Category Archives: Review

Review: Interpreting Revelation and Other Apocalyptic Literature

The fourth in a four-volume series, C. Marvin Pate examines “apocalyptic literature as it begins in the Old Testament, develops in Second Temple Judaism, and culminates in the New Testament, especially in the book of Revelation, all the while demonstrating how to communicate the message of that literature to today’s audience” (21). Each volume contains eight elements (which make up Pate’s chapters):

  1. The Genre and Figures of Speech of Apocalyptic Literature
  2. The Historical Background of Prophetic-Apocalyptic Books
  3. The Function of Apocalypticism and the Theme of Israel’s Story
  4. Preparing to Interpret the Text
  5. Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic Literature
  6. Communicating a Passage in Revelation
  7. From Text to Sermon: Two Examples
  8. Selected Sources

Each chapter has an opening “Chapter at a Glance” section and a closing “Chapter in Review” section to help summarize the information. Pate’s book isn’t very long, but he’s able to provide a lot of information for the reader to digest (inhale?).

The first three chapters provide an overall understanding to the apocalyptic genre. In chapter one, using J. J. Collins’ definition (which has now become the standard definition to the genre), the apocalypse “is a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherwordly being to a human recipient disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another, supernatural world” (30). Books in this genre each have a specific kind of form, content, and function-although Pate only defines what the “function” aspect is. The function of the apocalyptic genre is to remind the letter’s recipients that they are still in exile, and defecting from God brings covenant curses on oneself, but staying faithful to him will bring covenant blessings-the presence of the Messiah himself (32).

Chapter two shows how apocalypticism retells Israel’s story “in light of the imminent end/actual fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians” as seen in Isaiah 24-27, 56-66, Joel 2-3, and Ezekiel 38-39 (p. 49). Other retellings of Israel’s story that are examined are Daniel 9-12 and Zechariah 9-14. The Oliviet Discourse and Revelation 6 (as well as the whole letter of Revelation) are apocalyptic reapplications of the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Chapter three provides the function of apocalypticism. Pate examines the main themes of Israel’s story (sin, exile, and restoration) and shows how they are seen in seven apocalyptic books (Daniel, 1 Enoch, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Revelation, the Testament of Moses, 4 Ezra, and 2 Baruch). He shows how other aspects of the apocalyptic genre are seen in these books, such as the covenantal blessings and curses, otherworldly beings, journeys, and mediators, and more.  (Pate also mentioned that, in an unpublished study, he has “applied the entire taxonomy of the genre of apocalypticism to these seven works,” p. 80. Yet, if the study is unpublished, how does that help the reader?).

Chapter four is a short lesson on text criticism and Bible translation (see more on that below). Chapter five focuses on some of the background issues such as author, date of writing, and major system of interpretation. Pate, who admits he is the only person he knows of who has seen this, thinks the Arch of Titus is behind Revelation 4-19. “The Arch of Titus depicts three parts of the victor’s triumph: (a) the pre-parade, (2) the procession, and (3) the sacrifice and feast. Revelation 4-5 includes parallels to the pre-parade; Revelation 6-18 includes parallels to the procession; and Revelation 19 includes parallels to the sacrifice and feast” (153). Some aspects seem to fit, others do not, but that is up to the reader to decide. The syntactical function of words and semantics are briefly covered at the end of the chapter. Chapter six helps guide the reader on how to communicate a passage in Revelation (mainly 1:1-3) to today’s audience. Chapter seven (which I talk more about below) gives two examples on how to bring the text to the sermon.

The Spoiled Milk

Pate’s tables don’t always work.

  • On page 197 is a table comparing the old covenant of Israel in the Deuteronomy with the new covenant in Romans. He tries to show how the order of Romans follows the order of Deuteronomy, but because there isn’t much explanation concerning how these sections work, it made little sense to me.
  • The same goes with the comparison of the covenant format of Deuteronomy with Revelation 1:1-3 (173), only there Pate was able to provide more explanation, which I still found confusing.
  • On page 37, Pate gives a chart which “demonstrates how the covenant structure of Deuteronomy thoroughly informs the letters to the seven churches in Revelation.” Yet strangely, before this point Pate hasn’t provided his outline of Deuteronomy (this doesn’t come until later in the book, see p. 82). So while the reader can see the genre divisions, he won’t know how Pate divides Deuteronomy until later on in the book, which is, again, unhelpful. Most of the other charts, however, were very informative and laid out well.

Chapter four, Preparing to Interpret the Text, was unnecessary. Most of the chapter covered textual criticism, something that the reader-exegete should already know about. It’s too difficult to compress the ocean of textual criticism into a single chapter, especially in such a short book as this one. It would have served the reader better to see textual critical examples in Revelation instead (which is done on a page and a half in this chapter, and a few pages in later chapters).

