Question & Answer with Dennis Johnson on the Book of Revelation

Learn more about Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation

revelation bible commentaryDennis E. Johnson (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) was professor of practical theology at Westminster Seminary California and associate pastor of New Life Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Escondido, California, until his retirement in June 2018.

Dr. Johnson taught at Westminster Seminary California from 1982 to 2018. He previously pastored Orthodox Presbyterian churches in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, and East Los Angeles, California. He has served as moderator of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church General Assembly and Presbytery of Southern California, moderator of the South Coast Presbytery in the Presbyterian Church in America, member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church Committee on Christian Education, and Trustee of Covenant College.

Dr. Johnson preached and taught in various countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America.

He is the author of Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures, The Message of Acts in the History of Redemption, Philippians in the Reformed Expository Commentary series, Let’s Study Acts, and Walking with Jesus through His Word: Discovering Christ in All the Scriptures. He is also coauthor of Counsel from the Cross and editor of and contributor to Heralds of the King: Christ-centered Sermons in the Tradition of Edmund P. Clowney. He has contributed essays to Theonomy: A Reformed Critique; The Pattern of Sound Doctrine; Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry; Resurrection and Eschatology; and Speaking the Truth in Love. He is a contributor to the Reformation Study Bible and the English Standard Version Study Bible.

Dr. Johnson and his wife, Jane, have four married children and many grandchildren. They now live in Dayton, Tennessee.

1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on Revelation?

When I began teaching New Testament at Westminster Seminary California in 1982, I was assigned to offer the required course on the General Epistles and Revelation. I initially approached the course in the form that I had taken it as a student: namely, by devoting the lion’s share (pardon the pun—see Rev 5:5) of the course hours to the epistle to the Hebrews, touching lightly on other General Epistles and even more lightly on the Book of Revelation. Over time, my experience followed that of Moses Stuart in the nineteenth century (see the quote from Stuart’s commentary on page 1 of Triumph), as my students asked for more help in interpreting the challenging visions granted to John on Patmos. I began to reserve more class hours for Revelation year by year. Lecture notes were fleshed out into a 36-page essay for students. Then our seminary bookstore manager encouraged me to polish the essay and submit it to a publisher. By the time I had finished “polishing”, the document had become Triumph of the Lamb, 360+ pages in its published form! Along the way, I had opportunity to preach through most of the Book of Revelation in our local congregation. Preaching Revelation showed me how applicable it is to Christian living, and increased the clarity of my explanations. Incidentally, I proposed the title Window on the War of the Ages; but the P&R Publishing’s editors wisely recommended that we call it Triumph of the Lamb—a title that fits perfectly (Rev 5:5, 9-10). I’m so glad they did!

2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

Triumph was written, first of all, for seminary students, to introduce them to an interpretive approach that arises from Revelation itself and that will equip them to preach its message of challenge and hope to God’s people. The intended audience certainly includes pastors who have the desire and responsibility to preach through the whole book (not just the obviously-practical letters to the seven churches in Rev. 2-3) and who are searching for an alternative approach to the eschatological/political speculation that often characterizes Evangelicals’ handling of the Apocalypse today. I have been encouraged to hear from many pastors that, heartened and helped by Triumph, they have preached through Revelation, and their congregations have received the blessing promised in Rev 1:3. Triumph engages the scholarly discussion of Revelation’s genre, structure, and historical-cultural background, so it is of interest to biblical scholars. At the same time, its style is accessible also to lay Christians (who are free to skip the technical stuff in the footnotes).

3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of Revelation?

I grew up in an Evangelical church in which Revelation was taught through a “literal-where-possible” hermeneutic formed by Premillennial eschatology. We read Revelation in the light of contemporary news, especially in the Middle East. So my assignment to teach Revelation in seminary forced me to reexamine my assumptions about the structure of the book and the interrelationships among its visions, and about the hermeneutical key that opens up the true meaning of Revelation’s symbols not only to twentieth-century Christians, but also to first-century Christians enduring Roman persecution. What I found as I looked at Revelation closely brought me to an interpretation that, I believe, has two benefits: (1) It is consistent with the “cues” that the text itself gives us, and (2) it displays the pastoral relevance of this book to the daily life of Christians in every generation.

The “cues” include such insights as these: (a) Revelation’s purpose is not to puzzle us, but to reveal. We can expect to get its message, rather than finding ourselves mired in confusion or controversy. (b) The topic of this book is not geopolitical conflict, but Jesus Christ. This is “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1), and he is the central protagonist throughout: Son of Man, triumphant Lion/Lamb, the Lord’s Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords riding to victory. (c) Revelation’s symbols are best understood against the backdrop of Old Testament events and prophetic visions. (d) Revelation’s visions, rather than always portraying historically-successive events, often provide multiple perspectives (different “camera angles”) on the same events (reduplication).

