Entrusted with the Gospel: Paul’s Theology in the Pastoral Epistles

Posted by on Nov 11, 2014 in Apologetics, Book Reviews, Christian Living, Church, Featured, Reviews, Theology

Entrusted with the Gospel: Paul’s Theology in the Pastoral Epistles

The discipline known as Pauline studies has certainly had its share of ups and downs over the years. Furthermore, much ink has been spilled on the subject of Paul and the New Testament epistles he wrote. Thus to a certain degree, there can be a sense of confusion as to what Paul was addressing in his letters, how they are to be understood within the greater context of Scripture, and perhaps most importantly, how does one apply the writings of Paul to life in the present tense. Focusing specifically on the Pastoral Epistles, Andreas Kostenberger and Terry Wilder have provided Entrusted with the Gospel: Paul’s Theology in the Pastoral Epistles in an effort to clear the proverbial air on the issue of Paul to include engaging with the state of current scholarship on this particular issue.

This book is a collection of twelve valuable essays from some very noted New Testament scholars. Each essay covers an important aspect of the Pastoral Epistles ranging from some fundamental hermeneutical and exegetical challenges that impact how one interprets these letters, the function of salvation as it is related in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, as well as the ethics of the Pastoral Epistles. All of the essays are worthy of discussion but to address the topics and insight provided in each chapter of this helpful book would be outside the scope of this particular review. With that said, I will focus on two chapters I found particularly insightful, that of Andreas Kostenberger’s chapter on the Hermeneutical and Exegetical Challenges in Interpreting the Pastoral Epistles and B. Paul Wolfe’s treatment of The Ethics of the Pastoral Epistles.

Kostenberger rightly notes there are a number of hermeneutical and exegetical challenges that face the reader of the Pastoral Epistles. These challenges include issues of authorship, genre, the historical background of the books, and the function and establishment of church leadership to include the offices of elder and deacon. Such issues permeate the discussion on these texts and thus must be addressed. While some NT scholars, even noted scholars such as I. Howard Marshall have asserted authorship as existing with someone other than the Apostle Paul, Kostenberger avers “the internal evidence strongly suggests the Pauline authorship of the Pastorals, and all views posting pseudonymity or allonymity face considerable difficulties.”

If indeed Paul wrote these epistles, the question of establishing the proper genre is also of great relevance. There are some scholars who suggest what is termed as an “ad hoc” approach to the subject matter discussed in the Timothy and Titus letters, thus restricting the discussion solely to the “original situation at hand”. Such an approach according to Kostenberger “denies Paul, the author, the ability to make any pronouncements in a Pastoral or any letter that transcend his immediate circumstances.” Kostenberger rightly rejects this ad hoc approach given such a perspective does not allow the principles shared by Paul, principles by the way that were intended both for his immediate audience and the church in succeeding generations to follow, to be understood as timeless truths within the church body. He also correctly notes that the ad hoc approach leads to hermeneutical extremes that are inconsistent with the purpose of Paul’s instructions to Timothy and Titus.

One final issue Kostenberger addresses is that of the role of the overseer, namely elders and deacons. There is the seemingly age old question of whether such duties are restricted to men as well as the qualifications associated with the office that must be met. Building on his previous statements about how the Pastoral Epistles should be interpreted, Kostenberger engages the offices of elders and deacons providing valuable insight into the intent of Paul’s statements regarding each function. Kostenberger correctly notes that the basis for the injunction of elders and deacons being restricted to men is not some sexist or chauvinistic attitude. Conversely, such a position is rooted in I Tim. 2:12. Furthermore, the restriction of the office of elder and deacon to men is also found in the qualifications for these offices. He aptly notes the question that exists in the minds of some specifically in regards to the “husband of one wife requirement.” Does this mean someone who has been divorced can never serve in the office of elder or deacon? Kostenberger shares some valuable insight into the various viewpoints on this issue to include the connection of marital fidelity for church leaders with the Decalogue’s prohibition against adultery. He ultimately concludes that “when coupled with the requirement that an overseer be above reproach (which includes community reputation), it may be best not to appoint divorcees to the role of overseer, especially when qualified candidates are available that did not undergo a divorce.” Some may certainly disagree with Kostenberger’s position; however, his exegesis and analysis are such that it is hard to argue against his position on this matter. If anything, his discussion of such an issue reveals the variety of thought and the need to carefully investigate Paul’s statements based on a consistent hermeneutical approach to the Pastoral Epistles as a whole.

