Free Book in Logos: Jesus and Scripture, by Steve Moyise

Jesus and Scripure by MoyiseIn early February I finished reading Steve Moyise’s Jesus and Scripture: Studying the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. You can read what I wrote about it here. Here is the concluding portion of that review:

Jesus and Scripture would be perfect for a seminary course on the Gospels, or on the NT use of the OT. An advanced undergrad course would also do well to adopt this book. I’d also recommend it to a serious Bible reader–no biblical languages are needed here, and I found that even with my own knowledge gaps in historical Jesus studies, Moyise explained everything I needed to know.

Though this survey is short (less than 150 pages), Moyise gives plenty of sample passages and insights that have challenged me. I know this is a book I will come back to and want to read again in the future.

This month Logos Bible Software is offering their edition of the book for free. It’s a fantastic book, and I look forward to being able to use it now electronically (with keyword searchability and hyperlinked Scripture references throughout). You can get the book here.

What are the Best New Testament Commentaries?

NT Commentary Survey

D.A. Carson’s 2013 update to his New Testament Commentary Survey puts the book into its seventh edition. Having come six years since the last edition, the new edition is substantially revised and updated to include just about every significant commentary on every book of the New Testament. The Survey rarely misses a volume.

Carson goes book-by-book through the New Testament and suggests what he thinks are the best-written commentaries and why. He also offers introductory notes and principles for selecting commentaries and series, as well as 14 pages on New Testament introductions and theologies to consider. The number of books that Carson surveys is impressive.

I found Carson’s survey to be much more detailed and up-to-date than its Old Testament counterpart. He makes mention, for example, of the brand new Teach the Text commentary series. And he seems to have already examined the relevant ZECNT volumes that had been released before this survey went to press. So anyone using this book can be assured that not much ground is left uncovered.

Of course, it’s impossible in 175 pages or so to get detailed analysis of each commentary. For the most part, Carson is able, in just a couple of sentences, to give the reader a really good idea of what each commentary does well, and whether or not to consider adding it to one’s library. One always knows what top two or three commentaries Carson would suggest on a given book of the New Testament (and why).

There are times where Carson’s evaluations are left unexplained, or when he fails to evaluate a commentary in accordance with its own purposes. For instance, he criticizes a New Testament introduction on “Intertextual Development of the NT Writings” for focusing “so narrowly on intertextual connections that other axes are unhelpfully ignored.” Or a socio-rhetorical commentary on Matthew is faulted for not including enough “penetrating comment on structure, grammar, and sometimes theology.” The discerning reader can overlook this and not be deterred by it.

Carson’s writing style is engaging, enjoyable, and downright funny at times. Of his own commentary on John, he writes, “Carson’s work is rather more difficult for me to assess.” He pulls no punches in his critiques. A reviewer could multiply examples, but here are just a few quotations:

  • “…despite the superfluity of cutesy remarks that are in constant danger of distorting the picture of who Jesus is…”
  • “…his grasp of Greek is mechanical, amateurish, and without respect for the fluidity of the Greek in the Hellenistic period.”
  • “…the result is a disappointing monument to misplaced energy.”
  • “…his reconstruction of the church situation is so quirky that it cannot be recommended except to readers who are devoted to quirkiness.”

I was surprised that a short guide like this would contain such strongly expressed opinions, but the more I read on, the more useful I found them to be–even as I realized that some of Carson’s assessments are subjective and need to be weighed. (He too blithely, in my opinion, dismisses reader-response criticism.) He is an excellent writer and somehow manages throughout the book to avoid many reviewers’ clichés, which is no small accomplishment when covering this many commentaries!

Carson is (refreshingly) not at all reluctant to call out unacknowledged borrowing, which occurs in commentaries more often than one would hope.

Carson’s goal is:

to provide theological students and ministers with a handy survey of the resources, especially commentaries, that are available in English to facilitate understanding of the NT.

In this Carson has succeeded, even in entertaining fashion. If the reader is willing to overlook the few critiques mentioned above (as I largely have been), she or he will find this a good desk-side companion to help wade through the world of myriad commentaries.

Thanks to Baker Academic for the review copy of NT Commentary Survey. You can find it here (Baker Academic) and here (Amazon/affiliate link).

How Jesus Used the Bible

Jesus and Scripure by MoyiseI still wonder what language(s) Jesus spoke. I know, I know. Easy: Aramaic…right? And possibly also Hebrew when he quotes Scripture?

I’m becoming increasingly open to the idea, however, that Jesus–at least on occasion–taught in Greek. At any rate, it is true that the Gospel writers that quote Jesus do so in Greek. There is also the fascinating question of what text form(s) Jesus used when he quoted Scripture, which he did frequently.

