Book Review: 2 Corinthians (BECNT)

2corinthiansguthrieTitle: 2 Corinthians

Series: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament

Author: George Guthrie

Bibliographic info: 736 pp.

Publisher: Baker Academic, 2015.

Buy the book at Amazon

With thanks to Baker Academic for the digital review copy.

I should start this review by confessing that 2 Corinthians is the New Testament book I have studied the least. Part of this is no doubt due to the fact that I have always felt more interested in the Gospels, Catholic Epistles, and Revelation more so than Paul’s epistles. But even when I have gone on the occasional Pauline bender, I much prefer something like Galatians (and even Philemon) over 2 Corinthians.

I thought it was high time I familiarize myself with 2 Corinthians and decided that Guthrie’s contribution to the BECNT series was the way to go. As with every other BECNT volume, this one takes you on verse-by-verse exegetical tour of the epistle, providing the Greek text, a transliteration of the Greek, and the author’s own English translation. Each section follows the conventional BECNT pattern: (1) a short summary; (2) the exegesis; (3) reflection; and (4) additional notes (usually related to matters of textual criticism).

The introduction of this volume varies from how they normally run, with Guthrie opting to begin with a piece of (pedagogical) fiction on ancient Corinth to convey the difficult ministry situation that Paul faced there. I actually found this to be a rather refreshing way of approaching the introduction.

With what I have read of the commentary so far, there are many instances where the author tackles a difficult or perplexing issue and provides a helpful examination. For instance, on the issue of literary unity, Guthrie sees 2 Corinthians as being a single composition and provides some literary dynamics in the text that strongly point in this direction (e.g. an inclusio of several verbal parallels between 1:1-7 and 13:11-13). When it comes to what is perhaps my favorite passage of 2 Corinthians–the triumphal procession word picture that Paul provides in 2:14-16–Guthrie approaches it by focusing upon neglected background information that (I think) is overlooked by other commentators. Another pericope that I appreciated Guthrie’s commentary on was 3:7-18 and, of course, the thorny issue of 12:6-9.

Guthrie does a good job at dealing with the question as to the exact nature of the opponents in Corinth, with many seeing them as being Judaizers (to whatever degree). Guthrie divides the opponents into two camps. The first are a vocal minority in the church who oppose Paul, and the second are people pretending to be “apostles” who had been visiting the Corinthian church (and who Guthrie sees as being strongly influenced by the sophist tradition).

All in all, Guthrie provides careful exegesis and a solid commentary from an evangelical perspective. Like all volumes in the BECNT series, this one is written for the more technically minded, and a knowledge of Greek will definitely help. Guthrie ably shows how 2 Corinthians is a rich resource for ministry and also provides the reader with some nice practical reflections on the text.

Some Thoughts on Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon

The keystone of the Mormon Church is the Book of Mormon. When I first read it, something that stuck out in my mind (apart from the anachronistic appearance of Deutero-Isaiah) was the question of why it didn’t mention key parts of Joseph Smith’s restoration of the gospel (e.g. polygamy, the ordinances of the temple, and the priesthood). However, I’ve come to realize that when Joseph Smith penned the Book of Mormon he was more interested in answering some theological disputes that were floating around in that time period, notably, that of the Native American Indians as Israelites, proper baptism practices, and the relationship between works and grace.

Smith also used the Book of Mormon to sacralize America, an idea which I don’t think was that uncommon in nineteenth-century America, with other religious figures/movements also portraying America as being a sacred land that has a sacred history and a divine destiny. This can be seen in how the Book of Mormon refers to the Americas as the “land which is choice above all other lands” (1 Nephi 2:20). In fact, the Book of Mormon takes such sacralizing thinking much further, providing the reader with what is essentially an American-based history of Antiquity. On top of this, you have Joseph Smith teaching that America was not only the site of the Garden of Eden (somewhere around Jackson County, Missouri), but also the location of the Zion/New Jerusalem (Smith was given a revelation that Zion would be built in Independence, Missouri, see Doctrine and Covenants 57:1-3).

