Big catch, big grace

jesus fish peterIn Jesus calling of his first disciples, I am continually surprised by Simon Peter’s initial statement to Jesus (Luke 5:8-9):

“But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken.”

Depart from me“: Peter tells Jesus to go away because he is a sinful person. Why would he tell Jesus to depart from him?  If you’ve treated someone with nothing but bad behaviour, but they in turn treat you with kindness—how would you feel? You might feel a sense of guilt or shame. Why?  You know you don’t deserve the kindness they’ve shown you.

I remember someone I had not seen for years had come to me to apologize for something they had done many years ago. I had already forgotten about it long ago.  He blessed me more than the blessings I had to offer him.  I did not deserve it.  That’s grace.

Peter knew he had just encountered the holy One of God. The power and grace of God was evident in the huge amount of fish God had just provided.  They fished all evening but had caught nothing, but now, their net was so full of fish it began to tear.  It must have blown his mind. That’s grace.

Peter was overwhelmingly convinced in that encounter with Jesus that God’s grace was sufficient.  Jesus wanted Peter to understand that there is nothing in heaven and earth that could stop the power and love of God from flowing down.  Grace had just poured out to Peter–despite his sinfulness.  This miraculous catch of fish was evidence that Jesus was the Son of God.   He had enough proof.  He left his nets, boat, and followed Jesus.

For I am a sinful man“: Peter was giving Jesus a preliminary warning. “I don’t deserve to be in the presence of your holiness. You are holy; I am not. I would be bad for you and your image.  I’ve stolen, perhaps broken numerous laws, and should not count myself worthy of being in your presence.”

What might a person say to Jesus today? “Jesus, I’ve cheated on my tax return. Claimed more expenses than what’s legal. Or maybe, I’ve broken environmental laws by spilling toxic waste into the water system causing sickness to many. Or maybe, I’ve robbed a bank or defrauded other people our their hard-earned savings or pension. Jesus, I’m not like you. You are good. I’m rotten.  You might not know how bad I am but I do bad things to people. I feel guilty and ashamed. I don’t deserve to be given such a huge gift.”

Or we might also tell Jesus, “No you must have given the blessing to the wrong person. Bless that other guy over there. He does good things for the community. She gives to homeless and volunteers her time to good causes like the marginalized and the sick. But me? If you really knew who I am, and the horrible and illegal things I’ve done, you wouldn’t want to be around me. So Jesus, save your time and just head on over there to the other fishermen who is more deserving of this big gift of fish.  They deserve it.”

But Jesus affirms.  Jesus turns to Peter and says: “No Peter, I’ve got the right person. You are the person I am giving this gift to. And maybe Jesus didn’t even give an explanation about grace. Kept it simple. It’s for you Peter. I really meant to give this to you.

His reaction.  A big surprise. Perhaps he was overwhelmed with emotional and wept in private. He decided that Jesus’ acceptance of him was proof of God’s love for a sinner like him.

jesus calls disciples

Today, God’s mercy is still the same. He accepts you the way you are. His love for you never changed. He is still the same yesterday, today and will be the same tomorrow.

This story of the great catch is about Jesus calling you. Telling you through his miracle of the fish that his acceptance and love for you is great. It is just a small sampling of God’s abundant grace. He says to you. You are mine. You are my son.  You are my daughter.   My love and acceptance for you is bigger than you thought. I have not made a mistake. You are the one I meant to give this to.

If you pray to the Lord: “Jesus, I accept your grace. Your grace is enough for me.”   An appropriate reaction might be to drop your proverbial nets, leave your boats, and follow Jesus today. He is holding his arms to you today and saying, “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men, and catchers of people.”

Light of the world

Biblica and the LUMO Project has a video portrayal of the bible  (online here). It’s very good. Christ’s birth (00:00-10:40 min.)

Biblica is excited to be partnering with the LUMO Project – an organization that is redefining the standard of biblical media with visual translations of the Gospels to encourage us to engage with Scripture.

Together with LUMO, we’re excited to bring you “Light of the World,” an authentic portrait of the birth of Christ that features unabridged passages from the New International Version of the Bible.

We hope this makes your holiday more meaningful and helps you share in the joy of our Lord.

Merry Christmas,
Your Friends at Biblica

Mark 5:19 – Be a witness first to our family, friends, or people?

