Monthly Archives: February 2016

Review: Paul and Money

In an age where some pastors are buying personal jets, getting into debt, or stealing from their members, a book on Paul and Money is vital. Though there are books that deal with the subject of money in the Bible, one of the authors (Verbrugge) discovered that that were no “comprehensive book[s] on the issue of Paul and money – that is, how the apostle interacted with the Jewish and Greco-Roman world of finance” (19). Having both written books on 1 Corinthians, Verbrugge and Krell came together to fill the gap and write the “comprehensive book on… Paul and money” that the church has been lacking.

However this book is about more than how one should simply spend their money. It looks at Paul’s style of leadership over his churches.

  • He doesn’t ask for money to support himself from the Corinthians, but he does ask for them to give money to the Collection that will be brought to the poor saints in Jerusalem. Yet while Paul is in Corinth (Acts 18.5) he receives money from the churches in Macedonia (2 Cor 11.8-9 and Phil 4.15) which relieves him from having to support himself from his job as a leatherworker. Why did he receive money from those churches but not from Corinth?
  • In 1 Corinthians 16.1-2, Paul simply commands the Corinthians to give to the Collection and includes a few instructions on how they could give. Yet in 2 Corinthians 8-9 Paul spends 39 verses “giving all sorts of reasons why the Corinthians should donate, and he includes only one mild imperative” (278).
  • Why did Paul and his coworkers stay with Lydia after her conversion? In the final chapter of Philippians, was he really thankful for their gift or was he simply embarrassed?
  • How did Paul pay for both his travels and his letters?
  • How should Christians handle situations with widows in the church?
  • What does Paul say about debt and tithing?

Layout

Paul and Money is divided into 3 sections:

Part 1: Paul’s Work and his Financial Policies (chs 1-3)

If Paul’s background was a Pharisee, and Pharisees supported themselves, and Paul admits in 1 Corinthians 9 that those who preach the Gospel should receive some sort of payment back, why does Paul commit to supporting himself? This section answers a few of the questions asked above, but it also looks at the system of patronage in the ancient world and how Paul received money through it. This chapter is important as a knowledge of its themes runs through the following chapters as it helps explain Paul’s methods.

Part 2: Raising Money for the Mother Church in Jerusalem (ch 4-9)

As the title of the section suggests, Part 2 is focused on one of Paul’s major projects that runs through a number of his letters: the Collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem. The authors set out to answer why Paul set out to collect money for the poor Jerusalem saints along with just how “poor” these saints might have been (answer: very poor). They look at how Paul collected this money and how he motivated the believers in Corinth to give (especially as they seriously doubted his apostolic authority). Also, despite the importance of the collection and Paul’s hopes in bringing more unity to the Jewish and Gentile church, why does it seem like Luke practically ignores the Collection? Does he really ignore it?

Part 3: Other Issues Concerning Finances in Paul (chs 9-13)

Part 3 covers a list of remaining topics on money that appear in Paul’s letters. In chapter 9, the authors examine the group in Thessolonica who refused to work, but instead fed off of the resources of their church members. Chapter 10 looks at more money issues with the Corinthians and how the rich used the social order of the pagan world to abuse the Lord’s Supper. Chapter 11 explores the dangers involved for those who idolize money and the instructions on how the church should handle both younger and elderly widows. Chapter 12 covers taxes, debt, and the command (or lack thereof) on tithing. Finally, chapter 13 gives both theological and practical perspectives on how Christian today should think about and handle money.

The Chocolate Milk

For a book whose subtitle is “A Biblical and Theological Analysis of the Apostle’s Teachings and Practices,” I found this book surprisingly easy to read. Not only do the authors answer the questions listed above, but they give an absorbing sense of realism to Paul’s life. They don’t treat Paul as just a “biblical character,” but as a real person with real emotions and real thoughts who we can (and should) relate to. Paul isn’t a two-faced cheat, taking money from some but refusing it from others depending on how much money he needs at the moment. He considers the world and culture of the people he comes into contact with, people who think and lived differently than we do.

Once he realizes that the Corinthians have neglected his authority, instead of commanding them to give to the Collection (a command they had promised to follow), he gently pushes them into giving to the Collection (2 Cor 8-9). And he does this in a variety of social ways which the authors draw out in chapters 6 and 7. In an honor-shame culture, giving “high praise for the [poor] Macedonians [would]… result in a feeling of shame in the hearts of the [rich] Corinthians in light their self-expressed pride over their material and spiritual richness (cf. also 9:2-4)” (170).

