Praying with Paul: God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, Part 1

I’m reading Praying with Paul by D. A. Carson, a book on spiritual reformation. Carson looks at some of Paul’s prayers to see what makes Paul tick. What sets him off to pray, and what for? How does he pray “without ceasing”?

One thing many Christians hear is, “Prayer changes things?” Oh yeah? Well, if God is sovereign, how does prayer change anything? If he’s so sovereign, aren’t we “mere puppets” (123)? Some people don’t pray because God is sovereign, so there’s no reason to pray (according to them). If we pray, then it was ordained. If we don’t pray, then it was ordained. Or perhaps we’ll pray, but God is a bit distant. Or he’s not very powerful. Or…

Carson says, “Something has gone wrong in our reasoning if our reasoning leads us away from prayer; something is amiss in our theology if our theology becomes a disincentive to pray” (125).

God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

Carson begins this section by articulating two truths, both of which are found in Scripture:

1. God’s Sovereignty

God is absolutely sovereign, but his sovereignty never functions in Scripture to reduce human responsibility.

Proverbs 16.33, The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.
Proverbs 16.4, The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.
Psalm 115.2-3, Why should the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’ Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.
Psalm 135.6, Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.“
Jeremiah 10.23, I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.
Matthew 6.26, Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
Matthew 6.30, But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
Ephesians 1.11, In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,

Yet, in a mysterious way, “without being tainted with evil himself” God stands behind un-fortunes such as (127):

Unintentional Manslaughter (Exodus 21.13)
Family Misfortune (Ruth 1.13)
National Disaster (Isaiah 45.6-7)
Personal Grief (Lamentations 3.32-33, 37-38)
and even, Sin (2 Samuel 24.1; 1 Kings 22.21ff)

2. Human Responsibility

Human beings are responsible creatures – that is, they choose, they believe, they disobey, they respond, and there is moral significance in their choices; however, human responsibility never functions in Scripture to diminish God’s sovereignty or to make God absolutely contingent (126).

“God himself offers moving pleas to incite us to repentance, because he finds no pleasure in the death of the wicked“ (127).

Joshua 24.14-15, Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Isaiah 30.18, Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.

Isaiah 65.2, I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices;

Ezekiel 18.30-32, Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.”

Ezekiel 33.11, Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?

Romans 10.9, 11, because, 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…. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’”

Yet none of this cancels God’s sovereignty. Paul quotes Exodus 33.19 to prove that “God has mercy on those whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (Rom. 9.18).

Next Time

Carson gives seven passages where both of these truths come into play. But it looks like we’ve run out of space. You’ll have to come back next time and see if I’ve won more space.

Book Review: Ephesians (BECNT), Frank Thielman

Ephesians BECNT book review thielman

Frank Thielman is the Presbyterian Professor of Divinity of the New Testament at Beeson Divinity. He is well known for his work on the Law and it’s relation to the Christian believer, along with his Theology of the NT, commentary of Philippians, and his contribution to the Commentary of the New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament on Ephesians.

Each section in this volume (and all BECNT volumes) can be divided up into four ways:

  1. An short summary introduction, presented in a gray-shaded box (making it easy to recognize).
  2. Exegesis and Exposition, where a translation of the text is given along with its meaning.
  3. A concluding summary, also in a gray-shaded box for easy recognition.
  4. Additional Notes, not given in every section, but usually deals with textual criticism and linguistics.
    1. I usually never read these sections since I’m neither a textual critic not a Greek reader, but I was surprised at how interesting some of the notes were in Thielman’s volume.  In many cases they’re more like extended footnotes dealing with theological matters in the text, rather than which manuscript is more original (important in it’s own right)

Thielman is careful in his exegesis, looking beyond the most recent of commentators to those of the nineteeneth and twentieth centuries, even down to the early church. Besides having taught the Greek text of Ephesians at BDS and being committed to his own studies, Thielman remains up-to-date on ancient primary sources and secondary literature from Greco-Roman history on culture, and he consistently looks back to find the meaning of particularly difficult words. Yet in all of this, he doesn’t rely so heavily on them that he misses the influence of the OT (and the works of Second Temple Period Judaism).

The Chocolate Milk

While I own only the volumes on Mark, Luke, John, and this one, I was surprised at how easy this volume was to read. The BECNT series is academic. I like that and I expect them to be so. Academic means good information, but not always easy on the eyes. But for the pastor, the student, or the layman (however you define that term), there is plenty of depth here to be explored. In-text citations are much fewer in number (especially when compared to the John volume). Really, the majority of in-text references are Scriptural! This volume is quite easy to read, especially since the author is not focusing on redactional criticism, or the thoughts of all of commentators (neither of which are bad, but footnotes are a godsend). That aside, this is still an exegetical (read: dense) commentary, so the term “easy” is relative. But it is “easier” than other commentaries I’ve come across.

Thielman’s Views

1.1; Ephesians is not pseudonymous as many say. Paul is the author (my post here).

1.7; Acknowledging the intense debate, Thielman takes the phrase “redemption through his blood” to mean that “in the death of Christ, God came powerfully to the rescue of his people just as he had done in former times when he rescued them from the Egyptians, the Babylonians, and other nations” (60), while also giving credence to the meaning that redeeming one from slavery was done at a high price.