A continuation of a further look at Mark 5:19 on the man who was exercised of a legion of demons and had them cast into a heard of pigs (swine). Did Jesus tell the healed man to return and give witness of Jesus Christ to his family, friends, or to his own people?

Mark 5:19 says: “But Jesus would not let him. Instead, he told him, “Go back home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how kind he has been to you.” (Good News)

NLT, Amplified, Douay-Rheims:  uses “family
NIV, ESV/RSV/NRSV, N/KJV: uses “friends
CEB, CSB, NJB, NET: uses “your [own] people

Which is correct? One biblical commentary states: “Jesus refused the man permission to accompany him, but instructed him to return to the circle of family [Mark’s phrase τοὺς σούς may well include a circle wider than the man’s family, but there can be no doubt that the family was at the center of that circle.”  (William L. Lane, NICNT).

Another states: “To your people” (πρὸς τοὺς σούς), unique to the NT, has been taken narrowly by some to mean “your family” … But most take this to refer more broadly to “the people of your area” (R.A. Guelich, Word/ WBC).

In terms of biblical theology, either interpretation would not have any implications; but it would in terms of evangelism.  Do we go and bring our witness of Christ to our family first, or friends first, or our own ethnic people?  Obviously, we should evangelize everyone, but if I were this man healed of demon possession, I would want to tell my family first, then everyone else.

The Bible and Social Justice

What does the bible have to say about social justice issues?  Many of us are not sure. We know it says something but it’s not very clear to many of us. Understanding social justice from a biblical perspective is important because it affects our theology, our practice of theology, and how we treat others in this world.  Some passages on social justice are found in: Amos 5:1-17; Exodus 20:22-23:33; wisdom literature; Luke-Acts; Hebrews & general epistles; and Revelation.  The Amos 5 passage has caught my attention lately.

I love these words from Amos 5:14-15

14 Seek good and not evil,
that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of heavenly forces,
will be with you just as you have said.
15 Hate evil, love good,
and establish justice at the city gate.
Perhaps the Lord God of heavenly forces
will be gracious to what is left of Joseph.

(Common English Bible)

McMaster Divinity College (Hamilton, Ontario) is having its 16th H.H. Bingham Colloquium in New Testament today.  Since I’m not too far away (an hour’s drive) I’m going on the freeway to McMaster University to listen to the presentations by biblical scholars who will be presenting from contemporary biblical/New Testament perspectives. The topic this year happens to be “The Bible and Social Justice.” I’ll be interested in listening how some of these biblical scholars  will be treating their above New Testament biblical texts at hand.  This biblical stuff just turns my crank.

5 bible scholars series

I’d like to note another interesting series on the blogosphere.  Over at Boston Bible Geeks, Danny Pierce has an interesting series he labelled as the “5 Scholars” series.  I think he’s really put some deep thought into his selections.  I don’t have any opinions on his selections but they’re all recognized top-notch evangelical scholars. The only thing I’d disagree with are the titles of his posts “(for the non-academic)”. Really? They’re all quite academic of which most lay-people would get dizzy reading. Great selections Danny!

5 Bible Scholars Who Should Write More for the Non-Academic

  1. Craig Blomberg
  2. Douglas Moo
  3. Bruce Waltke
  4. Gordon Wenham
  5. Peter O’Brien

5 Good Read Bible Scholars (for the non-academic)

  1. Craig Keener
  2. Douglas Stuart
  3. Darrell Bock
  4. Tremper Longman III
  5. George Eldon Ladd

5 Must Read Bible Scholars (for the non-academic)

  1. Gordon Fee
  2. Christopher J H Wright
  3. Richard Bauckham
  4. D.A. Carson
  5. N.T. Wright

Commentary on James (BECNT) by Dan G. McCartney

James (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
Author: Dan G. McCartney
Publisher: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009.
ISBN: 9780901026768

I wish to thank the good folks at Baker Academic (Div. of Baker Publishing Group) for sending me this copy to review.

Professor Dr. Dan G. McCartney has authored this great new commentary on James (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series).  He is the professor of New Testament interpretation at Redeemer Theological Seminary; and had been at Westminster Theological Seminary for over 25 years.

