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Review – Cornerstone Biblical Commentary 1-2 Chronicles

Review – Cornerstone Biblical Commentary 1-2 Chronicles

I previously reviewed the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary on Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy on my book blog and have posted a number of notes about it on this blog.  So when I had an opportunity to review the volume in the same series on 1 & 2 Chronicles, I jumped at it.  I would say many of the same things I said about that previous volume with regard to this one, so if you want my thoughts on the series in general, read that previous review.

Chronicles as a whole is not a staple of Christian teaching.  We use a number of individual passages, especially the various prayers, but as a whole, the method is a bit foreign.  From a historical point of view Samuel-Kings is closer to the events it relates as an historical source, while the emphasis on genealogy in Chronicles goes against the grain of our western minds.

In this commentary, author Mark J. Boda has managed to continue the quality commentary that I expect from this series.  My personal tendency is to criticize a commentary such as this one for not including enough comment on issues of biblical criticism, the language, and translation issues.  But those are not the primary focus here.  This commentary is designed to be read by the non-theologian and people who do not read Hebrew.

At the same time it does have considerable information on the structure of the book and on the language.  I found the introduction to the genalogies (pp. 25-31) particularly helpful, because it takes on issues such as the purpose of the genealogies and why they are included in the way that they are.  I’ve previously written about the importance of genealogies and why they should not be neglected.  These pages make many of those points and a number more as well.

In the section on 1 Chronicles 1-9, the commentary section follows a consistent structure that differs from what it follows in the rest of the book.  The first portion discusses sources.  Chronicles is one of those sections of the Bible where we have source explicitly referenced and easily discernible.  The second portion discusses structure and content.  While most readers will probably be going more directly for content, the excellent discussion of structure is one of the strong points of this commentary.  Finally, there is a section on significance, particularly important because we are dealing with genealogies.

The whole commentary is 449 pages, including the text of the NLT.  The remainder of the commentary starting with 1 Chronicles 10 is follows the more standard format of comment on short passages in succession.  The discussion is thorough.  References to Hebrew are transliterated and explained adequately for someone who does not know the language.  (Those who do read Hebrew will, or at least should, want to know more.)

I would like to have an index in a book like this.  I realize that people generally read commentaries by going to the section on a passage in which they have an interest.  I would like to be able to follow some themes, such as prayer, through the commentary, and an index would be extremely helpful.

The bibliography occupies 13 pages, and will prove useful.  I don’t have enough knowledge of the literature in this area to criticize the content, but it looks quite good in general.

I’m delighted to be studying these two books using this commentary.  I personally want more comments on the language, but that is something I can get from other commentaries.  This one is accessible and useful especially to the pastor or teaching in the church.

Common Ground on Genesis

Common Ground on Genesis

On the Spectrum blog there’s quite a lot of discussion of the age of the earth and a search for common ground. The problem with the phrase “common ground” is that it can mean many different things. Two recent articles on the age of the earth had quotes that caught my attention. As far as I can tell (my specialty is Biblical languages, not any of the various sciences involved), the discussion of the various dating methods is quite good.

This material comes from members of the Seventh-day Adventist church, my former denomination, and one that is pretty firm on the young age of the universe and a literal seven day creation week. Watching this discussion unfold amongst SDAs is something I find fascinating.

The first article, Genesis Literalism and the Temple of Doom – I, after summarizing some of the methods, concludes:

Even if the message is not one we want to hear, recognizing the validity of these tools of science should be the basis for common ground.

Sounds good thus far. Then we continue with the second article, creatively titled Genesis Literalism and the Temple of Doom – II, and after some more dating methods are summarized we have another conclusion:

The obvious question, then, is, “how should the Church respond to this evidence?” As suggested previously, perhaps the best way to deal with this evidence, given a predisposition in favor of YEC, is simply to say nothing about age. Taking this approach would act as a hedge against further compelling scientific confirmation of a very old age. To proceed in this way would preserve the Church’s credibility, and would seem to be the only approach to common ground.

This one doesn’t strike me right at all. Essentially keeping silent about age when you’ve just admitted that the scientific evidence is entirely against young age seems very odd, and doesn’t seem any basis for common ground at all. Common ground between what groups or positions? In essence, by its silence, the church would say “We were wrong, but we don’t want to admit it, so now we’re going quiet.” Or so it seems to me …

I see two options for someone convinced that the earth is old, yet who espouses some form of biblically based Christianity: 1) Take a new look at the biblical evidence or role in the discussion or 2) Admit science is against you, but uphold what you believe the Bible teaches. The first approach is mine, looking both at how we understand certain passages of scripture and also looking at the role God intended scripture to play in scientific discussions. I’ve written on that before. Dr. Kurt Wise and Dr. Todd Wood are examples of folks who take the second approach.

I don’t think silence is going to work long term. I hope I will see in future installments that I have misunderstood the intent of the writer. I will certainly continue to read the series.

Profitable Scriptures

Profitable Scriptures

It’s been about six weeks since my last post, and unfortunately that’s actually a fairly short gap for the way I’ve kept this blog up.  But the two Old Testament passages this week (Jeremiah 31:27-34 and Psalm 19 or Psalm 119:94-107) as well as the epistle caught my attention.

In the modern church we read these scriptures frequently and think about the Bible as we have it.  In fact, we often use the phrase “word of God” as a synonym for “Bible.”  Now I don’t want to detract from the nature and value of the Bible as God’s word, but that is not all of God’s word.  More importantly, when these passages were written, there wasn’t a Bible, and much of what we have in our Bibles was not even written yet (depending, of course, on the dating of 2 Timothy).

