Book Review: Righteous by Promise (NSBT), Karl Deenick

The New Studies in Biblical Theology (NSBT) series is an excellent series for understanding particular themes in the Bible. While no series is perfect and some have lamented that it has fallen on hard times, this latest volume ought to relieve any lingering doubts. This book doesn’t deal only with the topic of circumcision in the Bible, but “two [other] facets on which this book focuses are the key biblical concepts of faith and righteousness.” The reason for this is seen in Paul’s statement about Abraham in Romans 4.11 that he “received the sign of circumcision of the seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.” Paul believed that circumcision meant something to Abraham about righteousness and faith. But how? Why circumcision? And scholars are in disagreement as to what the circumcision-righteousness-faith complex symbolizes. For N. T. Wright, “righteousness is about covenant membership” (5). For James Dunn, circumcision was “the boundary marker of  who was in the covenant and who was not” (6). But the OT authors look forward to a day when God’s people will be spiritually circumcised and will love and obey God with all their heart (6).

Karl Deenick does not consider every biblical reference to circumcision but only those which help demonstrate how righteousness and faith are woven together with circumcision. In chapter two he shows how righteousness and blamelessness are “both a present status but also a future promise that is appropriated by humble trust in God’s promise to Abraham of a blameless ‘seed'” (211). This is seen in Genesis 15 and 17. Abraham is reckoned as righteous because he believed Yahweh’s word (15.6) and then God called Abraham to walk blamelessly (17.1) before in a unique relationship.

After examining these truths and the ‘singular’ seed in Genesis, Deenick looks at how the sign of circumcision developed throughout the OT: Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 10 and 30, and Joshua 5 (chapter three). How can God call the people to love and obey him when they don’t have circumcised hearts and when God says he will give that to them in the future (Deut 10; 30)? They are to walk with Yahweh (Lev 26) and believe in his atoning promise to Abraham. “The circumcised heart repents and trusts in Yahweh’s words” (95). After Abraham’s call to be blameless, the next time we see something ‘blameless’ in the text is when we get to the sacrificial system. Blameless sacrifices cover the blame of God’s people, something fulfilled completely in Christ. “What God promised, Abraham did not have in full, and yet God reckoned him to have it” (213).

Deenick then observes how the NT authors picked up the metaphors of ‘walking’ and ‘being blameless’ (chapter four). Blamelessness comes through union with the resurrected Jesus Christ, the ‘seed’ of Abraham. Deenick ends the chapter looking at contested passages in Philippians 3, Colossians 2, and Ephesians 2. Chapters five and six cover Romans 2-4 and Galatians. Faith in God’s promised seed, Jesus, humility, and repentance over sin are what matter.

For Christians, as Deenick points out, the imputation of christ’s righteousness teaches us that “it is not enough to be ‘not guilty’: we must also be reckoned to be perfectly obedient and holy” (213). Abraham’s circumcision was a seal that he was humble and righteous by faith. The continuing acts of circumcision pointed God’s people to the future seed who would fulfill God’s promises to Abraham. It meant nothing to follow God’s law while rejecting his promise of a future seed. Instead, believing the promise meant fulfilling God’s law as your trust was in the future seed who would make you blameless. Christians don’t need to follow circumcision for we are circumcised in Christ. The flesh has been put off, and we are baptized in him. We have died and are raised with him.


I hope Deenick’s book will be read widely by students, teachers, and the scholarly community. While it is not written for the layman, teachers and pastors who pick this up can easily bring the information to life. Neither does Deenick give bland facts in his book. He fits his information within the story of Scripture, allowing the story to illuminate the details, and the details the story. We are the circumcision of Christ who have put off the old flesh, have received a spiritual circumcision, and love and desire to obey God. I highly recommend this book.


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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

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


Book Review: Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? (NSBT), L. Michael Morales


It’s the new year, and perhaps you’ve already started reading your through-the-Bible-in-a-year program. The number one bane of reading through the Bible comes early: Leviticus. Why is it even in the Bible? Just to make Christians thank God we don’t have those laws?

L. Michael Morales, professor of biblical studies at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Taylors, SC, has written the latest volume in the NSBT series. The foundation for this volume can be seen here: Ps 15.1 and 24.3 ask the prime question, “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?” The psalmists write about dwelling in God’s house forever (23.6), drinking from the river of his pleasures (36.8-9), and longing to see his face (16.9-11; 26.8). Yet only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies. How could dwelling with God be a corporate ideal? Morales says that the dominating concern of Leviticus and of the entire Bible is how humanity will dwell in the house of God. For more on this, read here.