2.14-18; Thielman doesn’t believe that the “dividing wall” that was “broken down” should be linked with the Temple wall that separated the Court of the Gentiles. Rather, Paul is speaking about Christ breaking down the Torah Law. This isn’t to mean it has no relevance for believers, as it glorifies God and shows his good character. But we are not bound to following it to the minutia. Christ has fulfilled the Law. When Christ died on the cross, he set the Law aside and “created a new people unified across ethnic barriers” (173). He reconciled to God all those who believe in he gospel (being Jew and Gentile).

3.6; Jews and Gentiles who believe in Christ are made one people. They both share in the promise given to Abraham, and share equal status before God.

4.11-12; Some of the gifts Christ gave to the church were the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors (shepherds), and teachers. Pastors and teachers are different offices (though both gifts can be held by one person). Not every teacher is a pastor/shepherd. They were given to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. It is not the five aforementioned offices who do all of the work. Those who are gifted work together with “those whom they equip… to build up the body of Christ” (280).

5.5-7; Paul is talking about the present inheritance of the kingdom of God (though not excluding the future inheritance). The Messiah is presently reigning with God, and his enemies are beneath his feet. We are to now be imitators of God, not partakers with the world, those still walking according to the course of this world.

6.5-9; Paul is not neutral toward slavery. In fact, believing masters should follow after Jesus’ words that he who is greatest must be servant of all (my post here).

The Spoiled Milk

While there is an important OT focus in this commentary, sometimes Thielman doesn’t make all of the connections. In wanting to write a post about the connections between Isaiah 59.16-21 and Ephesians 6.1-20 (we put on the armour of God), I looked up what Thielman had to say. Yet, while in Isa. 59 the armour of God is worn by YHWH and it aids in an offensive attack, here in Eph. 6 it is “used to defend a position” and is worn by believers (425). Thielman says, “The differences between the imagery in Isaiah and Paul’s use of it here probably mean that he is not providing a commentary in Isa. 11:5 and 59:17 but developing the imagery in his own way” (425). Is this the case? I am no scholar, but couldn’t it be that God is now doing battle through his church? In Isaiah 59 God sees that there is no justice and puts on his armour to fight. Now, the Ephesian believers have put on Christ, the new man, and they are to expose the works of darkness (5.11) that the unbeliever may be saved.

There are a few other examples like this. Regardless, these examples are minor. They are not a significant hindrance to this volume.


Yes. Thielman is careful in his exegesis and gives a solid, evangelical commentary which is important for such a difficult and grammatically-ambiguous book as Ephesians. Thielman keeps his eyes on the rest of the text being faithful to remind us of what has come before and what will come after. As with the BECNT volumes, Knowledge of the Greek language gives you an upper hand in using this volume to its fullest, but it is not necessary. Being slightly longer than O’Brien’s volume [PNTC] and half as long as Hoehner, Thielman would be in good company with both. While not as applicable as O’Brien, Hoehner, or Arnold, a student of Ephesians would benefit from having Thielman on his bookshelf. We need more solid, evangelical commentaries on Ephesians, and Thielman does an excellent job of filling up what is lacking.


Buy it on Amazon

Disclosure: I received this book free from SPCK/Baker Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

Review: Hidden But Now Revealed

Hidden But Now Revealed

People love mysteries. Whether it be Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, or Scooby Doo, it’s not hard to figure out: everybody loves a good mystery. It’s part of what creates a good story. We experience the everyday normal, yet our characters lead unexpected lives of adventure. A crime occurs with no evidence left behind. Suspects are few and far between. To make matters worse, time is running out. Books like these create in us a sense of wonder, curious about what the very next page will bring. And it’s all experienced in the comfort of our own chair.

Greg Beale has a knack for taking some of the most obscure topics in the Bible, revealing their importance, and making them very interesting. In The Temple and the Church’s Mission Beale showed us how John looks back to the Garden of Eden in Revelation 21-22. Throughout the book he shows the reader how this temple theme is found all throughout God’s word.

Here, in Hidden But Now Revealed, he looks at how mystery is used in the New Testament by grounding it’s meaning in the book of Daniel. Greg Beale and Daniel Gladd (a doctoral student of Beale at Wheaton College) cover the twenty-eight uses of the term mystery in the NT, along with explaining the meaning of mystery in Daniel, it’s subsequent interpretations in early Judaism, concepts related to mystery in the NT yet do not use the word mystery, and the relation between the Christian mystery and the pagan mystery religions (which is very little).

Matthew, Paul, and John all speak about mystery in their letters (i.e., the Gospel of Matthew, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, and Revelation). But where is their meaning derived from? Not only this, but what does the meaning of mystery in Daniel and the NT tell us about how the NT contextually interprets the OT?

The Chocolate Milk


How do we define mystery? Do we pull out Webster’s Dictionary to figure out the meaning? It doesn’t matter that we’re 2,000 years removed from the NT, does it? Yes, it does matter. Instead of relying on Webster, we look even further back in time. Beale and Gladd look to the book of Daniel and define mystery generally as “the revelation of God’s partially hidden wisdom, particularly as it concerns events occurring in the ‘latter days’” (20, emphasis original). What makes mystery so complex is that sometimes the biblical authors use two definitions at the same time: “(1) God’s wisdom has been finally disclosed, but nevertheless (2) his wisdom remains generally incomprehensible to non-believers” (20).

