Category Archives: Review

Review: Saved by Allegiance Alone

Matthew Bates, Associate Professor of Theology at Quincy University in Quincy, Illinois, is the author of The Birth of the Trinity (which I will be reading soon). Seeking to serve both the church and academy, he co-hosts OnScript, a podcast dedicated to interviewing scholars over their books to pique the interest of many.

What is “faith”? More so, what does it take to be saved? Acknowledging that although you are a sinner, God sent his one and only Son to die on a cross for your sins? Then, after his resurrection, he ascended to the Father and will return to gather up his people one day? Is it only belief in those core facts that makes someone a new creation? The biblical authors (see James 2.14–18) would disagree. 

Throughout his book, Bates puts forth that pistis (“faith”) is better understood within the umbrella-term of “allegiance” instead of “faith,” “belief,” and “trust.” Now, nowhere does he says that pistis should always be translated as “allegiance” (78), but it is more than mere mental assent. We don’t need to stop using “faith, and “belief,” but allegiance is “the best macro-term available to us that can describe what God requires from us for eternal salvation” (5).

Faith is not opposed to evidence. We need not make leaps of faith to believe God nor should we fear intellectual study. Faith does not oppose works of all kinds (cf. Eph 2.10; 2 Tim 2.21; 3.17), nor believing all will just happen to go well. We believe and thus preach the “good news about the enthronement of Jesus the atoning king” (30). We live under that eternally reigning King, and we will be judged for how we live (2 Cor 5.10).

Preaching allegiance to the eternal reigning King is not legalistic, for the Apostle Paul preached the very same thing.

Rom 1.5, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.

Rom 16.26, but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith

Acts 26.20, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.

Bates is not the only scholar to emphasize loyalty. In Supernatural, Michael Heiser says, “Salvation is about believing loyalty—trusting what Jesus did to defeat Satan’s claim and turning from all other gods and the belief systems of which they are a part” (125). In his commentary on Deuteronomy, Dan Block says,

Answering to the Supreme Command, by uttering the Shema the Israelites were declaring their complete, undivided, and unqualified devotion to Yahweh. This is not strictly a monotheistic confession (cf. 4:35, 39) but a cry of allegiance, an affirmation of covenant commitment that defines the boundaries of the covenant community. It consists of those who claim this utterance as a verbal badge of identity and who demonstrate this identity with uncompromising covenant commitment… (182).

So, is allegiance a better way to understand pistis than the long-held “faith”/“belief”?

The Spoiled Milk

First, I don’t think all of the verses Bates uses as support are so helpful. Consider his translation of Romans 5.1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by allegiance, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Were we justified when we believed/trusted Christ as King or when we trusted and then acted upon it? Wouldn’t trust imply that we will act upon our beliefs? Bates says that the “metaphors [of ‘belief’ and ‘trust’] are best adjusted and subsumed within the richer category of allegiance. Consistent trust in situations of duress over a lengthy period of time is allegiance” (90).

Maybe it is my own myopia, but I fail to see how mental assent comes under the doing of allegiance. One must believe before he can do. One must mentally “assent” to Christ as King before he can follow in his steps.

Ephesians 2.8, “For by grace you have been saved through allegiance. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” However, if we have been saved by allegiance, this surely sounds like our own doing. Although Bates admits that “even the ability to render allegiance to Jesus as king is a gift” (172), this seems to confuse more than clarify.

Hebrews 11.1, 3 say, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God….” As the author continues, the remaining 22 uses of faith seem to focus on “belief”/mental assent rather than allegiance (though without excluding obedience/allegiance).

In 11.4, both Cain and Abel offered sacrifices, but it was by Abel’s trust/faith in God that he offered a better sacrifice. Noah, warned of impending doom, trusted God (and obeyed, Gen 6.22). Joseph (Heb 11.22), at the end of his life, trusted God’s promises of land and genealogy made mention of Israel’s future exodus. In 11.28, Moses trusted Yahweh’s promise that obeying the Passover instructions would protect them from the Destroyer’s touch (a trust which included obedience).

As a reminder, Bates doesn’t say allegiance is always the best way to translate pistis, but throughout Hebrews 11 it seems that the main focus is on heroes who trusted God and thus acted upon that trust.

Recommended?

There’s not much new here, though his book is a helpful emphasis on loyalty to our King. Bates rightly makes the case that faith should not be left in the ether; it is expressly shown in our daily actions as we serve our righteous King. However, these actions, while expressing allegiance to our King, are subsumed under the overarching idea of our mental assent and understanding of what God has down for us in Christ. The teachings in this book would be helpful when correcting a brother or sister who creates a habit in saying, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” and for encouraging those who might have forgotten (or just not realized) the importance of loyalty. While allegiance is an important facet of our loyalty to our King, I still believe that sola fide, “faith alone,” is a better way to understand our salvation.