Last week I finished reading Steve Moyise’s Jesus and Scripture: Studying the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. It’s part of his de facto trilogy by Baker Academic on the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament. (I reviewed the other two volumes here and here.)

How Moyise Approaches Jesus’ Use of Scripture

As Moyise sees it, the task of studying Jesus’ use of Scripture is two-fold:

First, we must study what each Gospel writer has to say about Jesus’ use of Scripture and seek to determine his method and purpose.

To do this, Moyise briefly (yet substantively) surveys how each Gospel writer presents Jesus’ use of Scripture. For each of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, Moyise analyzes Jesus’ quotations of “the law,” “the prophets,” and “the writings.” For John he treats “the four explicit quotations” and scriptural allusions.

Moyise goes on:

Second, if we are to understand Jesus’ use of Scripture we must engage in historical criticism to decide what Jesus must have said to give rise to the various accounts we find in the Gospels.

To this end Moyise looks at three categories of scholars:

  1. Those with “minimalist views” on Jesus and history: Geza Vermes, John Dominic Crossan, and Marcus Borg. They more or less “do not regard Mark as an accurate record of what Jesus said and did, which has implications for the accuracy of Matthew and Luke.”
  2. Those with “moderate views”: James Dunn and Tom (N.T.) Wright. The moderate view “accepts that real events lie behind the Gospel stories but believes that they have been embellished as each Gospel writer adapts the tradition to meet his readers’ needs.”
  3. Those with “maximalist views”: Charles Kimball and Richard (R.T.) France.” Jesus must have said all of the sayings and … each Gospel has been selective in what it records. …its strategy for dealing with differences between the Gospels is to seek harmony.”

Moyise lays out the issues in the synoptic Gospels and John clearly and succinctly. He raises as many questions as he answers, but this is a good thing. Reading Jesus and Scripture made we want to delve deeper into the topic at hand.

An Evaluation

While the volume is accessible, it does not oversimplify complexities where they exist. For example, after saying that Jesus’ Aramaic sayings “were translated into Greek, including his quotations from Scripture,” Moyise highlights the existence already of a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (the LXX). He goes on:

The important question this raises is whether, when the translators recognized that Jesus was quoting Scripture, they translated his words for themselves or availed themselves of the translation already in circulation.

Gray shaded boxes throughout the book offer concise information about topics such as: “The text of the LXX known to Matthew,” “Hillel’s seven exegetical rules,” “Critical editions of Q,” and more.

Especially helpful for further study is Appendix 1: “Index of Jesus’ quotations in the Gospels,” which is listed in Old Testament book order. The select bibliography is short but a good starting point, too.

Of the three “views” he describes, Moyise writes about helping “readers decide for themselves which reconstruction they find the most convincing.” He excels here–phrases like “many scholars believe” are coupled with a fair spelling out of others’ views of Jesus and what he said. His even-handedness helps readers get the lay of the land in Jesus studies.

Phrases like “what Jesus actually said” got to be a bit tiresome to me after a while. Perhaps my maximalism shows through here, but I’m just not sure how productive or advisable a quest it is to try to ascertain what Jesus really said. (And if we did, wouldn’t we have to go back to retroverted Aramaic?) This is in part due to Moyise’s own “moderate views,” but he certainly does not push for them over France’s “maximalist views,” for example, which he describes charitably and even favorably. The reader can decide for herself or himself.

Jesus and Scripture would be perfect for a seminary course on the Gospels, or on the NT use of the OT. An advanced undergrad course would also do well to adopt this book. I’d also recommend it to a serious Bible reader–no biblical languages are needed here, and I found that even with my own knowledge gaps in historical Jesus studies, Moyise explained everything I needed to know.

Though this survey is short (less than 150 pages), Moyise gives plenty of sample passages and insights that have challenged me. I know this is a book I will come back to and want to read again in the future.

Thank you to Baker Academic for providing me with a review copy of the book. See its product page at Baker here. You can find it on Amazon here.

What are the best Old Testament commentaries to get?

OT Commentary Survey

This is a meta-review of sorts: a review of a book that briefly reviews commentaries for each book of the Old Testament. I.e., here are some words on some words on some words on the Word.

Here is the publisher’s book description:

Leading Old Testament scholar Tremper Longman III provides students and pastors with expert guidance on choosing a commentary for any book of the Old Testament. The fifth edition has been updated to assess the most recently published commentaries, providing evaluative comments. Longman lists a number of works available for each book of the Old Testament, gives a brief indication of their emphases and viewpoints, and evaluates them. The result is a balanced, sensible guide for those who preach and teach the Old Testament and need help in choosing the best tools.

