Category Archives: Book Reviews

Demons: What the Bible Really Says

Demons: What the Bible Really Says

Demons
Michael Heiser’s book “Demons” is available at Lexham Press, Amazon USA / UK and other outlets.

Are all demonic beings the same? How many spiritual rebellions does the Bible speak of? Is there an evil being named Satan in the Old Testament? Did Satan rebel before the creation of human beings and take a third of the angels with him? Are demons fallen angels? These are just a few of the many questions answered in Michael Heiser’s new book Demons: What the Bible Really Says About the Powers of Darkness. How many of the foregoing questions do you think you know the answer to? Are you sure you’re right? If you’d like to test your knowledge on demons take the quiz Demons: Biblical or Myth? A word of warning, however–the quiz is designed to be tricky. Michael Heiser himself confesses that he missed two of the questions! You can see him and Rabbi Eric Walker talk about it here.  I took the quiz and did well, but that’s because I had already read Heiser’s book! Had I taken the quiz first, I would probably have gotten half or less correct. In other words, there’s a lot to learn from this book. Not only will the average person learn new things about what the Bible really teaches on this subject, some misconceptions will also be corrected.

Demons is Heiser’s companion volume to Angels: What the Bible Really Says About God’s Heavenly Host (see my review here). Both books are based upon his foundational study entitled: The Unseen Realm (see my review of the movie version recently released by Logos/Faithlife). No one has done more to reveal the Bible’s teaching on the spiritual realm to the average person than Michael Heiser. This most recent book continues that tradition.

Content of Demons

Heiser’s book is divided into four main sections. Section I is entitled, “Biblical Vocabulary for the Powers of Darkness.” These opening chapters are not for the faint of heart. After a brief introductory chapter, he dives right in to the Hebrew (chapter 1) and Greek (chapter 2) words that describe the demonic realm. According to Heiser, “We simply cannot depend on English translations for an Old Testament study of demons or the infernal powers” (p. 1). His point is that both Hebrew and Greek use a wide variety of terms to describe these powers of darkness and English translations do not fully reflect the significance of the various words and their meaning.

Chapter 1–Heiser groups Hebrew words describing evil spirits into three broad categories: 1) Terms associated with the realm of the dead and its inhabitants; 2) Terms that denote geographical dominion of supernatural powers in rebellion against Yahweh; and 3) Preternatural creatures associated with idolatry and unholy ground (p. 8). Heiser examines more than 15 words that describe evil supernatural powers in the OT. Most readers will be unfamiliar with many of these terms. If you don’t know Hebrew but remain patient, you’ll learn a lot!

Chapter 2–In this chapter, Heiser turns to the Greek terms used in the Septuagint (LXX–Greek translation of the OT). Heiser’s main goal is to establish that the LXX has faithfully transmitted the outlook of the Hebrew OT regarding the spiritual realm of evil beings. This is important as some OT scholars advocate the view that the OT contains vestiges of polytheism that are “cleaned up” in the LXX. Heiser demonstrates conclusively that this is not the case. The OT does not have any vestiges of polytheism, and the LXX is faithful in communicating the same view of the spiritual realm as the Hebrew Bible. What Heiser has to say on this subject is important, but I’ll leave the details of this argument for the interested reader to find out.

Section II is entitled, “The Powers of Darkness in the Old Testament and Second Temple Judaism,” and is comprised of chapters 3 through 8. Heiser, convincingly in my opinion, maintains that the OT teaches that there were three spiritual rebellions. The first was by the serpent in Eden (Gen. 3). The second by the sons of God in Genesis 6:1-4, and the third at the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-8; Deut. 32:8-9). In the succeeding chapters, Heiser looks at each spiritual rebellion. He begins by investigating what the OT teaches, and then follows that up with what the literature of Second Temple Judaism (these are the writings from what is also known as the “intertestament period”) teaches on the same subject. Below are the topics of each chapter.

Chapter 3 tackles what the OT teaches about the rebellion in the garden.

Chapter 4 looks at what the writings of Second Temple Judaism (hereafter, STJ) have to say about this event.

Chapter 5 investigates the OT teaching on the rebellion by the sons of God in Genesis 6.

Chapter 6 follows with the STJ viewpoint on this rebellion.

Chapter 7 looks at the OT rebellion at Babel, recorded in Genesis 11:1-8 and commented on in Deuteronomy 32:8-9.

Chapter 8 concludes this section with the STJ viewpoint and commentary.

Demons author Michael Heiser
Author Michael Heiser

These chapters are full of informative discussions about the meaning of the spiritual rebellions in the OT and how STJ furthers that discussion. One example of this that will surprise many readers is Heiser’s contention that the OT uses the word satan (note the small “s”) in its original meaning of “adversary,” but it does not use it as a proper name referring to the prince of demons (no, not even in 1 Chron. 21 or Job 1). Heiser traces how the use of satan in the OT develops into the proper name Satan during the Second Temple period. Thus, by the time of the NT period Satan has become the proper name of the leader of spiritual wickedness. If this sounds shocking, get the book and make up your own mind. This discussion alone is worth the price of the book.

Section III is entitled, “The Devil and His Angels: The Powers of Darkness in the New Testament.” This section consists of three chapters (9-11). In these chapters, Heiser examines what the NT teaches about these powers and demonstrates how the teachings of both the OT and STJ contribute to the NT worldview. Once again, the chapters are divided according to the three spiritual rebellions mentioned in the OT.

Chapter 9: “The Devil–His Dominion and Destiny,” looks at the original rebel from Genesis 3 and what the NT teaches concerning him.

Chapter 10: “Evil Spirits–Demons and their Destiny,” is an extremely insightful chapter. This chapter shows the connection of the demons of the NT with the rebellion of Genesis 6:1-4. Following what the OT and STJ teaches, the demons are understood to be the dead spirits of the Nephilim. Again, read the book to understand this one!

Chapter 11: “The Ruling Powers: Their Delegitimization and Destiny,” examines the NT language regarding the spiritual rebels from the Tower of Babel. These territorial spirits mentioned in Deuteronomy 32:8-9 and the Book of Daniel, are “the rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers and spiritual forces of evil” that Paul refers to in Ephesians 6:12, as well as other places.

Section IV is a very helpful concluding section entitled, “Questions and Misconceptions.” Here are a few samples of the kinds of questions and misconceptions addressed. Demons are fallen angels. Can Satan and demons read our minds? Can a Christian be demon possessed? What is spiritual warfare?, and many more.

Evaluation

Heiser’s writings have been a theological game-changer for me personally. Passages I used to ignore, not only make more sense, but I understand how they fit into the overall story of Scripture. Demons adds yet another layer which contributes to that understanding. As I noted in my evaluation of Angels, this book is probably not for the novice. It is full of copious footnotes and references to Hebrew and Greek words. It is most suited for a pastor,  Bible college student, or teacher. But anyone who has a desire to understand what the Bible says on this subject will benefit. It never hurts to stretch ourselves theologically, so I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from reading this book who wants to grow in their knowledge of Scripture in this area. The practical questions in the last section of the book are an example of how much there is to learn. Just be aware that you’re diving into the deep end of the pool, but it’s well worth the swim!

Interested readers may also want to check out the review of Demons  and Heiser’s other related books in Christianity Today.

Demons: What the Bible Really Says About the Powers of Darkness is available at Lexham Press, Amazon USA / UK, Logos/Faithlife, and other outlets.

Many thanks to Lexham Press for this free review copy. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

 

The Serpent in Samuel: A Messianic Motif

The Serpent in Samuel: A Messianic Motif

The Serpent in Samuel
The serpent in Samuel is available at Wipf & Stock, and Amazon USA / UK

As the title suggests, this recent book by author Brian A. Verrett, advocates that the messianic theme found in the books of Samuel is enhanced by tracing a serpent motif (on the subject of biblical motifs, see my post here). The serpent referred to is the serpent of Genesis 3. In particular Genesis 3:15, viewed by many as the first messianic prophecy in Scripture: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (ESV).

