian Apologetics: An Anthology of Primary Sources, edited by Khaldoun A. Sweis and Chad V. Meister.

I have an extra copy to give away (not my review copy). It’s a good resource to have on the shelf, and I know I’ll be turning to it in the future for the work and ministry I do in a college setting.

I reviewed the book here.

I will choose a winner at random. To enter the drawing, simply comment on this blog post with your greetings, thoughts about apologetics, favorite philosopher/theologian, etc. I will accept entries through Monday afternoon, with 3pm EST being the cutoff.

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 just before 5pm EST Monday.

Christian Apologetics: a review

I still remember, as a 16-year-old, sitting down at my parents’ computer, hearing the dial tone, and logging on to AOL. I would do this often, not just to check the new technological miracle known as e-mail, but also to go into chat rooms (remember those?) and seek to share my faith with others online.

I made similar efforts at my high school, starting conversations when appropriate and generally just trying to be ready to speak intelligently and compellingly about my Christian faith.

This handbook by Peter Kreeft was a constant reference guide for me. I went on to major in philosophy at a Christian undergraduate school, where I took, among others, classes on the philosophy of religion, St. Augustine, and more. Readings in the Philosophy of Religion became a new resource to which I often turned. I had begun having philosophical and existential questions of my own by that point, ones that I experienced on a profound and at times troubling level.

I’ve always had an interest in the intellectual underpinnings of my Christian faith. And I’ve often been aware that what appear to be intellectual questions or questions of “the head,” are sometimes–when one digs deeper–questions of “the heart,” as well. Since college days, then, I’ve been a bit more cautious than I was as a 16-year-old in an AOL chat room about just how effective “apologetics” can be.

Zondervan has just put out a primary source compendium called Christian Apologetics: An Anthology of Primary Sources, edited by Khaldoun A. Sweis and Chad V. Meister.

There are 54 selections divided into 11 parts, which you can see listed here (PDF) in the table of contents. Christian Apologetics begins with some methodological considerations in part 1, then moves right into various arguments for the existence of God–cosmological, teleological, ontological, moral, the argument from religious experience, and so on. From there the book narrows to more specific topics like the Trinity, the incarnation, miracles, the resurrection, the problem of evil, and more.

Christian Apologetics claims to be “a sampling of some of the best works written by Christian apologists throughout the centuries,” offering “a snapshot of Christian apologetics at its best across the spectrum of time and culture.”

The essays in this volume certainly are some of the best in apologetics. There is Paul at the Areopagus in Acts 17, Aquinas on the cosmological argument for God’s existence, Anselm and Plantinga with the ontological argument for God, Pascal’s wager, Teresa of Avila on experiencing God, Anselm on the incarnation, Swinburne on miracles, John Hick’s “Soul Making Theodicy,” Augustine on free will, and Marilyn McCord Adams on horrendous evil and the goodness of God. Each of these essays is a classic and makes a valuable contribution to the area of apologetics.

The book spans “the spectrum of time” fairly well, with a higher concentration of 20th century writers. Just a couple of the contributors are women, and the overwhelming majority hail from Western contexts–this latter an admission of the book, but a weakness all the same.

A particularly pleasant surprise to me was the inclusion of an an article by R.T. France, in which he makes the case for the historical reliability of the Gospels, which must, he argues, be understood in their proper literary context as “highly selective” records of Jesus’ life with “only a loose chronological framework.” This is not due to deficiency of the Gospels; rather, it is how the Gospel writers intended to write:

The four canonical gospels will not answer all the questions we would like to ask about the founder of Christianity; but, sensitively interpreted, they do give us a rounded portrait of a Jesus who is sufficiently integrated into what we know of first-century Jewish culture to carry historical conviction, but at the same time sufficiently remarkable and distinctive to account for the growth of a new and potentially world-wide religious movement out of his life and teaching.

As I read I appreciated a statement in the book’s general introduction:

But arguments and evidences do not of themselves bring someone into new life in Christ. Here the work of the Holy Spirit is central, and we must be willing to surrender to his leading and his truth and his goodness if we are to truly dwell with the Lord.

I hadn’t yet learned this in the AOL chat rooms, but I’ve long since been convinced of it. So I had hoped to hear more in this book about the role of the Holy Spirit in apologetics. There is a short (one paragraph) treatment by James K. Beilby in chapter 3 that asks, “What is the role of the Holy Spirit in apologetics?” He rightly (in my view) sees it as “not a zero-sum game.” The apologist should be “significantly involved” yet “still hold that the Holy Spirit will determine the effectiveness of our efforts.”