It’s a recurring question: What are the best Old Testament commentaries to get? To help answer that question, Longman rates an impressive host of commentaries on a 1-to-5 star scale:

One or two stars indicate that the commentary is inferior or deficient, and I discourage its purchase. Four or five stars is a high mark. Three, obviously, means a commentary is good but not great. I also use half stars in order to refine the system of evaluation.

One nice touch in this book is that all of the five-star commentaries are separately listed in an appendix in the back. Students or pastors looking to build a library might start there. Before turning to commentaries on individual books of the Bible, Longman briefly reviews one-volume commentaries (though this one is absent) and “commentary sets and series.” In addition to the stars, Longman notes whether a book is better suited for a layperson (L), minister/seminary student (M), or scholar (S), or some combination of those three.

To have a rating system is good, but there are some odd ways in which it is applied. One unlucky book got “no stars” on what the 1-to-5 star scale. And the comments (a paragraph’s length) under each commentary don’t always seem to match the rating. For example, a commentary on 1 Chronicles that has “a very helpful discussion of all aspects of the book” and other positive evaluation from Longman receives only 2.5 stars. A Genesis commentary whose author “shows great exegetical skill and theological insight” then receives 1.5 stars. As does another whose author “is insightful and knowledgeable.” One series receives four stars as a whole, but one of the individual commentaries that is “definitely one of the best volumes in the series thus far” receives just three.

There are also some things that were missed in updating the 2007 fourth edition to this 2013 fifth edition. The Berit Olam series was “just under way” in the fourth edition, and is so here, too. The New American Commentary series in both 2007 and 2013 editions is “relatively new,” even though it has a number of volumes published in the early 1990s. In the Proverbs section, Fox’s Anchor commentary still only consists of volume 1 (“Hopefully, we will not have to wait too long for the rest of the commentary to appear”), even though volume 2 was published in 2009. And there is also no mention of the Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Text series, which had five volumes published by the time of this new edition of Longman’s work. Also, especially with the proliferation of commentaries now available through Bible software, an appendix covering electronic books would have been nice.

As far as his written evaluation of the commentaries, Longman is especially favorable toward Old Testament commentaries that discuss how a given passage is used in the New Testament. It’s not clear to me that–even for a Christian–this would be a requirement for a good Old Testament commentary, but I see his point, and am disposed to at least somewhat agree. He writes:

I continue to hope that future commentaries produced for use by Christian pastors in the church would include more reflection on how the Old Testament message is appropriated by the New Testament.

But, in my opinion, this criterion is perhaps over-applied, resulting in ratings penalties for what are otherwise strong commentaries, including ones that may have never set out in the first place to discuss the NT use of the OT.

One final critique: though there are not many commentaries on the Septuagint text of the Old Testament, a few series have begun. I can’t totally fault Longman for not having any Septuagint commentaries here, but I had hoped that the few that have been published might have been noted. I think also of John William Wevers’s Notes on the Greek Text series, which covers the Pentateuch.

Longman’s aim is for “this commentary survey [to] help students of the Bible choose the commentaries that are right for them,” and in that he is mostly successful. For example, he lets the reader know which commentaries date a given prophet according to “critical” or “evangelical” interpretations (I’m oversimplifying a bit here). He has helpful comments like, “If you get only one commentary on Joel, this should be it.” I finished this book feeling like I had a general lay of the land of Old Testament commentaries.

Despite a sometimes quirky or inconsistent rating system, and despite what appears to be a not really thoroughly updated volume, Old Testament Commentary Survey is unique, and one I already consult and will continue to consult whenever considering commentaries on a given Old Testament book. I just know I’ll have to supplement it with my own research and with seeking recommendations from others. The book works especially well as an introductory checklist that one can use as she or he is building a library of commentaries.

A sample pdf of the book, including introductory material and Longman’s take on one-volume commentaries and various commentary sets, can be found here.

Many thanks to Baker Academic for the review copy of OT Commentary Survey. You can find it here (Baker Academic) and here (Amazon).

Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament in Logos Bible, reviewed (part 1)

BECNT Logos

Something I immediately appreciated about the Baker Exegetical Commentary set is its clear statement of purpose in the Series Preface, found in each of the 15 volumes published so far:

The chief concern of the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (BECNT) is to provide, within the framework of informed evangelical thought, commentaries that blend scholarly depth with readability, exegetical detail with sensitivity to the whole, and attention to critical problems with theological awareness. We hope thereby to attract the interest of a fairly wide audience, from the scholar who is looking for a thoughtful and independent examination of the text to the motivated lay Christian who craves a solid but accessible exposition.

This is an ambitious set of aims for a single commentary, but Continue reading “Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament in Logos Bible, reviewed (part 1)”

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.