Amos, N. Scott. ed. Joshua, Judges, Ruth. RCS. IVP Academic, 2020.
The breadth and depth of commentaries available to us are astounding. There are exegetical, homiletical, pastoral, devotional, textual, and grammatical commentaries. There are commentaries on cultural backgrounds and historical context, not to mention biblical context and a host of others. And the beauty is that almost every one of these has at least something helpful to offer the church. We should be thankful for good commentaries. And here’s a new one to add to the shelf, the Reformation Commentary on Scripture: Joshua, Judges, and Ruth. Edited by N. Scott Amos (PhD, University of St. Andrews), this is volume four in the Reformation Commentary on Scripture Old Testament series from IVP Academic. The Reformation Commentary on Scripture has four stated goals for exposing modern readers to the writings of the Reformation. 1. To enrich our contemporary interpretation of Scripture 2. To enrich our contemporary preaching 3. To enrich our understanding of the Reformation 4. To enrich Christian scholarship To be clear, this commentary meets these goals. You will find that Amos has performed a wonderful service by selecting and categories the best of the writings of the Reformation. This collection of excerpts of primary sources will assist the careful reader with interpretation, preaching, scholarship, and in their overall understanding of the Reformation. So here’s what you will find when you crack the cover. The layout is intuitive. Scripture is presented pericope by pericope so readers can have the ESV text right in front of them without having to simultaneously read from their Bibles. After the periscope, a helpful and concise summary follows that pulls together the major threads of the reformers’ comments. And then you get the actual comments from the reforms arranged under their topical headings. The introductory material throughout is quite good. The general introduction to the series, the introduction to this volume, and the introductions to each book are all helpful and interesting in their own right. Understanding the Reformation is nice, and this book will no doubt help you do it. But, ultimately, my primary interest is how this book can help me study and teach God’s Word. What does it offer for the preacher and Bible student? A pretty wide breadth of benefit actually. Personally, I was most interested in what this commentary has to say on the book of Ruth. I’ve been preaching through this book and thought this might be helpful for the business of sermon crafting. And what I found is that the reformers were asking a lot of the same questions in their day that we’re asking in ours. There’s an awareness of some of the same interpretive difficulties such as ironing out the genealogy at the end of the book. There’s some creative problem solving as seen in an interesting theory on the significance of the sandal. Some issues are more obscure than others. For example, “Did Ruth Give Thanks to God for Her Food?” (500). I don’t think I ever would have thought to ask that. This is a question I might expect one of my children to ask me. But Edward Topsell asked. And his ruminations are actually pretty edifying. I was impressed with the rich understanding of God’s Word these men possessed. And was equally impressed with their clear desire to make it clear to others for the edification of the church and the glory of God. As to be expected, you’ll encounter some heavy allegorical and typological interpretations. Take, for instance, the view of Martin Borrhaus “The Harvest of the Gospel Prefigured” (ironically, again on p. 500). The harvesters are apostles, the harvest symbolizes the spread of the gospel, Ruth is the gleanings. Allegorical stuff like that is a bit much for my interpretive sensibilities, although it does open a window through which we can see reformation exegesis. In short, this would be a resource I would gladly turn to after I’ve done my own exegesis. I’m not even Reformed. But we should all be able to see the wisdom in considering the contributions of men throughout history who lived, breathed, and mulled over God’s Word. Amos has done us a great service by preserving the fruits of their labor. Thanks to IVP Academic for providing me with a digital review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work. [Full Review]
Hixson, Elijah; Gurry, Peter J. eds.Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism. IVP Academic, 2019.