I was also disappointed in chapter seven, From Text to Sermon: Two Examples, because neither of them dealt with Revelation. Although they deal with apocalyptic literature sections (Romans 11:25-27 and 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7), how does this help the reader with Revelation, especially with the seal, bowl, and trumpet judgments? While chapter six was helpful, that only dealt with the first three verses. How does the pastor take Revelation’s parallels with the other apocalyptic literature and preach that to his congregation? Perhaps he shouldn’t preach it, but at least he’ll have the knowledge stored away for his own knowledge and growth.

There were a few spelling mistakes throughout the book (32, 204), and two times that the parenthetical statements weren’t closed properly (57, 148). Also, see my quote above on the Arch of Titus (p. 153) where, in the three listed items, the listing goes from alphabetical (“a”) to numerical (“2” and “3”).


Unfortunately, if you’re looking for a book to help you with sermon preparation, give this book a pass. Pate has some interesting ideas (like the Arch of Titus), a view I hope to see people interact with, however, his book is too clunky and messy, there is too much going on, and I didn’t find it very helpful to use in interpretation. If you want a book that offers parallels between the apocalyptic books, there is a lot of good information here. However, I don’t see how it is very helpful as an exegetical handbook. Pastors can stick with Keener’s NIVAC volume, along with either deSilva, Beale, Mounce, or Osborne (or all of the above).


  • Series: Handbooks for New Testament Interpretation
  • Author: C. Marvin Pate
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Kregel Academic (November 27, 2016)

Buy it on Amazon or Kregel Academic

Disclosure: I received this book free from Kregel 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



Filed under Review

Review: The Pastoral Letters (BHGNT)

The Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament (BHGNT) series is like a prequel, so to speak. When you as a pastor, or professor, or interpreter arrives at your text, you first translate your text. Then you turn to Wallace, Robertson, or any number of other grammars to tease out the details before you turn to your own exegesis. Now that you’ve done your own work, where should you turn next? This is where the BHGNT comes in. Before you turn to another commentary, and after you’ve done your own grammatical analysis, you pull open Larry Perkins’ The Pastoral Letters to double-check your work or perhaps to see what he says on a particularly sticky issue. Your order might go something like this:

Translation BHGNT Exegesis Commentaries

I’ve placed exegesis after Perkins’ BHGNT volume because you may want to double check your grammatical and translational work before you go ahead with your exegesis.

The BHGNT series deals with parsing, grammar, syntax, semantics, discourse (using Runge, but it mostly remains on the sentence level), and some text criticism. If you’ve ever scoured certain exegetical commentaries (e.g., BECNT, NIGTC) looking for answers to your specific Greek questions, you may have come away disappointed.

In his introduction, Perkins doesn’t explicitly come down on who the author of the Pastoral epistles is, but he does say, in his opinion, that “the Greek idiolect employed in these letters fits comfortably in the sixth decade of the first century,” in the final years of Paul’s ministry (ca. 63-65 A.D.) (xix). Household codes were commonly written about in this period (Perkins points to Aristotle, Politics, I.1253b1-13). Paul takes this motif and puts them into his letters to show how God’s household should live before the world. “Approved conduct in God’s household … is foundational for the accomplishment of the church’s mission… [and it] refutes the claims of false teachers” (xxii).

Perkins lists fourteen different kinds of rhetorical features in these three letters, such as: alliteration, asyndeton, hendiadys, paranomasia, periodic sentence, polysyndeton, and more. Deponent verbs are written as middle verbs as scholars have been working on understanding these verbs within their historical context. Perkins gives thirteen different semantic categories for middle verbs which appears in these letters. He has two sections on the use of the article with κύριος and with πίστις and a section on the meanings of οἶκος and οἰκία (xxviii-xxxi).

Example Passages

1 Tim 2.11, ἐν πάσῃ ὑποταγῇ: Manner. The sense of πάσῃ is ‘complete’ and suggests an elative idea. The noun ὑποταγῇ defines the relational posture in such learning contexts. It indicates a deferential attitude that recognizes the authority of the teacher and places a learner in the proper rank or order with respect to that authority. The nature of the deference offered will vary with the situation and the relationship. (43).