This motif is not readily apparent to most readers of the English Bible, but by an examination of various Hebrew words, as well as looking at what the text of Genesis 3 might have in common with certain passages in the books of Samuel, Verrett seeks to establish his case. In Verrett’s own words, “This book has a two-fold purpose: (1) demonstrate that Samuel contains a serpent motif and (2) demonstrate that this motif’s significance within Samuel is to present the seed of David as the promised seed of the woman from Gen. 3:15 who will defeat the serpent and reign as king in the new creation” (p. 143).

In his introductory chapter, Verrett demonstrates that previous scholarship has suggested a serpent motif within the books of Samuel. He also notes that the books of Samuel utilize various motifs noticed by scholars (I myself am planning a series on this blog related to various motifs in the books of Samuel–click here for posts currently available).

The serpent tempts Adam & Eve
Verrett suggests that words like going on one’s belly, eating dust, trodden underfoot, or suffering a damaged head, may all be ways of alluding to the serpent.

In chapter two Verrett looks closely at Genesis 3, examining the story and its vocabulary. His main objectives are to “demonstrate that both the OT and NT contain a serpent motif that derives from Gen 3,” and to “develop a paradigm to determine allusions to the serpent by noting those words, images, and concepts that the text associates with the serpent in Gen 3” (p. 10). Some of his conclusions are (1) that the seed of the woman is a singular individual (i.e. the word “seed” is not used in a corporate sense); (2) by examining the words of judgment placed on the serpent, the woman, and the man, one can expect that a text using these images might be alluding to the serpent. Verrett concedes that the words referring to the serpent’s judgment have a “higher chance” that a biblical author is referring to the serpent. He does a convincing job establishing that there is a serpent motif that runs throughout the OT & NT, thus opening the door for the possibility that this motif occurs in Samuel as well.

David and Goliath
Is Goliath an image of the serpent? Verrett’s answer is “Yes!”

In chapters 3&4 Verrett seeks to establish that a serpent motif exists in Samuel. His primary focus is on Goliath (chapter 3) and passages dealing with Nahash (chapter 4). Verrett contends that several factors combine to demonstrate that Goliath represents the serpent. Words and images that suggest this include Goliath’s scaly armor and the four-fold mention of bronze (armor & weapons). The word “bronze” comes from the same Hebrew root as the word for snake. Finally, Goliath’s death suggests connections with the serpent. His falling face down suggests that he eats dust and his beheading parallels the serpent’s head being crushed. As an aside for those who read this blog, Verrett agrees that David struck Goliath in the knee, not the forehead, as I argue in most post “How David Killed Goliath: Are You Sure?

The Ammonite King Nahash seems to hold the most obvious potential for a serpent theme, since “nahash” in Hebrew means “snake.” Nahash is the king defeated by Saul in 1 Samuel 11. His opposition to Israel and Israel’s anointed one (Saul), along with his name make this a possibility. Nahash’s name also appears in 2 Samuel 10 which speaks of his death and the war created by his son Hanun when he insults David’s ambassadors. Verrett argues that Hanun is the “seed of the serpent,” since he is the son of Nahash. The theme of nakedness and shame and his opposition to David (Israel’s anointed) further suggests the serpent motif (pp. 84-85). Nahash is mentioned 2 final times in 2 Samuel 17:25 and 27. According to 2 Sam. 17:25, Nahash is the grandfather of Amasa. Amasa becomes the general of Absalom’s army in his revolt against David. Verrett argues that Amasa’s descent from Nahash and the description of his death, which includes him falling on his “belly” and writhing like a snake, suggests that he is a seed of the serpent (pp. 89-91). Verrett also suggests that Absalom is “serpentine” but doesn’t dwell on this identification, making only cursory observations (Absalom deceives people, he is opposed to David). I found this section dealing with Amasa and Absalom to be less than convincing and will speak of it in my critique below.

In chapters 5-7 Verrett deals with the second purpose of his book which is to demonstrate that the seed of David is the promised seed of the woman who will defeat the serpent and reign over a new creation. In chapter 5 he pulls together all the “serpent” material in Samuel explored in his earlier chapters (3&4) and seeks to show how they relate to one another. This is one of the most insightful chapters of the book. Verrett points out that Saul’s fall begins after his defeat of Nahash (which might have raised hopes that he was the promised seed), demonstrating that Saul is not the promised seed of the woman. David’s victory over the serpentine Goliath gives hope that he is the promised seed. But following his victory over Hanun (the son of Nahash), the story relates David’s fall, thus demonstrating that he is not the promised seed of the woman either. Therefore, the serpent motif in Samuel momentarily raises the reader’s hope that the fulfillment of Gen. 3:15 is on the horizon. However, hope turns to be disappointment when the reader learns that neither Saul nor David is the promised deliverer. This, in turn, leads Verrett to discuss 2 Sam. 7:11b-17 in chapter 6–a passage that promises David an eternal throne and a descendant who would sit upon it.

King David
When God promises David an eternal throne, who is the promised one who will build the Temple? According to Verrett, it’s not Solomon, but Jesus.

In chapter 6, Verrett carefully examines 2 Sam. 7:11b-17, concluding that Solomon is not the promised descendant who would build the Temple, but that it refers to a future priest-king (Jesus). Along with his discussion of 2 Sam 7, he also looks at whether 2 Chronicles pictures Solomon as the fulfillment (his answer is “no”). He also connects 1 Sam 2:35 and the prophecy of a faithful priest with 2 Sam 7, arguing that these passages share similar language and indicate that the promised priest is also the same person as the promised coming king. To bolster his argument, he examines Zechariah 6:9-15, stating that this passage too anticipates a priest-king who is the “Branch” of David (thus an allusion to the Davidic covenant in 2 Sam 7). Finally, he argues that “Hebrews 3:1-6 also understands the faithful priest of 1 Sam 2:35 to be the seed of David in 2 Samuel 7:11b-17” (133).

Chapter 7 is a close examination of David’s “last words” recorded in 2 Sam 23:1-7, and other passages that Verrett believes are dependent on it (Ps. 72, various passages in Isaiah, Jer. 23:5-6 and Zech. 6:9-15). His interpretation of 2 Sam 23:1-7 is that David is speaking of his seed who will reign in righteousness over a new creation (3-4) while defeating the serpent (6-7–he understands the mention of “Belial” to refer to the serpent of Gen. 3). Chapter 8 is a five-page summary bringing the study to a conclusion.

Evaluation

Teacher
Image courtesy of http://clipart-library.com/teacher-cartoon-images.html

Verrett is to be congratulated for a very thorough study of the serpent motif in Samuel. The book demonstrates a good working knowledge of the books of Samuel, as well as an acquaintance with the pertinent scholarly literature. The book is also well written and easy to understand. One does not have to be a scholar to appreciate the many insights offered, although this book is definitely for the more mature student, pastor, or teacher. Among the strengths of this book is an awareness of a serpent motif in Scripture, and a greater sensitivity toward the messianic theme of the books of Samuel.

While Verrett has convinced me of the possibility of a serpent motif in Samuel, I must say with some regret, I am not totally persuaded. At times I was left with the impression that Verrett wanted to prove his thesis so much that he may have gone overboard and found connections where there are none. One example is Verrett’s contention that Habakkuk 3:13-14 is “a poetic portrayal of the David and Goliath narrative” (p. 60). I had never read these verses and caught any notion of a reference, or even an allusion, to David and Goliath. After reading Verrett’s interpretation, I must still confess that I don’t see it. I have similar feelings about his connection of 2 Sam. 23:6-7 with 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1, although I see the parallels he is trying to make between these passages.