Since the Corinthians had little trust for Paul, thinking he may try to line his pockets with their Collection money (despite his refusal to accept money from them for his own sake, 2 Cor 11.7-9), Paul spends 9 verses (2 Cor 8.16-24) explaining how Titus and two other worthy brothers will be handling the Collection. They will gather the money “for the glory of the Lord himself” (8.19), not for their own glory nor for Paul’s glory.

Recommended?

Verbrugge and Krell should be commended for their comprehensive work on Paul and his handling of money. Money is not to consume the minds of Christians, yet because we don’t live in a bartering society it must be used. It is near impossible to live without money, and it is impossible to live well without money. Yet with so many money-hungry televangelists and authors promising 100% answers to prayer if you buy their prayer cloths or their books, how then should we live? How can we glorify God before the world (and other Christians) with our spending (and non-spending) habits? Verbrugge and Krell give needed biblical advice backed up by needed biblical evidence to point Christians on how Paul viewed money and how we should follow his example. This would be good to read alongside Blomberg’s Christians in an Age of Wealth.

Lagniappe

Buy it on Amazon

(Special thanks to Zondervan 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: Obadiah (ZECOT)

Obadiah is the shortest book in the OT (and apparently the least popular). Though a book with only 291 words, Jerome said “It is as difficult as it is brief” (35). It is “1.3 percent [the length] of Jeremiah, the longest book (21,819 words), on which it shows remarkable dependebnce” (21).

Block thinks that “the best clues for reconstructing the circumstances for each series of utterances [by the minor prophets] are found within the books themselves and in the superscriptions that open the books” (22).

Introduction

For a biblical book that is only 291 words long, Block’s Introduction is a good 25 pages, which is longer than some introductions of much larger commentaries (Luke, PNTC, 2 Corinthians, PNTC?)! 

  • Historical Background to Obadiah’s Prophecies
  • Obadiah’s Rhetorical Aims and Strategy
    • The Rhetor [Speaker]
    • The Audience
    • The Message
    • The Rhetorical Strategy
  • The Structure of Obadiah

Obadiah’s Rhetoric

  • Apparently misplaced clauses
    • In the midst of calling judgment upon Edom, v15a tells how “the day of the Lord is near upon all the nations,” but in v15b Obadiah refocuses his attention back on to Edom. What does the Day of the Lord have to do with anything? Block says that “stylistic surprises like this are often the keys to the text and its rhetorical intent. Taking vv. 15b-c and 16 together, we discover that the implications of the prophet’s invective against Esau extend [far] beyond the nations, and [Edom’s] fate is paradigmatic of the fate that awaits them” (84).
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    • Why is “the declaration of YHWH” placed right in the middle of a sentence in v8? These prophetic words do not come from a “self-inspired… man with a personal vendetta,” but, rather, these prophecies are the “very words of YHWH” (67).
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  • Heightened form of rhetoric
    • Obadiah presents an “impassioned speech that attempts to transform the minds and hearts of the audience, replacing cynicism and doubt with confidence and hope” (37).
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  • Obadiah makes appeals to higher authorities:
    • He appeals to the words of YHWH (v1), to divine council intermediaries (v1), and to the authority of a host of OT texts.
      • Block gives the reader a list of 33 phrases and ideas in Obadiah that “[contain] an expression or motif that is encountered in other [Old Testament] texts, most of which are earlier” (40). Almost every verse in Obadiah contains an expression/motif used in an earlier OT book. But rather than rehashing “outdated” OT texts, Obadiah creates a new message for a particular group of people who need to grasp hold of the true God.

Commentary Structure

Block’s volume begins with a translation of Obadiah 1-21. Block outlines Obadiah into 5 major sections (or “chapters”).

  • Introduction: Setting the Stage for “the Days” (v. 1)
  • The Judgment: Esau’s Humiliation on His “Day” of Doom (vv. 2-10)
  • The Indictment: Esau’s Crimes on the “Day of Jacob” (vv. 11-14)
  • The Bad Good News: The Demise of Esau on the “Day of YHWH” (vv. 15-18)
  • The Good Good News: The Restoration of Jacob on the “Day of YHWH” (vv. 19-21)

Each chapter follows the same structural path:

  • Main Idea of the Passage: The main points are condensed into 1-2 sentences.
  • Literary Context: Gives a brief explanation to how this chapter fits into the broader text of Obadiah.
  • Translation and Outline: Block provides his translation and outline of the section which is crafted to show the text’s flow of thought.
  • Structure and Literary Form: Summarizes how the author uses literary devices (e.g., key words, motifs, parallels, contrasts) to craft his message.
  • Explanation of the Text: A thorough explanation on the use of words, phrases, and syntax in the biblical author’s message. Attention is given to how the material is arranged, what the biblical author is trying to say, and how he says it (see Rhetoric above).
  • Canonical and Practical Significance: Unlike the volume on Jonah (see my review here), this section is placed only at the very end of this volume (due to the small size of Obadiah). It tries to answer the question on what role does this book plays in the Bible’s canon, how Obadiah uses motifs from the OT, and how Obadiah can help us to see Christ as King. 