Lagniappe

  • Author: Matthew W. Bates
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic (March 14, 2017)
  • Podcast: OnScript 

Buy from Baker Academic or Amazon

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Academic through the Baker Academic Bloggers program. 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 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Review: Now My Eyes Have Seen You (NSBT)

Job is a particularly difficult book (in English, Hebrew, and Greek). Understanding the poetry of Job and his three friends requires having a handle on their worldview, which involves a lot of reading of peripheral material from the ANE world. Robert Fyall has done much of that work for us and focusing on the images of creation and evil in the book of Job, with a particular emphasis on God’s divine council, Satan, and the place of Behemoth and Leviathan. He approaches the book of Job with humility so that he, and those he teaches, will not be like Job’s three friends who did not speak what was right about the Lord (Jb 42.7-8). In this study Fyall believes that Yahweh’s divine speeches (38-41) ought to control how we read the book, he draws numerous comparisons to the rest of the OT to draw out the theology of creation and evil, and he argues for the unity of Job.

Behemoth3

According to Fyall, we can see the unity of Job in three ways: structurally, thematically, and theologically. Structurally, the narrative and poetry portions of Job can not stand on their own. Throughout the poetic portion of the book, Job glimpses the divine council aspect that was seen in Job 1–2. In 42.7–17, the final narrative section, God says that Job’s three friends did not speak what was right about him. This wouldn’t make sense unless Job was a unity, for the friends don’t start speaking until Job 4. Thematically, some try to separate the “patient” Job from the “angry” Job, but to separate the patient from the angry is to miss out on the mixed emotions of a real person. Theologically, the divine council is the controlling theme of the book, as Satan’s role in Job 1–2 is bound together with various references to him and his workings in the preceding chapters. This is especially so in Job 41 where, as Fyall argues, the Leviathan is unmasked as being Satan himself.

This brings us into one of the main points of the book. Who or what is the Behemoth and the Leviathan? Fyall, using intertextuality and Canaanite and Mesopotamian myths, argues that Behemoth represents Mot, the god of death, and Leviathan is Satan. Throughout the book of Job, Job believes that God is against him (6.4, “For the arrows of the Almighty are in me”), when in fact it is Satan himself who is allowed to terrorize Job. Fyall says that “to say that Leviathan has characteristics of the crocodile and the whale is not to say that it is such a creature, but rather to suggest that evil is rooted in the natural world” (27).

Fyall’ss discussion on the use of imagery and myth is extremely and could be used to explain the Bible’s use of so much imagery (from other ancient Near Eastern sources and it’s own use of metaphor in general). Metaphor “is not merely a means of ‘conveying’ doctrinal positions but an adventurous occasion for deepening doctrine through the play of literary resources…” (24–25). As for myth, which Job makes numerous allusions to both Canaanite and Mesopotamian myths, do not mean “make believe,” but rather is “an attempt to embody in narrative the great truth of good and evil” (27). Instead of speaking of light and darkness, myth embodies these concepts (e.g., Baal and Yam, Marduk and Tiamat).

The Spoiled Milk

Unfortunately I don’t think Fyall provides a slam-dunk argument. I generally agree with him, as many of his hooks to other passages in Job seem to guide us into seeing that these two beastly animals are something more than just a crocodile/whale or a hippopotamus (and it’s hard to go against scholars like Robert Chisholm and my own Hebrew/OT professor Peter Gentry). However, I think many of his points are too vague, though his argument is one of cumulative evidence, and he provides plenty of that. One isn’t required to know Hebrew to read this book (as you’re only given the transliterations anyway), but a working knowledge of it and ANE works is certainly helpful. 

I also have a hard time seeing how the divine council is the controlling theme of Job. I know it’s important, but was it really because of Job’s partial knowledge of the divine council and his “continual awareness of a cosmic and supernatural dimension to his sorrows” that God announced Job’s spoke rightly of him (148; Jb 42.7–8)? I find it difficult to accept this, though I don’t want to understate the importance of the divine council in Job.

Recommended?

Those points aside, Fyall does a great service in his book by helping us get a better grasp of Job and his theology through the angle of creation and evil. I think his points should be wrestled with, and, even if you don’t agree with him, his book is especially helpful for those who are studying and will be teaching through Job. There is more to this book (and to Job) than chapters 40–41. throughout his book, Fyall doesn’t eschew Jesus, but instead keeps him in sight. He is the Redeemer (Jb 19.25) we look forward to seeing (42.5) on the other side of life.

Lagniappe

Author: Robert S. Fyall
Series: New Studies in Biblical Theology (Book 12)
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: IVP Academic (August 15, 2002)

Buy it from IVP Academic or Amazon!