One glaring weakness in Verrett’s presentation, in my opinion, is regarding Absalom and Amasa. One would think that if the writer of Samuel was attempting to use the serpent motif in the story of Absalom’s rebellion, he would have used language and imagery much more obvious and convincing with regards to Absalom. Why would the writer focus on a relatively minor character like Amasa and picture him as the seed of the serpent, when a presentation of Absalom in this light would make a more profound impression? This doesn’t rule it out as a possibility, but there are other problems regarding Amasa. Although Verrett, to his credit, deals with the textual problem in 2 Sam. 17:25 which depicts Amasa as a descendant of Nahash, this Scripture is much disputed. It asks a lot to base your theory on a disputed passage. I must also take issue with Verrett’s interpretation of Joab. Joab is pictured as a very unsavory person in 2 Samuel. His murder of Amasa is vicious, deceitful, and cowardly. Yet in this passage Verrett pictures Joab as the hero and David as the villain! Quote: “At this point in the narrative, Joab appears more like the seed of the woman than David does” (p. 113). This is a misunderstanding of Joab’s portrayal in 2 Samuel. (For an in depth treatment of Joab’s character, check out my book, Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel). One final problem with Verrett’s thesis is his assertion that the covenant promise of 2 Samuel 7 refers only to the promised seed of the woman. While this is clearly a messianic text and is interpreted this way in the NT, it’s hard to ignore 2 Sam. 7:14 which talks about David’s descendants committing sin. Again, to his credit, Verrett addresses this verse, but all that he can come up with (and it’s all that can be said) is that the Old Greek (OG) leaves open the possibility that David’s descendant might not sin (p. 127). This is not a strong argument and damages  his assertion that this passage only speaks about the coming messiah.

Concluding Remarks

In spite of my critique of what I perceive to be some shortcomings of The Serpent in Samuel, this is an excellent book. The reader will learn much from it. I am grateful for Verrett’s effort, and scholarship and I highly recommend it as a source that will inform and challenge the reader.

Many thanks to Wipf & Stock for this free review copy. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

The Serpent in Samuel: A Messianic Motif is available at Wipf & Stock, and Amazon USA / UK

 

Favorite Logos Commentary: The Geographic Commentary

Favorite Logos Commentary: The Geographic Commentary

Lexham Geographic Commentary
For this and other great resources from Logos click on the link here.

Those who frequent this blog may be aware that I’ve become enamored lately with a geographical approach to Bible Study (see posts here, here, and here). A favorite Logos commentary of mine is the Lexham Geographic Commentary. Last year, I did a review of volume 1 which focused on the Gospels (see review here). Lexham Press has recently published the second volume on Acts through Revelation. Since I’ve already done an overview of this series, I’d like to focus on one particular chapter of volume 2 that points out how valuable this commentary is in Logos. As noted in my previous review, although these volumes are available in hardback from Lexham Press, the Logos version offers many superior advantages.

Like volume 1, volume 2 has chapters authored by various experts on biblical geography and the ancient world. I’ve chosen chapter 41 entitled, “The Social and Geographical World of Ephesus,” by David A. DeSilva. If you want an in-depth sensory learning experience regarding Ephesus then this is the commentary for you! This chapter on Ephesus is chalk-full of maps, diagrams, photos, and videos to enhance one’s learning experience about ancient Ephesus. The screenshot below is an example of one of the great features available in the Logos edition. It is called “before and after.” The picture on the right is taken from the book and shows the way the Odeon in Ephesus might have looked. By clicking on the picture, a screen appears on the left hand side with a little slider allowing you to see the way it looks today, as well as how it looked then. I have left the slider in the middle of the picture so that you can see both the before and after. By using the cursor, you can move the slider in either direction.

Lexham Geographic Commentary
“Before and After” is one of the great features of the Logos edition.

Another superior feature of the Logos edition can be seen in the next screenshot. When DeSilva describes the various deities worshipped in the city of Ephesus, one may wonder who some of these deities are. In the Logos edition, all of the deities are highlighted. By clicking on the highlighted name (in this case I have clicked on Cybele), the lefthand side of the screen produces what is known in Logos as “The Factbook.” This resource provides an enormous amount of information at one’s fingertips to learn more about who Cybele was. Using a hardback copy one would obviously not have this information available, and at best, might put the book down to look up “Cybele” in a Bible Dictionary. Logos not only lists various articles available on Cybele, but also offers photos and a video about this goddess. Here’s the screenshot.

Lexham Geographic Commentary
Screen shot of the Factbook on the left which is accessed by clicking on the highlighted names in the book on the right.

The next two screen shots show an example of a video embedded within the text of the book. The first screenshot shows the book itself. By clicking on the link in the book, Logos takes you to a “Media” page where you are able to then watch the video. See the second screenshot below.

Lexham Geographic Commentary
This is a picture of the link in the book. Clicking on it takes you to a media page where you can watch the video.
Lexham Geographic Commentary
In this screenshot, the media page can be seen. Simply click the arrow to watch a video on Ephesus.

These are just a few of the advantages available in Logos. Photos can also be imported into the media page and transferred to PowerPoint, Keynote, or Logos’s own “Proclaim” for use in a slide presentation. The final screenshot is found at the end of the chapter listing still other resources available in the Logos version.

Lexham Geographic Commentary
Still other resources available in the Logos version of the Lexham Geographic Commentary!

David A. DeSilva, himself, is an extremely knowledgeable scholar on the ancient Roman world. This chapter on Ephesus is a gold mine of information and is greatly enhanced by all of the features available in Logos. This is why the Lexham Geographic Commentary is a favorite Logos commentary of mine. Check it out and the other resources available at Logos by following the link here.

The links on this page take you to my Logos page. To view this commentary, or any other Logos product, simply click on the links at the top of the page in Logos, or type the name of the resource in the search box.

Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible

Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible

King James Bible
Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible by Mark Ward

Mark Ward has written a very informative and well-balanced book looking at the KJV and the need for modern English versions of the Bible. Ward loves and appreciates the KJV, but he also presents clear reasons why the Bible is needed in one’s contemporary language.

The Preface to the King James Bible 

Ward quotes an interesting statement made in the preface to the KJV. It reads, “As nothing is begun and perfected at the same time, and the latter thoughts are thought to be the wiser; so, if we building upon their foundation that went before us, and being holpen by their labours, do endeavour to make that better which they left so good; no man, we are sure, hath cause to mislike us; they, we persuade ourselves, if they were alive, would thank us.” (p. 83). 

Besides the archaic language which begs for a modern equivalent (how many times did you have to read the quote to understand it, and who among us knows what “holpen” means?), I find 3 interesting things about this quote:

1. The translators acknowledgement of their debt to those English translators who had gone before (Tyndale, Coverdale, etc.).

2. The concern of their own translation efforts being rejected (“no man, we are sure, hath cause to dislike us.”)

3. Their acknowledgement that building on previous efforts will “make that better which they left so good”. As Ward notes, “The KJV translators were not KJV-Only. They would most definitely support the work of later translators building on their foundation and being helped by their labors.” (p. 83).

Why I Recommend This Book

There is a lot to be praised about this book. First, it is concise and easily readable in a short amount of time. Second, it is written with sensitivity toward both the KJV and those who love it. Third, it is written by someone who knows the KJV, and is aware of the issues involving Bible translation. Fourth, it is written by one who has done the research. 

This is not an “off the cuff” bashing of the KJV, but a well-reasoned and well-researched book. I recommend it, not only to my friends who are KJV-Only Bible readers, but for those in the church who ask the frequent question: “What translation of the Bible is the best/should I use?” Ward’s final chapter focuses on this question in particular, but his whole book gives a well-rounded approach to answering it.

Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible is available at Amazon USA / UK and Lexham Press.

NICOT/NICNT on Sale at Logos!

NICOT/NICNT
Check out the sale on NICOT/NICNT at Logos. Available until 5/15/19.

NICOT/NICNT on Sale at Logos!

Logos has announced that one of the best evangelical commentary sets available is on sale until May 15, 2019. The entire series of the NICOT/NICNT is on sale for a whopping 43% off! If you can’t afford the whole series, you may want to purchase the volumes of your choice for $29.99 (excluding the two newest volumes). A majority of volumes in this series run between $45.00 – $80.00, so it is worth your while to get in on the sale. If you’re wondering what all the fuss is about you can check out my review of the NICOT/NICNT Commentary series that I posted this past December. I’ve reproduced it below for your convenience. Click here or any of the links on this page to go to the sale page at Logos.

