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1&2 Kings Apollos Commentary: Book Review

1&2 Kings Apollos Commentary: Book Review

Available at Amazon USA / UK
Available at Amazon USA / UK

Lissa M. Wray Beal, 1&2 Kings, Apollos Old Testament Commentary, (Nottingham & Downers Grove: Apollos and IVP, 2014), 615 pp.

1&2 Kings in the Apollos Commentary series by Lissa M. Wray Beal is a thorough and thoughtful treatment of these Old Testament books. Wray Beal is evangelical in her outlook but she is conversant with all scholarly positions. The commentary follows the usual format of the Apollos Old Testament series which includes:

1) Translation–A fresh translation of the original text by the author.

2) Notes on the Text–The author’s notes on the original text(s) (explaining grammatical and textual difficulties, noting alternative readings, and, at times, explaining the author’s reasoning for a particular translation).

3) Form and Structure–Insights on how the text is put together and reasons for treating a particular passage as a unit. Wray Beal also notes the theories of other scholars who speculate on the original sources that a given passage may have been derived from. She is usually dismissive of these theories and always asserts her interest in focusing on the final form of the text.

4) Comment–This section is a verse by verse exposition of the text of 1&2 Kings.

5) Explanation–A focus on the theology of the passage and how it relates to biblical themes and ideas presented elsewhere in Scripture. Wray Beal frequently shows how the theology of 1&2 Kings anticipates important theological concepts in the New Testament.

1&2 Kings Commentary Introductory Material

The commentary begins with a 38 page introduction on 1&2 Kings in which Wray Beal outlines the significant issues and features of 1&2 Kings, as well as her understanding and approach to these books. She notes both the prophetic and historical character of 1&2 Kings and has an extended discussion on the historiography of 1&2 Kings. She understands “the nature and purpose of 1-2 Kings to be representational historiography” (p. 39) By this she means that “the accounts are referential and not merely fictional or aesthetic…the author is constrained by the actualities of the subject matter” (p. 40). In other words, she sees the content of 1&2 Kings as a record of real historical events. However, she also notes that, “As narrative historiography, the accounts of the past are artistically drawn” (p. 40). This means 1&2 Kings contain the elements of good storytelling (e.g., characters, plot, narrative time and space). Her interpretation of 1&2 Kings is guided by both of these approaches. 1&2 Kings is also famous for its confusing numbers regarding the reign of the kings of Israel and Judah and Wray Beal has a brief section explaining her approach in the commentary. Basically, she accepts the well-known conclusions of Edwin Thiele regarding co-regencies and the different reckoning systems of accession and nonaccession years (I know this sounds technical for those not familiar with these issues, nevertheless, it is an important topic for studies in 1&2 Kings).

Wray Beal’s concluding section of the Introduction examines the main theological issues of 1&2 Kings. These include: 1) the influence of the lawcode in Deuteronomy; 2) the covenant made with David; 3) the power of the prophetic word; 4) the sovereignty of YHWH (Yahweh) over history; 5) the realities of judgment and grace; and 6) kingship as a tutor that leads to Christ. If you want a bird’s eye view of the messages of 1&2 Kings, this section is well worth the read.

The Commentary Itself

As one can gather from the above discussion this commentary is most suited for pastors, seminary students, and serious students of the Bible. The commentary is very readable, but Wray Beal assumes her readers are familiar with scholarly issues and jargon. The commentary itself is very solid. Wray Beal has compiled a lot of useful insights and information on 1&2 Kings. She has definitely benefitted from those who have written on these books before her. However, there are not any significant novel insights in the commentary section. Wray Beal doesn’t strike any new ground; she lays out the various possibilities suggested by others and tells you where she stands and why. Therefore, if you’ve read a number of commentaries on 1&2 Kings, there will not be any new earth-shattering interpretations here.

The real strength of Wray Beal’s commentary (besides her solid, even if not creatively new, exposition) is the “Explanation” section. Here she often “waxes eloquent” on various theological issues raised by the text. Starting with the text in 1&2 Kings, she will then trace an idea or theme throughout the biblical canon, showing its meaning in other OT texts, as well as its NT significance. For example, she notes how the righteous reign of King Asa of Judah breaks the previous three generational pattern of apostasy. She states, “As predictable as sinfulness is, its cycle can be broken by righteousness” (p. 216). Asa is an example that Yahweh may always break in and interrupt the downward spiral of sin. She notes other biblical examples like Noah and King Josiah. Yet, while these inbreakings of righteousness are powerful, they are never complete. Asa’s reform left the high places, and Josiah’s reform could not reverse the coming judgment. All of this anticipates Paul’s cry, “Wretched man that I am, who will save me?” Wray Beal then comments, “Paul answers his own cry of wretchedness with thanksgiving to the last king of Israel–Jesus Christ. He is the one righteous king who fully and finally broke the cycle of sin, ending its power” (p. 217). This “big picture” approach of biblical doctrines and themes is characteristic of the Explanation section and adds some real punch to the value of the commentary.

If you’re looking for a solid commentary that combines the best of modern scholarship with some excellent theological reflection, and you’re not afraid of wading into the deep waters of academia, then Lissa M. Wray Beal’s 1&2 Kings Commentary in the Apollos Old Testament series is an excellent choice. I highly recommend it for serious Bible study.

Buy 1&2 Kings Apollos Old Testament Commentary from Amazon USA / UK


  • Series: Apollos Old Testament Commentary (Book 9)
  • Hardcover: 615 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (March 28, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0830825096
  • ISBN-13: 978-0830825097

(Thanks to IVP for providing this book in exchange for an unbiased review!)


The IVP Bible Background Commentary Part 2: Genesis – Kings

The IVP Bible Background Commentary Part 2: Genesis – Kings

untitledTHE IVP BIBLE BACKGROUND COMMENTARY: Old Testament. By John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000. 832 pages. Available at Amazon USA / UK

In my first review (which you can read by clicking here), I looked at the overall purpose and scope of the IVP Bible Background Commentary. In this review, I will focus on some of the interesting insights that can be learned by using this resource. Because of the sheer volume of material, I have chosen to focus on the Books of Genesis through 2 Kings. In a future review, I will look at the sections concerning the Psalms and Wisdom literature, as well as the Prophets.

Cultural Insights from the Ancient Near East

Since this is a commentary on Bible backgrounds, one expects information that provides insight into the culture of the ancient Near East. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, is loaded with wonderful insights that the ordinary Bible reader would be unfamiliar with. Moderns may think that the practice of polygamy in the ancient world was simply to satisfy the sexual desires of the male, but there were other motivating factors as well: “1) an imbalance in the number of males and females; 2) the need to produce large numbers of children to work herds and / or fields; 3) the desire to increase prestige and wealth of a household through multiple marriage contracts; and 4) the high rate of death of females in childbirth” (comment on Gen. 4:19, p. 34 and 1 Sam. 1:2, p. 281). Although this insight doesn’t justify polygamy, it does demonstrate some of the cultural factors that led to the practice.