The original context for mystery comes from Daniel 2 and 4. In both of these chapters we see that either king Nebuchadnezzar’s “spirit was troubled” (2.1) over his dreams or they “made him fearful” (4.5). He tells Daniel “no mystery baffles you!” (4.9). In Daniel 4 the king might be fearful because he knows the dream is about him because his dream follows that of Daniel 2, where the destruction of Babylon is portrayed in the destruction of the golden head of the statue. The authors argue that mystery “is not a radically new revelation but a disclosure of something that was largely (but not entirely) hidden” (35).

New Testament Letters

The authors look at the NT letters (see paragraph 3) to see how the NT authors develop the idea of mystery. The chapter on Matthew was by far my favourite (as I am captivated by the Gospels right now) as they showed how the kingdom of heaven was known in the OT, yet it was also a mystery. Rather than being established at the end of time as was perceived in the OT and in early Judaism, it came in two stages (or an already-and-not-yet manner). It has “come” but is “not yet” completed.

This goes on for the rest of the NT’s use of mystery. There is a facet of the mystery that was known in the OT (whether it be about salvation, the Gentiles, the man of lawlessness, how the kingdom of evil will be defeated, etc), and there is new revelation now that Jesus, the high King of heaven, has come.

The Spoiled Milk

I enjoyed the book. It’s quite dense, and in reading this you’ll want your Bible by your side so you can read along with Gladd/Beale. Though the book can be quite general, it’s mainly due to the fact that the authors cover twenty eight uses of the term mystery in the NT. This is not an easy task. Though I feel some space could have been saved but for this one thing: double-summaries.

As Jim Hamilton has said in a review, “Beale is prolix” (a.k.a. Beale is “wordy”). At the end of each chapter is a conclusion where the authors summarize their findings. This is especially helpful in the chapters covering the NT letters. Yet, at the beginnings of those same chapters we run into the same findings again!

Example: The Ephesians chapter ‘ends’ with a conclusion summarizing the main points discussed, after which we are provided with an excursus. When we turn the page to Colossians we find four paragraphs repeating the summary conclusions from Ephesians. This is seen constantly throughout the section on the NT letters. It’s not a major flaw (it is helpful to see the thoughts summarized in perhaps a different way), still, much of it could have been done away with leaving us with either a slightly shorter book or one filled with some newer information.


Oh, yes, this is recommended. Though I should qualify that statement. If you’re interested in mystery in Daniel and/or in the NT, or how the NT interprets the OT then you would like this book. This book could be read all the way straight through (as I did), but what I did catch I’ll leave in the book until I come back to use it as a reference guide. The authors leave the excursuses at the end of each chapter, which really helps keep the flow of each chapter moving right along. Mysteries are quite complex, head-scratching, and, well, “mysterious” until you have the key. And I think Beale and Gladd can be looked to on having gone deeper into finding that key, not only of what consists of mystery, but how the NT interprets the OT.


  • Paperback: 393 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (October 3, 2014)
  • Amazon: US // UK
  • PDF sample here

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

Review: The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown

Cradle, Cross, Crown

These days, NT introductions are all over the place. They can be found all over and just about everywhere. From more liberal introductions there is Achtemeier and Green’s Introduction and Raymond Brown’s Introduction, to the moderately conservative Introduction by Donald Hagner, up to the conservative evangelical The Cradle, The Cross, and the Crown by KKQ. Since there are so many NT Introductions, I’m thankful to be able to review a book like this, hopefully fulfilling my intention of pointing people to good biblical books.

While much different than David deSilva’s NT Introduction which deals much more with the cultural, social, and rhetorical life and setting of the NT world, KKQ have put together a rather large 954 page Introduction to the NT based on everything you would need to know about the NT. It’s divided into five parts:

I. Introduction
II. Jesus and the Gospels
III. The Early Church and Paul
IV. The General Epistles and Revelation
V. Conclusion

Hopefully my previous posts have given you a bit of a (albeit, small) taste of the book:

It’s quite a task trying to review a NT Intro. There’s so much to discuss, and so little space to talk about it. I’ll start by telling you how this book differs from other NT Introductions. This review will differ from others of mine as there are plenty of lists, but I hope it makes it all easier to read and comprehend.


Each chapter begins with a Core Knowledge section, divided up into three smaller segments:

  • Basic-
  • Intermediate-
  • Advanced Knowledge

This book has both the student and the teacher in mind, and depending on the school one is teaching/learning at, or how many semesters they will have of a particular course, can help determine how detailed a teacher would want to get. The Advanced Knowledge section is available for those students who want to move beyond the Intermediate- and go further in their own study.

