Monthly Archives: September 2015

Review: The Science Book (Big Ideas Simply Explained)

Science

In high school I did pretty well in science. Earth science, physical science, chemistry, physics… I aced all of my classes. However, I’m really not good at science, and I never was. I can do the math, and I could remember the facts (though I despised chemistry), but I was never particularly skilled at science. It didn’t pique my interest. And honestly, it still doesn’t. I have a very hard time remember how just about anything science-related works. Weather patterns? Atmospheric conditions? Plant ecology? The only time I ever enjoyed biology was when we talked about the animals. At least they had names and faces I was familiar with.

Not like the Amoeba Boys.

I’m not familiar with topics on cellular structure. Really, how many people remember the parts that make up a flagellum?

8 Years

Since it’s been 8 years since I’ve had a high school science class (7 years for university, but nonetheless…), I thought it would be good to pick up a book like this. For me, I’d like to know more about science, and I need the big ideas to be broken down into bite sized pieces.

This book by DK Publishers is a hardback survey of scientific thought from 600 BC – the present day. Like The Philosophy Book, this isn’t written from a Christian worldview. So depending on your worldview, you’re going to disagree with some of the entries here (e.g., An Evolutionary Link Between Birds and Dinosaurs [172], Life is Not a Miracle [274]). But that’s the nature of science books and religion. It’s to be expected that you won’t (or might not) agree with every article. No matter, this is still a good compilation of scientific ideas from across the millennia. Here, you’re reading about what a particular person’s thought was. Even if many people disagreed with it, it either stood the test of time or it was a gateway to discovering a better view.

Layout

There are four pages of introduction, beginning with the scientific method. “A logical system for the scientific process was first put forward by the English philosopher Francis Bacon in the early 17th century. Building on the work of the Arab scientist Alhazen 600 years earlier… Bacon’s scientific method requires scientists to make observations, form a theory to explain what is going on, and then conduct an experiment to see whether the theory works” (12). It goes through a discussion of the first scientists in the ancient Greek world, stargazers in India, China, and the Mediterranean, the birth of modern science, atoms, infinity, and the secrets to life. After this the book turns to its 108 entries on scientific thinking.

Some of the the well-known scientists here (ones I know of) are Archimedes, Copernicus, Bacon, Boyle, Newton, Ben Franklin, Joule, Darwin, Mendeleev, Rutherford, Einstein, Schrödinger (though his cat may be more famous), Hubble, and Hawking to name a few. Here, everyone gets one entry, which gives room for al to of other names I haven’t heard of, which is a plus. Current and post-high school/university students ought to know the people who came up with the grand ideas of many of the simple things we use today, day in and day out.

Some entries are one page, while others (Einstein) are up to six pages (really 8 pages, but two pages are pictures). Essentially, what this series does is it takes the big scientific ideas and simplify them for the layman audience. With most entries (namely, the longer ones) you get the name (Albert Einstein [214]), you get an gray shaded In Context box which gives you the Branch (Physics) and the thoughts of others before and after Einstein. There’s another coloured box that gives a some biographical details of Einstein’s life, along with his Key Works. There are two quote boxes here, both from Einstein (“The grand aim of all science is to cover the greatest number of empirical facts by logical deduction from the smallest number of hypotheses or axioms”). Usually there are thought bubble-squares that point to other thought bubble-squares, showing the progression of Einstein’s thoughts. For example,

  • If the speed of light through a vacuum is unchanging…
  • —> And the laws of physics appear the same to all observers…
  • —> Then there can be no absolute time or space…
  • —> Observers in relative motion to each other experience space and time differently…
  • —> Special relativity shows that there is no absolute simultaneity

Now just picture them as much better looking coloured bubble-squares.

There is a See Also section referring you to other thinkers in the book. And often there are pictures of some form. Here, the pictures help to give you a visual idea of how light, relativity, and gravity correspond.

Recommended?

If you have an interest in science but you don’t know where to start, this book is a good primer. I haven’t immersed myself in much science after high school and university, and, like The Philosophy Book, I don’t have (m)any ‘beginner’-recommendations, but I find the layout of this volume to be very good.  All in all it’s a stimulating book that does a good job of showing you the main idea and how to see the main idea through pictures (which, really, is what every book should have. Right?). The downside of this book for me, compared to The Philosophy Book, is that I found the entries here much harder to understand. However, as I’ve stated before I don’t have the science mind. So with reading even these entries in this book, it takes me some time to understand what’s going on. So before you buy the book, look at the table of contents. The book doesn’t so much explain how the atmosphere works, or how clouds work, or how the structure of a cell is built. Rather, it shows the concepts, ideas, and inventions of great thinkers and how they contributed to the science we have today. If you or your kid enjoy all things science, then this book is well recommended.