From the movie "The Ten Commandments," Moses (Charlton Heston) and his father-in-law Jethro.
From the movie “The Ten Commandments,” Moses (Charlton Heston) and his father-in-law Jethro.

One interesting problem that the commentary resolves concerns the supposedly different names for Moses’s father-in-law. Was his name Jethro (Exod. 3:1), Reuel (Exod. 2:18), or Hobab (Judg. 4:11)? Did one man really have 3 names, or as some more sceptical scholars suggest, are 3 contradictory sources being used? The authors explain that, “The difficulty can be resolved once the ambiguity of the terminology is recognized. The term designating male in-laws is nonspecific. The term referred to a woman’s male relatives and could be used for her father, brother, or even grandfather” (comment on Exod. 3:1, p. 79). The authors suggest that Reuel may be the grandfather, Jethro the father (of Moses’s wife Zipporah), and Hobab a brother-in-law of Moses, or some other such combination.

<img class=” wp-image-961″ src=”” alt=”An account by Sargon II has similarities to Joshua 10:11” width=”173″ height=”213″ /> An account by Sargon II has similarities to Joshua 10:11

Other insights are provided by a brief discussion of the ancient Near East’s concept of corporate responsibility and how Achan’s sin impacted his whole family, not to mention the entire nation (comment on Josh. 7:1, pp. 218-219). A description of palace architecture also helps the reader better understand Ehud’s assassination of the Moabite king Eglon, and how he managed to escape (comment on Judg. 3:23, pp. 248-249). The authors also frequently quote from ancient texts that have similarities to biblical accounts. For example, one ancient Near Eastern text that comes from Sargon II, king of Assyria “reports that in his campaign against Urartu (714 B.C.) the god Adad stormed against his enemies with ‘stones from heaven’ and so annihilated them” (p. 225). This is reminiscent of the Lord’s intervention for Joshua against the kings of Canaan (Josh. 10:11).

The "witch" at Endor (1 Sam. 28)
The “witch” at Endor (1 Sam. 28)

One very interesting feature relates to an understanding of life after death in the ancient Near East. The authors discuss the strange story of the medium at Endor summoning Samuel at the request of Saul, after Samuel had died (1 Sam. 28). They comment, “This specialist from Endor used a ritual pit to conjure up the spirits of the dead….The pits were believed to be magical portals through which spirits could pass between the realms of the living and the dead. The practitioner was one who had special knowledge of the location of such a pit and who was familiar with the procedures necessary to summon the dead” (comment on 1 Sam. 28:7, p. 318). Of course, this doesn’t mean that the woman conjured up Samuel through her own power, but it does give insight into the ancient beliefs and practices involved. A comment on 1 Kings 16:4 regarding the fate of King Baasha of Israel and his family is also enlightening. The passage states that the king and his family members will be eaten by dogs if they die in the city or by birds if they die in the fields. The authors comment, “most ancient peoples believed that proper, timely burial affected the quality of the afterlife….We know that even Israelites believed that proper burial affected one’s afterlife, because they, like their neighbors, buried their loved ones with the provisions that would serve them in the afterlife; most often pottery vessels (filled with food) and jewelry (to ward off evil), with tools and personal items sometimes added” (p. 373).

IVP Bible Backgrounds Commentary, Old Testament: Limitations

Me hanging out with Philistines at Tel es-Safi (Gath).
Me hanging out with Philistines at Tel es-Safi (Gath).

The authors frequently site knowledge that is available through archaeology. This could be regarding certain cities, or artefacts. For example, when speaking of the Tabernacle (2 Sam. 6:17, p. 332), the discovery of a Midianite tent shrine that dates from the 12th century B.C. is noted. While this is interesting information, it also points up a shortcoming in the commentary. A photo of such discoveries would be helpful (or a reference where further info and pictures might be found). Additionally, it is the archaeological information contained in the commentary that particularly cries out for a new updated edition. For example, when the Philistine city of Gath is mentioned in the text, the authors constantly remind us that there has been no archaeological work done at this site (see e.g., the comment on 1 Sam. 27:2, p. 317). However, this is no longer the case. In fact, excavations have been going on at Tel es-Safi (biblical Gath) since 1996 with many fascinating discoveries made (see my article on Philistine cities here).

Although the authors have intentionally omitted the use of references for the sake of the average reader, still the lack of references hurt the commentary. Besides the Midianite tent shrine mentioned above, there are many places that references would be extremely helpful, even for the average reader. For example, there is a brief discussion of the problem of the date of the Exodus on page 86. Although the article gives the basic outline of the problems involved, it is still very general. The curious reader, however, is not left with any suggestions on how to pursue a deeper treatment of the subject.

The commentary is also full of repetition. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It can be quite helpful to have information at your fingertips rather than being told to go to another place in the commentary to find it. The problem is the authors do both. For example, whole sections of the commentary on 1&2 Kings refer the reader to 2 Chronicles. Again, if this was the practice throughout the commentary, I would have no problem with it. In fact, it would shorten the commentary considerably and might allow for the photos and references that I believe would be helpful. My complaint is that the decision to repeat information (sometimes 3, 4 or more times), while at other times saying, “see such ‘n such” for information on this passage, seems arbitrary.

Evaluation of Genesis – 2 Kings, IVP Bible Background Commentary

In spite of the shortcomings I have mentioned, I believe this commentary is extremely useful and informative. Besides simply providing a review, I have attempted to show the reader some of the interesting insights available. Other helpful features include geographical information (stating how far it is from one place to another, or what the terrain is like). This can raise important issues for interpretation. For example, what are we to make of the fact that Saul’s hometown is only a short distance away from Samuel’s hometown, and yet Saul had never heard of Samuel! (comments on 1 Sam. 9:6, p. 293). Other helpful explanations include the value of different types of money (shekels, etc.), the times of year represented by the names of various months, and the meaning of certain political or military offices (e.g., the Assyrian official known as Tartan means “field marshal, 2 Kgs. 18:17, p. 405). Although I am hopeful that an update on the Old Testament volume will be forthcoming from IVP (as the New Testament one which appeared this year), I would still heartily recommend this commentary as a source of valuable information in better understanding the Bible and the ancient Near East.

(A copy of this commentary has been provided for the reviewer in exchange for a fair and unbiased review. Many thanks to the publishers at IVP!)