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP 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 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Review: Hermeneutics as Apprenticeship

How should we read the Bible? Interpret obtuse texts with the clear texts? Should the Scripture interpret me alone? Those are helpful methods, but Starling vouches for an intertextual hermeneutic. Like the snowball which rolls down a hill and picks up more snow along the way, the Biblical authors picked up former themes and ideas when they wrote. Revelation, the last book of the Bible, has more echoes and allusions (~635) than any other NT book. That’s quite the snowball. But more than that, Starling argues that the “interpretation of the Scriptures is like a craft or a trade that must be learned if we are to draw the right connections, make the right intuitive leaps, and bring to bear on the task the right dispositions, affections, and virtues” (17). The work of the interpreter (which is anyone and everyone who reads the Bible) will require sweat, toil, and character.

The rest of his book is made up of fourteen case studies, six from the Old Testament and eight from the New. Each chapter has a specific theme (or “hermeneutic”) that is developed throughout that biblical book. If each theme was a play, Starling gives us tickets to the front row, the side balcony, and the nose bleed section. Each seat is a different angle and allows the ticket-holder the see the play, its actors, their motions, and their faces from different angles (near, far, and to the side). Some examples are Psalms (“delight”), Deuteronomy (“law”), Zechariah (“prophecy”), Luke (“fulfillment”), Galatians (“allegory”), and 1 Peter (“Empire”).

For example, in 1 Peter, how do we read the Bible and live in this world as exiles under an evil empire (no matter where we live)? Peter teaches his readers what the OT says about living as followers of Christ today (yes, even today) by having us sit in the different seats of the play Empire. We are to live with both a reverent fear/respect to those we live and serve under, and a reverent fear of God whom everyone lives under. We live under a God who has show us grace and we should show grace and good works as well to others. When we are alienated from the world we know that there is another greater One who we serve and approves of our lives. Our glorious salvation is incorruptible, greater than all the gold and social approval this world can give us. We were taken out of darkness and into light by the precious blood of Christ through a horrific crucifixion. “What is beautiful in the sight of God can—at least in principle—be found beautiful by all those who have eyes to see” (190).

The Spoiled Milk

There not much I don’t like about this book, but there are times when Starling is making a point, but it either seems to come out of nowhere or it’s very vague. For example, to conclude his chapter on Luke-Acts and to clarify how they explain a true “gospel-centered hermeneutic,” Starling says in his third concluding point that “the gospel preaching of Jesus and his apostles in Luke-Acts does not sit well with one-dimensional propositional accounts of the gospel speech-act, or with overly sharp attempts to pare off the response the gospel calls for and the blessing that it offers from the facts that it announces, as if only the latter were properly part of the gospel” (117). He states just before that the way Luke-Acts uses the OT contrasts with a one-dimensional use of the OT simply as a backdrop for the facts of the gospel that many people today use.

But just what are these “one-dimensional propositional accounts”? What does he mean by “gospel speech-act”? What are the “overly sharp attempts to pare off” the gospel response and its offered blessings from the facts of the gospel, and who is doing the paring? I don’t know, but this is one of final main points. To give (what I thought to be) a vague expression of how we shouldn’t interpret the OT without explaining what that looks like is disappointing. Many may continue on without realizing their own one-dimensional interpretations. 

Recommended?

I would assign this book if I taught a hermeneutics class in a Bible college, and at least a few chapters if I taught this in a high school. It’s a good subset of larger Biblical theologies that keeps an eye on what the individual biblical authors are teaching their readers. They each have something specific they want to emphasize (multiple things, really), and it all fits under the heading of God’s Word.

Interpreting Scripture requires sweat, skill, and character. We work and develop the skill of learning how to read and understand it properly, and as God develops our character and shapes us into the image of his Son, we will understand better just who this God is who is working in the world around us. The fear of God which leads to godly wisdom “is a way of living with unanswered questions that still bears true witness, keeps faith with friends, maintains integrity, and hopes in God” (80). 

The reading and interpretation of God’s word should continually shape us into the image of Christ. The end goal of the Bible is not that we know every correct interpretation (taking up all of our time), but that we love God and serve others because we are transformed by interpreting what the Bible teaches us. We will never get to the end of the Bible, and we will never have all the answers. But we will eventually have to make decisions in life, and what we have learned from the Bible will inform those decisions. Learn to interpret well. 

