Myth: Biblical Reference Works Are Objective (Gupta)

LExiconSometimes I get the impression from students, and also sometimes from certain scholars and publishers, that reference works are treated as especially trustworthy because they are “objective.” For example, students (and even scholars) will appeal to a Greek lexicon as if it is based purely on facts and figures and no human interpretive element is involved. The same could be said with dictionaries and grammars.

Put another way, we might feel the need to defend why we are working from a monograph, but not why we are taking a statement in a grammar or lexicon at face value. I like to remind my students – who writes these entries? Robots? Computers? No, they are written by people, people with opinions. That doesn’t mean those people are plotting to take over the world, but it does mean there is the possibility of bias and the possibility of oversights and mistakes. (I won’t get into anti-Semitism in the famous Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, but see here).

Advice: read all your sources critically, don’t assume the source gets the information “right” just because it comes from a grammar, dictionary, or lexicon. When you are citing a reference work, don’t just say – TDNT says “such and such.” You are best off actually engaging with the evidence put forth in these articles/entries, not just the conclusions or opinions.

I pretty regularly disagree with glosses and assumptions in BDAG, and I think Louw-Nida is stronger overall in giving accurate meanings and recognizing the polysemous nature of certain words. But this problem is bigger than lexicons. Reference works are tremendously helpful and I use them all the time in research for lectures and scholarship. But the bottom line is – don’t take off your critical lenses just because the cover says “dictionary”!


Women Scholars and the Gospels and Acts

This bibliography highlights the scholarship of women biblical interpreters. The focus is on textbooks, commentaries, introductions, and reference works on the Gospels and Acts.

This is intended as a kind of wiki-page: place your recommendation in the comments and I will transfer them into the main text if they are relevant to this topic. Preference is given to confessional/orthodox works (though you will notice several important exceptions), since this list is especially meant to aid seminary students.

General Resources/Background/Introductions

IVP Women’s Bible Commentary (ed. C.C. Kroeger and M.J. Evans; IVP, 2002)

Women’s Bible Commentary (ed. C.A. Newsom, S.H. Ringe, C.E. Lapsley; Westminster John Knox, 2012)

Helen Bond, Caiaphas: Friend of Rome and Judge of Jesus? (Westminster John Knox, 2004).

Lynn Cohick, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians: Illuminating Ancient Ways of Life (Baker, 2009).

Lynn Cohick, ed. The New Testament in Antiquity (with G. Burge and G. Green; Zondervan, 2009).

Morna Hooker, Beginnings: Keys That Open the Gospels (Wipf & Stock, 2010).

Morna Hooker, Endings: Invitations to Discipleship (Baker, 2003).

Louise Lawrence, Sense and Stigma in the Gospels: Depictions of Sensory-Disabled Characters (Oxford, 2013).

Pheme Perkins, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels (Eerdmans, 2009).

Barbara Reid, Parables for Preachers (multiple volumes; Liturgical Press, 1999-2001)

Barbara Reid, Taking Up the Cross: New Testament Interpretation through Latina and Feminist Eyes (Fortress, 2007).

Beth Sheppard, The Craft of History and the Study of the New Testament (Society of Biblical Literature, 2012).

Marianne Meye Thompson, Introducing the New Testament (with J.B. Green and Paul Achteiemer)


A.J. Levine, A Feminist Companion to Matthew (T & T Clark, 2001).

Lidija Novakovic, Messiah, the Healer of the Sick: A Study of Jesus as the Son of David in the Gospel of Matthew (Mohr Siebeck, 2003).

Barbara Reid, The Gospel According to Matthew (New Collegeville Bible Commentary, 2005).

Mitzi Smith, ed. Teaching All the Nations: Interrogating the Matthean Great Commission (co-editor with J. Lalitha; Fortress, 2014)


Mary Ann Beavis, Mark (Baker, 2011).

Adela Yarbro Collins, Mark (Fortress, 2007).

Sharyn Dowd, Reading Mark (Helwys, 2000).

Mary Healy, The Gospel of Mark (Baker, 2008).

Morna Hooker, The Gospel According to Saint Mark (Baker, 2009).

A.J. Levine, A Feminist Companion to Mark (T & T Clark, 2004).

Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, Hearing Mark: A Listener’s Guide (T & T Clark, 2002)

–, Mark’s Jesus: Characterization as Narrative Christology (Baylor Univ. Press, 2009)

Mitzi Minor, The Spirituality of Mark (Westminster John Knox, 1996).

Pheme Perkins, Mark (New Interpreters Bible; Abingdon, 1995)

Bonnie Thurston, The Spiritual Landscape of Mark (Liturgical Press, 2008).