1 Tim 2.12, αὐθεντεῖν: “Pres act inf αὐθεντέω …. Baldwin’s analysis … given that the verb functions transitively here, suggests that it probably means ‘to compel, influence,’ or ‘to control, dominate.’ If this infinitive is understood as providing a more specific description of prohibited behavior (n.b. the repeated reference to ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ), a domineering or controlling exercise of authority exhibited by some women in teaching may be the activity prohibited in this verse. (44)

1 Tim 3.11, γυναῖκας: “Accusative subject of the implied infinitive εἶναι. This accusative plural noun continues the series begun with ἐπίσκοπον and followed by διακόνους (3:8). Debate arises over whether γυναῖκας refers to women who function as διάκονοι, to wives of the candidates for this function, or to women filling a function different from a διάκονος. The use of ὡσαύτως in v. 11 suggests another category similar to or belonging to διακόνους. (64)

2 Tim 1.7, πνεῦμα: Perkins understands this to be a reference to the Holy Spirit, referencing Fee who “supports a reference to the Holy Spirit by noting the writer’s use of τὸ χάρισμα in v. 6, which is often associated with the Holy Spirit. Note also the mention of the Holy Spirit in v. 14.” (163)

Titus 2.11, πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις: “Dative of advantage. This dative may also function as the indirect object of ‘επεφάνη, but its placement after σωτήριος suggests that it qualifies this adjective (i.e., “bringing salvation to all people”). πᾶσιν has an inclusive sense (i.e., “all people without exception”). (267-68)

Titus 2.13, τοῦ μεγάλου θεοῦ καὶ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ: Perkins says that “the Granville Sharp rule … seems to apply here” (270). Further down the page he adds, “If the analysis of the previous genitives as part of a TSKS construction is plausible, with this last expression the writer leaves no doubt as to whose glory is going to be revealed and equates Jesus Christ with ‘our great God and Savior.’”


Perkins refers to different grammarians and studies such as Campbell, Moule, Pennington, Porter, Runge, and others. Perkins covers every word, even if just to provide a curt description, while other words will receive a hefty paragraph. This book brings together the best insights to figure out the meaning and function of words. It is not meant to explain Paul’s flow of thought (at least, not broadly) nor how one section relates to another. It is an in-depth look at how the Greek works so that you can understand what Paul is saying before you move on to your own exegesis.

If you’re preparing for a sermon or a Bible study, if your learning Greek, or if you’re trying to keep the rust away, get Perkins’ volume on the Pastoral epistles and grow in the knowledge of God’s word (and the struggle of wrestling with Greek).


  • Series: Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament
  • Author: Larry Perkins
  • Paperback: 343 pages
  • Publisher: Baylor University Press (August 1, 2017)

Buy it on Amazon or Baylor University Press

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baylor University Press. 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


Filed under Review

Review: Surviving and Thriving in Seminary

You’ve felt it—a desire, a pull, a call to ministry. Where do you start? Who do you talk to? Should you go to seminary? Where? Which one? M.A.? M.Div? PhD? How long will this take? Will go into debt? Do I have to learn the languages? What about my wife? Husband? Kids? Where do I go from here?

H. Daniel Zacharias (Acadia Divinity College) and Benjamin Forrest (Liberty University) have written Surviving and Thriving in Seminary to provide the budding future minister/academic/exegete with a guide to not only survive seminary, but even to thrive within its classrooms, cafeterias, and late night Greek dormitory study sessions.


There are three parts to S&TS: (1) Preparation, (2) Managing time and energy, and (3) Study skills and tools.

(1) Preparation

One must understand that he does not know everything, and he will hear and learn new ideas in seminary. It can be overwhelming (especially when the languages are added to the mix). Those who have either received their bachelor’s in theology or have read a lot will likely not be greeted with such a shock, but there days will be consumed with work nonetheless! Not all classes are about “the Bible,” per se.  Counseling and leadership classes are based off of the Bible and will require you to think in ways you haven’t before—especially if your forte is in the theology or music department—and vice versa.

There is an important section on the languages as most people will have to learn them. Start learning early! It will give you more breathing room when you begin your classes to know that you at least know the alphabet (and maybe even a few nouns too). Knowing the alphabet (along with nouns and adjectival forms) ahead of time certainly gave me some breathing room in Hebrew.

But all of your reading cannot replace Bible reading and study. Hopefully you will have good Bible teachers who require you to read the Bible for their class (maybe they’ll require you to read the Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel in a week each—along with the rest of you usual class reading). In seminary, you’re digging a well. You don’t want your thirty year ministry to be only one inch deep. You need to have something to say from the pulpit each week and to those whom you counsel and help throughout the week while still growing in your relationship with the Lord (and your family!). It is vital.

(2) Managing time and energy

If you have a spouse, and if you have kids, both your time and energy will be divided. Whether you are married or single, it’s a good habit to get started on the big projects as soon as you can. If and when possible, frontloading your semesters will bring great ease to the end of your semester when you are tired and ready for it all to be over. In four chapters, Danny and Ben help you to see that you need to keep your family first, set up your calendar, work hard, eat well, exercise (see below), find friends who will work instead of play around and who can critique your papers. Be on top of your classes and always take responsibility. Danny and Ben give helpful tips on managing seminary with the ministry.

(3) Study skills and tools

This section sets you up with some skills for the library, reading books (and remembering what you read), and with writing essays, book reviews, and papers. The final chapter informs you about some of the right tools to use—different apps, word processors, bible software, flash cards, citation software (extremely helpful), and more.