Lagniappe

  • Series: Big Ideas Simply Explained
    Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: DK (July 21, 2014)

Buy it on Amazon!

[Special thanks to DK US for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book].

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Review: The Philosophy Book (Big Ideas Simply Explained)

philosophy

In both high school and university I had no particular interest in philosophy. I didn’t have any classes on it, and learning about it seemed to be a waste of time. My time. In Bible College my Apologetics teacher (actually, both of them) had degrees in Philosophy. One at least had a Master’s, if not a PhD, and the other was working on his PhD. When I first took Apologetics (when you fail the quizzes and you don’t write the full final paper, you tend to have to take classes again), my teacher took a different approach than what I expected. He didn’t look at the science of things, but looked at the worldview of the Bible, and incorporated philosophy into the class. This was where I was introduced to Francis Schaeffer, for we had to read Escape From Reason. Still, having had no prior exposure to philosophical thinking, Schaeffer made some really good points, but I couldn’t understand a thing he said (hence the above failing of the quizzes). It wasn’t until I read volume one of his Complete Works [http://amzn.to/1hJlGxR] the next semester that some things started to click.

Because of my teacher, philosophy became a little less dreadful, and because of Schaeffer I saw that it could be understood and even interesting inside a Christian framework. What also would have helped… is pictures. And The Philosophy Book. This book by DK Publishers is a nice, hardback survey of philosophical thought from 700 BC – the present day. Now while this isn’t written from a Christian worldview, I was glad to see Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas in here. While none of the ideas (from what I can tell so far) are explicitly affirmed or denied, all are viewed positively. Pretty much they’re written in a neutral position, but there are no beatdown comments, say, about how stupid one view is. What you’re reading is what a particular person’s thought is. Many people disagree with Anselm’s view that “just by thinking of God we can know he exists”, but it’s placed in here without bias. For example, we read

“Kant holds that Anselm is also wrong to say that what exists in reality as well as in the mind is greater than what exists in the mind alone, but other philosophers disagree. Is there not a real sense in which a real painting is greater than the mental concept the painter has before he starts work?” (80).

Or this about Pascal’s wager,

“Pascal argues that betting that God does not exist risks losing a great deal (infinite happiness in Heaven), while only gaining a little (a finite sense of independence in this world) — but betting that God exists risks little while gaining a great deal. It is more rational, on this basis, to believe in God” (125).

Layout

There are six pages of introduction. Philosophy pretty much started with Socrates. “[H]e prided himself on being the wisest of men because he knew he didn’t know anything. His legacy lay in the tradition he established of debate and discussion, of questioning the assumptions of other people to gain deeper understanding and elicit fundamental truths“ (12). After briefly covering topics like philosophy and religion in the Eastern and Western cultures, science and society, and enjoying philosophy, the book turns toward its 107 entries on philosophical thinkers.

Now there aren’t many entries on Christian thinkers. But there are the well-known thinkers, Pythagoras, Confucius, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Bacon, Descartes, Rousseau, Marx, Nietzsche, Russell, Sartre, Chomsky, etc. Everyone gets one entry, and there are a lot of names I haven’t heard of, but this is also a plus of this book. There are more contributors to philosophy than just the big-hitters (it’s the same with their science volume too). Some entries are one page, while others (Aquinas) are up to six pages.

Essentially, what this series does is it takes the big philosophical ideas and simplify them for the layman audience. With most entries (namely, the longer ones) you get the name (Thomas Aquinas), you get an gray shaded In Context box which gives you the Branch of philosophy (Metaphysics), the Approach (Christian Aristotelian), and the thoughts of others before and after Aquinas. There’s another coloured box that gives a some biographical details of Aquinas’ life, along with his Key Works. There are four quote boxes here, two from Aquinas, one from Aristotle, and the other from Stephen Hawking. Usually there are thought bubbles that point to other thought bubbles, showing the progression of the thinker’s thoughts. For example,

  • Aristotle says that the universe has always existed —>
  • The world did have a beginning, but God could have created it in such a way that it existed eternally 
  • <—The Bible says that the universe has not always existed

Now just picture them in bubble form (it looks better in the book. Trust me on this one).

There is a See Also section referring you to other thinkers in the book. And often there are pictures of some form. Here, there are both paintings of Aquinas and pictures which describe his thoughts of how the universe came to be.

Recommended?

