Four New Biblical Commentaries (Gupta)

Check out these newly-released biblical commentaries

JohnsonTH.jpeg1-2 Thessalonians
by Andy Johnson, Two Horizons (Eerdmans, 2016). There are a number of very good volumes in the THNT series including Marianne Meye Thompson on Colossians and Stephen Fowl on Philippians. Johnson’s work on 1-2 Thessalonians meets that high bar of excellence. Perhaps what drew my interest the most is the way that Johnson puts together the ideas of sanctification/holiness and the Missio Dei, and how both of these drive Paul’s theological message in these short letters. He also happens to agree with me that we need a big re-think about how we approach pistis, and that in 1-2 Thess it is certainly appropriate to translate it in most cases as “loyalty” or “fidelity.”

Image result for Colossians Foster
, by Paul Foster, BNTC (Bloomsbury, 2016). Hot of the press, this volume on Colossians offers a penetrating exposition of the letter. Foster takes the position that Colossians is mostly likely pseudonymous, written not long after Paul’s death to a community that is probably geographically close to Colossae. Some distinctives of this commentary – attention to text-critical issues, early reception of Colossians, and socio-historical contextualization. It is not a foot-note heavy commentary, but it will be clear to readers that Foster has invested much in understanding scholarship on Colossians.

Longenecker Paidiea.jpgPhilippians and Philemon
, by J.W. Thompson and B.W. Longenecker, Paideia (Baker, 2016). I have really enjoyed the Paideia commentaries, some good volumes already from Peter Oakes, Frank Matera, Charles Talbert, Mary Ann Beavis, Jo-Ann Brant, and others. Thompson wrote the material here on Philippians, and Longenecker on Philemon. As for Philippians, Thompson shows his expertise in Greco-Roman context, and in his comments on the “theological issues” in Philippians he gives attention to the reception of Philippians, esp in the Patristic period (e.g., Chrysostom). Thompson is also interested in how Paul shapes his converts morally. Longenecker brings to the study of Philemon his expertise in Roman social history, particularly his knowledge of Roman economics and Roman slavery. Truth be told, there are already a number of very good commentaries on these Pauline texts, but Thompson and Longenecker are able to engage the reader with the Greco-Roman world in an attractive and accessible manner.

Dunn Acts.jpegActs of the Apostlesby James D.G. Dunn, 2016 reprint (Eerdmans, 2016). OK, this is not a “new” commentary, but rather a reprint of a 1980’s commentary. But what I love about this book is that Dunn focuses squarely on the text and does not get bogged down into the minutiae of academic scholarship. There are no footnotes, just Dunn’s mature exposition and judgment on the flow and understanding of the text. As far as I can tell, the commentary is 99% the same as the original version, but now with a foreword by Scot McKnight. If you want to get some of Dunn’s more recent thoughts on Acts (though clearly in line with his earlier work), check out his Beginning from Jerusalem (also Eerdmans).

Characters and Characterization in Luke-Acts (Skinner)

dicken-snyderI just received my copy of a new book edited by my friends, Frank Dicken (who is also a former student) and Julia Snyder. The book, Characters and Characterization in Luke-Acts (LNTS 548; London: Bloomsbury/T & T Clark). Here’s a description from the back of the book:

Like all skilful authors, the composer of the biblical books of Luke and Acts understood that a good story requires more than a gripping plot – a persuasive narrative also needs well-portrayed, plot-enhancing characters. This book brings together a set of new essays examining characters and characterization in those books from a variety of methodological perspectives.

The essays illustrate how narratological, sociolinguistic, reader-response, feminist, redaction, reception historical, and comparative literature approaches can be fruitfully applied to the question of Luke’s techniques of characterization. Theoretical and methodological discussions are complemented with case studies of specific Lukan characters. Together, the essays reflect the understanding that while many of the literary techniques involved in characterization attest a certain universality, each writer also brings his or her own unique perspective and talent to the portrayal and use of characters, with the result that analysis of a writer’s characters and style of characterization can enhance appreciation of that writer’s work.

Part One consists of seven chapters devoted to character issues in the Gospel of Luke. Part Two consists of six chapters devoted to Acts. The book also boasts an all-star lineup of scholars working in the US, UK, and Germany, including: Sean A. Adams, Cornelis Bennema, Hannah M. Cocksworth, John A. Darr, Frank E. Dicken, Stephen E. Fowl, David B. Gowler, Joel B. Green, James L. Ressguie, Julia A. Snyder, F. Scott Spencer, Steve Walton, and Brittany E. Wilson.

Receiving this book made my day for two reasons. First, I am proud to be associated with both Frank and Julia and happy for their accomplishment. Second, I am excited to see further work being done on characters and characterization in the NT narratives. This represents the third book on the subject in the Library of New Testament Studies; the first two were my books, Characters and Characterization in the Gospel of John, and Character Studies and the Gospel of Mark (co-edited with Matt Hauge). As I understand it, Matt Hauge is also working on Characters and Characterization in the Gospel of Matthew. I am excited that this work on characterization is continuing.

Congrats to Frank and Julia!

Interview with Douglas Estes on How John Works (Skinner)

douglas-estesA few weeks back I mentioned the publication of a really great new book entitled, How John Works: Storytelling in the Fourth Gospel (Atlanta: SBL Press), co-edited by Douglas Estes and Ruth Sheridan. I was privileged to contribute one of the fifteen chapters to this volume, which boasts an international lineup of Johannine scholars. I recently had a chance to interview Douglas about the book. Here’s what he had to say.

