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.

Matthew (Zondervan ECNT), reviewed

Matthew ZECNT

Now that I’ve been preaching through the early sections of Matthew for 10 weeks, I’ve had a chance to make regular use of a number of commentaries. I continue to value Zondervan’s Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Its Matthew volume is very much on par with the rest of the series (which I’ve reviewed here, here, and here). Author Grant R. Osborne primarily intends it for preachers, but I’ve seen it assigned as a seminary textbook, as well.

ZECNT Layout

Matthew, like the rest of the ZECNT series, includes:

  • The full Greek text of Matthew, verse by verse, or often split up phrase by phrase
  • The author’s English translation
    • First, appearing in the graphical layout for the entire passage
    • Second, verse by verse or phrase by phrase, next to the Greek
  • Matthew’s broader Literary Context for each passage
  • An outline of the passage in its immediately surrounding context
  • The Main Idea (probably the first place preachers would want to look)
  • Structure and Literary Form (with focus on source criticism)
  • A more detailed Exegetical Outline of the passage under consideration
  • Explanation of the Text, which includes the Greek and English mentioned above, as well as the commentary proper
  • A concluding Theology in Application section

This sounds like a lot, but the result is not a cluttered commentary. Rather, as one gets accustomed to the series format, it becomes easy to quickly find specific information about a passage. The section headings are in large, bold font.

The Greek font is aesthetically pleasing and readable. Here’s a picture:

ZECNT font

Osborne’s Introduction to Matthew

For a commentary of more than 1,000 pages, the introduction is surprisingly short (27 pages). Seven of those pages are a section called, “How to Study and Preach the Gospel of Matthew.” Osborne acknowledges,

[T]he details I chose to include in this commentary, both exegetical and theological, were chosen on the basis of one major question: What would I want to know as a pastor preparing a sermon on this passage?

So it’s fitting that he speaks directly to preachers at the very beginning of his introduction. He suggests understanding the Gospels as “history seen through theological eyes” and encourages the preacher to try to grasp the distinct “theological purposes of each [Gospel] author.”

Though the introduction is short, and someone doing extended work on Matthew will need to also look elsewhere for introductory concerns, Osborne is able to give an informative enough overview of dating, authorship, genre, purpose, audience (the thinnest subject in the introduction), sources, history, Matthew’s use of the Old Testament, and structure.

There are also more than 20 pages at the end of the commentary that cover the theology of Matthew. Although that section is tucked away, it’s not to be missed, especially Osborne’s coverage of Christology and of discipleship.

The Commentary Proper: Highlights and Observations

There is just enough Greek (grammar and word studies) to keep one’s Greek sharp. There’s not the level of detail found in the Baylor Handbook on the Greek Text series, which does not yet have a Matthew volume.

Matthew 13:54 begins, “He came into his hometown and began teaching (ἐδίδασκεν) them in their synagogue.” In the commentary you’ll find comments like this one:

The imperfect ἐδίδασκεν could refer to an ongoing practice but is probably ingressive, “began teaching” on this occasion (as in v. 8).

Osborne is sensitive to larger biblical context and theology–even in explaining individual words–so that one gets, for example, a fairly robust explanation of the “righteousness” Jesus talks about fulfilling in Matthew 3:15. And here is Osborne’s take on the “peacemakers” that Jesus calls blessed in 5:9:

The term “peacemaker” only appears elsewhere in verb form in Col 1:20, where Jesus made peace by his blood on the cross, but the concept is found often (Ps 34:14; Isa 52:7; Rom 12:18; 14:19; Jas 3:18; Heb 12:14; cf. 1 En. 52:11). This connotes both peace with God and peace between people—the latter flows out of the former. Jesus is the supreme peacemaker, who reconciles human beings with God through the cross (Col 1:20), so the supreme peacemaking is the proclamation of the gospel.

The graphical layout remains one of my favorite parts of the series. Look at Matthew 13:54-58 (from which the comment above is taken):

ZECNT passage flow

It’s readily apparent how Osborne sees the parts of a passage working together and relating to one another.

