A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel Realized is the second Bible introduction released this year from RTS scholars both past and present. As with the OT volume, this introduction is designed for all Christians and unafraid of reading the Bible as a whole and with theological presuppositions.
A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament
Each New Testament book receives its own chapter (even Philemon), except surprisingly, 1 and 2 Corinthians are joined and, less surprisingly, 1-3 John are joined. There are also five appendices that examine the NT canon, NT textual criticism, the Synoptic Problem, the NT use of the OT, and a bibliography of the Bible translations used in the volume.
In terms of layout and feel, this volume is much like the corresponding Old Testament introduction that I also reviewed. There is less focus on provenance and scholarly discussions such as text-critical issues. Instead, the focus is on the theological message of the book. The content is aimed at a wide audience and complicated material is discussed in the footnotes. The greatest difference between the two volumes lies in the appendices. In contrast to the OT volume, this has much more directly relevant appendices for a Bible introduction. A smaller difference is that there is less variety in the authors than the OT volume.
Another difference is that the authors’ Reformed persuasions are regularly foregrounded in the New Testament. For example, Covenantal theology, Calvinism, and varieties of eschatology all make more regular appearances. The latter is most clearly seen in the Amillennial reading of Revelation. However, one does not sense the authors attempting to find Reformed theology under every rock; the scholarship of this volume is far too strong to fall into that trap. In other words, Reformed theology is naturally present, but not imposed. This will be more or less of a problem depending on one’s own theological persuasions and patience in reading others’.
In terms of stand-out chapters, Benjamin Gladd’s on Mark and Colossians were particularly conversant with and appreciative of a wide-range of modern and non-Reformed scholarship. I anticipate returning to these. I also enjoyed Charles Hill’s work on 1-3 John and Revelation, the latter being an intelligible and clear (though Amillennial) summary a difficult book. Other chapters contain solid discussions of the books and their contents. I found Simon Kistemaker’s chapter on Hebrews odd because of his repeated insistence that Hebrews alone addresses Jesus’ priesthood. This seems a minor point, but it does appear to drive the chapter, even in dating the book post-70AD, since “perhaps because none of the apostles felt free to discuss the priesthood of Christ” (p412) until “the priesthood came to an end [in AD70]” (p411). This is despite his recognition that “not even John mentions the subject” (p412), though most date his Gospel or at least Revelation later than Hebrews! Of course, this is a small complaint in a large book.
The appendices are all very welcome additions to this book, increasing its overall value. The appendix on the NT canon is by Michael Kruger, a leading scholar (evangelical or otherwise) in this field. The same goes for Charles Hill, who introduces NT textual criticism. The chapters on the Synoptic Problem (the relationship of the first three Gospels) and the NT use of the OT are also clear and readable for such complicated topics. It is fortunate that these issues will reach such a wide audience, as the church at large would benefit from being conversant with them.
The authors of A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament should be proud for releasing a valuable book for readers of all levels. Whenever scholarship benefits the church, it is a thing to rejoice. Even if one is not Reformed, most would happily enjoy and benefit from the majority of this book. Why not buy both OT and NT volumes and go re-read the Bible with these as introductions to each book?
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Many thanks to Crossway for providing a review copy.
“Quiet times”. For some, the term may be fluffy and unintelligible Christianeze. Or perhaps it provokes a pang of guilt for a neglected New Year resolution. For others, though, quiet time is a helpful and even crucial part of their day. For myself, neither regular study nor teaching can substitute my need for open-hearted prayer and Bible reading. Resources like Bible reading plans or the infamous “devotional” can provide helpful guidance or freshness. However, devotionals are often less interested in leading the reader to the rich springs of Scripture and more with jolting them with a sugary soda rush with which to start the day. What if a devotional were concerned with increasing Biblical literacy? Psalms by the Day: A New Devotional Translation by seasoned scholar Alec Motyer fills this very gap. This is a “devotional translation” that draws from Motyer’s fruitful career of scholarship in service of the church.