Three appendices

  1. Choosing a Seminary (What does my spouse think? study on campus? online? where to go? who are the professors? cost? will I have to move?);
  2. Paying for Seminary (who will work? part time? full-time? how many years will this take, and are we really willing to wait? Make a budget; if you’re tight on money, consider avoiding a car and using public transportation);
  3. A Word to Spouses (root for your spouse, remind them to work and rest, keep your date night, pray for your spouse, and more).

Two sections which stood out to me were those on exercise and grumbling.

Exercise: Students have so much going on in seminary—classes, reading, papers, exams, work, food, family, sleep—that exercise, for many, is on a post-seminary graduation to-do list. Yet exercise will actually focus your mind more and help you to be more disciplined (and your back will thank you for it). This is important because my back has been causing me problems, yet the nature of seminary requires a lot of sitting. A good swim, plenty of breaks to walks, healthy food and plenty of water make for a better seminary experience (and it will give you more energy and make you feel better).

Grumbling: Before seminary, I had two years of Bible school, one year and a half of teaching the Bible (with plenty of reading), and another year of just reading. I don’t know it all, nor could I explain everything with perfect clarity; at the same time I have been easily frustrated with the classes my degree requires. I’d rather theology, books of the Bible, and language classes than ministry classes. I’d also rather just take a PhD, but that’s not the nature of how this works. While not every class can be a gem, there have been a few that were surprisingly enjoyable (and others that, if nothing else, taught patience).

What should you do when the grumbling, self-pity temptation arises? Remember the Lord’s graciousness in saving you. Remember how he led you to your seminary, the doors that he opened, the jobs and funds he has given you to pay for this, the wonderful friends you’ve made, the church you attend, and for the opportunity to be there, work hard, and learn as much as you can. One day it will be behind you, and you might even miss the days where that one boring class actually turned out to be a nice break for you.


If you are planning to head to seminary, and you aren’t sure what to expect, pick up this book. It won’t solve all of your problems, but it will be your guide on ways that will make your seminary experience. Yes, you will still have to do the work, but you can either have a lot of work and a bad seminary experience, or you can have a lot of work and a great seminary experience. Space out your work, make new friends, enjoy your family, meet your professors and don’t be afraid to ask them questions. Make the most of the time while you have it, for one day you will be serving somewhere else, and you won’t be able to walk into that professor’s office to ask for his or her discernment over your theological dilemma. Instead, others will be coming to you doing just that.


  • Authors: H. Daniel Zacharias/Benjamin Forrest
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (April 19, 2017)

Buy it on Amazon or Lexham Press

Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. 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



Filed under Review

Review: Baptist Foundations


This review will begin backwards. Why even be interested in a book like Baptist Foundations? Students and laymen may (and should) take interest in this, whether to know the views of Baptist friends or to be able to interact with a solid book in their own denomination, this book has a lot of weight to it. But Baptist Foundations is pertinent for pastors and elders—yes, of any denomination (to wrestle and interact with)—but certainly of Baptist churches. In the foreword, James Garrett Jr. says,

Most beliefs that have ever been claimed as Baptist distinctives are ecclesiological in nature; for example, regenerate church membership, believer’s baptism by immersion, various forms of close or strict Communion, congregational polity and autonomy, religious liberty, separation of church and state, and so forth. (ix)

Baptist Foundations is written with Ephesians 4.11–14 in mind. The pastors/elders/overseers (and the deacons!) are not to take all of the work upon themselves, but they are to train the church for ministry both within the church body and outside among those whom they rub shoulders with on a daily basis. The local church—the elders and the members—has been given the keys of the kingdom. This book seeks to teach how to use them properly by presenting the proper structure of the church.


In the Preface, Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman state, “Church polity, most fundamentally, is about exercising God’s authority after him” (xvi). Some revile the idea of being under authority in a church (and some have good reason!), but nonetheless, God has desired to show the world his authority ruled through his church (1 Cor 6.1–8, 9–11). They add, “The congregation is called to exercise one kind of authority, the elders or pastors another kind” (xvi).

After calling for a return to a concern for church polity and an ongoing (or a brand new) humble submission to the Christ-given authority of a local church body, the reader arrives at the Introduction (Leeman). According to Leeman, polity officiates (or “establishes”) a local church, it guards what the gospel message is and who its believers are (and doesn’t mix them with non-believers), it shapes Christian discipleship, strengthens a church’s witness through the hard work of the shepherds to train their members in knowing the Word and understanding our redemption in Christ.

There are five sections to Baptist Foundations. One of the primary distinctives among Baptists is the authority given to the church as seen in Matthew 18.15–18. In part one, Michael Haykin provides the historical background to the rise of congregationalism (ch. 1), and Stephen and Kirk Wellum provide the biblical and theological case for it (2).