If you have an interest in philosophy but you don’t know where to start, this book is a good primer. I haven’t immersed myself in all things philosophy, so I don’t have many ‘beginner’-recommendations, but I find the layout of this volume to be very good.  All in all it’s a stimulating book that does a good job of showing you the main idea and backing it up with other avenues of expression (like pictures, because who doesn’t like a book with pictures?).

Lagniappe

  • Series: Big Ideas Simply Explained
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: DK (January 17, 2011)

Buy it on Amazon!

[Special thanks to DK US for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book].

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Review: 1-2 Thessalonians (BECNT)

Weima

It’s the difference between a fast food burger and a nice, marinated, slow roast pork. Between choosing cooking dinner with the microwave or with the crockpot. Between frozen and fresh. Some books out there today are weak on theology and exegesis. They’re products of the beliefs of the author’s culture. They require little work to produce, little effort to consume, and therefore little nutrition for one’s spiritual life. Other books are filled with years of thoughtful consideration for both the details and the big picture. They show maturity. They show care.

Some authors, like loggers or lumberjacks, take out the chainsaw, cut the tree down, call it art, and then call it a day. But there are others who, after cutting down the tree, take the best piece back home with them. They lay out the proper tools, mallets, gouges, chisels, and knives, and they carefully sculpt and create an image that no one else could sculpt (like an owl [there are about 55 pictures here and most of them are amazing] or a child on a donkey).

Jeffrey Weima has been working on this commentary for twenty years. For two short letters than constitute 8 chapters in the Bible, twenty years sounds like a long time. Perhaps too long. But Weima has a good excuse for taking that long. He really likes the Thessalonians letters. During this time he’s written An Annoted Bibliography of 1 & 2 Thessalonians after reading everything ever written on these two letters. Besides writing journal articles, book chapters (See CNTUOT), and a user-friendly commentary on these letters in Zondervan’s Illustrated Bible Background Commentary.

Summary

As with all BECNT volumes, the introductory matters deal with authorship, the audience, and the purpose of the letter. Weima gives us the cultural and social background to Thessalonians. Why was the Thessalonian church persecuted? Because the city worship gods (so they received blessings from the gods) and they were loyal to Rome (so they received a favored status from Rome). For the new Christians to disavow the idols and turn to God (1 Thess 1.9) meant to dishonor both the city and Rome’s gods, and, ultimately, to be disloyal to the ever gracious Rome. Weima goes to great lengths in the Introduction and in the commentary to show how these social conventions influence the life of the Thessalonian church and how Paul writes (both of) his letters with love and encouragement to endure the persecution and to love one another. Weima agrees with the traditional view of Pauline authorship for both letters. He presents the opposing arguments and gives his rationale for his position.

After spending 60 pages on the Introduction, Weima spends the remaining 580 pages on the exegesis of 1 and 2 Thessalonians. As always there is a gray summary box at the beginning of each section. (Pretend the picture below us grey).

1. Gray Box Summary

Next Weima adds something I’ve never seen in a BECNT volume before, the Literary Analysis section. Weima reads 1&2 Thessalonians through a literary reading of the text, one that recognizes “Paul’s Letters as the result of a conscious composition, careful patterning, and the strategic use of literary conventions prevalent in his day”(56).

The Character of the Passage identifies the form of the material we’ll find in the section. Is this an encouraging section? One of rebuke? Thanksgiving?

2. Character of the Passage

The Extent of the Passage informs the reader of the boundaries of the section, where it begins and ends, and how he or she can know.

3. Extent

The Structure of the Passage shows the logic of Paul’s argument and how many sections (e.g., paragraphs or points) make up this passage.

4. Structure

This section ends with one final gray box that outlines the passage before us.

Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 12.35.47 PM

Next is the Exegesis and Exposition where Weima shows the flow of Paul’s thought while taking into consideration the grammar of the text and social, cultural, and religious cues behind the text. Theological exposition is included. Each section ends with Additional Notes dealing with textual issues.

There are three excursuses throughout the book. “Is 1 Thess 1.9b-10 Pre-Pauline?,” “Textual Reading of 1 Thess 2.7,” and “The Restrainer of 2 Thess 2.6-7.” The first two of these don’t need to be read to understand the text. However, Excursus 3 will be interesting to many since it deals with the one who restrains. Weima lays out 7 different ideas and takes Michael the Archangel to be the restrainer.

The Result

Weima has put in a lot of time and a lot of work into this volume. And with time and dedication the reader can work through the volume and can know the letters to the Thessalonians from one of the best (the best?) scholars on these two letters. But one should remember that this is an Exegetical commentary. If you’re familiar with the BECNT series you know that the authors can’t always give a full reason for their positions.