Psalms by the Day
Psalms by the Day is made up of several elements. First and foremost is the author’s own fresh translation of all 150 Psalms. This is the bulk of the book. Perhaps surprising for a “devotional translation”, Motyer mixes readability with an attempt to bring the reader “as near as [one] can to the Hebrew of the original” (p9) by following word order of the Hebrew when it indicates emphasis. The result is a fresh and readable, though sometimes awkward, translation. This may seem like a recipe for disaster, but anyone familiar with different Bible translations will have no trouble here.
The translations are arranged into units with summary headings. Though not explained in detail, each unit heading is preceded by a letter that Motyer uses to indicate chiastic, or parallel, arrangement.
Along with the translation are copious notes presented on the outer margin. These are similar to study Bible notes, though more numerous and extensive. The notes either develop a concept, explain the nuance of a Hebrew word, or point to related OT texts.
Though all 150 Psalms are present in the book, they are collected (or divided, in the case of Ps 119) into 73 “Days” to suggest a digestible daily reading.
At the end of each “Day”, Motyer offers some concluding devotional thoughts, entitled “Pause for Thought”. These are written in a personal tone and reflect on the Psalms just read. I found these to be excellent especially as they are truly driven from the text, not the opposite – sadly common in devotionals – where the writer proof-texts their own ideas.
As example, Day 1 consists of Psalms 1-2. The translation is easy to read, though notice the odd phrasing in verse 1: “nor, according to the way of sinners, to take his stand”. This allows the reader to get closer to the Hebrew word order and emphasis. Motyer views Psalm 1 as a chiasm, where verses 1 and 6 are parallel, as are 2 and 5, and 3 and 4. For this Psalm, there are 16 notes, which is about average. Notes include an explanation of “blessed” and “teaching/torah”, as well as the “walk, stand, sit” progression in verse 1. After Psalm 2, Motyer’s Pause for Thought notes the “blessed” inclusio that ties the Psalms together, the fact that the blessing comes through heeding God’s word, and the fulfillment of Psalm 2 in Christ. Though all Pause for Thought insights are related to the text, this one is more technical than average.
Another feature of Psalms by the Day is the binding. It is a nice sturdy hardcover book with a welcome tassel for marking one’s place. Christian Focus have really put thought into the presentation, resulting in a book more worthy to be preserved and treasured.
Perhaps you want to read the Psalms with fresh eyes. Perhaps you want some help getting back into regular and structured Scripture reading. Whatever the motivation, I can highly recommend Psalms by the Day (and am sure Motyer’s popular Isaiah by the Day is equally excellent). Oh, that all devotionals were so concerned with presenting the reader with a fresh reading of Scripture!
Many thanks to Christian Focus for providing a copy in exchange for a balanced review.
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All Christians agree that Jesus fulfills the expectations of Psalm 2, but it’s debated if this reign has already begun or whether it entirely awaits His return. Much hinges on how one interprets NT quotations and allusions to Psalm 2 (e.g. Mk 1:11; Acts 13:33), although this does not exhaust the discussion. Other related texts and concepts help shed light on the question. One concept is that of Zion.
An argument that Christ is not currently reigning is that the reign takes place in Zion (Psalm 2:6). Doesn’t this conclude that, unless one wants to fudge the details, since Christ is not in Jerusalem He has not begun His Ps 2 reign? George Gunn makes this argument in his BSAC article, “Zion in the Bible never refers to heaven (except in Hebrews 12:22, where it is used symbolically)”. Personally, I’m not so sure it’s that simple. I’m still working through the issue but here are a few thoughts in development.
Zion & Heaven
Is Gunn correct to say that Zion never refers to heaven? I see four texts that appear to contradict this statement:
- Romans 11:26. I read this passage as the salvation of all ethnic Israel soon before or concurrent with Christ’ second coming. In Romans 11:26, Paul quotes Isa 59:20 but changes “to Zion” to “from Zion” in his quotation. Though some see “from Zion” as referring to salvation spreading from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, I think it is better to see this as Christ’s return from heaven to earth. If correct, Paul is using “Zion” to refer to heaven.
