Clinton Arnold’s Commentary on Ephesians (ZECNT)

Some of you may know that I am writing a commentary on Colossians (Smyth & Helwys) right now. While I am in the initial primary research phase, I am avoiding any contact with Colossians scholarship and commentaries – that will come later.

However, when Clinton Arnold’s commentary on Ephesians came out recently (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), I felt that it would be helpful to see how he interprets this cousin of Colossians. There are, of course, so many overlapping issues – I knew that Arnold would offer much in terms of talking about spiritual powers, magic, and folk religion.

Overall, I have enjoyed his commentary, the format of the commentary, and his positions on various controversial matters are well-stated, though I don’t always agree with him. I will offer some bits and pieces from the commentary below

Introduction: “This letter [of Ephesians] summarizes what it means to be a Christian better than any other book in the Bible” (p. 21)

Key issues that Ephesians deals with: 

  • assimilation ministry and the training of new believers
  • the issue of divine sovereignty and human free will
  • spiritual warfare
  • worship in the church, including the issue of diversity of form and style
  • spiritual formation
  • gender roles in marriage
  • racial reconciliation
  • God’s design and plan for the church
  • the basis and call for ecumenical unity
  • the gospel in an animistic context
  • the contextualization of theology
  • living in a context of religious pluralism
  • the gift of being an apostle
  • the gift of prophecy
  • the role of the Jewish law
  • the local church and missions
  • intercessory prayer in the Christian life
  • the nature of spiritual power
  • the ongoing work of Satan and demons
Destination: Ephesus – but it was intended “to circulate in nearby villages, and possibly to churches in cities as far away as Smyrna, Miletus, and the Maeander and Lycus valleys” (p. 29)
1 Corinthians 15:32 - Paul writes, “I fought with wild animals at Ephesus” – Arnold convincingly argues (with Guy Williams) that “within Judaism, wild animals and various kinds of beasts were often used symbolically for evil spirits. This is true even in the NT letters, where Satan is represented by Peter as a “roaring lion” (1 Pet 5:8-9)” (p. 39)
So… “Paul’s beast fight reflects the spiritual warfare struggle that Paul experienced while he attempted to reach Ephesus with the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. (39).
Purpose of Ephesians - I was impressed by what Arnold had to say about the purpose of this letter. Neither does he see serious doctrinal or moral matters that need a response (like 1 Corinthians or Galatians), nor did he simply write a universal sermon about whatever and sent it off “to whom it may concern.” This letter engages in “identity formation” – a serious matter, but not reparative. Here is Arnold’s statement on purpose
Paul wrote this letter to a large network of local churches in Ephesus and the surrounding cities to affirm them in their new identity in Christ as a means of strengthening them in their ongoing struggle with the powers of darkness, to promote a greater unity between Jews and Gentiles within and among the churches of the area, and to stimulate an ever-increasing transformation of their lifestyles into a greater conformity to the purity and holiness that God has called them to display (p. 45).
  Authorship - Arnold admits up front that he is not going to dwell on this matter, since there is already much published on it. Of course, he concludes that this document is written by Paul and all attempts to argue for pseudonymity fall short in his opinion. Two arguments that Arnold puts forward are helpful in my opinion. First, “The pseudepigraphical hypothesis cannot adequately account for the autobiographical material in the letter” (p. 46). If a false-writer was devising a false situation and context for the letter, he really seemed to go out of his way! As Arnold points out, he even describes his posture when praying (3:14)!
Secondly, while pseudepigraphical apocalyptic works were rather accepted and common in early Judaism, we cannot confidently say the same about pseudepigraphical personal letters (p. 49).
The Commentary: Notes
Overall, Arnold does a good job dealing with the various exegetical difficulties in the text. Here are some notes.
1:18 – the “holy ones” are the redeemed people, not angels.
1:21 – all terms for supernatural powers (“hostile angelic powers”) (pp.
112-115. While Arnold has really studied the folk religious beliefs and practices in Asia Minor in the ancient world and brought much light to bear on Ephesians, I feel that Arnold downplays the imperial, human counterparts to these spiritual powers. I don’t see it as either-or, but both-and. Fred Long (Asbury Seminary) is working on an Ephesians commentary (Rhetoric in Religious Antiquity series) where he has studied many inscriptions, especially bringing to bear how the terminology used in Ephesians alludes and refers to worship of the emperor. I think both perspectives need to be there.
2:2 – the “ruler of the air” is Satan – “the air” is referred to in early Judaism as a place where evil spirits reside – “Philo speaks of demons as hovering in the air (On Giants, 1.6, 8).” (132) – 1 Enoch has demons “dwelling in the clouds (15:10-11)” (132)
2:20 – the “prophets” are first century ones, not OT ones (170).
4:5 – “one Lord” – “Gentiles in the churches confessing Jesus as the one Lord would recognize that Artemis of Ephesus was not Lord regardless of the fact that she was acclaimed as such” (p. 234)
5:14 – “Get up, O sleeper…” – “The best interpretation is that Paul is here citing an early Christian hymn, which in turn had been deeply influenced by a christological interpretation of [two passages from] Isaiah” (334)
5:18 – not getting drunk on wine may be a reference to practices in association with Bacchus.
Conclusion
the book ends with a mini chapter on the Theology of Ephesians – brilliant! Every commentary should end like this!
In terms of secondary interaction, Arnold refers often to the work of Barth, Best, Lincoln, O’Brien, Schnackenburg, Hoehner, and Calvin.
Overall, a very useful commentary, especially for interaction with magic and folk religion contextual pointers.
Note – he forcefully defends a complementarian view of the Haustafel in Ephesians. I found his argument mediocre at best; better than in most conservative commentaries. His strongest argument is that there is a theological underpinning and analogy of Christ’s authority behind the wife-husband dynamic in Ephesians. I might ask, though, whether it is possible for Paul to give such a theological rationale, because it fits the circumstances and context, but was not meant to be universalized or without exception? Consider, in 1 Corinthians 9:14, that Paul was given not only the authority, but also the command to receive his income from his converts – a command from the Lord Jesus. However, he did not follow this in Corinth. Why would anyone not follow a command from the Lord Jesus? What compelled Paul to (temporarily or contextually?) over-turn this Dominical command?
I am not trying to be liberal (Arnold criticizes I.H. Marshall on gender issues for moving beyond what Scripture says; I think Arnold’s rebuke is uncalled for) – at least no more liberal than Paul. Just some food for thought.
I am interested in the soon-coming book by Alan Padgett: As Christ Submits to the Church: A Biblical Understanding of Leadership and Mutual Submission (Baker, August 2011). Though the focus in this book is in church leadership (I presume), it may address Arnold’s approach to Eph’s Haustafel.
I would certainly recommend this to anyone researching Ephesians, but you could also find a good amount of the same views and thoughts, in more detail, in his many books. However, if you are commentary “collector,” this is worth the cost.
If you are looking for a single commentary to have on Ephesians (as your go-to one), I would still recommend O’Brien, Barth, or Lincoln.