In 2 Thess 2.9 speaks about the eternal destruction of God’s enemies. Weima takes this to mean “their unending ruin (i.e., their continuing punishment)” and not their complete annihilation (474). He gives three reasons for this stance with the first two backed up by Scripture. However besides the three statements given, there’s not much other reasoning to go on for those who are pro-annihilation (which I’m not, but I do like seeing the argumentation against it).

This is one example of many. But that’s the nature of the BECNT series as a whole. Sometimes the bigger theological issues can’t be explained in the volume. It’s unfortunate, but it’s simply not the aim of the series. Even still this is an immensely beneficial volume on Thessalonians. If Weima leaves any stones unturned, they’re very small indeed.

However there may be a degree in which this volume goes beyond the intended reach of the BECNT series. “For example, serious biblical expositors cannot afford to depend on a superficial treatment that avoids the difficult questions, but neither are they interested in encyclopedic commentaries that seek to cover every conceivable issue that may arise” (ix). Yet Weima has written almost 640 pages on these two letters, eight chapters in the whole Bible. There is a wealth of information here, but it does close in on an encyclopedic amount of information.

Recommended?

If you are working on weekly sermons, you won’t be able to use Weima’s commentary to it’s fullest (unless your sermons cover a few or a block of verses). If you are a teacher or a student you will be happy to know that there is a strong evangelical commentary on the letters of Thessalonians. There are contentious passages in Thessalonians, Weima does have his views, and you may or may not agree with them. But he backs it up with exegesis. I’m aware that Doug Moo is working on a theology of Paul (perhaps in the Zondervan series), but it would be terrific to see a theology of Thessalonians from Weima.  This volume is certainly aimed at the academic, and with a knowledge of Greek one will be able to make full use of this commentary. Weima makes a mature contribution to the BECNT series and gives us a greater knowledge of the Thessalonian letters.

Lagniappe

  • Series: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
  • Hardcover: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic (November 18, 2014)
  • PDF Sample

Buy it on Amazon!

[Special thanks to Baker Publishing for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book].

Jeffrey Weima

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Logos Review: An Introduction to the New Testament

deSilva

David deSilva (who hosts a blog here) has done the church a wonderful favor in writing An Introduction to the New Testament. While many NT introductions are the same deSilva moves through the NT letters thematically, looking at what makes these letters so special. (My longer review can be found here).

Summary

Chapter One is The New Testament as Pastoral Response where deSilva explains how the NT letters were written for the purpose of forming the beliefs and transforming the lives of the new people of God in Christ. They were to explain the working of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in the lives of these new believers. Here DeSilva seeks to bring the academy and a devotional reading of Scripture together, where we study the NT in it’s proper time period, it’s culture, and it’s social milieu, but we also realize the accessibility of the God who came down on earth as a man and how he continues to speak to us through his word. DeSilva employs the socio-rhetorical method in his work. He shows his readers how the social web of life influences the writings of the NT letters, and how they are written and aimed at forming and transforming the lives of its readers (through rhetoric).

Chapter Two is about The Environment of Early Christianity. “When the Word became flesh, it did so within a rich matrix of social, cultural, political, economic and religious realities,” and we need to take into consideration “how the Word spoke within the setting of its incarnation” (37). DeSilva brings his readers through the Intertestamental times and up through the 1st century life looking at how they viewed the Torah and the Temple, along with their writings, rulers, and influences. Chapter Three looks at social world of the early church and looks at how the new Christian believers related to one another. Chapter Four brings the readers through the four Gospels and Jesus, defining a Gospel, why all four were written, and what the quests for the historical Jesus can teach us. Chapters Five to Twenty Four cover the 27 NT letters. Chapter 11 is a prologue to Paul’s letters, covering a look at his encounter with Christ, his ministry to the Gentiles, and the challenges of studying his life (and letters). After Chapter 17 (Philemon) there is an Excursus titled Pseudepigrapha and the NT Canon

In the Exegetical Skill sections, DeSilva’s cues in on a particular interpretive strategy in a NT letter.

Exeg Skill

Each chapter has quite a few (what I call) Quick Quips. They are a brief look at a confusing or interesting topic within a NT letter.

Quip 2

Each chapter on a NT letter ends with a discussion on Ministry Formation. DeSilva puts a large focus o the church. He doesn’t write merely for academia’s sake, but for the purpose of continuing to help transform God’s people through a better understanding of God’s word.

Min Form

Why Logos?

This is a perfect book for Logos. While I enjoy the physical book, it’s a pain to carry around (to school, to work, to another country). Yet, it’s weightless on my Mac Air. But maybe you don’t cross continental borders as often as I do, and you’re not worried about fitting books into your suitcase. What other benefits are there?