The IVP Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Old Testament is available at,, and at Amazon USA / UK



IVP Bible Background Commentary Old Testament: Part 1

IVP Bible Background Commentary Old Testament

untitledTHE IVP BIBLE BACKGROUND COMMENTARY: Old Testament. By John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000. 832 pages. Available at Amazon USA / UK

This one volume commentary on the Old Testament is a companion to the IVP Bible Background Commentary on the New Testament (also available at Amazon USA / UK). The purpose of both of these volumes is to provide helpful information regarding the cultural context in which the Bible was written. This is a daunting task for the authors seeking to provide this information for the Old Testament. The number of books in the Old Testament, the length of historical time involved, and the vast knowledge required of different ancient cultures makes this a challenging undertaking. But Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas, all well-known Old Testament scholars, are up to the task.

Author John Walton
Author John H. Walton

The authors do not claim that the material included in the commentary will necessarily help with the theological interpretation of the Bible (p. 7). Although the authors include this disclaimer, one could certainly debate that a knowledge of cultural context can enhance one’s understanding of a given text of Scripture. In fact, throughout the commentary (as we shall see in future reviews) the authors demonstrate how a knowledge of background material influences one’s interpretation of the text. That being said, the authors’ main concern, according to the preface, is to provide enough cultural context so that the Old Testament is not misinterpreted by imposing our own cultural biases and worldview on the text. Regarding the background information provided they state, “In many cases there may not be anything that can be done with the information, but having that information may prevent one from doing something with the text that should not be done” (p. 9).

Author, Victor H. Matthews
Author, Victor H. Matthews

This commentary is written with the lay-person in mind. As a result, references to scholarly or ancient sources are omitted. There are no footnotes; only a 10-page bibliography for those who might wish to pursue a topic further. While this uncluttered approach makes reading easier, this volume is also intended for the pastor and student and the lack of references makes further research more difficult. A helpful glossary of terms is included at the back of the book for those not familiar with certain terms or names. The back of the commentary also includes charts on the various ancient tablets and inscriptions mentioned in the commentary, a timeline, and some general maps, all in black and white. Better maps are available in other resources, but for a quick general reference regarding a particular site or city, the maps included are adequate. Although it would have added to the length and expense of the commentary, photographs, charts, and maps within the commentary would have been very helpful for the lay-person.

Author, Mark W. Chavalas
Author, Mark W. Chavalas

The IVP Bible Background Commentary on the Old Testament only treats the books of the Protestant Canon (as opposed to the Catholic Canon) and approaches them in that order (as opposed to the order in the Hebrew Bible). The commentary is divided into four main sections: The Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy); Historical Literature (Joshua-Esther); Wisdom and Poetic Literature; and Prophetic Literature. Each section includes an introduction to the books or type of literature found in it. Scattered throughout the commentary are discussions on important topics such as, “Ancient Near Eastern Flood Accounts,” “The Date of the Exodus,” “Egyptian Information About Canaan and Israel,” “Afterlife Beliefs in Israel and the Ancient Near East,” and many others.

All in all, this is an extremely useful and interesting commentary. Because of the size of the IVP Bible Background Commentary on the Old Testament, I will be breaking it down into bite-sized chunks and reviewing various books, or sections, in future articles. Stay tuned for more on this excellent resource.

(Thanks to IVP for providing this review copy in exchange for an unbiased review. For other books from IVP please visit

Words and the Word: Book Review

Words and the Word: Book Review

Words and the Word, available at amazon!
Words and the Word, available at amazon USA / UK

Words and the Word: Explorations in Biblical Interpretation and Literary Theory, eds. David G. Firth, and Jamie A. Grant, (Nottingham: Apollos, 2008). Available at IVP

Words and the Word, as the subtitle suggests is a book about “Explorations in biblical interpretation and literary theory.” This book seeks to explain and demonstrate the significance of different literary approaches to the Bible. It argues for a well-rounded, in-depth approach to bible study from an evangelical point of view and engages with some of the techniques employed by practitioners of literary theory. If all of this sounds a little “heady,” it is, so be forewarned. However, there is much of practical insight as well.

Words and the Word is divided into two parts. Part 1 is entitled “General issues,” and consists of two articles that provide an overall introduction to the subject from slightly different perspectives. They are entitled: “Literary theory and biblical interpretation,” and “A structural-historical approach to exegesis of the Old Testament.” Part 2 takes a look at some of the “specific approaches” utilized in literary studies. These include: “Speech-act theory,” “Genre criticism,” “Ambiguity,” “Poetics,” “Rhetoric,” and “Discourse analysis.”

Can We Discover the Meaning of the Word by its Words?

In the introductory article to Part 1, Grant R. Osborne argues that “Every aspect of the hermeneutical process is immersed in literary theory because every part of Scripture is literature” (p. 48). Osborne states that the goal of literary interpretation is the meaning of the text. However, modern literary approaches have suggested different means by which that meaning is derived. Osborne argues against the post-structuralist approach which contends that meaning resides in the reader, rather than in what the author intended. The danger with this approach is that the text has no inherent meaning, but it means whatever a particular reader thinks it means. Osborne advocates a 3-pronged approach which includes the author who produced the text, the text itself as a historical document which is open to historical analysis, and the reader who studies and interprets the text using historical and grammatical methods to arrive at the meaning. Through this approach Osborne believes that “the most likely meaning of a text can be discovered” (p. 48). This might seem like an argument that only concerns scholars and intellectuals, and therefore irrelevant to the average person studying the Bible, but actually there is a point here for everyone.  At times many Bible students are guilty of the approach “I think this passage means X,” without doing a proper study of the passage. The practical result of this approach (“this is what it means to me”) is no different from the intellectual who uses complex arguments to justify such an approach. Therefore, Osborne’s arguments need to be heard by evangelicals.

Beyond the theoretical issues, Osborne gives some practical examples of the value of a literary approach, focusing his examples on the Gospels. For example, Osborne notes that the Gospel of John “is well known for using synonyms theologically.” We have all heard the interpretation that Peter’s use of phileo (brotherly love) as opposed to Jesus’ use of agape (divine love) is significant. But Osborne argues the significance does not lie in the change of verbs because this is something that John frequently does in the Gospel. Therefore, one who makes this the point of the story actually misses John’s real message (pp. 32-33).

In the second article of Part 1 S. N. Snyman insists that in a literary approach to Scripture, one cannot ignore the historical dimension, but must include it in any analysis of the text. Basically, Snyman focuses on exegesis: what it is; why it is important; and how to do it.