There are eight chapter in all, four of which are specifically about Leviticus.

Chapter One sees Leviticus as the center of the Pentateuch, and the Day of Atonement (Lev 16), as the center of Leviticus.

Chapters Two and Three give the background narrative to Leviticus by looking at the overall story of the exile from and the entrance to God as seen throughout Genesis and Exodus. Moses was a Levite, and with Leviticus forming the center of the Five Books of Moses, we should expect Levitical language and concepts in the other four books. A crisis ends Exodus: God’s presence fills the tent of meeting, but now Moses cannot enter.

In Chapter Four Morales shows how the sacrificial cultus in Leviticus 1-10 was the divinely revealed way for Israel to meet with God, an ascent into his Presence. A crisis ends chapter 10: God’s glorious Presence fills the tabernacle, but Aaron’s two sons are killed in their disobedience.

Chapter Five brings the next section, Leviticus 11-16. Here Morales draws connections between Nadab and Abihu’s death and the Day of Atonement (e.g., both happen on the same day). The intervening cleansing laws (Lev 11-15) sprout from Lev 10.10 — Aaron is to teach Israel to distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean. Cleanliness and holiness pervade not only Leviticus, but both Testaments. The Day of Atonement was when the “new Adam entered Eden,” the place where God was, and made atonement for God’s people. The chapter ends with an interesting excursus on Adam’s fall and how he should have reacted. 

Chapter Six covers Israel’s call to holiness (17-22) and the priests’ call (23-25). Israel was to pursue YHWH, their only source of holiness. The goal of holiness was communion and fellowship with God – something those in Genesis and Exodus could not do on a regular basis. Morales makes a good argument that Lev 24.1-9 is a symbolic picture of the Sabbath (cf. Num 6.22-27).

Chapter Seven looks at how Zion is the mountain of God and it is Israel’s inheritance. It is the city of David, it has the purpose of the nations coming to it to meet God, and it will be the “Eden” in Israel’s end days (Isa 2.1-4).

Chapter Eight moves from the earthly to the heavenly Mount Zion. Morales brings out the theology of Leviticus in Hebrews and, primarily, in John’s Gospel. In John, the place to meet God (the Temple) is found in the person of God (Jesus). Jesus is the Temple. In his ascension he went to the Father, and the Spirit descended to make all Christians part of God’s household, that we may be able to ascend the mountain of YHWH.

The Spoiled Milk

My one complaint is when Morales doesn’t give Scriptural references to the connections he makes (though not extremely common). For example, when covering the sacrifices in Leviticus 1-8, Morales changes the names of some of the sacrifices (the burnt offering becomes the ascension offering) to better represent their function. But when he names a few of these newly-named sacrifices together without the references to the Levitical chapter/verse, I don’t know where I’m meant to be looking. However with all that this book does, this is easily overlooked.


Leviticus isn’t a book that Christians should read and say, “Thank God we don’t have to keep those laws anymore.” Leviticus is central to the Pentateuch, and it has atonement at its the center (not to mention at the center of Christian theology too). The theology of Leviticus pervades the OT. The less we understand Leviticus, the less we understand the Bible. Not only does Morales do an incredible job of broadly overviewing Leviticus and connecting the dots between the Testaments, but Morales’ book helps me to want to read the Bible even more. And if a book can help fuel that desire, then it’s worth reading.

This work is in line with both Dempster’s and Beale’s first-rate works in the NSBT series. Both seek to put the entire Scripture together, both shift a few paradigms, and Morales no less accomplishes this feat. I second Carson’s statement that this “will spawn some excellent sermon series on Leviticus!” (8). There are a number of good volumes in the NSBT series, and this is one of the best.

Who should read this? College level and up. Admittedly some parts will be challenging, but the gains are much greater than the losses.



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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

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

Why is the Ascension Important?

Ascension Ethiopia

One of the main tenets of Jesus’ life is that after his death and resurrection, he left the disciples and went ascended to heaven where God the Father was. The ascension is amazing considering nobody else did it (though Elijah did go up in a whirlwind to heaven [2Kings 2.11]). 

But why did Jesus go up in a cloud? Was it just so he could return in the same way (Acts 1.11)? Did it prove his divinity in any sort of way? Was it a neat trick, or did it actually do something for believers? (For a connection with YHWH’s divinity, read here). 

L. Michael Morales has an answer. In newest volume of the NSBT series, Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? (my review here),  Morales presents a biblical theology of… Leviticus, a word that strikes fear into the heart just as a drill brings pain to a tooth. Yet this book is far from boring (really!).