Arland Hultgren on Romans (Review)

Arland Hultgren has recently published a new commentary on Romans (Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Commentary; Eerdmans, 2011). Hultgren is a New Testament scholar at Luther Seminary, well-known for his commentary on the parables of Jesus. Now, he fills 800 pages with a Lutheran analysis of Paul’s most influential letter. It is not in a series, but a stand-alone work.

It has Hultgren’s own translation. The commentary proper has a basic format – broken down into passages, he first gives a “general comment” (an overview) and then “detailed comment” (verse-by-verse, focused discussion). Each passage has its own selective bibliography, which is helpful. The format is not outstanding, but it is nice to be able to read the general comment to get a feel for where he is going and for easy reference for later.

The book also contains a number of extended discussions in a series of appendix entries on subjects like: the “righteousness of God,” homosexuality and Romans 1:18-32, pistis christou, Romans 3:25, and the “I” of Romans 7. While I did appreciate the depth of these discussions, I wondered why they appeared “tagged” on at the end, rather than appearing as an “excursus” in the commentary. However, the one on righteousness is nice to have by itself since it is an issue that is relevant to more than one verse.

OK, what does Hultgren actually say in the commentary?

First of all, the introduction. It is pretty standard. Like Longenecker’s recent argument in his Introducing Romans, Hultgren considers the Jewish synagogue communities in Rome at the time to have had “close connections” with “those of Jerusalem and Palestine” (7).  Thus, the “Hellenistic Jewish Christians…had been shaped largely by the Jerusalem community, who held the latter in high regard, and who, to some degree at least, continued contacts with the church in Jerusalem” (10). So, this community in Rome “still preserved its Jewish roots” (10).

In terms of the perennial challenge of the “purpose of Romans,” Hultgren offers, in the end, an interesting theory. While he accepts multiple reasons for Romans, he offers one major purpose: “He made a first installment of his theological views so that, in case of a crisis in Jerusalem, he would not have to defend himself when he arrived in Rome, for his message would have been shown to be in keeping with common Christian tradition shared by both him and the Roman Christians” (15). What Hultgren is saying is that he wanted to establish a strong relationship with Rome before going to Jerusalem, so that if he is rejected in Jerusalem, the Romans would still support his Spanish mission. Hultgren finds enough appeals to common ground in Romans (alongside the more distinctively “Pauline” teaching) that suggests this rhetorical purpose. I think Hultgren is on to something.