Investigating and Illustrating Various Types of Literary Approaches

Rather than summarize each chapter of Part 2, I will comment on a few of the methods and what I found particularly helpful. Firth’s chapter on “Ambiguity” in Scripture is very insightful. . Firth identifies 3 different ways in which we may encounter ambiguity. First, is ambiguity that is intended by the author. Second is what I would call “accidental ambiguity.” This is when a word or phrase might have more than one interpretation in a context, but the ambiguity was not intended by the author. For example, it is not clear in 1 Samuel 16:21 whether Saul loves David or David loves Saul. The third kind concerns ambiguity on the reader’s part, which may be caused by a number of factors, including historical distance from the event being described, lack of understanding the culture, etc. Firth clarifies that the type of ambiguity he is focusing on is the first kind which involves an author’s intentional use of ambiguity. Next Firth discusses the theory and definition of ambiguity as found in the work of William Empson and refines Empson’s 7 types of ambiguity to 5. These types include: 1) Details effective in multiple ways; 2) Multiple possibilities with a single resolution; 3) Simultaneous use of unconnected meanings; 4) Alternative meanings combine to clarify author’s intention; and 5) Apparent contradictions. A list of these types of ambiguity is indeed vague so Firth pursues a definition and seeks to illustrate each type from Scripture. He concludes with a marvelous example from 1 Samuel demonstrating how the author uses ambiguity to highlight Saul’s character flaws. This was my favorite chapter in the book and was extremely helpful in demonstrating how biblical authors might use ambiguity as a literary technique in communicating a message.

The chapter entitled “Poetics” takes a look at the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament, particularly the Book of Psalms (a brief paragraph at the end of the chapter is also dedicated to poetry in the NT). In this chapter author, Jamie A. Grant. looks at some of the new developments in the study of the poetic literature of the Bible. In particular, he advocates taking a more holistic approach to the Book of Psalms by noting how the book is structured. We have tended to interpret each psalm individually, but Grant notes that the Book of Psalms is broken down into 5 different “books” by the biblical editors. He also points out that certain psalms are grouped together by themes (such as the Songs of Ascent–Ps. 120-134). Becoming aware of these groupings can enable one to see how these psalms interact with each other. Furthermore, noticing the structure of a section of psalms may also reveal insights that otherwise go unnoticed. For example, Grant points out that Psalms 15-24 are arranged chiastically. Psalm 19, a psalm about the Law, is the center point of the chiasm which suggests its significance.

The last chapter of Words and the Word, looks at “Discourse Analysis.” Discourse analysis involves using all of the techniques and approaches discussed in this book, plus more. Therefore, this forms a fitting conclusion to the book. The author, Terrance R. Wardlaw Jr., provides two examples of discourse analysis; one from the OT (Exodus 15:22-27) and the other from the NT (Matt. 5:1-12), illustrating the value of various approaches. Wardlaw’s examples are very helpful in illuminating the process of discourse analysis, and they also provide an insightful look at these two texts.

Evaluation of Words and the Word

There is a lot to learn from Words and the Word. However, one of the shortcomings of the articles that comprise this book is that the discussion of theory can often be very abstract. To one who is not familiar with these approaches, or who has problems thinking abstractly, this can be a challenge. Illustrations of the various approaches are the saving grace of this book. However, some authors achieve this success better than others in my opinion. I found a few of the chapters to be difficult wading, nearly drowning me in theory without practical application. This book is definitely not for the average Bible reader. It is suited more for the advanced student or scholar. I would not even recommend it for most pastors. Although there are many valuable insights, and even some sermon fodder here, the average pastor is probably too busy to wade through all of the abstract discussion to benefit much. Although Words and the Word seeks to fill the gap between more indepth discussions of literary theory and introductory Bible study, it strongly leans in the direction of the more advanced student. Therefore I would recommend it to those who have a basic familiarity with literary approaches and want to go deeper, but not to the average student of the Bible. These approaches are important and yield valuable insights, but a book is still needed that can communicate these ideas in a less complicated more “learner friendly” manner.

Words and the Word is available at Amazon USA / UK

(I would like to thank IVP for this copy of Words and the Word, in exchange for an unbiased review.)

Robert B. Chisholm Jr.: An Interview on his 1&2 Samuel Commentary

Robert B. Chisholm Jr.: An Interview on his 1&2 Samuel Commentary

Robert B. Chisholm Jr.
Robert B. Chisholm Jr.

Robert B. Chisholm Jr. is department chair and professor of Old Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is also the author of a number of books including: Interpreting the Historical Books: An Exegetical Handbook; From Exegesis to Exposition: A Practical Guide to using Biblical Hebrew; Interpreting the Minor Prophets; Handbook on the Prophets; A Commentary on Judges and Ruth (Kregel Exegetical Library); and 1&2 Samuel, Teach the Text Commentary Series, which will be our main focus in this interview. To see my review of 1&2 Samuel click here.

Hi Bob, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview. With your teaching schedule, book writing, and church work you clearly keep yourself busy! Would you begin by sharing with our readers as briefly as possible your background and journey to faith in Christ?
I trusted in Christ as my personal Savior as a child. I grew up in a Christian family; we attended a Baptist church. I went to Syracuse University with the intention of becoming a journalist, specifically a sports writer, but I had a spiritual awakening while a student there and the Lord, through the wise advice of my pastor, steered me toward seminary and biblical studies.

What specifically led to your interest in studying and teaching the Old Testament?
During my first year of seminary, my Hebrew professor encouraged me to pursue Old Testament studies. That little nudge was all I needed because I had always found the Old Testament, with its stories and prophecies, to be fascinating.

You clearly have a broad range of interest when it comes to the Old Testament. If someone had to pin you down to a favorite area or book what would you say and why?
I enjoy studying narrative literature (especially Judges and 1-2 Samuel) from a literary-theological perspective. The characters in these narratives are so human and we can learn a great deal about God and how he relates to his people by reading them.

How did the opportunity to write the commentary on 1&2 Samuel in the Teach the Text Series come about?
The Old Testament editor, John Walton, invited me to participate.

1&2 Samuel Teach the Text Commentary Series
1&2 Samuel Teach the Text Commentary Series

The Teach the Text Series has a particular format that its authors are required to follow. What appealed to you about this format and what did you find challenging about it?
The format is concise and focused on what is most important—that makes it readable and user-friendly. However, the challenge is to choose what is most important to discuss. I had to trim my first draft down by about 40%–it was painful to have to leave so much material on the cutting room floor.

It seems to me that one of the most challenging things about the Teach the Text Series is providing illustrations of the various units of the biblical text for pastors. Did you find this challenging and how did you go about finding illustrations and deciding what to include in the commentary? Another question along the same line is, do you have a specific system for keeping track of illustrations?
I did not choose the illustrative material. This was done by an editorial team under the direction of a sermonic editor. The suggested illustrations in the commentary tend to come from literature, film, and church history. In my own preaching I prefer to use illustrations from my personal life, pop culture, the daily news, and sports. But, obviously, these would not be suitable for a commentary.

