Category Archives: Book Reviews

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

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, .


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, 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. 

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  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

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.”


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

The Structure of Romans

The Structure of Romans

Romans: Letter or Letter-Essay?

The Structure of Romans by Paul B. Fowler is available at Fortress Press and Amazon USA / UK
The Structure of Romans by Paul B. Fowler is available at Fortress Press and Amazon USA / UK

Once in awhile a book comes along that revolutionizes your understanding of a particular subject. Such is the case with The Structure of Romans by Paul B. Fowler. Fowler’s thesis is that Romans is a letter, not a letter-essay as is commonly assumed. The difference lies in the interactive nature of the correspondence. Simply put, a letter-essay is an essay framed as a letter. While the outer material may interact with the readers circumstances (chs. 1 and 15-16), the body of the material is believed to conform to ancient rules of rhetoric which often are less interactive with the reader. The effect of such rhetoric resembles an essay more than a letter.

An example of such rhetoric is the use of diatribe. Diatribe involves an author arguing with an imaginary questioner (interlocutor). The purpose is to convince or instruct the listener through argumentation. Most commentators on Romans believe that Paul used this rhetorical method. Fowler states, “Whether he [Paul] used a diatribal style at times is not at issue. He did. But to what degree does his style conform to its use in Hellenism? (p. 101). Fowler notes that, “Objections focus on opponents and create a tone of tension and argumentation, intended or not” (p. 114). He believes that Paul is using a question-and-answer method. The questions interact directly with his audience and guide the flow of the letter. Thus, Paul is not engaging an imaginary objector, but directly addressing his audience. Fowler contends, “We are caught up in the idea that. . .diatribal rhetoric. . . serves only to defend Paul’s gospel against an imaginary Jewish objector. Quite the opposite is the case. The question-and-answer in Paul, rather than answering criticisms, is providing answers; rather than confronting an imaginary interlocutor, the question-and-answer is informing and exhorting believers” (pp. 113-114).

The Structure of Romans: Purposes and Content

The following presents the big picture of The Structure of Romans. Fowler begins by giving 7 purposes for his book.

  1. To provide a fresh look at Romans and help those studying it to understand its nature.
  2. Pulling together arguments which demonstrate that Romans is a letter addressing major circumstances in Rome.
  3. Challenging the consensus that Romans is a letter-essay.
  4. Correcting misunderstandings about Paul’s use of the question-and-answer method employed in Romans. The understanding that Paul is using diatribe to debate objections is wrong. Such an approach leads to viewing Romans more as a theological argument rather than an interactive discourse.
  5. Paul is not debating Jews in Romans (i.e., the imaginary Jewish objector).
  6. Paul is primarily addressing circumstances in Rome. In particular, he is addressing the division between Jewish and Gentile believers.
  7. The letter’s rhetoric and grammar is essential for interpretation. It is the key to the organization of the letter. (the above purposes are found on pp. vii-ix).

Fowler organizes the content of his book as follows:

Chapter 1, Assumptions of This Study–Fowler’s thesis is: “Romans is a carefully constructed letter from Paul to the church in Rome, written to address a specific set of circumstances in Rome” (p. 1). He begins by addressing the purposes of Romans. He deals with what he considers to be false assumptions and concludes that there was a two-fold purpose for Romans: 1) To secure a mission base (for a future trip to Spain); and 2) to deal with issues involving Jews and gentiles in the Roman church. Fowler then deals with the audience of Romans. Although the letter is addressed to both Jew and gentile, its primary focus is to “bring about the obedience of faith among all the gentiles” (Rom. 1:5).

Chapter 2, The Structure of Romans–This helpful chapter looks at the outlines of other major Romans commentators. Fowler points out that most of these outlines of Romans are thematic. Even those commentators who stress the importance of ancient rhetoric use the same basic thematic outline and simply plug in ancient rhetorical terms (e.g., exordium or propositio). Fowler argues that if Romans is a letter “there will of necessity be interaction with” the readers (p.29). The thematic approach fails in this regard as it approaches the body of Romans like an essay.