- Psalm 110. The question of when Jesus fulfils the Ps 110 reign is very much related to Psalm 2. If one agrees Jesus as presently reigning in a beginning fulfillment of of Ps 110 (which 1 Cor 15:25 appears to indicate), then He is reigning “from Zion” (Ps 110:2); that is, in heaven.
- Revelation 14:1. Is the reference here to physical Jerusalem? I’m not sure.
- Hebrews 12:22. Gunn admits to Heb 12:22 being an exception. We’ve already seen with the three texts above that it is probably not alone. With Heb 12:22, Gunn admits that Zion is used symbolically. He appears to think that the presence of symbolism excludes Heb 12:22 from speaking to the question in any significant way. I’m not sure why, since if “Zion” here even symbolises heaven, then doesn’t this undermine Gunn’s point? Isn’t this the question under discussion?
Zion & (New) Jerusalem
There is an extremely close connection with Zion and Jerusalem. If we broaden the horizons and allow Jerusalem to come into the picture, two more texts become relevant.
- Galatians 4:21-31. In this text, Paul distinguishes earthly (“present”) Jerusalem from “the Jerusalem above”; that is, in heaven.
- Revelation 21-22. In Rev 21:2, 9ff a renewed Jerusalem comes to earth from heaven. It seems reasonable then to conclude that a New Jerusalem is currently in heaven and awaits its unveiling in the New Creation.
Zion & the New Creation
So we have seen that Zion is in some way equated with heaven as well as the New Jerusalem that will come from heaven to earth. But how is this the case? Is there any logic behind this connection?
- “Prepared” in Heaven. Often heaven is the place where our wonderful future is being “prepared” (Rev 21:2) or “kept” (1 Pe 1:4). Words like “inheritance” (alluding to the promised land) are surely relevant here (Col 1:12, Eph 1:11, 14, 18; Gal 3:18). Our new resurrected bodies are being prepared in heaven (2 Cor 5:1-5). Paul connects the resurrection of believers with the new creation (Rom 8:19-25) and note that Rom 8:16-17 ties new creation with inheritance language). All this to say, the New Heavenly Zion/Jerusalem is also being prepared in Heaven.
- The “World to Come”. Though debated, it appears that Hebrews 1:6 refers to Jesus’ entrance into the new creation in His ascension. Hebrews 2:5-9 refers to this as the “world to come”. Does this mean that Jesus’ entrance into heaven was an entrance into a New Zion being prepared in heaven?
Jesus is Reigning in Zion
It seems that Jesus is present specifically in the New Zion/world to come, which is being prepared in heaven and will be unveiled on earth (Rev 21-22). It was upon entering this world that Jesus was raised above all other heavenly beings (Heb 1:3-4) and enthroned as the king over the new creation (Heb 1:5-9; 2:5-6).
In putting all of this together, it appears that Christ is currently reigning from Zion in a very real and literal sense! This is not spiritualizing the text, though perhaps it is eschatologizing it, by recognizing the development of Zion throughout Scripture. The true transformed Zion is currently in heaven, being prepared by God. Jesus as the first fruits of the new creation is currently there, reigning and ruling. His rule will continue when the heavenly Zion descends to earth, thus fulfilling all expectations of His glorious and earthly rule in Zion on the earth.
If I’m correct, Psalm 2:6’s reference to Zion does not prevent one from recognizing Christ’s Psalm 2 rule has begun with His resurrection and ascension to heaven, since He is currently in the New Zion. However, the story does not end there. Christ will return, the New Jerusalem will descend to a new earth, and Christ will reign here with His people.
