Archive | Book Reviews

‘Misquoting Jesus’ in the Washington Post

Neely Tucker reviews Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus in last Sunday’s Washington Post (click here). Unfortunately, the review takes up some of the tendentious claims that Ehrman puts forth in the book. One such claim is Ehrman’s contention that the variations in the manuscript copies of the New Testament undermine the Christian faith. The Post review writes:

Most of these are inconsequential errors in grammar or metaphor. But others are profound. . . [One] critical passage is in 1 John, which explicitly sets out the Holy Trinity (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit). It is a cornerstone of Christian theology, and this is the only place where it is spelled out in the entire Bible — but it appears to have been added to the text centuries later, by an unknown scribe.

The text in question is 1 John 5:7, the so-called Comma Johanneum (a.k.a. the “Johannine comma”). Yes, the reading was erroneously added by a later scribe. But the Post review wrongly implies that the doctrine of the Trinity is dependent upon this particular reading (which is reflected in the King James Version). Nothing could be further from the truth.

The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th centuries debates over the Trinity never appeal to this verse as a basis for Trinitarian theology. If the reading were so fundamental to that particular doctrine, it would be odd to find that the early church never referred to it. The fact is that the doctrine of the Trinity was not dependent on 1 John 5:7 because the doctrine of the Trinity was hammered out without dependence upon it.

This is just one of many baseless claims in Ehrman’s book. Unfortunately the Post is repeating the error.


Click here for my review of Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus.


Review of “Where Is Boasting?”

Simon J. Gathercole. Where Is Boasting: Early Jewish Soteriology and Paul’s Response in Romans 1-5. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002. 311pp. $32.00.

Simon J. Gathercole fires a salvo into the ongoing battle over Paul’s doctrine of Justification and the new perspective on Paul. In Where Is Boasting: Early Jewish Soteriology and Paul’s Response in Romans 1-5, Gathercole contends with the growing consensus among Pauline scholars that the Judaism of Paul’s day was not a legalistic religion of merit, but a gracious dispensation of covenantal election. This work represents Gathercole’s Ph.D. dissertation which he wrote under the supervision of James D. G. Dunn, with whom Gathercole is in decided disagreement.

Gathercole argues that E. P. Sanders’ scheme of “getting in” and “staying in” has very little eschatology (p. 23). That is, Jewish soteriology was based not merely on divine election (à la covenantal nomism), but also on final salvation by works (à la eschatological judgment). According to Gathercole, new perspective scholars have overemphasized the former at the expense of the latter. Gathercole attempts to show that the evidence of second-Temple Jewish literature paints a different picture.

Gathercole traces the theme of “boasting” in second-Temple Jewish texts (Part 1) and in Paul’s argument in Romans 1-5 (Part 2). He shows that “boasting” in Paul and the Jewish literature refers to “confidence of vindication in the final judgment” (p. 23). Such “boasting” relies on obedience to the totality of Jewish law as the condition of and basis for final vindication in the final judgment. For Gathercole, salvation in Judaism, contrary to new perspective scholarship, does rely on works of obedience.

Gathercole’s work is important because it challenges one of the central claims of New Perspective proponents. They have alleged that the Judaism of Paul’s day was not legalistic because “legal works” were not viewed as the basis for “getting into” a right relationship with God. “Legal works” were merely a means of “staying in” that right relationship.

Gathercole has shown that second-Temple Judaism did indeed hold to a final salvation for the righteous on the basis of works (p. 266). In other words, New Perspective scholars have emphasized the gracious character of Israel’s election at the expense of the legal works that are required for one to stand at the final judgment.

In many ways, what Gathercole has done is to balance the scales a little bit. He shows that there has been somewhat of a false antithesis between election and legalism in descriptions of first century Judaism. For Gathercole, Jewish soteriology is based both on divine election and on eschatological salvation by works (p. 33). Any description of Judaism that fails to emphasize both is not being faithful to the sources.