James is a curious character for me because this letter was questioned by Martin Luther as to whether or not it should be in the canon of the bible.  Some biblical scholars have questioned the canonicity of the book of James even though Luther never questioned James’ authorship, but just his content, or lack of important content.  It is only later that some scholars had come to critique the letter’s authenticity.    It is peculiar that the words “Christ” and “Jesus” are never mentioned. For a biblical author to never mention this is indeed a cause for curiosity, and this fact alone can give place to a legitimate argument for this letter’s questionable canonicity.  Dan McCartney notes that James:

  • evinces no concern for ecclesial authority or structure;
  • the importance of the substitutionary death of Christ receives no mention;
  • there is no cultic identification with Christ;
  • no discussion of how the inclusion of Gentiles affects theology; and
  • no reflection on how Christ fulfilled O.T. expectations.

I think is possible that during the early church, which faced extreme persecution, tried to keep their fellowship hidden underground.  I’m not sure if many biblical scholars considered this fact when they question the canonicity of some biblical books, especially that of the book of James.

The argument of about who the audience may not be as important as who the figure of James was. Perhaps this is why McCartney expends more ink on the topic of James’ authorship.  James is supposed by many scholars to be a highly educated Hellenistic Jew, or perhaps, a Gentile convert. Only given such a background could one write such a letter.  Here are some curious facts about James:

  • It contains some Semitic idioms grounded in the Jewish scriptures (e.g., “double-minded”).  Furthermore, his use of idioms, says McCartney, are very different from Greek but very much like Semitic style (e.g., 1:17 “shadow of turning”, 2:4 “judges of evil opinion”, or 3:6 “world of unrighteousness”)
  • Use of words by those of Jewish background (e.g., 3:6 “gehenna”, 2:2 “synagogue”)

Regarding use of phrases that at first seem to evoke Greek rather than Jewish literature, McCartney states: “such use has more the appearance of an “outsider” to a culture borrowing the terms but ignoring their “insider” connotations.  This is exactly what we would expect of a Palestinian Jewish Christian who was competent in Greek and who was familiar with the Hellenistic cultic milieu while also being critical of it.”  In a similar line of thought, and for comparison’s sake, I’ll offer the example of my own experience.  I am a Canadian with a Chinese ethnic background but who has been mostly educated in the English language, rather than, the Chinese language context.  Likewise, James was a citizen of Palestine and born in Palestine with a probable Jewish ethnic background but who was also highly educated in the Greek language within a Hellenistic context rather than a Jewish context.  This milieu of multicultural diversity broadens a person’s understanding.   This is evident in the letter of James.

The authorship of the book of James could have been either:

  • James the son of Zebedee, brother of John, who was killed by Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:2);
  • James the son of Alphaeus, one of the Twelve;
  • James the Younger; or
  • James, Jesus’ brother (Acts 12:17, Gal. 1:19) (which also poses a problem for the Catholic doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity)

Regarding James, the Lord’s brother, one external biblical source is from Josephus.  However, the validity of his commentary has been doubted due to possible additions written by Christian scribes.  McCartney notes that another outside source, Hegesippus’ account of James has tried to harmonize the story of James’s death found in Josephus with that from Clement of Alexandria.

If James was the brother, or even half-brother, of Jesus, the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity will be put on the spotlight.  However, Jerome claimed that the Greek word adelphos (or brother) could have also meant “cousin” or a member of the broader family network, at least up until the time of the Protestant Reformation.  Augustine and Roman Catholic scholars support this view. I could also support this view because I have been called a “brother” by friends, and by spiritual brothers in Christ.  The question of who James is still asked by many New Testament biblical scholars of James.  This question may never be answered until some future manuscripts are uncovered at some timely hour. I think it would be very interesting if it was discovered that James was the brother of Jesus.  That would definitely paint an interesting picture of the theology of Jesus himself—a law-oriented and moralistic Jesus?  God forbid.