Israel’s Hope

Israel had a deep hope and pleasure to “dwell in the house of YHWH forever” (Ps 23.6) because it is in God’s house where he gives them “drink from the river of [his] pleasures” (Ps 36.8-9). Morales understands the “rivers of pleasure” to be an allusion to Eden’s river of life (Gen 2.10; Rev 22.1-2).

Israel longs to dwell in the house of God and, ultimately, to behold YHWH himself (Ps 16.9-11; 26.8; cf. 2 Cor 3.18). Dwelling with YHWH is the one thing the psalmist asks for in Ps 27.4:

One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple.

The Crisis

But how is this possible? How can Israel wish to ascend the mountain of God when only Israel’s High Priest could enter into God’s Presence in the Holy of Holies? 

Considering that only the high priest had been allowed entrance in to the holy of holies within the tabernacle and later temple, how is it songs could be sung [by all of Israel] about dwelling in YHWH’s house ‘for ever’ and ‘all the days of my life’? (19).

Psalm 24.3 asks, Who shall ascend the hill of YHWH? And who shall stand in his holy place?

And similarly, Psalm 15.1O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?

Morales says that the dominating concern of Leviticus and of the entire Bible is how humanity will dwell in the house of God. In Gen 28.12, Jacob sees a vision of the “angels of God” who “were ascending and descending” on a ladder that stretched from earth to heaven. It represented “earthly access to God’s heavenly abode,” the place the builders of the Tower of Babel wanted to reach. Now God is reaching down to Jacob and promising him offspring, land, and that he, YHWH, would be with him (Lev 26.12; 2 Cor 6.16b; Rev 21.3). 

“What Jacob saw was the spiritual archetype of the temple [in Leviticus] — its inner reality and function as the connection between heaven and earth” (162). John 1.14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt [tabernacled] among us.” In John 2.21, Jesus was “speaking about the temple of his body” when he spoke of his resurrection.

The Tie-In

We can see both of these themes in John 1.49-51,

Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.

It is through Jesus that the Levitical tabernacle, the place where God’s people met God, would transfigured into a person (Jn 4.20-24).

And the Ascension?

After showing the broad themes and structure of Leviticus, Morales shows how its theology of meeting God points to Christ.

“The advent of Christ would open a new and living way into the house of God; indeed, that was the goal of his taking our humanity upon himself, of his suffering, of his resurrection and ascension” (20).

And wouldn’t you know it, but Jesus’ ascension brought him up to God. For Morales, the theology of Leviticus is about “dwelling with God in the house of God, and how that reality is finally made possible” (20). The reality of the Levitical cultus, the tabernacle (and later Temple), the sacrifices, the rituals, etc, were all divinely given so that Israel could meet God, become holy, and be a light to the nations. We now have this in Christ. We are holy. We have God’s Holy Spirit in us, and we belong to God. 

So who can ascend the mountain of the Lord?

By the loving-kindness of the Father, the redemption of the Son and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, a sure answer has been found: even the church of Jesus Christ (306).


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Book Review: The Temple and the Church’s Mission (NSBT), G. K. Beale

The Temple and the Church’s Mission; G.K. Beale

G. K. Beale is the professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. He’s well known for his commentary on Revelation (and a shorter one too) and books on the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament [Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament and Handbook of the NT Use of the OT], and a New Testament Biblical Theology.

Beale poses this question as his thesis for TTATCM: If John sees a new heaven and a new earth in Revelation 21.1, what is the ‘holy city, new Jerusalem’ that comes down from heaven? Verse 3 says the dwelling place of God is with man, and in 21.10-22.3 “he sees a city that is garden-like, in the shape of a temple (p. 23). How does John provide an explanation for all this?

Beale proposes that the first temple we see in the Bible is the garden of Eden, for that is where God’s presence is located. God’s command to Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply” is seen a a command to expand that garden, thus expanding God’s presence to fill the earth “with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Hab 2.14). Everything we see after dealing with the tabernacle and “temple” is thus God expanding His presence across the earth, looking toward the consummation of Revelation 21-22 where His presence fill the entire universe in the New Creation.

Outline (The Pre-Chocolate Milk)

One could think, “How can someone write a 458 (really 379) page book on a biblical theology of the dwelling place of God?” Could anything be more boring than the temple? Have you ever actually read the last third of Exodus (chs 25-31; 35-40)? Or 1 Kings 5-7? Those are the chapters we wish we could avoid when we read our Bibles, yet Beale has written a monster of a book in the NSBT series. Why read this book? As the outline shows, there is plenty to write about on the temple.

