Best Academic NT Books of 2015 (Gupta)

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It’s that time again!

 

*Disclaimer: Even though we had what appear to be very weighty and important books published in 2015 by John Barclay (Paul and the Gift), NT Wright (Paul and His Recent Interpreters), James D.G. Dunn (Neither Jew nor Greek), and E.P. Sanders (Paul), I have not had a chance to finish reading these, so they will not be included in this list, though probably some will appear on next year’s list!

Best Textbook

Reading John (Cascade), by Chris Skinner – already we are hearing very good reports on the utility and clever-style of this excellent little book!

Honorable Mention: Rediscovering Jesus (IVP), by David Capes, Rodney Reeves, and E. Randolph Richards. This is a very creative and much-needed book. I have already recommended it to several people (teachers and church-folk) in passing.

Selfish Mention: I contributed to Reading Romans in Context (Zondervan), and I am pleased that many readers have mentioned to me its usefulness to students.

 

Best Commentary

Lots of commentaries appeared this year, too many to mention.

Galatians (Baker), by Peter Oakes. Despite its modest length, it is one of the finest commentaries on Galatians, and I already have plans to use it as a textbook next year. I can’t say enough how well Oakes models exegetical method and good use of archaeology and social history.

Honorable Mention: John (WJK), by Marianne Meye Thompson. This nearly tied with Oakes, because Thompson’s outstanding commentary is such a useful work. It is, of course, a must-have for John commentaries.

 

Best Reference Work

Christian Oxyrhynchus (Baylor University Press), ed. By L. Blumell and T. Wayment. At nearly 800 pages, the editors have collected all extant written materials related to Christianity before the 5th century CE. It is quite expensive for the personal library, but certainly every theological library ought to have this volume.

Honorable Mention: A Theology of the Gospel of Mark (Zondervan), by David Garland. Almost everything Garland has written tends to be worthy of “best books” lists. This is no exception – it is a very satisfying study from an expert in Synoptics; especially strong on discipleship in Mark.

 

Best Language Work

Admittedly, I don’t read very many books in NT Greek studies, so please take that into account (though I did read a few this year). So, all I can say is this book was very helpful for me, and actually I was probably an ideal reader (as a non-specialist) anyway.

Advances in the Study of Greek (Zondervan), by Constantine R. Campbell. This very well-written book introduces insights from the world of linguistics and advanced Greek studies to interested amateurs like myself. Campbell proves himself to be, yet again, a great communicator, synthesizer of complex discussions, and important voice in Greek studies.

 

Best Annual New Book by Michael F. Bird

What? No new books this year by Michael Bird? Hmmm…we’ll just have to wait another month and a half for his Romans commentary (a meager 600 pages). Come on, Mike! Step up the production!

 

Best Book of “Academia”

New category – those books that are about “the guild” itself.

I (Still) Believe (Zondervan), edited by John Byron and Joel Lohr. Can a book be both sobering and inspiring? This book explores that tension of Christian vocation and academic inquiry – not always two things in conflict, but certainly strange bedfellows more than just occasionally. Buy it.

Honorable Mention: Mapping Your Academic Career (IVP), by Gary Burge. Every PhD student and professor should buy and read this book. It delivers exactly what it promises. It will (a) help you avoid very common rookie mistakes (it was, alas, too late for me), and (b) remind you that you are not alone in all the early career, mid-career, and late-career struggles and challenges. And much more.

 

BEST BOOK OVERALL

Okay, best saved for last.

Day of Atonement (Kregel), by David deSilva. This is historical fiction, a page-turner and loaded with insights from early Jewish life. Read it, and if you didn’t enjoy it, let me know so I can be shocked to death, become a ghost, and haunt you the rest of your life.

 

Honorable Mention: Becoming the Gospel (Eerdmans), by Michael J Gorman. This is an excellent study of how Paul saw the gospel as human, ecclesial participation in the life and mission of God in Jesus Christ. Good scholarship, inspiring theological interpretation, thoughtful ruminations on how folks today are embodying this vision of mission.