Slightly related to this topic is another important issue concerning James.  Was James written as a response to Paulinism? If James was written before the time of the Apostle Paul, one should address the question of whether or not Pauline theology was a reaction to the moralisms of James.  On the other hand, if this letter was already in existence during the time of St. Paul and was known to him during the time of the Apostle Paul, it does cause me to wonder if Paul may have reacted to this letter of James.  This would also depend upon how widely known the teachings of James were within the early church.  Due to our popular Reformational-thinking, scholars most often seem to assume that the letter of James was a reaction to Pauline theology, rather than the other way around.  McCartney states: “Most scholars who view James as a reaction see it more as a reaction to a later development of Paul’s thinking than to Paul himself” (p.53).  I like his suggestion of Dunn’s strong position: ‘that what is reflected here is a controversy within Judaism—between that stream of Jewish Christianity which was represented by James at Jerusalem on the one hand, and the Gentile churches or Hellenistic  Jewish Christians who had been decisively influenced by Paul on the other’ (p. 54). If James is only read on its own terms rather than as a reaction to Paul or Paulinism, what fun would that be?

Such questions are widely entertained by N.T. scholars and we may never find an answer to this unless new manuscripts or extra-biblical documents surface.  If so, has Paul’s teachings on justification been misunderstood? If so, James may have wanted to provide a corrective in this letter.  We may find ourselves obsessed with defending against the issue that so defines evangelicals and the churches of the Reformation—that faith must never be dependent upon works.  Author, Dan McCartney, does not believe that James is addressing the issue of Paulinism.  He states:

“…the Gospels give plenty of indication that Jesus constantly encountered Jews who, though they paid lip service to the law, failed to perceive and practice its priorities.  The kinds of works of faith that both James and Jesus propound are things such as showing no favouritism, caring for the destitute, showing mercy, avoiding judgmentalism, and the like…. James’s true target is neither the Pauline notion of justification by faith nor even a perversion of it; rather, it is the endemic and widespread problem of hypocrisy” (p.36).

Given McCartney’s position, I do not know if he is would agree with the New Perspective on Paul (NPP), but it certainly would support this similar issue in NPP.  The author states that “even if James is addressing a purely Jewish audience, there is no reason why James’s diatribe against ‘faith without works’ has to be a reaction to Paul or a misunderstanding of Paul.  It could very well be simply another echo of the teachings of Jesus” (p.55).  This is very likely because James, who likely had a Jewish outlook, was also acculturated into the Hellenic world.  McCartney reasons this saying: “Thus, as a good preacher who ‘stands between two worlds,’ applying Scripture (the OT and Jesus’ teaching) to a world different from that in which Scripture (both the OT and Jesus’ teaching) was originally given, James speaks the wisdom of God using the forms, imagery, and rhetorical devices of Hellenism” (p.56).  His rationale makes total sense.  He positions himself in support of James being someone who “seeks to evoke from those who claim to have faith the kind of behaviour that manifests faith.” Maybe it is simply the admonition of practical behaviour, rather than an overly-complicated theological argument that we’ve made it to be.

There are so many issues that could be discussed in this post but I’m limited to space. I’ve enjoyed reviewing this commentary because McCartney has touched on many important issues. I would recommend this commentary on James to anyone who wishes to take a closer look at the various questions raised by biblical scholars.  The author certainly covers many here in this great addition to the BECNT commentary series.

WJK’s New Testament Library: Philippians and Philemon by Charles B. Cousar

Philippians and Philemon: A Commentary.  The New Testament Library.
Author: Charles B. Cousar
Publisher:  Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 2009
ISBN-13: 9780664221225

First, I would like to thank for fine people at Presbyterian Publishing Corp for sending me this commentary to review.

When I first saw this commentary, the first thing I noticed was how brief the book was: 112 pages in length.  It is a compact introduction of Philippians covers the basic points of this epistle.  Well, given that fact that Philippians is not a long letter, I am amazed that some commentators can write 800 pages on this epistle.  However, given the nature of the NTL/OTL series of commentaries, it provides the necessary basics and does not aim to go too much into depth.  It is ideal for pastors and students who want a basic understanding of this epistle without too much detailed reading.  This is even shorter than the Pillar commentary.

For a detailed study, I would suggest the Anchor Bible (AB) by John Reumann, NICNT by Gordon Fee, or NIGTC by Peter O’Brien.  For an intermediate study, try Word (WBC) by Gerald Hawthrone, or Baker (BECNT) by Moises Silva.  If you have time to read and sift through all the details, then that’s fine.

Charles B. Cousar, Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary, provides readers with the traditional components expected of a commentary’s introduction—location, authorship and integrity, place and date of writing, character and structure of the writing, an outline, the opponents, its main message and theme.

