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Review: Hermeneutics as Apprenticeship

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

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

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

The Spoiled Milk

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

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

Recommended?

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

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

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

Lagniappe

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

Buy it on Baker Academic or on Amazon!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Academic through the Baker Academic Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Review: Colloquial Norwegian

colloquial-norwegian

It’s one thing to know the structure of the language, it’s another to be able to speak that same language to others. While Norwegian Grammar has many good helps with idiomatic phrases, it’s incredibly helpful to have a few Norwegian books with exercises in them. Colloquial Norwegian is one of those books.

Each chapter includes two Dialogues, one in Norwegian and the other in English. After this is a Vocabulary which contains new words found in the norsk dialogue. Then there are fill-in-the-blank, true or false, or writing exercises. Some chapters have a Culture section that explains an aspect of the Norwegian way of life related to the subject matter of the chapter. There are Language Points that explain some of the grammar from the chapter. There are charts and lists throughout the book, and in many places if you have the CD you can listen to the pronunciations of words (such as with the Dialogue sections). 

After Unit 14 there is a short reference grammar, a few pages on nynorsk, the book’s answer key, and then both a Norwegian-English glossary and an English-Norwegian glossary. 

Recommended?

You should begin learning Norwegian by working through Norwegian in 10 Minutes a Day. It gives basic understanding of the pronunciation by actually translating it phonetically next to the ‘norsk ord,’ and it teaches you a lot of basic Norwegian terms and phrases dealing with food, time, work, play, etc. 

Then move on to Colloquial Norwegian and then to Teach Yourself Norwegian. Personally, I favor TYN over CN, although with TYN the dialogues are mostly in Norwegian, with the occasional English sentence given for guidance. TYN also has sections on grammar and how to say a wealth of phrases in Norwegian. Both books are very similar, through they have their differences, and both books would serve you very well. 

The back cover of Colloquial Norwegian says that after completing this book, “you will be at Level B1 of the Common European Framework for Languages, and at the intermediate level on the ACTFL proficiency scales.” I think this is well worth working through so that you can be at that level. I didn’t receive the CD that comes with the book, but it would benefit you to use it. You might even impress your norsk neighbors (naboer) with your fancy pronunciations (meaning you don’t sound too American and you can actually roll your R’s).

Lagniappe

  • Authors: Margaret O’Leary og Torunn Andresen
  • Series: Colloquial Series
  • Paperback: 391 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; 2 edition (May 12, 2016)

Buy from Routledge or on Amazon!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Routledge. 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: James (EEC)

JEEC

Besides being one of the administrators to a number of “nerdy” Facebook groups (I should add that they are wonderful groups which have helpful discussions on biblical languages and theology), William Varner is a Professor of Bible & Greek at The Master’s College and Seminary (where John MacArthur serves as President).

In the EEC series, “Each of the authors affirms historic, orthodox Christianity and the inspiration and inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures” (xi). The EEC series is also the first series to be produced in electronic form. Besides being linked up with your other Logos resources, the benefit with this is that the authors can add and change their insights when they gain new insights (even 20 years from now). 

Though highly neglected for much of church history, the “last forty years . . . have witnessed both James and the writing attributed to him emerging into the brightness of a new day for Jacobean scholarship” (1). There have been at least thirty major commentaries since the 1970s. Why do we need another commentary on such a small letter? To quote Varner, “I can only say that there will always be a need for good commentaries on a biblical text, because ‘God yet has light to spring forth from His word,’” and “the application of fresh linguistic methods to exegetical analysis demands an occasional fresh look at familiar biblical passages” (1, fn 4).

Varner believes James to have been both the brother of Jesus and the leader of the church, the Jerusalem church and of the entire Jesus movement. The letter was written in Jerusalem in the mid-to-late 40s AD for Jewish-Christian congregations “in or around Syria” (18). Some of James’ main themes are God, the Messiah, the Holy Spirit, faith, wisdom, and eschatology. Both a kingdom and a judgment are waiting for us in the future, but also a part of that future kingdom is here now. We have the King’s “royal law” (2.8) now, and we experience the “new birth” (1.18) now too.

Layout

The layout of the series works pretty much the same for all volumes (for more detail, check out my review on the Ephesians volume). Generally, each section is separated into 9 different sections.