The New International Commentary Series on the Old and New Testaments (My Review)

If I could only own one full set of commentaries, the New International Commentary on the Old and New Testaments (abbreviated as NICOT/NICNT) would be my choice. In fact, when the folks at Logos/Faithlife offered me the opportunity to own and write a review on a commentary series, the NICOT/NICNT was my choice! Beginning with the initial publication of the NICNT in the late 1940s, the New International Commentary series has been a staple in the lives of pastors, rabbis, students, seminary libraries, and those who are serious about plumbing the depths of the Bible. Like a fine wine, it as continued to improve with age. Many of its volumes are listed as the first or second top commentary on bestcommentaries.com.

Begun by a team of international scholars, the New International Commentary is a series in the evangelical Protestant tradition. Joel Green, the current editor of the New Testament series, writes that the NICNT was written “. . . to provide earnest students of the New Testament with an exposition that is thorough and abreast of modern scholarship and at the same time loyal to the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God.”

 

NICOT Judges Commentary
In this screenshot, author Barry Webb discusses historical issues related to the Book of Judges.

Each commentary begins with an introduction to the selected book(s) and looks at matters of authorship, date, background, purpose, structure, and theology (see screenshot above). This is followed by the author’s own translation of the Hebrew or Greek text and then a verse-by-verse commentary. Each commentary focuses on exposition of the text with theological and devotional insight, while not ignoring important critical matters dealing with the text.

Likes Regarding the New International Commentary Series

NICOT/NICNT
Always updating, the New International Commentary series volume on Galatians by David A. deSilva has just been published this year (2018).

One of the features of this long-running commentary series that I value is its commitment to stay abreast with the latest in scholarship. As the decades have passed, the New International Commentary series has grown along with contemporary methods of investigating the text of Scripture. As a result, older, outdated volumes, have been replaced, while volumes that retain their usefulness are in the process of being updated. For example, just this year (2018) Eerdmans (the publisher of the New International Commentary) has published a new commentary on Galatians by David A. deSilva. DeSilva’s commentary replaces the Galatians commentary by Ronald Y. K. Fung published in 1988, which, in turn, replaced the commentary on Galatians by Herman N. Ridderbos from 1953! These three commentaries on Galatians illustrate another feature I like. In older editions of the New International Commentary authors were much more brief in their treatment of the text. Whether that was by design (an editorial decision) or by author choice I do not know. While some may appreciate a brief commentary, and they do have an important contribution to make, I like the fact that the newer publications in the New International Commentary series allow the author freedom regarding page length. Looking again at the three editions of the Galatians commentary, Ridderbos’s original treatment of Galatians was 240 pages. Fung’s version was 375 pages. The latest contribution by deSilva is 622 pages. This example is characteristic of the entire commentary series. The new volumes coming out, whether replacements or brand new products are longer than the older volumes. Obviously this is only a plus if the author of a given commentary is providing good information, but this does not seem to be a problem in this series.

Dislikes Regarding the New International Commentary Series

The New International Commentary series currently consists of 48 volumes (26 OT and 22 NT). The New Testament series is nearly complete, only lacking commentaries on 2 Peter and Jude. The Old Testament series still lacks volumes on Exodus, 2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings, 1&2 Chronicles, Esther, Lamentations, Daniel, and Amos. This is one of the drawbacks of this series. There is not yet a commentary on every book of the Bible. One would hope that the editors would encourage scholars assigned a certain book to meet a reasonable deadline so that the rest of these commentaries can be made available. One case in point is David Toshio Tsumura’s commentary on First Samuel which came out in 2007. Eleven years later, readers continue to wait for his commentary on Second Samuel.

The New International Commentary Series in Logos

Logos 8
Logos 8 is now available! Check out my review here, click on the link provided and get your update with a discount!

I am a person who still enjoys grabbing an actual book and reading through it. I also have to admit that I enjoy the sight of bookshelves full of books. However, I am gradually being won over by the new technological revolution which is spearheaded in the realm of Bible software by Logos/Faithlife. As great as it would be to have the entire NICOT/NICNT series lining my bookshelves (and I do have a number of volumes), I am in love with the idea of being able to take this entire series with me on my laptop, IPad, or IPhone! Granted, a person usually only needs one commentary at a time, but it’s hard to argue with the fact that Logos puts a whole library of commentaries at your disposal.

Users of Logos are also well aware of the powerful search tools available in Logos. Every word in the New International Commentary series is tagged so that anything can be looked up in a matter of moments. If you’ve forgotten where that quote is that you liked, or a particular insight, it can be easily found by typing a word or phrase into Logos. This beats thumbing through a 1,000 page commentary trying to find that special quote or insight. Given the choice of having this commentary series on my shelves or on my computer is a no-brainer. I’d choose my computer every time.

If you have an older version of Logos and you’re wondering if you can buy this commentary series and still have it available when you update, the answer is “Yes.” You never lose any books that you purchase in Logos. They will always transfer when you update to a newer version. Of course, this series isn’t cheap, but if you’re looking for a commentary series that provides in-depth treatment of the Bible with great theological insights this one is definitely worth saving up for.

To check out the current sale at Logos use this link.

The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

New International Commentary
The New International Commentary of the Old and New Testament is available at logos

If I could only own one full set of commentaries, the New International Commentary on the Old and New Testaments (abbreviated as NICOT/NICNT) would be my choice. In fact, when the folks at Logos/Faithlife offered me the opportunity to own and write a review on a commentary series, the NICOT/NICNT was my choice! Beginning with the initial publication of the NICNT in the late 1940s, the New International Commentary series has been a staple in the lives of pastors, rabbis, students, seminary libraries, and those who are serious about plumbing the depths of the Bible. Like a fine wine, it as continued to improve with age. Many of its volumes are listed as the first or second top commentary on bestcommentaries.com.

Begun by a team of international scholars, the New International Commentary is a series in the evangelical Protestant tradition. Joel Green, the current editor of the New Testament series, writes that the NICNT was written “. . . to provide earnest students of the New Testament with an exposition that is thorough and abreast of modern scholarship and at the same time loyal to the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God.”

NICOT Judges Commentary
In this screenshot, author Barry Webb discusses historical issues related to the Book of Judges.

 

Each commentary begins with an introduction to the selected book(s) and looks at matters of authorship, date, background, purpose, structure, and theology (see screenshot above). This is followed by the author’s own translation of the Hebrew or Greek text and then a verse-by-verse commentary. Each commentary focuses on exposition of the text with theological and devotional insight, while not ignoring important critical matters dealing with the text.

Likes Regarding the New International Commentary Series

NICNT Galatians
Always updating, the New International Commentary series volume on Galatians by David A. deSilva has just been published this year (2018).

One of the features of this long-running commentary series that I value is its commitment to stay abreast with the latest in scholarship. As the decades have passed, the New International Commentary series has grown along with contemporary methods of investigating the text of Scripture. As a result, older, outdated volumes, have been replaced, while volumes that retain their usefulness are in the process of being updated. For example, just this year (2018) Eerdmans (the publisher of the New International Commentary) has published a new commentary on Galatians by David A. deSilva. DeSilva’s commentary replaces the Galatians commentary by Ronald Y. K. Fung published in 1988, which, in turn, replaced the commentary on Galatians by Herman N. Ridderbos from 1953! These three commentaries on Galatians illustrate another feature I like. In older editions of the New International Commentary authors were much more brief in their treatment of the text. Whether that was by design (an editorial decision) or by author choice I do not know. While some may appreciate a brief commentary, and they do have an important contribution to make, I like the fact that the newer publications in the New International Commentary series allow the author freedom regarding page length. Looking again at the three editions of the Galatians commentary, Ridderbos’s original treatment of Galatians was 240 pages. Fung’s version was 375 pages. The latest contribution by deSilva is 622 pages. This example is characteristic of the entire commentary series. The new volumes coming out, whether replacements or brand new products are longer than the older volumes. Obviously this is only a plus if the author of a given commentary is providing good information, but this does not seem to be a problem in this series.