In part two, Shawn Wright prepares the reader by five ways through which we should understand the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (3). Wright spends two chapters (5 and 7) on the history and theology of these two ordinances, and Tom Schreiner gives two chapters on how these two ordinances are taught in the Bible (4 and 6). Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are for those who proclaim Christ as their Lord—thus, it is not to be given to infants. In baptism believers remember Christ’s death and resurrection for them. At the Supper, they remember how he died for them, and they look forward to the great eschatological banquet of the new creation.

In part three, John Hammett and Thomas White cover church membership and discipline. Though some churches have used church membership to bring guilt on their members who don’t do or give enough, church membership shows you are committed to the church and it’s members (8 and 9). In this commitment, all have God-given authority to keep one another (including the leadership) accountable. Leeman says, “A local church is a real-life embassy, set in the present, that represents Christ’s future kingdom and his coming universal church” (171). All members are to be regenerate. No church is perfect, but it ought to be easier to maintain sound doctrine with fully regenerate church members than with a mixed membership (for what non-Christian wants to follow Christ’s commands?). This section covers some practical matters as to when and how church discipline should (and should not) occur (10).

Part four covers elders and deacons. Dever scans through history to show how the biblical plurality of elders and deacons changed to what is seen today in many churches and denominations (11). Ben Merckle shows how in the Bible the terms “elder,” “overseer,” “pastor,” and “shepherd” all refer to the same church position (12). There is no notion of a senior pastor nor of an official distinction between elders who teach and elders who rule. Merckle then covers the qualifications (13) for plural eldership and their role (14) in church office. They work hard, lead, admonish, shepherd, equip—all with limited authority over the church members, but equal authority with the other elders (whether full-time or not). Merckle examines the office of deacon (16), and Andrew Davis lays out some practical issues to both elders (15) and deacons (17).

Part five, consisting of two chapters written by Leeman, covers the church and churches. (18) Leeman looks at the unity of the church throughout church history in the dual lenses of holiness (“Who is holy, and what makes a person holy?”) and apostolicity (“Who or what possesses the apostle’s authority, and what is it an authority to do?”—p. 334). Do Christians become members of a church through their status as saints or through what the church has been authorized to do—Christians enter through baptism? For Leeman, the church—the elders and the members—hold the keys to the kingdom (Matt 18.18). All Christians and their churches are united together under the Gospel, but local church members (i.e., those of the same church body) can “participate in the formal discipline of one another, whereas two Christians belonging to different churches cannot” (366).

In the final chapter (20), Leeman provides 25 practical implications from this book for Baptist churches.

Still Recommended?

We live in an anti-institutional age. Many have been burned by churches and have broken away from them. To them, it is appropriate to do so for they are “the church.” However, that complicates matters when we’re called to love one another, discipline one another, treat the unrepentant as not a part of the local church, and so on. What churches need are both humble leaders and a good structure. Being a Baptist myself, I could agree with much in the book. While the practical matters for elders and deacons don’t mean much to me know, they surely will in the future (either when I am one of these things or when I am under the elders), and they will be very handy for those elders who are in a tough spot (like wanting to avoid being sued when church discipline occurs—there are some suggestions on that matter).

I think and hope this book would be read widely. Membership has been abused, but it makes church discipline difficult (how do you discipline someone who isn’t even a member)? We live in a non-committal age, but entering into the membership of a local body means you are committed to that local church body.

This book will not solve everything, but it provides a strong foundation to work on.

*Those in other denominations will probably take beef with Wright’s and Schreiner’s chapters on baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These chapters are short, but longer discussions may be found in their works Believer’s Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.


  • Editors: Mark Dever/Jonathan Leeman
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: B&H Academic (June 15, 2015)

Buy it on Amazon or B&H Academic

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


1 Comment

Filed under Review

Review: The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing

Jonathan Pennington, Associate Professor of New Testament Interpretation and the Director of Research Doctoral Studies at SBTS, author of Reading the Gospels Wisely and Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew, has written “a historical, literary, and theological exposition of the Sermon on the Mount” (1). He situates the Sermon “in the dual context of Jewish wisdom literature and the Greco-Roman virtue tradition, both of which are concerned with the great theological and existential question of human flourishing” (1). It is laid out in three parts with his own translation and an introduction providing an overall reading strategy for the Sermon.

No section of Scripture has been written about more than the Sermon, and in the introduction Pennington summarizes how the Sermon has been interpreted throughout the patristic, medieval, reformational, modern periods, and he helpfully includes non-western and non-caucasian readings. Although not everyone would be interested in reading the history of interpretation, Pennington says, “We cannot simply identify one of these readings as right and others as all wrong. Each has a contribution to make to our understanding” (13).