Though the Holy Spirit receives treatment in the section on the Trinity (by Origen, Aquinas, the Creeds, and Thomas V. Morris) and on the Bible (Calvin and canonization), there is never more than Beilby’s paragraph treatment about the role of the Holy Spirit in the project of apologetics. Cogent though Beilby is, I would think “a snapshot of Christian apologetics at its best” should make more mention of something like the Wesleyan view of prevenient grace or even the notion that the Holy Spirit witnesses to a person’s heart before an apologist does. Only the former can enable the latter. Christian Apologetics is not without the exploration of other methodological considerations; I just would have liked to have seen more of this one.

Several other possible areas for improvement in a future edition could be more on faith and reason and how the two interrelate, as well as arguments for the existence of God that take into account and respond to the varous assertions made by the “new atheism” (anemic though it is).

All in all, though, this is a strong work, and I’m happy for it to sit alongside my old college text, Readings in the Philosophy of Religion. Zondervan’s Christian Apologetics is a worthy, if basic, reference guide. I expect it will serve apologists well.

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy, which I was given for the purposes of review, though without any expectations as to the nature of my review. Find the book at Amazon here (affiliate link) or at Zondervan’s product page for the book.

N.T. Wright on learning Greek, and a review of A Reader’s Hebrew and Greek Bible by Zondervan

I met N.T. Wright briefly in January at a worship symposium and asked him how to improve my Greek. He said, “Read the text, read the text, read the text.”

He told me to really get the feel of the language. Don’t think of Greek just as a code for English; get into the Greek itself. I asked him about reading with a diglot, but he encouraged me to check the English translation only after reading an entire Greek paragraph, and then, only as necessary.

The same holds true with Hebrew. Read the text, read the text, read the text. Reading it out loud is even better, and better still is trying to speak it to others.

Zondervan has published what is to my knowledge the only “reader’s” edition of the Hebrew Bible. It’s a masterpiece. The font is clear, sized perfectly, and easy to read (see at right, and click to enlarge). It uses the Leningrad Codex. It has no textual apparatus (which could be a distraction in a “reader’s edition”), but instead footnotes rarely occurring vocabulary. Not counting proper nouns, editors Philip Brown and Bryan Smith footnote all words that occur less than 100 times in the Hebrew Bible. Here they give “glosses,” which give the reader the basic meaning of the word. Aramaic words that occur less than 25 times are listed in the footnotes in the page on which they occur.

For readers who blank on a word that occurs, say, 150 times in the Hebrew Bible, a glossary at the back will allow them to look up even additional words.

Brown used HALOT and BDB to write the glosses. The bottom of the page looks like this (click for larger):

Note in #s 2, 7, and 8 that there is also listed what the verb stem is for a given use. What makes this feature especially easy to use is the bolding of the words before their glosses.

The only thing to critique in the Hebrew reader’s edition is that proper nouns, which are to appear in grey font since they’re not footnoted, occasionally go missed. Brown has posted an errata list here, many of which have been fixed in recent printings.

For a preview of the Hebrew reader’s edition, see here (PDF) and here (PDF).

Zondervan’s Greek reader’s New Testament has not met with such universal acclaim. It’s a good resource to have on hand, to be sure, but in my view it’s not as well executed as the Hebrew reader’s Bible.

Rather than being based on the scholarly editions of the NA27 or UBS4, the text is “the eclectic text that underpins the Today’s New International Version.” The scholars who produced the TNIV, in other words, made different textual decisions in some instances than did the editors of the “Standard Text” of the NA27/UBS4. Where this is the case, a limited textual apparatus notes it. While this could be problematic for textual criticism, the text is not vastly different from the standard one, and is certainly fine for reading.

As with the Hebrew reader’s edition, the Greek reader’s Bible footnotes and explains words that occur less than 30 times in the Greek New Testament. One unfortunate decision is that, unlike the Hebrew, the Greek footnotes do not have the glossed word in bold. This makes navigating the footnotes more cumbersome:

Font is perhaps a personal preference. While Philip Brown did a magnificent job of typesetting the Hebrew, the Greek font leaves something to be desired. It’s not the easiest Greek font I’ve read. It’s not unreadable as fonts go, but it’s thin. I got used to it after a while, so it’s not unmanageable, but the font in the UBS Greek Reader’s New Testament is easier to read. The latter also puts the footnoted glosses into two columns, which makes referencing them quicker.