Chapter 3, The Rhetoric of Romans–By examining various rhetorical features, Fowler demonstrates that the body of Romans is filled with more epistolary features than is normally recognized. He argues that it is important to pay attention the questions and grammar of Romans in order to determine its structure. Since Romans was primarily “heard” by its initial audience, it is the questions and grammar that guide the hearers through the letter.

Chapter 4, The Surface Structure of Romans–According to Fowler’s count, there are eighty-two specific questions in Romans (p. 55). By examining the function and purpose of these questions, he presents the reader with a skeletal outline of Romans. He contends that the key set of questions which introduces the body of the letter are found in Romans 3:1-9a. He argues that these questions are not a digression, as some commentators view them, but rather set the table for the body of the letter. which ends with chapter 11. The questions in 3:1-9a are answered in reverse order forming a chiasm around chapters 3-11. I will not “spill the beans” here by giving his outline. I suggest purchasing the book for this and other details.

Chapter 5, Issues to Be Resolved–This chapter deals with 3 main issues. Fowler discusses the relationship of Romans 5 with the surrounding material. Many connect Romans 5 with chapters 6-8, seeing an inclusio between Romans 5:1-11 and Romans 8. Fowler agrees with a minority of modern commentators in seeing chapter 5 as a continuation of chapters 1-4. His argument is based on linguistic and grammatical grounds. He contends that the transition to the next segment of the letter occurs in 5:19-20. Next, he tackles the issue of diatribe with which I began this post. This is followed by the closely related topic of whether Paul is debating the Jews in Romans (the imaginary interlocutor).

Chapter 6, The Circumstances of Romans–Here Fowler draws together all the historical background related to Romans. His discussion is similar to that found in many commentaries. He notes the Jewish expulsion from Rome due to the dispute over “Chrestus,” as well as the socialogical factors contributing to Jew/gentile hostility. While there is nothing new here, this chapter is helpful in two ways.  First, it draws together the background information into one clear and succinct chapter. Second, Fowler does an excellent job emphasizing gentile hostility toward Jews. This is important for his thesis which involves admonishing gentile Christians for their arrogance toward their Jewish brothers and sisters. Although other commentaries note this hostility, Fowler’s treatment is especially clear and enlightening. Fowler also believes that persecution (previous, present, and future) is an important ingredient in understanding the historical situation of the Roman churches. He takes Paul’s words in Romans 8:18-39 as suggestive of persecution, not simply sickness and other life difficulties. This observation also includes Romans 5:1-11 and 12:17-13:14.

Chapter 7, The Coherence of Romans–In this final chapter, Fowler brings everything together and presents a complete outline of Romans. In this chapter, Fowler explains how Romans 1-2 function as the introduction to the letter. He also notes that the ending exhortations are particularly applicable to the circumstances in Rome. In other words, the exhortations in Romans 12:1-15:13 are not general, as some have suggested. In conclusion Fowler reiterates that Romans was a letter and the questions are not a diatribe to “transform” students or “answer” Jewish critics. Instead, the questions serve “to guide the narrative and to point to the issues  that were driving the narrative” (p. 186). The main question of Romans is “What advantage has the Jew?” Fowler concludes by stating, “If one really wants to know the answer to that question, then read Romans!” (p. 187).

Appendixes–Finally, The Structure of Romans concludes with 4 helpful appendixes. These include: “Epistolary Formulas within the Body of the Letter”; “Rhetorical Devices in Romans”; “The Question-and-Answer of Romans 3:27-31”; and “The Question-and-Answer of Romans 3:1-9”.

Evaluation and Conclusion

Fowler confesses that his approach is not new and that he has relied heavily on others, especially William Campbell (p. 85). It’s somewhat comforting to know that Fowler is not coming up with a completely new way of looking at Romans. One always has to wonder about the legitimacy of an approach that no one else in 2000 years of scholarship has recognized.