Lagniappe

Author: David I. Starling
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Baker Academic (September 20, 2016)
Podcasts: OnScript with Matthew Bates

Buy it on Baker Academic or on Amazon!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Academic through the Baker Academic Bloggers program. 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 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Review(s): “Paul’s New Perspective” & “The Earliest Christologies”

IVP graciously sent me Garwood Anderson’s new book Paul’s New Perspective: Charting a Soteriological Journey. Is this just another book on the New Perspective of Paul (NPP)? No, not quite. “To put it simply, the argument of this book insists that both ‘camps’ are right, but not all the time,” or at least, not at the same time (5). Anderson actually thinks that the “New Perspective” was Paul’s old/earliest perspective, and the “Old/Lutheran/Reformed Perspective” was Paul’s new perspective. Anderson means to say that Paul’s early letters (e.g., Galatians), with their use of such terms as “works of the law,” reflect what the NPP says is wholly Paul. But Paul’s later letters (e.g., the prison epistles) reflect what the OPP says is wholly Pauline. And Anderson says, yes.

“Paul’s discourse [in Galatians] is conditioned by an urgent, on-the-ground crisis of how, against apparent scriptural testimony to the contrary and overcoming the skepticism of Jerusalem apostles, Gentiles can be admitted to covenantal membership apart from Torah observance, especially circumcision” (12).

But, like all people, Paul’s theology developed. Anderson in no way says or means to say that Paul’s earlier theology was wrong. But as new situations arose, Paul, like all people, had to think through these new issues with a gospel worldview, one that believed Jesus was the Son of God who died for our sins, rose from the dead, ascended to heaven, rules and reigns at the right hand of God, and will return to save his people and vanquish his foes. Anderson says that Romans was Paul’s turning point, and that Paul’s argument has a transformation of its own. Basically, what began with the crisis of Gentiles being included into membership apart from the law would eventually move to having a “vertical” reconciliation with God, by faith, apart from works of any kind.

“In particular, the question has become not how Gentiles gain a place in the covenant but how, the Gentiles’ place in the covenant being assumed, the unity of Jew and Gentile can be preserved without subverting the salvation-historical priority of Israel. And that question, salient in its own right, is ultimately tributary to the even larger question of God’s own rectitude in the outworking of the divine plan” (13).

Why write a book like this? Garwood says, “The project originates in the sobering observation that Paul’s students too frequently nourish contention, not least in the learned study of their mentor’s accounts of how enmity and its causes have been overcome” (3). And, unfortunately, this is true. Paul taught reconciliation with God and from God, and it should be received and given by his people to each other. Yet, looking at the different Pauline schools, there does not seem to be nearly as much fence-mending going on as Paul would have liked to have seen.

Outline

Before we can get to the real meat (chapters 6-8), some real work needs to be done. Anderson’s first five chapters take us through the gritty debates, but it takes some grit to get through them. Anderson examines some of the issues of the NPP (ch1), gives three examples of how Paul is uncooperative in either “camp”: Phil 3.1-11, Rom 3.21-4.8, and Eph 2.1-22 (ch2), and examines the theology of Dunn and Wright, Watson, Campbell, Bird, and Barclay to see if there’s a way through the NPP (ch3). In chs 4-5 Anderson lay out his “itinerary” on the dates of Paul’s letters, and he argues against the deutero-Pauline hypothesis and for Pauline authorship of all thirteen of Paul’s letters. The problem here will be that if some of Anderson’s arguments don’t work (e.g., a pre-Acts 15 date; a southern Galatian provinence), his theory will have a harder time holding together. It’s not impossible, but a bridge becomes harder to hold up without some of its suspension cables.

Chapters 6-7 deal with Paul’s movement from works of the law to works and his movement from justification language to salvation. Important topics that are hit are also grace, salvation (again), and reconciliation. In chapter 8 Anderson shows the similarities and, more importantly here, the distinctions between Galatians and Romans. Romans is not just an extended edition of Galatians. The second half of the chapter looks how impotent works are redeemed and become “good” in Paul’s later theology.

The Spoiled Milk

My main complaint is that it takes a long time (225 pages) to get to the meat of the book’s main argument, and the language in those first five chapters is very clunky. Anderson uses imagery and metaphor to draw pictures in his language, but sometimes it’s too confusing and makes for a slow read. I often asked myself if it was worth it working through the first five chapters of this book. Chapter 6-8 are definitely worth a read, but only those who are skilled in the discussions of the NPP & OPP will really find chapters 1-5 worth their while.

Recommended?

Unfortunately, this might be the first book I’ve read that specifically deals with the NPP. So for me, though I knew aspects of the NPP and OPP, I haven’t read much at all to begin working through the issues. I taught 2 Corinthians twice in Bible college, and besides Wright’s article on 2 Cor 5.21, there’s not much discussion (that I know of) on the letter from the NPP side. However, for those who are looking to go deeper into the N/OPP debates, Anderson’s book is a must read. His nuanced arguments shows that he has read both sides carefully (from what I can tell) as he tries to refrain from making grand, sweeping allegations. I too must agree with Anderson’s wife, he “should write more” (x).