The author starts off his introduction revealing the theme of Philippians as being joy.  This gives me a good impression about Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.  It tells the reader that the writer of this epistle was a person who will hope-filled rather than one who was burdened down with suffering.  Suffering in the midst of hope and joy is what the suffering church needs to hear—even today.

Cousar is not so much concerned about the literary structure of Philippians.  He seems more concerned about the theology and context of Philippians.  He believes the authorship is Pauline, which is the majority view.  The probable places of writing are Rome, Caesarea, and Ephesus; he leans toward Ephesus.

Cousar states: “Paul uses an inordinately high number of exhortations to encourage the Philippians in their task to remain faithful and steadfast” (p. 13).  This observation needs to be felt rather than seen.  It is a subjective opinion but I would agree with Cousar.  The epistle does have an exhortative feel to it.

The author also sites Robert Jewett’s proposal “that these preachers who compete with Paul were itinerants, who believe that valid apostles should exhibit extraordinary phenomena such as having ecstatic visions and working miracles” (p. 15).  This is only one of four traditional criteria of a genuine apostle.   Cousar lays out the basic characteristics of Paul’s opponents; however, he doesn’t go into the popular identities and philosophical details about them.  For this commentary series, it is enough.

I like the point that Cousar makes concerning the message of the Christ hymn.  He states:

The text does not ask that an extraordinary virtue, such as humility, be abstracted from the story and made a virtue to be emulated.  Rather the whole story, including the eschatological worship of Jesus as Lord, takes on a mind-shaping role.  To be sure, the Christ hymn serves a serves a parenetic function to exhort the readers to look not to their own interests but to the interests of others (p. 18, 19).

This is a good point.  It is easy to center on Paul’s obvious traits and point to them as if they were meant to be exemplary for us.  On the other hand, if humility is not held to be an exemplary model, it might, however, be one of many points for Christians to model after.  Paul’s point of being a model to imitate (3:17) may also refer to many other things, including his reliance on God’s grace.  However, I am tempted to include the trait of humility into the list to imitate anyway.

Regarding the subjective genitive phrase “through the faith of Christ,” as opposed to, the objective genitive “through faith in Christ” in 3:9, Cousar takes a safe neutral opinion and concludes that it is inconclusive.  For Christians of the Reformation, the tendency is to lean toward a reading of “through faith in Christ.”  Personally, this is my theological tendency.  However, after reading commentaries on Romans and Galatians regarding this same issue, I, too, remain inconclusive…maybe even more confused or uncertain, which can be a good thing sometimes.

The author briefly brings up the possibility of 3:20-21being a pre-Pauline hymn or creedal fragment.  Keeping this point brief is sufficient. Personally, I can’t see this being a hymn and would not even entertain this possibility.  Other commentaries cast doubt on 3:20-21 as being a hymn.

I have enjoyed using this compact commentary on Philippians because I get the important issues quickly without doing too much reading.  As a pastor with less time to spare than before, this commentary from the NTL series is perfect for pastors who want to save time.

New commentary on Romans by Prof. Craig Keener

It’s been a while but I need to get back to blogging. I’ve been busy since Christmas and finally have  some time to breath now.

Nijay Gupta posted his interview with Dr. Craig Keener, Professor of N.T. Theology at Palmer Theological Seminary (Pt.1 here and Pt.2 here) [Hat tip: Brian].   Prof. Craig Keener has a new commentary on Romans that I am considering adding to my list of future books to get.  Romans is my favorite book for study.  I currently have commentaries by Fitzmyer, and Schreiner and Dunn in electronic format.  I thought about getting the new one by Jewett but that’s on the pricy side.  However, I may consider getting Keener’s commentary because it’s concise.  These days, time is more valuable and getting the important points quickly is more important to me these days.

Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Mark by Robert H. Stein

Series: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
Author: Robert H. Stein
Publisher: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008.
ISBN: 0-8010-2682-2
ISBN13: 978-0-8010-2682-9

I would like to thank the fine people at Baker Publishing for sending me a review copy of Mark from the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.   The author, Professor Dr. Robert H. Stein, is Senior Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY.  He previously taught at Bethel Seminary and is a reknown scholar on the synoptic gospels.  He has authored other books including: An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus, The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings, Difficult Passages in the New Testament, Luke (New American Commentary), A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible, Studying the Synoptic Gospels: Origin and Interpretation and The Synoptic Problem: An Introduction. He was one of the N.T. consultants for the ESV Study Bible.