Nonetheless, Fowler’s view is certainly not the approach of the majority. A few features definitely divert from the norm. For example, Fowler argues that Romans 1:8-18 composes a section. Normally, 1:16-17 are set apart as the theme (or propositio) of the letter while verse 18 is seen as the beginning of the next section (1:18-32). Fowler argues convincingly, from a close inspection of the grammar, that 1:13-18 is the propositio and verse 19 begins the next section. I have already mentioned that he connects chapter 5 with chapters 1-4, which is a minority position among recent scholars. Once again, grammar guides his decision. The most significant difference of course is Fowler’s insistence that Romans 3:1-9a operates as a guide for the rest of the letter. Most would not consent to breaking up 1:18-3:20 as a major section. These are all excellent examples of how Fowler avoids the usual thematic approach.

I find Fowler’s overall structure convincing. For one thing, it solves the nagging problem of 3:1-9a and trying to determine its purpose. In my teaching of Romans I have frequently noted how Paul seems to return to previous discussions. Fowler’s chiastic outline not only  makes sense of this repetition, it reveals Paul’s purposeful structuring so that his hearers could follow his reasoning.

The Structure of Romans is most suited for one who has spent time studying Romans. The more familiar one is with the background, themes and rhetoric of Romans, the more one will appreciate Fowler’s insights (even if you disagree!). I highly recommend The Structure of Romans and it will certainly impact my teaching of the Epistle to the Romans in the future.

Thanks to Fortress Press for sending a copy of The Structure of Romans, in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Structure of Romans is available at Fortress Press, Amazon USA / UK, and other outlets.

Evangelical Exegetical Commentary: 1&2 Samuel

Evangelical Exegetical Commentary: 1&2 Samuel

Evangelical Exegetical Commentary on 1 & 2 Samuel
Available at

The 1&2 Samuel Evangelical Exegetical Commentary (EEC) is the final work of beloved and renowned scholar Harry A. Hoffner Jr. Hoffner, before his recent death in March 2015, was John A. Wilson Professor of Hittitology Emeritus at the University of Chicago. He was an expert on the ancient Near East and, as the above title suggests, specialized in the language, history and civilization of the Hittite empire. One of his greatest achievements was co-editing The Hittite Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. Hoffner’s ancient Near Eastern expertise is one of the great strengths of the Evangelical Exegetical Commenatry on 1&2 Samuel. Nearly every page offers some parallel or insight from his extensive knowledge of Hittite, and ancient Mesopotamian literature. Such a statement might frighten off those less experienced in the study of the Old Testament, and indeed, it is not a commentary for beginners. However, the pastor, the graduate student, the professor, and the more advanced learner will benefit greatly from Hoffner’s exposition. Knowledge of Hebrew is presupposed as the commentary utilizes Hebrew in both its normal alphabetic and transliterated forms.

Before commenting further on Hoffner’s commentary on 1&2 Samuel, let me share the purpose behind the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary series in the words of its creators. “The Evangelical Exegetical Commentary is a brand new, 44-volume commentary series which incorporates the latest critical biblical scholarship and is written from a distinctly evangelical perspective. Published by Lexham Press, the EEC is the next standard commentary on the entire Bible for evangelicals. . . .The publication of the EEC by Lexham Press marks the first time a major Bible commentary series has been published in digital form before its print counterpart—and the first time it has been published with a digital format in mind.” The purpose behind the creation of a digital commentary, in the words of one of the editors of the series H. Wayne House, is so that a commentary can be easily updated. If a new understanding of a word is discovered or some new archaeological information comes to light, it can be added immediately. This is indeed an extremely attractive feature of the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary series! (For a short video explaining the nature and purpose of the series click HERE).

The Introduction to the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary on 1&2 Samuel

Author of the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary on 1&2 Samuel, Harry A. Hoffner, Jr.
Author of the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary on 1&2 Samuel, Harry A. Hoffner, Jr.

The editors of the ECC have apparently put no restrictions on commentary length (another plus of a digital edition!) and Hoffner takes advantage of this by producing a voluminous commentary. Logos has yet to add page numbers to this particular volume (which makes citation challenging!) and so I can only hazard a guess on its size. It is certainly well over 1,000 pages, but how far over I can not tell. With no space limitations, Hoffner begins the commentary by launching into a thorough and lengthy Introduction. The Introduction includes the usual topics of title, authorship, date, historical context and scope, and structure, but it includes much more. Some of the other areas addressed (and there are too many to name them all) include genre, theme, sources, literary analysis (including a lengthy section that summarizes and evaluates many of the characters of 1&2 Samuel), and extrabiblical parallels (which, given Hoffner’s expertise, comes as no surprise).