Chapter 2; Cosmic Symbolism of Temples in the Old Testament

Israel viewed Israel’s earthly temple to be a symbol of the heavenly cosmic temple (Ps 78.69), and the objects inside it also represented things God made on earth and in the universe (Ex 25.9; Isa. 66.1-2; Heb 8.5; 9.23-24). Beale proceeds into showing why God ‘rested’ on the seventh day, how the importance of that action would come to be known as ‘the Sabbath’ command, and how it is seen in other Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) writings as well (more on that later). We also look at how the tabernacle/temple reflected the first temple in the garden of Eden. The first priest was in the Garden. The “golden lampstand” and precious stones are first found in and around the Garden. Even the tabernacle and Solomon’s temple are decorated with garden-like features.

Chapter 3; The Expanding Purpose of Temples in the Old Testament

How the theme of mankind’s kingly/priestly role of serving God in the temple and the mandate to “be fruitful and multiply” to expand the Garden and thus God’s glory is seen and passed on to the patriarchs in their altar building, to Israel at Mt. Sinai, to David and Solomon at Mt. Moriah, and in how Israel should live post-exile.

Chapter 4; The Expanding End-Time Purpose of Temples in the Old Testament

How the OT authors saw the mandate to expand Eden may mean that even the borders of Israel were to be expanded to the whole world. If God is too big for a physical temple (Isa 66.1-2), where is He supposed to be? This mandate is seen in Numbers 24.5-9, Isaiah 66, Jeremiah 3, Ezekiel, Zechariah 1-2, and in Daniel 2’s view of an expanding Kingdom (Dan 2.34-35,44-45),   This is a dense chapter (at least with plenty of biblical references) and I’m still excited to go back and look through all of the references again. There is plenty to look through in the book, and even when you’re done, you’re never really done.

Chapter 5; The ‘Already and Not Yet’ Fulfillment of the End-Time Temple in Christ and His People: The Gospels

How Christ is the last Adam and the temple (Jn 1.14, 2.19-21) of New Creation. Beale looks at the significance of the temple veil being torn at Christ’s death, along with the significance of the parable of the vineyard and Jesus as the ‘cornerstone.’ What did Jesus do that pointed to Him being the greater temple? Some examples would be Matt 9.1-8; 16.19; 18.15-20; 28.20. I encourage you to read them yourself and see how they give witness to Jesus being that greater temple, the place of God’s presence.

Chapter 6; The Inauguration of a New Temple in the Book of Acts

How Pentecost relates to Mt. Sinai in Exodus. How does Pentecost fulfill Joel’s prophecy of the latter days? Or the destruction of the old order and the creation of the new? And how does Peter know to interpret it this way? We see how Stephen (Acts 7) and James (Acts 15) views Christ as the temple and New Creation. What is the OT background for the Gentiles’ relationship to Christ’s rebuilt temple seen in Amos 9.11-12, Hos 3.5, and Jeremiah 12.15-16? There’s more there than you ever would have thought.

Chapter 7; The Inauguration of a New Temple in the Epistles of Paul

The use of Paul’s temple imagery in 1 Cor 3, 2 Cor 5-6, Eph 2, Col 2, and what that means for the Church to keep pure as New Creations who are unified in Christ and who bear fruit and increase by proclaiming the gospel to all the world.

Chapter 8; The Temple in 2 Thessalonians 2

The use of Paul’s temple imagery in 2 Thess 2. What do we do with the ‘falling away’ and the ‘man of lawlessness’ who exalts himself in the temple? While many may agree with Beale’s conclusions on most of Paul’s letters, many will also disagree with his conclusions on 2 Thess 2. All I can say on it now is that his case is compelling, and the reader should be willing to wrestle with the text.

Chapter 9; The Inauguration of a New Temple in Hebrews

Brings us to the ‘greater and more complete tabernacle’ which Christ as a priest walked through ‘not made with hands, that is to say not of this creation.’ In an excursus, Beale explains what Acts 7.48-49 tell us about OT ‘handmade’ temples and how this relates to Hebrews.

Chapter 10; The World-Encompassing Temple in Revelation

Reflects the temple in Rev 11.1-4, its background in Zech 4, and a few other texts in Revelation which give us information on the temple of Rev 21-22.