Regarding the book’s pastoral purpose, Revelation is given to bless the church as it is under attack from Satan through persecution, deception, and sensual seduction. King Jesus gives his suffering, struggling people reason to endure and stay pure by showing us that history is in his sovereign hand and he is directing it toward the bliss of the New Heavens and Earth. Pastors need to preach this book—the whole book—because our congregations are under Satan’s attack through the same stratagems. In some places, violent persecution threatens and tries to intimidate the followers of Jesus. Elsewhere, peace seems to prevail for the church in its cultural context. But there the devil’s insidious assaults through false teaching, materialism, and sensual pleasure are even more dangerous, since they are harder to see!

I am grateful that, in God’s always wise providence, I began my Christian life in a context where Revelation was read differently from the way I read it today. I think my “eschatological origins and pilgrimage” help Triumph’s readers to walk along with me toward a more faithful reading of this awesome, vivid book, which God gave for our courage, correction, and comfort.

4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?

I was struck by the parallel between the visions in Revelation 12 and 20:1-10, and how they mutually interpret each other. In both, Satan appears as the dragon/serpent/devil/Satan (12:9; 20:2). In both, Satan suffers a grave setback but is not yet destroyed: In Revelation 12 the dragon cannot destroy the Messiah (12:4-5) and is expelled from heaven, thwarted from accusing God’s people (12:7-11). In Revelation 20, the dragon is bound, thwarted from continuing to deceive the Gentile nations (20:2-3). As I studied the two visions of Revelation 12, I saw that the setback that Satan suffered was brought about by the incarnation and saving work of Jesus Christ, whose blood gives us victory over our Accuser. I realized that, if Revelation 12 and 20 are complementary “camera angles” on the same historical drama, then the “binding” of the dragon that launched the thousand years occurred at Christ’s first coming—as Jesus said it did (Matt 12:29). Now, since Satan cannot keep the nations in the dark, the gospel is going throughout the world (Acts 14:17; 17:30-31; Eph. 2:1-2, 11-12). Satan’s demise will not arrive until Christ’s glorious return, but in the meanwhile Satan’s binding makes world missions—along with suffering and persecution—not only possible but also fruitful!

5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

Revelation’s portraits of Jesus Christ showed me even more vividly two astonishing truths about his death for us on the cross. First, his sacrifice displays the depth of his love for us: “to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood…be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Rev 1:5-6). I need to be reminded over and over that Christ’s death is the display of his love for me, as the inspired New Testament authors remind us over and over (John 15:13-14; Gal 2:20; Eph 5:2; etc.). Second, his sacrificial death is the “weapon” by which he has triumphed over the Evil One, our Accuser (Rev. 5:1-11). Because his suffering is the focal point of his victory, our suffering too becomes the means of our victory in him: “And they have conquered [the Accuser] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (Rev. 12:11). The persecuted church is the triumphant church, because our Champion won the decisive victory for us through the apparent shame, foolishness, and weakness of his cross.

6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on Revelation?

G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation (NIGTC) (Eerdmans, 1999)

Richard D. Phillips, Revelation (REC) (P&R, 2017)

Michael Wilcock, I Saw Heaven Opened: The Message of Revelation (The Bible Speaks Today) (IVP, 1975)

William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation (Baker, 1939, 1975)

Vern S. Poythress, The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation (P&R, 2000)

Scotty Smith and Michael Card, Unveiled Hope: Eternal Encouragement from the Book of Revelation (Thomas Nelson, 1997)

7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

Journeys with Jesus: Every Path in Scripture Leads Us to Christ (P&R) an abridgement of Walking with Jesus through His Word; Discovering Christ in All the Scriptures (P&R, 2015), came out earlier this year (2018).

Volume 12 of the ESV Expository Commentary, containing my commentary on Hebrews was recently published (Crossway, July 2018).

I recently submitted introduction and notes on Philippians for the Grace and Truth Study Bible (forthcoming from Zondervan)—Al Mohler is general editor.

My next project may be an introduction to Biblical Theology (redemptive-historical hermeneutics)


Get Dennis E. Johnson’s Triumph of the Lamb on Amazon

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Question and Answer with David Strain on Esther and Ruth

Learn more about Ruth and Esther in the Focus on the Bible Commentary Series

ruth esther bible commentaryDr. David Strain was born in Glasgow, Scotland.

He holds degrees from Duncan Jordanstone College of Art, Trinity College Glasgow/School of Divinity, the Free Church of Scotland College in Edinburgh, and Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson.

He was ordained to the gospel ministry in the Free Church of Scotland in September 2003, and has held pastoral charges in London, England, and Columbus, MS.

Since May 2013, David has served on the pastoral staff of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson and was installed as Senior Minister in May 2014. He was awarded a Doctor of Ministry degree from Reformed Theological Seminary (Jackson) in 2016.