–, Maverick Mark: The Untamed Gospel (Liturgical Press, 2013).

–, Preaching Mark (Fortress, 2001).


Beverly Gaventa, Acts (Abingdon, 2003)

A.J. Levine, A Feminist Companion to Luke (T & T Clark, 2002); Acts (2005)

Judith Lieu, The Gospel of Luke (Epworth Commentary, 2012)

Sharon Ringe, Luke (Westminster John Knox, 1995).


Jo-ann Brant, John (Baker, 2011).

Ruth B. Edward, Discovering John (SPCK, 2014).

A.J. Levine, A Feminist Companion to John (T & T Clark, 2003).

Gail R. O’Day, John (New Interpreters Bible; Abingdon, 1996)

Sandra Schneiders, Written That You May Believe: Encountering Jesus in the Fourth Gospel (Crossroad, 2003).

–, Jesus Risen in Our Midst: Essays on the Resurrection of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel (Michael Glazier, 2013)

Marianne Meye Thompson, The God of the Gospel of John (Eerdmans, 2001)

Women in the Gospels and Acts

Frances Taylor Gench, Back to the Well: Women’s Encounters with Jesus in the Gospels (Westminster John Knox, 2004).

Barbara Reid, Choosing the Better Part?: Women in the Gospel of Luke (Michael Glazier, 1996).

Forthcoming (as of fall, 2014)

Loveday Alexander on Acts (Blacks)

Jeannine Brown on Matthew (Teach the Text); on Luke (New Covenant)

Christine Joynes on Mark (Blackwell)

AJ Levine on Luke (with Ben Witherington (New Cambridge)

Karoline Lewis, John (Fortress Preaching) ~ coming Dec 2014

Kindalee Pfremmer Delong on Luke (Story of God)

Mary Schertz on Luke (Believers)

Marianne Meye Thompson on John (New Testament Library)

Video Resource: Gaventa’s “Lund Lecture 1″ on Salvation in Romans (Gupta)

Dr. Beverly Gaventa recently gave the “Lund Lecture” at Northpark on the subject of Romans. The official title of her lecture was: “What Part of the Word ‘All’ Don’t We Understand?” (This is Lecture 1; there is a second lecture on grace and ethics in Romans).

This lecture was essentially an articulation of her apocalyptic reading of Romans with an emphasis on divine agency in salvation. Gaventa criticizes approaches to Romans that are “transactional” (God does this, we do that). While it is an excellent lecture, deeply insightful from perhaps the US’s leading Pauline expert, I found myself in disagreement with her reading. She underscores that Paul does not talk about “repentance” (or forgiveness), one piece of evidence that his concern is more with deliverance than human cooperation. While I was viewing this lecture, I couldn’t help but think (1) just because the word “repentance” isn’t used doesn’t mean the concept isn’t there (Rom 12:1-2?), and (2) the volume of occurrences of “faith” (pistis) in Romans should attest to the “human agency” aspect that Gaventa feels is missing. (I was pleased that both my concerns were raised in the Q & A by participants).

This is part of an ongoing academic discussion on divine and human agency in Paul, and I am writing a book on this subject so I have a lot on my mind. But here is one reason I am unsatisfied with the terms of the discussion. Gaventa basically rejects a strong “human agency” component in Romans and puts the weight on the “divine agency” side (like 90/10). Any attempt at “balance” I would imagine would be rejected by Gaventa because it would come out to 50/50 and would return to the “transactional” idea. So far I am in agreement with her. But while I don’t like the 90/10 or the 50/50, I think we have to entertain the possibility that there is a kind of 100/100 going on here – sure the math doesn’t add up, but it would help account for how challenging this matter was even in the first century (in the age of the apostles). The problem with even a 100/100 approach is that it could simply seem like a 50/50 and the who does what question is re-introduced. Clearly we need a re-think. (I will give Gaventa kudos for being humble and willing to entertain other readings during the Q & A)

For what its worth, I think Grant Macaskill and Tom Wright are on the right track by not pitting a Salvation History/Covenantal view (which tends to sound transactional) against an apocalyptic view (which seems divine oriented in terms of agency). Somehow these are “cooperative” – and there is that dirty word again. Oh well, enough rambling. Here is the video. I am eagerly looking forward to Gaventa’s Romans commentary with WJK.



John Byron’s Story of God and 1-2 Thessalonians – Book Notice (Gupta)

This weekend I happily read through a good deal of John Byron’s new 1-2 Byron picThessalonians commentary for the Zondervan series called the “The Story of God” (ed. Scot McKnight). In some ways, this is the NIV Application Commentary series for a post-modern generation, and a new era of scholarship that is especially interested in narratives and worldview-story theology in Scripture.