Lagniappe

  • Author: Garwood P. Anderson
  • Hardcover: 457 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (October 28, 2016)

Buy it from IVP Academic or Amazon!


What did the early church believe about Jesus Christ? Were there really competing views over who Jesus was? Did the view that Jesus was both human and divine (what Papandrea calls “Logos Christology”) become the mainstream view through silence and oppression? Or was this the mainstream view because it was truly what his followers believed about him? In his short book The Earliest Christologies, James Papandrea introduces his readers to the five most common views of Christ with in the post-apostolic age and why Logos Christology won the day. This book focuses on each groups’ “christologies—drawing out what they believed about the person of Jesus Christ, as far as we can know. Then we will address the relationship of christology with soteriology (salvation) and also its relation to [their] lifestyle” (13). What we believe has a profound impact on how we live, and our lifestyle shows what we really believe.

The five christologies are:

  1. Angel Adoptionism: Jesus was a human anointed by God but indwelt by an angel.
  2. Spirit Adoptionism: Jesus was a human who, like the OT prophets, was inspired by the Holy Spirit who left him while he hung on the cross.
  3. Docetism and Docetic Gnosticism: Christ was a phantom who took on the appearance of a human.
  4. Hybrid Gnosticism: “The one who appears as Jesus is not really human but rather a semitangible being posing as a human” (69).
  5. Logos Christology: Jesus Christ is both fully human and fully divine.

The book ends with a continuum chart comparing the aberrant views with Logos Christology. The chart moves from the views which emphasize Christ’s humanity (to the neglect of his divinity) to Logos Christology (in the center) to those views which emphasize his divinity (to the neglect of his humanity).

Recommended?

Papandrea does a good job introducing the reader to the other aberrant views that skewed important aspects of Jesus Christ at the end of the first century and into the second century. As he points out, there’s not much to go on with some of these views. Unlike Christianity which wrote extensively (a la the New Testament, copies of the New Testament, and other helpful letters to the churches), the other views wrote very little, and much of what remains of their writings are only fragments. Because of this it is difficult to know with certainty what these other views precisely believed.

Lagniappe

  • Author: James L. Papandrea
  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (April 24, 2016)

Buy it from IVP Academic or Amazon!

Disclosure: I received these books free from IVP 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 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Review: A Modern Grammar for Biblical Hebrew & Workbook

Learning a language is not easy. You have to learn a new set of vocabulary, a new way to structure sentences, and new syntactical and grammatical rules just to be able to speak to somebody! It’s a bit different with Hebrew and Greek, as many student only learn to recognize and read the languages (unfortunately-languages stick better when you learn them through speaking and listening too). Duane Garrett (the John R. Sampey Professor of Old Testament at the SBTS) and Jason DeRouchie (Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Theology at Bethlehem Seminary) have come together and revised Garrett’s previous Hebrew textbook.

Outline

  1. Orthography (the conventions of spelling) and Phonology (chs 1-4)
  2. Basic Morphology and Syntax (chs 5-26)
  3. Detailed Study of the Qal Verb (chs 27-30)
  4. Detailed Study of the Derived Stems (chs 31-35)
  5. The Masoretic Text, Detailed Study of Syntax, and Poetry (chs 36-41)

Upon finishing chapter 41, the reader will have learned nearly all words that appear 79 times or more in the Hebrew Bible, 510 core vocabulary, 155 proper names, and will have translated over 300 verses of biblical text (along with many practice sentences). A CD is included with audio files for the alphabet and vocabulary.  

The Chocolate Milk

I’ve found Garrett/DeRouchie’s grammar to be a helpful guide. Most chapters are packed with information (though this can be a double-edged sword), which is helpful for self-study and for after-class-need-more-time-to-let-this-soak-in-study. In chapter six, “Hebrew Verbs,” the authors give a very helpful discussion on verb tense, mood, aspect, and voice. 

  • Tense tells us if the “situation expressed by the verb is past, present, or future” (35).
  • Mood tells us whether the action (expressed by the verb) is real/actual (“was,” “is,” or “will”) or possible (“may,” “would,” “could”).
  • Aspect “relates to how a speaker portrays the action” (35). Are we told “it [the whole event] happened” or that “it was happening” (as a process)?
  • Voice “tells us whether the subject of a verb acts or is acted upon” (36). This is seen in active verbs (“The dog bit the man”) and passive verbs (“The man was bitten by the dog”).

Each chapter has a section on vocabulary, and beginning with chapter nine the reader is presented with a guided reading from Psalm 1, Numbers 1.24–35, Psalm 14, and various texts from Genesis. The authors cover the expected grammar of Hebrew: nouns, adjectives, adverbs, prefixes, etc. But Section E has six chapters, one on Masoretic marks, and five covering syntax and literary structure, discourse analysis, and poetry. These chapters give important advice on sentence clauses, speech, embedded discourse, paragraph markers, and more. There is a case study in historical discourse in Genesis 37.2–11 which will benefit any who put the time into understanding it. It’s not enough to know vocabulary and to be able to parse; you must know how to read sentences and paragraphs and to know how the sense units function in relation to each other. This is a large task, and Garrett and DeRouchie faithfully guide their beginners through these ravines.