Searches – Want to know where deSilva talks about the Intertestamental Qumran community? Rather than flipping endlessly for that one reference, you merely just have to search for it (you can also press cmd+F and search each word/phrase one by one).

Search Qumran

Hyperlinks – the chapters covered in the Table of Contents, the Maps, the Tables, and the Index of Exegetical Skills are all hyperlinked. Want to find a particular topic but you don’t know the page number? You can search for it, find it in it’s listing, and click it!

Area of Focus 1

Even the Maps are clickable!

Figure that Pops Up

Quick Glance

Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 8.56.46 AM

If you look at the screenshot above, you’ll see plenty of references to the letter of Hebrews. Unless you plan to write notes in your Bible, rather than flipping back and forth, you can simply put your cursor over the reference and it will pop up. After a quick read, you can move on to the next one with ease. You can read all of the references with out every trying to scan the pages of your Bible. This isn’t to make you a lazy Bible reader, but to save time in studying for a sermon, a lecture, a research paper, or even your morning devotions (if you read books other than your Bible then).

Recommended?

This is a terrific book to have on Logos, and I highly recommend deSilva’s book. The information given here is both deep and accessible for the scholar and the layman. DeSilva wants the 21st century church to be formed by the NT letters just as the 1st century church was, and this involves a knowledge of the culture leading up to the NT era, the social structure of the people in that era, and the how that comes through our NT letters. Rather than carrying around a stack of books (and this one is huge), you simply need your computer (or iPhone, or iPad). This is a top New Testament Introduction choice for me.

Lagniappe

  • Hardcover: 975 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (May 8, 2004)
  • But-It-Now: Logos

Posts

  1. Enemies in Philippi
  2. Money in the Gospel of Luke
  3. Approval in Matthew
  4. Mary, Martha, and the Good Portion
  5. Romans 7, Who Am I?

[Special thanks to those at Logos for allowing me to review this! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

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Review: An Introduction to the New Testament

deSilva

David deSilva (who hosts a blog here) has done the church a wonderful favor in writing An Introduction to the New Testament. Many NT introductions are the same. I own a few others (Tenney, Metzger, Geisler) and they have the usual date, authorship, summary, unit-by-unit structure. The Cradle, The Cross, and the Crown by Kostenberger, Kellum, and Quarles is very good. Though it takes a similar approach to the aforementioned books, they do a very good job at providing the reader with a solid, evangelical, updated resource on the NT. On the other hand, rather than taking a unit-by-unit approach, deSilva moves through the NT letters thematically, looking at what makes these letters so special. (My summarized Logos review can be found here, pictures included)

Summary

At 930 pages of readable material, to summarize a book this large is quite difficult. To balance between a thick-swamp approach and a cotton-candy approach is difficult.

Chapter One is The New Testament as Pastoral Response. Here DeSilva seeks to bring the academy and a devotional reading of Scripture together. One seeks to “[understand] the text in relation to its historical context” while with a devotional reading, “hearing from God is the focus” (19). One sees the distance between the modern reader and the ancient text, the other sees the “accessibility of the Word for the worshiper” (20).

Social Rhetoric

In working to bring these together, deSilva employs a socio-rhetorical method which accomplishes this purpose in four ways:

  1. Engages the text itself in detailed analysis,
  2. Examines the ways the text converses with other “texts” in its environment,
  3. Investigates the world that produced the text,
  4. Analyzes how the text affects that very world (24).

Vernon K Robbins uses the imagery of “a tapestry—many threads are interwoven together in a text to produce multiple textures that together provide us with a rich, three-dimensional understanding of the meaning and impact of the text we are studying” (24, emphasis mine). DeSilva calls these these “inner texture,” the threads which are woven together to make the text meaningful.

The Method and It’s Purpose

This socio-rhetorical method looks at the author’s original wording, the meaning of the words, how these words create a unified letter, how the letter structure creates meaning, how each passage in the letter adds to the meaning, and how “a text persuades its readers or hearers to accept the values, behaviors or decisions it promotes” (this is last piece is rhetorical criticism, 24).

While this might sound complicated or boring, deSilva has already done the work. This book shows us the fruits of his labor. He believes that the New Testament came about as a pastoral response to believers who were trying to reconcile the Christian worldview with that of the secular, pagan worldview. Such questions would be similar to the ones given below.