Dislikes Regarding the New International Commentary Series

The New International Commentary series currently consists of 48 volumes (26 OT and 22 NT). The New Testament series is nearly complete, only lacking commentaries on 2 Peter and Jude. The Old Testament series still lacks volumes on Exodus, 2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings, 1&2 Chronicles, Esther, Lamentations, Daniel, and Amos. This is one of the drawbacks of this series. There is not yet a commentary on every book of the Bible. One would hope that the editors would encourage scholars assigned a certain book to meet a reasonable deadline so that the rest of these commentaries can be made available. One case in point is David Toshio Tsumura’s commentary on First Samuel which came out in 2007. Eleven years later, readers continue to wait for his commentary on Second Samuel.

The New International Commentary Series in Logos

Logos 8
Logos 8 is now available! Check out my review here, click on the link provided and get your update with a discount!

I am a person who still enjoys grabbing an actual book and reading through it. I also have to admit that I enjoy the sight of bookshelves full of books. However, I am gradually being won over by the new technological revolution which is spearheaded in the realm of Bible software by Logos/Faithlife. As great as it would be to have the entire NICOT/NICNT series lining my bookshelves (and I do have a number of volumes), I am in love with the idea of being able to take this entire series with me on my laptop, IPad, or IPhone! Granted, a person usually only needs one commentary at a time, but it’s hard to argue with the fact that Logos puts a whole library of commentaries at your disposal.

Users of Logos are also well aware of the powerful search tools available in Logos. Every word in the New International Commentary series is tagged so that anything can be looked up in a matter of moments. If you’ve forgotten where that quote is that you liked, or a particular insight, it can be easily found by typing a word or phrase into Logos. This beats thumbing through a 1,000 page commentary trying to find that special quote or insight. Given the choice of having this commentary series on my shelves or on my computer is a no-brainer. I’d choose my computer every time.

If you have an older version of Logos and you’re wondering if you can buy this commentary series and still have it available when you update, the answer is “Yes.” You never lose any books that you purchase in Logos. They will always transfer when you update to a newer version. Of course, this series isn’t cheap, but if you’re looking for a commentary series that provides in-depth treatment of the Bible with great theological insights this one is definitely worth saving up for.

Purchase your copy of the NICOT/NICNT from Logos. You can also update your version of Logos to Logos 8 and get a 25% discount, along with 5 extra books of your choice by clicking on the link here.

Many thanks to FaithLife/Logos for a free review copy of the New International Commentary Series. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

Angels: A Review of Heiser’s Latest Book

Angels: A Review of Heiser’s Latest Book

Angels
Michael Heiser’s latest book is available from Lexham Press

The New Age movement of the 90s saw a resurgence in the interest of angels. The popular TV show Touched by an Angel, was evidence of this upsurge of interest. I even knew a lady who held “angel seminars,” which was especially interesting in light of her lack of belief in the Bible and holding no theology degree or any special qualifications! A combination of mythology, misinformation, and misunderstanding of the Bible has led to many faulty notions about angels. In his latest book, Angels: What the Bible Really Says About God’s Heavenly Host,” Michael Heiser (resident scholar at FaithLife/Logos), sets the record straight. As Heiser states in his Introduction, “What you’ll read here isn’t guided by Christian tradition, stories, speculations, or well-meaning myths about angels. Instead our study is rooted in the biblical terminology for the members of God’s heavenly host, informed by the wider context of the ancient Near Eastern world and close attention to the biblical text” (p. xiii).

This book is a follow-up to Heiser’s ground-breaking book The Unseen Realm (or it’s less technical, more popular version entitled Supernatural). One can certainly benefit from Angels without having read one of the previous volumes, but this book will make you want to pick up one of the aforementioned volumes if you are not acquainted with them.

Content of Angels

michael heiser
For more from Michael Heiser see his blog at http://drmsh.com and his podcast at http://www.nakedbiblepodcast.com

Heiser’s introduction begins by asking the question “Why Bother?” Although some may find the subject of angels intriguing, isn’t it really a periphery topic in Scripture? Heiser provides four answers: 1) The simplest explanation is, “…if God moved the biblical writers to take care when talking about the unseen realm, then it matters” (p. xiv); 2) Like us, heavenly beings are created in God’s image and through a study of them we become more aware of what it means to be God’s imagers; 3) Since God’s plan is ultimately to unite all things in heaven and earth, a study of angels helps us to better understand and appreciate that plan; and 4) it helps us to anticipate the great plan that is in store for us as we reign eternally with Christ.

Chapter 1: “Old Testament Terminology for the Heavenly Host”–Heiser points out that not all heavenly beings are angels. This chapter also has a very helpful breakdown of OT terminology of divine beings into three categories: 1) Terms that describe nature; 2) terms that describe status; 3) terms that describe function. This three-fold breakdown is very illuminating and worth the price of the book alone.

Chapter 2: “The Heavenly Host in Service to God”–While the previous chapter discussed some of the functions of divine beings, this chapter delves into three other areas that include: 1) Participation in God’s heavenly council; 2) Obedience to God’s decisions; and 3) Praise of the Most High.

Chapter 3: “Important Angels”–includes discussions of the Angel of Yahweh (Heiser musters evidence to argue that this being should be identified with the Second Person of the Trinity), the commander of Yahweh’s army (see Josh. 5:13-15), the destroying angel of the passover, and the two angels named in Scripture, Gabriel and Michael, along with the heavenly being known as the Prince of the Host.

Chapter 4–“The Language of the Heavenly Host in Second Temple Judaism”–This chapter, and the next, as the title suggests moves beyond Old Testament descriptions of the divine world and looks at the Jewish writings of the intertestamental period to understand what Jews thought and taught about the heavenly realm. For those who want a breakdown of the usage of the terms used to describe heavenly beings, Heiser has presented some very helpful charts with references to Second Temple texts and the LXX (Septuagint). While Second Temple Judaism did at times conflate some of the OT language by using the term “angels,” to refer to various divine beings, Heiser provides an important study of the LXX to demonstrate that angels didn’t become the only term used. The reason this is important is because scholarly dogma asserts that the Jews of the Second Temple period moved from the earlier polytheism of the ancient Israelites to a strict monotheism. Thus a term such as “gods” found in the OT came to be translated as “angels” in the LXX (e.g., Ps. 8:5). Heiser disputes this by demonstrating that the change in terminology of the LXX is not as widespread as previously asserted. The point in all of this is to show that the diverse language of the OT regarding the heavenly realm never was evidence of a more primitive polytheism. The Jews of the Second Temple period continued to use this same language, demonstrating that they understood the language to communicate truths about the divine realm and not language that compromises a monotheistic outlook. Admittedly for some lay people, this discussion may be more than what they bargained for. However, in scholarly circles, this is a very important issue and Heiser’s research is invaluable in demonstrating that the OT does not teach a form of polytheism.

Chapter 5: “Second Temple Jewish Angelology”–This may be another chapter that the lay person either briefly skims or skips altogether. Yet, like the previous chapter, it is an important one and one that would have left this book incomplete had it not been included. In this chapter Heiser surveys what Second Temple Literature has in common with the OT and how it diverges from the OT. The reason the contents of this chapter are important is that it helps in painting the backdrop to what Jews in the New Testament thought and believed about angels and the divine world.

Chapter 6: “The Heavenly Host in the New Testament”–No doubt this chapter is what many Christians will want to rush to read. But, I would caution that, just as there was a biblical history before the NT documents were written with particular language about heavenly beings, so Heiser’s treatment follows that same route and it is important to get the background knowledge before plunging into this chapter on the NT. One of the important observations made by Heiser in this chapter is his statement that, “For New Testament authors, angelos  [angel] is a catchall term for the supernatural agents who faithfully attend God. The varied vocabulary of the Old Testament and Second [Temple] Jewish literature is therefore largely conflated into angelos” (p. 120). This observation explains why many Christians are unfamiliar with Old Testament terminology (and therefore suspicious of books and teachers who seek to explain that terminology) and why we use the word angels to describe all creatures in the divine realm.

