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.

Three Septuagint books I’m reading

There are three good (so far) books I’m reading on the Septuagint. Links and publisher’s descriptions are below.

1. LXX-Isaiah as Translation and Interpretation: The Strategies of the Translator of the Septuagint of Isaiah, by Roland L. Troxel (Brill, 2007)

LXX-Isaiah_TroxelThis book offers a fresh understanding of how Isaiah was translated into Greek, by considering the impact of the translator’s Alexandrian milieu on his work. Whereas most studies over the past fifty years have regarded the book’s free translation style as betraying the translator’s conviction that Isaiah’s oracles were being fulfilled in his day, this study argues that he was primarily interested in offering his Greek-speaking co-religionists a cohesive representation of Isaiah’s ideas. Comparison of the translator’s interpretative tacks with those employed by the grammatikoi in their study of Homer offers a convincing picture of his work as an Alexandrian Jew and clarifies how this translation should be assessed in reconstructing early textual forms of Hebrew Isaiah.

2. The Reception of the Hebrew Bible in the Septuagint and the New Testament: Essays in Memory of Aileen Guilding, edited by David J.A. Clines and J. Cheryl Exum (Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2013)

Reception of Hebrew Bible in LXXAileen Guilding was Professor of Biblical History and Literature in the University of Sheffield from 1959 to 1965, and was known especially for her monograph The Fourth Gospel and Jewish Worship: A Study of the Relation of St. John’s Gospel to the Ancient Jewish Lectionary System (Oxford, 1960), which enjoyed a succès d’estime in its day as an exceptionally fascinating and learned book. She is celebrated in Sheffield as the first female professor in the University; she was also the first woman to hold a chair in theology or religion in the United Kingdom. After her death at the age of 94 a conference on themes relevant to her special interests was held in Sheffield as part of a meeting of the Society for Old Testament Study, and the papers read there are presented in this volume, published in the 101st year after her birth.

3. Messianism in the Old Greek of Isaiah: An Intertextual Analysis, by Abi T. Ngunga (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013)

Messianism Old Greek IsaiahAbi T. Ngunga explores the theme of messianism in the entire corpus of the Old Greek of Isaiah (LXX-Isaiah). This is done through the lens of an intertextual hermeneutic employed by the Isaiah translator as a mode of reading this text.

Its introductory chapter looks at the need in scholarship to investigate the topic of messianism in the Greek Bible in general, and in the whole of the LXX-Isaiah in particular. After dealing with a few issues related to the LXX-Isaiah as a translation, Ngunga also surveys thoroughly the topic of intertextuality from its inception to its use in biblical studies including LXX research. Particular attention is given to its application in research done, to date, on the Greek text of Isaiah.

Chapter two re-examines a few arguments pertinent to the scholarly opinion that messianic hopes were not prominent among the Alexandrian Jews in comparison to their co-religionists in Palestine. It also explores the relationships between the non-Jewish citizens of the Ptolemaic kingdom and the Alexandrian Jews, with the aim to ascertain the legitimacy of investigating the theme of messianism in a piece of Jewish literature such as the LXX-Isaiah authored in the Hellenistic period. Chapter three analyses in-depth nine selected messianic passages within the LXX-Isaiah (7:10–17; 9:1–7 (8:23–9:6); 11:1–10; 16:1–5; 19:16–25; 31:9b–32:8; 42:1–4; 52:13–53:12; and 61:1–3a). The study concludes by highlighting the detected particular messianic imprints left on the LXX-Isaiah. Given the results, the study dismisses any doubt concerning the contention that there is a dynamic messianic thought running through the whole of the Greek Isaiah. It also sheds some light on the understanding of some of the messianic beliefs later echoed in early Christianity.

Reviews of each of these three will come soon.

First Bible of the Church: A Plea for the Septuagint, reviewed

First Bible of the ChurchFor the New Testament authors, the original text, that is, the text they drew on, was primarily the Septuagint. To make up the first part of the Bible which has the New Testament as the other part, the Old Testament in the shape it has in the Septuagint would therefore seem the obvious choice.

First Bible of the Church: A Plea for the Septuagint, by Mogens Müller (p. 144)

Mogens Müller provocatively asks, “What caused the displacement of the Septuagint? …Today it is an open question whether the Septuagint should be reinstalled as the Old Testament of the Church” (p. 7). First Bible of the Church is part reception history, part biblical theology, and part apologetic work that suggests the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible should be brought (back) into canonical status. It should be “at least part of a canon” (p. 122), if not the better choice than Biblia Hebraica for today’s “original text” of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible.