  1. Introduction
  2. Outline
  3. Original Text
  4. Textual Notes
  5. Translation
  6. Commentary
  7. Biblical Theology Comments
  8. Application and Devotional Implications
  9. Selected Bibliography

There are also 3 excursuses at the end of the commentary.

  1. Scot McKnight’s Treatment of James 2.18
  2. James 3.1-12: Can the Tongue Really Be Controlled?
  3. Wisdom in James

Conclusion

Sometimes when I review a commentary, knowing that a commentary can’t do everything, I try to suggest at least one other commentary to pair the reviewed copy with. I’m not really sure who I should suggest here. Moo’s PNTC volume is a wise choice, and Blomberg’s ZECNT volume will likely have great practical points. But when I really compared them to Varner, I found Varner to have more clarity and better application.

And really, the biggest difference was something small, simple, and often overlooked in a commentary: his outline. It’s not just the outline itself that is impressive, but his argument for it. Varner believes that 3.13-18 is the “thematic peak” of James (where it brings all of the themes together), and 4.1-10 is the “hortatory peak,” a section filled with exhortations, commands, loving rebuke, and encouragement to James’ readers to cut off their friendship with the world, to stop their selfish bickering, and to humble themselves before the majestic King of glory.

Martin Luther accused James of borrowing “a few ideas from the apostles” and then afterwards he “‘threw them on paper.’ Luther thought that the organization of the book was as bad as its doctrine” (62). Many others have found James’ structure to be equally elusive. Varner shows that the leader of the Church did know what he was talking about, and it sets this commentary apart from the rest as Varner guides through the commentary, showing us the word-signs that point backwards and forwards to reveal and to herald what has been and what is to come.

Varner’s commentary is technical, but in the Grammarian Desert you will also find equally refreshing pools of theology, theology that is biblically practical. He follows the flow of James’ river of wisdom and smoothes out gnarled passages (e.g., James 4.5). This should be on your shelf. Better yet, this should be open on your desk.

Lagniappe

  • Author: William Varner
  • Series: Evangelical Exegetical Commentary
  • Hardcover: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (April 9, 2014)

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Buy it on Amazon or Logos!

[Special thanks to Lexham Press 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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Review: Ephesians (EEC)

EEEC

If you haven’t been able to tell, or if you haven’t seen the eight other posts I’ve written up about Baugh’s new Ephesians commentary, I’ve certainly enjoyed his new volume in the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary series. “Each of the authors affirms historic, orthodox Christianity and the inspiration and inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures” (xi). The EEC series is also the first series to be produced in electronic form. Besides being linked up with your other Logos resources, the benefit with this is that the authors can add and change their insights when they gain new insights. Unlike physical copies, the Logos volumes can be updated by their authors 20 years from now (not to downplay the physical books too much).

S. M. Baugh is Professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, California. He ministers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and he is mindful of the toils in both scholarship and the pastorate. Baugh didn’t set out to create brand new interpretations on Ephesians when he began working on this volume. Instead he used his particular interests and areas of study to illuminate the text for scholars, pastors, and students. His horde of interests include the classics, ancient history (especially Ephesus), Greek grammar, textual criticism, Greek literary composition and rhetoric, and, finally, biblical theology.

These interests come together to make a powerhouse of a commentary. As a technical commentary, this is one of the best (if not the best). But don’t think that this commentary was spit out to split hairs on Greek grammar. There is much to gain from this commentary for both the pastor and the student (see my Previous Posts below), not only the scholar.

Layout

The layout of the series works pretty much the same for all volumes. Generally, each section is separated into 9 different sections.

  1. Introduction: A brief overview of the section (e.g., 2.1-10) and where Baugh gives his periodic arrangement of the Greek text for that section.
  2. Outline: A simple outline for the text.
  3. Original Text: The text as it is in Greek
  4. Textual Notes: Differences between manuscripts
  5. Translation: Baugh’s English translation
  6. Commentary: A full explanation of the text.
  7. Biblical Theology Comments: How the teaching in the text fits with the rest of the Bible, or the New Testament, or Paul’s own teaching, etc.
  8. Application and Devotional Implications: A few paragraphs on how the reader can think about the text in their own personal life, or how a pastor could preach this to his congregation.
  9. Selected Bibliography: Bibliography of books mentioned throughout the chapter

Eight Additional Exegetical Comments sections are strewn throughout this volume. A few of the subjects covered are Redemption; Magic; Faith in/of Christ; and Wine in Ephesus.