1) With the proliferation of books in biblical studies, what makes this book special?

“This book is special because it fills in a needed gap between an in-depth commentary and a more topical survey of the Gospel’s features. How John Works is neither a commentary, nor a monograph; instead, it explores fifteen of the most important issues that makes John ‘work’ as a gospel. Each of these issues are part of the ‘narrative dynamics’ of the Gospel—what makes the story John’s story. Also what makes this book special is that it covers the Gospel in a wide-ranging way but without getting too bogged down in the details (as a commentary does, for good reasons, of course) or only looking at one issue (as a monograph does). (We could just say that ‘Chris being a contributor’ is what makes the book special—and while I agree!—it is not the only thing!)”

2) Who are the primary readers of this book; how do you see it being used?

“The original plan for How John Works was to create a textbook that students could use to understand how a narrative like the Fourth Gospel has proven so effective for almost two millennia. As Ruth and I were planning and editing the book, we kept coming back to the question “Will this help a student?” I see the book being used two ways: first, it can be used as a textbook in a NT Literature class, especially one where there is a focus on the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of the Christian texts; and second, as a general introduction to the literary design of the Gospel.”

3) With such a broad group of scholars—literally from all over the world—with different backgrounds, do the chapters come together? Or are there notable divergences?

“One goal that Ruth and I had from the beginning is that the book would not be “just a book of essays.” To that end, we worked with SBL Press and our contributors to have unique voices that fit well together. Whether this would work in practice was a conversation point between a number of us during the process—but in my humble opinion, it actually worked very well. Each contributor brings a unique perspective, of course, but the perspectives do fit together very well and bring a complementary perspective to the whole book.”

4) What is one way that your thinking about the Gospel of John changed by putting together Estes Sheridan Front Cover.inddthis How John Works?

“One way my thinking changed while working on this book is in the area of how important the literary study of this Gospel really is. As a scholar, I admit that I have always leaned more to the literary side of things than the historical (though I believe the separation between the two is often needlessly overblown). When we planned the book, as a textbook, I was thinking more that it would summarize important elements for students, and did not think about it cutting new ground. But, How John Works definitely does cut new ground. Sometimes literary approaches get knocked in scholarly circles as simplistic or limited, but editing this book reminded me how much that is not accurate—at least, when literary concerns are taken seriously, interact normally with historical concerns without artificial brackets, and address big issues in a profound way.”

5) How John Works covers fifteen ‘narrative dynamics’ found in John. Why fifteen? Are these the most important?

“This was a lengthy discussion that Ruth and I had as we were first putting the book together. There was nothing special about fifteen, though we knew that we wanted more than only a few. We also knew that it wouldn’t work to have, say, forty. So what we did was to try to pick the most important narrative dynamics, and we came out with about fifteen. Beyond that number, there were other narrative dynamics that would have been worthy of a chapter … but we wanted to be as broad as we were deep.”

6) Is there much more that can be said about the literary features of John? What is the future to this?

“Yes, there definitely is much more that can be said about the literary features of John. On the one hand, there are always details that some enterprising PhD student will discover in the process of writing their dissertation. Plus, there will also be plenty of opportunities in the future to do comparative studies of literary features with other ancient texts (which really has only begun, what with so many discoveries and recent, computerized access to them in the last century). On the other hand, there will always be a need for reevaluations and summarizations. As to the future, no, this is not the last word; I am hoping to start on a follow-up volume to this one in the near future, perhaps a Vol 2 of Storytelling in John, that will look at literary issues in John from a quite different perspective.”

Thanks to Douglas (and Ruth) for their great work on this book, and also to Douglas for answering our questions! Stay tuned because we are actually going to be giving away of copy of this book in the coming days. . . . .

How I Changed My Mind about Evolution (Gupta)

Evo.jpgNot long ago I grabbed a copy of the new book How I Changed My Mind about Evolution: Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and Science (ed. K. Applegate and JB Stump; IVP, 2016). The book offers short anecdotes by a variety of scientists, theologians, Christian leaders, and biblical scholars on this subject (including, e.g., John Ortberg, Tremper Longman, Scot McKnight, NT Wright, and James KA Smith).

These essays are not full-blown theological arguments in favor of (theistic) evolution. They are stories about how these scholars and leaders moved from anti-evolution towards bringing science and Scripture together and having an open attitude towards evolution.

My own personal journey involves an illuminating conversation I had many years ago with David Wilkinson, a British theologian trained as a scientist. While we were chatting, the topic turned to evolution, and David laughed about American Christians and their resistance to evolution. Until that moment, I had no idea it was different anywhere else, but David explained to me how British believers don’t struggle with this matter as much as Americans (see NT Wright’s essay in the book). That conversation made me re-think many things. Another key moment in my journey was reading John Lennox’s Seven Days that Divide the World. That book opened my eyes to a history of theologians doubting and attacking scientists and scientific findings. And, of course, more recently the work of John Walton has pioneered fresh ways of reading Genesis 1-2 that do not poise it to be in conflict with what scientists tell us about cosmological and human origins.

This book, How I changed my Mind about Evolution, will probably not move Creationists towards accepting evolution, but for those already on the journey, it is helpful to read these stories from trusted evangelical and “faith-friendly” leaders and thinkers.