The book of Exodus tells a thrilling story, and is naturally the inspiration for numerous adaptations and allusions within literature (Daniel Deronda, Superman). However, the stirring narrative of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and ascent to Sinai to meet God takes a sharp right-turn into plodding blueprints for the tabernacle, its utensils, and the priestly garments. It’s like watching Frodo heroically ascend to the peak of Mount Doom only to then receive a 3-hour lecture from Treebeard. At least, that is how we often consider the latter half of Exodus. In reality, it’s far from an anticlimactic letdown, and the problem is not the text but ourselves. As I am discovering through teaching Leviticus, when one delves into the difficult material in Scripture, it is always rewarding. Or as one scholar puts it: if it’s weird, it’s important. In The Temple and Tabernacle, J. Daniel Hays has helped bridge this gap by providing a study of Israel’s tabernacle and temples that is approachable and concise.
The Temple and the Tabernacle
Hays works through the storyline of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation to trace God’s dwelling places with humanity. Alluding to Mark 13:1, Hays wants to “move beyond the ‘stones’ to grasp the eternal theological truths being revealed to us about God”.
Chapter 1 begins with an introductory overview of the book as well as the tabernacle and temples. From there, chapter 2 presents the idea that Eden was the first temple. Chapter 3 explains the construction of the ark and the tabernacle. Chapter 4 then turns to Solomon’s temple. Chapter 5 covers issues such as the cherubim and the Lord’s departure from the temple in the exile and promised return in the prophets. Chapter 6 describes the second temple, as recorded in the latter Old Testament as well as historical accounts and inter-canonical texts. Chapter 7 then explores the theological development of the temple in the New Testament in light of Christ’s identification as God’s temple, and the church’s description as the temple of God. Chapter 8 concludes the book.
One may feel that this territory has been well-covered before by others. While it is true that some like Beale and Walton have said much about the temple, Hays’ work has a unique role. Compared to a work like Beale’s monolithic The Temple and the Church’s Mission, Hays’ The Temple and Tabernacle is more introductory, big-picture, concise, and slick. That is not the diet version of Beale’s work; far from it. They both serve different purposes. Though not radically different in content, this is much more comprehensive in its description of the tabernacle and temples.
An exceptional feature of The Temple and Tabernacle is the abundance of illustrations and archaeological photography; these are alone worthy of the price of the book and are a huge help towards understanding.
Throughout the book, Hays provides detailed but readable description of the tabernacle/temple’s architecture and furnishings. He also aptly summarizes the inter-canonical history for the second temple. Most chapters succinctly develop theological relevance as well. A few things are worthy of note, however.
First, I wished Hays had developed more space to the temple intertextuality found in Revelation 21-22 indicating all the temple hopes in the OT find their fulfillment here. Second, Hays intriguingly argues for a negative interpretation of Solomon’s temple-building process. For Hays, Solomon’s spiritual decline begins earlier than is commonly believed. His argument is compelling at points, but to my eyes he takes up far too much space in the book and this distracts from his overall goal. Virtually every element of Solomon’s temple is read as revealing poor motives on his part. It seems to me this is not the place to make such a sustained argument. Hays could have simply abbreviated his best arguments with a note pointing to a fuller development elsewhere.
The Temple and Tabernacle is an architectural and theological survey of Israel’s the tabernacle and temples that is informed by the latest archaeology and scholarship. While all will enjoy using this as a resource for archaeological, theological and and archaeological information on the temple, it is particularly suited as an introduction. If one wanted a clear and comprehensive introduction to the purpose, architecture and theological development of the tabernacle/temples across Scripture, this is the first book I would recommend.
As I read a pre-publication edition of this book, some details, such as page numbers, are likely to change. In particular, all the images were not placed within the body of the book, so I am unable to comment on their placement and how this affects the flow of the book.
Many thanks to Baker Academic for providing a review copy through Netgalley.
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How does one even begin to review a book so profoundly impacting and paradigm-shifting? Perhaps with a personal anecdote? I used to lean towards skepticism when it comes to the supernatural. This is hardly healthy for a Christian. It’s not that I disbelieved God’s providence, Jesus’ miracles, the resurrection, or even the enduring nature of the Spirit’s gifts; rather, I had an unreasonable inclination to find “natural” explanations for “supernatural” experience claims. What was the cure? First, marrying a woman gifted in more observably supernatural ways. Second, study of the Bible: the unseen realm is just unavoidably there in Scripture. It is in this latter area that Michael Heiser’s work, especially The Unseen Realm, has been so important.
