Discovering the New Testament: Volume 1–The Gospels and Acts

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I love this book! I’ve had the privilege to use and review many books on New Testament Introduction, but this volume has one of the best combinations of design, layout, information, and approach that I’ve encountered. Though it only covers the Gospels and Acts until volumes 2 and 3 are published, it may easily become the first grab off the shelves when questions of New Testament Introduction arise for me.

This volume is my second foray into the writings of Mark Keown. His two-volume work on Philippians in the EEC series was, in my opinion, a very successful exegetical commentary. This work is of a completely different sort. He exhibits the gifts of a teacher though out, so it’s no surprise to me to learn that he has taught this material for many years.  This book is ideal for students, but I also notated page numbers at the beginning of places I want to review later for further study. There’s much to be said for writing that can communicate clearly as found in this book.

There’s nothing missing that I would want in New Testament Introduction (through Acts) in Keown’s approach. Both the Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts were exquisitely presented. For those who care, there’s a clear overview of critical methodologies. Though it seems a fool’s errand to me, there’s a chapter on the speculative Synoptic theories. Keown excels in the five chapters that cover each of the four Gospels and Acts in turn. You will leave each chapter with a better understanding of the purpose of each book. Next, he mines the paramount theme of the Kingdom in a chapter that captures the heart of these writings. The final two chapters look at miracles and parables in a way that answers criticisms and sees through them to their purpose.

You may quibble over some point (he speaks of “Q” as fact), but overall this book can stand up to any conservative Introduction. On the teaching level, this work could easily serve this generation as Merrill Tenney did for past ones. In fact, it’s far better than that oft-used textbook for my money. You will do yourself a favor to look this one up.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Job (NIVAC) by Walton

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When I think of John Walton, I tend to think of Genesis as it seems those titles have received more press. He is a widely-published, influential author, and I felt it would be interesting to check out this work on Job in the NIV Application Commentary (NIVAC) series. What I found upon opening this work was exceptional writing, clear statement of scholarly options, and no fear to reach his own conclusions. On the other hand, I found as I often have before with him, that he reaches many conclusions that I couldn’t agree with. I’m not suggesting that agreement with me is a benchmark you need to consider in evaluating a book, but I wonder if many pastors will find his conclusions too far afield even if he is technically a “conservative” scholar.

In the Introduction, he states that Job is not on trial in the book. I’ve never thought that was the purpose of Job. Perhaps Walton is too hard on Job and God. Job won’t stand as a role model in his mind even if many of us have drawn great inspiration from him. He lets his conclusions on genre determine his thoughts of the trustworthiness of Job’s history and finds it lacking. He doesn’t see Satan as the Devil. Several of these conclusions will make it impossible to traverse the territory we normally do in Job.

The book gives much better help in individual passages. Perhaps he will serve as a foil to help you not carelessly reach old conclusions, or at least force you to think them out more carefully. The personal insights of “Kelly’s Story”, a student of his whose disability entails much suffering, do remind us how challenging the story of Job is. Walton has written extensively on OT theology and that shows up in some helpful ways as well.

This volume isn’t my favorite NIVAC one, but the set including this one is worth obtaining.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Sermons on 2 Timothy by Calvin

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The trifecta is complete! With this edition of sermons on 2 Timothy, Banner of Truth carries the day by now having in print all of Calvin’s sermons on the Pastoral Epistles. Their coup stands more pronounced by the masterful translation Robert White accomplished in these volumes. There has been a volume of select sermons in an older translation, but all these sermons on the Pastorals in a quality English translation were unobtainable until now. The triumph concludes with these volumes being printed in lovely, quality editions that will last for generations.

The quality and set up mirror the previous two releases. Mr. White provides sermons titles and, mercifully, uses modern punctuation. (A comparison of other Calvin sermons translated by others proves how vital translation is to older sermons).  There’s a brief introduction that places these sermons in Calvin’s career. Calvin’s own difficulty in ministry, as Mr. White well explains, makes these sermons passionate. He provides a few more paragraphs to explain how Calvin approaches this epistle. As before, the book ends with “prayers before and after the sermon” giving more insight into Calvin’s practice in preaching.

Also as before, you need not think this volume is only for someone who subscribes to the theological system that bears Calvin’s name. Calvin is a master preacher who handles the text in a way that instructs on how to preach as well as it informs on the passage the sermon addresses. In that sense, it’s a double success that demands a place on every pastor’s shelves. Whether you agree with every line or not, these sermons are pure gold!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Psalms 73-150 (NAC) by Daniel Estes

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Well, we’ve been waiting for this one for a long time! The New American Commentary (NAC) series came out in a fairly timely manner, but the Psalms had to be reassigned for undisclosed reasons. In any event, the editors secured Daniel Estes to cover Psalms 73-150 in this volume and redeemed the lost time by securing this greater firepower of a seasoned commentator. He has already made his mark in the Wisdom books by writing a handbook on the Wisdom books and Psalms as well as commentaries on Job and Solomon’s Song. He’s the kind of scholar you need for a commentary like this NAC volume and he delivers!