Another chapter in this book worthy of discussion is that of Madsen’s overview of the ethics of the Pastoral Epistles. In keeping with Kostenberger’s hermeneutical view that Paul intended his statements to be of value to both his immediate audience (Timothy and Titus) as well as the Church at large to include future generations of believers, Madsen notes “The Pastoral Epistles contain two types of statements to proper conduct.” He avers these as being ones that “capture various aspects of the Christian worldview, declaring what God is like and what he has done for particular groups of people – Paul, Timoty, the church, and so forth. Others state or imply what the affected person’s duties are, given that same set of facts.”

Madsen rightly notes that in the writings of Paul it is declared “Believers have died to sin and must therefore resist its waning influence.” When it comes to the message of the Pastoral Epistles, one must recognize the exhortations provided by Paul that focus on those in leadership positions within the church body, namely that of the pastor, elders, and deacons. One of the important ethical issues facing the pastor is that of the protection of the message of the gospel. Madsen aptly comments that “False doctrine threatens the very existence of the church by obscuring its distinctive identity and the gospel itself.” Furthermore, the pastor must address false doctrine by remaining faithful to the preaching of the Word to include the promulgation of sound doctrine. Madsen rightly points out that Paul charged Timothy to “preach the Word at all times, under all conditions, assuming these will often be unfavorable.” Thus, in the face of the tide of false doctrine that continues to this day, the pastor must stand firm on the truth of Scripture.

It is also important to note the ethical behavior that should permeate the life and preaching of those in authority within the church, to include that of love, humility, gentleness, contentment, and chastity. As noted in I Corinthians 13, even the best sermon that is shared without love is nothing but a noisy gong or a clanging symbol. Madsen correctly states “The Christian leader must habitually sacrifice his own interests and well-being for the sake of those under his care. He will give up rights when necessary and appreciate that he cannot serve Christ without serving his people, as opposed to using them for supposedly higher purposes.” In the Pastoral Epistles, we find the message noted by Madsen, namely the “Pastoral Epistles imply that ministry entails almost constant struggle against false doctrines, false disciples, and cavalier disobedience.”

I highly recommend this book for all believers, but especially for Seminary students, pastors, elders, and deacons. The contributors to this excellent resource provide salient insight into the purpose and application of the Pastoral Epistles that constantly reminds the reader of the importance of the offices within church leadership and the great care those who occupy said offices must take as they do the work of the Lord in ministry.

This book is available for purchase from B&H Academic Books by clicking here.

I received this book for free from B&H Acaedmic for this review. 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 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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How Will the World End?

Posted by on Nov 4, 2014 in Books, Featured, Reviews

How Will the World End?

How will the world end? is a question people have been asking since before Jesus walked the earth. Answering this question has been the focus of many books and movies throughout the years. Who can resist a good end-of-the-world thriller like Armageddon, The Day After Tomorrowor The Terminator? These movies all give a variation of how the world might come to an end.

What is interesting about these movies is not their differences, as to what threatens mankind’s existence, but their similarity, in that mankind always triumphs over its seemingly impending demise. But when the end of the world does come will man really escape and live to see another day the way they knew life before? Is there a Christian take on the end of the world? Seeking to answer these questions and more, Jeramie Rinne has written How will the world end? And other questions about the last things and the second coming of Christ. As part of the Questions Christians Ask series from The Good Book Company, this is a mini-primer of sorts on Christian eschatology.

The chapters are written in order to answer six basic questions about the end times: (1) how will the world end?, (2) what will happen before Jesus comes back?,  (3) how will Jesus come back?, (4) will Jesus come back before or after the “Millennium”?, (5) what happens after Jesus comes back?, and (6) how should we live until Jesus comes back? Throughout the book are some short asides addressing some further questions like the nature of the antichrist and the rapture.