Even if one dates 2 Timothy quite late, it would doubtless be dated before most of the New Testament was regarded as scripture, and thus it would refer to the Old Testament scriptures as know at the time.  Psalm 19 and 119, of course, were written substantially earlier yet, and may have been referring primarily to the Torah, or the first five books of the Bible.

So why do I think this is important?  Do I think what these passages say of scripture is not applicable to the Bible as we have it?  Actually I definitely do think these passages should apply to the Bible as we have it.  But they should also apply to the Bible as it was at those earlier times.

You see, too often we think we can skip some of those very Old Testament passages that are praised by these writers.  “Profitable” or “more to be desired than gold.”  Yet when I ask Christians if they have read the entire Bible, they’ll often ask if it counts even if they haven’t read Leviticus, or Numbers, or a variety of other passages.

Besides the value of the passages in their own context, I don’t think you can really understand the book of Hebrews without really understanding the tabernacle service as it’s described in Exodus – Numbers.  You will misunderstand much of the New Testament if you don’t ground your study in the Old.  And again, that’s ignoring the value of the passages in themselves.

Let’s look for the value, the “profit” in all of scripture!

Coloring Outside the Lines

Coloring Outside the Lines

I’m borrowing my title from Dave Black’s latest essay, because I’m talking about the same subject and I’m about to publish the second edition of his book, Why Four Gospels?. (I suggest reading Dave’s essay first. It’s short!)

I just spent a weekend with Dave as he spoke at First United Methodist Church here in Pensacola and Chumuckla Community Church a ways to the northeast of here. For some, having a Southern Baptist (Southeastern Baptist)seminary professor (though “missionary” is his preferred title) preach at a United Methodist church might be considered coloring outside the lines. If so, I think it’s a kind of coloring that we need to do more of.

Why Four Gospels? Front Cover
Almost Complete Front Cover

Now in case you haven’t caught on, this is one of my blog posts meditating on books I’m about to publish, in this case, of course, Why Four Gospels?. It’s a little book that is out of the mainstream of New Testament scholarship these days. It challenges the priority of Mark, and proposes that the gospels were written in the order of Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John.

But that isn’t the most important thing that it does. It challenges the methods used, and in fact takes a completely different approach to what is usual in looking at the reliability and the context in which the gospels were written.

One of the problems I’ve noted with historical Jesus studies (in which theories regarding gospel authorship are obviously important), is that especially in the popular literature too little time is spent discussing and justifying the basic methodology used. For example, is the best way to discover the historical record of an individual to divide what is recorded of him into small parts and then look for criteria to decided on which of these are probable and which are not?

I’m not saying one cannot discover the reasoning behind these various choices. One can. But one often has to be very diligent in doing so, because they are often glossed over. I went through a course in gospels in college without every really understanding the nuts and bolts of things like form or redaction criticism, yet I was learning “facts” about the gospels which were derived from those disciplines.

On the other hand many more conservative handbooks and commentaries poke a few holes in some critical views and then regard their task as complete. Obviously not every commentary can cover every issue in full detail, but I think it should be better covered than it is. (If I might recommend one book, I think Dr. David DeSilva’s An Introduction to the New Testament [link is to my notes] is very commendable on this issue.)

Robert H. Stein, in Jesus the Messiah [link again to my review] commendably tried to address the criteria and how they should apply. I would note that I’ve changed my mind on a couple of points since I wrote that review, but I would still say that Stein makes a valiant effort but fails to reach his goal. If I may push an analogy, he colors with different colors, but stays inside the lines.

Along with Bauckham and a few others, Dave Black is not only coloring outside the lines, but switching coloring books as well. How successful this effort will be remains to be seen, in my opinion. But it is much more likely that one can provide support for a more orthodox view of the historical Jesus in this way than simply by trying to alter the criteria one at a time.

So there’s a much more important goal that Dave Black has in mind here. He’s not just looking at a different order for the writing of the four gospels; he’s examining the way in which we determine that order and in turn attempting to place the gospels in the context of the life of the early Christian church. In a way we could call this historically anchoring the sources as well.

His effort is commendable in another way: It is concise. In about 120 pages (we may lengthen this mildly with larger type in the Energion edition), he lays out a case that is both broad and strong. I’m not saying he has convinced me on all points; I’m a stubborn character, and not easily convinced. What he has convinced me of in those few pages is that this is a book that you need to read and answer if you think you have a good grasp of gospel or historical Jesus studies.

And that leads me to the inevitable questions. I’m always asked why I publish books I disagree with. This isn’t a really good example of that, in that I don’t have all that firmly held positions on this topic, general stubbornness aside. But I really like that question. I aim to publish a range of books that tend to push the boundaries within orthodox Christianity. I hope these will make us rethink our ideas, no matter what our present position is.

Charismatics have questioned my publication of Holy Smoke! Unholy Fire!, which addresses abuses in the charismatic movement and particularly in some revival movements. Recently I’ve been questioned over the just released (and not yet available even on all major online retail sites) Finding My Way in Christianity, which leans to the liberal side. On the other hand, my own book Identifying Your Gifts and Service assumes the continuation of spiritual gifts and includes a prayer language, or speaking in tongues, among them.

So I’m delighted to add Why Four Gospels? to the mix. Of this book in particular I would say it’s a must read in its subject area. I know I’m the publisher and I’m biased, but remember that I’m also somewhat of a defender of historical-critical methodologies (though the Jesus Seminar criteria are not amongst the things I defend), and thus my bias may not all be one way.

One amazing feature of this book is the bibliography, which is the size of a chapter in itself. The conciseness and brevity of the book mean it will lead to further study, or so I hope, and the means of that study are provided here along with the questions.