Since this volume will be the second on the Psalms in the NAC series, the overall introduction to Psalms will appear in the forthcoming volume. I’ve just heard that Mr. Estes has signed on to do the volume on Psalms 1-72. It likely will take a few years, but I’m excited that he will get to give us a complete work on the Psalms now. Still, in this volume there is for now an introduction for how Mr. Estes approaches Psalms 73-150.

Pastors, especially, will appreciate his approach (though I imagine scholars will be pleased as well). For each psalm, he provides a look at form, structure, and setting, quality commentary, a succinct summary of theme, a brief look at intertextuality, the main theology, and a section on response to help a believer use the psalm to advantage.

I evaluated this commentary by reviewing some psalms that I had recently studied and that were more freshly on my mind. I liked what I found in this book! This volume will be much help to a wide variety of users. I’ve said for years that this series is the best overall for pastors because it balances so well all the goals you might have for thoughtful but not overly voluminous commentary. In addition, it doesn’t hurt that it will only cost about two-thirds to half of what you will pay for most commentaries. I give it the highest recommendation.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

The Holy Spirit by Sinclair Ferguson

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There’s no doubt that Sinclair Ferguson is a savvy theological writer. There’s no doubt that the Contours of Christian Theology series by IVP is a theological heavyweight either. While I couldn’t exactly call this my favorite Ferguson title, it did dig deep as the series is known to do. Books in this series don’t merely regurgitate the main tenets of a doctrine but linger where it makes sense to look under stones where treasure might be found. I always reach for this series when I’m starting a detailed study of a particular doctrine.

Chapter 1 introduces the Holy Spirit in an effort to shorten the distance that stands between Him and most believers while explaining all kinds of theological perspectives. Chapter 2 looks at the Spirit of Christ by explaining “Paraclete” and scoping out the relationship between Christ and the Spirit. Chapter 3 looks at the gift of the Spirit by examining Pentecost. Chapter 4 tackles the ongoing aspects of Pentecost. Chapters 5 through 7 wades through the Spirit’s role in salvation. I felt the author bogged down in a pet subject here. His theological positions are well known, and whether you agree or not, perhaps some of this would have fit better in a different book. Chapter 8 looks at other issues involving the Spirit and salvation like first fruits and sealing. Chapter 9 reviews the relationship between the Spirit and the body before chapter 10 dives into the explosive territory of gifts. The final chapter on the “Cosmic Spirit” serves as a great conclusion.

Ferguson always stretches my mind. Whether I agree with him or not, I always find a warmness of one who loves Christ as he writes. There’s no way I’d study the Spirit and not see what he has to say.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Romans (ZEC) by Frank Thielman

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The Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (ZECNT) continues its sustained excellence in this latest release on Romans by Frank Thielman. Thielman has already proven his commentary writing skills by writing a well-received work on that other deep Pauline Epistle of Ephesians. In addition, he’s written on Paul as well as New Testament theology. Writing a commentary on Romans would be, I would guess, one of the toughest assignments, but as you can see, he is up to the task. Besides the necessary credentials to predict a winning commentary, Thielman’s actual results live up to expectations.

The Introduction was not as full as in some such works, but what he did tackle met with superb results. The historical background came alive as he took us back to the Rome of Paul’s day. The way he transported us to those days was far more captivating than the normal sterile approach that we commonly meet. When he transitioned into Christianity in Rome it only got better as was the section where he brought Paul’s life into the equation. There’s a little on the text of Romans before we get an outline and bibliography.

I’m a fan of the unique approach to every passage. It’s far superior to others that have tried to make its own way like, say, WBC. You get literary context, main idea, diagrammed translation, structure, exegetical outline, all followed by a quality explanation of the text and concluded with theology in application. In my view, that covers all the right bases. Thielman uses that design to advantage here in one of the most important epistles of the New Testament.

The competition is fierce on Romans but mark this down as a winner all the way.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

The Gospel of Mark by Witherington

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Perhaps you’ve already used other works by prolific commentator Ben Witherington. If so, you’ll know what to expect—broad research, lively writing, and a socio-rhetorical emphasis. This work on Mark is up to the same level as others of his that I have used. No one understands how he gets such copious amounts of writing done, but that is not ours to know. What is apparent is that he grades out well on quality amid all that quantity.

The Introduction will prove that he’s not skimming but probing deeply all the scholarly questions. In the first sections, unsurprisingly, he addresses genre and rhetoric. Next, he wades through Mark’s sources. I find both his ideas and the overall importance of the whole question of sources off the mark, but he again is clear as a bell on explaining what he thinks. There are, however, some good points on Mark’s style that he digs out that help no matter your perspective on sources themselves. From there he slides into authorship and dates Mark from 66 to 70. I enjoyed his explanation of Mark’s social context much more. You’ll find plenty of insights there as well as the next section on structure. He gives perceptive analysis on both Mark’s Christology and the widely-debated Messianic Secret viewpoint. All in all, the Introduction is a deep dive running over 60 pages.