By way of critique, even with the commentary’s length there were times when I wanted more coverage. The “Explanation of the Text” section for Matthew 5:38-42, for example, barely covered two pages. The single paragraph on “turn the other cheek” addressed the main points that most other commentaries do, but given how many Christians have wrestled through this important passage (both on paper and in action), more could have been said.

Conclusion

Osborne succeeds in keeping the preacher in view throughout the commentary. I’ll give one last example, since this typifies Osborne’s blend of research and presentation in a way that will both assist and inspire preachers and teachers. In Matthew (and Luke) the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus gives his disciples to pray does not have the ending it does when prayed in liturgical settings (“for thine is the kingdom…”). Whether this should make it into a sermon or not is another question, but Osborne anticipates that readers and preachers will at least be wondering about it. He writes:

The traditional doxology (“for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen”) appears in only a few late manuscripts (L W Θ 0233 et al.), and several of the best manuscripts end here (א B D Z et al.), with a variety of endings in others. This makes it almost certain that it is not original. It is possible that churches added their own doxology when praying this prayer, and this one emerged as the best summary of the contents of the prayer. However, it (and the other endings) is based on 1 Chr 29:11 – 13 and is meaningful, so it is not wrong to utter the ending as a personal prayer.

Where does the Matthew ZECNT volume rate among Matthew commentaries for preachers? Definitely toward the top. I still go to R.T. France’s NICNT volume first. And for Greek and history of interpretation, John Nolland (NIGTC) covers more territory. But Osborne’s constant eye on the larger literary context, the detailed structural outlines, the inclusion of Greek and English texts, the Theology in Application sections, and the graphical layout make his commentary a welcome guide for preaching and teaching through the First Gospel.

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy. You can find the book’s product page here. It is on Amazon here. Amazon links above are affiliate links that help further the work of this blog, described here.

New OT Commentary Series: Hearing the Message of Scripture

HMS Obadiah by BlockZondervan has just published the first two volumes of a new Old Testament commentary series, Hearing the Message of Scripture. Here’s part of a brief description of its approach:

[W]hen dealing with specific texts, the authors of the commentaries in this series are concerned with three principal questions:

  1. What are the principal theological points the biblical writers are making?
  2. How do biblical writers make those points?
  3. What significance does the message of the present text have for understanding the message of the biblical book within which it is embedded and the message of the Scriptures as a whole?

The achievement of these goals requires careful attention to the way ideas are expressed in the OT, including the selection and arrangement of materials and the syntactical shaping of the text.

Zondervan introduces the series more fully here, with a listing of contributors here. Or, if you prefer a video introduction, here is Series Editor Daniel I. Block on the series:

You can see PDF samples from Obadiah (by Daniel I. Block) here and from Jonah (by Kevin J. Youngblood) here. Zondervan’s book pages for each title are here and here. I’ve read half of the Obadiah volume so far and will post a review shortly.

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.

One Way to Improve Your Biblical Hebrew Is…

…to beef up your knowledge of vocabulary in the Hebrew Bible. But reading through the detailed instructions on building the tabernacle (Exodus 26 and following) can feel like too much of a vocab stretch. It seems like every other word is a rare one. Using an alphabetically organized lexicon for such passages really slows down the reading. Also, readers who have a way to gauge how common a word is can decide if they should know it or not.

Back in Print

Readers Hebrew English LexiconA resource that has been out of print for some time is now back and available in a (cheaper) paperback edition. Zondervan’s Reader’s Hebrew-English Lexicon of the Old Testament offers verse-by-verse glosses (short translation equivalents) for rarely occurring words in the Hebrew Bible. The glosses are based on the Brown/Driver/Briggs (BDB) lexicon, with the context of each verse also taken into account. Organized in canonical order and covering the whole Old Testament, the lexicon lists each word that occurs 50 times or less in the Old Testament. Next to the word is the gloss and how many times that word appears in (a) a given book and (b) the whole Hebrew Bible. Each entry also has the page number in BDB, if you want to consult that additional work for a longer definition of a word. For verbs, the number of occurrences of that particular stem is also noted.

