Going Old Testament on Mark: a book review

Mark Through Old Testament Eyes is the inaugural volume of the new¬† “Through Old Testament Eyes” Background and Application Commentary series from Kregel Academic. Andrew Le Peau is the series editor and author of this volume. The commentary examines ways Mark¬†utilized imagery, allusions and his literary structure to illuminate aspects and themes drawn from the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Old Testament.

Le Peau was a longtime associate publisher for editorial at InterVarsity Press and author of several of IVP’s LifeGuide Bible Studies, co-author of¬†Heart, Soul, Mind, Strength:¬†An Anecdotal History of InterVarsity Press, 1947-2007.¬†He is currently an editor and writer living in the Chicago area.

9780825444111Mark Through Old Testament Eyes is made up of four repeating features :

  • a verse-by-verse or paragraph-by-paragraph running commentary on the text of Mark, discussing Old Testament background, the text as a whole and questions that may arise from the text.
  • periodic ‘Through Old Testament Eyes’ summaries which give a bigger picture of how Mark makes use of Old Testament themes and motifs.
  • sections on ‘what the structure means’ that discuss the context, literary structure, and imagery.
  • ‘Going Deeper’ sections that unpack the implications of Mark’s gospel for how we ought to live(10, these features will be consistent throughout the series).

Le Peau explores the links between Jesus in Mark’s Gospel and the Exodus, Moses, the Jewish Temple, and Israel’s Messianic hopes and the various ways Christ recapitulated¬†Jewish symbols and practices around himself.¬†As this is a “Background commentary,” it doesn’t address every question in the text. Le Peau doesn’t explore in-depth links between Mark and the other Synoptics, John or the later New Testament. Yet, because Mark (and other New Testament¬†writers) built on and inhabited the Old Testament thought-world, the focus of this commentary (and series) illuminates the text well.

Several features of this commentary resonate with me personally. First, I was a student leader in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship when I was in college. There I learned to study the gospels in the context of investigative Bible studies and manuscript studies. Manuscript studies involved examining books of the Bible with the paragraphs and verse markings taken out. In the context of community, we would examine the passage, look for structural breaks, figures of speech, repeated words, phrases and themes, and contrasting¬†elements in the text. Paul Byer was an InterVarsity staff member who pioneered the “Manuscript” study on Mark in the 1950s, Le Peau has taught Mark through manuscript studies with InterVarsity for the past fifteen years. When I read the ‘what does the structure mean’ sections of this commentary, I felt like I was on the similar ground to¬†the ways I’ve been taught to engage the text fruitfully.

Secondly, the approach of looking to the Old Testament in order to properly understand the allusions, images, and intent of the New Testament, is very much the approach taken in my training in biblical studies. Rick Watts, who wrote¬†Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark¬†(Baker Academic, 1997) and the Mark section of the¬†Commentary on¬† the New Testament Use of the Old Testament¬†(Baker Academic, 2007), provides the general outline and themes Mark’s¬†New Exodus¬†which Le Peau follows (329, n. 11). Watts was my New Testament professor in seminary. So once again I feel I was on the similar ground.

Third, this book is just interestingly written. Le Peau introduction begins with an explorations of the way the¬†Toy Story¬†trilogy pays homage to¬†Star Wars¬†in allusions, references, and characters, and how¬†Star Wars¬†itself alludes to earlier films and history (12-16) This ‘family film criticism’ gives Le Peau a way to talk about Mark’s use of Old Testament themes: Exodus and Isaiah. The commentary itself doesn’t have these kinds of pop-cultural references, but several of the ‘going deeper’ sections relate stories from church history, contemporary Christians, case studies and Le Peau’s own life. It makes this an interesting read for a commentary, which readers of commentaries everywhere understand, that is no small thing.

This is not a technical commentary and Le Peau stays away from linguistic and biblical studies jargon. When he does use technical terms (e.g. chiasm) these are clearly defined and described, so that non-scholars can understand, and Le Peau perfers a more accessible term (such as sandwiching) to technical terms (such as ‘inclusio’)(20). Le Peau does not include long streams of Greek syntax or highly technical, text-critical debates. So, for example, in his discussion of Mark’s structure and the longer ending of Mark (16:9-20), he bases his conclusions on a close reading of the text‚ÄĒ where it differs in content, style, and use of the Old Testament, from the rest of Mark’s gospel (300). He does not cite evidence from the Church Fathers or ancient manuscripts.