As for the commentary itself, I will highlight a variety of issues and views.

Rom 1:1 – Paul as doulos - I am inclined to think of Paul as “slave” of Christ, but Hultgren prefers reading it in terms of Hellenistic Judaism – a term venerated in the OT where he is an honorable “servant.” While his preference has some merit, I found it unnecessarily dichotomous to argue that “the term was not derived primarily from the social word, but from the Jeiwsh self-designation of the people of God” (p. 40-41).

1:5 – “obedience of faith”  - appositional (p. 50)

1:16-17 – In this important part of Romans, Hultgren previews his way of interpreting the righteousness language of Paul. He likes to refer to the Gospel message as a “performative utterance” (p. 73). The righteousness of God is his “saving activity.” He prefers the subjective genitive, though he thinks it does not always have to be one genitive type -though subjective in 1:17. In the appended, lengthy discussion of this issue, he adds this: “Theological priority must be given not to the human plight before God but to God, a God who seeks to restore a relationship with rebellious humanity. The gospel reveals “the righteousness of God” that has been manifested, even exercised, by God in Christ. That righteousness had been manifested in the prior saving acts of God, as the OT gives witness, but now it has been manifested even more fully in Christ. Furthermore, it has been manifested not only for the sake of Israel, but for the sake of the entire world” (p. 613).

1:18-32 – Hultgren does not find Paul condemning homosexuality universally. The word “natural,” Hultgren argues, does not equate to “timeless.”  - I am not in agreement with the way Hultgren interprets this passage. Again, he has a lengthy appendix section on this.

2:14 – non-Christian Gentiles: “Paul takes for granted that even though Gentiles do not know the actual commandments, they are capable of a high moral standard that coincides with the teachings set forth by the moral commandments…Paul undercuts any notions of Jewish moral superiority” (p. 118).

3:20 – reiterates points about the “righteousness of God” – “God’s saving activity, setting the relationship right between humanity and himself” (p. 154)

5:1 – centrality of freedom in Romans: “At the center of Paul’s theological reflection was the conviction that God has set humanity free from sin and death through his redemptive work in Christ’s death and resurrection, and that persons are restored to a right relationship with God through faith in that which God has done in Christ” (p, 204)

7:14 – the “I” of Romans is Paul! Apparently Hultgren sides with Dunn here: “The history of Christian experience illustrates that those who know themselves to be justified and at peace with God continue to consider themselves in ordinary, empirical life as being in bondage to sin and in need of forgiveness and freedom” (p. 287).

11:26 – “All Israel” is ethnic Israel: “the expression “all Israel” has to be taken for what it is, and that is that it refers to the people of Israel, the Jewish people, who have not accepted the gospel” (p. 420)

Chapters 14-15: Paul is not addressing a “live” issue in Rome, but explaining his theology and how Christians should be one in spirit and mission.

Conclusion

The fact that there are so many commentaries on Romans makes it hard for me to place Hultgren’s in terms of what need it fills. It is nice to have “yet one more” good commentary, but I was not wowed by it. I do find salutary his view of Romans as a “eschatological act,” something powerful and world-changing. I appreciate his willingness to go against the grain on a number of issues, but I still disagree with the reasoning on just about every one! I guess, if you are a “Romans” nerd, this would be interesting to you – Hultgren has a way of surprising you!

One thing to watch out for: the endorsements on the back of the book are not for this Romans commentary, but “praise for Arland Hultgren’s Parables of Jesus commentary.” It says so at the top of the backcover page, but it is easy to miss because the actual blurbs are generic.

 

What is Prayer for and what does it do? A Polite Rejoinder to Daniel Kirk

At the end of May, J.R. Daniel Kirk posted his thoughts on an oft-repeated reflection of Soren Kierkegaard: “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”

Kirk found this to be a “cop out”: “It transforms prayer from a dangerous act in which we summon the God of all the earth to act now upon the earth over which God is sovereign into something that’s just for shaping our little hearts.” He goes on a bit later by arguing that prayer is about praying in such a way that God transforms this world.

I think this is an important discussion, and I think Kierkegaard’s quote is worth giving attention. I think, at first blush, it would be quite easy to call this a “cop out” – not expecting God to work powerfully. However, there are a number of reasons to give some more thought to this matter.