One area of the commentary that I thought could have merited further treatment was the section on 2 Samuel 2:1-5:5. Being faithful to the format of the commentary, you treated this section in 6 pages. Is there a reason you didn’t break this unit into smaller sections so that more space could have been devoted to these chapters?
I agree with you that this section was treated too cursorily, but I had to divide the books into a specified number of units. Given the word count and format, there simply wasn’t enough space to cover everything adequately, so I had to leave much material from these chapters on the cutting room floor. I decided it was easier to “streamline” this section than some of the others in 1-2 Samuel.

One of the things I love about your commentary on 1&2 Samuel is the feature on each section of Scripture where you give the “Big Idea” and the “Key Themes.” If someone tried to pin you down to a few sentences and asked you “What is the Big Idea in 1&2 Samuel,” or “What is (are) the Key Theme(s),” how would you respond?
In its ancient Israelite context, 1-2 Samuel legitimates the Davidic dynasty by demonstrating that David was God’s choice as king, in contrast to Saul, whom God had rejected. Theologically, 1-2 Samuel demonstrates that God is at work for good in the life of his covenant community, even though they and their leaders are seriously flawed. Through the Davidic dynasty (ultimately Jesus) God will accomplish his purposes for his people.

Another feature I like is the information boxes that are set off from the rest of the commentary. These boxes usually include interesting information that add spice to the commentary. How did you decide which topics to include? Were there certain criteria you followed to say “this should be included,” or “it would be nice to have this but space doesn’t permit so I’ll leave it out?” How much of a part did the editors play in these decisions?
I tried to anticipate questions readers might have as they read the commentary. We put the material in a separate box in order to maintain continuity in the basic discussion while at the same providing more detailed discussion on certain key or problematic matters. I chose the topics; the editors offered feedback on the content.

John Martin - 1852
John Martin – 1852

I am currently writing a series of articles on my website entitled “Violence in the Old Testament.” This seems to be an important topic given the publications of books by the “new atheists” such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchins. Christians are often embarrassed about the violence in the Old Testament and many shy away from reading and studying it. I know this is a big topic but do you have any comments you’d like to share on this subject, especially as it relates to the books of 1&2 Samuel?
This is also a topic of great interest for me and I hope to do more writing on it in the days ahead. At the 2011 national meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, I delivered a paper entitled: Fighting Yahweh’s Wars: Some Disturbing Acts of Violence in Judges-Samuel. It should be published soon; I’m still working on the logistics of where. I study six different episodes where God endorses violence. I am not as apologetic as some and prefer to give God the benefit of the doubt. It’s a messy fallen world filled with a lot of evil people and sometimes God rolls up his sleeves, so to speak, and enters into the fray as the just Warrior-King. Here’s the conclusion to my paper: A close reading of these six accounts reveals that in each case the act of violence involved the implementation of divine justice against the object. In two instances (Adoni-Bezek and Agag) an individual was treated in a way that mirrored his crimes against others. In four cases a people group (the Amalekites) or representatives of a people group (the Moabite king Eglon, the Canaanite general Sisera, the thirty Philistines murdered by Samson) were, at least from Yahweh’s perspective, the objects of violent acts of justice in response to crimes committed or intended (in the case of Sisera) against Israel. In Goliath’s case, David refused to view the Philistine’s taunt as simply a verbal assault against Israel’s army. Yahweh identifies with his people and so he was the ultimate target of the Philistine’s slander. Consequently, David’s victory over Goliath was an act of justice that vindicated Yahweh’s honor by punishing a blasphemer.
Though these violent acts are disturbing at an emotional level, they are, as acts of justice, gratifying at a deeper, more elemental level. Ultimately, it is not worth living in a world in which there is no justice. Such a place would be nothing more than a jungle in which superior strength breeds arrogance and evil, and the strong take what they want, dishing out pain and suffering with reckless abandon. But justice, to truly be justice, must be implemented fully and appropriately. To use a contemporary example, when the Harry Potter saga finally reaches its climax, Nagini, Bellatrix Lestrange, and, of course, Voldemort cannot just die; they must be killed the “right way” for justice to be satisfied and for some sense of moral equilibrium to be realized. Bellatrix cannot be pitied as long as the image of a dying Dobby persists in the mind’s eye.
So it is in the biblical story: Those who cut off the thumbs of others or make mothers childless eventually discover that what goes around comes around. Those who attack, oppress, and abuse Yahweh’s people eventually pay the price in “the right way.” Those who dare defy the living God and challenge him to step into the arena may end up a decapitated torso. And though the scene may make one want to vomit, in the end the image prompts a sigh of relief and more. As the psalmist declares: “The godly will rejoice when they see vengeance carried out; they will bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked. Then observers will say, ‘Yes indeed, the godly are rewarded! Yes indeed, there is a God who judges the earth!’” (Ps. 58:10-11) In conclusion I leave you with this scene: “Then I saw heaven opened and here came a white horse! The one riding it was called ‘Faithful’ and ‘True,’ and with justice he judges and goes to war” (Rev. 19:11). Even so, come Lord Jesus!

What projects are you currently working on?
In addition to writing Bible studies for a ministry called Coaches Outreach, I am working on a two-volume commentary on Isaiah for the Kregel Exegetical Library Series (the same series in which my Judges-Ruth commentary appears) and two more commentaries on 1-2 Samuel, one for Zondervan’s Hearing the Message of Scripture Series and the other for Baker’s Bible Backgrounds Commentary. I’m also hoping to publish books on Genesis 2-3, Job 38-42, God’s self-revelation in the Old Testament (a biblical theology proper of God based on the OT), and the hermeneutics of prophecy, as well as some journal articles. So, as you can see, I enjoy writing and stay busy.

Bob I really enjoyed working through your commentary as I taught 1&2 Samuel this past semester. It was also a blessing to our students and I will use it for many years to come. Thank you for a job well done and thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this interview. May God continue to bless you as you seek to communicate His Word to others.
Thank you for the opportunity to chat and for your kind, encouraging words. All the writing I do has one goal—to help Christians understand and apply the Scriptures so that they might more effectively carry out the Great Commission. If the Teach the Text commentary on 1-2 Samuel contributes to that in some small way, then I will be satisfied.

For a list of some of Robert B. Chisholm Jr’s works click on the links here for Amazon USA / UK

A Week in the Life of Corinth

A Week in the Life of Corinth

A Week in the Life of Corinth is a charming story by New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III. Although it is fictional, it is based on Witherington’s knowledge of the New Testament world (not to mention his commentaries on Acts and 1&2 Corinthians) and includes real historical figures like the apostle Paul, the proconsul Gallio (Acts 18:12-17), and Erastus the treasurer of Corinth (Rom. 16:23). It is a book that not only “tells” us about the 1st century world, it “shows” us through the medium of story.