What follows is a brief summary of the book’s contents, followed by some evaluative comments.

Müller’s Plea

Chapter 1 is the introduction to the book. In it Müller raises the question of just what should qualify as “the original text” of the Old Testament. If we see “what the early church regarded as its Bible” (p. 23), already one has to take the Septuagint seriously. This is not a question Müller addresses exclusively on textual grounds; for him the issue is also a theological one. To wit: In Isaiah 7:14/Matthew 1:23, “the ‘wrong’ text gains a significance of its own by being used” (p. 23).

Chapter 2, “The Jewish Bible at the Time of the New Testament,” looks at the canonization and textual history of the Jewish Bible, including various Greek recensions. Müller makes a key (and helpful) distinction in canonization between “the recognition of a writing as sacred” and “the final fixing of its wording” (p. 32). Evaluating various source materials, and dismissing the idea of an Urtext, the author notes the (accepted) fluidity of the process of textual transmission, where the actual wording in the sacred books only became important some centuries after the books themselves had become part of a canon. The implications of this, of course, are that New Testament writers may not have cared–in the way modernists do–about making sure they were using “the original” Hebrew text when quoting Scripture–if such a thing even ever existed as such.

Nonetheless, as chapter 3 points out, there was a very early historical concern about the authority of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Would the former be on par with the latter? Müller examines various defenses of the Septuagint (the Law books, specifically): Aristeas, Aristobulus, Philo, and Josephus. Chapter 4, “The Reception of the Septuagint Legend into the Church up to and Including Augustine” continues the historical inquiry into attitudes toward the Septuagint, especially when compared to the Hebrew text it was said to have translated. Justin and Irenaeus (among others) are given as examples of early interpreters who saw the Septuagint translation as inspired. Jerome, Müller suggests:

saw the Biblia Hebraica as the basic text as far as the Old Testament was concerned, and thus he contributed, at least for the Latin-speaking part of Christianity, to bring about the final abandonment of the Septuagint, which had very early come to be acknowledged as the Bible of the Gentile, Christian Church. (p. 86)

Biblia Graeca
Biblia Graeca

Chapters 5 (“Hebraica sive Graeca Veritas?“) calls the Septuagint “a witness to the process of transmitting tradition” (p. 99), a process which Müller sees in ancient Judaism as having “a very creative character” (p. 104). Translation in antiquity included a measure of interpretation. The author’s foray into translation theory gives refreshing context to a world that valued lexical equivalency in translation less than many do today.

Chapter 6 (“Vetus Testamentum in Novo Receptum“) provides a short biblical theology, in which the New Testament is seen primarily as the story of Jesus, who himself fulfills what is written in the Old Testament. Müller notes that it is for this reason that the Hebrew Bible became the Old Testament, and yet its use by New Testament writers solidified its importance and sacredness for Christians. The Old Testament is necessary–“it remains the Holy Writ of the Christian community.” But it is not sufficient–“the Old Testament per se represents a limited epoch in salvation history” (p. 135).

The conclusion calls for the Septuagint to (re-)take its canonical place alongside the New Testament.

Is Müller’s Plea Worth Paying Heed To?

Yes. Readers of this blog and its Septuagint posts will not be surprised by my saying so. Müller makes a good case and generally succeeds in making a compelling plea for the LXX. If readers don’t accept his call to (re-)canonize the Greek OT, they will at least take seriously his petition to take it more seriously (as the NT writers did).

The book is short (some 150 pages) but dense. There is untranslated German and Latin in the footnotes, as one would expect in a scholarly monograph, but the writing is no less engaging for its density. The Greek font used throughout is easy to read, and the Greek is often translated into English.

Müller’s brief biblical theology at the end of the book is excellent. It left me wanting to read more. His notion of fulfillment as a motif that links together the OT and NT was convincing and well-articulated.

I found some typographical errors, as well as a number of sentences that just seemed to have wanted closer editing. This could be in part due to the book’s translation from a Danish manuscript. I was distracted in a few places as a result, but not consistently.

Evangelicals will find a few things they disagree with. For example, Müller cites Wellhausen approvingly to note that “the prophets were not reformers anxious to lead the people back to an original Mosaic religion.” The Law, then, “is not the starting-point but the result of Israel’s spiritual development” (p. 102). This line of reasoning is not essential to following the rest of Müller’s arguments, but his “redactional-critical attitude” (p. 100) does lead to a few assertions that some (including myself) don’t agree with.