As a primer, the book aims to help Christians see the big picture the Bible presents about the end times before getting hung up on some of the finer details. Contrary to how Hollywood presents end-of-the-world movies, Rinne points out that the end of the world will not come about as the result of asteroids, aliens or bad environmental practices and neither will mankind be able to overcome its judgment. No, the end of the world will come about from a lamb – the Lamb of God, which is Christ Himself. Taking his que from Revelation 6:12-17, Rinne shows how it is the revealing of the Lamb that precipitates the end of the world. Far from presenting Jesus as tame, meek and mild, Revelation 6 describes the revealing of the Lamb as “the great day of the wrath of the lamb.” (vs. 17)

The primary passages Rinne answers the questions from are Matthew 24 and Revelation 6, 19 & 20 while also addressing issues in 1 Thessalonians, 2 Timothy, 2 Peter and 1 John. While Rinne has a slew of New Testament references he only points to two Old Testament references: Isaiah 34 (14) and Daniel 7 & 12 (70-71). This shines light on the only weakness of the book. I think if there were more OT references then it would have given readers a chance to seen more continuity between the Testaments on the end times.

This one criticism aside, How will the world end? is a great mini-primer on Christian eschatology for the inquiring Christian looking to get their feet wet on the subject of eschatology. This is a great lead in book for small groups on eschatology from which more in-depth discussion can emerge. It would also serve well an unbeliever who has questions about Christianities understanding of the end times. This is a great book to have on hand for quick use.

I received this book for free from The Good Book Company through Cross Focused Media for this review. 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 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Book Review – Preparing Your Teens For College: Faith, Friends, Finances, and Much More

Posted by on Aug 11, 2014 in Christian Living, Reviews

Book Review – Preparing Your Teens For College: Faith, Friends, Finances, and Much More

In my early teens into my twenties I was both a good student and a bad student. In middle school I was almost a straight A student. Then came high school. In high school I hardly showed up to class and when I did I would read a book instead of listening to the teacher. What I lacked was discipline. When I got married my wife put her foot down and said, “Enough is enough, I know you are smart and capable of getting straight A’s.”  At first I wasn’t sure but then the results slowly starting to come in and she was right. As I continued to progress first at an associates level, then to my Bachelors and finally to my Masters degrees, I gained confidence that I could be a good student if I disciplined myself by the grace of God to the task at hand. A new book Preparing Your Teens For College: Faith, Friends, Finances and Much More by my friend Alex Chediak has recently come out that seeks to help parents train their children to be disciplined students of the Word, in school and in life.

The book is broken up into six parts with eleven total conversations. In part one, Alex looks at character, and how to teach responsibility and train teens to be future-oriented. In part two the author considers faith, and how to raise teens who internalize their faith and be characterized by conviction and tolerance. Part three considers how to help teens pursue quality friends and purity. Part four examines how to prepare teens to be financially responsible. Part five guides readers into encouraging teens to work as unto the Lord by using their time, talents and abilities and working as unto the Lord in all they do. Part two looks at asking the right questions about college and whether to consider associate degrees or trade schools. In the conclusion the author examines the marks of college-ready teens. The book also includes an appendix where readers will learn how to plan and save for college.

In April at Together For the Gospel, I had the opportunity to meet Alex in person. He is a friendly, approachable and humble servant of the risen Christ. We live in a day where many teens are like I was in high school, coming out of high school and going into college, lacking discipline. I can look back now and say the period of my life where I failed out of two community colleges before getting married was an act of God’s grace. God used both of those experiences to grow me and show me that though, I thought I could skate through, not show up regularly to class, not do my homework and do well in school was not only a waste of my time, it seriously compromised my witness for the gospel, I now realize.

I received two copies of this book from the publisher. One copy I gave to a friend of mine who is a foster mom over the July 4th weekend. She let me know she was reading it and enjoying it a great deal. I bring that up because I agree with her. Alex’s book is chalk full of great insights to help parents and teens understand what it will take for our young people to be men and women of godly character and integrity. This book not only diagnoses the problem it shows the solution by teaching a love for Jesus, the local church and God’s people.

Whether you are a foster mom, a new parent or everywhere in-between, I recommend Preparing Your Teens to you. This book will help open your eyes and equip you to train young people that a lack of discipline isn’t the way to go. A life lived well for the Lord is a life of disciplining oneself for the sake of godliness. Your teens may not want to listen but please be patient, and pray. My parents did and now I’m a happily married husband to a beautiful godly wife and in full time ministry. I highly recommend Preparing Your Teens For College and earnestly pray the Lord will use it powerfully to help parents train young people to be men and women of godly character to the glory of God.