Not long ago Zondervan combined the Hebrew and the Greek into one mammoth, leather-bound Reader’s Hebrew and Greek Bible. The volume is large (but how could it not be?) and impressive. It’s constructed well. The binding is sewn (rejoice!), so it will last for a while.

This combination carries with it the great advantage that its user has both the Hebrew and the Greek Bibles under one cover. Now I just have to carry one geeky Bible to church rather than two! Huge benefit.

Another nice thing about this edition is that with Hebrew going from right to left and Greek from left to right, the Greek New Testament starts at the “front” and the Hebrew Bible starts at the “back,” just as both would be in their separate volumes.

The introduction to each half explains well how the text is laid out, the footnoting of the vocabulary, and so on. All the glory of Brown’s Hebrew edition is there, and the less-than-ideal Greek font is there in the Greek portion. One thing to add in appreciation of the Greek part, however, is that Old Testament quotations appear in bold, with their references listed at the bottom of the page. The eight pages of color maps between the two sections are a nice bonus, too.

The construction of the two Bibles combined is executed quite well. I’m happy to only have to take one original language Bible with me to church now.

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy of A Reader’s Hebrew and Greek Bible. They provided me with one in the hopes of my reviewing it on my blog, but with no expectation as to the content of the review. Find Zondervan’s product page here.

Another 4-year-old son review of The Berenstain Bears… this time: God Bless the Animals

Family Friday this week at Words on the Word comes on Saturday. Here my 4-year-old son reviews another Berenstain Bears book. See him review the first one here.

For this review, my 4-year-old son’s 2-year-old brother joined us. The 2-year-old’s comments are in parentheses below, usually also in all caps, because that’s how he speaks. Regular font is my 4-year-old.

This is a flap book.  (That’s a book!)

There’s a little baby who has a little rope on her head with a little heart on the front, and she has a little shirt with a heart on it. And Mama Bear walks the baby down the stairs. (MAMA BEAR! DADDY BEAR! DA DOOO!)

Are you writing goo-goo words?

Sister Bear is pointing under the lettuce, a little cabbage. Do you know what’s under the cabbage, daddy? There’s bunnies; I’ll count them. 1, 2, 3, 4. So there’s 4.  There’s a butterfly under some flower beds.


Mr. Possum and Mr. Skunk–the skunk is in his hollow stump and looking at a book. And there’s a light so he can see and one little hole for one little window, and only just a chair.

There’s a squirrel that’s jumping from here to here.

Daddy, how about you write up some baby words? Whatever I say will be baby words, just to be funny. Are you ready for some baby words?

Goo goo ga ga. Bloo rah rah. Dada.

There’s one little frog and four bees. The bees are making a lot of light. Bzzz!!  (BEEEEZZZ!)

How about we surprise the other guys with this one? On this page can we surprise the guys? It’s okay if we just go to the next page. (2-year-old putting blanket on 4-year-old: GO TO BED!)

There’s a fish sliding across the stream. It’s going, “Weeee!!!” And it might bump into some of the rocks.

That’s all I want to do. So we totally book reviewed it.

I liked it because of everything. I felt good when we read the book.

Find more about The Berenstain Bears: God Bless the Animals at its Zondervan product page or on Amazon by clicking the book’s image above. Read the rest of my 4-year-old son’s reviews here. Jake wishes to comply with FTC guidelines and disclose that he received a review copy of this book from Zondervan, but not with any expectation as to the nature or content of the review.

My 4-year-old son reviews The Berenstain Bears: Faith Gets Us Through

There’s three little cubs and Sister Bear says, “I’m scared.” And Brother says, “I’m scared.” And Fred says, “The Lord is my salvation.”

There’s lots of rocks. I’ll count them: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, on two sides. And there’s a mountain goat standing on one of them. One’s on one rock and the other one’s on another rock.

Then they [the Bears] go in the cave. One goat is up really high, on the top of the cave. And they go in the cave. Papa Bear is pointing at himself and saying, “I know all about caves.” Then they talk about caves.

Papa says, “Hello!” And it goes, “Hello! Hello!” That’s the echo.

Something [a stalactite] almost fell on Papa and killed him. But he jumped away.