Let me start off by saying that Kirk softens his sharp edge by saying that it is both…and - what he would be frustrated with is a one-sidedness that emphasizes only relationship. However, he is so castigating towards the thinking behind the quote above, I want to respond in some defense to the “prayer is meant to change me view” while also agreeing it is both…and. I think my post could help restore some balance.

1. Personal-transformation prayer is focused on humans as agents of God’s powerful redemption on earth. To pray for world needs and sit and wait for God to act – to me, that is a cop out! Personal-transformation prayer is a good model of incarnational ministry. God did not send an angel to defeat the problem of sin and evil. He sent his Word-become-flesh. Too often, in my experience, when we come together to ask God to do something in response to world needs, we say it (in true belief), and then go home and have a snack, put our feet up, and read the paper. This is an epiphany that C.S. Lewis had. In his book Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer, Lewis reflects on his struggle with prayer. For a long time, when he prayed the Lord’s prayer, he felt a cold resignation: “Thy will be done…” Then he came to a realization – the line of the prayer means…”Thy will be done…by me…now” (p. 26)! In the words of Jon Foreman, “Get up, get up, Love is moving you now.” To have a changed nature in prayer is to become shaped for the task of fulfilling kingdom goals. That is more powerful to me than praying for “big things” to change and waiting.

2. Personal transformation prayer is important because it focuses the daily life. Bonhoeffer wrote about this in Life Together. We often think of prayer as about asking, but Bonhoeffer focuses on the important of meditative prayer on God’s Word. Morning prayer, then, is a way of focusing on God and communing with him and to be shaped and transformed in daily living by that encounter (like Moses having the radiance of God’s glory, which fades over time). Bonhoeffer writes, asking about the impact of prayer, this: “”Has prayer transported him [the one in morning prayer] for a few short moments into spiritual ecstasy that vanishes when everyday life returns, or has it lodged the Word of God so soberly and so deeply in his heart that it holds and strengthens him all day, impelling him to active love, to obedience, to good works? Only the day will tell” (Life Together, Fortress, p. 92). Is not Bonhoeffer quite close to Kierkegaard in this? Kirk refers negatively to a low expectation of God only shaping “our little hearts” – that may be everything in Tegel.

3. Personal transformation prayer is exemplified by Paul. While the apostle Paul did pray for “things to happen” (Philemon 6), the highlight of Paul’s prayer life (I would suggest) comes in 2 Corinthians 12 when he asks God to remove the thorn in his flesh. He prays 3 times – why 3? Apparently, it is to say: he prayed enough. God said no. Instead of being free from the thorn, which may have been an enhancement to certain aspects of his ministry, he was changed by God’s negative answer to identify through participation with the weakness of Christ. In a sense, in that experience, his nature was changed (from triumphalism to cruciformity?) for the good of all who read Scripture.

4. Personal transformation prayer is probably part of a wider activity of prayer, though it may be the foundation. C.S. Lewis, again, in his Letters to Malcolm talks about Mark 11:24 and the work of believing prayer that can enable you to ask for amazing things (in tune with God’s will) and receive it – like removing mountains. This reminds me of what Kirk is talking about -we need to be praying in faith for God to bring his kingdom in specific ways that reveal his awesome power. However, Lewis processes this in a unique way. Someone (Malcolm?) suggests that Mark 11:24 seems naive, who could really pray like this, asking for something and receiving it? Lewis responds in this way:

We had better not talk about the view of prayer embodied in Mark XI, 24 as “naïve” or “elementary.” If that passage contains a truth, it is a truth for very advanced pupils indeed. I don’t think it is “addressed to our condition” (yours and mine) at all. It is a coping-stone, not a foundation. For most of us the prayer in Gethsemane is the only model. Removing mountains can wait (p. 83)

Lewis processes this “asking” prayer as the prayer of the advanced, mature believer who is fully in tune with God. Yet, he includes himself in the category of believers that stick to the “Gethsemane” model (“your will be done”). I think Lewis is siding with Kierkegaard on this one! What might be useful in Lewis’ ruminations is that the personal transformation aspect of prayer is necessary and foundational and…”removing mountains can wait.”