Buy A Week in the Life of Corinth see link below.
Buy A Week in the Life of Corinth at amazon. Click on the book above for USA or at the link below for UK or USA.

The story revolves around a fictional character named Nicanor, a former slave of Erastos (the Greek spelling used by Witherington), but now a freedman. By following Nicanor’s life for one eventful week, the reader is treated to many insightful details about life in the 1st century AD. For example, rather than being told about the relationship between a patron and client as a textbook would do, the reader experiences patronage first hand through the life of Nicanor. (For an example of understanding the importance of patronage, see my article: “Grace in 3D”.) We also learn the potential dangers involved in these kinds of relationships when Nicanor’s loyalty to Erastos clashes with the desires of the powerful Marcus Aurelius Aemilianus.

In order to educate the reader, the book is punctuated by information boxes entitled, “A Closer Look.” These boxes include a mountain of informative details including such topics as, Slaves and Manumission, The Roman Calendar, Gladiators and their Contests, Paul, a Visionary with an Eye Problem, Home Schooling Greco-Roman Style, Jews in Corinth, Roman Trials, and a host of other subjects. Besides these information boxes, Witherington also includes a number of photos and diagrams. Among the diagrams included are a layout of “First Century downtown Corinth,” and the layout of a Roman domus (house).

Erastus inscription in Corinth
Erastus inscription in Corinth

Photos include a number of pictures of the remains of ancient Corinth such as the diolkos (the shortcut used to drag small boats across the isthmus where Corinth is located rather than sail them all the way around Greece), or the Erastus inscription (see photo on right). Other helpful photos feature a gladiatorial school, an ancient Roman road, and a street in Pompeii. Although the photos are helpful, in order to keep this slender volume at a reasonable price, they are in black and white which affects their quality.

The book is suitable for the average reader seeking to learn more about life in the New Testament world in an entertaining way. However, there are a few shortcomings. Further character and plot development would certainly have created a greater emotional attachment to the story and its characters. The numerous Latin and Greek words used by Witherington are sometimes, but not always, explained. Although the use of these words adds to the atmosphere of the story, those who aren’t acquainted with these ancient languages may find it a little exasperating. More importantly, there appear to be some errors in the use of Greek and Latin words or names. For example, Tyche is definitely a feminine name, though Witherington uses it for a male doorman. In spite of these shortcomings, Witherington’s book is an enjoyable and educational read. I recommend A Week in the Life of Corinth to all who are interested in ancient Corinth or the world of the New Testament.

Buy “A Week in the Life of Corinth,” by clicking on one of the following links at Amazon: USA / UK

(Thanks to the publishers at IVP for providing this review copy in exchange for an unbiased review.)

The World of the New Testament: Book Review

“The World of the New Testament”: Book Review

The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts
The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts

The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts
eds. Joel B. Green and Lee Martin McDonald, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 616 pp.

The World of the New Testament is a mini dictionary of New Testament background topics. It is edited by Joel B. Green and Lee Martin McDonald and consists of articles by scholars (seasoned veterans and new up and coming ones) who specialize in studies of the field known as Second Temple Judaism (meaning the period following the exile until the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD). Studies of this period have opened up a new window on understanding the New Testament. This book is an effort to treat many of the important topics related to a better understanding of the New Testament and the Roman World in which it was conceived.

The Contents of “The World of the New Testament”

The World of the New Testament is broken into 5 sections: 1) Setting the Context: Exile and the Jewish Heritage which includes such topics as the Exile, the Hasmonean Era (including the Maccabean Revolt), the Herodian dynasty, as well as others; 2) Setting the Context: Roman Hellenism which looks at such topics as Greek religion, the Imperial cult, slavery, family life and education in the Greco-Roman world, etc.; 3) The Jewish People in the Context of Roman Hellenism includes topics on the Temple and priesthood, Jewish sects (Pharisees, Sadducees, etc.), the Dead Sea Scrolls, and other matters pertaining to Judaism and Jewish life; 4) The Literary Context of Early Christianity focuses on the reading and writing of manuscripts, and what can be learned from sources as divergent as Homer and Josephus as regards the New Testament; and 5) The Geographical Context of the New Testament is the final section which includes articles about Jesus research and archaeology, and places such as Egypt, the province and cities of Asia, Macedonia, and of course, Rome. As indicated, this is not a complete listing of topics under the various sections, but a sampling so that the reader might have an idea of the subject matter.

Most of the articles in this volume are designed to present an overview of the various subjects that concern New Testament backgrounds study. One who is acquainted with this field may not find much that is new, but the student or curious person seeking an introduction to this area of study will discover a wealth of information at their fingertips. One significant area that was overlooked, however, concerns first century social values and institutions such as those addressed in David A. DeSilva’s Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity (although family life is addressed in chapter 14 and there is a short section on purity in chapter 25). Perhaps the editors thought this would make a long volume even longer, or that this information could be gleaned from other resources such as DeSilva’s book. Nonetheless, it is an important shortcoming in this volume and there is no explanation offered as to why as significant a subject as honor and shame is overlooked.

Critiquing “The World of the New Testament”

On a more positive note, I greatly enjoyed E. Randolph Richards article entitled, “Reading, Writing, and Manuscripts.” Richards discusses literacy in the first century world, as well as the writing methods employed in producing manuscripts. One point I found particularly fascinating was the expense involved in producing a large manuscript. Richards constructs a chart of some of Paul’s letters and, based on the number of lines and the cost for materials and labor, projects what it would cost in the modern world to produce them. Richard’s estimates that Romans, Paul’s longest letter, would cost $2,275.00, while Philemon, Paul shortest letter (and closer to the usual size of an ancient letter), would cost $101.00. Even if Richard’s figures aren’t totally accurate, this certainly provides a perspective on the value and cost involved in producing the New Testament documents! Other chapters I found particularly helpful include, “Greek Religion” (Chap. 8), “The Imperial Cult” (Chap. 9), “Jews in the Diaspora” (Chap. 23), “Literary Forms in the New Testament” (Chap. 30), and “Jesus Research and Archaeology” (Chap. 36) by the renowned scholar James H. Charlesworth. This is not to say that I didn’t find many other helpful and interesting articles in The World of the New Testament, but these chapters stood out to me. Of course, knowledge and interest often dictate what one finds appealing and another reviewer might chose a different selection of chapters.

Another criticism I have of The World of the New Testament, is the quality of photos included in this volume. Photos are certainly a good idea for a work of this kind, but the black and white photos included are not helpful and in my opinion they mar the overall appearance and quality of the book. The photos are usually very indistinct. Shadows frequently obscure details and frustrate rather than illuminate. The book also includes many maps and charts. Again, this is a helpful feature for a book of this nature. Some charts and maps are very helpful, others less so. For example, in section 5 which looks at the geography of the New Testament world, some of the maps don’t list the cities that are being written about, or, in other cases, you only find a particular city on a map a few pages later and so you have to flip back and forth.