Title: Preparing Your Teens For College: Faith, Friends, Finances, and Much More

Author: Alex Chediak

Publisher: Tyndale (2014)

I received this book for free from Tyndale for this review. 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 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Book Review – Job: The Wisdom of the Cross (Preaching the Word)

Posted by on Aug 6, 2014 in Reviews

Book Review – Job: The Wisdom of the Cross (Preaching the Word)

Job by Chris Ash Book Review   Job: The Wisdom of the Cross (Preaching the Word)  If you search for “suffering” on Amazon in the books section you will find almost 11,800 results. If you search for “help for suffering” on Google there are 151 million entries to choose from. Indeed the world is a place full of suffering people looking for help. You cannot read more than four chapters into the book of Genesis without encountering suffering in the lives of the first two people God created and the first family they made. In reading through the pages of Scripture one encounters suffering at almost every turn. Ironically, it is Job, the oldest book in the Bible, which solely addresses the subject of suffering and how god relates to it and the sufferer.

Tackling this rich, long and sometimes puzzling book, Christopher Ash has written Job: The Wisdom of the Cross. This is the most recent installment in the Preaching the Word commentary series edited by R. Kent Hughes. Staying true to the series, Ash writes from the heart of a pastor as he seeks to show the reader the glory of God in Christ through suffering in the life of Job.

Job, Ash argues, is a book that reveals to us what kind of world we live in – a world full of suffering, and much of it is seemingly pointless. But Ash wants to focus the reader on a smaller aspect of the world – the church. In Job we see a man who endures all the suffering a person could imagine. In his friends we see responses that are detached from the reality of suffering and the God who has the answer to our suffering. Ash states, “The book of Job will force us to ask what kind of church we belong to” (19). This examination takes a look at the prosperity and therapeutic gospel. Both of these gospels are fake and threaten the church constantly. To Ash, Job is a corrective to these false gospels and outlooks on life before they gained their contemporary popularity.

The answer to these two false gospels is the gospel of Jesus Christ. While Job was a blameless man, he was not perfect. Concerning the foreshadowing of Christ in Job, Ash says that

The book ultimately makes no sense without the obedience of Jesus Christ, his obedience to death on a cross. Job is not everyman; he is not even every believer. There is something desperately extreme about Job. He foreshadows one man whose greatness exceeded even Job’s, whose suffering took him deeper than Job, and whose perfect obedience to his Father was only anticipated in faint outline by Job. The universe needed one man who would lovingly and perfectly obey his heavenly Father in the entirety of his life and death, by whose obedience the many would be made righteous (Rom. 5:19). (21)

Woven throughout the book, Ash demonstrates how the book of Job destroys the false message of the prosperity and therapeutic gospels and points us to Jesus as the true Savior. For example, in Job chapter three we see the brokenness of Job as he tries to articulate his response to his great loss. Job is in a dark place and so was Jesus when He hung on the cross and said, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” (84). Though Job was a blameless man who greatly suffered, Jesus was a sinless man who suffered even greater because His suffering was wholly unjust.

But while Job addresses the subject of suffering, it is not primarily about suffering. Ash constantly points the reader to God who is in control of the suffering, who reveals Himself in the suffering and who carries Job through the suffering. Because Job is about God, it is about Jesus. Ash states,

Job is passionately and profoundly about Jesus, whom Job foreshadows both in his blamelesness and in his perseverance through undeserved suffering. As the blameless believer par excellence, Jesus fulfills Job. As a priestly figure who offers sacrifices for his children at the start and his friends at the end, Job foreshadows Jesus the great High Priest. (436).

Job: The Wisdom of the Cross is a wonderful and compelling commentary on Job. Ash ably explains the text, is attentive to the difficult issues it can present and faithfully presents the book as focusing on God and foreshadowing Christ. Ash has a gift of making a difficult book much easier to understand. This is a commentary on Job that every pastor should have in his library and any Christian should read for their personal Bible study.