Chapter 11; The Temple in Ezekiel 40-48 and its Relationship to the New Testament

This will be of great interest to many people (which is probably why Beale puts it near the end of his colossus). Will Ezekiel’s temple (chs 40-48) be literal, or is it figurative? Why or why not? Beale gives his reasoning, and if you know anything about Beale, this is a very interesting chapter.

This chapter, more than the chapter on 2 Thess 2, gives reason to wrestle with the text (depending on where your eschatology lies, though all should wrestle with these passages despite which ‘end-time’ view you hold to).

Chapter 12; Theological Conclusions: The Physical Temple as a Foreshadowing of God’s and Christ’s Presence as the True Temple

How the NT interprets the Old (which I found very interesting). What does it mean for John to look back at the OT for descriptions of the New Jerusalem in Rev 21-22? Why is the city made of gold (Rev 21.18)? Why are the ‘unclean’ outside the gates (21.26-27; 22.14-15)? What is the relationship between the old temple and the new? All of this and more is expounded upon in this chapter.

Chapter 13; Practical Reflections on Eden and the Temple for the Church in the Twenty-First Century

Now that we are in Christ, how is the church supposed to live? What does God’s temple do?

The Chocolate Milk

As the size of this review may tell you, I enjoyed this book very much. One might think it would be easy to write a review on a book this size, but the trouble is finding where to start and where to end! There are so many god points that one can only surrender defeat and hope he gets the point across.

Beale hands the reader plenty of scriptural references to back up his points. It’s rare for him to be without scripture. This is immensly helpful, for I’ve read my fair share of books where a point was made yet no scripture was used to back it up (James Jordan’s Through New Eyes, and a few times in Peter Leithart’s A House For My Name). This way, when Beale makes a claim, he backs it up, and the reader can come to their own conclusions without being left in the dark.

I enjoyed that there was even a chapter 13. Beale doesn’t want to fill our heads with only “head knowledge” (although what he does give us at least provides a strong foundation for the unity of the whole Bible, even if one doesn’t agree with everything he says). I was impressed that he gave us some good practical application with his book. Being in Christ, we can be like Christ who resisted testing from Satan (Matt 4; Lk 4), and not be like Adam who allowed sin to reign (Gen 3). He relates the OT to Christians in Christ (the True Israel who completely obeyed) and how we live today. The temple is a house of prayer for all the peoples (Is 56.7)? Then we are to be ‘continually prayerful’ today (p. 398).

ANE Literature

The help Beale gives in comparing and contrasting what the OT biblical authors say to other ANE writings (also the NT authors to other non-canonical church writings) is fantastic. Its point of placement here in my review isn’t so much a critique as it is a tip-off that these sections may be hard to read. However, they are not as frequent as one might expect. Yet I will elaborate a bit on this to show the importance of this in Beale’s book, while hopefully not boring you.

However, reading parts of the Enuma Elish is less thrilling than reading about furniture arrangement in the Tabernacle. So why is it in here? It shows us that the biblical authors weren’t way ahead of their times. While some might say the OT authors copied from the other writings, Beale rejects that notion.

Cajun Example

Let’s say there are two authors who live in Louisiana who are both going to write separate non-fiction books. One lives in and writes about Lafourche parish; the other Bienville parish. Though their stories may be completely different, some parts of the book will still be similar. Concepts of architectural structures, the Louisiania government, the USA government, education, transportation, grocery stores, electronics, etc. Neither of them are borrowing from each other inasmuch as they simply live in the same era of time. Everything looks similar to them. And 1,000 years from now a historian could compare and contrast the two ways of live to show his students how people in Louisiana lived.

What now?

So looking at how the Sumerians and Egyptians viewed the concept of their gods ‘resting’, gives us a clearer idea of how the biblical authors viewed the true God as He rested over creation.

“The pagan religious material suggests further that after God overcame chaos and created the world and after he overcame Israel’s enemies and built the temple, he ‘rested’ as a true sovereign on his throne in contrast to the pretending, false deities whom pagan worshipers believed had done the same”

Beale: 66.

Israel lived in the same time period as other nations. Why would Israel’s day-to-day life be much different than the Sumerian day-to-day life? It’s not like Israel obeyed YHWH and then received iPads for Christmas. Both had temples, both grew crops, and both had to live like everyone else.

The difference between Israel and the other nations is that Israel knew the true God, YHWH. The biblical authors throughout the OT took what He said and they expounded on it as His Self-revelation progressed through the ages.