Some reviewers of Gathercole’s work allege that New Perspective scholars have always given eschatological salvation by works its proper place in describing Jewish soteriology. But this reviewer disagrees with that assessment. New Perspective proponents rarely if ever give proper weight to the indications that Judaism was in some sense legalistic. Gathercole offers a needed course correction in this respect.

This is a valuable book and a must read for anyone who is interested in getting outside of the echo-chamber that is modern Pauline scholarship. Gathercole has made his point—rather, the sources have made their point, and every New Testament scholar would do well to hear them.


Review of “Blue Like Jazz”

Shane Walker at 9Marks ministries has reviewed Donald Miller’s popular book Blue Like Jazz. What can I say? The review is devastating and gets at the heart of all that’s wrong with the postmodern ethos in certain sectors of the Emergent church movement. Here’s a teaser from the review:

Don wants to invite the reader to authentic Christian spirituality, but he’s not really sure what it looks like. He can only report back what he’s experienced—and it’s been a confusing trip. This means that some of his readers will walk away even more confused, but more resolved to get another tattoo, another piercing, grow those dreads, attend another anarchist protest, or say another profanity. They will learn that watching South Park is not so bad, having crushes on lesbian pop stars is cool, and that smoking pot is an ambiguous moral question. Taken in isolation these are petty sins, but as a lifestyle they draw people away from Christ by confusing who he is and inhibiting the joyful freedom experienced in obedience to him. . .

Likely, right now someone in your church is reading Blue Like Jazz or some similar book. It will resonate with them in style and content—it is cool and Christian. And it is extremely unhelpful. The only antidote seems to be twofold. The first is to reintroduce young Christians to the biblical Jesus: the person who died an agonizing death for their sins, who will tread the winepress of the wrath of God, and who listens to their prayers. The second is to begin the battle against the cool. The godly must begin to prove in the pulpit, in writing, and in their lives that Christianity is the deadly enemy of the cool. And the cool is the Western postmodern entertainment driven culture that has tutored our children and ourselves for the last fifty years.

You need to go read the rest of the review. You can find it here: “Review of Blue Like Jazz.”


Review of “The Face of New Testament Studies”

Scot McKnight and Grant R. Osborne, eds. The Face of New Testament Studies: A Survey of Recent Research. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004. 544pp. $34.99.

Eminent New Testament scholars Scot McKnight and Grant R. Osborne have edited an important volume that introduces the various sub-disciplines of New Testament studies. In The Face of New Testament Studies: A Survey of Recent Research, various luminaries of the scholarly guild have contributed essays that give an overview of their respective disciplines and that introduce some of the important voices in those disciplines.

There are a total of twenty-two essays, and they are divided into four parts: (1) Context of the New Testament, (2) New Testament Hermeneutics, (3) Jesus, and (4) Earliest Christianity. There are special sections for historical Jesus scholars, scholars on individual Gospels, generalists on the Synoptic Gospels, Pauline scholars, Petrine scholars and more. The book tries to give an introduction to all the major areas of specialty within the field of New Testament research.

The value of the book consists in its comprehensiveness. There is much more here than in a typical introduction to New Testament criticism. The weakness of the book is in its organization. Because the book is intended to give students an overview of the discipline, it would have been helpful if the essays could have been divided into parts that better represent the sub-disciplines (e.g., Greek Language, Historical Backgrounds, Synoptic Studies, Pauline Studies, etc.). The four part scheme adopted in this book does not adequately reflect the specialized fields of research on the New Testament.

On the whole, however, the essays themselves look to be very helpful to anyone looking for an update on and synopsis of the major trends of research. This volume would be a useful textbook for a course on New Testament criticism.


Review of “Choosing a Bible” by Leland Ryken

Leland Ryken, Choosing a Bible: Understanding Bible Translation Differences (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005). 32pp. $3.99.