5. The Gospel of John may help us process the dialectic between personal-transformation prayer and divine-action prayer. Paul N. Anderson talks about the tension between “signs faith” and “blessed faith” in John. The former involves the miraculous, visible miracles in John that show readers and would-be disciples his Messiahship and glory. However, at the same time, John upholds the importance of “blessed faith” – the idea that faith in what one sees can become selfish, faith in the tangible idolatrous. While signs-faith is called for in the Fourth Gospel, the climactic scene with Thomas and the resurrected Jesus places blessed (unseen) faith as the hallmark of “true” belief in the easter era. I think there is an analogy with “blessed” faith and personal-transformation prayer. This is a prayer that changes us inside out, in an unseen way. The external divine-action prayer, while not unholy is still fixated on (usually) the seen. It is a triumphant prayer. John works the opposite way. The victory and glory is in the cross. That is not something anyone was going to pray for. People tried to stop Jesus. The pattern of the cross is previewed in the footwashing. This reminds me of personal-transformation prayer – accepting the call to be shamed and to stoop down low as a way of “despising the shame of the cross” so to speak. Is external divine-action prayer good? Certainly. Is the prayer that changes ones nature in order to invest in a cruciform transformation good? I would say it is more blessed.

In the end, I agree with Kirk that it is both-and, not either-or - however, I am with Lewis. I am still young enough and simple enough to stick with the Gethsemane prayer – Thy will be done in me. Use me.

Daily Bible Commentary – Huge Sale!

I mentioned, under Gospel of John resources, the excellent short commentary by Richard Burridge in the Daily Bible Commentary Series – probably focused on laypeople, but I found much rewarding material.

Someone pointed out to me that CBD currently has all books in this series for only $2.99.  (Amazon: $12.95)

I also noticed that this generally unrecognized series does boast some eminent scholars:

Loveday Alexander (Acts)

Francis Moloney (General Epistles)

Dick France (Pastoral Epistles & Hebrews; also Mark)

Jerome Murphy-O’Connor (1 Corinthians)

James Dunn (Romans)

Martin Hengel — Saint Peter, the Underestimated Apostle

When I was at Durham, I would often hear the faculty members refer to the work of Martin Hengel with such respect and admiration. Durham had/has a tie to Tuebingen and our faculty maintains close relationships with many folks there. (I never got a chance to pay a visit to Tuebingen, which I regret.)

I must confess that I have read many bits and pieces of Hengel’s work, but until now I had not read a whole book – cover-to-cover. I see now why he is hailed as such a master historian and theologian! In this book, Saint Peter: The Underestimated Apostle, Hengel treats the subject of this great figure with intensity, precision, and wisdom.

As for the motivation,

I chose the title Saint Peter: The Understimated Apostle because I believe that the historical and theological importance of the fisherman from Bethsaida has been generally underestimated within both evangelical and Catholic exegetical circles. Furthermore, he is generally studied in order to harmonize him in his relationship with Paul. (p ix)

The book covers a number of important topics and texts, but central is Matthew 16:17-19. Hengel is convinced that this Dominical declaration is a Matthean redactional insertion, and it does not go back to Jesus himself (p 3). It has a place in Matthew’s literary purposes at the end of the first century. That does not mean, for Hengel, that Peter’s importance was merely fictional. Rather, “It could indeed be possible that his later role as leader in the post-Easter age further strengthened his original importance as a follower and disciple of Jesus and suppressed the mention of the names of the other apostles” (29).

One way that Hengel tries to rehabilitate the image of Peter in modern church life and the academy is to take a fresh look at the “Antioch incident” found in Galatians. Afterall, Hengel points out, we only get one side of the story (Paul’s) and we are not told how Peter responded to Paul’s rebuke – if we assume he apologized, that is a pretty big assumption. Hengel searches for a reasonable rationale for Peter’s actions. Rather than acting pompously, selfishly, and in ignorance about the entailments of the Gospel, perhaps we can see Peter’s decision more generously. Hengel wonders where Peter’s actions represent  an attempt

“to maintain the unity between missionary communities outside of Eretz Israel and Jerusalem itself, which was under threat. He had to take into account the sharpening of the Zealot’s nationalistic tendencies in Palestinian Judaism from the 40s on, a situation that was becoming more threatening all the time, which included increasing persecution of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, a situation that became severe enough ten years later so as to reach a highpoint with the stoning of James and other leading Jewish Christians as “lawbreakers” (p. 65).

One thing Hengel tries to do is get a sense for what Peter actually taught and believed – something, I admit, I never really thought about. Who has ever heard a lecture on Peter’s theology? Hengel looks especially to the speeches of Peter in Acts – a reasonable place. For those who might argue that the speeches are Luke’s theology and not Peter’s Hengel responds:

Would he who was so zealous in assembling the significant traditions about Jesus not have asked about what Peter himself taught and even asked the apostle and adapted from that teaching certain “archaic” emphases, which are so typical of him? (p. 85)

I think Hengel is on to something, but it strikes me, then, all-the-stranger that he is so quickly and easily dismissive of using the Petrine epistles as sources for Peter’s theology (see p. 12). Hengel’s reasoning is that Peter, as a Galilean fisherman, was probably not literate and could not have been able to write such sophisticated letters. So how do you account for his persuasive preaching and impressive teaching? Hengel reasons: “When simply giving a speech…Peter must also have been one who was empowered by the Spirit, but certainly in his mother tongue, Aramaic. His Greek would thus possible have been sprinkled with some errors, “exotic” to the extent that it was influenced by Semitic thinking” (p. 13). If the Spirit can inspire great speaking, can he not inspire great writing (especially when a trained amanuensis was almost certainly involved)? I think at least 1 Peter needs to be given a little more weight than Hengel permits.