Three things really impressed me with John’s commentary and are, hopefully, a hallmark of the series.

Byron book(1) Well-informed exegetical decisions – You can tell John did the hard work of hashing through complicated interpretive issues, but you barely see the debates in the text. But I found that John seems to be very current with Thessalonian-Correspondence scholarship. This kind of background heavy-lifting is often missing in popular commentaries.

(2) Excellent modern illustrations and examples from history. Where John places the emphasis in this commentary, rightly so, is on (for lack of a better word) application. What does this text mean for us today as we read it theologically? I don’t know how he researched all of this (examples from Justin Martyr to Luther to Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Mother Teresa), but I imagine much of it was inspired by course reflections and discussions. Extremely valuable stuff here!

(3) Very personal. John doesn’t stand at a cool distance from the material, but is very frank and transparent about his own struggles in his life and how these texts have spoken to him. In that sense, he models the transparency Paul shows in 1 Thessalonians itself.

Do you need to make space on your shelf for yet another commentary? By my own count I own at least 20 commentaries on 1-2 Thessalonians, but if a student or layperson were to ask me what they might read on 1-2 Thessalonians for personal edification, I will gladly say “Byron” in the same sentence as Holmes, Gaventa, and Calvin (and yet unreleased Jeffrey Weima [BECNT] and Andy Johnson [THNT]; and Chrysostom, of course).


Congrats, John! (Also, I happen to agree with you on the apologetic nature of 1 Thess 2, nepios, and skeuos as “body” (not wife) in 4:4. By the way. So good job getting those “right”!)

Counting the Costs: On Pursuing Life in Academia (Skinner)

Sad AcademicThis morning I received my program book for the annual SBL/AAR meetings in San Diego. The last time the meetings were held in San Diego was 2007, which consequently was the last time I was there. I was just days away from defending my dissertation and I was in town for a job interview—a job I didn’t get, by the way. Anyway, thinking about my last time in San Diego got me thinking about my own journey in academia, and it occurred to me that it’s that season once again for so many hope-filled academics. It’s the season when grad students, ABDs, freshly-minted PhDs, and in some cases, those who’ve been on the job market for years, set about preparing (literally) dozens of documents for hiring committees; you know, those notorious committees that (1) may not ask for an interview—which is understandable; (2) may not even look at your materials—which is somewhat less understandable; and (3) in many cases, won’t even acknowledge that they’ve received your materials, let alone that the job you were hoping for has been filled—which is inexcusable. I have been on the receiving end of all three of these (non) responses in my career, and I feel your pain. (BTW, if you have time, check out this pretty spot-on indictment of how unethical the hiring practices in our profession can be for people in this very situation I’m describing.)

As readers of this blog know, I am fortunate to have a full-time job teaching in higher education and in my area of specialization. I am also fortunate to teach in a part of the country that allows me to be relatively close to my extended family. In many ways, it’s like I have found one of Wonka’s golden tickets. Those closest to me will tell you that I genuinely love what I do, and as I have grown in my teaching, I have also had relative success in publishing my research. Still I find it possible to be very cynical about life in academia. So much of this is related to my own experiences. With so many of my own students requesting letters of recommendation for graduate school at the moment—some with an eye on landing a job in academia—I felt the need to get real for a moment. I’m speaking to my students in this post, but I invite you to listen in, if you’re interested. (I apologize in advance if I come across as Debbie Downer.)

Life in academia is not for the faint of heart. It is a path fraught with rejection at every turn. Each stage of the process brings more opportunities for rejection. Some think the rejection stops after you’ve landed a job, but actually there are more opportunities to experience the sting of a brush-off. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of the untold possibilities for rejection, as I see them:

(1) Applying to doctoral programs: This is the first test we must all pass. I know several people who were not admitted to any doctoral programs during their first trip through the process. At least one of them currently has a doctorate from one of the best schools in the world, a full-time teaching post, and a monograph that has just been released. This sort of rejection is not the end of the road. Just know that it’s a possibility. Fortunately, I was admitted to the doctoral program of my choice, but there were other schools that said “no” to me. I shudder to think what would have happened had they all said, “no.” I was a young seminary graduate with a wife and small child. It might have been easy to give up on the dream and turn toward something more “practical,” more “gainful.” Applying to doctoral programs was my first hint that life in academia, along with being a highly competitive profession, has the potential to be a soul-crushing enterprise. (If after reading this bit of honesty you still choose to move forward, you should see Nijay’s comprehensive work on this subject.)