Baugh agrees that Paul is the author of this epistle, and that Ephesians is one of “generic” character. There are “no serious problems or concerns with his addressees that led Paul to write Ephesians” (31). Ephesians has a “positive” and certainly “less polemic” tone than most of Paul’s other letters (31).

Baugh believes the main theme of the letter “is easy to summarize with the phrase unity in the inaugurated new creation” (35).The church’s unity is rooted in the Triune God’s counsel and redemptive love. The Messiah has complete sovereignty over the old powers of creation, especially magic. The new creation is entering this world.

Conclusion

While Baugh does give a special attention to magic in Ephesus, you would do well to pair his commentary with Clinton Arnold’s ZECNT volume on Ephesians. Arnold has done a lot of work on the influence of magic in the Greco-Roman world, and his commentary is extremely skilled in putting forward the main ideas of Paul’s letter while remaining very practical too.

Those who have a handle on Greek will be the ones who benefit the most from this volume. But while Baugh certainly goes into detail into his commentary, he also agrees that “it is important to keep the theological center of ‘unity in the inaugurated new creation’ in view . . . The trees are beautiful in themselves, but the whole forest is where the vision of majesty dwells.”

Again, if you want one of the best technical commentaries on Ephesians, then you need to pick up Baugh’s commentary. 

Lagniappe

  • Author: Steven Baugh
  • Series: Evangelical Exegetical Commentary
  • Hardcover: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (April 27, 2016)

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Buy it on Amazon or Logos!

[Special thanks to Lexham Press 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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Review: Psalms 73-150

Psalms

Derek Kidner was a brilliant British Old Testament scholar. He taught at Oak Hill Theological College before becoming Warden of Tyndale House. He wrote many commentaries in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary (TOTC) series and The Bible Speaks Today (BST) series. He has written volumes on the books of Genesis, Ezra–Nehemiah, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Jeremiah, and Hosea.

Here I’ll review his commentary on Psalms 73-150 (Books III to V) in the Kidner Classic Commentaries series. At just over 240 pages this serves as a nice, thick completion to his commentaries on the Psalms. Each Psalm is given between 3-6 pages. Kidner doesn’t treat the Psalms as just words on a page. They are life.

Examples

In Psalm 93 the Psalmist proclaims that “The Lord is king!” And Kidner insightfully reminds us that “It confronts us afresh with a fact whose impact on us may have weakened; and further, its decisive tense points on to the day when the King will come in power…” (370). Neither does Kidner forget to read the Psalms in context as he recognizes that the “King who will come to power” is a prominent theme in the surrounding psalms, especially 96 to 99.

In Ps 113, who is like the Lord? No one. “It is here that God’s glory most sharply differs from man’s: a glory that is equally at home ‘above the heavens’ (4) and at the side of one forlorn person” (437). God’s glory is seen in “giving the childless woman a family, making her a happy mother” (v9).

The next Psalm (114) also begins in a tremendous fashion and ends in a whispered wonder: The whole earth trembles before God’s majesty, and He directs his power “to the point of need, transforming what is least promising [a desert] into a place of plenty and a source of joy,” a place to water and feed His people (438).

The Chocolate Milk

He doesn’t allow himself to fall into the mire of despair, that swamp of gritty details and mindless facts. Kidner is brief and crisp. He takes conservative views on the Psalms. Discussions about the Hebrew text are usually placed in the footnotes.

You’ll have to look elsewhere if you want in-depth word studies, structure of the psalm(s), literary analysis, reading the Psalms as a canonical unit, or opposing views. Although some will want to look for other commentaries on the Psalms, not everyone wants all of the extra analyses. These volumes are especially helpful for the pastor, the student, and as a morning devotional (with some extra details).

Kidner’s volume works best if you have both volumes. Volume 1 has the Introduction and exegesis of Books I and II. Volume 2 continues on the page number where Vol 1 left off (so Vol 2 starts on page 285). So a reference back to “page 12” means page 12 in Vol 1. There is no Bibliography in Vol 2, so I assume its in Vol 1. Nevertheless, you really ought to own both.

Lagniappe

  • Author: Derek Kidner
  • Series: Kidner Classic Commentaries (Book 3)
  • Paperback: 242 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (October 5, 2014)

Buy it on Amazon or from IVP!

(Special thanks to IVP 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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