John Mark is traditionally known as the writer of the Gospel of Mark but Robert H. Stein is open to accrediting its authorship to another Mark.  Stein looks at the internal evidence, as well as, external evidence.  According to internal evidence, Stein says that “it fits well the tradition of the early church that it was written by John Mark.”  Stein also refers to external evidence: (Papias in Eusebius, Eusebius, the Anti-Marcionite Prologue, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, Jerome).  However, he also raised arguments against Markan authorship in looking at an alleged geographical error (Mk. 12:25-13:4) and the author’s ignorance of Jewish laws and customs (Mk. 7:3-4).  However, for me personally, it doesn’t matter if it was the John Mark of Acts 12:12 or another Mark.  I still regard the Gospel of Mark as holy scripture: inspired by the Spirit of God and authoritative for the church of Christ.

Stein believes the second gospel was directed to an audience of Greek-speaking Christians, likely living in Rome, who were familiar with the gospel traditions and very knowledgeable about the Jewish religion.  The date of the writing of the Gospel of Mark is still debated.  It was likely written around (AD) 70 CE but Stein is open to the possibility of some time shortly after 62 CE.  Internal evidence pointing to allusions of the Jewish War in Mark 13 “abomination of desolation” also makes sense.  I think some time around 68/69 CE after Nero’s death was likely.

Stein also believes that Mark was the first canonical Gospel written, and along with Q, served as a source for both the gospels of Matthew and Luke.  He is of the opinion that:

…a cautious use of redaction criticism in Mark is both possible and profitable….Traditional redaction criticism is nevertheless not as holistic a discipline as it first seems, for it is primarily concerned not with the evangelist’s theology as a whole but rather with his unique theological contribution (p. 18).

Stein sees Mark as an historical narrative but not a narrative in the fictional sense because of the historicity of its accounts.    The historical events surrounding Jesus’ life controlled what Mark could write or not write.  Stein seems to feel more comfortable describing the Gospel of Mark as an historical biography.  As a result, he wrote this commentary for the purpose of explaining what Mark was trying to teach through his sayings and the events in the gospel. He did not write this commentary to show exactly what Jesus said or explain the life  of Jesus.  So perhaps a biography rather than a narrative would be more accurate but both terms accurately describe this gospel.

Steins view of Mark’s Christology is formed out of his miracles, words, actions and titles—typical things; but what intrigued me was his view of Jesus’ “messianic secret.”  I had never paid much attention to Mark’s Jesus who was reluctant to reveal his secret messianic identity, which was kept secret until the trial and crucifixion in Mark 14:61-64; 15:2-39.  He gives his reasons for this—for averting an immediate confrontation with Rome because Pilate would not tolerate a popular charismatic teacher who drew the attention of the masses.  This shows that Jesus was not killed as a political revolutionary.  Stein says he was killed because of the hostility of the religious leaders.  Second, Jesus’ messianic secrecy serves as a “literary device to highlight the greatness and glory of Jesus” (p. 25). Since Jesus is too great to be kept a secret, this inability to keep his messianic mission a secret, in itself, becomes the literary device.  This point is an interesting spin worth noting.

The commentary provides both Greek spellings and a transliteration of the original Greek.  Stein pays attention to the Greek.  Concerning Mark 9:31, he states:

The use of the iterative imperfect…indicates that the subject of Jesus’s future passion, death, and resurrection had been a constant theme of his teaching since 8:31…Thus the variation in the passion predictions could have a historical basis in Jesus’s having taught this “theme with variations.” The use of the futuristic present tense “will be delivered” … indicates the certainty of this future event” (p.439).

This is something that most readers and pastors do not pay attention to so I appreciate this attention.

Stein questions the authenticity of passages.  Regarding the disputed verse of Mark 10:45, he draws attention to its interpretation and authenticity.  He states:

The question of whether 10:45 is due to the theological reflection of the early church or came from Jesus himself tends ultimately to be answered according to one’s preconceptions concerning the historical Jesus.  If one assumes the historical Jesus was radically different from the Jesus of the Gospels, then one is predisposed, almost compelled, to deny the authenticity of this verse….It is much more likely that Jesus saw his mission along the lines of the suffering servant of Isaiah… (p. 487).