Chapters 1-3

Chapter 1 introduces discussions on The Nature and Scope of Scripture dealing with

  • Evidence and Scholarship on the Canon of Scripture
  • Translations and transmission of the biblical manuscripts
  • How Jesus and the early church viewed the OT

Chapter 2 is on The Political and Religious Background of the New Testament

Chapter 3 is Jesus and the Relationships Between the Gospels. We read about

  • Historical quest for Jesus
  • Contemporary views of Jesus
  • Approximate chronology of Jesus’ life
  • Variety of discussions on
    • Gospels
    • Authenticity
    • Transmission
    • Similarities

Chapters 4-20

Once we get to the NT books themselves (including a chapter on the Apostle Paul), we see what would normally be in a NT Introduction:

  • Authorship
  • Date
  • Origin
  • Destination of the letter
  • Purpose
  • Literary plan.

But the topics aren’t static. Different books can have a different series of discussions.

  • John has an Occasion for the letter (what led him to write his gospel)
  • Acts has Genre and Historical Reliability
  • Corinthians has a piece on Paul’s Opponents

There is no stock set of questions. The authors have freedom to add discussions to the normal list that they think would be beneficial.

The authors divide each book into two ways:

  • Outline
  • Unit-By-Unit Discussion

The authors here do a much better job than the others I’ve read (Tenney, Metzger, Geisler) in discussing each Unit. While I have read portions of deSilva’s NT Introduction and have very much enjoyed it, he does not have a Unit-By-Unit Discussion making it tough to find a specific verse/section. Though his purposes are more thematic and show the connections within a particular NT book, here the Unit-By-Unit Discussions are exactly what many will want.

Each letter ends with a Theology section which looks at some of the main themes in each letter.

  • Acts has Salvation History and The Holy Spirit
  • Romans has 13 pages on The “Righteousness of God” and justification
  • Philemon gives A Christian Approach to Slavery and Other Social Issues
  • James gives Wisdom and Ethics

The final sections of each letter are:

  • Contribution to the Canon
  • Study Questions (good questions, I might add)
  • and a long Further Study (aka bibliography)

Chapter 21

The book concludes with Unity and Diversity in the New Testament, which shows just how the 27 NT books interrelate.

  • The Synoptics and John are not irreconcilable
  • Paul’s teaching is not wildly opposed to Jesus’
  • Paul’s letters do jive with the account of Acts

The NT can be trusted for they all speak of one God and the good news of the gospel about the risen and exalted Messiah.

The Chocolate Milk

The authors are good at reviewing differing perspectives, the biggest of which can be found in Revelation. They cover the Preterist, Historicist, Idealist, and Futurist options, and settle on the futurist (more likely called a modified/moderate futurism) approach which affirms the thousand-year reign of Christ but disregards the “strict literalism,” the distinction between Israel and the church, the chronology of end-time events, and the belief in the pretribulational rapture as taught in dispensational theology. They pick a side (because everyone eventually has to, lest Revelation be impossible to interpret) and give a good discussion regarding each view, showing their strengths and weaknesses.

This introduction is a good, academic work. It’s pretty easy to read, though I understand not everybody is breaking down the doors to know about the Two-Document Hypothesis vs. Markan Priority (though I enjoyed it). The chapter on the Second Temple Period was well done. It’s still a difficult read, but better than some books I’ve read (see my review of Leithart’s The Four). Even still, there’s something for everyone in this book, and if nothing else, all will enjoy reading about each NT letter.

There is plenty of eye candy (so to speak) to go around making it feel like Halloween for the reader:

  • Maps
  • Charts
  • Tables
  • Sidebars

The Spoiled Milk

Though it’s not deSilva, I was disappointed that, unlike deSilva, there was not much discussion of the social, cultural, and rhetorical contexts of the NT world. Patron-client relationships are briefly mentioned in the Destination of Luke (written to Theophilus), but surprisingly not much besides that, not even in the Corinthian correspondence where a knowledge of the patron-client relationship is key to a deeper understanding of the underlying issues going on between Paul and his church. Regardless, this isn’t a major deal, but it still would be helpful in knowing the mindset of the NT world.


Yes, certainly. If you’re looking for a good, solid, conservative, evangelical NT introduction, this is the one to get. Even if that’s not exactly what you’re looking for, I would still point you in this direction. It has plenty of information, a thorough analysis of each NT letter, up-to-date studies in how we received our Bible and how it has been translated and how Jesus has been interpreted over the years, you can’t go wrong here. Even better, they believe in the inspired word of God. This should be implied in the words “solid, conservative, evangelical,” but because there is so much waffling out there, I feel it needs to be said. This is a book I’ll come back to for years to come.


[Special thanks to Chris at B&H for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

Rhetorical Q&A in Romans 6-7

In Kostenberger, Kellum, and Quarles’ NT Introduction The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown, we find a list of Paul’s Rhetorical Questions and Answers in Romans 6-7. While we could find these ourselves, this short list is a helpful guide as to where these question are and what is being expressed. We should look to the references to see the fuller context and hopefully realize why this is important.

I. Romans 6.1-2

Rhetorical Question, v1

“What should we say then? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may multiply?”

Answer, v2

“Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

II. Romans 6.15-16

Rhetorical Question, v15a

“What then? Should we sin because we are not under the law but under grace?”

Answer, v15b-16

“Absolutely not! Do you not know that if you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of that one you obey?”

III. Rom 7.7

Rhetorical Question, v7a

“What should we say then? Is the law sin?”

Answer, v7b

“Absolutely not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin if it were not for the law.”

IV. Rom 7.13

Rhetorical Question, v13a

“Therefore, did what is good cause my death?”