Personally, I think Joseph Smith’s theological agenda was quite flexible and what was really important to him was his vision of the making of Zion with himself as its leader. He did, after all, have quite a high view of himself and his ambition seemingly held no bounds. For instance, in 1844 he decided to run as a candidate for the President of the United States. Additionally, a Council of Fifty was formed in order to develop a world government in preparation for Christ’s return, with Smith being anointed king over the House of Israel.

It was through Joseph Smith that Zion was to be established in the last days for humanity’s salvation. In the pursuit of this goal, Joseph Smith and his followers attempt three times to establish what can only be described as their own city-state, first in Kirtland, Ohio, then in Independence, Missouri, and finally in Nauvoo, Illinois. The Mormons thrived in Nauvoo, leading to a Nauvoo legion being formed (consisting of about 5,000 members at its peak), led by the “Lieutenant General” Joseph Smith. Smith’s successor, Brigham Young, was responsible for the most successful attempt of building Zion to date, leading many of the Mormons westward to Utah, founding Salt Lake City in the late 1840s.

One last thought: Earlier this month, the Mormon Church released photos of the seer stone that Joseph Smith used in his “translation” of the Book of Mormon (see this article). While the idea that Joseph Smith put his head into a hat containing this stone in order to translate the golden plates seems quite bizarre, I don’t think it is necessarily so. I mean, the Hebrew Bible has people receiving divine revelations through something that resembles a game of chance (the Urim and Thummin), and even a fleece of wool being laid out on a threshing floor to see if it gets covered in dew. I think non-Mormon Christians only find Smith’s stone-in-a-hat method weird because it seems like folk-magic (with no biblical pedigree), while something equally bizarre like the Urim and Thummin gets a pass simply because it is in the Bible.

I think it is good that the Mormon Church has taken this turn of transparency. Perhaps it will mean the coming generations of Mormons will grow up with less of this type of picture …

smith_translating_mormon… and more of these types:



The seer stone Joseph Smith used as a conduit for revelation from God.

Brief Book Review: Reading Barth with Charity

readingbarthcharityTitle: Reading Barth with Charity: A Hermeneutical Proposal

Author: George Hunsinger

Bibliographic info: 208 pp.

Publisher: Baker Academic, 2015.

Buy the book at Amazon

With thanks to Baker Academic for the review copy!

For those familiar with the world of Barth scholarship, George Hunsinger (McCord Professor of Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary), will undoubtedly be a familiar name as a Barth scholar. He has, after all, been the president of the Karl Barth Society of North America for over a decade now.

In this slim volume, Hunsinger tackles those who he believes misrepresent Barth’s theology. The Barthian revisionists dealt with here are Paul Nimmo, Paul Daffyd Jones, and Bruce McCormack. These Barthian revisionists point out supposed inconsistencies in Barth’s theology, with the key inconsistency that Hunsinger examines is Barth’s views on the Trinity and election. Barth’s stance on such matters, in the eyes of some, leads to the question of whether (in his theology) election gives shape to the economic Trinity. This question of when the election of the Son happened in eternity matters because it could mean that the formation of the Godhead follows the plan of redemption. Hunsinger claims, however, that in Barth’s theology, “election presupposes the Trinity, rather than constitute[s] it.”

Hunsinger uses his hermeneutic of charity throughout to show that the alleged inconsistencies in Barth are able to be explained in a much more coherent manner. What is meant by “reading with charity” is that one should approach Barth with the assumption that his theology is indeed coherent and that one can then, with this assumption, attempt to settle any apparent inconsistencies or contradictions in Barth’s thought. Essentially, it is applying the “golden rule” to hermeneutics.

This book is not intended for the average person in the pew. However, this is definitely a book for anyone interested not just in the question of what Barth himself gets right, but also the question of who gets Barth right. While I am by no means overly familiar with Barth’s writings, I think that Hunsinger has done a fine job in showing that what Barth wrote actually contradicts the claims of inconsistency by the revisionists, though it will be interesting to see the responses that this book  generates.

So if you’re interested in Barth studies then this is, of course, a fine book for you to pick up and read. If this sort of thing isn’t your cup of tea, however, you may just end up wondering about the importance of properly understanding Barth’s view on the relationship between election and the Trinity.

Book Review: Exodus Church and Civil Society

ExodusChurchandCivilSocietyTitle: Exodus Church and Civil Society: Public Theology and Social Theory in the Work of Jürgen Moltmann

Author: Scott Paeth

Bibliographic info: viii + 223 pp.