I received this book for free from Crossway for this review. 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 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Book Review – China’s Reforming Churches: Mission, Polity, and Ministry in the Next Christendom

Posted by on Jul 30, 2014 in Reviews

Book Review – China’s Reforming Churches: Mission, Polity, and Ministry in the Next Christendom

Chinas Reforming Churches 194x300 Book Review   China’s Reforming Churches: Mission, Polity, and Ministry in the Next Christendom

It is no secret that Christianity in China is growing. In a country that has been historically hostile to religious diversity, Christianity has been growing and making a mark on the whole of Chinese life. One of the factors that accounts for this growth is the infusion of Protestant missionaries from various denominational affiliations. What might come as a surprise to many is the growing and well documented influence of conservative Reformed missionary influence in various ways throughout China.

Through the efforts of a number of Reformed leaders who are involved in the spread of Reformed polity and theology in China, Bruce P. Baugus, professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, has edited China’s Reforming Churches: Mission, Polity, and Ministry in the Next Christendom. The contributors to this book include pastors, theologians and Chinese-Americans who believe that Reformed polity and theology possess what is necessary to sustain the future growth of the church in China.

China’s Reforming Churches provides a sketch of the history of the conservative Reformed missionary influence in China since the late 1800’s, an assessment of the present state of Christianity in China in general and the Reformed church specifically, and charts a vision for the future of Reformed missionary work in China. Additionally, this book provides theological justification for why the contributors believe that Reformed polity and theology are what Chinese churches needs in order to be grounded in the gospel so as to create a sustainable future for Christianity to grow in China.

Overview

The book is divided into four sections. The first section outlines the history of Reformed churches in China. The history of Protestant missions to China begins with Robert Morrison in 1807 who was also a member of the Presbyterian church (29). Since that time there has been a steady flow of Reformed theological influence through missionary presence in China. Not long after Morrison came John L. Nevius who is perhaps the most famous and influential Presbyterian missionary to China. He is credited with introducing the idea of planting churches that are self-supporting, self-governing and self-propagating (41). This is a development that still carries today among missionaries across denominational lines. What many readers, who are unfamiliar with Reformed missionary influence in China, will find interesting is the who’s-who of Reformed theologians who were actively involved in mission work in China directly or who played a major role in training Chinese nationals for missionary work. John L. Nevius and Walter M. Lowrie both studied under Charles Hodge (38, 45), J. Gresham Machen helped found the Independent Board of Foreign Missions from which Richard B. Gaffin would later be sent to do work in Qindgao(54) and Geerhardus Vos was the president of Yingkou Bible Institute in Yingkou, Liaoning (55).

Section two provides an assessment of the state of Presbyterianism in China today. Chapter four provides a fascinating look at the four narratives that outside observers tend to view the Chinese church.

  1. Persecuted Church – This view sees Christianity in China as always under persecution from political forces of China. However, this view has not been able to unshackle itself from China’s past dealings with religious diversity. Brent Fulton says that “it is not illegal to be a Christian in China,” and that “most Christians in China do not face daily persecution” (100).
  2. Needy Church – This view sees Christianity in China “as lacking Bibles, trained leaders, facilities, and finances” (100). What is more realistic is that as long as Christians both in and outside China have an unhealthy dependence on Western Christianity for the sustainability of the Chinese church then it’s needy perception will become a reality.
  3. Christian China – This view thinks that since China has more Christians than any other country that it will bring about cultural transformation such that China will become publicly Christian. This is not true since there is not a direct linear relationship to Christian growth and cultural change (101).
  4. Missionary Church – This view sees “China as potentially the greatest missionary-sending country in history” (102). Of the four narratives this might be the most exaggerated as there are not near as many Chinese missionaries going out of China and most of them that do leave do not stay for long.

As the contemporary Chinese Christian scene is laid out in the book, American Christians will be surprised to see that the situation is much like it is in the states: Christian leaders and laypeople are continually encouraging other Christians towards and warning them of the same things that dominate the Western church discussion. Brent Fulton notes that, despite the striking similarities, what separates the Chinese and American churches is that China “has experienced in thirty years what in most other nations has taken place over a century or more” (115).