When comparing the ZECOT and ZECNT series, the strength of the ZECOT series is its focus on rhetoric, which includes grammar and how the Hebrew is structured and used. I find the Structure section to be very helpful as it brings the main ideas of the book together before you even start the main exegetical commentary, and I wish that the ZECNT series also had this (rather than having only an Outline).

Recommended?

Many commentaries suffer because they do not provide the main idea book being studied (i.e., what is the main idea of the enormous Jeremiah? Or the obscure Obadiah?). Even when the main idea is given, rarely are the smaller pieces of the puzzle put together to show how they add up to the whole text. The ZECOT (and ZECNT) series show the importance of the little puzzle pieces. No text is unimportant (Block spends 8 pages just on verse 1), and each text builds and reinforces the message of the other texts.

The size of the commentary is impressive given that Obadiah is so small. But again, not only is Obadiah small, it is the least read book in the Bible. Given that most pastors won’t give a 5-sermon series on Obadiah, I think that potential buyers would find more incentive to purchase this volume if it were combined with another Minor Prophet book (e.g., Nahum).

When compared with the ZECNT series, the ZECOT series is also the more technical of the two. Given that Obadiah is the shortest OT book, Block is able to get into the minute details to really draw out Obadiah’s rhetorical skill. Because of this, those who have a good handle on the Hebrew language (be it pastors, teachers, or students) will benefit greatly from this volume. But even for myself, though I know no Hebrew, perhaps my Bible can attest that I have learned a lot from Obadiah.

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But for now I look forward to the Day of YHWH when “the kingdom shall be the Lord’s” (Obad 20).

Lagniappe

    • Series: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament
    • Hardcover: 128 pages
    • Publisher: Zondervan (December 1, 2015)

Buy it on Amazon

(Special thanks to Zondervan 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: Luke (PNTC)

Luke pntc

The Gospel of Luke is the longest of the four Gospels, and when paired with its second volume Acts, it forms roughly 1/3 of the New Testament. It is evident that these two books are pivotal to the New Testament as they describe the life of Jesus, his death, resurrection, ascension, and the pouring out of his Spirit on his church. Misunderstanding 1/3 of the NT is a detriment to the life of the Church (and its individuals). This is also why I’m reviewing both Luke and Acts (my Acts review here) in the PNTC series at the same time. They go together, and they should be understood together (as best as can be).

If you’re familiar at all with the Pillar series (PNTC), you’ll know that James Edwards wrote the volume on the Gospel of Mark. It’s an incredibly helpful commentary, and, weighing in at 742 pages, Edwards’ volume on Luke is no less impressive.

Introduction

His Introduction is a mere 22 pages, covering the testimony of the early church on Luke, its title, and authorship. Edwards, while not drawing hard, fast lines, points toward Luke being Paul’s travel companion, possibly being a Jew, and writing the Gospel after AD 70 and perhaps in Antioch. Besides Mark as being a primary source for Luke, Edwards believes Luke had a Hebrew source, which Edwards references “frequently in the commentary” (15). Edwards maintains that there is “a disproportionately high occurrence of Semitisms in the roughly one-half of the Third Gospel… not shared in common with Matt and/or Mark (15). For scholars and specialists the discussions on the Hebrew Gospel source will be stimulating, but I doubt many others will feel the same way. 

There are at least twelve excursuses throughout the commentary. These include topics such as the infancy narratives, how they relate to the body of Luke’s Gospel, Luke’s use of Elijah-Elisha typology in Jesus’ Galilean ministry, Luke’s use of pairs (with a focus on men and women pairs), Luke’s depiction of the universal scope of the gospel, and more.

I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the body of the commentary was to read. Commentaries this size are commonly replete (“crammed” may be a better term) with discussions of Greek terms, “twenty or so” other ways they can be used, and a concluding comment on the “proper” definition before moving on. Edwards is more tactful here. He looks at a word primarily to show it’s use in the context of Luke’s writings (how is this word/idea used in the OT, or in another NT book, or in Jewish/Greco-Roman writing?). He reveals the threads that are weaved through Luke, he pins down the broad ideas that Luke brings, and he offers us a look at how words and concepts play on each other. 