Jesus, the true king and embodiment of God’s Law, “is the epitome of wisdom and virtue” (15). Pennington defines what he means by flourishing:

True human flourishing is only available through communion with the Father God through his revealed Son, Jesus, as we are empowered by the Holy Spirit. This flourishing is only experienced through faithful, heart-deep, whole-person discipleship, following Jesus’ teachings and life, which situate the disciple into God’s community or kingdom. This flourishing will only be experienced fully in the eschaton, when God finally establishes his reign upon the earth. as followers of Jesus journey through their lives, they will experience suffering in this world, which in God’s providence is in fact a means to true flourishing even now. (14-15)


It isn’t enough to translate the sermon and think that words mean to us what it means to Jesus’ audience. What does it mean to be “blessed”? In chapter one Pennington provides and “encyclopedic context of the sermon” by examines Israel’s story, the setting of Second Temple Judaism wisdom literature, and the Greco-Roman virtue tradition and how their worldviews around certain terms Jesus uses. Peace (shalom) was established in God’s original creation. Wisdom and, later, apocalyptic literature came about because the fear of the Lord, faithfully living under the kingship of Yahweh, brought true life, and Israel looked to the end when sin would be vanquished. For the Greco-Romans, true flourishing came with virtuous living. Jesus’ Sermon brings these two ideas together, which can be seen in his use of specific words like “blessing/flourishing,” “perfect/whole,” “wise,” “fool,” “righteous,” and “reward.”

In chapters two and three, Pennington performs a word study on the words makarios (“blessed”) and teleios (perfect)two major concepts within the Sermon. When Jesus says, “Blessed is the one…” he means that in this certain state of being, this one is flourishing. The one who is meek, humble, and looked down upon in society, but who is in covenant with the Lord, is experiencing true flourishing. The idea of teleios (“Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” 5.48) is one of wholeness“the teleios person in the Old Testament… is the one in total submission to God, who has an unimpeded relationship with Yahweh” (75). To be whole is to follow the Lord with all one’s heart, soul, and mind—to follow him with one’s whole self—and not to be a double-minded hypocrit.

In chapter four Pennington concisely examines seven more key terms that recur throughout the Sermon:

  • righteousness
  • hypocrisy
  • heart
  • Gentile//pagans
  • the Father in heaven
  • the kingdom of God/heaven
  • Reward/recompense/treasure

In chapter five Pennington lays out the structure of the Sermon and it’s setting in Matthew, noting that “Matthew’s literary skill is all about structure” (106). He “appears to be less concerned with the individual narratives per se than with how these stories fit together in conjunction with major teaching blocks to tell a larger story” (106). Pennington lays out the broad structure og Matthew and of the Sermon and says that the Lord’s Prayer is located at the center of the Sermon (132-33).

Part two consists of six chapters of commentary on the Sermon—Matthew 5.1–16; 5.17–48; 6.1–21; 6.19–34; 7.1–12; and 7.13–8.1. Part two is filled in with the information from part one, as the structures and word studies give shape and fill the commentary portion.

It is under persecution and slander (5.10–11) that God’s people paradoxically flourish (5.1–9). “Jesus’ macarisms [5.1–11] are grace-based, wisdom invitations to human flourishing in God’s coming kingdom” (161).

For Pennington, the Sermon’s theme is that of “greater righteousness.” Unlike the hypocritical Pharisees who do the right things but have selfish hearts not seeking to honor God, Jesus’ followers are to be fully devoted to God. Rather than following the external instructions of the Torah, they are to follow it with the heart by watching their teacher live it out. In this they will be “whole” like their heavenly Father.

The false prophets of 7.15–23 are not necessarily devious false teachers, but hypocrites (i.e., the Pharisees) who have evil hearts. Pennington sees many parallels with the rest of Matthew (healthy or decaying trees: 3.10 and 12.33–37; lawlessness: 23.28 and 24.12; 7.21–23, cf. 18.6 and 24.4–11).

Part three gives a theology of the Sermon and human flourishing in six theses. The Bible is about (1) human flourishing with (2) God in the center where his disciples live under (3) divinely revealed (4) virtue (5) under his grace. (6) God saves us to know him and to serve and love one another in his creation.


No section of Scripture has been written about more than Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. “The Sermon, standing as it does as the first teaching of the new-covenant documents, likewise reveals much about how one understands several issues of theology and Christian practice” (3). Jesus teaches his new-covenant members—then and now—how to flourish and live virtuously in a covenantal relationship with their Father, the God of the universe.

Anyone studying the Sermon on the Mount would be at a loss without Pennington’s book. This isn’t the end-all-be-all of comments on the Sermon, but Pennington has spent fifteen years in Matthew, and one sees the depth of his research in his insights, explanations, and footnotes. Pennington has an eye for Matthew’s literary techniques such as structuring, inclusios, and word plays. If you’re going to study or teach on the Sermon, or if you simply want to know more about the Sermon, Pennington’s book is a must.