The lexicon follows the order of books that the Hebrew Bible does (i.e., the ordering differs from English Bibles). Only numbers and proper nouns are not included. The lexicon clocks in at 720 pages. It’s not as portable as when this single work was split into four volumes, but those are as hard to find as the four-volumes-in-one hardback had been. A Reader’s Hebrew-English Lexicon is intended to be a sort of counterpart to Kubo’s Greek lexicon by Zondervan. Here’s what it looks like:

HebrewI often struggle to remember Hebrew words that occur between 50 and 100 times in the OT, so the additional appendix is especially useful–it has Hebrew words that occur more than 50 times. There is also an Aramaic appendix.

How I Use It, Why I Like It

I’ve used this reader’s lexicon in tandem with Zondervan’s nicely laid out  “reader’s” edition of the Hebrew Bible. Though that Bible already footnotes rarely occurring words, the frequency counts in this lexicon help me know if it’s a word I should have known (e.g., one that occurs 45 times) or one I shouldn’t be surprised to not know (e.g., one that occurs three times).

The glosses are sufficient for rapid reading of the text. And the frequency counts add a nice orienting element not found in the reader’s Bible.

This edition is a reprint, so nothing has been re-formatted or changed in terms of the font. The font, while not always crisp on every page, is readable, both in Hebrew and English.

Yes, there are good Bible software options for reading the text, but I still like to read through the Hebrew Bible in print, and this reader’s lexicon makes for a convenient and trustworthy guide. For bettering one’s Hebrew vocabulary and reading, I heartily recommend it.

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy of the lexicon. Its product page is here. It’s here on Amazon.

Flannery O’Connor and Richard Vinson Read Luke

“Have you ever been Baptized?” the preacher asked.
   “What’s that?” he murmured.
   “If I Baptize you,” the preacher said, “you’ll be able to go to the Kingdom of Christ. You’ll be washed in the river of suffering, son, and you’ll go by the deep river of life. Do you want that?”
   “Yes,” the child said, and thought, I won’t go back to the apartment then, I’ll go under the river.
   “You won’t be the same again,” the preacher said. “You’ll count.

–Flannery O’Connor, “The River,” quoted in Richard Vinson’s Luke

Luke by VinsonWhen I preached through parts of Luke this past fall, one of my favorite commentaries to consult–and the one that always felt the freshest–was Richard Vinson’s Luke in the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series. Here is how the series preface describes the series:

The Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary is a visually stimulating and user-friendly series that is as close to multimedia in print as possible. Written by accomplished scholars with all students of Scripture in mind, the primary goal of the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary is to make available serious, credible biblical scholarship in an accessible and less intimidating format.

What stands out to me most about Luke is that it’s not only accessible but creative in its literary read of Scripture. Vinson knows Luke and its background well; he also knows modern history, culture, literature, and art in a way that allows him to explain the biblical text in a really fresh and engaging way. His primary audience is “pastors and other Bible teachers.”

The introduction is a concise 20-some pages, covering essentials like authorship, dating, sources, structure, and themes found in Luke. (This for me was the highlight of his introduction, as he discussed gospel sources, yet with his target audience in view–“So I will content myself with the occasional ‘if Q really exists’ and worry about more important issues.”)

There are times when reading the commentary is like reading a sermon–a good sermon. To take an example, the passage on Luke 18:1-8 (about prayer, the apathetic judge, and the persistent widow) begins like this:

The title of an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education caught my attention: “Study of Prayer’s Healing Power on Surgery Patients Finds No Effect.” The article described an experiment in having people pray, by name, for persons recovering from heart bypass surgery. [Does Prayer Work? sidebar] None of the pray-ers knew the pray-ees; some of the pray- ees knew they were being prayed for, while others were told only that it might be true for them. Would the prayers have a statistically measurable effect—would the persons prayed for suffer fewer complications than those who were not prayed for? In this test, under these conditions, not so much…. I find I have mixed reactions to the finding that prayer does not always bring the desired results: (a) surely that’s not news to anyone who prays regularly; (b) at least now I know that I’m not the only one, and that God isn’t singling out my prayers to ignore; (c) maybe the experiment proves that there is no God who can be controlled by specific human behaviors, even if the desired outcome is unobjectionable.