Essay: The NT and Other Religions (Gupta)

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Fuller Seminary has an interesting journal called Evangelical Interfaith Dialogue. The fall 2015 is dedicated to the topic of “Scriptural views on Other Religions.” The esteemed Dr. John Goldingay has written the lead essay on the First Testament, and I was asked to write on the New Testament. Several “response” articles follow the lead essays offering various perspectives and insights for interfaith dialogue today.

I hope I don’t need to convince you that now, more an ever, evangelicals need to learn how to have fruitful conversations with adherents of other religions. Too many evangelicals treat the non-Christian other with disgust, suspicion, and even hatred. I have tried to re-think this as we learn how Jesus and the earliest Christians navigated their world with pagan neighbors of many faiths and practices. It was not an easy essay to write, but I think it is a crucial topic that deserves careful study.

CHECK IT OUT

Bruce Winter – Divine Honours for the Caesars (Gupta)

Winter.jpgWelcome to Friday Book Corner. 

Right now the topic of early Christianity and conflict with the empire is hot. Everybody and their brother wants to weigh in. Unfortunately, some are not as well informed as they should be.

Thankfully there are people like Bruce Winter, a recognized historian who knows the ancient literature up and down and all around. Winter has written a very useful book, Divine Honours for the Caesars: The First Christians’ Responses (Eerdmans, 2015).

About half the book is devoted to little essays on the Greco-Roman world and the call for divine honours and how various groups related to the emperors. The second half of the book dips into a variety of case studies, as it were, that shed light on how the early Christians responded to expectations of divine honours. Let me say one thing right off the bat -the first half of the book is outstanding and should become required reading in courses on Greco-Roman context of the NT (I will say why in a moment). On the other hand, the second half is more disjointed and makes plausible cases, but is not as weighty in my opinion.

Part I: Divine Honours for the Caesars and the Roman East

Here is what I think is particularly useful about this book. First, Winter focuses, not on worship of the emperors, but “divine honours.” I think he is absolutely spot on with this (and Holland Hendrix long ago made a similar case), because the focus is on absolute loyalty and imperial supremacy, not on “ontology” per se. Second, Winter is in the habit of quoting primary sources a lot, and this demonstrates he has done his homework, and it is extremely helpful for the reader to make up his or her own mind about whether Winter has interpreted the evidence correctly (I do disagree with arguments and interpretations once or twice). I was especially impressed with Winter’s discussion of divine titles, particularly the difference between deus and divus, and the study of “son of god” vs. “the son of god” in Greek texts (63-74).

Part II: Divine Imperial Honours and the First Christians’ Responses

As for the second half, while Winter does make some impressive observations (could it be that so-called “gods…on earth” are the emperors in 1 Cor 8:5?), he does not make lengthy, airtight cases. These are soundings, as it were. No doubt they will start important conversations, and spark further research, but the second half is marked less by mastery of the material than the first half. I do not fault Winter for this, but it does leave the book less satisfying than I expected.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment for me is that Winter does not engage with the major NT scholarship in the “Paul and Empire” discussion. He does not interact at all with N.T. Wright or John Barclay (on this subject). Nor does he include the important contributions of Peter Oakes and Warren Carter. What Winter offers is, undoubtedly, very helpful to the wider discussion, but Winter never really critiques the discussion directly. I can only speculate as to why, but my guess is that he prefers to focus on the work of historians, not theologians. So, he does engage with Harrison and Horsley a bit, but not with a broader interest in the debate.

My last criticism – the book has no conclusion-chapter.  I am not sure why someone would make this omission. Surely a conclusion of a few pages would be pretty easy to do, and help bring together and summarize his arguments and insights.