This little 32-page booklet is in many ways an extension and abstract of Leland Ryken’s earlier and more comprehensive work, The Word of God in English: Criteria for Excellence in Bible Translation (Crossway, 2002). The booklet consists of three chapters and an appendix. Chapter one asks and answers the question, “How Do Bible Translations Differ from Each Other?” Here Ryken introduces the distinction between dynamic equivalent and formal equivalent approaches to translation. Chapter two sets forth five negative effects of the dynamic equivalent approach. Chapter Three discusses ten reasons why “essentially literal” translations are trustworthy. The Appendix consists of a chart that places specific translations along a spectrum that has formal equivalence on the left side, dynamic equivalence in the middle, and paraphrase on the right side.

This little book’s value consists mainly in its succinct and clear presentation of the different sides of the translation debate. It would be very useful in a classroom of students who are just being introduced to the debate over what the proper method of Bible translation should be. In fact, Ryken’s exposition resembles the lectures that I give to my own hermeneutics students each semester on this subject. There are three basic approaches to translation (formal equivalence, dynamic equivalence, and paraphrase) and each individual English translation of the scripture false somewhere on the spectrum between formal equivalence and paraphrase.

Another strength of this book is its thesis that the formal equivalence approach is the best and most faithful method of Bible Translation. Ryken’s thesis and the reasons he gives to support it are basically on target—formal equivalence preserves the full interpretive potential of the original, it reduces the frequency of having to correct a translation in preaching, etc.

The main weakness of the book is that it does not discuss the main issues with the depth that the main issues deserve. Certainly, this is due to the brevity and intended scope of the book. Nevertheless, this is a shortcoming that is worth pointing out. For instance, Ryken charges dynamic equivalent translations with “interpreting” the Biblical text rather than “translating” it. The main problem with this contention is that even formal equivalence translations like the NASB give more interpretive renderings at times. This is inevitable in any translation into English and absolutely cannot be avoided. Ryken does not acknowledge this fact.

Overall, this is a useful little volume, and I intend to use it in my courses. However, as the beginning student’s knowledge of the intricacies of translation increases, a more comprehensive treatment of the issues will be required.


D. A. Carson Slams the Emergent Church

Carson, D. A. Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005. 250pp. $14.99.

If you were wondering whether D. A. Carson had an opinion on the so-called “emergent church” movement, wonder no more. In his new book, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications, Carson delivers a biblical and theological wallop against a movement that he argues has been animated by the values of postmodernity. Carson saves what is perhaps his severest denunciation for the very last page of the book, and it packs quite a rhetorical punch against emergent thought: “Damn all the false antitheses to hell, for they generate false gods, they perpetuate idols, they twist and distort our souls, they launch the church into violent pendulum swings whose oscillations succeed only in dividing brothers and sisters in Christ” (p. 234). Continue Reading →


Review of “Justification: What’s at Stake in the Current Debates”

Mark Husbands and Daniel J. Treier, eds. Justification—What’s at Stake in the Current Debates (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004). ISBN: 0830827811. $23.00.

The ten papers appearing in this volume are selections from the conference on Justification held at Wheaton College Graduate school in April of 2003: “The Gospel, Freedom and Righteousness: The Doctrine of Justification.” One would think that a book such as this one, published at the time that this one was, would be all about the current debate over the so-called “new perspective” on Paul. This collection of essays, however, demonstrates that there is much more to the Justification debate than the quarrel about the character of first century rabbinic Judaism and its influence on the apostle to the Gentiles. These papers take up the question whether imputed righteousness is “fictive, forensic or transformative” (p. 7). The book divides into four parts: (1) Justification and Biblical theology, (2) Justification and the Crisis of Protestantism, (2) Justification in Protestant Traditions, and (4) Justification and Ecumenical Endeavor. Continue Reading →


Review of “Making Sense of the New Testament”

Craig L. Blomberg, Making Sense of the New Testament: Three Crucial Questions (Baker: Grand Rapids, 2004). ISBN: 0801027470. $14.99.