Chapter 7: “Special Topics in New Testament Angelology”–This chapter and the last one (Chapter 8) are catchall chapters and include interesting topics and questions that didn’t fit into the discussion of the previous chapters. The questions discussed in this chapter include, “Who are the ‘angels of the seven churches’ in Revelation 1-3?”, “Can ‘fallen angels’ be redeemed?”,  “Are fallen angels included in reconciling ‘all things’?”, and several more.

Chapter 8: “Myths and Questions about Angels,”–This chapter includes questions about angels submitted to Heiser that he solicited from readers of his former books in preparation for this book. Again, I will not present an exhaustive list, but here are a few: “Angels have wings…and they’re women too?”, “Angels exist outside time and space”, and “Angels can read minds and manipulate the material world.”

Evaluation of Angels

Angels?
What do you mean angels aren’t chubby little creatures with wings?

Heiser continues to perform a great service to the Church and to all who are interested in what the Bible teaches about the heavenly realm and the beings that dwell there. This book may not be for the novice. Heiser refers to the Hebrew and Greek words and the footnotes at times take the discussion deeper, as well as refer to other scholarly literature on the subject. Along these lines, it is more akin to Heiser’s previous book The Unseen Realm, as opposed to Supernatural which was written in a more popular and less technical format. Perhaps in the future, Heiser will do a similar thing with his Angels book? This warning is not to discourage anyone from reading this book, however. It’s not a bad thing to challenge oneself to  reading something that goes a little deeper than what is comfortable. Such reading stretches a person. I often find that Christians challenge themselves to read or study other very technical subjects but when it comes to the Bible they are content to read only what comes easy. For anyone who takes the time, this book is well worth the effort. Having said that, the people who will probably benefit the most from it are pastors, teachers,  and students. Hopefully this book will gain a wide reading, dispelling popular myths about angels as well as providing a solid biblical foundation for understanding them.

Angels is available at Lexham Press, Amazon USA / UK and other internet outlets.

Many thanks to Lexham Press for this free review copy. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

Honoring the Son: Jesus as God

Honoring the Son

Honoring the Son
Honoring the Son by Larry Hurtado is available at Lexham Press.

When did Christians begin to worship Jesus as God? Some scholars believe that the ascription of divinity to Jesus only happened in the latter part of the first century or in the beginning of the second. Honoring the Son: Jesus in Earliest Christian Devotional Practice is the latest offering by Larry Hurtado, in which he argues that worshipping Jesus as God was an early Christian practice. Honoring the Son is, in fact, a brief synopsis (95 pages including indexes) of Hurtado’s work over the past few decades. This book, edited by Michael F. Bird, is part of the Lexham Press series known as “Snapshots.” Larry Hurtado is Emeritus Professor of New Testament Language, Literature and Theology at the University of Edinburgh and, beginning with his first book entitled One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism, has written extensively on this topic for over thirty years.

Hurtado insists that the expression of early Christian devotion is an area that has been greatly neglected by scholars in answering the question of when Jesus began to be worshipped as God. He states, that “. . . in Western cultures, scholars and the general public have come to regard doctrines and confessional statements as the key expressions of religion, almost to the exclusion of anything else, and typically to the neglect of early Christian worship practices” (p. 3). Following an introductory chapter (which discusses the plan of the book and the scholarly context of this topic), Hurtado examines “Worship in the Ancient World” (Chap. 2). I found his contention that, “In the ancient Roman world, worship was the key expression of ‘religion,’ not beliefs and confessional formulas” (p. 1) to be insightful. In other words, it is the practice of sacrifice and petitioning the gods for favor(s), as well as, expressing thanks through gifts, that most characterized Roman-era religion. Thus Hurtado insists that, “In a truly historical approach to early Christianity, worship practices must be a central matter, and not sidelined or relegated to a place of secondary importance” (pp. 25-26).

Larry Hurtado
Larry Hurtado, author of “Honoring the Son.” For more writings by Hurtado, see his blog at larryhurtado.wordpress.com

Chapter 3 entitled, “Ancient Jewish Monotheism,” asserts that the Jews adhered strictly to the worship of one God. While there might be the acknowledgement that other gods existed (see e.g., Paul’s discussion in 1 Cor. 10:19-20), or the power of certain angelic beings, or other enigmatic figures (like the portrait of Melchizedek in the Dead Sea Scrolls), cultic devotion and worship was only and always reserved for the one God of the Jews. This contention is important for a couple of reasons: 1) Bart Ehrman’s suggestion that Paul thought of Jesus as an angelic figure and “angels were worshipped in Jewish circles, and so Jesus was worshipped”(p. 17) is shown to be erroneous; and 2) that early Jewish believers would quickly make the transition to worshipping Jesus along with God is extraordinary and unprecedented in the first century Jewish world! This prompts the question of what could possibly cause these early Jewish believers (Paul among them), to so quickly worship Jesus, when the worship of anyone but God was considered anathema? Furthermore, while Ehrman, and more skeptical scholars, would attempt to equate the worship of Jesus as God with the Roman practice of emperor worship, Hurtado shows that this is untenable. First of all, Jews never succumbed to the practice of emperor worship. No doubt the Maccabean crisis had an importance influence on the exclusiveness of Jewish worship. One implication of this, then, is that “it was more unlikely that pagan notions of apotheosis or practices such as the emperor cult could have been influential in the origins of Jesus-devotion” (p. 41).

Chapter 4 is entitled “The Early Christian ‘Mutation.'” Hurtado explains, “By the term ‘mutation’ I mean a development that has both recognizable connections with the ‘parent’ religious tradition (in this case ancient Judaism) and also identifiably new features that distinguish the development from its parent tradition” (p. 42). The discussion centers on Paul’s letters, the earliest extant evidence of Christianity. In these letters, written been 50-60 A.D., Jesus is regularly referred to as “the Christ,” the unique “Son of God”, and “Lord.” Passages from the Old Testament originally referring to Yahweh are also applied to Jesus (e.g., Joel 2:32 is applied to Jesus in Romans 10:9-13); he is referred to as the One “through whom are all things” (1 Cor. 8:6), and is celebrated as being “in the form of God” and being exalted to God’s right hand (Phil. 2:6-11). Hurtado states, “. . . the programmatic place of Jesus in earliest Christian devotion amounts to a novel and historically significant ‘mutation'” (pp. 48-49). Furthermore, he argues that “. . . the evidence strongly points to the origin of the cultic veneration of Jesus as lying in thoroughly Jewish circles of the Jesus movement such as the Jerusalem church” (pp. 49-50). He also states that this is now the dominant view among scholars who have recently worked on this question.

Chapter 5 entitled, “Jesus in Earliest Christian Devotional Practice,” gets to the heart of Hurtado’s thesis that the exaltation of Jesus to the status of deity is clearly observable in Christian expressions of worship. In this chapter he looks at the language of prayer, invocation (calling on) and confession, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, hymns (including psalms and spiritual songs), and prophecy. An examination of each of these expressions of worship demonstrates an early recognition of Jesus’ divine status by believers.

Chapter 6 provides a summary and conclusion, reiterating previous points made in this short book. Among matters I have not yet mentioned, Hurtado believes that the early persecution by Jewish contemporaries (including Saul of Tarsus) can be explained by “. . . the reverence given to Jesus in circles of Jewish believers from the earliest years” (p. 67).

The book concludes with an appendix entitled, “Lord and God.” This appendix, previously published in The Christian Century in 2014, is a review of Bart Ehrman’s book How Jesus Became God, .

Evaluation

I have wanted to read some of Hurtado’s works for a number of years, but have allowed other (reading) pursuits to block my path. For people like me, Honoring the Son is a great introduction to Hurtado’s thoughts and research on this important topic. It will make you want to read more! I would highly recommend it for students, pastors, and teachers. While Hurtado does transliterate Greek words and use words like “dyadic,” he is always careful to explain their meaning. The conciseness of this book belies the importance of this topic and the value of Hurtado’s insights, yet at the same time it makes a complex subject accessible and easily digestible for the beginning inquirer. Lexham Press, and Michael Bird, are to be commended for producing the Snapshot Series which presents a reader with the big picture of important topics like this one.