  • Author: Jonathan T. Pennington
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic (January 17, 2018)

Previous Posts

Buy from Amazon or Baker Academic

Disclosure: I received this book free from 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


1 Comment

Filed under Jesus and the Gospels, Review

Review: The Bible Unfiltered

Heiser is slowly becoming a household name. Heiser has 6,000 subscribers on YouTube, His podcast (Naked Bible Podcast) has 3,000 followers (on Facebook), and as of November 2016 it was ranked in iTunes’ Top Thirty most listened to Christian podcasts. I’ve reviewed I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible, The Unseen Realm, and his popular-level version Supernatural.

Heiser’s newest book, The Bible Unfiltered, similar to I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible, is made up of some of his contributions to Faithlife’s Bible Study Magazine. It consists of three parts: (1) Interpreting the Bible Responsibly and interpretations on (2) the Old Testament and (3) the New Testament.

Being Responsible

I’ve been listening to Heiser’s podcast for a few years now, and the bass line to all of his songs is understanding the Bible through the lens of the people who wrote it, especially those in the Old Testament (which is Heiser’s academic focus). He says God “prepared and chose men to accomplish that task [that of revealing and clarifying God’s thoughts, character, and purposes], not to insert obstacles to that task. This means that those of us living thousands of years after the words of Scripture were written face a predicament. We come from a different world. We did not share life with them. We are not of one mind in a multitude of ways” (2).

We are blessed to have Bible translations in many of our languages. We have the opportunity to read and understand the Word every day. But communication requires more than knowing the same language. It requires knowing the concepts, wordplays, and word connotations. The Bible is perplexing; in order to understand it we must know the biblical worldview.

The Bible isn’t here to give us a spiritual buzz. There’s more to know then just the four Gospels and Paul’s letters. “Knowing what all its [the Bible’s] parts mean will give us a deeper appreciation for the salvation history of God’s people, and the character of God” (9). We all have flawed thinking. We ought to request help from the Spirit “to expose flawed thinking” and get to work to understand God’s word so that we may know him (10). The Bible is not set in the modern world. There is a lot of supernatural elements that modern readers think are too weird (see my posts on The Unseen Realm). The biblical authors believed the world was flat and covered by a solid dome (a “firmament”). Heiser plainly says that God did not set forth men to write his Word to teach us science. That was not his intention, and to read the Bible as a science textbook is to misread the Bible.

Can’t we just read the Bible literally? To use an analogy similar to Heiser’s, if I said, “My nose is running,” what am I saying? Is my nose physically running? Did it hit a home run? How does my wife’s stocking have a run? If my car is running on empty, where are its legs? In all of these statements, the meaning is plain… if you are a part of the culture. If you are not, these idioms make little sense. In Heiser’s analogy with water, he says, “‘Water’ can be used metaphorically for a life source, purification, transformation, motion, or danger. The metaphors work because of the physical properties of water—and still describe real things. Non-literal doesn’t mean ‘not real’” (31).

Heiser emphasizes actual Bible study, not just biblical memorization (though he doesn’t downplay that either—for an example, see my post on James 2.19). He gives an example on how not to misinterpret prophecy with the difficult text from James’ use of Amos 9.11–12 in Acts 15.16–18.

The Old and New Testaments

In the Old Testament section, Heiser looks at the possible meaning of Yahweh’s name (though, unfortunately, the Hebrew is transliterated and no Hebrew text is given, which makes it more difficult to follow the argument). He looks at why the slave is brought before “elohim” in Exodus 21.1–6 but not Deuteronomy 15.12–18; the Angel of the Lord, his literary ambiguity with Yahweh, and Jesus who has “the name.” The secret things that belong to the Lord of Deuteronomy 29.29 are often misunderstood. God knows all things, and never tells us not to study the Bible to know deep things.

For many readers biblical readers, events that happen at trees don’t seem significant; Heiser unveils the importance of the ancient notion of sacred trees. He looks at some texts in Job to show that angels aren’t perfect, and that wasn’t a hidden fact to humans.

In the New Testament, Heiser examines Mark’s story of the demon-possessed swine and how the cultural notion of cosmic geography tells tells us a lot about this event. In Markan studies, everyone has to deal with the last section of Mark—is it original? Heiser bypasses this question and asks if exorcism is for everyone? There are different spiritual gifts, and we shouldn’t assume that all the gifts mentioned here will be handed out to all Christians. Heiser looks at another angle on what John may have been thinking when he said that “the Word was God,” what cosmological ideas James had in mind when he wrote that God was the Father of lights, and what demons believe about God? Of course, there is much more that I could say, but the book is short so I shouldn’t say too much, but Heiser’s many years of study come out again in this book to make the word become fresh again.


