ESV Archaeology Study Bible | Book Review


The Bible is God’s Word in human words. As God’s Word, it is inspired and inerrant, the final authority for what Christians believe and how they behave. As God’s Word in human words, it reflects the time and place of its original composition. Interpreting Scripture correctly, then, means understanding both its divine message and its human forms.

Archaeology is one of several academic disciplines that help us do the latter. The interpretive fruit of archaeological investigation is evident in the recently published ESV Archaeology Study Bible, edited by John D. Currid and David W. Chapman. Notable features include the following:

  • introductory essays to the Old Testament and the New Testament, as well as to the books within each testament;
  • notes on individual biblical passages showing how archaeological studies illuminate their meaning;
  • sidebars about specific people, places and concepts mentioned within the text;
  • photos, maps, diagrams and charts to illustrate places, things and events;
  • articles on topics related to biblical archaeology as a discipline;
  • and a glossary, a bibliography, indexes and a brief concordance.

From the outset, the editors identify three “foundational pillars” that characterize their work: “biblical orthodoxy,” “academic integrity” and “accessibility.” They affirm the historicity of Scripture, but they also note instances where archaeologists disagree on the time, place and meaning of biblical events. Most importantly, they show how archaeology helps readers better understand the biblical text’s original context. Let me offer three examples.

First, covenants. The Bible makes repeated references to covenants. For example, referring to the giving of the Ten Commandments, Moses says, “The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb” (Deuteronomy 5:2, ESV). Archaeologists have discovered a number of second-millennium B.C. Hittite covenants between a suzerain and a vassal. These suzerain-vassal treaties lay out the reciprocal rights and duties each has toward the other, though the relationship is not egalitarian. The suzerain is clearly in charge.

What’s interesting about these Hittite treaties for our purposes is that Deuteronomy is organized roughly like one of them. For example, the treaty between the Hittite King Mursili II and his Amurru subject Duppi-Tessub contains five elements: preamble, historical prologue, stipulations or commandments, witnesses and sanctions, both positive (blessings) and negative (curses). Deuteronomy similarly has a preamble (1:1–5), historical prologue (1:6–4:49), stipulations (5:1–26:19), witnesses (31:19–22; 32:45–47) and sanctions (27:9–30:20).

Obviously, there are differences between Deuteronomy and the Hittite treaties. Moses was a monotheist; Hittites were polytheists. Deuteronomy is a covenant between God and His people, whereas the other treaties were between a human overlord and other human subjects. Still, it is helpful to know that when God revealed himself to the Israelites, He did so in a cultural form that they would understand.

Second, parables. Jesus Christ is famous for His story parables — e.g., the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32). Interestingly, the only other people to use story parables during this period were Jewish rabbis. They used them to explain Old Testament texts, introducing them with the formula, “To what may the matter be compared?” The Talmud records hundreds of these parables, and all of them are in Hebrew, even though the commentary about them is in Aramaic.

How does this help us understand New Testament parables? For one thing, it helps us understand that when Jesus taught His disciples, He used a well-established Jewish form of teaching — the story parable. For another thing, though the rabbis used parables to elucidate the meaning of the Law, Jesus used them to help His listeners understand the advent of the kingdom of God. Note Luke 13:18,20, for example, where Jesus asked: “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it?” and “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God?” (ESV).

Finally, Jesus’ use of story parables may hint at the fact that He taught in Hebrew. New Testament scholars often say that Aramaic was the lingua franca of the Holy Land in the first century A.D. That’s true to an extent and is reflected in the Gospels. Jesus uttered words and/or phrases in Aramaic (e.g., Mark 5:41; 15:34), certain place names in Jerusalem were in Aramaic (e.g., John 19:13), and Aramaic phrases even made it into the liturgical language of the Early Church (e.g., 1 Corinthians 16:22). But if Jesus’ use of story parables paralleled the rabbis’ well-established form of teaching, and if the rabbis told parables in Hebrew (even long after the first century A.D.), then it stands to reason that Jesus told His parables in Hebrew, too.

Third, the Erastus Inscription. I recently had the opportunity to travel through Greece, retracing Paul’s steps around the Aegean on his second missionary journey. One of our stops was Corinth, a city whose church Paul founded and in which he spent 18 months of fruitful ministry (Acts 18:1–17). Paul wrote two letters to the church in this city (1 and 2 Corinthians), and it is likely that he wrote his magnum opus, Romans, from this city.

Our guide walked us through an overgrown field of grass until he came to a roped-off pavement. Pointing down, he read what’s left of a mid-first-century A.D. inscription discovered in 1929: “ERASTVS. PRO. AED. S. P. STRAVIT.” That’s an abbreviated Latin sentence. When translated, it says, “Erastus in return for his aedileship paved it at his own expense.” (An aedile was a public official in charge of public buildings and, in Corinth, the famous Isthmian Games.)

Interestingly, in Romans 16:23, Paul sends greetings to the Roman church from one “Erastus, the city treasurer,” using the Greek word oikonomos rather than the Latin word aedile (ESV). It’s not certain, but it is quite possible that the Erastus of the inscription is the Erastus of Scripture, whom other New Testament passages identify as a coworker of Paul’s (Acts 19:22; 2 Timothy 4:20).