Papa: “It’s okay, I left a string showing you the way.” The goat eats the string and they don’t know the way out. But they actually know the way out.

They all splash out, and what does Papa say? It starts with a Y. Does he say, “Help”? Or “Welp”? Um… he says, “YIEEE!”

[To father/typist] Hey, Daddy, do you know all about caves? I want to know.

They got in the water and then… weeeee!!! They got their badges. Kind of like Chuck and Friends. But Chuck and Friends don’t get weeee’d down the water. They’re just exploring. They mostly just look for stuff to help them do stuff. And the big, grown up monster truck teaches them.

[Back to the story….] I like that the goat eats the string and that they go down the water slide. It’s not a water slide. It’s actually a water fountain.

I didn’t like that Papa doesn’t know that there’s another way out. And that’s it.

I am glad I have this book. This book is good for four-year-old ages, and every age. Hey, daddy–let’s read!

Bye bye.

Find more about The Berenstain Bears: Faith Gets Us Through at its Zondervan product page or on Amazon by clicking the book’s image above. Read the rest of my 4-year-old son’s reviews here. Jake wishes to comply with FTC guidelines and disclose that he received a review copy of this book from Zondervan, but not with any expectation as to the nature or content of the review.

My 4-year-old son reviews The Beginner’s Bible: Bible Story Favorites

The first story is about Adam and Eve in the Garden. A sneaky snake came, and God said, “Don’t eat fruit from this tree!” Then a big lie comes into the world. Then they have to leave. And then Jesus will always come to save people from their sins.

The next story is about baby Moses. He got put in a basket, because he needed to be hided, because of the king. (He’s a mean one.) So he actually starts crying. Baby Moses starts crying. And I’ll show you, right there–there’s a dragonfly, right by the princess and the baby. Then the princess picked the baby up and said, “I want to keep you.” So Miriam prayed to God, “Please keep Moses safe.” God kept Moses safe, because he watched over Moses.

[The third story] First Joseph’s brothers think he’s bad. They sent him away, far away, to some men, two men riding horses, and the rope tied up to Joseph. And then he goes in jail. And then he meets a man in jail. The man says, “I used to work for the king.” He [Joseph] says, “I had a dream, I gave a drink to the king.” (He wasn’t mean.) Soon the man got out of jail. And then the man went back to work for the king, and he [the king] had a dream. Soon Joseph gets out of jail. And then the king says, “I have a dream. What does it mean?” “It means: save up food.” That’s what all the people did. Soon the food stopped growing. No one had any food, so they went to the king for help. And then Joseph says, “I am your brother.” And they did not know who he was. Joseph looked so different than he did before. “God is good!” Joseph’s brothers cheered. That’s the end.

I like everything about this book. This book is good for people who know Jesus. It comes with a CD that has all the stories that are in the book.

The last two stories are about Jonah (he gets spit out of a whale) and Jesus. Jesus saves everyone from their sins. That’s all I’m going to tell. That’s it. Good-bye! (You have to write “good-bye.”)

Find more about The Beginner’s Bible: Bible Story Favorites at its Zondervan product page or on Amazon by clicking the book’s image above. Read the rest of my 4-year-old son’s reviews here. Jake wishes to comply with FTC guidelines and disclose that he received a review copy of this book from Zondervan, but not with any expectation as to the nature or content of the review.

My 4-year-old son reviews Field of Peace by Joyce Meyer

This book is about baseball. Buh-buh-buh-buh baseball!

Some of the characters’ names are Boyd, Arnold, Coach Pouch. Boyd is trying to win the baseball game.

Arnold the Armadillo turns into a big ball, because he’s hiding. That means he’s scared. He curls up. The team stops and loses, but the giraffe tries to win.

When they lose, the giraffe feels bad.

The skunk has a rake. He sprays, and then the giraffe has a hat on his nose because it’s stinky!

Boyd [the giraffe] thinks that Arnold wouldn’t win the Wilds’ championship. Then Arnold was by himself in the field because they were gone. But then everyone misses him.

Boyd feels bad because he misses Arnold. So he tries to get Arnold.

And he [Arnold] did this–he batted the ball even though he was a little ball.

At the end of the book, Boyd is feeling peaceful inside. That means you’re feeling happy!

My favorite part is when Arnold shook his hands down and up, down and up, because he was scared. This book made me feel good. I’ll show you what I really like: it has “peaceful” inside the book.