Answer, v13b

“Absolutely not! In the contrary, sin, in order to be recognized as sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that through the commandment sin might become sinful beyond measure.”

In this list we can see some issues that Paul foresaw would arise in his preaching. Sin does not serve a positive purpose nor should it be continued. More sin doesn’t necessarily mean more grace to come. Rather, more sin leads to deeper slavery. A life of sin is inconsistent with our union with Christ. Sin is no longer our master, and we believers should offer ourselves as instruments for righteousness.

Hopefully in our teaching, in our preaching, and in our proclaiming the gospel we would be prepared for the questions that would arise, done with “gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3.15).

Book Review: 2 Corinthians (PNTC), Mark Seifrid

2 Corinthians PNTC mark seifrid book review

After teaching 2 Corinthians last semester and using Hafemann, Garland, and deSilva, I was excited to hear that PNTC’s newest commentary would be on Second Corinthians and written by Mark Seifrid (Mildred and Ernest Hogan Professor of New Testament Interpretation [1992] at SBTS). Seifrid is probably most known for his works on justification and evaluating the New Perspective of Paul (here and here).


The Apostle Paul is an ambassador for Christ with God making his appeal through the apostles, particularly, in this letter, Paul. Yet for the corinthians this is a paradox, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account” (2 Cor 10.10).

Paul shows the hiddenness of God in Christ’s cross of salvation. How does the cross continue to play a role in the Christian life. One must only look to Paul, “in whom the experience of all believers is written large” (133), or on big-screen display. The comfort and continuing salvation of Christ cannot be separated from the participation in his sufferings in this present time (1.3-7). Yet the Corinthians, with their fast-paced culture that seeks what is new and culturally honourable, have found other apostolic claimants to follow. Paul must show them the true way to follow Christ, and that he does in fact live in that true way.

The Chocolate Milk

While he does take up conversation with Hays, Hafemann, and Mitchell in chapter 3, for the most part Seifrid sticks to the text rather than repeating or arguing against the theories of other commentators. And I quite enjoyed this. While, yes, I would liked to have seen more interaction with other commentators, I’m glad Seifrid refrained from much over-extended socializing like many other commentators. He said in an interview, While not forgetting the main exegetical debates, I intentionally concentrated on commenting on the text and not on the commentaries. There is a danger within current interpretation of directing one’s comments to the guild of scholars rather than to the believing community. I tried to avoid that danger.

Seifrid’s commentary is (normally) easy to read and flows quite well. There are no needless (read: any) in-text commentary citations (only Scriptural references and varying translations). The three most cited authors are Luther, Bonhoeffer, and Bayer, along with a number of German works appearing in Seifrid’s bibliography.

There is theological reflection here revolving around the Christian life where believers carry their cross daily. Seifrid works off of Luther’s theology of the cross. We know God because he has revealed himself to us perfectly in Christ, who died on the cross to save us from our sinfulness. God’s power is seen in his working through human sinfulness, rather than grand miracles, flashy teachers, and great speakers. The Christian not only proclaims the cross, but lives the cross too.

Seifrid keeps the literary context in mind, always being aware of key texts both before him and behind him (including 1 Corinthians). He reminds the reader that Paul is seeking to win a real church back to the true gospel that he lives out, and his open-heartedness runs throughout the entire letter. This volume is shorter than some of the other 2 Corinthians commentaries, but Seifrid packs a lot in. What is the theology, how does Paul bring it into the life of a real people? This is what the pastor would want. Seifrid is attentive to the concepts that lie behind the text and brings them into the view of the reader with great ease.

3.12-18; Paul explains how God’s dealings with Israel is paradigmatic with his dealing with the world. Unlike Israel and the world (4.4), Christians are free from the veil and blindness by the Spirit of God.

6.14-18; The unbelievers Corinth is to break with are not the world, physical idol worshipers, or marriage partners, but are the false teachers who have entered the church along with anyone who has sided with them. Seifrid admits that his view is a minority view (Hafemann and deSilva hold the same view), but it’s what best fits the context (I believe). The “Jewish feel” of the text (which has led many scholars to think of this portion as non-Pauline) fits the context. The church wants Jewish apostles (11.22), so Paul gives it to them.

10-13; This is not a later add-on, nor was it written after some time (though Seifrid allows for this option). He believes 2 Corinthians is a complete unity, where Paul had all parts in mind as he wrote. The disjointedness of 2 Corinthians reflects the disjointedness of the relationship between Paul and his church.

The Spoiled Milk

To be brief, though Seifrid is usually easy to read, there are times when I simply do not know what he is talking about. He begins to speak in a roundabout way, and it’s quite ethereal, actually. I can’t seem to grasp what he’s saying. Perhaps I don’t know enough to see behind his concepts, but abstract concepts spoken of in a roundabout way never were my strong point. The thing is, Seifrid doesn’t use too much scholarly jargon. Instead he uses his own jargon. He refers to things as if the reader already knows what he’s talking about.

He spends fourteen paragraphs discussing over Hafemann’s interpretation of the letter and Spirit, yet I was left confused when all was said and done. He explained Hafemann’s position well, yet I still don’t really know what Seifrid’s argument was, except that he didn’t agree with Hafemann. It’s unfortunate because this is a really good commentary, but sometimes Seifrid’s lack of clarity gets the best of him (specifically in 3.4-11, and the occasional verse [5.16b]).