Publisher: Ashgate, 2008.

Buy the book at Amazon

With thanks to Ashgate for the review copy!

As the title of this volume indicates, this study examines the relationship between theology and social theory in the theological project of Jürgen Moltmann. The author, Scott Paeth, explores Moltmann’s concept of the “exodus church” (a concept first discussed by Moltmann in the final chapter of his Theologie der Hoffnung / Theology of Hope), and how the church can engage in public theology in our (pluralistic) civil society. What is meant by public theology and what does it entail? These words from the author may be helpful:

It is because the church exists as an entity within civil society and also as a community set apart through its faith in the promises of God, that it can act in anticipation of the coming Kingdom of God in ways that have the potential to make genuine political and social progress in modern society.

The book is divided in four parts.

In the first part, Paeth takes a look at Moltmann’s public theology. Part of this entails a look at a possible distinction in Moltmann’s writings between his “public” theology and “political” theology. Paeth rightly, in my opinion, notes that there is continuity between the two, with political theology being subsumed under the larger rubric of public theology. This part also encompasses a helpful examination of the role of Moltmann’s concept of the “exodus church” in civil society.

In the second part, Paeth goes further into Moltmann’s public theology, specifically in regards to ethical engagement. He draws upon Walter Rauschenbusch’s ethics of the kingdom of God, H. Richard Niebuhr’s theology of social responsibility, and Reinhold Niebuhr’s theology of sin and human social relations (these three theologians could be considered as having provided precursors to public theology). Other theologians Paeth draws upon are David Tracy, Ronald Thiemann, Max Stackhouse, Miroslav Volf, Hans Küng, James Skillen, and Karl Barth.

With the third part of this book, Paeth discusses Moltmann’s relation to thinkers of the Frankfurt School in the 1960s, Max Weber and Max Horkheimer, as well as Jürgen Habermas (and his “recovery of emancipation through communication”). By exploring the themes of civil society and the public role of the church, Paeth is attempting to make up for a missing aspect in Moltmann’s writings on civil society as it appears in history.

For the final part, Paeth ties together everything he has discussed so far with the hope being to provide an approach to public theology in a pluralistic society. There is substantial interaction with Moltmann himself in this section, particularly his Theology of Hope, The Crucified God, and The Way of Jesus Christ. Paeth sees the political engagement of the believer to be essential in Moltmann’s theological project.

This study is more of a theoretical examination of the topic, rather than one which draws upon actual case-studies of the church’s engagement with civil society, yet despite its focus on theory it is written in a very accessible manner. The author shows an in-depth knowledge of Moltmann’s oeuvre and this study will definitely be beneficial for anyone interested in Moltmann, and will also be enlightening to anyone interested in the relationship between church and modern society. It is a touch on the expensive side (~$100), so you might have to take a trip to your local seminary!

Book Review: Linguistic Analysis of the Greek New Testament

linguisticanalysisTitle: Linguistic Analysis of the Greek New Testament: Studies in Tools, Methods, and Practice

Author: Stanley Porter

Bibliographic info: 448 pp.

Publisher: Baker Academic, 2015.

Buy the book at Amazon

With thanks to Baker Academic for the review copy!

This volume is a collection of studies, many of which are papers that the author has delivered at past conferences (e.g. SBL and SNTS), though which have until now remained unpublished. The author, Stanley Porter, is a name that I am sure is familiar with those acquainted with studies on linguistics of the Greek New Testament.

The studies in this volume are divided into three sections: (I) Texts and Tools for Analysis; (II) Approaching Analysis; and (III) Doing Analysis. Each of the studies tackle matters of the Greek New Testament in various linguistic perspectives.

The four chapters in the first section discuss matters necessary for the linguistic analysis of the Greek New Testament, including topics such as lexicography and computer-related issues. An interesting conclusion of Porter’s in this section is that the “Louw-Nida lexicon is an underutilized resource in New Testament studies, while the Bauer type of lexicon is probably best seen as reflecting an earlier day and age in lexicography.”