My 4-year-old son received an Advanced Review Copy of Field of Peace from Zonderkidz. Find more about Field of Peace on Amazon or at Zondervan. It’s slated to release September 4. Read the rest of my 4-year-old son’s reviews here.

Review of Biblical Hebrew: A Compact Guide

At long last, a compact reference guide to Biblical Hebrew!  Not long ago Zondervan released Biblical Greek: A Compact Guide, a helpful and portable distillation of Mounce’s oft-used grammar. Many such little books already exist for easily reviewing Koine Greek: Dale Russell Bowne’s Paradigms and Principal Parts for the Greek New Testament, Paul Fullmer and Robert H. Smith’s Greek at a Glance, and even the back of Kubo’s Reader’s Lexicon has a good summary of Greek grammar with paradigm charts.

There seem to be more resources available to students of Biblical Greek than to students of Biblical Hebrew.  For example, while there is just one (excellent!) “Reader’s” Hebrew Bible (uncommon vocabulary is glossed at the bottom of the page), I am aware of at least three Reader’s Bibles that exist for the Greek New Testament.  So Miles Van Pelt’s Compact Guide, based on his and Gary Pratico’s Basics of Biblical Hebrew, is a welcome addition as far as this eager Hebrew student is concerned.

The book is not terribly dissimilar from Pratico/Van Pelt’s Charts of Biblical Hebrew, but unlike that work, A Compact Guide is more than just a collection of charts and paradigms.  Each section includes a distillation of what is in the larger grammar textbook, followed by paradigms and charts for quick reference. Seeing Van Pelt’s world-famous color-coded verbal diagnostics is a highlight.

Oddly enough, at times there seems to be more precision and detail in this little book than in the larger grammar.  Or perhaps it’s just more nuance or smoother grouping of material that has come about with the passage of time since the publishing of the grammar’s second edition. For example, there is a section in the Compact Guide on “particles” that is a unique and clearer grouping than what is in the larger grammar. And whereas the grammar lists three kinds of Hebrew prepositions (independent, Maqqef, and inseparable), the Compact Guide adds a fourth: compound prepositions, where “two different prepositions, or a preposition and a noun” (28) combine to make a new preposition. (This fourth category appeared in the larger textbook later in its chapter as “Advanced Information”; having everything grouped together in the Compact Guide was easier.)

The primary focus of the guide is morphology (how words are formed, including paradigm charts) and syntax (how words are used in sentences, i.e., grammar).  Unlike Basics of Biblical Hebrew there is not much in the Compact Guide by way of vocabulary, save for a Hebrew-English mini-lexicon at the back of the book.  Unfortunately, there was no explanatory note as to what constituted inclusion on the lexicon.  (In Mounce’s Greek Compact Guide, the lexicon notes that it includes words that occur in the New Testament 10 times or more.)

From what I can tell, though, the Hebrew Compact Guide reproduces exactly the Hebrew-English lexicon in its larger textbook counterpart. In this case, the lexicon covers Hebrew words that occur 50 times or more in the biblical text. The Basics of Biblical Hebrew lexicon notes that it also adds “less frequently occurring words that appear in the grammar and workbook.”

In addition to a thorough listing of paradigms (the 11-page section on pronominal suffixes is particularly helpful), the book is filled with examples from the Hebrew Bible (with English translation).  The Hebrew font used, while not quite as easy to read as that of the grammar, is readable enough. (And that may just be a matter of personal preference anyway.)

The section on verbs is a particular strength of this work–in addition to examining all the forms and stems (both strong and weak), there are extensive listings of paradigms for easy review.

All in all, I give a hearty two thumbs up to this work–and express my gratitude that it is now on the scene for those who want to keep their Biblical Hebrew fresh!  For a beginner in Biblical Hebrew I would recommend the full-length grammar textbook, but for those with even a semester or two of Hebrew (and beyond), this small reference guide will be a valuable and inexpensive addition to their library. As Van Pelt notes in his preface, even “veterans” of Hebrew will be able to utlize the guide to “keep fit” in their language use.

Icing on the cake: the pocket-sized paperback comes encased in a sturdy, translucent plastic cover.

You can preview the book here.

Note: I received a review copy from Zondervan for the purposes of this review. I had initially reviewed a digital galley version of this book through Net Galley. The above reproduces my galley review, checked now against the hard copy for accuracy.

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.)