I like Heiser’s works because he not only knows the primary OT and ANE literature, but he’s up to date on much of current scholarship, while still remaining clever and not following trends because they’re popular (he takes a lot of minority views, e.g., rebellious divine beings in Psalm 82, and a rebellious divine being—and not Adam—in the background of Ezekiel 28). Although he has admitted he’s less of an innovator and more one who collects others’ ideas and brings them to the popular level, he still brings plenty to the table. Listeners of Heiser’s podcast will be familiar with a good portion of Part One, and at least some of the ideas in Parts Two and Three. The chapters are short and usually leave me wanting more, but it gives me just enough of a taste that it creates a desire in me to study more. If the Bible actually is this interesting (and it is), then I want to study it even more than I already do. If it creates that same desire in you, then it is well worth it.


  • Author: Michael S. Heiser
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (October 4, 2017)

Previous Posts

Buy it from Amazon, Lexham Press, or Logos

Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. 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


1 Comment

Filed under Review

Review: God’s Wisdom For Navigating Life

Many Christians use New Years resolutions to revamp their Bible reading. Tim and Kathy Keller have provided a daily devotional in the book of Proverbs (with some readings in other biblical texts). Proverbs requires a year (and more!) of daily consideration. It’s full of so much thought, and it is a book that reminds us that “you’ve never really thought enough about anything” (ix). Having just come out with a year devotional on Psalms, Keller says, “Psalms is about how to throw ourselves fully upon God in faith. Proverbs is about how, having trusted God, we should then live that faith out” (ix).

Proverbs are not truths that are true at all times. It is a “poetic art form that instills wisdom in you as you wrestle with it” (ix). Two ideas, sentences, or phrases are brought together to hit at a truth from different angles. They require you to wrestle with their meaning to know how to live. Keller gives an example. Proverbs 12.15 says, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice,” whereas Proverbs 16.25 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.“ The fool thinks a way is correct, but it leads to death and ruin. Yet, at the same time, ruin can happen to anyone. There is order in the world, but there is sin and chaos which come about from fallen sinners.

The reader is encouraged to read the book with someone else or with others. Most of the devotions end with a question to consider and a concluding prayer. Keller provides two other questions in the Introduction for the reader to consider each day:

  1. Where in your life or the life of someone else have you seen this observation illustrated?
  2. How can you put this observation into practice—in thought, attitude, word, or deed?

Instead of going straight through Proverbs, Keller organizes Proverbs into seven different sections.

  1. Knowing Wisdom
  2. Knowing God
  3. Knowing the Heart
  4. Knowing Others
  5. Knowing the Times and Seasons
  6. Knowing the Spheres (e.g., marriage, sex, parenting, money and work, power, justice)
  7. Knowing Jesus, the True Wisdom of God

Keller doesn’t stop with Proverbs, but looks to Jesus. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and Jesus is the fulfillment of all wisdom. He is the “greater Solomon” (Lk 11.31).

Keller is insightful and convicting. In section six, when it comes to justice, Keller pinpoints talking about righteousness and justice when it comes to the poor, asking questions such as:

  • “How are you building your character and relationship to God now, so that you will be able to do the sacrificial thing when the time comes?” (332)
  • Unjust social systems are set up which prey on the poor and helpless: low wages, excessive interest loans, prejudice against minorities and immigrants, and legal battles where the rich often get away scot-free. “Compared with those who are truly poor, most of us are wealthy in the eyes of the world. How are we being judged as believers for our use of the resources God has given us?” (334)
  • There are multitudes of ways that poverty can come upon someone. Fire. Divorce. Hurricanes. A bad loan choice. sometimes the people circumstances come upon made a rash, unwise decision. Sometimes it just sprung upon them. “How does compassion for the poor express itself in your life?” (335). “Do you need to confess any ways in which you have believed that the poor have brought their poverty on themselves by their agency alone? What have you deserved at the hands of God for your sins? What have you received?” (336). “What possessions of yours belong to others? How will you get them to those people? “(337).


If you’re looking for a new devotional book, I would recommend Keller’s God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life. Each chapter is short and only takes 1-2 minutes to read yet sometimes can take all day to consider. Keller helps us to consider the Bible each day more as God’s people. Have been made righteous in Christ, we should be living righteously before God and to others—our spouses, children, coworkers, and the poor among us. Having the wisdom of God available to us, we should work to gain more of his wisdom—to live well, to flourish in the new covenant, to serve, to work hard, to relax, to offer help, to be a good friend, to know what to do when difficult situations arise—to God’s glory. 


  • Author: Timothy Keller
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (November 7, 2017)

Buy from Amazon or Penguin Random House/Viking

Disclosure: I received this book free from Penguin Books. 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


1 Comment

Filed under Review