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.

Ironing Out Syntax: a book review

Most books are¬†meant to be read. Other books, like this one, help you to read. A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament is designed to “assist readers of the Greek new Testament by providing brief explanations of advanced¬† and intermediate syntactical features of the Greek text” (7). Charles Lee Irons, the current director of research administration at Charles Drew University and an ordained Presbyterian pastor, compiled this resource “to encourage students, pastors and others to devote themselves to reading large portions of Greek New Testament, and ideally, all of it” (8).

syntaxironsPicking up where parsing tools, readers editions, readers lexica, and Bible software leaves off, Irons aims to iron out difficult syntax and text critical issues. A Syntax Guide follows closely critical editions of the 27th and 28th Editions of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece.

The guide is comprehensive with more than six-hundred pages of textual notes, plus indexes. Though it is¬†not exhaustive, because Irons focuses solely on advanced issues. Some verses are skipped past without any comment and with other¬†verses, Irons¬†comments on¬†a single word or phrase. Still there is enough here to give an intermediate student of Greek an at-a-glance aid to translating and understanding the passage before her. A mid level grammar (i.e. Daniel Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics), a critical apparatus and a good lexicon will unearth all the essential lexical issues with¬†greater detail than this; however, what Irons has done is provide a quick resource for students and readers of the Greek New Testament, with references to the¬†lexicons (most often BDAG), ¬†grammars and other resources for those who want to dig deeper.

Most importantly, this is a small book‚Äďabout the¬†same size¬†of your¬†Greek New Testament.¬†You can take this and your Nestle-Aland to Starbucks and make serious headway on the text, instead of bringing a whole¬†library of heavy text books with you. ¬† Anyone who has wrestled out a translation of Greek as sermon prep, for a paper or devotionally will benefit from this resource. I give it four stars.

Note: I received this book 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.

 

Interpreting the Sticky Pages: a book review

The prophets don’t get the air play that the rest of Scripture¬†does. Isaiah gets rolled out for the holidays, Daniel is featured at at every End Times conference, Jeremiah is selectively quoted, but by and large the prophetic literature is left untouched. No ‘Book of the Twelve’ on a Sunday morning because the church does not serve Minors! ¬†Those who do try to delve into the prophets are often left confused about historical context. genre, and application.

Gary Smith is a Old Testament scholar and commentator who has dug deeply and discovered the treasures that await us in the Prophets. In¬†Interpreting the Prophetic Books: An Exegetical Handbook¬†(part of Kregel’s ‘Handbooks For Old Testament Exegesis’ series) Smith walks us through the process of interpreting the prophets well. The book is designed especially for students who are working with¬†biblical languages, but the working pastor whose Hebrew is gone with the ruach,¬†will find this a fairly accessible guide.

Smith begins in chapter one by discussing the nature of prophetic literature. Distinctive features include the temporal categories in prophecy (prophecies describing present events, prophecies about a future era, and the apocalyptic/symbolic). Smith also describes the genres of prophecies and the poetic parallelism within the prophetic literature. Chapter two explores the primary themes of each book. Chapter three identifies the things you will need for interpreting the prophets wisely. These include knowing the historical setting of each book (and Smith provides a brief overview of the pre-exilic prophets of Israel and Judah, the exilic prophets and post-exiilic), prophecy in the Ancient Near East context, awareness of text critical issues, and the best commentaries and resources at your disposal.

Chapter four is where the fun starts. Smith discusses various interpretive issues related to the prophetic literature. Including: are prophecies literary or metaphorical? Are they limited by context? Are they conditional or unconditional? Are they about the near or the far future? How the New Testament authors interpret the prophets and is their method legitimate for us? Chapters five and six describe the exegetical process for interpreting the prophets. Chapter five walks through how to ‘proclaim the text’ (interpreting with an eye for the central principle and application). Chapter six lays out a method which integrates all the earlier chapters.

I don’t expect exegetical handbooks to be exciting reading. There is too much method and too little metaphor, by the nature of the format. However I found Smith’s discuss of themes, historical backgrounds and interpretive issues to be highly interesting. I will likely refer back to this book the next time I preach or teach on the prophets. That will likely be when I roll out Isaiah for the holidays. Oh and other times to, because I really like the prophets. I think it is sad that we don’t aquatint ourselves with them more. Maybe with Smith’s guide we will. I give it four stars.