Strangely enough, there’s no information provided on the Corinthian geography, history, and culture in the Introduction. Those who have this as their only commentary will have to go elsewhere for that information.


Anyone who wants a serious study of this letter should get this commentary. I’ve read Hafemann, Garland, and deSilva’s monograph, and I’d like to read Harris and the upcoming Guthrie and deSilva. While helpful, I disagreed with both Hafemann and Garland on 2 Corinthians 3 (finding Meyer’s The End of the Law (my review) to be most helpful). While Meyer still proved helpful here (I thought it was unfortunate that Seifrid hadn’t read it, but who am I to expect him to read every work?), Seifrid still does an excellent job on this commentary. Unless one is against any sort of Lutheran theology, this commentary will suit your fancy. I am more than glad to be able to use this commentary for teaching 2 Corinthians this semester. Garland is too wordy and Hafemann isn’t full enough. Seifrid brings a good amount to the table that is of excellent quality. While I wouldn’t suggest this be your only commentary, this should be a top pick.


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Paul’s Allusions to Jesus

In Kostenberger, Kellum, and Quarles’ NT Introduction The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown, they provide yet another table of Highly Probable Allusions to Jesus in Paul’s Letters. Identifying intentional allusions to Jesus’ teaching can be quite difficult, but there are three ways to discover when an allusions was likely intended:

  1. Paul used an explicit tradition indicator (“the Lord commanded” or “word from the Lord”).
  2. The suspected allusion contains linguistic or thematic echoes from the Gospels.
  3. A series of several possible allusions appear in a particular context.

In his book on Paul David Wenham concluded that “there is massive evidence of Pauline knowledge of Jesus-traditions” (Kostenberger, 373; Wenham, 381). The chart below summarizes the most important of Wenham’s findings.

Sayings and Acts of Jesus

Allusions by Paul

Last Supper
(Mt 26.26-30; Mk 14.22-26; Lk 22.14-23)

1 Cor 11.23-26

(Lk 24.36-49; Jn 20.19-21.14)

1 Cor 15.3-5,35-57; Phil 3.21

(Mk 10.1-12; Mt 19.1-12)

1 Cor 7.10-11

Support of Preachers
(Mt 10.10; Lk 10.7)

1 Cor 9.14; 1 Tim 5.18

Eschatological Teaching
(Mt 24; Mk 13; esp. Lk 21)

2 Thess 2.1-12

Eschatological Parables

  • Thief in the Night (Mt 24.43-44)
  • Watchman (Lk 12.36-38)
  • Stewards (Mt 24.45-51; Lk 12.42-48)
  • Wise and Foolish Virgins (Mt 25.1-13)

1 Thess 4.1-5.11

Mountain-Moving Faith
(Mt 17.20)

1 Cor 13.2

(Mt 5.38-42; Lk 6.29-30)

Rom 12.14

Love and the Law
(Mt 22.37-40)

Rom 13.8-10; Gal 5.14

Nothing Unclean
(Mt 15.10-20; Mk 7.17-23)

Rom 14.14

(Mk 14.36)

Rom 8.15; Gal 4.6

Paul did not present and form a Christianity different than what Jesus presented. His teachings were a reflection of Jesus, His life and teachings, along with Paul’s study of the OT and his personal experience on the Damascus road. While Jesus’ ministry was primarily to a Jewish audience, Paul’s ministry was mainly for the Gentiles.

“Paul had to look beyond Jesus back to the OT to understand the implications of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection for his audience” (337).

Jesus’ teachings were the seed (Mk 4.26-32), Paul’s the growing plant. Jesus was the foundation with Paul building upon it (1 Cor 3.5-17; Eph 2.19-22).

Who Wrote Ephesians?

In the world of NT scholarship, the authorship of the letter to the Ephesians has long (1500s) been debated. Many have proclaimed (perhaps ‘bewailed’ would be a better term) the letter’s “‘sublime’ and ‘difficult'” nature (Chrysostom). Origin thought Paul had “heaped up more obscure ideas and mysteries known to the ages in this epistle than in all the others” (Thielman, Ephesians, 6). “Erasmus believed that Peter had Ephesians in mind when he said, ‘In these Epistles there are certain things difficult to understand'” (6).

Throughout my life I have often heard that scholars have long debated the authorship of Ephesians, though I never knew what the big deal was. What makes admitting Pauline authorship of Ephesians so difficult?

Some Difficulties

In his commentary on Ephesians, Frank Thielman shows us three features of Ephesians are particularly unusual:

1. “Ephesians has a high number of long sentences,” more than any of Paul’s other letters (6).

  1. In the NA27 Ephesians has 2,422 words and, according to punctuation, has 64 sentences.
  2. In contrast, Galatians has 2,230 words with 102 sentences.

Six sentences in Ephesians are substantially long (1.3-14, 15-23; 2.1-7; 3.1-7; 4.11-16; 6.14-20).

2. “Ephesians is full of grammatical and lexical ambiguities that affect the meaning of the text” (6).