Müller’s logic and historical inquiry is generally careful and robust, not to mention more readable than one might expect from a work of this nature. Perhaps it is due to the short length of the book, but there are still some unanswered questions. If “the Septuagint” is to comprise the Old Testament in Christian Bibles (as Müller suggests on p. 144, among other places), which Septuagint should we use? On which codex or codices should we base it? And given that Septuagint manuscripts vary on which books are included, how would we decide which books to place in a reconstituted OT? Simply those books that are now in the Hebrew OT, but in their Greek iterations? What about the Apocrypha?

And yet it appears that Müller’s aim is more to address “whether the Septuagint should be reinstalled as the Old Testament of the Church” (p. 7, my emphasis), not how and by what methodology such a reinstallation would take place. With this aim in mind, Müller’s short yet substantive book offers a compelling plea that deserves the reader’s careful consideration.

You can find First Bible of the Church: A Plea for the Septuagint here at Amazon. Its publisher’s product page is here. Thanks to Bloomsbury for the review copy, given with no expectation as to the content of the review.

The Gospels as “the Song of the Four Living Creatures”

Gospel Writing

Where gospel difference is seen as a problem or weakness that calls for elaborate harmonization procedures or critical unmasking, the root cause is a dissatisfaction with canonical pluralism as such and a determination to reduce it to singularity. But that is to overlook the hermeneutical significance of the canon itself, which strives to integrate the voice of the individual witness into an encompassing polyphony. As an ancient tradition suggests in word and image, this evangelical polyphony echoes the song of the four living creatures around the divine throne.

–pp. 615-6 of Francis Watson’s Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective (Eerdmans, 2013)

I’m reviewing Watson’s book for an upcoming Bible Study Magazine issue. Watson’s comfort with the co-existence of history and theology–as if one could be devoid of the other in the case of gospel reception–is refreshing.

The Bible You Would Have Brought to Your 3rd Century Church Service


Look at that! It’s an all-Greek Bible. Just like the one Jesus carried around! Okay, not quite, but it is very good to see the Greek Septuagint and the Greek New Testament together under one cover. Augustine would be pleased:

For Greek aficionados—a 2-in-1 resource that’s designed specifically for extensive research, textual criticism, and other academic endeavors. Featuring both the Rahlfs-Hanhart Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) and the 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece, this user-friendly tool includes critical apparatus, cross-references, and more. 3216 pages, hardcover from German Bible Society.

What It Looks Like

It’s a mere three pounds (in weight, not price). Amazon lists its dimensions as 7.5 x 5.7 x 2.8 inches.

This impressive edition is two previously published Greek texts put together in one cover. It’s obviously thicker than the Septuagint alone, and just a little bigger in length and width. Here are the two side by side: the Septuagint alone on the right, and its “upgrade” version (with GNT) on the left:

v. 1.0 and v. 2.0
v. 1.0 (at right) and v. 2.0 (at left)

Before receiving the volume, I was concerned that its 3,000+ pages would defeat Alfred Rahlfs’s initial intention to have a Handausgabe (i.e., a manual and portable edition). Indeed, Hanhart’s “Introductory Remarks to the Revised Edition” translate Handausgabe as “pocket-edition,” which this is decidedly not. (It would fit nicely in a purse or man-purse, though.) That said, the addition of the Greek New Testament really does not add a lot of bulk, as Rahlfs-Hanhart was already more than 2,000 pages. Biblia Graeca is still a (fairly) portable edition, though, if not literally pocket-sized. The sewn binding and hard cover appear that they will hold up under regular use. Here are v. 1.0 (LXX only) and v. 2.0 (LXX+GNT) stacked on top of each other:

The Two Stacked Up

You can barely make it out from the above photo, but the LXX/GNT combo comes (wisely) with two ribbon markers. Was it a coincidence that mine were both placed at the beginning of Odes? I think not.

The Greek Typesetting/Font

Rahlfs has not been re-typeset, so its Greek font is not as crisp or readable as that of the New Testament portion. Compare:

Genesis 1:1-5
Genesis 1:1-5, from publisher’s pdf sample

Here now is the Greek in the New Testament portion, which is clear and crisp:

Matt 1.1-6 GNT
Matthew 1:1-6, from publisher’s pdf sample

After reading enough Septuagint, one does get used to the Rahlfs font. It’s not too bad.

Always a concern with Bibles this big is that the requisite thin pages will mean bleed-through of text from the reverse side. This is noticeable to a degree here, but not in a way that negatively affects reading:

Mark 1
Mark 1

Rahlfs-Hanhart (Septuaginta)

The Rahlfs-Hanhart edition is not the go-to for extensive text-critical research that the Göttingen editions are, where they are present (on which, see my posts here and here on using Göttingen). Rahlfs is still useful, though, because it contains an entire Septuagint text, whereas Göttingen (published as individual volumes) does not.