The value of the Erastus Inscription is not so much that it confirms the existence of a person mentioned in the New Testament. Rather, its value is that it shapes our understanding of the sociology of the Early Church. Sometimes, we think of early Christianity as a movement of poor people with little social influence, which it largely was. But Christ drew converts from all segments of society, including wealthier public officials such as Erastus. This helps us better understand some of the tensions between richer and poorer members that strained the fabric of Corinthian church unity (e.g., 1 Corinthians 11:17–34). I’m not suggesting that Erastus participated in this division, by the way. I’m only pointing out that there can’t be division between rich and poor in the church if there aren’t both rich and poor within the church in the first place.

In many ways, we live in a golden age of biblical interpretation, at least from the standpoint of what we can know about the world of the Bible. The ESV Archaeology Study Bible is an excellent, one-volume reference work that brings to bear the results of archaeological investigation on the necessary responsibility of reading the sacred text in light of its ancient context. Given the amount of useful information the ESV Archaeology Study Bible contains, it is reasonably priced and will repay careful study.

Book Reviewed
ESV Archaeology Study Bible, ed. John D. Currid and David W. Chapman (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018).

P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

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An Unhurried Leader | Book Review


As the father of three children under 9 years of age, I often find myself in a hurry. A few days ago, for example, I got home from work, grabbed a sandwich and headed back out the door to take my son to baseball practice. One of the other dads was envious that I at least got a sandwich — he was too hurried even to eat.

“Life moves pretty fast,” that great theologian Ferris Bueller once said. “If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Three hundred years earlier, John Ray wrote something similar: “Haste makes waste, and waste makes want, and want makes strife between the good man and his wife.”

In short, we hurry to get more but end up getting less.

The solution is to slow down. Alan Fadling wrote about following Jesus’ rhythm of work and rest in his 2013 book, An Unhurried Life. Now, he returns with An Unhurried Leader to show what “grace-paced leadership” looks like. Hint: It isn’t hurried. Also, leadership isn’t limited to people with full-time ministry jobs. “We need not have a position of influence to be a person of influence,” he writes.

Fadling defines unhurried leadership as “a process of learning to work in harmony with the purposes of God. It is also the awareness that so much of what God does begins in people’s hearts.” Truly Christian leadership, in other words, is heart-work, and heart-work takes lots of time. This is true whether we’re talking about the hearts of the people we’re leading — or our own hearts.

For this reason, Fadling spends most of the book helping leaders unhurry. If we’re hasty with ourselves, we’ll be hasty with others, and we all know what haste makes. To unhurry us, Fadling turns to Scripture to show us what God’s purposes for us are and how those purposes change the way we lead others.

Chapter 5, “Questions That Unhurry Leaders,” made a deep impression on me, so let me share a bit more about it. Fadling uses the five questions Paul asks in Romans 8:31–35 to illuminate “deep truths” about life and leadership. Here are the questions and the truths about God’s purposes they demonstrate:

  • “If God is for us, who can be against us?” demonstrates God’s “unfailing favor.”
  • “How will he not also, along with Christ, graciously give us all things?” illuminates God’s “unfathomable generosity.”
  • “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?” identifies God’s “unending justification.”
  • “Who then is the one who condemns?” illustrates Christ’s “unceasing intercession” for us.
  • “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” reminds us of God’s “unconditional love.”

These “deep truths” resonate with the soul of every Christian. What makes Fadling’s treatment of them unique is that he shows how they change the way we do leadership as Christians.

Take the first question, for example: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Fadling comments: “It’s remarkable how many Christian leaders have found themselves, in some blurry and ill-defined way, trying to earn God’s favor or to prove their worth to him or parents or a spouse, or perhaps to themselves. But God is already for us … If that’s true, then who or what in this world could effectively stand against us?”

Leaders who allow God’s favor, generosity, justification, intercession and love to sink deeply into their hearts lead differently than those who don’t. Their leadership comes to be marked by those same qualities as well. In that sense, unhurried leadership is “overflow leadership.” Citing John 7:37–39, Fadling writes: “What I bring to Jesus as a thirst can be transformed into more refreshment and life than I can possibly hold. That abundance, that excess, that overflow can become manifest in my work, my service, my leadership.”

The key thing, then, is for Christian leaders to let Jesus into their hearts. Does that sound too simple? Perhaps. Then again, I was amazed at how often An Unhurried Leader opened my eyes to things in my heart that are crowding out Jesus and thus misshaping my influence. I hope it will do the same for you.

 

Book Reviewed:
Alan Fadling, An Unhurried Leader: The Lasting Fruit of Daily Influence (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2017).

P.S. This review was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

P.P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review.

Review of ‘Doubt, Faith, and Certainty’ by Anthony C. Thiselton


Anthony C. Thiselton’s Doubt, Faith, and Certainty is not a practical book. It does not teach Christians how to overcome their doubts, increase their faith and achieve certainty. Instead, it examines the definitions of each of those three terms, painting a complex, nuanced portrait of them using the colors of Scripture, theology and philosophy.