Le Peau also notes some of the political tensions in Mark. Mark’s Jesus is in direct conflict with Satan and his demons, but underlying the spiritual conflict is also Jesus’ opposition to the structures and institutions of his day. For example, his comments on Jesus’ first miracle, casting out a demon in a Capernaum synagogue (Mark 1:21-28), Le Peau comments, “What, we may well ask, is an evil spirit is[sic] doing in the synagogue in the first place? This suggests that the established religion of the Jews has become corrupted, setting the stage for the further tensions between Jesus and the Jewish leaders we will see in Mark” (47).¬† Elsewhere, he notes how ‘the nearness of Kingdom of God’ implies a move beyond ‘personal salvation’ toward the corporate care of the poor and oppressed (40-41). I did feel at times, he could have explored the political/social implications a little more than he did, but I was glad to see, he was cognizant of these dimensions to Mark.

On a whole, this is a solid commentary, which will helpful for teachers, preachers, and students of Mark. I give this four stars. – ‚ėÖ ‚ėÖ ‚ėÖ ‚ėÖ

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from Kregel Academic in exchange for my honest review.

Hebrews and James, Reformation Style: a book review

Until now, I had not read any of the commentaries in the IVP¬†Reformation Commentary on Scripture series. My interest in the theological interpretation and historical theology usually drives me to a much earlier era. I love the Desert Fathers and patristics and have spent some time with the¬†Ancient Christian Commentary¬†series.¬† However, my interest was piqued by the lastest Reformation Commentary volume, edited by Roland Rittgers, in part because of the celebration of the Reformation’s quincentennial, and partly because volume XIII, examines the books of Hebrews and James.

2976I love these two epistles, yet Martin Luther had a lower estimation of them.¬† Luther liked Hebrews, though he did not place it on the same footing with apostolic teaching (3). He regarded it as a¬†non-Pauline epistle, but he did think the author of Hebrews was at least a disciple of the Apostles, and Luther’s lectures on Hebrews (1517-1518), influenced and impacted his maturing Reformation theology (pp.¬†xliii-xliv). James, on the other hand, he regarded as an epistle of straw, “with nothing of the nature of the gospel about it” (200). Despite Luther’s opinion of these books, other Reformers were more charitable in their assessments, many regarding the former as Pauline, and the latter as apostolic and authoritative.

The¬†Reformation Commentary on Scripture¬†follows much the same format as the¬†Ancient Christian Commentary¬†does. Each book is broken up into sections by¬†pericope, with verse by verse (or paragraph by paragraph) commentary drawn from the writings of various reformers. The first thing I noticed was the breadth of voices which Rittgers includes. There were Catholic reformers and Christian humanists, (e.g. Gasparo Contarini, Desiderius Erasmus, Thomas More), Lutherans, Calvinists (e.g. John Calvin, Theodore Beza), Swiss Reformed (e.g., Heinrich Bullinger, Huldrych Zwingli) Anglicans, Puritans, and Radical Reformers (e.g. Menno Simons, Dirk Philips, Melchoir Hoffman).¬† Jacobus Arminius provides a counter-voice to some of the hardline Calvinist comments on Hebrews. Given the era, the voices included were mostly male, though Rittgers does include a sole entry from Marguerite of Navarre (104-105).¬† Some of these commentators were familiar to me. Many were not. There is an appendix with “Biographical Sketches or Reformation-Era Figures and Works” which profiles most of the references included here (though curiously doesn’t profile Edward Dering, who comments extensively on¬†Hebrews but lucky for me there is Wikipedia).

Often the differences of opinion between the Reformers fall predictably along the hardened denominational lines of latter days. The Reformers wrestled with Hebrew’s apparent teaching that we can lose our salvation. Anabaptist commentators like Derek spoke forcibly of the forcibly of the need for excommunicating false believers (82). The Protestants loved what Hebrews says about the supremacy of Christ, but went to great pains to show, against Catholic sacramental theology, that Christ is not sacrificed again in the mass, but once alone for our sin (see, for example, Johannes Bugenhagen’s comments on Heb 9:11-12. p 125). In dealing with James, Lutherans, in general, were less sunny toward the epistle as Luther had been, whereas magisterial Reformers, and Anglicans regarded it much more favorably.