Conclusion

Obviously I think the contributions of this book outweigh any of the drawbacks I have mentioned. Winter is very knowledgable regarding the ancient world, he is engaged in the conversations among classicists, and he places the focus on “divine honours” as most central (rather than religious “worship”). Well worth reading, and I will return to this work often.

Appreciating Prof. Howard Marshall (Gupta)

IHMMany of you by now have heard the sad news that Prof. I. Howard Marshall has passed away (1934-2015). Several eulogies have appeared now online, and I would like to add my own appreciation.

I did not know Prof. Marshall very well personally, but I have admired his work from afar for a long time. In fact, when I was originally thinking of doing a Ph.D., I had four professors in mind, though they had all retired (or stopped taking students) by the time I applied to programs: Jimmy Dunn, Graham Stanton, Richard Bauckham, and Howard Marshall.

I do remember the first time I saw Prof. Marshall in person. We were in the “Upper Hexagon” at the Tyndale House and I notice Marshall was sitting in the back corner, not able to see what was going in the front very well. I felt badly for him and nearly offered him my chair – until he turned around and started to play piano as we began the seminar with worship! Later that weekend I recall having dinner at a table with Marshall and he was quiet and very thoughtful. We talked about his New Testament Theology (which had recently been released at the time) and also the fact that he was writing the Romans commentary for the Two Horizons.

I was introduced to Marshall’s work via the Exploring the New Testament textbook. His New Testament Theology is also a work to which I regularly return. Some have mentioned the important work he has done in Luke-Acts – true enough. But I also want to note his outstanding ICC volume on the Pastoral Epistles where he introduced his theory of “allonymity” (an alternative to either “authenticity” or “pseudonymity”). I believe this move by Marshall has opened the way for more evangelicals to consider possibilities other than traditional authenticity for the PE.

Further, in preparation for my 1-2 Thessalonians commentary, I worked through his 1-2 Thessalonians commentary and, in all honesty, it is at the very top of my list of best theological commentaries on these letters. Mention too should be made of his thoughtful work in The Theology of the Shorter Pauline Letters (Cambridge).

On a more personal level, I have always appreciated how Marshall has supported women in theological education and in ministry. He wrote an essay on the Household Codes in Eph/Col for Discovering Biblical Equality, and he wrote a more autobiographical chapter for How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership. In the latter book Marshall, of course, explains his support for women in ministry from his interpretation of Scripture; but he offers this as well: “my experience working with godly women in ministry, teaching, and leadership has been ample confirmation that excluding them from these roles is indefensible” (146).

Marshall also poignantly argues that the nature of what “leadership” means has changed from their time to our time and culture. He posits that nowadays we have turned “leadership” into something essentially independent and executive – one person at the top who makes all the decisions. But Marshall believes things were different in the early church

 

Much church leadership is (and should be) corporate, and decisions are taken by consensus rather than fiat. In addition, the adoption of the biblical concept of leadership as humble service (both to God and people) without seeking self-aggrandisement and the trappings of office, it seems to me, removes the basis for the objections people may feel to women in leadership and ministry” (147).

 

Thoughtful. Irenic. Thorough. That was how he was known, and how he will be remembered.

 

Requiescat in pace, Prof. Howard Marshall.

 

 

 

 

 

Did Paul Meet the Earthly Jesus? (Gupta)

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Cambridge University Press, coming Dec 19, 2015

Most scholars today would not really entertain the notion that Saul of Tarsus met the earthly Jesus before the Resurrection. But Stan Porter has a new  book coming out reconsidering this possibility. It looks like a good read, but unfortunately at Cambridge prices – ask your library to get it!

Sidenote: I love these kinds of books and arguments, because they challenge assumptions that often carry on from one generation of scholarship to the next. Each generation has to re-grapple with Paul, and hopefully shed new light on his life and thought. Even though this is a relatively short book, it could stir up the “Jesus and Paul” conversation (a conversation, by the way, that is pretty stagnant).
Check it out