Craig Blomberg’s Making Sense of the New Testament is published as a companion volume to Tremper Longman’s 1998 book, Making Sense of the Old Testament: Three Crucial Questions. In the current volume, Blomberg sets out to identify “three crucial questions” that must be answered by anyone who wishes to consider the truth-claims of the New Testament. In chapter 1, he sets out to answer the question of whether the New Testament presents a reliable historical portrait of Jesus. Here he takes up the old question of whether the Christ of history resembles the Christ of the scriptures. Blomberg concludes that the historicity of the Gospels and Acts is confirmed by sound evidence and that accepting their historical claims does not require a leap of faith. Blomberg does a good job of taking the reader step-by-step through the evidence, and in the end produces a very convincing apologetic for the veracity of the Gospels and Acts.

In chapter 2, Blomberg takes up the controversial question whether Paul was the true founder of Christianity. He queries whether the teaching of Jesus can be reconciled with the teaching of the great apostle to the Gentiles: “Was Paul, in fact, the second founder, or perhaps even the true founder of Christianity as it has developed down the centuries?” (p. 15). In this section, Blomberg responds to the skeptical charge that Paul’s letters reveal a radical revision of the teachings of the historical Jesus. Blomberg does well to point out that Paul is aware of the Jesus traditions that were current in his day and that some of these traditions appear in his letters. In 1 Corinthians 11:23-25, for instance, Paul makes use of a tradition that was handed down to him by word of mouth. This tradition looks remarkably similar to Luke’s version of the Jesus’ words at the Last Supper (Luke 22:19-20). Paul and Luke’s use of a common oral tradition shows the antiquity of Paul’s theology of atonement and that he was concerned with the historical Jesus. Blomberg wrestles with other texts in Paul that allude directly or indirectly to Jesus’ teachings. Blomberg says that, “Theological distinctives between the two men remain, and the differing purposes of the Gospels and the Epistles must be taken into account” (p. 106). Thus, there is more evidence of continuity between Jesus and Paul than is commonly acknowledged by New Testament scholars, and the points of discontinuity can be explained by the different purposes of Paul the letter writer and the evangelists who wrote the Gospels.

In chapter 3, Blomberg considers how the New Testament applies to the modern day. He explores the various principles that govern the interpretation of the New Testament’s diverse literary forms. These include (1) determining the original application intended by the author of the passage, (2) evaluating the level of specificity of those applications to see if they should be or can be transferred across time and space to other audiences, (3) if they cannot be transferred, identifying broader cross-cultural principles that the specific elements of the text reflect, and (4) finding appropriate contemporary applications that embody those principles (p. 108). He then works out these principles in relation to the different sections of the New Testament canon: the Gospels, Acts, Paul’s letters, Hebrews and General Epistles, and the Revelation. The principles that Blomberg elucidates can provide a good starting-point for developing legitimate implications out of the author’s original meaning. One notices, however, that it is still unclear how one is to know when it is appropriate to move beyond the intention of the biblical author in applying the scripture. For example, on page 140 Blomberg says that the interpreter needs to “recognize that Paul lays down principles which could not be fully implemented in his world but which challenge later Christians to move even further in the directions he was already heading” (emphasis mine). This “further” idea sounds remarkably similar to William Webb’s “redemptive movement hermeneutic,” to which Blomberg refers in an extended footnote on pages 172-173. Webb’s hermeneutic appears to the present reviewer to be highly unstable and, in Webb’s application of it, favorable to an egalitarian reading of Paul.

In sum, Blomberg has produced a handy little primer on some of the basic questions that face the reader of the New Testament. There is not much new here for specialists in the field, but this book will be useful for beginning students of the New Testament at both the college and graduate levels. It is also useful as an apologetic tool for anyone who might be interested in evidence concerning the historical claims of the New Testament.


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