The Workbook is excellent. Each chapter comes with many sentences to translate and many verbs to parse for extra practice. It’s unfortunate that the reader isn’t required to translate from English in Hebrew. It actually helps to reinforce what was taught in the chapter. Bonus: The workbook has an answer key (I’ve actually seen some books that do not have an answer key, which boggles my mind).

The Spoiled Milk

As I said above, almost every chapter is is packed with information, which can be a real benefit. But when I open A Modern Grammar I feel like I’m drowning in words. Though helpful, it can really be overwhelming.

The flip side to my praise of the chapter on verbs (ch 6) is followed up by my distaste for the chapter on verbs. Right off the bat, I’m a paradigm guy. I’ve seen that there are some people who have really appreciated that the chapters on verbs didn’t list paradigms. I’m not one of those people. That’s just not how my mind works. So even though I had already had a semester of Hebrew, this chapter still threw me for a loop.

The chapter quickly introduces the reader to the verb יִפֹּל (yippol) and it’s meaning, gloss, and alternative translations. The first verb reader meets is a weak verb. On the next page the reader is given six more verbs, and again, all are weak verbs (which are more difficult to properly recognize than the strong verbs). Then יִפֹּל (yippol) is described as an imperfect verb, what Garrett refers to as the yiqtol (יִקְטֹל) verb. קָם (qam) is a perfect verb, or a qatal verb. My point? יִפֹּל doesn’t look like יִקְטֹל, and קָם doesn’t look like קָטַל. The vocabulary list at the end of the chapter contains 15 verbs; two are strong. The rest are weak (and, thus, act differently).

Why not explain the perfect verbs (קָטַל) by strong verbs that actually like like the verb קָטַל? why use a weak verb with only two radicals (or ‘letters’) instead of three? Weak verbs are difficult enough to understand. Why begin verbs with them?  

In fact, I found all/most of the chapters on verbs to be at least somewhat confusing. On the one hand, the explanations are excellent, but the format of the chapters (and lack of paradigms, though they are in a back appendix) was unhelpful.

Recommended?

Yes, though in a number of ways I still prefer both Allen Ross’ grammar (which you can find free lectures here) and Van Pelt/Pratico’s grammar. Part of that is because I’ve worked through both of them (and Ross’ in Hebrew I & II). I also think both grammars are laid out  better than this one. This one has a lot of good information in it, but it does require a lot of reading. Some chapters also try to get too far ahead of themselves by providing a brief look at a grammatical rule that will be examined in a later chapter.

Chapter 1, when learning about vowels there’s a brief section about how nouns in construct can change their vowels. Yet this topic won’t be covered until chapter 12. Why not just leave it until then? Had this been my introduction to Hebrew, seeing vowels change in this way would have felt like a burden.

I still think that Garrett and DeRouchie have put together an excellent grammar, one that tries to give the reader all the information they need to understand the language. But this wouldn’t be the first grammar I reach for, nor the first I recommend as I don’t find it the simplest grammar to go through, but with self-discipline and patience one can surely make it through this grammar with a firm understanding of both beginning Hebrew and syntax.

Lagniappe

  • Authors: Duane Garrett & Jason DeRouchie
  • Hardcover Grammar: 432 pages
  • Paperback Workbook: 320 pages
  • Publisher: B&H Academic (July 1, 2009)

Buy the Grammar from B&H Academic or on Amazon!

Buy the Workbook from B&H Academic or on Amazon!

Disclosure: I received this book free from B&H 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 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Review: Paul the Ancient Letter Writer

Dear Jack,

School is a wreck. I’m smashed with work, I failed my last exam, my roommate and I aren’t getting along, and the kids in my nursery class do whatever they please. My teachers have been piling on the homework, and midterms are next week!

Love, Jill.

I’ve adapted this from an example Weima uses in his introduction, and for all of us this looks like just another having-a-hard-time-in-college letter between two lovebirds. But for Tom, this letter is quite different from Jill’s other letters to him. She always writes “Dearest Tom,” she begins her letters with her fondness for Tom before getting into the tears and sweat of school, and she always ends her letters with “Love, Jillie.” Tom realizes this letter is much more terse and a lot less friendly. What would seem normal to another set of eyes is dramatic, perhaps even overwhelming, to Tom.