In any case, such an interesting book -one that has elevated the importance of both Peter (as apostle) and Hengel (as theologian) for me. I leave you with these words at the end of the book

…Peter was…a theologically powerful thinker, an impressive proclaimer, and a competent organizer; otherwise, he would not have played such a unique role within the circle of Jesus’ disciples, in Jerusalem, and later as missionary to both Jews and Gentiles, and he would not have been able to achieve a unique position (101)

Best Gospel of John Resources

Today (about ten minutes ago), I just finished my lectures for two graduate courses I am teaching this summer on the Gospel of John. I wanted to share my favor 4G resources. Please know that I can’t offer all the books that are good, so I have to be selective. I apologize if your favorite did not make the list. Feel free to weigh in in the comments!

Best Technical Commentaries on 4G

1. Raymond Brown – John (Anchor) – this is one of the finest detailed commentaries and I made good use of it, though I am not a fan of the Anchor format for such long multi-volume commentaries.

2. Craig Keener – The Gospel of John (Hendrickson) – wow! Keener knows the ancient parallel/background/contextual literature forwards and backwards, but, more useful for my purposes, he has his finger on the pulse of the important theological questions.

[Honorable mention should be given to Bultmann - I liked some things he wrote about revelation and Christology, but overall I found his commentary difficult to read because of his obsession with source-critical and form-critical issues. I also think C.K. Barrett's commentary is good, but, again, like Brown, the format of the commentary was prohibitive]

Best Mid-level Commentaries

1. D.A. Carson  - The Gospel According to John (Pillar) – always careful, theologically-astute, and one of the best in the Pillar series.

2. Andrew Lincoln – The Gospel According to Saint John (Black’s). First of all, let me say that I LOVE that they retain “Saint John” – its so British. Anyway, this has been one of my go-to commentaries. He has a literary-driven style that is also sensitive to theological matters. The text is not bogged down by superficial details. Every word counts and it is well worth getting.

3. D. Moody Smith – John (Abingdon) – Smith is the reigning Johannine expert and for good reason. So much wisdom packed into a relatively small space.

Best Basic Commentary

1. Gary Burge  - John (NIV Application, Zondervan) Sometimes scholars sell short the NIV series as inappropriate as textbooks for seminary courses as they are not perceived to be “rigorous” – I think Burge could easily prove this facile assumption wrong. Burge’s commentary has much depth and argues a number of points in detail and very persuasively. Also, his eye for theology and application is focused, in accordance with the series. It is a good model of research in service of exposition, theological interpretation, and contemporary application.

2. R. Alan Culpepper  - The Gospel and Letters of John (IBT, Abingdon). This book is a survey of the Johannine Literature as a whole, but contains a mini-commentary on John. He obviously provides a narrative-driven reading of John, but so incisive and draws out the symbolism rewardingly.

Best Lay-level Commentary

1. Richard Burridge – John (Daily Bible Commentary, Hendrickson). This series is relatively unknown, meant for laypeople. Most authors in the series are not well-known Biblical studies scholars. However, when I heard that Burridge wrote one volume, I simply HAD to pick it up. Who cares what the series is!? It’s Burridge…on John! I was not disappointed! It has been such a blessing in my study. He points out a number of things (in a short space of 2oo pages) not found in other commentaries.

Best Book on Johannine Theology

1. Craig Koester – The Word of Life (Eerdmans). Koester wrote a book before on Johannine symbolism, but this theology of John looks at the big picture of how John “works” theologically. I really hope Koester writes a commentary someday. This is a fantastic read.

2. Andreas Koestenberger – A Theology of John’s Gospel (Zondervan). In 600+ pages, K. treats almost every issue imaginable…and then some! I am not normally blown away by K’s work, but this is a very good reference resource.

3. S. Schneiders – Written That You May Believe (Herder & Herder). This is not exactly a theology book, but it is about the spirituality and theological interpretation of John. I had many random theological inklings about John, and when I came across Schneiders work, things really started to come together. If I could go back (a few months), I would assign this as required reading.