In spite of its shortcomings, there is still a lot of good material in The World of the New Testament, and thus I would recommend it to those who are interested in this field of study. This is a book for the beginning or intermediate student, or interested layperson. However, the language is often technical when simpler expressions could have been substituted or better explained. The terminology and subject matter does not make for casual reading, but for one seeking a deeper knowledge of the New Testament world this book will provide ample information.
(Thanks to Baker Academic for providing this copy in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.)

Buy The World of the New Testament: Amazon USA / UK

Teach the Text Commentary on 1&2 Samuel

Teach the Text Commentary on 1&2 Samuel

1&2 Samuel Teach the Text Commentary Series
1&2 Samuel Teach the Text Commentary Series

Robert B. Chisholm Jr., 1&2 Samuel, Teach the Text Commentary Series (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2013).

General Observations on the Teach the Text Commentary Series

The “Teach the Text Commentary Series” was commissioned to help the busy pastor and to fill a void in commentaries that are both scholarly, and yet practical. The aim is to present the “big picture” of a biblical book by dividing it “into carefully selected preaching units, each covered in six pages” (p. ix). There are 5 main areas of focus within these 6 pages: 1) Big Idea; 2) Key Themes; 3) Understanding the Text (this is the longest section including such subjects as context, outline, historical and cultural background, interpretive insights, and theology); 4) Teaching the Text; and 5) Illustrating the Text (pp. xi-xii). It is important to keep this structure and the necessary restrictions in mind when evaluating each commentary in this series.

Such an approach is clearly not intended to be exhaustive. So is there room for a commentary series with this more generalized approach? I believe there is. My own classroom teaching experience has demonstrated to me the need for students to gain the “big picture” of a biblical book. It is important to be able to summarize the main themes and key ideas of a book. Oftentimes people read or study a biblical book and have no idea of how to summarize its main message(s). The “Big Idea” and “Key Themes” features of this series go a long way in aiding the reader to achieve this goal. Therefore, the structure of the Teach the Text Commentary series is not only helpful to the pastor, who may be consulting it for his weekly sermon, it is also beneficial for the beginning student.

Before making specific remarks on Chisholm’s 1&2 Samuel commentary, I would also like to add that the “Teach the Text Commentary Series” is attractively presented. Each hardback volume is printed on heavy-duty paper which is ideal for the many helpful maps, photos, and illustrations contained in each commentary.

Comments on 1&2 Samuel Commentary

Chisholm begins his commentary on 1&2 Samuel with a brief 7-page introduction. He summarizes these books by noting the three main characters (Samuel, Saul, and David) and by stating, “David is the focal point of the story” (p.1). Saul acts as a foil to David, while “Samuel’s support of David becomes foundational to the narrator’s defense of David” (pp. 1-2). The high point of the book is the Lord’s covenant with David, securing his dynasty and proving faithful even in the midst of David’s sin. Chisholm divides 1&2 Samuel into 7 sections based on “its major plot movements, revolving around the theme of kingship” (p. 4). His outline is as follows: 1) Prelude to Kingship (1 Sam. 1-7); 2) Kingship inaugurated (1 Sam. 8-12); 3) Kingship Fails (1 Sam. 13-15); 4) Kingship in Limbo (1 Sam. 16-31); 5) Kingship Revived (2 Sam. 1-10); 6) Kingship Threatened and Preserved (2 Sam. 11-20); and 7) Epilogue (2 Sam. 21-24). One potential weakness is that this outline is not clearly delineated in the commentary that follows. Perhaps Chisholm’s reason for ignoring this is because he does not find “clear-cut structural markers” in the text (p. 4), but sees the divisions above as related to plot development.

Chisholm packs a lot of information and insight into each 6-page unit of commentary. The information provided on historical and cultural background, though not found in every section, is very helpful for the beginning reader and student. Topics include foreign gods such as Baal or Dagon, divination, the Amalekites, or documents of the ancient Near East that have parallels with biblical material. This information enriches the presentation, as do the color photos that frequently accompany them. At times Chisholm includes side boxes that deal with special issues such as “The Problem of Genocide” or “The Legal Background of Tamar’s Request.”

Two characteristics of Chisholm’s exegesis that I found particularly helpful include his attention to certain words, and parallels and/or contrasts between biblical characters. Chisholm does an excellent job of paying attention to words or phrases found in 1&2 Samuel and demonstrating their connection with another incident in 1&2 Samuel (or the Former Prophets, meaning Joshua-2 Kings). For example, he notes that the expression “terror filled his heart” in 1 Samuel 28:5, in reference to Saul, only occurs one other time in 1-2 Samuel. It is found in the story of Eli’s demise as his “heart trembled over the fate of the ark of God” (p. 184). This kind of verbal connection suggests the author is comparing the circumstances of Saul and Eli. Similarly, Chisholm frequently points out similarities between incidents or characters in 1&2 Samuel with other biblical characters or incidents. One example is the similarities between the actions of Absalom in 2 Samuel 13-14 with Abimelech in Judges 9 (p. 252). This attention to biblical typology is extremely helpful when interpreting a narrative text (see my discussion in Family Portraits, p. 11).

Considering the constraints placed upon him by the commentary’s design (6 pages per literary unit), Chisholm’s overall treatment of the text of 1&2 Samuel is excellent. There is, however, one exception. Although 2 Samuel 2:1-5:5 can legitimately be viewed as a structural unit, treating it in the 6-page format does it a great injustice. This material is too important and too theologically rich to be skimmed over so briefly. Dividing this section by episodes, or even by chapters, would have been a better approach. This imbalance is all the more noticeable when the following section (2 Sam. 5:6-25), arguably less “meaty” than 2 Samuel 2-4, is given the full 6-page treatment. (For Chisholm’s reasoning on this see my interview with him which was conducted after this review.)

Perhaps the greatest challenge in writing a commentary of this kind is providing illustrations for the text. This is certainly a subjective task. Certain illustrations will ring true with some, while others will find them unhelpful. While I would not endorse the use of every illustration suggested in this commentary (and I’m sure the author would not expect me to! ), I do believe that Chisholm has done an admirable job in handling a difficult task (Another insight I learned from the interview with Chisholm was that he wasn’t responsible for any of this material). The editors themselves point out that this section of the commentary is intended to provide “general ideas” and to “serve as a catalyst for effectively illustrating the text” (p. xii).