Section three addresses the social and religious challenges in China for the growth of Christianity (Presbyterianism specifically) and what opportunities lie ahead as a result. While examining the social conditions, G. Wright Doyle notes that the fast paced change in China’s society is creating new problems for the Chinese but also providing new inroads for the spread of the gospel. For instance, China has always been known for having a strong committed family structure but this is changing. Husbands are taking jobs farther and farther away from home and the men are finding mistresses away from home. This, coupled China’s one-child policy, is wrecking havoc on Chinese families (160-61). Also, though more and more money is coming into China, the gap between the poor and wealthy is increasing causing discontent among the people (164-65). In addressing the opportunities these and other challenges bring to Christianity in China, David VanDrunen charts our a vision for the interplay between Reformed ecclesiology and Christians engagement in society as drawn from his book Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture.

The final section deals with appropriating the Reformed tradition in China through legal publishing, theological education and the indigenization and contextualization. For publishing, it will come as a surprise to many Westerners that within the last ten years it has  become legal to publish limited types of Christian literature in mainland China (245). Phil Remmers lays out the highly controlled and expensive process (upwards of $20,000) it takes to have a book published in China. Remmers notes the pros and cons of unregistered underground Christian publishers and has some surprising thoughtful comments on the potential drawbacks of free digital literature available to Chinese Christians as made possible through ministries like Desiring God (264-66).  As far as theological education goes, China has a cultural history of valuing education that can benefit Christian education. What is challenging are the restrictions on seminaries that are not so with churches. There are other issues such as funding for the schools, limited resources and good faculty. There is much room for growth among Reformed seminaries and the future looks bright.

Conclusion

China’s Reforming Churches is a fascinating look at the past, present and future of Reformed missionary influence in China. The contributors show a familiarity with Christianity in China in general and the Reformed tradition specifically, and are knowledgeable about the current Chinese social factors and movements that Christians face. Those unfamiliar with the current state of Christianity in China will find a lot of helpful information and will be surprised by many things like the real issue concerning Christian persecution and the rise of Christian publication.

Though the title does not immediately give it away, this book is written from a decidedly Reformed perspective. All theological and practical (ecclesiological) evaluations and suggestions stem from this perspective. While this does not effect cultural and societal observation (at least in my mind) it does limit the scope for how to move forward in regards to theology and polity. I think there is definitely some overlap that would occur no matter what denominational stream the book was written in. What would be noticeably different is the suggested structure of polity. This limited scope of the book is in no way a fault of the book nor does it detract from its value for those committed to other denominations. This books will serve as a great benefit to any Christian interested in the current state of missions in China and will provide invaluable information for those invested in Chinese missions from both sides.

I received this book for free from Reformation Heritage Books through Cross Focused Reviews for this review. 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 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Book Review – Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook

Posted by on Jul 28, 2014 in Reviews

Book Review – Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook

Interpreting the General Letters Book Review   Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook

Under the editorial leadership of John D. Harvey, Herbert W. Bateman IV has written Interpreting the General Epistles: An Exegetical Handbook as part of the Handbooks for New Testament Exegesis. This series seeks to provide the student of the New Testament with the basic background information such as authorship, historical background, literary context, theological context and interpretive guidance such as how to exegete and communicate the meaning of a text.

General Observations

The first chapter address the genre of the general epistles as letters (Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2 & 3 John and Jude). Through comparative studies with that of other contemporary letters to the NT, Bateman provides a skeletal picture of how letters were structured and functioned. Of particular interest is the issue of pseudonymity whereby the person who actually writes the letter with their own hand is not the one who provides the content of the letter. This is of great interest and contention for biblical critics and historians like Bart Ehrman who dismisses most of the NT letters as fakes over this issue. In the span of five pages Bateman ably defends its use by the general epistles authors showing the charge of the critics to be unwarranted.

In the second chapter Bateman provides the reader with good analysis and conclusions concerning the historical background to the general letters and how it shapes the writing of the books and how we are to interpret them. For instance, James writes against the backdrop of the Disporai. Much of James deals with wisdom and how the Jews were to live wisely during this time. After comparing the relevant extra canonical wisdom literature Bateman concludes that

James emphasizes the values and ethos of God’s kingdom community over which Jesus reigns as Messiah in order to socially orient the Jewish Disporia community in ways that distinguished them from others and encouraged tranquility” (79).