4. D. Moody Smith – The Theology of the Gospel of John (Cambridge) – an excellent and eminent short theology, dealing with most of the key issues.

Best Work on Johannine Ethics

1. Jan van der Watt – he has a chapter on Johannine ethics in the book Identity, Ethics, and Ethos in the New Testament (de Gruyter)

2. Richard Burridge – has a chapter on Johannine “inclusive” ethics in Imitating Jesus - good overall discussion on John, though I thought Burridge’s work on Paul was weak.

Best Textbooks on John

1. Ruth Edwards – Discovering John (SPCK) – a concise, easy-to-read overview of John and very basic introduction to interpretation, background, and themes.

2. Jan van der Watt – Introduction to the Johannine Gospel and Letters (T. & T. Clark) – van der Watt is the man when it comes to Gospel of John. His introduction covers the background and relationship between the Gospel and letters. This is the fruit of a career of study and well worth getting (I have it on LOGOS).

3. Paul N. Anderson, Riddles of the Fourth Gospel (Fortress) – this is an academic, “critical” introduction to John, not for the newbie, but for the advanced seminary student wanting to dig into the scholarship and heavy issues in John. A “must-read” – I use this as a required book here at SPU.

4. A. Koestenberger, Encountering John (Baker) – I am a huge fan of this series of textbooks- there are books on Romans, John, and NT/OT as well. For undergrads, this would be quite good.

Scholars who have made their mark on Johannine Studies

Though I have not commended their works above, there are a number of other Johannine experts worth reading. Here are my favs

1. Marianne Meye Thompson

2. Tom Thatcher

3. Richard Bauckham

4. Mary Coloe

5. Gail R. O’Day

6. Robert Kysar

7. Adele Reinhartz

8. Ben Witherington III

Endorsements for Prepare, Succeed, Advance

It is always a humbling thing to have a friend and/or scholar support your work. I am deeply grateful to the friends below  - also great scholars! – who gave my book their endorsement.

[The book is called Prepare, Succeed, Advance: A Guidebook for Getting a PhD in Biblical Studies and Beyond]

“Getting a PhD in biblical studies ain’t a walk in the park, it’s more like running for your life through the African Serengeti at meal time! Lucky for would be PhD students is that Dr. Nijay Gupta can be your tour guide as you start this journey. Nijay himself has been tried by the ordeal of a British doctorate, he’s a successful graduate who landed a job, and an accomplished author to follow up. If you want to know about the A-Z of doing and finishing a PhD in biblical studies, this book will show you the way and save you much pain and frustration too. Anyone serious about doctoral studies in the field of Bible or Theology should consult this volume first.”
Michael Bird
Lecturer in Theology at the Bible 
College of Queensland

“This volume is full of wisdom and advice from Gupta’s own experience and countless hours of conversation about the topic. Nijay Gupta is a reliable guide for PhD studies-dispelling the myths and misunderstandings of academia. Gupta’s Guidebook is essential reading for every stage of the journey.”
Daniel M. Gurtner
Associate Professor of New Testament
Bethel Seminary

“It is hard to imagine a more insightful or practical guide to obtaining a PhD in biblical studies and beginning one’s career in the field. Many budding scholars and their mentors will be ecstatic that Nijay Gupta has put his experience and wise counsel into print. I wish I had had such a book when I was starting out.”
Michael J. Gorman
The Ecumenical Institute of Theology
St. Mary’s Seminary & University

“There is quite literally a wealth of wisdom in these pages so quite a few will no doubt echo me in lamenting, ‘If only this was published when I was writing my PhD!’ Thankfully, this wonderfully helpful guide to the rigmaroles of PhD research also offers advice for those of us taking the first steps in teaching, publishing, conference paper presentation, and job hunting. This compact and lucid book will not only inform, inspire, and encourage at all kinds of levels, it could save many from the veritable smorgasbord of potential mistakes and traps that can beleaguer those with even the best of intentions. Read this book! You will only be doing yourself a favor.”
Chris Tilling
New Testament Tutor
St Mellitus College & St Paul’s Theological Centre

Prepare, Succeed, Advance: Why Buy the Cow?

I have recently announced that my book Prepare, Succeed, Advance: A Guidebook for Getting a PhD in Biblical Studies and Beyond (Wipf & Stock) has been published. I know that some of you know my blog from the post “Interested in a NT PhD?”

So, you might naturally be asking, “Why buy the cow [the book] when you get the milk [the blog post] for free?”

Good question! This is important, because I want to ensure that folks understand that  the differences between the book and the post are many and significant.