Though this book is quite dense and academic, I was immensely encouraged by it. Growing up, I always wondered why the biblical authors used the terms they used. In 2 Corinthians 5.1 when Paul says, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” what does “a house not made with hands” mean? Is it simply that God is making our resurrected bodies? This is true, but is there more to it? the subject matter of Paul’s letters is often times the tip of the iceberg, with the rest of the information lying under the surface (and throughout the OT). Beale shows the inter-connections of the New Testament with the Old, giving more confirmation that the Bible really is one unified book. And that even the most seemingly boring of subjects (like the temple) can be one of the most fascinating when viewed in light of Christ’s person and work.

To quote Beale and Clowney,

“While it is true that Christ fulfills what the temple stands for, it is better to say, ‘Christ is the meaning for which the temple existed'”

Beale: 374-75, Clowney: 177.


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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

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

“Do we come by faith to God’s word daily, as did Jesus, in order that we may be strengthened increasingly with God’s presence in order to fulfill our task of spreading that presence to others who don’t know Christ? Believers express their identification with Christ’s Adamic kingship when they spread the presence of God by living for Christ and speaking His word and unbelievers accept it, and Satan’s victorious hold on their heart is broken”

– Beale: 396-97.

Book Review: A Mouth Full of Fire (NSBT), Andrew Shead

A Mouth Full of Fire

I am putting my words as a fire in your mouth; these people are tinder and it will consume them” (Jeremiah 5:14).

Andrew Shead presents to us the topic that in the book of Jeremiah, the vocabulary of “word” and “words” is not only prevalent, but is actually a blueprint marking divine speech with a role to give the book’s final form its narrative and theological shape. It is not Jeremiah, but the phrase “the word of the Lord” which is the main character in the book of Jeremiah.

Now Jeremiah has always had a confusing structure to many people, laymen and scholars alike. (A simple test: Outlining Jeremiah one day. Go ahead. Try it.) It’s clearly not chronological with it’s constant references to “the fourth year of Jehoiakim” in the second half of Jeremiah. So what’s a Bible lover to do? How can one understand Jeremiah’s main message?

Shead’s Outline

Introduction: Theological Interpretation [see following paragraphs]
Chapter 1: The Word and ‘words’ in Jeremiah

Chapter 2: Structuring Jeremiah
Chapter 3: Word and Speaker
+++++++how the speaker is completely absorbed by the Word
Chapter 4: Word and Hearers

+++++++how an all-powerful Word can be rejected by its hearers
Chapter 5: Word and Power

+++++++the power of the Word to build and to destroy
Chapter 6: Word and Permanence

+++++++how does Jeremiah and Baruch’s writing stand to be permanent Word?
Chapter 7: A Conversation with Barth

The Unity of the Bible

The NSBT series seeks “‘to analyze and synthesize the bible’s teaching about God… on its own terms, maintaining sight of the Bible’s overarching narrative and Christocentric focus’” (pg. 25, quoting Brian Rosner) believing there to be an inner unity to the Old and New Testaments and how it fits as “Scripture” and “God’s Word.”

“To what extent does the final meaning of the one, divinely authored Scripture shape the initial meaning of its various parts read in their own right?….There is a process by which God’s revelation unfolds across Scripture [read here for an excellent post on typology]…and this must be honored” (pg. 26).

“Biblical theology…may be defined as knowledge of God as God in the Bible” (pg. 28). Shead believes (which I must agree) that when we read/study the Bible we are not reading an ancient book about an ancient superstitious people who were trying to figure out who or what was up in the sky. Rather the book we have in front of us is one which reveals God in such a way that we may in fact know Him, His character, and His Son, the Word.

Chocolate Milk

•  In chapter 2 Shead shows the structure of Jeremiah and how the book isn’t a precise chronology, but an increasing theme of how the Word of the Lord tears down and builds up nations. “We might describe [Jeremiah] as the story of what happened when the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah” (pg. 38).
Though the chapter can be tedious (the lingo of “Disjunctive Headings”, “atypical Disjunctive Headings”, and “Narrative Formulas.” I still don’t understand the difference), it comes with the purpose in showing how Jeremiah is structured. Shead’s outline and structure of Jeremiah gives way to pages and pages of note-taking (hopefully in your Bible too!). Jeremiah has a history riddled with confused outlines. This one might not be perfect (it might be?), but it’s an awfully good one.