  • “How do we make sense of the world’s hostility toward the work of God, the alleged good news and the people of God?
  • If we are God’s children, why do we face shame and marginalization? How are we to maintain self-respect in the face of dishonor?
  • How should we relate to non-Christian family members? What effect does our commitment to obey Jesus have on our roles in the household?
  • How should we interpret what we see going on around us every day—our neighbors’ continued devotion to the traditional religions, Roman imperial presence and propaganda, the economics of empire and province—so we won’t be drawn back into the life we left behind?” (31).

Chapter Two is about The Environment of Early Christianity“When the Word became flesh, it did so within a rich matrix of social, cultural, political, economic and religious realities” (37). We need to take into consideration “how the Word spoke within the setting of its incarnation” (37). DeSilva guides the reader through some important developments of Judaism and Israel in the Intertestamental period, their Roman rulers and Jewish saviors, their writings (Septuagint and OT Apocrypha), how both the Torah and the Temple were at the center of the Jewish mindset, but also how there was diversity within Judaism (Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and the Qumran community). Along with this is the question of how the monotheistic Jews and now Christians are supposed to follow the true God in the opposite world of Greco-Rome.

Chapter Three looks at The Cultural and Social Word of the Early Church. What set of values did the Roman Christians have vs the Jewish Christians. Just as we must figure out how to live with those from other countries (and other states), how did the new Christian believers relate to one another? Which actions were honorable and which were shameful? Here the reader will learn about patron and client relationships. What was the social expectance when a gift was given or received? What was a social faux pas?

Chapter Four takes a look at the four Gospels and Jesus. The reader will see what a Gospel is, why the Gospels were written, why there are four, and how they were handed down and reproduced. The final section looks at the quests for the historical Jesus and the lessons to be learned.

Chapters Five to Twenty Four cover the 27 NT letters. Chapter 11 is a prologue to Paul’s letters, covering a look at his encounter with Christ, his ministry to the Gentiles, and the challenges of studying his life (and letters). After Chapter 17 (Philemon) there is an Excursus titled Pseudepigrapha and the NT Canon

Besides date, authorship, and the location the letter was written, deSilva looks at the themes of the NT letters. Some themes are

  • The continuity of the church and the heritage of God’s people in Matthew (245)
  • Who is the legitimate bearer of divine authority in Acts (357)
  • The death of Jesus as the hour of glorification in John (427) 
  • Who is the heir of the divine promises? in Galatians (513)
  • Human prowess or God’s power: What makes an effective minister? in 2 Corinthians (586)

There are plenty of sections in each book. A few from Hebrews are

  • Honoring the divine Patron (792)
  • Despising Shame (795)
  • Reinterpreting experiences of disgrace (797)
  • Nurturing a supportive faith community (798)

Exegetical Skill section

DeSilva’s gives attention to a “wide range of interpretive strategies that represent the major trends in scholarly study” of the NT. He includes “an extensive example of the exegetical strategy at work in a particular passage and offer suggestions for further exercises and study” (20).

These sections include topics such as

  • Examining the Literary Context of Mark (218)
  • Examining the repetition of words throughout Revelation (908).
  • Word Studies and Lexical Analysis in Colossians and Ephesians (703).

Quick Quips

Here deSilva gives a brief look at a confusing or interesting topic within a NT letter. These glances include

  • Paul’s Use of the OT in 1 Corinthians (569).
  • Which Old Testament Did the Author of Hebrews Use? (807)
  • Preaching to the Spirits in Prison in 1 Peter (854).

Ministry Formation

Each chapter on a NT letter ends with a discussion on Ministry Formation. DeSilva’s book, with his “discussion of the message of each text, and… on how the text contributes to ministry formation” has a “distinctive focus on the church (from the local congregation to the global family of God) and the work of ministry (from the general ministry of all Christians to a variety of professional ministries)” (20). These texts are “formative and transformative” something that should not go unnoticed.

“These sections are intended

  1. to keep the reader mindful of the ways that careful study can connect with careful application
  2. to stimulate thought and discussion about what I take to be the primary value and purpose of these texts—shaping faithful disciples, supportive communities of faith and ministry to the world” (21, emphasis mine).

Recommended?

If you’ve stuck with me this far, I highly recommend deSilva’s book. While not new, it’s only 11 years old and has plenty of information, both deep and accessible for both the scholar and the reader. DeSilva isn’t satisfied with a unit-by-unit approach which summarizes the NT letter for you without telling you what it means. DeSilva wants the 21st century church to be formed by the NT letters just as the 1st century church was, and this involves a knowledge of the culture leading up to the NT era, the social structure of the people in that era, and the how that comes through our NT letters. We can’t read the Bible and assume we’ll understand everything we read. It would be like reading the letters of WWII soldiers without knowing that they were writing in the middle of a war, without knowing there was a war at all! DeSilva is certainly well studied on the concept of honor and shame in the NT world (his dissertation covered that topic in Hebrews), and is a top Introduction to the NT pick for me.