The study itself (detailed in a sidebar) is a little silly. But it’s a nice entry into the question that such texts raise: Will God answer my prayers? And if the outcomes I’m praying for don’t obtain, what is going on?

Art from the commentary
Art from the commentary

From there it moves into exposition of the passage. Exegesis in the commentary is passage-by-passage, rather than verse-by-verse. There’s not always a lot of technical detail, but I still felt like Vinson did justice to whatever passage was under consideration. He gives the Old Testament “job description” of the judge in the passage mentioned above, as well as the larger biblical context for the importance of widows. Comparisons to other Gospel accounts, as well as the occasional word studies for important words (with reference to Greek), make this as good a starting point as any.

And yet what commentary will also reference Flannery O’Connor, Hank Williams, and Wendell Berry’s Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front? Vinson’s creativity and honesty as he seeks to make sense of a text are refreshing, and often set me at ease when facing the prospect of preaching on a challenging passage.

The commentary comes with a CD-ROM that has a pdf of the entire book, with Table of Contents and easy navigation (as pdfs go). You can keyword search it and make annotations. This is a step in the direction of my dream that one could own both print and digital with one purchase. And the print edition is quite nicely constructed, too–sewn binding and all (so it lays flat), which seems to be increasingly rare these days.

I had not heard of this series until recently, but for any book I preach out of (there are both OT and NT volumes), I’m going to try to get a hold of the corresponding Smyth & Helwys volume from here on out.

I am grateful to Smyth & Helwys for the gratis review copy of this commentary, which was sent to me for this review. You can find the book on Amazon here. The publisher’s product page is here. All the published volumes in the series are here.

Unpacking Scripture in Youth Ministry, reviewed

Unpacking Scripture in YMWhen I was a vocational youth minister, I tried to help young people (and myself) read the Bible not just for information, but for transformation. I had a number of zealous starts in my own teenage years with an overly ambitious Bible-reading plan, only to find by January 22 that no, I can’t actually read and absorb three chapters a day. This is not to disparage Bible-reading plans, even ones that have you reading through the whole Bible in a year, but it is to say that it’s all too easy to just read the Book for the sake of being able to say, “I’ve read it.”

Andrew Root, author and professor of family and youth ministry at Luther Seminary, makes a similar suggestion. In Unpacking Scripture in Youth Ministry, he offers a short volume of “dogmatic theology written through youth ministry.” The book is part narrative, part theological mini-treatise, and follows the story of a fictional youth worker named Nadia. Throughout the book Nadia wrestles with her own views on Scripture, how to engage youth in Bible reading, and how to respond to the parents, pastors, and facilities committee members with whom she is in community.

The book is just over 100 pages and part of a larger series called A Theological Journey Through Youth Ministry. (See the other three volumes here.) A blend of fictional narrative and theology is hard to pull off in any book, but the transitions here between the two are smooth. From the very beginning scene (Nadia is called at 7 a.m. by a not-entirely-happy facilities coordinator at the church), Root’s storytelling is compelling, funny, and sometimes painfully relatable. Nadia is not the only youth minister, I’m sure, to have been grilled on her biblical theology by the building and grounds committee.

There are discussion questions for each chapter at the back of the book, which would make it easy for a youth minister to lead a team of volunteer leaders or staff through it. Unpacking Scripture and its series fill a gap in youth ministry literature–it’s great to see serious theological reflection coupled with practical application (and done creatively with Nadia’s narrative throughout).