  • In 1.17, Does Paul pray that God will give his readers:
    • a wise spirit?
    • or God’s Spirit, who in turn will give them wisdom?
  • In 1.23,
    • Does the church fill up the one who fills all things?
    • or is it full of the one who fills all things?
  • In 2.2:
    • Does Paul refer to a hierarchy of spiritual enemies?
    • or does he elaborately describe on of these enemies (the devil)?
  • In 2.14,
    • Do the terms “middle wall,” “partition,” and “enmity” all refer to the same object?
    • Did Christ destroy them “in his flesh?
    • or was the enmity Christ tore down somehow located “in his flesh”?
  • In 2.21,
    • Does “every building” hold together in Christ?
    • or does “the whole building” hold together in him?
  • In 3.17,
    • Does Paul command his readers to be rooted and grounded in love?
    • or does he say that they have [already] been rooted and grounded in love?
  • In 6.24, the final sentence of the letter pronounces a blessing on those who love Christ “in corruption.”
    • What could this phrase mean?

3. “Ephesians is a highly redundant text” (7). Look at how many synonyms Paul uses (as the last sentence says) “redundantly.”

  • Some examples are:
    • 1.5, “the good pleasure of his [God’s] will.”
    • 1.8, “wisdom and understanding.”
    • 1.19, “the effect of the might of his strength.”
    • 1.21, “rule and authority and power and lordship.”
    • 3.19, “being ‘filled up to all the fullness of God.'”
    • 4.16, “each single part.”
    • 5.5, “[Paul] tells his readers to ‘know this, knowing that….'”
    • 5.33, He “addresses the husbands in his audience as ‘you – every single one of you.'”
      • Also read 1.11; 2.7; 3.7,12; 6.10.

4. Ephesians is “missing the argumentative, fast-paced feel typical of Paul’s undisputed letters. Rhetorical questions, if-then clauses, and syllogisms are virtually absent” (7).

From the early 16th century, interpreters have wondered how the apostle Paul could have produced such an unusual letter. In 1591 Erasmus said, “Certainly, the style differs so much from the other Epistles of Paul that it could seem to be the work of another person did not the heart and soul of the Pauline mind assert clearly his claim to this letter” (CWE 43:300n12).

Thielman lists for the reader a few scholars (De Wette, Holtzmann, Moffatt, Mitton, and Lincoln) who went further and saw evidence of a pseudonym in use.


Yet do these difficulties mean that Paul, not didn’t, but couldn’t write Ephesians? Could it still be plausible that the apostle authored the letter of Ephesians? Thielman gives two pieces of evidence that show Paul “could write this way if circumstances demanded it” (10).

  1. In his undisputed letter, Paul could write in a variety of styles (see 1 Cor 13; 2 Cor 6.14-7.1; Phil 2.6-11; Rom 16.25-27). These texts all show that Paul “was clearly a versatile writer” (11). (Thielman believes that these texts all come from Paul, and “arguments to the contrary are not convincing”).
    Given Paul’s high education from Gamaliel (Acts 22.3), a leading authority in the Sanhedrin, he, like any good author, wasn’t strapped to one writing style. If the circumstance calls for it, Paul could (and did) write as different as Colossians and Galatians.
    In the words of Dionysius, “Variation is a most attractive and beautiful quality” (Comp 19). We know this maxim to be true with our favourite actors and actresses in the films we watch. We enjoy seeing the different kinds of roles they step into and watching how they fill those shoes. He can play a 12-year-old boy who overnight grows up to be an adult, but how well does he play a brave captain whose ship is hijacked by Somalian pirates?
  2. The long sentences and broken syntax that appear in Ephesians also appears in other Pauline letters.
    1. Eph 1.3-14 and 2 Thess 1.3-12 “are roughly the same length, contain a torrent of words, and have a number of emphatic redundancies” (11).
    2. The long sentences found in Eph 2.1-3; 3.1-7, 8-12, 14-19; and 4.11-16 also appear in 1 Cor 1.4-8 and Phil 1.3-7.
    3. The broken syntax and digressive nature of Eph 2.1-7 and 3.1-19 are not unlike Rom  5.12-18 and 2 Cor 2.12-7.7.

“It is easy to imagine…that the circumstances of Paul’s imprisonment, and the need to dictate letter with little opportunity to revise them, accounts for this unusual element of the letter’s character” (11).

In the End

Thielman has a keen sense of understanding of Paul’s letter. Looking through, this is my favourite BECNT volume so far. Often times I’ve found the main text in the BECNT to be filled with references to other authors and writings, which unfortunately gets in the way of a clear and lucid reading. The information is still good, I would prefer to see the references relegated to footnotes. But here, Thielman gives his own opinion more often than referencing all of the other commentaries. Of the BECNT volumes I have read so far, Thielman’s volume is the easiest to read and understand. As with the BECNT volumes, he keeps the entire text, the flow of thought, and Paul’s argument in mind. He works to stay true to the text, but points to God’s word, hoping that no one will focus too much on “the bus” that brought them to “the mountain.”

More Reading

On his blog Matthew Montinini interviews Thielman about his commentary. Thielman shows great humility and is an excellent read if you are interested. This is also where I get the “bus”/”mountain” imagery from.

Was the Apostle Paul “Pro-Slavery”?