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

Preaching Preparation with Accuracy: a book review

I like reading preaching books. As a¬†regular, but rookie¬†preacher, I know I have lots to learn. Preaching books provide me with ideas on how to engage the text and present it to a congregation.¬†Preaching with Accuracy: Finding Christ Centered Big Ideas for Biblical Preaching¬†is a new book from Kregel Ministry on how to preach messages that are faithful to the Bible’s text and intent. Author Randal Pelton is a pastor and professor at Lancaster Bible College and Gordon Conwell. Pelton pairs Haddon Robinson’s ‘Big Idea’ approach with Bryan Chapell’s¬†Christ Centered¬†canonical approach. The result is a¬†‘homiletic hybrid’ which allows selected passages of scripture to control meaning while placing it in the larger frame of the Bible’s unity and the understading¬†of Christ (13).

The seven chapters of Pelton’s book provide a hands-on approach to selecting and exegeting the preaching text with attention to its main idea, its function in the wider context of the individual book or genre, and its place in the canon–the larger biblical story. The first three chapters address how to¬†approach the text. In the first chapter Pelton makes the case of the expositional (rather than topical) approach to preaching. In chapter two, he urges us towards locating the ‘big idea’ from the passage and warns¬†that preaching the ‘little ideas’ skews our understanding. In chapter three he advises us on how to select and ‘cut the text’ (decide the limits of the pericope and whether or not our passage has a ‘big idea’ of its own or if it is borrowing from the immediate context).

The rest of the book describes his method.¬†Chapter four exlains how to locate the ‘textbi’ (textual big idea). Pelton walks through how to identify the big idea in¬†various genres (and invites practical hands-on practice in relationship to particular texts). Chapter five examines the ‘conbi’ (contextual big idea)–how our text functions within the larger context of the book it belongs to. ¬†As with the text, Pelton gives helpful advice on how to determine how passage functions in its peculiar genre (i.e. a story fits into a larger narrative, laws and legal material, geneologies are also encased in narrative, epistle texts are a link in the larger¬†argument, etc). Chapter six explores the ‘canbi’ (canonical big idea)–how this work functions within the God’s story (i.e. how it relates to the story of Jesus, the canon’s center). Pelton’s final chapter explores how to use these different levels in crafting a sermon with an eye toward application.

Pelton’s argument is that accurate preaching happens when we attend to the meaning of the text, its context, and then its larger canonical frame. The order is important. By attending to the literal-historical meaning of the text first, Pelton guards our canonical/theological interpretation¬†from devolving to a shallow allegory with little resemblance to the plain-meaning of the text. But he also helps us connect the dots to the larger biblical story. I think in practice it doesn’t work as neatly as Pelton describes. Sometimes our understanding of canon or our wider theological commitments drives our understanding of an individual text (in ways we may not be aware!). Still I¬†appreciate his emphasis on making sure what we are preaching is the passage’s main idea (not our own).

This is not a book about ‘preaching.’ This is a book about the work preachers do before sitting down to craft their sermon. Pelton has little to say here about the preaching moment. He doesn’t address the sermon form (other than a couple of paragraphs on thinking of an introduction for your sermons). His focus is almost solely on sermon content rather than delivery. I think that emphasis is appropriate but it does indicate the limits of this book. If you are looking for a book which gets you to think about how to preach the Bible, attentive to the text, to its larger context and the gospel, there is a lot here for you to chew on. If you are looking for a book which will aid you to proclaim in relevant, creative ways, you will be disappointed with what you find here. That is a different topic altogether.

Still for what it does and is, it is pretty good. I read through and implemented his approach as I prepared my Sunday sermon this week. It didn’t change how I approached my text¬†significantly but it did help me organize some of my ideas. I give this book four stars.

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

A Passion for the Fatherless: a book review

James 1:27 says, “True religion is to care for widows and orphans and to keep yourself from corruption.”¬†Yet many Christians fail to care for widows and orphans. Author Daniel Bennett hones in on “care for orphans” in¬†A Passion for the Fatherless.¬†Bennett is himself an adoptive father. He and his wife Whitney have four children (the fourth, adopted) and live in central Illinois where he is the pastor of Bethany Community Church. In¬†A Passion for the Fatherless,¬†Bennett articulates a Christian theology of adoption, discusses practical considerations for those considering adoption and orphan care and offers advice on how to form a orphan ministry in your church.

In part one, Bennett begins by showing how Christian orphan care is unique because it is rooted in our desire to bring God glory first. That is, a theology of worship undergirds Bennett’s movement to the margins. Bennett argues that living for God’s Glory’s ‘ impact on our lives should be profound. There is no corner of our life that we can point to and tell him ‘hands off.’ He stands sovereign and authoritative over all realms. It is to his glory that we engage in all ministries, including orphan care” (36). In chapter two, Bennett argues that our engagement in justice ministries should be in conjunction with the gospel message, not instead of it. He faults progressive evangelicals for watering down the gospel message (41). But that doesn’t mean we aren’t called to care tangibly for the little and the least. ¬†Bennett cites God’s care for the disenfranchised ¬†in the Pentateuch (the poor, the widow, the orphan and the alien). In chapter three and four, Bennett develops a theology of adoption which reflects our own adoption as God’s children.