•  The movie director illustration was a novel idea as a way to understand the use of the author’s ‘camera’ throughout Jeremiah. Movement 1 of Jeremiah gives us the point of view of the prophet. In Movement 2 the camera gives us the long shot of people, places, and times. In Movement 3, after we see a battle of words, but in Jer. 37 the camera pulls back, and “words are slowly overtaken by events, and Jeremiah shrinks to a figure in a wide-angled landscape shot of destruction until, in chapter 39, he is reduced to an incidental character, caught up with the rest of Judah in the destructive power of the word of God, finally unleashed on his feckless people” (pg. 90). In the final movement, the camera rises as high as it can go, and the word of the Lord sounds across all the nations of the earth.

•  The exegesis in chapters 3-6 was alluring. It may sounds funny saying exegesis is alluring, but I enjoyed read through Shead’s work seeing how Jeremiah’s use of “word” and “words” structuring and colored his (and Baruch’s) writing to their respective audiences (in both the MT and LXX) and gave a greater understanding to the meaning of portions of Jeremiah and his book as a whole.

Spoiled Milk

•  Chapters 5-6 are great in the exegesis, but I was bewildered once Shead moved from hermeneutics to theological explanation. Whether talking about ‘speech’ in the divine agency debate, Goldingay’s ‘model of scripture’ as inspired word, or the difference between prophetic speech and a prophetic book (to name a few), I didn’t always know if Shead agreed with an opposing position or not. And whether or not he did, I didn’t know why it mattered in the end.

•  Finally in chapter 7, Shead has a “conversation” with Karl Barth. Fortunately he doesn’t make Barth out to be the enemy (since he’s not). (Barth was actually more conservative than many of the liberal scholars of his time. He rejected much of his liberal training and went down a more conservative route).

Barth described his work to be a ‘theology of the Word’, which is exactly what Shead is aiming at in his book. What does Jeremiah teach us about the Word (message) of God and His (written) words? Barth, being so influential in 20th century Protestant theology, still had a ways to go in understanding this, and Shead tries to show that in the last chapter of his book.

However, this last chapter was the hardest to read. Again, the points of comparison in the theologies was pretty cloudy. [Disclaimer: I will add, though, that I’m no Barthian connoisseur, so I jumped into the section with very limited knowledge. Also, the NSBT series, though not out of reach for the lay person, it is not the most accessible either]. But, without the clarity, I had to reread portions to get the gist of what Shead was saying, much of which I’m still unsure.

There was still much to be gained in this section (I have plenty of underlinings). There was gold to be found, but it does take plenty of mining.


This book will not be for everyone. If you’re not interested in a scholarly discussion about the nature of the word of God and/or a structural study on the theology of the “word/words” in Jeremiah, then you wouldn’t be interested in this book. (Not really sure why’d you’d even be reading this review, really).

However, if you are studying Jeremiah, and you’d like to read an excellent book on his structure and power and place of the word of God (it is the main character), then this book is for you. It’s also not so dense that an intrigued reader couldn’t read it. If I ever taught/preached through Jeremiah I would surely use Shead’s outlined structure and work.


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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

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

Book Review: Paul and the Law (NSBT), Brian Rosner

Paul and the Law

The Puzzle

The author, Brian Rosner, starts us off with this verse in 1 Corinthians:

“For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God” (1 Cor. 7:19 ESV)

Hold on, wasn’t it God’s command to be circumcised? If neither one counts for anything, then what are God’s commandments that are to be kept?

If that wasn’t enough, Rosner present us with another puzzle:

Paul tells us Christ has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances (Eph. 2:15), but then later quotes one of the commandments that was done away with (Eph. 6:1-2). But then, does our faith in Christ overthrow (abolish) the law? No! It upholds it! (Rom. 3:31).

Is Paul inconsistent? Is he making it up as he moves along? Did he go overboard on the matzah balls?

The Case For…

Studies on Paul’s understanding and use of the Law of Moses have been notoriously wrought with difficulties. How does the Mosaic Law affect the relationship between Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles? What of Paul’s views on salvation, salvation history, Israel, the church, ethics, and anthropology (to name a few). To merely take away the Law is to interfere with all of those ideas.

Brian Rosner is focused on the BIG picture: The question is not which bits of the law Paul is referring to (i.e. moral, ceremonial, civil – often times they intermingle!), but the law as what (in what capacity does the law function?).

In three swift moves Paul shows his (consistent) thoughts on the law:

1. Repudiation, explicit (ch. 2) and implicit (ch. 3).
2. Replacement of the law with Christ.
3. Re-appropriation as prophecy (ch. 5) and as wisdom (ch. 6).