Lagniappe

  • Hardcover: 975 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (May 8, 2004)

Posts

  1. Enemies in Philippi
  2. Money in the Gospel of Luke
  3. Approval in Matthew
  4. Mary, Martha, and the Good Portion
  5. Romans 7, Who Am I?

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[Special thanks to ThinkIVP for allowing me to review this! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

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Romans 7, Who Am ‘I’?

Another article on this topic that you can read is written by my friend Lindsay and can be found here

Who is Paul talking about in Romans 7.7-25? Is it the present believer or the pre-Christian believer? For all of my life I thought it was the state of the Christian until I took a class on Romans at CCBCY with Randy McCracken, where I was introduced to a few differing opinions.

Why do many think that Paul is talking about the Christian state of living? “This [opinion] is driven first by our own [first-person] experience (we often do what we know not to be right) and then confirmed by the use of the present tense in Romans 7:14–25, which would seem to indicate that Paul must be talking about his current condition” (620).

Though the believer, according to Romans 6.1-7.6, is “living beyond the reach of sin,” our struggle now shows us that there is a conflict. Part of our groaning in this present life “is due to the lingering power of sin over the believer” (620).

Nature_of_Good_and_Evil_by_Young_Wolf-e1400813608950

(Yeah, I guess something like that is the idea)

The Problem

Romans 6.22 says, But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.

Yet Paul, if he is speaking of himself in Romans 7.14, would be saying that he is still sold under sin.

  1. “[What] then exactly what did Paul mean when he said that Christian believers were “set free from sin” (Rom 6:22) and that we have “died to sin” and no longer to “live in it” (Rom 6:2)?
  2. What did Paul mean when he said “sin will have no dominion over you” (Rom 6:14) if the believer is still at the mercy of sin (Rom 7:17–18)?
  3. How can Paul at one point affirm that only the “doers of the law” will be justified (Rom 2:13) but later be content with the mere desire to do good?
  4. How can we “present our bodies to God as instruments of righteousness” (Rom 6:13) and “yield our members to righteousness unto sanctification” (Rom 6:19) if “I can will what is right but I cannot do it” (Rom 7:18)?”

This isn’t simply Paul modifying what he said in Romans 6.1–7.6. This is “a complete recantation of the newness of the life Christ has provided” (620).

A Possible Solution

It may be that Paul is using the “I” in Rom 7.7-25 as a “rhetorical device known as prosopopoiia, where the speaker presents a vivid characterization of some figure or position through first-person speech” (620). So Romans 7.7-25 would be “an expression of life apart from Christ and, in particular, life under the law apart from Christ” (620).

Romans 7.7

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

DeSilva states,

The key to this speech is found in Romans 7:7: Paul is wrestling with the question of the function of the law… and speaks from a particular vantage point in salvation history—the position of humanity convicted by the law but powerless to keep the law. This, then, provides a more vivid depiction of the plight from which Christ frees the human being through the gift of the Spirit (Rom 6:1–7:6; 8:1–17). The verdict of ‘no condemnation’ is in effect because the ‘law of the Spirit of life’ has in fact set the believer free from the ‘law of sin and death’.

The past tense of Romans 8:2 shows Romans 7:23 (and thus Rom 7:7–25 as a whole) to be describing a past state as well…. God is to be thanked precisely because the gift of the Holy Spirit has made it possible to live beyond the dominion of the passions of the flesh, reversing the state of Romans 1:18–32. Now God’s righteousness can take hold of the believer, and God’s standards of righteousness take shape within the believer (620).

So Then What is the Law?

Paul’s opinion of the law seems to be much different than that of other Jewish authors.

  • The Book of Sirach 17.11 says, Beside this he gave them knowledge, and the law of life for an heritage, and in 45.5 declares, He let him hear his voice and led him into the dark cloud, where, face to face, he gave him the commandments, the Law that gives life and knowledge, so that Moses might teach the covenant regulations to the Israelites.
    w
  • Baruch 3.9 states, Hear the commandments of life, O Israel; give ear, and learn wisdom!
    w

    • However in Romans 7.10, Paul says of the law that “the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me,” which is putting the opinion of the Law in stark contrast with that of there other writers. Paul understands the Law as “the occasion for sin to increase its stranglehold on humanity” (626).
      w
  • In fact, the author of 4 Maccabees says in 2.6, In fact, since the law has told us not to covet, I could prove to you all the more that reason is able to control desires. Just so it is with the emotions that hinder one from justice. So if the Law commands it, humans are able to perform it.
    w