Honoring the Son: Jesus in Earliest Christian Devotional Practice is currently on Pre-Pub (available June/July 2018) at Lexham Press and Amazon USA / UK

Many thanks to Lexham Press for this free review copy. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. 

Geographic Commentary on the Gospels

Geographic Commentary on the Gospels

The Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Gospels
The Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Gospels is available in hardback or digital format at logos.com  and Lexham Press

I have frequently heard it said that a tour of the land of Israel is worth two years of Bible College.  My experience of visiting the land of Israel on a number of occasions has confirmed to me the validity of this statement. Geography may not be everyone’s forte, but becoming familiar with the “lay of the land” is an eye-opening experience when it comes to studying the Bible. Learning about the hills and valleys, the ancient cities and climate of the various parts of Israel, adds a third dimension to Bible study that provides greater insight into the various events described in its pages. Lexham Press has done everyone a great service toward this end by producing a new Geographic Commentary series. The first offering in this series concentrates on the Gospels and the second, soon to be available, is dedicated to Acts through Revelation.

This commentary, edited by Barry Beitzel, OT scholar, geographer and cartographer, is a collection of articles by various scholars with years of experience in studying the geography of Israel. Many have participated in archaeological digs throughout Israel, led study tours, lived in Israel, and/or taught at the prestigious Jerusalem University College (formerly known as the American Institute of Holy Land Studies).

Arrangement and Content

Lexham’s Geographical Commentary on the Gospels consists of 48 chapters arranged in a topical and, roughly, chronological order of Jesus’ life.  For example, the first three chapters discuss the birth narratives which are followed by a chapter on Nazareth and several chapters on the Wilderness (including discussions on John the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism and wilderness temptation). As one might expect in a chronological treatment, the commentary ends with articles about Jesus’ Passion. These chapters center on Gethsemane, Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, burial and post-resurrection appearances. Some chapter titles suggest how theological truths are communicated by understanding the geography of Israel. For instance, Chapter 25 is entitled, “The Geography of Forgiveness.” Similarly, the headline of Chapter 30 reads, “The Geographical Significance of the Transfiguration.” Furthermore, in her article entitled, “Jesus’ Journey into Gentile Territories” (chap. 24), Emily J. Thomassen asserts, “In biblical narrative, authors often mention place names in order to communicate a message of theological importance.” Again she notes, “In the ancient world, authors strategically used, reused, and nuanced geographic references in order to impact the reader” (p. 248).

A nice feature at the beginning of each chapter is a listing of pertinent Scriptures and an overview of the key points that are discussed. An example is given below.

Screenshot of Chapter 12
This screenshot is from the beginning of Chapter 12 in the Lexham Geographical Commentary on the Gospels.

As the above screenshot illustrates, not all chapters deal only with Geographical details. This chapter points out a number of interesting facts. Among them are, how long it would take a woman to grind grain for a family (upwards of 3 hours!). The author, who happens to be a woman (Elaine A. Phillips), notes that this gives a new meaning to “give us our daily bread!” (p. 112). Phillips also points out that the word used for the “guest room” at the Passover (katalyma) is the same word used in the birth narrative of Jesus often translated as “inn” (113). She, along with several other authors in this volume (Wright, p. 4 and Foreman, p. 14), note that the word more properly means “guest room,” not “inn.” Phillips concludes the chapter with an insightful section entitled “Symbolism and Lessons.” You’ll have to get the book to find out more!

Strengths and Weaknesses

The strengths of Lexham’s Geographic Commentary on the Gospels are many. As noted above, each chapter is written by an expert in the field. The authors are not only familiar with the geography of the Holy Land, they are also up-to-date on the latest archaeological discoveries and theories. For example, Benjamin A. Foreman’s chapter entitled, “Locating Jesus’ Crucifixion and Burial,” may burst a few bubbles for those who have toured Israel and been shown the Garden Tomb and the Stone Pavement near the Fortress of Antonia, but his facts are correct. Foreman notes that most scholars are now convinced that Jesus’ Trial took place at Herod’s Palace (the remains of which are near the Jaffa Gate), rather than the Fortress of Antonia, and that the Stone Pavement often shown to visitors as the place where Jesus was tried has actually been dated to the second century A.D. during the time of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Furthermore, he notes that tradition (about 1900 years of it) and archaeology stand behind the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as being the correct site for Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. Not only is the tradition on the Garden Tomb very late (1842), archaeology reveals that the Tomb actually dates to the eighth to seventh centuries B.C., far too early to be a “newly carved” tomb as the Gospels relate. Sorry folks, if you want to retain some “warm fuzzies” about the Holy Land this book will destroy some of your illusions. However, if you’re looking for evidence and hard facts then you will find this commentary enlightening and helpful.

The Pool of Bethesda
A view of the Pool of Bethesda courtesy of biblewalks.com

Before speaking of weaknesses, I must note some other interesting insights. Aubrey Taylor (chap. 5 “Ministry in the Wilderness”) has written an excellent chapter on the significance of the wilderness location for John’s ministry (both negative and positive connotations) and some interesting insights into baptism. Perhaps the most provocative chapter is Chapter 14 “Jesus at the Pool of Bethesda,” by Gordon Franz. Franz suggests that a pagan shrine stood on this spot in the first century and that the angel referred to is actually a “fallen angel” (demon). According to Franz, Jesus is proving himself to be the true healer! He also contends that the feast mentioned in John 5:1 is the feast of Purim which he believes is significant for the interpretation of the passage. Space only permits the mention of one more chapter. Emily J. Thomassen’s article entitled, “Shared Memories of Resurrection on the Hill of Moreh” (Chapter 16), provides wonderful insight into the way in which the Gospel of Luke casts Jesus in the images of the prophets Elijah and Elisha.

Possible locations of Bethany Beyond the Jordan
2 possible locations of Bethany Beyond the Jordan. Map provided by Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Gospels.

In spite of it’s many strengths, there are a few weaknesses to Lexham’s Geographical Commentary on the Gospels. While I won’t complain about overlapping treatment (e.g., there are 3 treatments of Jesus’ birth), the differing conclusions reached by experts can be confusing for the layperson. For example, Wright and Foreman have different explanations as to why Mary couldn’t give birth in the “guest room.” They also note that there are two potential origins for the Magi–Babylon and Arabia. Wright favors an Arabian location (pp. 7-8), while Foreman favors the Babylonian provenance (pp. 24-25). Perhaps the editor is simply trying to present both sides of the argument, but again, it can be confusing when the experts disagree. The same can be said for the location of Bethany beyond the Jordan where John baptized (see map above left). Taylor concludes a location near the Dead Sea is correct (44), while Foreman concludes the northern location in Batanea is the correct one (73). How is the reader to decide between the two? Other weaknesses include a few typos. Two of the more glaring ones are Wright’s locating Constantine 80 years after Justin Martyr (5), rather than 180-200 years later as Foreman correctly does in the next chapter (15), and a parenthetical comment on page 16 which reads, “First Century Israelite House diagram pg. 395” when the diagram is actually found on page 6 (and also p. 114). Finally, once in a while the reader would like more information. For example, Elaine A. Phillips suggests that the town of Bethany (think, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus) “…may have been somewhat of a colony for those who suffered from leprosy” (113). The only support she provides is that Jesus ate at the home of Simon the Leper in Bethany and that Bethany was out of view of the temple but still close to Jerusalem. This is slim evidence and the reader wonders if there is more that Phillips isn’t able to share (perhaps due to space considerations?).

The Hardback vs. the Digital Version

Simply put, the digital version of the Geographic Commentary available on Logos Bible Software is superior to the hardback copy. I have both and have frequently compared them. For one thing, a number of the typos mentioned above (and some not mentioned) disappear in the digital version. The flexibility of the digital version presents many other advantages also. First, there are many more maps,  pictures and diagrams. Some of these are repetitions found in previous chapters. The advantage of the repetitions is that you don’t have to go to some other part of the book to find them. The digital version also provides a given photo or map at the exact spot where the discussion is happening. While the hardback version isn’t bad, there are times when a map or photo appears at an inconvenient spot. For example, Aubrey Taylor’s discussion of the two possible locations of Bethany Beyond the Jordan occurs on page 44, but the map doesn’t show up until page 46.