I read through this commentary in about a week’s time. There is enough here that is devotional. The Reformers read the Bible with an eye toward what it meant in life. Their comments are¬†pre-critical¬†in the sense that they do not occupy themselves with sources, literary form or the text’s setting in life. They are much more concerned about explicating what the implications of these epistles are for the lives of the faithful. This isn’t to say that they were unaware of debates about issues like authorship, but their answers were meant to either give weight to either the text or their critique of the epistles’ theology. As theological interpreters, they read the Bible in a Christocentric way.¬† Hebrews especially send the Reformers back over the Old Testament, looking for the ways the Hebrew Bible testifies of Christ. James’ critique of favoritism and partiality toward the rich, mirrored the era’s critique of corruption in the Church.They were serious readers. They engaged the words on the page.

It is fruitful to read commentaries from people outside of our own era. The sixteenth-century Reformers had their own blind spots and weren’t privy to some of the critical insights we have today. Yet their God-focused, Christ-centered interpretative tradition shaped our theological traditions. Rittgers has compiled an accessible entry point into their theology. I give this commentary four stars. – ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from IVP Academic in exchange for my honest review.

A Commentary on the Psalms: a book review

I’m enthusiastic about the Kregel Exegetical Library. ¬†I have read several volumes from the series and have been impressed by its depth and its usefulness for expository preaching. The first volume I ever read, was Allen Ross’s¬†A Commentary on the¬†Psalms: Volume 1, which in addition to providing solid commentary and textual notes for book one of the Psalms, also provided a superb introduction to Psalm’s literary genres and Hebrew poetics. ¬†In¬†Volume 2,¬†Ross explored books two and three of the Psalms.¬†With¬†A Commentary on the Psalms: Volume 3,¬†¬†Ross completes his journey through the Psalter, this time exploring books four and five (Ps 90-150).

9780825426667I have been eagerly anticipating this volume. This last third of the Psalm’s have some of my favorite Psalms. I love Moses’ communal lament in Psalms 90,¬†the assurance of divine protection in Psalms 91, the joyous praise of Psalm 100, the lengthy meditation on God’s law in Psalm 119, and Psalms of Ascent, the comprehensiveness of God’s plan in Psalm 139, and the way lament is swallowed up by praise in the concluding five psalms. These are Psalms I turn to, to cement my courage and commitment to God.

I came to trust Ross‚Äôs voice when his Introducing Biblical Hebrew¬†gave me a basic understanding of Hebrew syntax. ¬†As with Allen’s other¬†Psalms¬†volumes there are a number of Hebrew word studies here, and this volume provides an index of them (including those in Volume 1 & 2).¬†Allen is conversant with the scholarly literature but¬†this commentary is accessible to the working pastor. Ross isn’t too technical but he is not light on detail either (at 1018 pages!). One-hundred-eighteen pages are devoted to a single psalm, Psalm 119, where Ross walks through each stanza in the Hebrew acrostic (by way of comparison,¬†Leslie Allen’s devotes about thirty pages to that Psalm in WBC,¬†Psalms Vol. III).¬†For each psalm, Ross provides a translation of the psalm with textual notes, a discussion of composition and context, an exegetical analysis,¬†and a discussion of the Psalm’s message and application.

The preface relays that Ross’s approach to the Psalms was shaped by a class he took in seminary which was co-taught by Bruce Waltke and Haddon Robins. Waltke graded the exegesis, Robinson graded the exposition. Ross tells us that Waltke said he didn’t think it was a good class, but the experience was transformational for Ross. He still strives to hold exegesis and exposition together in his interpretation of the Psalms (12). I appreciate the detail and passion that Ross brings to his task. This volume is a fitting conclusion to his Psalms commentary. I give this five stars.

Note: I received this from Kregel Academic in exchange for my honest review.

The Chronic: a commentary review

I find reading 1 & 2 Chronicles difficult. It isn’t the genealogies or long lists of temple attendants, musicians and¬†officials. When I encounter these in the Bible, I just read faster. My difficulty is in the narrative itself. When you read Kings, you discover the dynastic declines of Israel and Judah and a prophetic critique of the monarchy, which explains why God’s people went into exile. Chronicles tells a different tale. Kings of Judah described as evil turn out to be redeemable (i.e., David’s sins are omitted, Manasseh of Judah in II Kings 21:1‚Äď18 vs. 2 Chronicles 32:33‚Äď33:20). However the Chronicler was no mere propagandist. Eugene Merrill (professor emeritus at Dallas Theological Seminary) points out that the Chronicler’s omissions and additions are “designed to offer hope to the beleaguered community as well as issue warnings that should they fall back into the ways of their fathers they could expect the judgment of God to be repeated” (57). This means that Chronicles is less about whitewashing the errors of David and his line, and more about underscoring the ways God’s redemptive plan was operative, despite Judah’s failings.