    • Paul, on the other hand, quotes the same commandment (“You shall not covet”) and provides a negative perspective: For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead (Rom 7b-8).
      w
  • The author of 4 Ezra is the most similar to Paul’s view, yet he doesn’t solve the dilemma the individual faces when confronted with the Law. DeSilva gives us the text on page 626:

You bent down the heavens and shook the earth…to give the law to the descendants of Jacob, and your commandment to the posterity of Israel. Yet you did not take away their evil heart from them, so that your law might produce fruit in them. For the first Adam, burdened with an evil heart, transgressed and was overcome, as were also all who were descended from him. Thus the disease became permanent; the law was in the hearts of the people along with the evil root; but what was good departed, and the evil remained. (4 Ezra 3:12–27; 7:92).

The Hope We Have In Christ

La_conversion_de_Saint_Paul_Giordano_Nancy_3018

Why does Paul have such a negative view on the Law, when most of the previous Jewish authors (including David, Ps 19; 119) had nothing but good to say about God’s Law? DeSilva gives his answer:

Paul’s view of the role of the Law is profoundly influenced by his experience of the risen Jesus and the pouring out of God’s Holy Spirit. In view of the glorious liberation from the power of sin that came with the Spirit and its ongoing leading and empowerment, Paul comes to a new view about the limited role of the Law. This ‘limit’ is also established by God’s endowing both Jews and Gentiles with the Spirit, whereas the Law largely served to keep Jews apart from Gentiles rather than extending God’s righteousness to them as well.

While the Law reveals God’s just requirements, it falls to the Spirit to empower human beings to live out those requirements. Only the Spirit is sufficient to overcome the power of sin, against which the human being only had his or her own moral resources prior to the gift of the Spirit…. (627).

Schreiner, in his book 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law,

[In] Psalm 119:159, ‘Give me life according to your steadfast love.’ Life comes from God’s steadfast love, that is, from his grace and mercy. Human beings do not merit or gain life by observing the law. Psalm 119:88 is even clearer, ‘In your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth.’ Life comes only from the grace of God, and the consequence of such life is the keeping of God’s testimonies and precepts. The psalmist does not teach that life is gained by obedience. Life finds its origin in God’s gracious work. Surely this sentiment is very Pauline (85-86).

deSilva

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Mary, Martha, and the Good Portion

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her (Lk 10.38-42).

Why does Martha always get the heat in sermons? What did she do that was so wrong? All she was doing was serving, and she simply wanted some help. Luke helps his readers by giving us two key words: Martha was “distracted with much serving.”

DeSilva gives us some timely words on this passage, ones that all believers need to hear.

The story of Mary and Martha speaks in a timely way to an increasingly phrenetic and frantic society (Lk 10:38–42). Jesus points Martha—and all of us who are so very much like Martha—to the core necessity of life. If we possess this one thing, it gives life to all that we do; if we lack it, we cannot compensate for that lack no matter how much we do. The one needful thing is to sit at Jesus’ feet, spend time in his presence undistracted and listen for his word. This is a hard word for many people, myself included, to accept. It is a hard word to believe in an active society where doing and visibly achieving are emphasized so strongly. But if anything must suffer this day, Luke says that it cannot be our spending time with God. We have books to read, committee meetings to attend and leaves to rake, but first and above all, we have to sit at Jesus’ feet, wait on the Lord and seek God’s face (346–347).

Psalm 27.4 says, “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.“

Jesus’ challenge to Martha and to all who resemble her more than her sister is to reverse [the] mindset [that waiting on the Lord when there is work to be done is procrastination] and to let the way we spend our time help us to be guided in all things by God’s Spirit, not driven in all things by the demands of our studies, our congregations or our own ambitions (347).

Reordering Our Lives Around Christ

It can be, no, it is difficult ordering our lives to revolve around God and his word. It is difficult to read his word and spend time with God. I can easily get caught up in what I need to do, whether it be reading a book to review, learning Norwegian, or, most importantly, spending time with my wife. All of these things are good and I have to (and like to) spending my time doing these things (not that learning a language is always fun), but when time feels tight I must remember that God has ordered this world that I live in and interact with. There is time for him and his word. I can spend time with him. We can make time for him and his life-giving word.

I can easily relate to Martha. I am the Martha of the story. “But Martha was distracted with much serving.” And the Lord answered Martha Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.

“[S]pending time in God’s presence, sitting at the feet of Jesus… is the place where lives are reordered, hearts healed, balance attained and stability found. Our hearts will never find rest until they rest in God, and rest means spending time resting in God’s presence” (347).

deSilva

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