Jeffery A. D. Weima, professor of New Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary for 25 years and author of Neglected Endings and 1-2 Thessalonians (BECNT), makes the case that we should not only be looking at the content of the Bible but also its form. This isn’t exactly a new idea, but Weima, who has studied Paul’s letters for over 30 years, compares all of Paul’s letters to understand the purposes and contents of his writings and the function they play in his persuasive purposes.

The Layout

Paul the Ancient Letter Writer is made up of six chapters.

1. Introduction: After using the above example of Jill’s letter to Jack, Weima explains his method of interpreting Paul’s letters (“epistolary analysis,” broadly called literary criticism). This means Weima reads Paul’s letters as they are—letters—which involves learning how to read their structure. Weima, contrasting epistolary analysis with the methods of thematic approach and rhetorical criticism, writes, “But though Paul employs [rhetoric], it would be wrong to conclude . . . that he was a rhetorician who constructed his letters according to the rules of ancient speech” (9). Instead, “the most important source for understanding the apostle’s letters must naturally be the letter-writing practices of his day rather than the rules for oral discourse” (9).

2. The Opening: Whereas most Bible readers (and commentators) overlook the opening verses of Paul’s letters, Weima sets all of Paul’s opening statements side by side and examines how Paul presents his apostolic position in relation to his readers “so that his purposes . . . are strengthened and enhanced” and foreshadows key themes in the letter (12).

3. The Thanksgiving: These sections in Paul’s letters are too long to place side by side, but Weima skillfully shows the differences between a few of Paul’s Thanksgiving sections. There are five parts to the Thanksgiving section, but some letters are missing one of the parts. Weima spends a few pages on Galatians, which is missing the entire Thanksgiving section!

4. The Body: Easily the longest chapter in the book, Weima spends 74 pages working his way through thirteen different forms that appear throughout his thirteen letters (e.g., appel, confidence, prayers, inclusios, etc.) and their functions.

5. The Closing: Paul’s closings usually receive equal (or less) attention than his openings (usually because people are ready to finish the letter by this time). But again, Weima shows that Paul’s closing sections pick up themes from within the letter and recapitulations the apostle’s concerns.

6. The final chapter is a test case of Paul’s literary techniques which Weima has covered in chapters 2–5. He shows how Paul’s persuasion can be most easily seen in the short letter of Philemon. All of the chapters are of high quality, but this was by far my favorite.

The Chocolate Milk

Paul the Ancient Letter Writer is an excellent resource for anyone who is studying Paul’s letters. Weima can be quite detailed, but the effort is not without its payment. In each chapter, after Weima introduces the form of a passage and it’s function, he gives its interpretive significance.

For example, Weima says that the apostolic parousia “refers . . . to the presence of Paul, whether this is experienced by means of a future visit from the apostle, the arrival of his emissary, or the letter itself” (114). All three of these instances are seen in 1 Corinthians 4.14–21.

First, Paul wrote to the Corinthians (v14) to admonish them as his “beloved children.” He loves them as his children, but they must obey him as the one who fathered them in Jesus Christ through the gospel.” Second, he sent Timothy (someone they knew well) to them to represent Paul’s ways. Timothy is described as Paul’s “beloved and faithful child” (v17). Paul imitates Jesus. Timothy imitates Paul. The Corinthians should see Paul represented in Timothy, imitate Paul, and thus image Christ rightly. Third, Paul stresses that he will come to them again (vv18–21). As their father, which would they prefer: Paul to come with a “rod” of discipline or in a spirit of gentleness?

The Spoiled Milk

The only negative I could find in this book came in chapter 5 on Paul’s closing sections. Three times Weima picks up the last few verses of 2 Corinthians, but the last two times (13.12a, 13) almost completely rehash the information used in the first discussion of 13.11. There is some new information, but too much that was repeated.

Recommended?

Weima shows just how important a close reading of the text is. While he doesn’t create a whole theology out of every nuance, he doesn’t brush them aside either. Would all of his readers noticed if a particular section was missing from his letter? It’s difficult for us to know for certain. However, while Paul’s original audiences would not have been able to compare all of his letters, we can, and by doing so we can get a bigger glimpse into the mind of Paul by seeing what he did and didn’t write. This semester, my Old Testament professor has been drilling into us the importance of the literary structures of the biblical books. Weima only confirms that importance by showing how to read Paul’s letters rightly. This is a must have for all who study Paul’s letters. 

Lagniappe

  • Author: Jeffrey A. D. Weima
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic (November 15, 2016)
  • Previous Posts: The Closing of 2 Corinthians

Buy it on Baker Academic or on Amazon!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Academic through the Baker Academic Bloggers program. 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 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Review: Hebrew I (Zondervan Online Lectures)

(See bottom of my review for the Discount Code)

As I’ve mentioned before, I took Elementary Hebrew at SBTS this fall semester. Before I started the course, I knew two things about my teacher, Peter J. Gentry. First, he was brilliant at Hebrew. Second, he was tough. This was a graduate course, and he treats it as such. Zondervan had just begun to have online courses (35 now), so I spent the rest of my summer going through these videos.