9780825425592A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles,¬†from the Kregel Exegetical Library is another volume in an exceptional¬†series. This is a much more detailed commentary than Merrill’s early 1, 2¬†¬†Chronicles (Zondervan, 1988). Each pericope has the text in translation (the NIV), text-critical notations and a section exegesis and exposition. In Merrill’s introduction, he discusses authorship and provenance, the historical and cultural setting of both the book and the post exilic community it was written in, the literary form and genre of ‘sacred history,’ the theology, ¬†and the book’s sources.¬†In addition, there are ten excursuses which¬†take a more detailed look at theological and historical issues, a index of seven ¬†significant hymns and prayers (the Prayer of Jabez doesn’t make this list, but is treated in the commentary), and an examination of the theology of each of the nine sections.

At 636 pages, this isn’t a light commentary, but it is an accessible one. Merrill is detailed but readable. If you are interested in exploring the message of Chronicles, its theology and implications, Merrill is a fantastic guide. He highlights the hope Chronicles brought to Jews returning to Jerusalem. This commentary (like the series) represents some of the best in evangelical biblical scholarship. This will be a useful for pastors who would like to preach from Chronicles and seminarians alike. Merrill distills well the chronicler’s theology and this will be my go-to-resource for this section of scripture.¬†¬†I give this commentary five stars.

Note: I received this book from Kregel Academic in exchange for my honest review.

 

Hyde and Go Preach: a book review

Paul’s pastoral epistles are sometimes identified as his letters to Timothy and Titus, These are fruitful for pastoral leaders; however we shouldn’t jump to the false impression that the rest of Paul’s letters are non-pastoral. Most of Paul’s letters are directed to congregations he formed and pastored. Even when Paul isn’t ‘the pastor’ (as in Romans) he stll comes off pastoral. . In a new ¬†expositional commentary, ¬†From the Pen of Pastor Paul,¬†Daniel Hyde explores the pastoral implications of the books of I & II Thessalonians (one of Paul’s early church plants).

fromthepenofpastorpaul_1024x1024This isn’t a normal verse-by-verse commentary. It was born out of sermon series that Hyde delivered at¬†Oceanside United Reformed Church where Hyde pastors (he is also adjunct instructor at Mid-American Reformed Seminary and Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary). Hyde’s sermons walks through the Thessalonican correspondence, rooting his understanding of Paul in the Reformed tradition. Hyde’s chief dialogue partners include ancient preachers, medieval theologians, Reformers and the Puritans, and modern scholars like FF Bruce, and John Stott (14-15).

These aren’t fluffy-feel-good-sermons addressed to the felt needs of the congregation. Hyde simply walks through the text: warnings about false teachers, apostasy and the man of lawlessness; advice for living; wonder at the public Second Coming of Christ. I appreciated that Hyde counters contemporary ¬†eschatologies which treat Jesus’ return more as an occasion to fear than as our ultimate hope.

If I ever preach through Thessalonians, I will find this helpful; however, I didn’t find hyde an easy communicator to relate with. I like the substance of what Hyde says, but wish he took greater pains at accessibility. He moved quickly to deep theology and discussing applications without much in the way of ¬†illustration (i.e. personal anecdotes, pop-cultural references, or stories). He is more likely to underline a point by quoting Calvin or one of the Puritans than to connect his message to life. ¬†I also wish his go-to-theologians weren’t mostly ¬†dead white guys (not that there is anything wrong with that).

The expository nature of this book, makes it less useful if you are studying particular verses, but Hyde does a nice job of drawing out important themes. I give this three stars.

Note: I received this book from Cross-Focused Reviews in exchange for my honest review.

 

Braving the Waters with Acts: a commentary review

Guy Prentiss Waters has penned a new commentary on Acts from a conservative Evangelical, Reformed perspective.He is Professor of New Testament at RTS in Jackson and a teaching elder in the PCA¬†and¬†a cessationist. He wrote his Acts¬†commentary for the EP Study Commentary (series edited by John Cirrid).¬†For my part, I am more justice-minded Evangelical nurtured in the faith by Pietism and the charismatic movement. (with a healthy load of Anabaptism thrown in). ¬†But all that isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy this commentary and read it fruitfully! On¬†¬†the back cover is a gushing endorsement from D.A. Carson. I like plenty of commentaries and commentators that Carson doesn’t have much use for (N.T. Wright, for example); yet his endorsement says to me a quality and careful reading of the text and that is what I discovered as I braved these¬†Waters.