The Chocolate Milk

One aspect of Edwards’ commentary that should receive praise, like Seifrid’s volume, is his focus on what the text itself says more than what other commentators say. Most pastors don’t buy a commentary so they can read what every other scholar thinks. They want to know what the text says, what it means, and how it matters. Edwards keeps his discussions with the various scholars down in the footnotes which allows for a smoother reading for the commentary proper.

Edwards has a sharp eye for the Literary Features (e.g., parallels, contrasts) of Luke (and Acts).

  • The Magnificat of Mary, which declares “what God does as the powerful deliverer of the needy and oppressed,” is alluded to throughout Luke’s Gospel. Mary’s Magnificant gives us a reversal of expectations. Sinners become saints, and God brings him self low and “gives mercy to those who fear him” (56).

    1. Luke’s Blessings and Woes in 6.20-26 recount Mary’s reversal statements in 1.51-53.

    2. A woman proclaims a blessing on Mary (11.27), reminding us of “all generations” calling Mary “blessed” 1.48. Jesus expands the woman’s statement to blessing all who hear God’s word and do it, something which Mary also did (1.38).

    3. On the cross, God’s Servant “remembers mercy” (1.54) on a repentant criminal (23.42).
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  • Unlike the brood of vipers who claim to have Abraham as their father (3.7-8), both Zacchaeus (19.9) and the afflicted woman (13.16) were “children of Abraham” (3.8), the one who “became the father of God’s true children who embodied the promise in history (Isa 45:11; Rom 9:6-9)” (397).
    .
  • “Snake” (ophis) appears only in 10.19 and 11.11, both occurrences may refer to the “evil one.”
    .
  • At the end of the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the rich man complains instead of repents, and he still expects Lazarus to serve him. He “is concerned with avoidance of ‘this place of torment’ [16.28] rather than ‘producing fruit in keeping with repentance’ (3:8).” Also, while the “shrewd manager used wealth to gain eternal friendships (16:9)… the rich man fails to use his wealth to help a poor man at his gate — and thus has no eternal ‘friend’ to advocate for him” (473).
    .
  • In 21.25-28, when the Son of Man returns “redemption is drawing near” (v28), a redemption proclaimed by Zechariah (1.68) and Anna (2.38).

The Spoiled Milk

There really isn’t much to be disappointed about with this volume. Two things that let me down were were the Introduction and the Outline.

Like Seifrid’s volume, Edwards’ Introduction is short (22 pages) and compact which gives more space to the commentary proper. Yet at the same time it leaves something to be desired (e.g., Genre and Purpose).

Edwards outlines Luke into 22 main chapters with no sub-points. To me, this is a poor way to outline Luke’s Gospel. Did Luke really intend us to read his gospel in 22 pieces main pieces? Could not Edwards have brought some of these ideas together so that the reader could have a handle on the major ideas of Luke?

Unlike Edwards, David Garland, author of the ZECNT volume on Luke, divides Luke into 7 main headings (and in the expanded outline Garland has many subpoints that help divide the main ideas):

  • Prologue and Infancy Narrative (1:1–2:52)
  • Preparing for Ministry (3:1–4:13)
  • Jesus’ Ministry in Galilee (4:14–9:50)
  • Jesus’ Journey to Jerusalem (9:51–19:28)
  • Jesus in Jerusalem (19:29–21:38)
  • Jesus’ Suffering and Death (22:1–23:49)
  • Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension (23:50–24:53)

Based on Edwards’ outline one cannot see how Luke might have divided his gospel. Unfortunately, in the form that Edwards provides, his outline is almost useless. It’s helpful, but not helpful enough.

Recommended?

This is a highly recommended commentary on the Third Gospel. No one commentary has everything, but Edwards packs a lot of good into this commentary. With literary and theological insight, this will have a long lifespan in my house.

Lagniappe

  • Series: Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)
  • Hardcover: 859 pages
  • Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (May 1, 2015)
  • Meet the Author and his Book and see how he kept the church in mind while writing this commentary. 

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Buy the book on Amazon or from Eerdmans!

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(Special thanks to IVP and SPCK for the review! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book).

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“Did you not know?”

boy-jesus-in-the-temple-39538-wallpaper

Did Jesus do something wrong in Luke 2.41-52? This text has always puzzled me just as much as Mary and Joseph seem to be puzzled themselves. In his new commentary on Luke, James Edwards gives us a picture of Jesus as “a boy of unusual wisdom and nearness to God, whose spiritual endowments and understanding are similar to those of Simeon (v. 25) and Anna (vv. 36-37)” (91).