Given the approach of the BECNT series, Stein is allowed to challenge the status quo but he does not allow himself to get caught up in challenging the status quo for the sake of staking new ground in one’s research.   In liberal biblical theology, new discoveries for the sake of new research seems to be the ultimate goal, but it risks putting authenticity on the line which can actually lead to inauthentic scholarship.  Stein’s approach to theology is conservative but he takes into account the latest critical scholarship.  This gives me reason to remain confident in the new evangelical scholarship.

Stein also covers the important issues like historicity by mentioning various viewpoints.  Regarding the widow’s great gift in 12:41-44, Stein states:

The historicity of the account is often denied on the basis that Jesus could not have known how much the widow contributed to the treasury or that the widow had contributed all that she had (Haenchen 1966: 432-33).  In addition, some claim that the present account was originally a parable that has been transformed into a historical account (Dibelius 1934: 261; Nineham 1963: 334-35).  Yet Jesus might have known of the amount of the widow’s gift by overhearing the attending priest, who would have examined the widow’s offering and directed it to the appropriate receptacle.  All that transpired would have been spoken out loud (Gundry 1993: 731-34; J. Edwards 2002: 380-81).  The widow’s appearance may also have betrayed her situation (Evans 2001: 284) (p. 577).

The BECNT series doesn’t allow the reader to get lost in the forest of details (as some commentaries, e.g., WBC, ICC, may have a tendency to).  I like that because I can get the big picture and pick up on the pertinent issues of a text rather than wade through a sea of details.  Personally, I prefer a commentary that deals with the big picture of a pericope without getting bogged down with too many details.  Much of the details are useless to the heart and thrust of a sermon anyway.  What is the point of spending valuable time reading from commentaries and not be able to use the information one has learned?  Stein’s research is thorough and he references other scholars. He pays attention to existing scholarship, yet, he is able to keep the commentary in a succinct format that brings out the important points.

Robert H. Stein has written a fine commentary on the Gospel of Mark.  Stein leads the reader through the important points in detail while keeping the eye on the big picture.  I like this approach.  This is good for pastors who want to get the important and relevant information faster.  I am impressed with this commentary, and I am confident that as this series expands, BECNT will become established as one of the top premier commentary series in evangelical scholarship.  Another fine piece of work for Baker Academic!

Tyndale’s Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Volume 17: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Hebrews

1 Timothy: Linda Belleville, MA, PhD, Professor of Greek and New Testament at Bethel College
2 Timothy, Titus: Jon C. Laansma, MDiv, PhD, Associate Professor of Ancient Languages and New Testament at Wheaton College
Hebrews: J. Ramsay Michaels, ThM, ThD, Professor of Religious Studies Emeritus at Missouri State University

Publisher: Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2009
ISBN: 9780842383455

I would like to thank Laura Bartlett at Tyndale for sending me this volume of the commentary.

The Cornerstone Biblical Commentary is based on the New Living Translation (2007) and is authored by nearly 100 biblical scholars; some of them were also participants in the NLT translation. This commentary series, published by Tyndale House, is new to me personally. It is quite good and readable biblical commentary. It seems to be aimed at a wider audience, and not just pastors who know how to read Greek or Hebrew. It uses transliteration of the original language, rather than, Greek or Hebrew. I know this will be a welcome addition on the bookshelves of pastors and students of the bible, who have never learned the original biblical languages. I would even suggest it is very useful and usable for the average layperson. Even though it is easy to read, it is not a commentary that is elementary; rather, it is a serious commentary aimed to provide biblical research and interpretation for pastors preparing sermons and studies.

First, on Hebrews. J. Ramsay Michaels does not rule out Pauline authorship but he does say that “the likelihood is that the real author was in fact one of Paul’s followers or associates,” which is why Hebrews is classified as “Deuteron-Pauline.” Michaels speculates toward Timothy as author because he briefly presents a case for Timothy as author or at least co-author. However, he is careful not to state his opinion as fact.

In Michaels’ opinion, the genre of Hebrews is a letter of exhortation. Actually, he says it is the only complete Christian sermon in the New Testament. “Possibly, it was preached in one setting and then transcribed for a different audience in another place, but more likely it was a literary creation composed specifically to be read aloud to a specific congregation,” says Michaels. He continues by saying:

“Hebrews is a written sermon, the earliest full-length Christian sermon that we possess, meant to be read aloud, probably to a congregation known to the author. It is written in elegant Hellenistic Greek, resembling some of the treatises of Philo of Alexandria and various speeches recorded in the writings of Josephus” (p. 314).