Introduction To introduce a book review with another book, when Carlo Levi arrives in a remote Italian town, as recounted in Christ Stopped at Eboli, he finds dismal provisions for the medical care of the townspeople. Although there are two local doctors, neither has made any effort to keep up with the advances of modern medicine. So Levi, with his more up-to-date medical training, steps in to provide the people with better healthcare. I will say that Elijah Hixson and Peter Gurry have performed a similar service by editing this needed volume: Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism. They and their accompanying host of enlisted contributors address the outdated, wrong, and often misleading information frequently cited by apologists, popular-level, and even academic Christian writers. These scholars have stepped in to do for our understanding of textual criticism what Carolo Levi did for the healthcare of his fellow Italians. But instead of bad medicine, the shoddy state of affairs they address concerns manuscripts, copying, translation, citation, and canonization. But don’t assume this book is a mere compendium of iconoclasm penned by young upstarts. The contributors to this volume are zealous to identify error because they have a deep concern for the truth. And after dispelling myths, they demonstrate how the truth alone is capable of providing a strong defense. In reality, if we continue to propagate errors, we’re doing more of a disservice to the faith than a defense. The Contents Myths and Mistakes covers a lot of ground. There are fifteen chapters in all, fourteen of which each address a specific category of myths. If you pick up a copy of this book, you’ll find each chapter concludes with a few handy bullet points that summarize the key takeaways. But as I was working my way through the book, I made a few notes to try and sum up my impressions of each chapter. Here’s what I came up with. 1. INTRODUCTION Christians should be accurate and honest with their apologetic arguments. Using wrong information only weakens our cause. 2. MYTHS ABOUT AUTOGRAPHS: WHAT THEY WERE AND HOW LONG THEY MAY HAVE SURVIVED Research into the publication of autographs and the distribution of copies supports a stable textual transmission. 3. MATH MYTHS: HOW MANY MANUSCRIPTS WE HAVE AND WHY MORE ISN’T ALWAYS BETTER We don’t have 25,000 New Testament manuscripts. There are approximately 5,300 Greek New Testament manuscripts. They are not all complete copies of the New Testament, and they are not all early. 4. MYTHS ABOUT CLASSICAL LITERATURE: RESPONSIBLY COMPARING THE NEW TESTAMENT TO ANCIENT WORKS The numbers used to compare New Testament manuscripts with classical works such as Caesar’s Gaelic Wars, Plato, and Homer are wrong. We still have lots of copies of the New Testament, but our better arguments for reliability come from textual criticism, not the sheer number of manuscripts. 5. DATING MYTHS, PART ONE: HOW WE DETERMINE THE AGES OF MANUSCRIPTS Dating manuscripts isn’t easy or foolproof. You can only be so specific, so it would be best to use a broader date range of fifty to one hundred years. 6. DATING MYTHS, PART TWO: HOW LATER MANUSCRIPTS CAN BE BETTER MANUSCRIPTS Don’t throw the Byzantine out with the bathwater. Older isn’t necessarily better. Late manuscripts can still contain early readings. 7. MYTHS ABOUT COPYISTS: THE SCRIBES WHO COPIED OUR EARLIEST MANUSCRIPTS Scribes were actually pretty good at their job, giving us good reason to be confident in the accurate transmission of the text. 8. MYTHS ABOUT COPYING: THE MISTAKES AND CORRECTIONS SCRIBES MADE Scribes still made mistakes. There really isn’t a lot of evidence they made theologically-motivated changes. And they often did their best to correct their work. 9. MYTHS ABOUT TRANSMISSION: THE TEXT OF PHILEMON FROM BEGINNING TO END Variants have value, even when they are not determined to be part of the initial text. 10. MYTHS ABOUT VARIANTS: WHY MOST VARIANTS ARE INSIGNIFICANT AND WHY SOME CAN’T BE IGNORED Most variants don’t matter all that much, but some do. 11. MYTHS ABOUT ORTHODOX CORRUPTION: WERE SCRIBES INFLUENCED BY THEOLOGY, AND HOW CAN WE TELL? There is variation in the text. Theologically motivated variation is undoubtedly possible. Yet it’s often tough to know for sure, and it does not undermine the stability of our well-attested text. 12. MYTHS ABOUT PATRISTICS: WHAT THE CHURCH FATHERS THOUGHT ABOUT TEXTUAL VARIATION Don’t even think about trying to reconstruct the New Testament with patristic writings. They’re valuable for giving us a window into transmission history, though. 13. MYTHS ABOUT CANON: WHAT THE CODEX CAN AND CAN’T TELL US Codex does not determine or reflect canon. Canon is understood through the canon lists. The codex can be interpreted in light of the canon lists too. 14. MYTHS ABOUT EARLY TRANSLATIONS: THEIR NUMBER, IMPORTANCE, AND LIMITATIONS Early translations can be useful for noting the absence or presence of large variation units, not those of a smaller scale that can’t be accurately detected in a translation. Our number of early translation manuscripts is smaller than traditionally stated too. 15. MYTHS ABOUT MODERN TRANSLATIONS: VARIANTS, VERDICTS, AND VERSIONS Textual criticism affects those reading the Scriptures in translation differently than you might expect. (Bonus points for using the word indubitably.) Overall Takeaways Those are the key takeaways I came away with for each chapter. Overall, I would say the major accomplishment of this book is defending the reliability of the New Testament. Sure, there are lots of manuscripts (less than Christians might think), but still, there are a lot. And there are lots of variants. But for whatever myth is being tackled in a particular chapter, there is never a conclusion that brings the reliability of Scripture into question. Quite the opposite. Something else mentioned in this book that often gets lost on moderns like us is that what we call manuscripts were people’s Bibles. These were the Scriptures which God, in His providence, gave them to read. And there’s this great quote in the book from Stephen Neill, who said, “Indeed, I think it is no exaggeration to say that the very worst Greek manuscript now in existence…contains enough of the Gospel in unadulterated form to lead the reader into the way of salvation.” Amen. Conclusion When it comes to negatives, I don’t have a whole lot to say. The only typo I noticed was in footnote 13 on page 114, where Kirsopp Lake is introduced with the definite article. (Not that he doesn’t deserve it.) Perhaps there could have been a bit more deconfliction to avoid some of the overlap in covering individual textual variants. The repetition of the infamous Mark 1:1 variant in several chapters is a bit much. And perhaps a final conclusion would have been a nice way to end things. The final chapter on modern translations kind of serves as a way to tie things together by considering the end-user of textual criticism, but I found the ending abrupt. And the chapter felt a bit out of place in that it was aimed more at the textual critic than the apologist. In conclusion, this isn’t a book just for specialists, although they would enjoy it. It’s a book that a general reader could work through and benefit from. But ultimately, I hope the church will benefit from a trickle-down effect as this book brings to light just how outdated and often plain wrong much of the information bandied about actually is. The commonly used statistics and arguments are often incorrect and misleading. And those writing material defending the Bible, continue to rehash this bad information they are simply taking from sources they trust. Hopefully, Myths and Mistakes will serve as a guide to correct and update these errors. Perhaps editors at Christian publishing houses will read this book too so they can quash the problems being perpetuated in print that this book brings to light. [Full Review]
Exegetical Gems from Biblical Greek: A Refreshing Guide to Grammar and Interpretation. Eerdmans, 2019.