The author is professor emeritus of Christian theology at the University of Nottingham, England. He is best known for his books on hermeneutics or interpretation, especially The Two Horizons. In addition to his hermeneutics books, he has published New Testament commentaries and several volumes on theological topics.

Thiselton opens the book by noting, “It is a practical disaster that in popular thought some view all doubt as a sign of weakness and lack of faith; while others, by contrast, extol doubt as always a sign of mature, sophisticated reflection.” Something similar could be said of the terms faith and certainty. By contrast, Thiselton’s “simple message” in this book is that “none of these terms has a uniform meaning, or has a uniform function in life. They have a variety of meanings.”

Doubt, Faith, and Certainty’s purpose is to tease out their various meanings and functions. While defining terms is not, in and of itself, a practical enterprise, Thiselton states that it nevertheless constitutes “an immensely practical and potentially liberating pastoral and intellectual issue.” Read the book for yourself to see whether and how that’s true.

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Book Reviewed: Anthony C. Thiselton, Doubt, Faith, and Certainty (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2017).

P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

Review of ‘Finding the Will of God’ by Bruce K. Waltke


Finding_the_Will_of_God_350Bruce K. Waltke, Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion? 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016).

In this book, Bruce K. Waltke asks a provocative question: “Is finding God’s will a biblical idea?” He concludes that it is not. Indeed, he claims that phrases such as “finding God’s will” and “seeking the will of God” reflect “a pagan notion” and amount to “divination,” which the Bible condemns. This is a strong claim, of course—perhaps a bit too strong.

On the other hand, Waltke is right to point out at least two faulty assumptions in the notion of “finding God’s will.” The first is that God makes His will difficult to know. When Christians become anxious about “finding God’s will,” they are implicitly saying that God hasn’t made His will known to them or that He is hiding it or that it is, in some sense, “lost” and in need of “finding.” But do such implications square with the character of God as revealed in the Bible?

“If we really believe in God as the perfectly loving Father,” Waltke writes, “we can do away with our notions of him as an almighty manipulator and con man who never quite lets us discover his will. God is not a magician or trickster. God loves us enough that he sent his Son to die on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. So does it make sense that he would play games with his children, hiding his will?”

Another faulty assumption with “finding God’s will” has to do with people’s motivation. Waltke relates a conversation he had with a young man who was “seeking God’s will.” He says, “I asked that young man who his god is. Is it the Almighty God, who created us and in love sent his Son to die on the cross for us? Or is it personal success, with the right car, the perfect home, and the ideal job? God is more interested in my holiness than in my success.”

I once saw an Instagram meme with the first of Campus Crusade’s “Four Spiritual Laws” printed in the foreground: “God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life.” In the background was the picture of a Christian facing lions in the Roman Colosseum. It’s a funny way of making a serious point: Sometimes, God’s will for His people involves suffering, pain, and even death. As Paul wrote in Philippians 3:10: “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”

God-Loves-you-and-has-a-wonderful-plan

Given that most people interested in “finding God’s will” want to avoid that kind of outcome, you can see why Waltke thinks “finding God’s will” is a “pagan notion.”

The antidote to “finding God’s will” is “following the guidance of God.” Waltke begins with the assumption that God reveals His will for us in Scripture. “What God desires from each of us [is] that we humbly think his thoughts; in this way we humbly learn to obey him.” Once we have learned God’s will from Scripture, we turn to what we desire to do. “God created you,” Waltke writes, “and if you have the mind of Christ, he shapes your perspective and character.” Often God leaves decisions up to the Christ-shaped choices of His followers. In that sense, Waltke affirms what Augustine wrote centuries ago: “Love God and do what you want.” After the Bible and personal desire, Waltke discusses “wise counsel” from others, “circumstances, “sound reasoning,” and “miraculous interventions.” People whose thoughts are shaped by Scripture, whose desires are formed in Christlikeness, who receive advice from godly believers, who make the most of the circumstances God has placed them in, who uses their brain, and who responds affirmatively when God miraculously leads them are following God’s guidance. They are doing God’s will.

As a Pentecostal, I read Waltke’s book with people in my “tribe” in mind. Pentecostals are Bible people through and through, but there are also restless people in our Movement who are always looking for the latest communiqué from God—a sign, a voice, a vision—about what to do next. Waltke’s book is a good counterbalance to that tendency, a reminder that Scripture is “the infallible, authoritative rule of faith and conduct,” in the words of the Assemblies of God’s Statement of Fundamental Truths. While Waltke—a Calvinist theologian—is open to miraculous interventions, my guess is that he would say that they happen less frequently than we say they do. Pentecostal readers need to keep this difference of emphasis and experience in mind as they read his book.

Still, I recommend Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion? It challenges faulty assumptions about “finding God’s will” and sketches an easy-to-remember framework for “following the guidance of God.” It would make a good resource for a sermon series on the will of God, though Pentecostals will want to tweak it here and there. Discussion questions at the end of each chapter make it appropriate for small group use too.

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P.S. This review first appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.