#1: CONTENT – the book covers three major phases of academic life, while the blog post contains just one. The book deals with preparation for a PhD (Prepare), the successful writing of a dissertation and its defense (Succeed), and getting a job and beginning a teaching career (Advance). The blog post really only covers the first area.

#2: LENGTH – the book is about 4-6x longer than the blog post. However, I have re-worked the information so much that it is about much more than length. I have many lists and bibliographic notes that are not on the blog. In terms of quality of information, it offers far more than looking at page length.

#3: RESEARCH – when I chose to write the book, I had to actually back-up some of the information that I had only known through personal experience, rumors, and anecdotes. I did research on statistics for various matters. Some of the stats were quite shocking!

#4: EDITING: My editor, Chris Spinks, pushed back on some issues and challenged several statements I made. He definitely made this a much better book because of his keen editorial eye.

#5: MATURITY: I am not saying I am a wise old scholar now, but I wrote the blog post in bits and pieces during my PhD. Now I have had some time to think more, talk with scholars, and really “sit” with the issues. Knowing it will be a book in a library gave the matter more gravitas - I invested more of myself in making the book helpful and accurate.

#6: EFFICIENCY: On my blog, whether in one post or as a whole, the information is somewhat “stream of consciousness” – for the book, I wanted there to be a very clear and simple flow. I believe it is an easy book to find the information you are looking for.

#7: REFINEMENT: If you go to the blog post, it has scores of comments from readers. I have read through them all, but unless there was a glaring error, I did not change the blog post (it is hard to keep up!). However, I was careful in the book to take account of these comments.

#8: BEST PRACTICES: One of the enduring qualities of the book, I hope, is my advice on “Best Practices” for writing and research. This is not in the blog post, but it may be the most important thing I contribute in the book.

These are some of the reasons why you might be interested in buying the book, even if you have read the blog post on which it is roughly based. If the book had a heavy price-tag, I would not be recommending it (and I would not have written it!), since the very basic information is available elsewhere. However, since it is a reasonable $15, I think having it couldn’t hurt. It’s cheaper than the SBL Handbook of Style!

My New Book: Prepare, Succeed, Advance

I am very excited to announce that Wipf & Stock has recently published my little PhD guidebook called:

Prepare, Succeed, Advance: A Guidebook for Getting a PhD in Biblical Studies and Beyond

This book is a detailed expansion of some of the work that I did on my blog regarding getting into a PhD program, surviving it, and beginning a career in academia. It comes at a very reasonable price of $19.00, with W&S selling it at $15.20. I wrote this book because I really wish I had something like this seven years ago when I was contemplating doing PhD studies. It maps out, as best as I can offer, the appropriate preparation for a PhD as well as tips on choosing a school. There are a number of other features of the book like how to publish an article and book review, how to present a paper, how to do good research in Biblical studies, how to interview at a conference, and how to publish your dissertation as a monograph. Please do check it out and recommend it to others!

If you are wondering whether it is a repeat of what I wrote in my blog post Interested in a NT PhD, it is most definitely NOT. I did not copy and paste it into a file and publish it. I started from scratch, now that I have some distance from my PhD work. I reconsidered some things, added loads of new information, and I called up a number of current and recent PhD students to offer more perspectives on what I was talking about.

I will say that it is in the same spirit as my Interested in a NT PhD post, though I have much more to say in the book. It may help you to know that that original post has been “clicked” over 15,000 times since I first wrote it.

Finally, I will say that the blog post is exclusively about preparing for a PhD (not about doing one), whereas the book seeks to be comprehensive, beginning years before entering a program, following you through one, and following up afterward. I would say you could refer to it for some time after you begin a job as it offers some early career advice.

I have decided to leave to blog post Interested in a NT PhD up even though it may detract from the book’s purpose because I want that information available to the public. However, I want to emphasize that about 75% of the info in the book cannot be found in that post and some of the overlapping content has been re-directed, clarified or even changed.

New Horizons in Biblical Theology issue – themed

I have long confessed that Horizons in Biblical Theology is one of my favorite journals – one of only a few that I keep up with on a regular basis. The most recent issue is apparently themed, on the subject of universalism. I am very excited to read Bockmuehl’s article on the “inclusive Jesus.”  (Note: I copied and pasted the titles/authors below, but the links may not work)

Subscribed Content Content loaded within last 14 days Particularities and Universalities 
pp. 3-8(6)
Author: Greene-McCreight, Kathryn

Subscribed Content Content loaded within last 14 days The Trouble with the Inclusive Jesus 
pp. 9-23(15)
Author: Bockmuehl, Markus

Subscribed Content Content loaded within last 14 days Election Theology and the Problem of Universalism 
pp. 34-44(11)
Author: Kaminsky, Joel S.