Others theorize that Apollos or Stephen might also be authors. Michaels has researched Hebrews and his background knowledge on this epistle conveys this.

Michaels recognizes the ambiguity of the epistle’s intended audience. Many believe that the audience were Jewish Christians, or even gentile converts to Judaism who then converted to Christianity. He does not make many claims but he does come through as a defender of the traditional notion of the suffering Messiah.

“Far from downplaying Jesus’ suffering on the cross, Hebrews accents it more than any other New Testament book but does it in a way that Jesus is presented not as a victim or passive sufferer but as High Priest and active Redeemer in shedding blood on the cross. This is the distinctive contribution of Hebrews to the New Testament theology of the Cross, and the author’s purpose may have been to respond to the danger that Christ might be seen as a weak or helpless Messiah, and therefore as no Messiah at all” (p.317).

This is my favorite line from Michaels, to which I give him kudos. He presents a good commentary on Hebrews and discusses the important issues in his commentary.

Belleville and Laansma seem to support Paul as the author of the Pastoral Epistles (First and Second Timothy, Titus). They indicate their support for Pauline authorship through internal support of autobiographical comments, structures, vocabulary, phraseology, historical, and other distinctive characteristics.

Belleville and Laansma identify the major themes in 1 Timothy as: God, Christ, Holy Spirit, salvation, righteousness, piety and wholesome teaching, and heresy. I have wondered why the pastoral epistles are called as such; I have found the answer to this question. They state that:

“One of the theological distinctive of the Pastorals lies in its pietistic language and creedal emphasis. The Greek word eusebaia (and its various forms), commonly translated “godliness” or “religious,” is found 13 times in the Pastorals” (p.19).

It was interesting to learn that canonical support for the Pastorals is extremely high (exceeded only by Romans and 1 Corinthians). They state:

“The Pastorals were known and used at the turn of the century by Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna (c. AD 156), Justin Martyr (c. 165), and Heracleon (second century)….All the church canons except for Marcion’s contain the Pastorals….The Pastorals are found among the 13 Pauline letters in the Canon of Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 350), the Cheltenham list (c. 360), the canon approved by the Synod of Laodiceans (363), Canon 85 of the Apostolic Constitutions (c. 380), the Canon of Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 380), and the Third Council of Carthage(397)” (p. 14).

I often hear of Romans and 1 Corinthians being the two most canonical letters of Paul but I will now add 1Timothy to my list of canonical epistles.

In chapter 3 of the 1 Timothy commentary, Belleville and Laansma view “bishop” as a mistranslation of episkopos. They say:

“What we do not find in the Pastorals is anything like the second-century monarchical episcopate, although this is often read into the roles of Timothy and Titus…Nor do we find anything like our modern concept of a bishop. The fluidity with which overseer and elder are mentioned in these letters speaks decisively against distinctive and official roles” (p. 5).

This challenges the commonly used “bishop” designation in many of our mainline churches. I agree that episkopos has a pastoral aspect, but I believe that our modern-day bishops also do the ergon (“work”) of an episocopate; they do not merely carry the office of an episcopate.

Belleville, Laansma and Michaels have done a very good job of the pastoral epistles and Hebrews in this volume. I like how the commentary leads the reader through the text in structured way, passage by passage. The commentary does not seem to deal with the form and structures in the text but it does provide more interpretation of the text. It seems to provide the reader with interpretation and discusses the meaning of the scriptural passage. Interpretation will benefit preachers and students of the bible who will be preparing sermons. I have been pleasantly surprised by this commentary. If this is indicative of the entire series, I can safely predict that Tyndale will do very well in producing a fine commentary series in the upcoming future volumes. Congratulations Tyndale!

General editor, Philip W. Comfort, states:

“The commentators represent a wide spectrum of theological positions within the evangelical community. We believe this is good because it reflects the rich variety in Christ’s church. All the commentators uphold the authority of God’s word and believe it is essential to heed the old adage: ‘Wholly apply yourself to the Scriptures and apply them wholly to you.”