What does this mean? Paul shows that Christians are not under the law. They do not walk according to the law, but they fulfill the law. The law of Moses is replaced by the law of Christ in our lives, but this doesn’t mean the law is worthless. It still has ongoing value because it is ‘for us’, it points us to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Not only that, but it teaches us wisdom.

Chapter Divisions

Chapter 2: Rosner shows what it means for Christians and Gentiles to not be under the law. He shows that the Law is a failed path to life, for breaking it means death, and nobody can keep the entire Law. 1 Timothy 1:8-10 says that the Law is used as law for the lawless. The righteous do not need it for they know how to live.

Chapter 3: we see three ways Paul indirectly puts the law away:

1. Omission: Absence of speaking of the law
2. Reversal: Saying the very opposite
3. Substitution: putting something else in it’s place

Paul does not say that believers in Christ walk according to the law, boast in the law, know God’s will according to the law, or transgress the law (to name a few). Rosner shows us where we see these phrases in the OT speaking of Jews, and where we don’t see them for believers in the NT.

Chapter 4: Paul replaces the law with the law of faith, the law of Christ (because Christ has fulfilled the law), shows what the ‘law of Christ’ means in Galatians 6:1-2, and shows how we walk in the newness of the Spirit.

Chapter 5: Rosner writes how the law was/is prophetic, showing how Paul (correctly) revealed (not stretched) how many OT references point to the Gospel. He shows how Abraham believed by faith and was accepted before the law, how the law was written ‘for us’ who believe.

Chapter 6: How did Paul view the Law (and OT Scripture) as wisdom as seen through the Psalms, how the psalter internalized and lived out the law, and as seen in the order of creation and to God’s goodness. Rosner then shows examples of how Paul used the wisdom of the Law for Christian ethics in his letters.

Chapter 7: Rosner gives about 8 (very helpful) charts for us to visualize what he has been talking about, shows how this view of Paul’s view of the Law solves the puzzle between God’s free grace and His demand for holy living.

The Chocolate Milk

Rosner assembles many of Paul’s contradictory sayings and shows that they do connect together revealing (to those who think otherwise) Paul did know how to express himself consistently in his letters. Rosner’s reasonings makes sense as a whole, and this book will change how you read reading Paul’s letters. Simply seeing the word “wise” in his letters will remind you of a host of Old Testament and inter-testamental meanings. Which leads to the next cup o’ chocolate…

Rosner floods us with Old Testament meanings that Paul would know. Why? To remind us that as a Pharisaic Jew Paul really knew the law, and he uses much of the same language/phrases/idioms in the NT.  And not just from the Old Testament, but including the time between the Old and the New Testaments. There are plenty of writings from that period, and they had an influence on Paul’s life and the lives of other Jews. Jews would read Paul’s letters and see a familiar idiom replaced. Instead of “walking according to the Law,” we now “walk according to the Spirit.” We are now “under the law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21).

Rosner’s view of showing the Law to be prophecy and wisdom was a wonderful treatment. If Christians are no longer under the law, then what do we do with it? Read it and thank God we don’t have to live like that anymore? How is that ‘profitable’? Rosner does away with the idea of only following the moral laws as opposed to the civil/ceremonial laws. In this light, the whole Law (read: Gen. 1:1-Deut. 34:12) has application to our lives. (Yes, even Leviticus). The Law exemplifies wisdom because it came from God, it is rooted in His good character, and it mirrors the boundaries He has placed over the world and how to live in them.

The Spoiled Milk

Rosner was wordy at times, with his syntax being difficult to understand (though to be expected with the NSBT series. It ain’t kindergarten – nor should it be). I may be in the minority here, for I’ve seen other reviewers say Rosner was clear and easy to read. Yes, he usually was clear, and often times easy, but on the same hand, not.

If there was a weakness in a main point of this study, it would be Rosner’s explanation of “the law of the Spirit of life.” He shows how it contrasts with “the law of sin and death” in Rom. 8:2, but doesn’t go much farther than that. He well explained the “law of Christ,” but not so much the same with the “law of faith” and the “law of the Spirit.”


If you are interested in Paul’s thoughts on the Mosaic Law, then this book is for you. Rosner’s thoughts are clear and well-thought out. There is plenty here to read, to study, to figure out your (and Paul’s) position on the law. It makes sense. I would love to see some examples of the difficult laws as wisdom, but with this hermeneutic in place I expect to see more books on how the law is to be used as wisdom in our lives, in addition to my own study. This isn’t the easiest of reads, but it’s definitely not the most difficult.  As D. A. Carson said, “This is a book to read slowly…a book to ponder” (12). Enjoy.


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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

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