There are two things that I would like to note from this introductory material that bear on a commentator’s interpretation of 1&2 Samuel. First, Hoffner is not a fan of using the term “Deuteronomistic History,” to describe the books of Joshua-Kings, noting that such language overlooks the many parallels and allusions to the other books of the Torah (Genesis-Numbers) found throughout Joshua-Kings. While he believes that much of the material regarding David and Saul could have been written and preserved in the palace archives, he has no difficulty in seeing a final author or editor putting 1&2 Samuel in its final form during the exilic period. Rather than state firm conclusions on this matter, Hoffner is content to make general observations. Second, Hoffner is not a fan of “the hermeneutic of suspicion.” In his comments on the characterization of Abner and how scholars frequently conclude that David was responsible for Abner’s death, Hoffner remarks, “Typical of this “Damned if you do—damned if you don’t” hermeneutic of suspicion is Paul Ash’s statement: “Although the text does not implicate David in Abner’s murder, some scholars believe that he may have ordered it since 2 Samuel tries so hard to say otherwise.” Obviously, the narrator denies David’s complicity in order to dispel rumors to the contrary—rumors spread by David’s Saulide opponents. Should not the text record this?” (Hoffner, H. A., Jr., 2015. 1 & 2 Samuel. H. W. House & W. Barrick, Eds. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press). Later on in his exposition of 2 Samuel 12:22-23, he takes another stab at the skeptics when he writes, “In the end, as is often the case, the scenarios of skeptics require more leaps of faith than belief in the tooth fairy. If one is permitted to simply ignore large chunks of the tradition and make up others, one can “prove” anything! . . . .We are wise not to second-guess the text.” Any who have read my reviews on 1&2 Samuel commentaries are aware of my own disdain for the hermeneutic of suspicion. I couldn’t be more pleased with these comments by Hoffner because they demonstrate that he takes the text seriously.

The Layout of the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary on 1&2 Samuel

Sample page from the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary on 1&2 Samuel
Sample page from the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary on 1&2 Samuel

Hoffner breaks the commentary down into literary sections. Each section begins with an overall summary and introduction. This is followed by a more detailed outline of the section which provides the basis for the verse-by-verse commentary. A bibliography accompanies the detailed outline and is then followed by the Hebrew text itself with Hoffner’s accompanying notes on the text. Since the Hebrew text is noticeably absent from the Esther volume in this series (although there are notes on the text), it appears that it is up to the authors to determine the format of their commentary, at least to some extent. Hoffner’s english translation follows the textual notes which then leads to the verse-by-verse exposition. There is always a short summary of the portion of the text under examination followed by a discussion of the verses themselves. The commentary is frequently punctuated with other features such as sections entitled: “Exegetical note,” or charts comparing features of the text, gray panels that set apart a special discussion (e.g., one on siege warfare at the beginning of 1 Sam. 11), and from time to time a concluding section entitled, “Application and Devotional Implications.” Following each smaller section of exposition is yet another bibliography. One of the strengths of this commentary is its prolific bibliography, which of course can be updated as new works appear. The screen shot above shows a sample page of the commentary in which you can see the selected bibliography, Hebrew text, and textual notes features.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Lexham Press is the publisher of the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary Series
Lexham Press is the publisher of the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary Series