The Zondervan Academic Online Course for Hebrew I is taught by Miles Van Pelt. Van Pelt teaches at Reformed theological Seminary, has contributed to the new A Biblical Theological Introduction to the Old Testament, but is most known for his Basics of Biblical Hebrew works.

The course is self-paced, but it must be completed within 12 months. It is 16 units long with each unit following a four-part structure: Overview, Study, Review, and Assess, and ends with a midterm. Hebrew II is also made up of 16 units and ends with the final.

Class Lectures

  1. Alphabet and Vowels
  2. Syllables and Pronunciation
  3. Nouns
  4. Definite Article and Conjunction Waw
  5. Prepositions
  6. Adjectives
  7. Pronouns
  8. Pronominal Suffixes
  9. Construct Chain
  10. Numbers
  11. Introduction to Verbs
  12. Qal Perfect – Strong
  13. Qal Perfect – Weak
  14. Qal Imperfect – Strong
  15. Qal Imperfect – Weak
  16. Waw Consecutive

In these videos, Van Pelt take you through morphology and helps answer the question: “How does this language work?” Rather than rote memorization, he shows how the grammar works. Why do certain vowels change when a word becomes plural? Which vowel does a consonant take? Why? Beginning Hebrew with this understanding makes Hebrew much more possible.

After taking a physical class (50 minutes, 4x a week) with a physical teacher directly in front of me, one value with these videos is that you can replay them as many times as you want. I usually understood what was going on in my class, but there was one particular class (#16) that boggled my mind. After coming home and watching one of the lectures, I saw the subject from a different angle, and it all made sense. 

The red shows you what is new in the lesson.

Time: 30-40 minutes.

The lectures are front-loaded with information so that when you begin learning Verbs you know all of the morphological rules for many of the changes you will see. Working on the nouns will make the verbs easier (as they can look very similar). As you progress, the tiny rules really begin to add up when you start translating sentences and the Bible. Some rules seem too small to deserve any room in your memory, but let me assure you—they are not insignificant. Those initial rules are the most important. If you don’t memorize them in the beginning, when you do realize you were mistaken, you’re going to be in deep (and you’ll have to learn all of those rules anyway). 

I say this because, with Hebrew being my first biblical language, and being the first language I learned where morphological rules were taught to me, I thought, “Big deal? This can’t be too difficult to remember.” Even though I did take the time to learn the rules, I am still constantly having to refresh my memory over these minute details. They are crucial, and Van Pelt is excellent at explaining the rules of Hebrew morphology and grammar.

Vocabulary

The vocabulary program used was developed by Cerego. It shows you the vocabulary word, lets you hear the pronunciation, and it tracks which words you are strong in and which ones you are weak in. I found the system to be pretty fun, actually. Each unit ends with a quiz. There is a keyboard system to know how to type each consonant and vowel, but it has a steep learning curve and is pretty clunky if you don’t know all of the hot keys. 

Audience

Those who will do this will either need to be self-learners or motivated enough to become self-learners. These could be pastors, students, or anybody who wants to learn/re-learn biblical Hebrew. You could use this for yourself, as a group study, or a class at church. Professors could use it and integrate it into their classrooms alongside their courses or as a new online program. As classes are slowly going the way of online learning, schools can implement these courses too. 

Recommended?

  • Pros:
    • You can rewatch the videos, which is helpful when you still don’t understand a topic
    • The examples are written out and explained in front of you
    • There is often a fuller explanation given than what is found in the book 
    • Van Pelt is clear in his teaching, and by teaching morphology, the later grammar makes more sense.
  • Cons:
    • As far as I can tell, you can’t ask questions
    • Sometimes I think they focus more on small matters that may not matter much
    • Costs more than buying the Grammar + Workbook.
    • You have access to the course for only one year.

Van Pelt writes out what changes occur in forms of words (e.g., from nouns to adjectives) and why they occur.

The best way to learn any language is to have a teacher right in front of you who can answer every question you might have, but those who aren’t able to go to seminary have to rely on books to learn Hebrew, and you can’t ask books questions. This is a good midway. Van Pelt writes out rules and words in front of you and helps you see why changes happen. I’ve seen Van Pelt clearly explain an few unclear sections from his book—something I would have remained perplexed on my own. Most of the grammar that you would find in the Grammar book is found here, but you will need the Workbook so that you can practice, practice, practice. The Workbook has helped me immensely in my own class this semester.

Lagniappe

This course discount code will get you 15% of of the course price: SPENCER

Disclosure: I received these lectures free from Zondervan. 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 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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