It is probably the best starting place for readers of the Septuagint, even with its deliberately more limited apparatus. It is best thought of as a “semi-critical edition,” as noted here. Rahlfs “reconstructs” the text using, primarily, Codex Vaticanus (B), Codex Sinaiticus (S or א), and Codex Alexandrinus (A), a methodology that the revisor, Robert Hanhart, honors. Here is the apparatus for the first page, covering Genesis 1:1-14. This is a funny case, because of how much of Genesis is missing in B, so Genesis 1-46:28 up through the Greek word ηρωων is just based on A here. The rest (from πολιν in 46:28 to the end, chapter 50) take into account B and A.

Rahlfs Apparatus Gen. 1.1-14

Preceding the actual text and apparatus are Hanhart’s 2005 “Introductory Remarks to the Revised Edition” in German, English, and Greek. Then in German, English, Latin, and Greek follow three more sections: (1) Rahlfs’s “Editor’s Preface,” (2) an illuminating 10-page essay, “History of the Septuagint Text”, and (3) Explanation of Symbols. Everything you need to get started reading the Septuagint (minus the Greek lessons) is here.

Nestle-Aland 28th Edition (Novum Testamentum Graece)

What about the updated NA28? In short:

The long-awaited 28th edition of the Novum Testamentum Graece has now been published. Once again the editors thoroughly examined the critical apparatus and they introduced more than 30 textual changes in the Catholic Letters, reflecting recent comprehensive collations. With the intent to make this book more user-friendly, the editors also revised the introductions and provided more explanations in English. This concise edition of the Greek New Testament, which has now grown to 1,000 pages, will continue to play a leading role in academic teaching and scholarly exegesis.

The NA28 has its own snazzy site here. (What a day we live in, when a Greek Bible gets its own Website! Its writers would be amazed.) Recent text-critical work on the New Testament has led to revisions in the Catholic Letters, but not elsewhere. So the Gospels and Pauline epistles, for example, retain the same text as the NA27. However, there are changes that affect the whole edition, as the publisher points out:

  • Newly discovered Papyri listed
  • Distinction between consistently cited witnesses of the first and second order abandoned
  • Apparatus notes systematically checked
  • Imprecise notes abandoned
  • Previously concatenated notes now cited separately
  • Inserted Latin texts reduced and translated
  • References thoroughly revised

As for the textual differences themselves, those are explained and listed here. There are more details to be digested about the new NA28 edition. I can do no better than to refer you to the writings/reviews of Larry Hurtado, Rick BrannanDaniel Wallace, and Peter Williams.

All the quick-reference inserts you need to make sense of symbols and abbreviations are included:

The 3 inserts

Concluding Thoughts: Sell All You Have?

The product page for the beautiful Biblia Graeca is here for CBD, here at the German Bible Society, here at Hendrickson, and here for Amazon. And, best yet, you can look at a sample of the book here. If it’s just the text (and not the apparatuses) that you’re interested in, you can read the NA28 online here and the Rahlfs-Hanhart Septuagint here.

Rahlfs wrote in his preface that he sought to “provide ministers and students with a reliable edition of the Septuagint at a moderate price.” If you click the links above, you will see that this is not “a moderate price.” It’s significantly cheaper to buy the same critical editions of each Testament under separate cover.

But there are at least two major advantages to putting them together. First, when the New Testament writers quoted Scripture, they predominantly did so in a form that is closer to what we have now in a Septuagint text. Comparing a quotation (in Greek) with its source (in Greek) is facilitated by this edition. Second, that this edition exists is an important symbolic statement. Lovers of the Septuagint are fond of affirming that it was the Bible of the early Church. If that is so, why can we not have one, too? Now we can, printed and bound in a way that would shock the pre-printing press world that first heard all these Scriptures together when gathered for worship.

Professor Ferdinand Hitzig has often been quoted saying, “Gentlemen!” (and today, he would say, “Ladies!” too) “Have you a Septuagint? If not, sell all you have, and buy a Septuagint.”

In true biblical storytelling fashion, he is using hyperbole to communicate his point. But for those who are so inclined and able, if selling a few things to get a Septuagint is a good idea, how much more might someone like Hitzig encourage them to sell a few things for the Biblia Graeca?

Christians believe that the Septuagint has come to full fruition through the New Testament.

So it only makes sense to be binding the two together.

Many thanks to Hendrickson for the privilege of reviewing this fine work. A copy came my way for review, but with no expectation as to the nature of my review, except that it be honest.