Insatiable Interpreters

Root makes a fascinating point (that I’m still mulling over): “Today, access is more important than memory; we surrender our memory over to gigabytes.” Youth, then, and youth ministers should not see the Bible as a source of knowledge, Root suggests, but as a locus for the construction of meaning. Young people are insatiable “hermeneutical animals,” so Root warns against “frozen biblical knowledge,” since “adolescents interpret everything” in life anyway. He calls for youth ministers to ask:

What does this text mean in the midst of my life? And what does it mean in relation to my existence between possibility and nothingness? What does it say to this struggle I know in the world and in my bones? And…What does this text mean in relation to how God is moving and acting?

Root uses the story in Acts 8 of Philip and the eunuch to unpack his own vision of how to read and interpret the Bible. Philip, he writes, “is not only concerned with helping the eunuch understand the text, he wants to help the man experience it next to his own existence.” Right on.

100% Human, and…?

Root, in his chapter, “The Authority of Scripture,” leads off by talking about the paradox of Christ’s two natures–fully human and fully divine. He uses that as a springboard to look at “the Bible’s two natures,” which I expected to be an articulation of its having been written by human people (who were all too human) who were yet divinely inspired to write. However, Root goes farther than I’m comfortable accepting by saying that the “contradiction of the Bible is that the story of the divine action comes to us in a book that is simply, and profoundly human.” The Bible “contains all the shortcomings and fallibilities of any written text.” And, “The Bible is a 100 percent human book.”

Eunuch and PhilipI would have been on board, had he followed up with the ways in which the Bible is also “100 percent divinely inspired” or “breathed-into,” etc., but the emphasis seems to be largely on its human production. To be fair, this “human book,” Root notes, “is essential for encountering the living God,” but other than Acts 8, there wasn’t much discussion about what the Bible says about itself (with due respect to all the footnoted Barth). If this Word is “living and active,” and capable of transforming us (because it is God’s Word/words), doesn’t its inspiration go beyond just the fact that it is a “witness,” the purpose of which “was to reveal God’s action by articulating what God has done”? In other words, could there also be something about these very words that can transform? (Darrell W. Johnson, in his book The Glory of Preaching, notes, “[T]he word of the living God is a performative word” (my italics).)

Maybe I’m splitting hairs here, and I don’t know Root personally–I suspect that given more pages, or over a cup of coffee, he might say more about the divine inspiration of the Bible, or about its performative power. But I thought at least this book may have put too much emphasis on the human element, as it described “what the Bible is not” and “what the Bible is.”

What is the Goal in Youth Ministry?

Where I find myself agreeing with Root is in his articulation of the goal of youth ministry in relation to Scripture:

So our goal in youth ministry is not to get kids to know the Bible, but for them to use the Bible–to become familiar with its function–so they might encounter the living God, participating in God’s own action through its story.

Of course, the goal in youth ministry could/should be both of those things. We want young people to know the Bible and know how to use it, just as Root describes the eunuch’s both understanding and experiencing Scripture. Youth ministers will still need to help young people differentiate between genres (just as English teachers do) and help them know how to dig into the historical background of a text, which often helps to explain it more than just a surface read.

So we need to get both “behind the text” (“boring” or not) and “in front of the text” to be faithful interpreters. To say, as Root does, that the Bible “only can live, then, by being drawn into our world, into the world in front of the text” has the potential to turn into a me-centric way of reading.

Perhaps the length of this review is an indication that Root has succeeded in getting ministers to think about their own views of Scripture, and how they would engage others in reading the Bible. That is a good thing! I’m not sure I would use this book for youth minister training, since there’s a good deal I’d feel compelled to qualify or further nuance. (Though it’s hard to think of an alternative book along similar lines to suggest.) Unpacking Scripture in Youth Ministry has, however, very much provoked me to a great deal of reflection. I hope that Root continues to write more about theology, Scripture, and youth ministry, and that others follow suit.

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy, given without expectation as to the nature and content of this review. The publisher’s product page is here. You can find it on Amazon here. A sample .pdf is here.