The eight chapters in the second section discuss the way of approaching linguistics analysis of the Greek New Testament, including discourse analysis, verbal aspect, sociolinguistics, and ideational meta-function within a register. As an aside, Porter is the only person I’ve come across (as far as I can remember) who really brings the subject of register into conversation with studies on the Greek New Testament (there are two chapters in this volume where Porter discusses the concept of register).

The nine chapters in the third section provide specific examples of linguistic analysis, such as a register analysis of Mark 13, verbal aspect in the Synoptics and extrabiblical texts, a study on the grammar of 1 Tim. 2:8, and the utilization of the Prague linguistic school of thought to examine the opponents in Romans, Philemon, and Colossians. The final chapter in this section looks at hyponymy as a possible instructive interpretive device for discussing the Trinity in the New Testament (hyponymy refers to how a word’s semantic field is included within that of another word). While various models and analogies have been provided in recent theology to explore the concept of the Trinity (e.g. narrative, process, social), Porter offers up his own linguistic model that draws upon the notion of hyponymy in order to explore the relationship between the biblical usage of terms such as “God” and “Lord.” It was a brief study but an interesting approach.

This volume is a technical discussion of various linguistic aspects of the Greek New Testament, so considering that most biblical students typically just learn the Greek language and learn next to nothing about linguistics in the process, I think it is fair to say that this volume will be mostly inaccessible to the average biblical studies student. However, those who study the Greek New Testament and have some knowledge of linguistics will no doubt benefit from this volume and, I imagine, it would make a useful supplemental tool for an advanced Greek New Testament course.

Brief Book Review: The Transformative Church

thetransformativechurchTitle: The Transformative Church: New Ecclesial Models and the Theology of Jurgen Moltmann

Author: Patrick Oden

Series: Emerging Scholars

Bibliographic info: 352 pp.

Publisher: Fortress Press, 2015.

Buy the book at Amazon

With thanks to Fortress Press for the review copy!

Patrick Oden’s The Transformative Church is a revised version of his doctoral dissertation completed at Fuller Theological Seminary.

You might be wondering what the author means by the “transformative church.” This term refers to the type of church that participates in the surrounding context, bringing life in the process. This is opposed to both the conventional type of church that looks more or less identical to its surrounding context, and the disconnected church that desires to completely separate itself from its surrounding context. The transformative church takes a third way, a way which involves itself in the surrounding context, yet does so without simply becoming a part of the system. The transformative type of church is seen in various ecclesial models, such as missional, emerging, or neo-monastic.

What the author does in this work is to put such transformative churches in dialogue with the theology of Jürgen Moltmann. Three chapters discusses eight points that Moltmann outlines in his Experiences in Theology that offer up a life-affirming hermeneutical approach to the Bible. Oden takes these eight points and discusses them by drawing upon other key works in Moltmann’s large corpus of writings: Theology of Hope, The Crucified God, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, The Coming of God, God in Creation, The Trinity and the Kingdom, The Way of Jesus Christ, and The Spirit of Life.

There are three more chapters in which Oden discusses various practices in relation to transformative churches. The practices are:

  • identifying with the life of Jesus
  • transforming the secular realm
  • living highly communal lives
  • welcoming the stranger
  • serving with generosity
  • participating as producers
  • creating as created beings
  • leading as a body
  • taking part in spiritual activities.

I’m quite familiar with Moltmann’s theology and I think Oden has provided a well-informed and constructive examination of Moltmann’s ecclesiological thinking that is seen throughout his works over the decades. Oden provides a useful and knowledgeable understanding of Moltmann’s theology. He provides a compelling study that can inform churches and lead to a transformative messianic life taking shape in the community. If you’re interested in Moltmann or in ecclesiology, I would recommend this work without reserve.

More Thoughts on Religion and Violence

Sacred Scripture and Violence

A potent source of power to be found within religion is its ability to excite the imagination, whether it be through liturgy, preaching, or the reading of sacred texts. The sacred scriptures of the major world religions contain violence in a variety of manners, inviting a confounding array of interconnected theological, moral, and hermeneutical questions. Some of the more voracious critics of religion are seemingly unable to appreciate religion outside of an absolutist understanding, opting to search a sacred text or religious history for any piece of barbarous activity that can be found and then using that to generalize about the ultimate cause of suffering in the world.