Luke 2.41-52

Jesus and his family go to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Garland says that, The age of twelve was regarded as the age of discernment. In the Jewish tradition a boy became a man at age thirteen and was fully responsible for keeping the law (ZECNT). After the family completed the festal week, they returned home, but the “boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem” (2.43). We see the growth of Jesus throughout Luke 2. In v16, Jesus is a baby, v40 a child, v43 a boy, and he is referred to as Jesus in v52.

How did Joseph and Mary lose Jesus? It’s likely that they traveled as a large caravan which “functioned as a quasi-family” (93). Plus, sometimes women and children traveled separately. It would have been easy for Mary to think Jesus was with Joseph, and vice versa.

“After three days they found him in the temple” (2.46) probably includes the day they left without Jesus, the day they returned, and the day they found Jesus in the Temple (which wouldn’t have taken long to do). While it is students who sit at the feet of Jewish rabbis, here Jesus is “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions“ (Lk 2.46). “His ‘wisdom’ (v. 40) and ‘understanding’ (v. 47) recall the ‘spirit of wisdom and understanding’ that will rest upon the Messiah (Isa 11:2)” (94).

So of course all were amazed at Jesus’ answers (v47). Well, all but Jesus’ parents. They were astonished that Jesus “treated” them “so” (v48). Mary sounds less concerned about Jesus and more concerned about what he has done to her and Joseph. They have been “searching in great distress” for Jesus. Edwards reminds us that, “Mary’s distress is a first fulfillment of Simeon’s prophecy that a ‘sword will pierce her soul’ (v. 35)” (95).

Edwards says, “Jesus is not surprised that his parents came back for him; he is surprised that they did not know where to find him“ (95). In v48 Mary speaks to Jesus about the anguish he caused to his father (“your father”). But in v49, “Jesus testifies to a prior and higher obedience to ‘my Father’ (91).

“Similar to the situation with Zechariah and Elizabeth in 1:59-63, Jesus ‘must’… align himself with God’s purpose over against the claims of the family“ (95).

Unlike the apocryphal gospels, this story is pretty average. It’s not spectacular. People are amazed, but no miracles are performed. Jesus doesn’t create pigeons out of clay. Everything is very human. A child is separated from his parents who show human panic. Throughout Luke 2, the shepherds (v15), Simeon (v25), and Anna (v36) seem to understand who Jesus is. Yet in this story, the very human Mary and Joseph “did not understand the saying that he spoke to them” (v50).  How is this so? 

Garland says, “After all the events that have occurred—his conception, his birth, his presentation in the temple—his parents should know that as God’s Son he would begin to play out his role in the divine plan for which he was sent.”

Edwards gives a perceptive answer,

Two fathers are mentioned in the account, one human, one divine, and Jesus is the son of both. His parents ‘did not understand what he was saying to them’ (v. 50), nor do we. Faith and understanding are not guaranteed by the privilege of proximity to Torah, angels, God, or even Jesus. Zechariah was visited by Gabriel, yet he disbelieved (1:20); Mary (and Joseph) received more revelation than he, yet they do not understand.

The story of Jesus is the story of the inscrutable and unfathomable ways of God. This story is not understood in a flash of insight. Time, struggle, even suffering are required of the parents of Jesus, as of all people, if they are to know and follow Jesus. ‘Not understanding’ forms another inclusio of Luke-Acts: it characterizes Mary and Joseph in the temple, the disciples on the way to Jerusalem (18:34), the disciples at the end of the gospel (24:45), and the final response of the Jewish leaders in Acts (28:26).

Lack of understanding is not a final verdict, nor does it alone jeopardize salvation. Jesus himself does not understand the ways of the Father (22:42) — and according to the other Gospels, he experiences the abandonment of God (Mark 15:34; Matt 27:46).

Unlike Gnosticism, which bases salvation on knowledge, Christian faith is based on trust in a final Nevertheless — that salvation depends not on human wisdom and understanding, but on God’s inscrutable grace (96-7).

In Luke’s Gospel, the first and the last words of Jesus show his “filial relation to God as Father.”

2.49, And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

24.49, And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

To know Jesus is to know the Father, and to know the Father is to know Jesus. We do not understand the full details of this relationship, but we trust that through it, despite our imperfect knowledge, the Father’s salvation comes through his Son. This is a relationship that takes work.

As Calvin Miller has said, “Mystics without study are only spiritual romantics who want relationship without effort.”

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