Among the many strengths of this commentary, I have already noted Hoffner’s knowledge of the ancient Near East (besides the many parallels he introduces, I would also include his fresh translation of the Hebrew text), the bibliographic resources, the comprehensive nature of the commentary, and its update-ability. Although the commentary may not suit a novice, I am also impressed with the attention that Hoffner pays to character development in 1&2 Samuel and his attempts at sharing application and devotional thoughts. Some examples of his devotional application include his comment on 1 Samuel 24:7-8 (David’s men are encouraging him to kill Saul), where he notes that we should not interpret things in our favor when they violate God’s law. Another timely example (considering the upcoming US election) are Hoffner’s introductory comments on 2 Samuel 13:39-14:33. He states, “As readers, we are invited to consider the full weight of sin, to see the social and public consequences of David’s personal adultery and murder.” This dimension is often lost sight of when media arguments are made against considering the personal sins of leaders in political debates. It is unwise to keep the personal and the public lives of leaders separate” (Hoffner, H. A., Jr., 1 & 2 Samuel, 2 Sa 13:39–14:33). These types of applicational interpretation will certainly be welcome material for a pastor or Bible-study leader. The fact that this commentary series is published by Lexham Press and is available on Logos is yet another bonus. The ability to quickly read Scripture references, or footnotes by simply hovering over them with the mouse, or to pull up other commentaries or Bible Dictionary articles referred to by the author which are automatically linked to the resources in your Logos library, are just some of the wonderful benefits available to Logos users. As with any book, you can highlight important comments, take notes, or paste quotes into a folder for future use. Logos users will be familiar with all of these advantages, and many others, which make study easier and more profitable.

The entire series of the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary will consist of 44 volumes including both Old and New Testament. Many volumes are now available. See this link at

As with any commentary, there are going to be questions over particular interpretations. Some of my disagreements include the significance of Eli’s chair, which Hoffner sees as a sign of Eli’s old age, rather than (what I would interpret as) a clear allusion to royalty.  At times I quibble with his estimation of a character. For example, like many scholars Hoffner is aware of Joab’s brutality, but insists on his complete loyalty to David. I have written extensively elsewhere on my disagreement with this assessment of Joab (see Family Portraits, pp. 258-300). One shortcoming I note is that Hoffner sometimes seems reluctant to let the reader know where he stands on ambiguous or difficult passages. For example, he states that the longer text of 1 Samuel 11 (found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and LXX) suggests “a long period of brutal oppression.” But his only comment is “if we accept the longer text.” There is no further discussion as to whether he accepts or rejects the longer text or what his reasons might be. The story of David and Goliath (1 Sam. 17) introduces an even more thorny textual issue (the LXX version is much shorter than MT) which Hoffner dismisses by stating that Chisholm has convinced him that the MT makes sense as it stands and is not hopelessly contradictory. Granted, not every textual issue can be discussed ad nauseam, but given the length of this commentary, and Hoffner’s expertise, it is surprising how frequently he opts for no discussion. Furthermore, he does not offer anything new on the interpretive difficulties of 1 Samuel 17:51-53, 55-58 and, in fact, dismisses these difficulties by simply stating, “There is no lack of competing explanations for what appears to be a jarring contradiction between this present passage and what has preceded” (Hoffner, H. A., Jr., 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 Sa 17:55–58). Finally, once in awhile, Hoffner appears to contradict himself. For example, in 1 Samuel 13:3-4 Hoffner states that it is unlikely that Saul is stealing the glory from Jonathan by claiming victory over the Philistines. Yet in 1 Samuel 17:38 he states, “Previously, Saul had claimed some of the glory due to his son Jonathan’s courageous attack on the Philistine outpost.” Another example may be found in the commentary on 1 Samuel 25. In his introductory comments Hoffner disagrees with the theory of some that the Abigail mentioned here may be his sister by the same name. However, later (in the commentary on 25:3) he notes others who hold this view and quotes Youngblood at length. By not restating his disagreement with this view, one could get the impression he is agreeing.

The above may seem like quite a laundry list of “weaknesses” and yet, given the size of this volume, they are not serious threats to the value of this commentary. In fact, I have to admit I am being quite picky. For those desiring an in-depth look at the books of Samuel, Hoffner’s commentary offers plenty to chew on. The Evangelical Exegetical Commentary on 1&2 Samuel will be an indispensable resource for years to come for those who desire to delve deeply into the message of these books. I heartily recommend it for your library.

Purchase the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary on 1&2 Samuel at Logos/FaithLife

(Thanks to Logos for supplying a copy of this commentary in exchange for an unbiased review)