Further, for Peter we see a significant emphasis on household codes of conduct. Looking at the Roman literature on the home Bateman comments that “the Romans believed that disorder was a threat not only to the Greco-Roman family but also to the Greco-Roman society” (81).  So how does Peter make a distinguishing mark with his household codes? Bateman concludes the following concerning wives and slaves:

Using the same categories of those shaped in a predominately Greco-Roman culture in the geographical areas like Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, the province of Asia, and Bithynia (1 Peter 1:1), Peter engaged his Greco_Roman culture in ways that both adopted and yet amended the household ethic for wives and slaved in order to transform culture” (83).

Essentially, Peter “elevated” the status and role of women and slaves within the Christians worldview.

The next chapter deals with the theology of the general epistles in which Bateman focuses on the biblical theology of the books. The aim is to show (1) what theology the letters have themselves and (2) how they fit into and “contribute to the canonical whole” (90). This is accomplished by first establishing an overview of the whole biblical story-line from creation to new creation. Next the biblical covenants are outlined with discussion on how they drive much of the Bible’s development and historical fulfillment. Coming to the NT we are faced with the era of fulfillment or “inaugurated fulfillment”. ” The authors of the General Letters present God’s kingdom-redemption program as having been initiated by God in the historical events of Jesus (Heb. 1:2; 1 Peter 1:20) and later consummated at the subsequent return of Jesus (James 5:7-8:2; 2 Peter 1:16; 3:2, cf. Jude 20)” (103). The kingdom has been inaugurated with the first coming of Christ (104) but there is a future physical establishing of the kingdom on earth during the millennium at the second coming of Christ (113-16). While clearly premillennial, Bateman avoids discussion of the rapture.

Chapters four through six contain the nine step process for interpreting the general letters. The nine step process is summarized as follows:

  1. Initiate a Translation – The goal here is for the interpreter to make their own translation of an isolated text. This is accomplished by diagramming the text according to grammatical function, understanding the placing and function of the verbs and then translating the text.
  2. Identify Interpretive Issues – The various helps to accomplishing this task include a knowledge of the various translations and their philosophies and  understanding textual families. The role of open-ended statements, Greek idioms and English sensitivities are discussed as well.
  3. Isolate Major Textual Problems – The central issue here surrounds manuscript variants. Guidelines are given for isolating textual problems, how to interpret the apparatus in Greek texts, weighing internal and external manuscript evidence. Entry and advanced level advice is given for how to evaluate the evidence.
  4. Interpreting Structures – This deals with how to identify and present the structural outline of a text. This is used to visualize the author’s flow of thought at the clause level (independent and independent clauses).
  5. Interpreting Style, Syntax, and Semantics – Here, Bateman examines the style of Hebrews, syntax of the Johannine letters and the semantics of Peter as examples of how to do the same for the other general letters.
  6. Interpreting Greek Words – Since the same word can have a variety of meanings, the interpreter needs to determine which one the author meant in a given context. Here synonyms, extra biblical usage, LXX usage and the semantic range of a word are discussed in order to determine an authors intended meaning for a given word.
  7. Communicating Exegetically – Here the exegete takes their translated diagram of the text and begins to turn each statement/clause into summary statements. This starts with summaries of each clause and ends with an exegetical outline.
  8. Communicating the Central Idea – The goal here is to further refine the exegetical outline into a single statement that summarizes the whole text under consideration.
  9. Communicating Homiletically – With 3 John as a test case, Bateman provides the reader with an example of a homiletical outline that is based on the exegetical outline.

With the nine step process in place, Bateman shows how it is to be used on two sample texts (Jude 5-7 & Hebrews 10:19-25). After wading through a lot of detail on each step some readers may be overwhelmed with everything there is to do in the process of interpreting a passage. The two samples really go a long way to putting it all into perspective and I feel they eliminate much of the anxiety some will feel as they consider the exegetical task. No doubt it is daunting but with continual practice the process with become more natural and less cumbersome. Chapter eight finishes off the book with a list of helpful resources for further study on all of the chapter topics, the nine steps and a list of helpful commentaries for each book.

Conclusion

As a handbook, Interpreting the General Letters definitely hits the mark. The quality work and high standard set by John Harvey in the inaugural Interpreting the Pauline Letters is no doubt continued here. This is a must have for graduate level study and should be in every pastor and teachers library for reference. Bateman shows himself to be well acquainted with the material and his explanation and exemplary use of the nine step process will serve readers well. This book deserves a wide audience and a long shelf life.

I received this book for free from Kregel for this review. 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 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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