Sadly, my experience is far from unique in the Western church. Heiser himself went through a similar transformation when he read Psalm 82 with fresh eyes. In Heiser’s words, “the [Western] believing church is bending under the weight of its own rationalism, a modern worldview that would be foreign to the biblical writers” (p17). How do we solve this? Stop “[stripping] the bizarre passage of anything that makes it bizarre” (p18); rsther, “if it’s weird, it’s important” (p19). This is Heiser’s purpose in writing The Unseen Realm: to get “their supernatural worldview in your head” (p13). The Unseen Realm is a re-reading of the Biblical story with eyes open to the supernatural world.
The Unseen Realm
After two chapters that address these points, the book unfolds over 40 chapters divided into 7 parts broadly following the Biblical story. Part 2 examines concepts such as the Divine Council, the role of Eden, and the image of God. Fundamental to Heiser’s work is recognizing the real existence of other elohim – other gods – whilst maintaining the uniqueness and supremacy of Yahweh. Part 3 addresses issues such as the fall of humanity and Satan, the Genesis 6 Sons of God, and the Tower of Babel, where Yhwh’s disinherited the nations. Part 4 continues by introducing Abraham, and the Two Powers (visible and invisible Yahweh). Part 5 presents the conquest of the land as an intentional cleansing of the Nephilim, and introduces the widespread significance of Bashan/Hermon. Part 6 discusses the temple’s connection with God’s throne, the nature of prophets, and the divine misdirection in the Messianic hope. Part 7 turns to Christ and the divine conflict between Yhwh and Satan. Part 8 examines end-times issues such as the judgment of the fallen divine beings, the “foe from the north”, the battle of Armageddon and our final eternal state.
This above summary can only hint at the diverse concepts covered in this book. Needless to say, it is a dense but stimulating read. The breadth and depth of Heiser’s own study is abundantly clear. In other words, The Unseen Realm is far from a presentation of Heiser’s pet ideas and speculative doctrines. One cannot dismiss him as a idiosyncratic kook; there is just too much peer-reviewed scholarship and evidence supporting the book. In fact, much of what Heiser argues is already accepted in wide swaths of Biblical scholarship; it has simply not overcome the chasm from academia to the church. Nor is this a liberal scholarship in sheep’s clothing. Despite how “odd” this book can get at times, Heiser is surprisingly orthodox. The numerous evangelical endorsements only confirm this point.
Albeit, for a book so ambitious, some missteps are unavoidable. Heiser wants us to throw away our filters and let the Bible speak for itself. While he means well, being totally untethered from traditions and accountability is arrogant and dangerous. Rather than reject our heritage, it’s better to submit it to Scripture, and adjust accordingly. It’s ironic that Heiser is effectively replacing one filter (church tradition) for another (the supernatural worldview), and this leads to some conclusions that appear to be favoured simply because they are the most “supernatural”; or worse, “strange”. At times Heiser presents a viewpoint as being beyond critique simply because it supposedly reflects “the ancient worldview” (unlike the alternatives, which are “modern”). This is a rhetorical slight of hand that avoids argumentation: my view is right because it’s most ancient. The clearest example is his work on free-will. Heiser’s view is apparently how “an ancient Israelite would have embraced this parsing of foreknowledge, predestination, sovereignty, and free will” (p66). This wins the debate without an argument. However, to my eyes, Heiser is simply presenting Libertarian free-will dressed in ancient Israelite garb. On that note, this section was out of place and unnecessary and I think Heiser was a little out of his philosophical depth. With all that said, keep in mind that my critiques come from someone who has profited immensely from The Unseen Realm and hope (most) the ideas within find acceptance in the church.