One of the really nice features of the digital version of the Geographic Commentary is the frequency of videos. If the author is talking about the Sea of Galilee, the digital version provides you with a video. Sometimes the videos are from the FaithLife Study Bible in which case they are short 30-40 second videos with no commentary. On other occasions, the videos connect to FaithLife TV on the FaithLife website. These videos frequently run 7-8 minutes with commentary provided. This is a real plus when compared to the hardback version! One warning, however. If you don’t have a subscription to FaithLife TV there are some videos you won’t be able to watch. The digital version also provides links to the Factbook, word studies, and, of course you can always hover over a Scripture reference to read it quickly rather than having to constantly turn pages in your Bible. As with all digital books in the Logos library, it also receives updates providing corrections for errors, or, in some cases, adding new information. Still, I realize that some prefer holding a book in their hand and to them I can heartily recommend the hardback version as well. If pressed to give a rating to the Lexham Geographical Commentary on the Gospels, I would give the hardback version 4 stars and the digital version 5 stars. Either way, it is a great addition to anyone’s library who is interested in a deeper study of the Bible.

The Lexham Geographical Commentary on the Gospels is available at Lexham Press, FaithLife/Logos and Amazon USA / UK 

Many thanks to Lexham Press for this free review copy. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. 

Mark Through Old Testament Eyes

Mark Through Old Testament Eyes

Mark Through Old Testament Eyes, is the first in a new series of NT commentaries from Kregel Publications focusing on the significance of the OT for understanding the NT.

Because of the plethora of commentaries available today, each series seeks for legitimate reasons to be written. One can at times see the tortuous twists and turns an editor makes in the series Preface to substantiate their reason for yet another commentary series. No such twists and turns are necessary, however, for this new commentary series. Mark Through Old Testament Eyes is the first commentary in a series whose main focus is how each New Testament (NT) book reflects the Old Testament (OT) and how an understanding of that will deepen the reader’s appreciation for that particular NT book. While other commentaries will sometimes pause to point out an obvious OT quotation or allusion, due to other objectives, they cannot focus on the overall influence that the OT may have had on a given NT book. The “Through Old Testament Eyes” series seeks to fill this much-needed void.

Mark Through Old Testament Eyes not only seeks to illuminate Mark’s use of the OT, it is also a practical and applicational commentary. The commentary is interspersed with sections entitled: “Going Deeper,” in which author Andy Le Peau takes a more practical look at various topics and subjects found in the Gospel. Le Peau also includes helpful sections entitled: “What the Structure Means.” These sections highlight the literary features of Mark’s Gospel, helping readers to see the Big Picture. A third section is entitled: “Through Old Testament Eyes” and, as you guessed, focuses on how the Gospel of Mark engages the OT in it’s telling of the Jesus story. Each of these sections are set off from the regular commentary by gray boxes with the titles in bold print. A final feature of the commentary is a number of useful charts comparing and contrasting the story in Mark with itself or some aspect of the OT. A side purpose of Mark Through Old Testament Eyes is to introduce the reader to pertinent cultural background material. The commentary is well-suited for teachers and preachers but is written in a lay style that will benefit a Bible study leader or an average Christian who wants to go deeper into the message of Mark’s Gospel.

Jesus, the New Exodus, and Other Insights

Le Peau notes how Mark’s quotation of Isaiah and Malachi in Mark 1:2-3 echo the Exodus tradition and set the stage for the theme of the New Exodus led by Jesus, a theme enunciated throughout the gospel. Le Peau divides Mark’s Gospel into three sections centered around the theme of the Exodus and compares it with the OT theme of the Exodus in a helpful chart (18). The three divisions of Mark are: 1) The Liberator Arrives (Mk 1:1-8:27); 2) The Way to Jerusalem (Mk 8:22-10:52); and 3) Conquest in Jerusalem (Mk 11:1-16:8). Continuing the Exodus theme, Le Peau demonstrates that Jesus is presented as a new Moses by comparing Mark chapters 1-4 with similar scenes in Exodus-Deuteronomy, once again using a helpful chart (102).

Here is a sample of other helpful tidbits throughout the commentary:

  1. Herodias’s request at a banquet (Mk 6:23) contrasts with Esther’s request (119).
  2. The perplexing statement that Jesus was “about to pass by them,” when walking on the water (Mk 6:48) is clarified by OT expressions which show “passing by” to be an activity of God (see e.g.,Exod. 33:19, 22; 34:6-7; 1 Kgs. 19:11; Job 9:8, 11),  (124-125).
  3. Mark’s language throughout the gospel demonstrates that Jesus is God. Le Peau pauses to list all of the verses that demonstrate this (179-182).
  4. The 5 questions regarding Jesus’s authority over the law at the beginning of the gospel (Mk 2:1-3:6) are balanced by the 5 questions regarding Jesus’s authority over the Temple toward the end of the gospel (Mk 11:27-12:37), (211-212).
  5. Le Peau’s division of Mark 13 which confuses many because of it’s conflation of the Temple’s destruction with end-time events, is very helpful. He finds a parallel step-structure: (vv. 1-4 act as intro); A Destruction of Temple (5-23); B Coming of Son of Man (24-27); A’ Parable about the Temple (28-31); B’ Parable about the 2nd coming (32-37) (235-237)
  6. Le Peau notes that Zech 9-14 plays a prominent role in the last chapters of Mark. The Lord comes to the Mount of Olives to save his people (Mk 11:1; Zech 14:4); a king rides triumphantly but humbly to Jerusalem on a donkey (Mk 11:1-10; Zech. 9:9); followed by a reference to a cup as the blood of the covenant (Mk 14:24; Zech. 9:11); and finally the striking of the shepherd to scatter the sheep (Mk 14:27; Zech. 13:7). (262)
  7. Jesus’s warning in chapter 13 to “watch” is followed in 14:41 with Jesus’s own ability to watch at the time of trial, but the inability of the disciples to watch even for one hour. This theme is picked up again in 15:40-41 which pictures a group of women disciples who do “watch.”

Evaluation

Andrew T. Le Peau was the longtime associate publisher for editorial at InterVarsity Press and taught the gospel of Mark for over a decade at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. He is also the author of Paths of Leadership and Heart, Soul, Mind, Strength.

There are times in which the author’s OT usage seems a bit stretched. For example, Le Peau contends that the mention of the Spirit at Jesus’s baptism (Mk 1:10) and subsequent act of driving him into the wilderness (1:12) recalls the mention of the Spirit hovering over the waters in Genesis 1:2. What am I missing here? He also draws some interesting parallels between Mark 6 and Ps. 23, but a few seemed forced (Table 6.1, 127). While Le Peau has a very interesting discussion on the significance of the number 3 (“What the Structure Means: The Power of Three, 272-273), his insistence throughout the commentary that 3 represents completeness (90-91, 187) is only his opinion. Finally, I am not in favor of endnotes, especially when my copy of the book is in PDF format!

Despite these minor issues, Mark Through Old Testament Eyes is a gem that should be in every pastor’s/Bible Teacher’s library. Le Peau not only demonstrates that the Gospel of Mark is indebted to the OT on every page, but how a deeper understanding of the OT will enhance a believer’s understanding of Mark. Le Peau has done a remarkable job chasing down OT references and allusions. Whether it’s OT info on “figs,” “widows,” or OT imagery (sun and moon blotted out, darkness, the sea, etc.) Le Peau demonstrates his knowledge and proficiency with the OT text which translates into a gold mine for the reader.

(Many thanks to Kregel Publications who provided a copy of Mark Through Old Testament Eyes in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.)

Purchase your copy of Mark Through Old Testament Eyes at Kregel Publications or at Amazon USA / UK