In conclusion, Chisholm’s commentary achieves the aims of this series admirably. He is a scholar of high caliber and is a well-established expert on the entire corpus of the Former Prophets. Pastors, students, and others wanting to become grounded in the message of 1&2 Samuel will benefit greatly from this commentary. I used it for my own 1&2 Samuel class this past semester and will continue to do so in the future. I heartily recommend it to others.

(I am grateful to Baker Books for providing this copy of 1&2 Samuel, Teach the Text Commentary Series, in exchange for a balanced review).

My Review of Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes

misreading scriptureMisreading Scripture With Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders To Better Understand The Bible, E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2012.

As an American, I thought I knew England. After all, I had visited the UK on three occasions. However, when my wife and I moved to England a little over ten years ago, we realized that we had settled into a very different culture. Many have had the experience of being offended or bewildered by the words or actions of a person from a different culture. This is not because that person intentionally sought to offend or bewilder us, but because two people with different culturally conditioned mindsets viewed the same words or actions differently. Our experience with Scripture can be similar. Richards and O’Brien, the authors of, Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes, state, “We can easily forget that Scripture is a foreign land and that reading the Bible is a crosscultural experience” (p. 11). One of their stated goals is “to remind (or convince!), [us] of the cross-cultural nature of biblical interpretation” (p. 12). The authors note that we all carry cultural assumptions which we may not even be aware of––in their words things that “go without being said.” The result can be, “When we miss what went without being said for them [i.e., the biblical authors] and substitute what goes without being said for us, we are at risk of misreading Scripture” (authors’ emphasis, p. 13).

Using the illustration of an iceberg, Richards and O’Brien break their book down into three parts as they explore nine differences between Western and non-Western cultures (3 differences in each section). Part One, the tip of the iceberg represents the cultural differences that are most obvious. Part Two involves cultural assumptions which are just below the surface––they “are visible once you know to look for them” (p. 16). Part Three examines the bottom of the iceberg. These are “cultural issues that are not obvious to all” (p. 16). Readers of New Testament Background material will be familiar with some of these topics such as Individualism and Collectivism (chap. 4), or Honor and Shame (chap. 5). Having previously read Bruce Malina’s The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology, and David deSilva’s Honor, Patronage, Kinship, & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture, I wondered if I was simply going to go over familiar territory on these topics, but Richards’ and O’Brien’s approach is fresh and insightful, frequently suggesting a new route for understanding and applying a difficult verse or passage.

The authors frequently bring their own cross-cultural knowledge to bear. Richards was a missionary to Indonesia and shares some of his experiences there, demonstrating how an eastern culture often has a different perspective on an action or a biblical verse. O’Brien’s wife grew up in southeast Asia and he confesses to drawing on her understandings as a “third-culture kid” (his expression, p. 219), as well as the understandings of friends from other cultures. He also brings his knowledge of Church history to the topic. O’Brien does not mention any experience living in an eastern cultural setting however, and even with Richards’ experience in Indonesia, one can question if everything in Indonesian culture transfers directly to biblical culture.

Many chapters do offer valuable insights and interesting anecdotes. One example of this is chapter 6 entitled, “Sand Through the Hourglass.” This chapter looks at the different perspective on time between eastern and western cultures. Although people may be aware that different cultures view time differently, it may never have occurred to the average Bible reader just how their concept of time affects their interpretation of what they read. The authors point out that our concept of time affects everything from our understanding of the use of wisdom and the interpretation of proverbs, to our understanding of how biblical books were composed. For example, the western reader usually comes with the supposition that a narrative will follow chronological order. It is often confusing when we find things in Scripture that do not follow our preconceived ideas of time. The authors note that eastern cultures do not have the same preoccupation with chronology that westerners do. Richards point out “that telling stories for Indonesians is often more like making a soup: some ingredients had a specific timing, but the other elements just needed to be added in sometime” (pp. 147-148). This different understanding of time also attaches itself to the meaning of the word “soon.” When a man told friends he was having a banquet “soon,” it carried a different meaning for someone in antiquity, than it does for a modern westerner.  This made me think of Jesus’ statement, “Surely I am coming quickly” (Rev. 22:20), and how we as westerners can attach a different meaning to the idea of “quickly.”

There are, however, a few things to quibble with in this book. One example is the author’s discussion of honor and shame in chapter 5. There is no doubt that honor and shame is a major cultural difference between western culture and the cultures reflected in Scripture. Understanding this dynamic has opened my eyes to many things recorded in Scripture. However, the authors maintain that in an honor and shame culture all actions are predicated on what is acceptable or not acceptable to that culture. Guilt plays no part; it is all about losing or saving face (p. 118). Their interpretation of the David and Bathsheba story, which they give as an illustration, raises certain questions which the authors do not satisfactorily address. According to their understanding, once Uriah was killed and David took Bathsheba as his wife, he would have considered the matter resolved and “it is likely that David never gave it another thought” (p. 125). My question is, “Isn’t the king supposed to know God’s law? (Deut. 17:18-20). Wouldn’t David be familiar with commandments like, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery?” (Exod. 20:13-14). In other words, does it really take a prophet (Nathan) to come and tell David these things are shameful when God has already spelled out that certain actions are displeasing to Him? Similarly, how does Nathan come to this conclusion if society is saying it’s alright for kings to act this way, as the authors maintain? The Bible clearly demonstrates that God’s law informs what is honorable and what is shameful in Israelite society. All one has to do is read any of the prophets to see that they constantly take their society to task for violations of God’s law. If the group was the measure of honor and shame, this wouldn’t be the case. Richards and O’Brien have made a serious error by ignoring this aspect of Scripture.

For readers unfamiliar with the cultural values of the ancient Mediterranean world, it might be helpful to read some introductory material such as that provided by David A. deSilva in his An Introduction to the New Testament (pp. 111-144), but Richards’ and O’Brien’s book is imminently readable, and therefore suitable for the beginning student of a New Testament Backgrounds course, or a course on Hermeneutics. As noted above, this book is not perfect, but it certainly provides food for thought. Pastors and teachers of the Bible would do well to familiarize themselves with the material in Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, as we have all too frequently made some of the mistakes recorded in this book. Ultimately, the authors’ purpose is more laudable than simply saying, “look at the way you’ve misrepresented Scripture,” their desire is to make us aware of the presuppositions that we approach Scripture with. Particularly those presuppositions which are culturally conditioned and, therefore, easily overlooked. As the authors state, “We are not implying that all our Western reading habits are wrong….We want to unsettle you just enough that you remember biblical interpretation is a cross-cultural experience and to help you become aware of what you take for granted when you read” (pp. 21-22). No matter where you may have travelled, the authors of Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes will take you on a journey that’s worth the trip.

(This copy was provided free of charge by IVP Press in exchange for an unbiased review)

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