Ephesians BECNT

Few times in the New Testament does Paul refer to slaves obeying their masters. One case in point would be in Ephesians 6.5-8, Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.

Frank Thielman, in the BECNT volume on Ephesians, gives an example of commentators who thought Paul didn’t disapprove of slavery.

Is it often said that this passage accepts unquestioningly the institution of slavery as it existed in the first century. ‘There is doubtless no approval, but at the same time no disapproval of the existing slavery in itself,’ said Meyer (1880:318) long ago, and most commentators would agree with him. Some recent interpreters go further and see in the passage not merely an acceptance of slavery but also an attempt to provide theological support for the institution, particularly as it benefited the slaveholder [Glancy 2006; Harrill 2006] (404).

However Thielman disagrees, “Surprisingly, [Paul] then tells masters to do for their slaves what he has just required slaves to do for their masters (6.9a), and again he finishes with a clause that gives the reason why masters should do this: they too have a master, and he is no respecter of persons (6.9b-c).”

Slaves are to obey their masters, as the children are to obey their parents (Eph 6.1). Yet Paul deems these masters as ‘fleshly’, subtly indicating there is a greater Master, that of Jesus Christ himself, the One to whom the loyalty of a believing slave ultimately lies.

Sincere Obedience

Paul uses five phrases to describe the slaves’ sincere obedience:

1. “Fear and Trembling”

Like when Paul come to Corinth, he recognized his weak and subordinate position among the Corinthians (1 Cor 2.3; 9.19).

2. “In Integrity/Sincerity of Heart”

The term ‘sincere’ (ἁπλότης, haplotes] is only used by Paul in the NT and is found frequently in 2 Corinthians (1.12; 8.2; 9.11,13; 11.3). “There should be no division between the quality of the labor produced and the attitude of the one who produces it” (406).

3. Obey “as You Would Christ”

Paul contrasts laboring as a slave for humans with laboring as a slave for the Lord. The master doesn’t represent Christ to the servant. In fact, the master is factored out of the equation and replaced by Christ. Like Paul the prisoner of the Lord, this provides away for slaves to “walk worthily” of their calling as believers (4.1).

4. Slaves are Not to Obey Merely When the Master’s Eye is on Them, But as Slaves of Christ, “Committed to the Will of God”

Paul emphasizes the importance of sincerity and honesty in one’s dealings with others (2 Cor 1.17-18; 2.17; 3.2; 4.2). It is acting sincerely and according to one’s inner convictions, something highly valued in Greco-Roman and Hellenistic (Greek) Jewish ethics.

5. Slaves Should Do Their Assigned Work With “Good Will”

Paul understands that there are injustices within the institution of slavery, and so “urges slaves to consider their obedience as ‘rendered to the Lord'” (407).

The slave can know that whatever good he does, in honor of the Lord, will be “repaid/given back” to him by the Lord (6.8), something true to both slave and free.

And We Can’t Forget the Masters…

Paul goes on in Eph 6.9, Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.

Paul gives one verse to the masters because he intends for them to follow the same instructions given to the slave. But who is the master’s master? Jesus Christ.

How do masters “do the same to them [the slaves]”? Most see this as meaning the masters should treat their slaves as well as their slaves treat them, or, in light of Christ as their Master, to treat their slaves justly and fairly.

  1. Having spoken of “fleshly masters” (6.5), Paul reminds both parties that they serve a greater Master. Both slave and free will be judged equally at the final judgment, as there is no favoritism with the Divine Judge of heaven to whom both are subject.
  2. There was a strong conviction in early Christianity following the teachings of Jesus that “if anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all(Mk 9.35; 1 Cor 9.19). The head of the household, if a believer, should consider the examples of both Jesus and Paul and follow this teaching.
  3. Eph 1-3 teaches that humans are united in their rebellion against God (2.2-3, 11-12) and through Christ are new creations (2.10; 14.22). They are one people and a family unit in Christ.
  4. He deprives masters of the threat of violence, something often used by slaveowners in Roman society to force their slaves to submit, or even just to vent their anger. Believing masters must now “give up” this form of coercion. This is not giving up “certain forms of threatening”, but “threatening entirely.”
    Why? Because in the presence of the Lord there is no difference between slave and master (Gal 2.6; Col 3.25).

Within a traditional Greco-Roman household, how can believers “live wisely, do the Lord’s will, grow in maturity as human beings, and live in the Spirit (5.15-18)”? Both are now free in Christ to choose righteous attitudes and actions.

Paul undermines the whole system of slaveholding, as these slave-holding believers are, in a way, to submit to their slaves (5.21), serving them in the same way they desire their slaves to serve them.

As the notes [above have explained], however, this passage is more radical than the account of it given in either of these readings [by Meyer, Glancy, and Harrill in the above quote]. There is no explicit criticism of slavery here, but the level of mutuality and reciprocity that is assumed to exist between master and slave creates an atmosphere in which it would have been difficult for slavery to survive if the advice of the passage had been rigorously followed. The problem that the passage highlights is not its own failure to rise above this brutal and ubiquitous [ever-present] institution, but the failure of those who received the passage as authoritative both in antiquity and in more recent times to live out its radical implications (404-405; emphasis mine).