Yet despite the fact that sacred texts have been interpreted by many groups and individuals to sanction violence (of whatever form), it is foolhardy to use isolated texts and historical events in order to categorically label a religion as being violent or more prone to violence. All religions are vulnerable of being (mis)interpreted in a malicious manner so as to lead to violence, but in the end it is the interpretive apparatus employed by the reader that makes the difference. Not everyone, of course, agrees with this assessment, including Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer who says, “religiously justified violence is first and foremost a problem of ‘sacred’ texts and not a problem of misinterpretations of the texts” (emphasis in original; Is Religion Killing Us? Violence in the Bible and Quran [New York: Continuum, 2003], p. xiv).

Some Christian denominations, such as the Quakers, Mennonites, and much of the entire Anabaptist tradition, interpret various teachings of Jesus, such as “But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer” (Matt. 5:39), as prohibiting violence and employ such verses as a guiding principle for their social lives, including the impossibility of killing in war. Nevertheless, another powerful stream of thought in Christianity is that of the Just War theory which, by drawing upon the depictions of God as Divine Warrior and Israel as a warring nation in the Hebrew Bible, postulates the validity of war under certain strict conditions (though Just War theory seems to be utilized to give a blessing to any military conflict).

Similar differences can be seen in other religious traditions. For instance, while the Qur’an issues the command to “slay the idolaters wherever you find them” (Qur’an 9:5), it also states that “whoever slays a soul … it is as though he slew all men” (Qur’an 5:32). The interpretation of the Qur’an that leads to acts such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks is certainly different from the conventional interpretation of the Qur’an by those not taken to violent extremism. The diversity of interpretation that exists within each religious tradition must be taken into consideration in the discussion of the relationship between religion and violence.

There are things in the Bible (and other religious texts) that are not worthy of imitation. Even in reading the more peaceful New Testament, one runs into the problem of the eschatological violence found in some parables of Jesus (Mt. 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:41) that might even be construed by some to legitimate violence in the here and now. [For an in-depth response to the violent eschatological passages in the New Testament, see David J. Neville. A Peaceable Hope: Contesting Violent Eschatology in New Testament Narratives (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013)].

I do not think, however, that such disconcerting material should be simply excised or ignored. The question remains as to whether religious texts themselves can provide a way to overcome this. I think that sacred texts certainly hold this power and that it in order for it to be unleashed, it is imperative for non-violent perspectives to be emphasized by religious leaders and teachers, thus challenging and countering readers who could potentially read the text as legitimizing violent actions and behavior. In reading the Bible, I think it is vital to realize that it presents a frank depiction of human nature, with all of our quirks and iniquities. John J. Collins says that the Bible provides us with “an unvarnished picture of human nature … [and] of religion and the things people do in its name” (“The Zeal of Phinehas: The Bible and the Legitimation of Violence”, Journal of Biblical Literature 122 [2003], pp. 3-21 [20]). While the Bible does not demythologize itself, neither does it assert that all its tales provide the standards and exemplars for human action across all eras. The violent verses of the Bible become destructive when they are invested with authority and imagined to uncritically reflect the will of God for our lives today. Religion and theology must up for interpretation and reinterpretation. If they are not, then they can all too easily become dangerous totalizing ideologies leading to violence. Collins rightly notes that “the Bible has contributed to violence in the world precisely because it has been taken to confer a degree of certitude that transcends human discussion and argumentation” (ibid, p. 20).

While religions all tend to have a center that at least somewhat revolves around love and other life-affirming notions, this isn’t a guarantee that religion will always act as a force of peace within society, for religion can exacerbate conflicts and be used to justify violence. The interpretative apparatus one employs, which is itself impacted by one’s socio-political context, will dictate the influence that certain concepts from the Bible (or any sacred text) will have on one’s own beliefs and behaviors. My readings in the literature on religion and violence have shown me that while a case can be made that religion legitimates violence (to whatever degree) or that it is even a main source of inspiration for violent acts, it is crucial to keep in mind that religion and religious texts also operate as a transformative power that are capable of inducing tranquility, peaceful relations, and social harmony, and that they can be an overall potent life-giving source rather than just a death-dealing one.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 131 other followers