“Use it or lose it” doesn’t just apply to corporate budgets, Flexible Spending Accounts, and high school Spanish (¡Lo siento Señora LaRosa!). It’s the well-known reality of many with a few semesters of Greek under their belt. So here’s a book for anyone who wants to sharpen their biblical Greek skills. In Exegetical Gems from Biblical Greek: A Refreshing Guide to Grammar and Interpretation, Benjamin L. Merkle has provided a wonderful help for those working with the language of the New Testament. Students who aren’t sure what a periphrastic participle is will find an excellent summary and explanation. Pastors who aren’t sure what the significance of a periphrastic participle in a passage such as Matt. 18:18 is will find an excellent overview and detailed example. Think of it as a hybrid of David Alan Black’s It’s Still Greek to Me: An Easy-to-Understand Guide to Intermediate Greek and the two recent Zondervan volumes of Devotions on the Greek New Testament edited by Paul N. Jackson. Every chapter focuses on a single aspect of syntax and applies it to one passage of Scripture to demonstrate some exegetical payoff in each of these “gems.” It’s easy to digest. It’s spiritually edifying. It’s interesting to read. As Merkle applies a single point of grammar to a single exegetical question in each of the thirty-five short chapters, readers will be encouraged to see the benefit of putting the language of the New Testament to work. For an example of one of these exegetical gems, chapter seven deals with accusative case. And the accusative-bearing passage under consideration is Rom. 10:9 (“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”). The questions is: what exactly are we supposed to confess? Are we supposed to “confess that Jesus is Lord”? Or should we “confess Jesus as Lord”? Or maybe we’re supposed to “confess the Lord Jesus”? After posing the question, Merkle moves to grammar and defines the accusative case in this way: “The accusative case is considered the case of limitation since it often limits the action of a verb.” He then provides an overview of the different New Testament uses of the accusative before returning to his initial question dealing with Rom. 10:9. We learn that one of the keys to understanding Rom. 10:9 is that it contains a double accusative construction, where the verb (“confess”) takes two direct objects to complete its meaning. Out of the two accusatives in this verse, “Jesus” is the object and “Lord” is the complement. What all this ultimately means is that Paul is saying in Rom. 10:9 that we must confess that “Jesus is Lord.” If you’re Greek is rusty, this chapter is admittedly easier to understand after you’ve read the earlier chapter on the nominative case that explains a subject-predicate nominative construction. Some of the explanations understandably build on what has been discussed earlier on in the book. Merkle’s summary and explanation are helpful. This chapter, along with the others, do exactly what they’re intended to do—they refresh, teach, and encourage. The bottom line is that it’s hard not to be enthusiastic about a book intended to keep folks in their Greek. A few of the exegetical gems are a bit old hat, such as the anarthrous nominative θεὸς in John 1:1 and the ἔχομεν vs. ἔχωμεν text-critical question in Rom 5:1, but every chapter is still engaging and informative. Sure, you can find scholarly treatments of all of these questions in good commentaries, but Merkle has provided a wonderful service by collecting them into a guide, where each one illustrates a different point of syntax. There are even some chapters addressing topics you might not expect to find in a book on grammar such as context, word studies, exegetical fallacies, discourse analysis, and diagramming. And something I only noticed when going back through this book is that its contents are arranged to follow the order of the recent reference grammar Going Deeper in with New Testament Greek. This is a volume I’ve also read, and one Benjamin Merkle also contributed too. It’s a good one to read if you enjoy reading about Greek. And if you’ve been blessed with a few semesters of Greek, hopefully, that includes you! So if you’re looking for a place to start, there’s none better than this. Because of its short chapters, this is a perfect book to leave on your desk so you can read one chapter each day. The challenge is to make sure you’re actually reading Greek, too, and not just about Greek. So why not do both? Try and make it a daily habit to read in Greek from the GNT or LXX and read about Greek using books such as this excellent guide. [Full Review]