Virtually every chapter was fascinating and provocative, though many were outright revolutionary. Among other things, I can never conceive of Psalm 82, Deuteronomy 32:8-9, stars, mountains, Eden, Bashan, and Ba’al the same. Despite the sheer abundance of ideas in The Unseen Realm, his book has far from exhausted this paradigm-shift; it has only begun it. For me, it has begun a re-reading of Scripture with more ancient and supernatural eyes. Recognizing and embracing the “weird” in Scripture has not resulted in an unfamiliarity or distance with God’s word; in fact, it has only fueled greater hunger, appreciation and excitement.
As I said at the start, it’s difficult to try and review a book this impacting. I wish every Christian would pick up The Unseen Realm. Heiser has also released Supernatural, aimed at a wider audience, though The Unseen Realm is surprisingly approachable and easy to read. I would recommend The Unseen Realm to any interested Christian and Supernatural to those with less interest or time. My wife and I actually read the book together, and it continues to spark discussion between us. One need not agree with everything Heiser says; his goal is primarily to open the reader’s eyes to the absolute profusion of passages that speak of the unseen realm. On this front, The Unseen Realm meets and exceeds the goal. It’s time to re-read the Bible with supernaturally-awake eyes.
Many thanks to Lexham Press for providing a review copy.
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How is all of Scripture for us? Aren’t we “not under the Law”? If so, how are we to think of the moral laws in the OT that are not repeated in the New? Some argue that Christians are not under the civil and ceremonial elements of Mosaic Law but that we continue to remain under the moral commands. Though such a conclusion feels right, the problem is that Scripture does not present a threefold distinction within the Law. Given the fact, who decides which is which? In fact, what we consider moral and civil and ceremonial are all found in the same sections of Law. Rather, it appears that the Christian is not under the Mosaic Law in its totality. This is the argument of Progressive Covenantalism. But does this not result in antinomianism? Wouldn’t it mean that Christians are lawless? Stephen Wellum wants to argue that, against some critics, Progressive Covenantalists hold that “Scripture’s ethical teaching is consistent across the canon because it is grounded in God’s unchanging nature and will” (p215). Over five steps, Wellum presents a Progressive Covenantal biblical basis for ethics:
1. All Scripture is authoritative
Though Christians are not under the Law as a covenant, it remains our Scripture, and thus requires obedience. How does that work? It “requires careful application depending on our covenantal location” (p217). For example, circumcision and food laws are moral laws, but in light of Christ, do not apply to Christians in the same way as they did to OT believers.
2. The Tripartite distinction is not the answer
The tripartite division is not built on Scriptural teaching. What’s more, the entire law-covenant was temporary (Rom 10:4; Gal 3:15-4:7; Heb 7:11-12). So it no longer is directly binding on the Christian (Rom 6:14-15; Gal 4:4-5).
3. The lens of Christ and the New Covenant is the answer
Though not under the Law, it remains Scripture. We must apply it to ourselves through Christ. Following Brian Rosner’s work, Wellum argues that the Law applies to new covenant believers as prophecy, instruction and wisdom.
4. Careful unpacking of the Bible’s storyline and categories is needed
It is not as simple as finding a command and carrying it over to the NT. But what of morally aberrant behavior that is not found in the NT? Are Christians free to do anything the OT prohibits, so long as the NT does not mention it? Wellum argues that believers do not reach this conclusion if they read the Scripture as a whole. The bestiality prohibition, for example, is naturally applicable to believers today in light of God’s original creation intention for sexuality. The OT Law simply makes this conclusion obvious.
5. Some examples of #1-4 in action
Sexual ethics, personal and social ethics are all examined through this rubric. This post cannot summarize this section fully.
Wellum is clear to conclude that most Christians would reach very similar conclusions, regardless of how they are reached. Rejecting the OT as irrelevant for ethics, and claiming that sections of it remain directly binding are both missteps that PC attempts to avoid.
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Many thanks to B&H Academic for providing a review copy.