Tag Archives: Baker Academic

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: Grammatical Concepts 101 for Biblical Hebrew

long

For many of us (Americans) grammar is not our strong suit. I certainly speak for myself. Besides adverbs, I did well in high school. But high school was ten years ago, I’m learning Hebrew now, and I am becoming very much aware that ten years is a long time. Gary Long knows the struggle, and has written this book to teach underlings like me how to work with both English and Hebrew grammar.

Summary

Long’s book is divided into three parts:

Part I: Foundations explains the basis of language. He covers linguistic hierarchies, from phone(me) -> morph(eme) -> lex(eme) -> word -> phrase – clause. Sound production comes next, which is surprisingly helpful in remembering why Hebrew vowels change from one vowel to another. Next comes the syllable (a requirement to understand Hebrew), and translational values.

Part II: Building Blocks expands upon the grammar concepts one would find in a grammar book: gender, number, article, conjunctions, nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, infinitives, gerunds, participles, verbs, tense and aspect, mood, the imperative, the jussive, and voice.

Part III: The Clause and Beyond. Doing just as he says, Long moves from words to clauses, semantics, and discourse analysis (a relatively new field). This will not be for beginners, but it will be understandable for those who are working through this in class now or who have worked through this already. Long is able to spend 52 pages on these topics, and that’s plenty more you’d get from most (or any) grammar book.

Long beings by showing how a topic (adverbs) work in English before he teaches the reader how it works in Hebrew. While one could resort to Google to understand the definition of an adverb, Long provides phrases and sentences in Hebrew for the reader to see how the grammar functions. The Hebrew is provided, the interlinear is given underneath each word, and parsing is given for the particular grammatical word in view.

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Long strives for simplicity whenever possible, and warns the reader that, at times, they may find the language overly simplistic. This depends on the individual. In some cases everything made good sense, but in other places I didn’t know what I was reading and thought, “There must be an easier way to say this.“ Though, those thoughts only occurred in section 3, a section I haven’t yet been taught in class. But again, this book isn’t to be read on its own.

Throughout Long’s book, he gives you many cross references to other grammatical concepts. So in the section on demonstrative adjectives, there’s a clear distinction from demonstrative pronouns (which you can find on p. 51). This is helpful because there many concepts to grasp, and a quick guide to the exact page saves time instead of scanning through each page of the chapter on pronouns. Yet the system is a tad cumbersome. Perhaps in the next edition the cross references could be put in the margins or turned into footnotes. That would leave the main text free while keeping the pointers on the page.

Recommended?

What must be said about this book is that it is “designed to complement standard teaching grammars” (xvii). A grammar is best not read alone (it’s best to have a teacher), and this book should not be read alone. This is not meant to be read cover to cover, but a slice at a time when one comes across a difficult concept. It is a reference work. You will have trouble understanding Hebrew grammar if you try reading this book on its own. Teachers would do well to use this to make explaining grammar easier. Grammar books just can’t use as much space as Long does. That’s a huge benefit with Long’s volume. He can use more space to explain concepts from the ground up. Beginning Hebraist will derive a good bit of help from this book, primarily Parts 1 and 2. Part 3 will likely be over their heads as that section moves from basic grammatical functions to the clause, syntax, and discourse grammar.

These are not topics Elementary Hebrew students pick up. But that does mean this book will grow in its usefulness to the student when he or she has walked through the door and made themselves at home with syntax and exegesis. Really, predication and semantics won’t make sense to the beginner if they only read this book. Even some topics in Part 2 won’t make sense because the beginner hasn’t been taught this yet. I found his chapters on tense and aspect, mood, and voice to be understandable, but a book can only do so much. If you’re a teacher, this book will come in handy as a supplement to the student. If you’re a student, you need all the help you can get to understand grammar (at least, if you plan to take some exegesis classes). It’s vital to understand the grammar of any language your learning. How much more should we use the resources at hand to know the words of the One who redeems us from death?

Lagniappe

  • Author: Gary Long
  • Paperback: 234 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic; 2 edition (April 15, 2013)

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: Ephesians (BECNT)

Ephesians BECNT

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

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

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

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

The Chocolate Milk

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

Thielman’s Views

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Spoiled Milk

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

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

Recommended?

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

Lagniappe

  • Series: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic (November 1, 2010)
  • Amazon: US // UK
  • PDF excerpt found here

[Special thanks to Mark at SPCK and Trinity at Baker Academic  for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

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