The commentary proper maintains his level of work. You’ll see things introduced in the Introduction fleshed out even more in the commentary. There’s real value here and the writing remains engaging throughout.

I don’t always agree with Witherington’s conclusions, but I appreciate the clarity that he presents his with. Some scholarly writing so entertains differing viewpoints that you’re not quite sure which ones the author holds. Witherington will not fail you on that count ever.

While this commentary would not be my first choice for an exegetical commentary, it’s an excellent volume to give another angle. He’s not a parrot of any other commentator and that means you will get food for thought throughout.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Love By The Book by Walter Kaiser

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Walter Kaiser has written many helpful works over a career spanning decades. I’ve enjoyed having many of them on my shelves. You know that you will get careful and capable help from a conservative standpoint. This work strikes me as him entering an area that differs from his usual academic work. In fact, the back of the book will show its classification as “Christian Life/ Love & Marriage”. Still, he can’t deny who he is and gives us something of a brief commentary on the Song of Solomon even as he attempts to give marital help.

As for the Song, he holds to a literal, non-allegorical approach that is most prevalent these days, though he is much more subdued than many such works in the intimate details. On the other hand, he presents a three-person interpretation (Shepherd, Shulammite, and Solomon) rather than the much more common two-person view (Shepherd and Shulammite). Though I believe some aspects of the allegorical view seeing Christ and His people must be true, and though I definitely can’t find my way around the difficulties of the three-person view, I found Kaiser clear and a good resource for me to check those competing views.

As for the marriage help, he holds to the traditional view of marriage that has been held up as the biblical position for centuries. He will have none of the radical trends pervading our culture and ensnarling the church. He makes a beautiful case for a superior way that is held up in Scripture.

My copy will be found on my Song of Solomon shelf, but this work can be used effectively in the “Love and Marriage” as well. How blessed we’d be if our views of marriage were what Kaiser champions here.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Romans (NICOT) by Moo (Revised)

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Douglas Moo’s commentary on Romans in the New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT) series has been the highest-rated modern, exegetical commentary on that pivotal letter over its 20-year life. It’s really not even been close. It was a no-brainer to ask Moo to revise this commentary rather than enlisting a new contributor. To those who have used this conservative commentary, the good news is that the revision doesn’t involve its solid conclusions. Think of the same home-run exegesis with up-to-date scholarly interaction. Since the conclusions remain, maybe it’s more of a scholarly dismissal of wobbly ideas that this revision’s additions accomplish.

Academic types will love the massively-expanded bibliography. It grew from 8 pages to over 120 pages! The Introduction changed little but little revision was needed. It’s something of a model introduction with great findings. The word “refreshing” comes to mind compared to much that’s printed today.

The commentary itself had places that changed little as well, but other sections had more shoring up of an already great presentation. (I actually laid the old edition beside it and compared on several passages). In the preface Moo explains what he sought to do in this revision—interact with 20 years of work and improve the writing. He succeeded. As you would guess, the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) has mushroomed over these last 20 years. Moo shows us that, perhaps, it was a wasted two decades in many ways.

It’s no bold prognostication to predict this commentary will hold the top spot for another 20 years with this revision. I’ll further predict that scholarship will be at no loss at all if it does.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Daniel (TOTC) by Paul House

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The Tyndale Old Testament Commentary (TOTC) series scores again. This latest title is at least the tenth release in this current revision of the venerable series (current writers used earlier editions as young Christians in many cases!) and they are all a success—keeping the winning format and scope with more up-to-date scholarship and good writing. Snagging Paul House was a coup for the series too as he has already produced a much-used Old Testament Theology as well as coauthored an Old Testament Survey. To my mind, he worked within the established TOTC format as if it fit him like a glove.

Any commentary on Daniel bears the additional weight of the varying prophetic outlook of the reader. While that’s not an issue in many other books of the Bible, Daniel is second only to Revelation in that dynamic. Many will unfairly rate any commentary on these two books on this issue alone before they read the first paragraph. For the record, the TOTC series has always been amillennial. Though that is not my viewpoint, I’ve always found great insight in these volumes. This volume, too, delivers on many levels in my judgment even though that differentiation of perspective exists.

The Introduction gets to the point as this series demands yet delivers the goods. Some of the more perverse scholarly train wrecks on Daniel that dominate much literature is happily not the focus here. Let’s call it a clear conservative presentation. History is carefully unfolded. Literary, genre, and textual issues are all concisely unpacked. Daniel’s role in the canon is probed before theological themes are presented. Structure gets one paragraph called “Analysis” and a detailed outline.

The commentary itself is well done, again, in the TOTC style. Its best contributions are historical and theological. You will be able to trace easily the flow of the text. A few passages will have the drama of a prophetic outlook that may not match your own, but you will still learn much in the commentary.

I really like this book and am happy to have it at hand for future studies. Highly recommended.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.