Part two turns directly towards practical concerns. Chapter five describes the valuable contribution missions and orphan care ministries provide. Chapter six describes ‘when not to care for orphans.’ Mostly Bennett is focusing on heart issues (though he does warn to not care for orphans if you have not counted the cost), In chapter seven he talks about ‘the greatness of ¬†godly affliction,’ ¬†which unfolds God’s purposes in suffering. Chapter eight discusses the problem of ‘Ishmael theology,’ where those feel called to adopt are paralyzed in their decision-making because of anxiety over choosing the child that is not God’s best. Chapters nine and ten begin to discuss the role of the church in orphan care ministry while Part three describe the components of orphan care and adoptive ministry in the church.

I appreciated the places in this book where Bennett unfolds his own story in caring for orphans (personally and ecclesially). I think my favorite part of the book is, part one where he unfolds a theology of adoption. This makes this book meatier than many other Christian treatments on adoption. Bennett also does a good job of addressing some of the personal issues that come up for people interested in adoption and orphan care.

Nevertheless this book fails to address orphan care and adoption systemically. Orphanages (particularly western orphanages in the majority world) fail to adequately address issues and are fraught with ethical quandaries and cultural insensitivity. It isn’t that Bennett is unaware of some the difficulties, he does offer advice for personal discernment but I wish he brought his theological lens to bear on some of the cultural and systemic issues that intersect orphan care.

I would recommend this book for any Christian interested in adoption as Bennett does a great job of setting the issue within a theological frame. Furthermore his emphasis on God’s glory as the motivation behind our work for justice is appropriate. However I recommend reading this book alongside others which explore some of the ugly side of the adoption industry (such as John Donelley’s¬†Twist of Faith). ¬†I give this book four stars: ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ

Notice of Material Connection: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

‚ô™ Movement of Jah People ‚ôę: a book review

In general, commentary series are uneven in quality. A few stand-out volumes, maybe a couple disappointments but most volumes in any given series will be. . .okay. So far, the Kregel Exegetical Library has defied my expectations. This is the fourth volume I have had the privilege to review. (I’ve read the first two volumes of Allen Ross’s Psalms Commentary, and Robert Chisholm’s Judges & Ruth. Duane Garrett’s treatment of Exodus stands up to the quality of any of these excellent volumes. If this is a sign of what is to come, then Kregel’s Exegetical Library will becomes a go-to series for pastors and critically engaged confessional scholars.

Garrett’s previous publications include¬†A Modern Grammar for Biblical Hebrew, several intermediate and critical commentaries and a monograph on the source and authorship of Genesis. He also co-edited the¬†NIV Archeological Study Bible.¬†In¬†A Commentary on Exodus,¬†Garrett brings knowledge of Egyptians history, geography and culture, helpful insights to bear on his interpretation. He provides a fresh and helpful translation which is sensitive to Hebrew poetics. After a translation (with notes) and commentary, Garrett has a¬†‘theological summary of key points ‘ for each passage. The level of detail here in translation and comments combined with Garrett’s theological insights makes this a useful commentary for the preaching pastor and student.

Garrett knows the importance of Exodus for biblical theology. Exodus is the theological center of the Old Testament. Not only does it have the exemplar episode of God’s deliverance in the Old Testament (the Exodus from Egypt), the book of the Covenant in Exodus 20-24 is central for understanding Deuteronomy, the history, prophets and writings of the Old Testament (138). Also, while Genesis tells the tale of individual patriarchs, Exodus tells the story of a people (137). Garrett does a great job of unfolding Exodus’s theological significance, especially in how it relates to the Wilderness wanderings of Israel.

Garrett’s introduction is highly technical and delves into Epyptian history and chronology, relevant geography, archaeology and language. He unfolds some of the issues in dating the Exodus and the location of the parting of Yam Sumph¬†(the ‘Red Sea’ in many English translations). General readers will find this introduction detailed and perhaps too technical, but Garrett’s commentary itself is fairly accessible.

I used this commentary while preparing a sermon from Exodus. In preparation, I translated several chapters of Exodus myself before turning to Garrett’s translation and notes. I found his translation helpful and insightful. Garrett’s exegesis was also more detailed than most other commentaries I used. I found his conclusions judicious and now consider this my favorite Exodus commentary. There are only a couple of places where I felt like Garrett didn’t answer questions that arise from the text. I give this an enthusiastic five stars: ‚ėÖ ‚ėÖ ‚ėÖ ‚ėÖ ‚ėÖ

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