While Waters writes from a Reformed perspective, quite self consciously, he does not ¬†do so in a sectarian way. He doesn’t spill any ink arguing for the veracity of infant baptism over believers’ baptism. His doctrine of election is not the central feature to this text. Many of his doctrinal distinctives would be felt more sharply ¬†in one of the epistles than in Acts. This is a close reading of¬†Acts¬†with exposition in view. Waters draws out the meaning of the text for the preacher. This is not a technical commentary but a good mid-level commentary (with footnotes to more detailed treatments).

Where Waters’s theological heritage is most evident in the text is in the application section in each subsection (below his comments on the passage). There cites the Westminster Larger Catechism and John Calvin to warn against unfruitful speculation about the future (44). He also goes to pains in places to explain his understanding of redemptive history. His cesassionism means that he is careful to hedge the fence of Holy Writ. What we read in Acts was historical describing a moment in redemptive history. Waters argues that the outpouring of the Spirit evidenced by signs and wonders and tongues is not ‘the normative pattern of Christian experience for all generations (74). This was a unique apostolic age that died with the apostles (39).

I have more charismatic leanings than Waters and think that he overstates his case, ¬†but I applaud his attentiveness to scripture and the words on the page. He has a different theological lens he does illuminate features of the text¬†I would otherwise miss. I also appreciate that while he relegates supernatural manifestations of the Spirit to the distant past, he doesn’t treat this first century church account as ‘merely descriptive and never prescriptive.’ When he reads an evocative account in Acts, such as the life sharing in response to Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:42-47, he parses those aspects as he sees as unique to the apostolic-age (signs and wonders in v. 43) and those ¬†aspects that apply to us–namely, devotion to apostolic teaching, life sharing and evangelism (100-101).

On the whole, Waters is balanced and a careful exegete. I found plenty I disagree with, but I think he does a great job through out of capturing the Spirit’s mission in the first century. I give this commentary four stars and plan to use this further as I plan towards Pentecost.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from the publisher via Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for my honest review.

Timmy Time on the Romans Road part II: a book review

A little over a year ago, I had the opportunity to review Tim Keller’s¬†Romans 1-7 For You.¬†Tim Keller is one of my favorite pastor-theologians and where I don’t always agree with him, I am always grateful for the way he presents his theological convictions with grace and respect. In¬†Romans 1-7 For You,¬†Keller walked readers through the first seven chapters of Romans, making the case for the universal need for salvation through Jesus Christ and how the just live by faith. But the real treasure in Romans begins after these introductory chapters.

Romans 8 unfolds the mystery of life in the Spirit, our adoption as sons and how in Christ we are more than conquerors, ¬†Romans 9-11 unpack the mystery of predestination and Israel’s hope, chapter 12 tells us how to live in light of the gospel in community, chapter 13, as citizens of the state, and chapter 14-15 describe further how to care for one another and fulfill God’s mission in our world. The final chapter has a list of names of Paul’s coworkers, many of them women.

In Romans 8-16 For You, Keller explores these texts from the second half of Romans. Almost a full third of this commentary is devoted to Romans 8 (a beautiful chapter to camp in). However, Keller honors the shape of the biblical text and walks readers through each section of the text, pulling out points of interest.

Keller is more pastor than scholar and he draws heavily on such evangelical luminaries as Leon Morris, John Stott, F.F. Bruce and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. ¬†As to be expected, this is a Evangelical Reformed take on Romans, but it is written at an accessible level for pastors and lay people alike (one of goals of the series). I am especially grateful for the stress that Keller puts on Paul’s anguish for his people when he turns to his discussion on election (58). He also does a good job of emphasizing the diversity of Paul’s coworkers in Romans 16. ¬†Not being quite as Calvinist as Keller, I do have sections that I quibble with but I appreciate Keller’s attention to the text. I also favor a more Anabaptist reading of Romans 13, but probably need to dig deeper in personal study before I commit to a view.
On the whole like this volume. Serious students of Romans would want to go deeper and may make use of the commentaries he lists in his bibliography. Yet for many of us Romans, as a whole, remains opaque to us. We love to quote passages and put isolated verses to work in our evangelism, but have a difficult time tracking Paul’s argument from beginning to end. If that describes you, I commend this volume (and Keller’s early volume) to you. After all, Romans 8-16 is for you. I give this commentary four stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from the Good Book Company and Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for this honest review.

I give this commentary 4 stars