(2) Applying for jobs: This is clearly the most soul-crushing process of them all. I was on the job market for three full years after earning my Ph.D. If I’m being honest, I was applying to jobs for at least two years before I finished. After losing my job in 2009—another story for another day—I spent an entire academic year living in a three-bedroom house with my wife, three kids, and my in-laws. (How’s that for soul-crushing?) During those three to five years, I probably put out 50-60 applications (and killed several baby sequoias in the process). I had a dozen or so interviews and several on campus visits before I finally got a job. In one instance, I was CERTAIN there was going to be an offer in a week. Eight weeks later I was informed via email (yes, that’s right, an EMAIL) that the search committee was cancelling the job due to lack of funding. Can anyone say, rejection? (Just in case you think I’m alone, you can also see some of the details of Nijay’s employment journey here.)

(3) Presenting your research: I try to attend several professional meetings every year, and I have not missed an SBL meeting since 2005. I have given several papers at SBL and elsewhere, but I have had numerous proposals grounded on the tarmac before they could ever take flight. For instance, for four straight years I put in a proposal to read a paper in the Johannine Literature section, and for four straight years my proposals were shot down. To make it worse, each of those proposed papers went on to be published somewhere, but I could not get the Johannine Literature group to give it a sniff. Finally, this year, for the first time I will read a paper in the Johannine Literature section.

(4) Publishing your research: After surviving the gauntlet of rejection presented by the previous three stages, you now have arrived at the part of academic life that continues to offer you various and sundry opportunities to experience soul-crushing rejection. This is the part of the job that no one tells you about. Especially if you are in a “publish-or-perish” institution, you will find yourself face-to-face with the realities of this sort of rejection. Just this week I got word that an article I wrote over two years ago was finally accepted for publication. I had previously sent the article to three different journals. In all three instances, one reviewer liked it and the other wasn’t sure. Practically, this means that each time I submitted said article, it was rejected. After re-working it three times in response to previous reviewers’ comments, I was finally able to get it into a form that two outside readers found acceptable. Thankfully, each rejection served to make the article better, but each time it was “back to the drawing board.”

All of this is to say nothing of the processes of applying for grants, external funding, sabbaticals, promotion, etc. Academia is a profession in which you consistently put your fate in someone else’s hands, without the promise of anything in return. Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment….maybe a bunch of us are, but not everyone is going to be able to sustain such continued rejection and emerge unscathed. Sure, there are those anomalous individuals who get into every program to which they apply, earn the doctorate, get their dream job right out of the gate, and have everything they write accepted for presentation and/or publication. In my admittedly limited experience, however, those people are the rare exceptions rather than the rule.

To my current and former students I say: If, after all of this, you still want to go forward, I do understand. Life in academia is sometimes crazy, often beautiful, and always interesting, and I’m  not sure I would be this fulfilled doing anything else. Just be sure come in with your eyes open and continue to count the costs.

Character Studies and the Gospel of Mark Has Arrived! (Skinner)

Markan Character StudiesMy latest book, Character Studies and the Gospel of Mark (co-edited with Matt Hauge) has just arrived in my campus inbox! It looks great and I’m thankful for the staff at Bloomsbury /T &T Clark who worked so diligently to get the book out before the professional meeting season in late November. So ends another two-year journey of nurturing a book from a vague idea into a fully gestated creation. Working on this book was a great experience. Contributors include: Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, Matthew Ryan Hauge, Ira Brent Driggers, Joel F. Williams, Elizabeth Shively, Paul L. Danove, Susan Miller, Adam Winn, Cornelis Bennema, and myself.

See the full table of contents here. Get your copy today! (Or….wait until AAR/SBL and buy one at a significantly reduced rate.)

New Book: The Turning Point in the Gospel of Mark (Skinner)

PICKWICK_TemplateAt the end of last week I received a package in the mail and I was thrilled to find inside a review copy of Gregg Morrison’s book, The Turning Point in the Gospel of Mark: A Study in Markan Christology (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2014). Gregg and I were students at Catholic University between 2002 and 2007. During that time we sat in several seminars together and had the privilege (along with Kelly Iverson and Sherri Brown) of being Frank Moloney’s final doctoral students. Gregg is also a friend and I have been waiting for this book for some time. While I have not yet read the entire book, I remember the seminar paper that gave rise to the monograph and I’ve also heard Gregg give a paper on the subject. Gregg’s work is an engaging study in Markan Christology from a narrative perspective. Those interested in the Gospel of Mark need to put this one on the list!