1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on Ruth and Esther?

The commentaries on Ruth and Esther both grew out of a deep love for Old Testament narrative, and began life as several series of sermons preached in two different congregations. Suffice it to say, the emphasis in both books on the covenant faithfulness of God and his sovereign providence has been a piece of profound comfort to me, and I trust, some help to those who first listened to much of the material that made its way into this volume.

2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

In keeping with the ethos of the Focus on the Bible series in general, this commentary is aimed at the lay reader. There is a concern throughout to connect the narrative to the broader themes of redemptive history, and to lead the reader by safe paths to Jesus Christ crucified. The applicatory character of the material is undoubtedly popular and devotional rather than scholarly, though I hope that it will be precisely here that preachers will find it useful in their preparations for the pulpit.

3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of Ruth and Esther?

I have tried to model Christ centered exposition, helping connect the already vivid, though sometimes quite alien, Old Testament narrative to the gospel. Many academic commentaries are invested in the study of philology and the various disciplines of biblical criticism. One sometime wonders if, in order to be credible as a scholar one must refrain from reading the Old Testament as Christian scripture, clearly pointing us to and teaching us about Christ and the salvation he has won. I contend that this is the only way for a Christian to read it faithfully.

4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?

Its very hard to single out a single passage in either Ruth or Esther, partly because they are both such brilliantly written works of literature. The story is a unit. Having said that the obvious absence of the name of God in Esther is a challenge, as are some of the obscure customs Ruth (like the fascinating scene in 4:7f. at the city gate where Boaz and Mr. So and So agree that Boaz should marry Ruth. The man takes off his sandal and gives it to Boaz. What Boaz was supposed to do with it, or how Mr So and So was supposed to get home after that, I don’t know.) One important note to sound in writing is to capture something of the humor and the pace of the narrative. In both there are laugh-out-loud-funny moments when sin is shown to be self defeating, or when the machinations of a scheming mother-in-law are unmasked. The text is meant to evoke joy and make us delight in the wise and good providence of God. We should finish reading Ruth and Esther with a broad smile on our faces. I didn’t want to write a commentary that left the reader frowning.

5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

To see in both the marvelous wisdom of God who works in both the macro and the micro levels of life for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose!

6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on Ruth and Esther?

Daniel Block, Judges and Ruth, NAC, (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman, 1999), Robert L. Hubbard, The Book of Ruth, NICOT, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans 1988), Iain Duguid, Esther and Ruth, REC (Phillipsburg, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2005) Karen Jobes, Esther, NIVAC, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999).

7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

Please visit David Strain’s staff page at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi. You can listen to his sermons here and read his articles here.

Follow David Strain on Twitter here.


Also see:

Question and Answer with Daniel Smith-Christopher on Micah

Learn more about Micah in the Old Testament Library Commentary Series

micah bible commentaryDaniel Smith-Christopher (Ph.D., Oxford University) is Professor of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University with specialization in Old Testament Studies and Theology.

Besides Micah in the Old Testament Library series, Dr. Smith-Christopher’s recent publications include, The Religion of the Landless: The Social Context of the Babylonian Exile, The Old Testament: Our Call to Faith and Justice, and Sacred Scripture: A Catholic Study of God’s Word.

Dr. Smith-Christopher lectures frequently for various adult education venues of the Roman Catholic, United Methodist, Uniting Church in Australia, and other Christian churches.

He is frequently quoted in the History Channel’s Mysteries of the Bible and other documentaries on religious themes for A&E, the History Channel, National Geographic, and PBS.

1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on Micah?

The initial request to work on MICAH came from editors at Westminster/John Knox. 8th-7th Century is not really my main period of specialization in OT, so I was a bit surprised. I normally work on Exile/Persian Period materials (Daniel, Esther, Ezra-Nehemiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah). I certainly admire the 8th Century Prophetic traditions, of course. So, it is not that I ignored the Neo-Assyrian period of Prophetic material – and I was certainly aware of James Luther Mays’ wonderful older work on Micah in this venerable series, “The Old Testament Library”, so I was frankly honored to be asked to work on this new volume. I don’t care if I was their 3rd choice…or their 15th choice…I was still honored!

Micah, of course, is a wonderfully complex and profound work. It features some of the most famous passages in all the prophets – “swords into plowshares”, “what does the Lord require of you…?”, etc. But Micah is also a work that is passionate about justice, about the dangers of corrupt leadership, the dangers of war-mongering, and yet words of encouragement when you feel overwhelmed about what you see around you. It was a delight to work on.

I also made the decision to be quite forthright about my own interests. These days, it is considered important to state one’s own orientation to scholarship in scholarly work – so I decided to not only be open about my Quaker background (informed by Anabaptist ideas as well) but also to actually assert those values as part of my analysis. For example, I believe that an anti-war perspective actually enhances a more accurate reading of Micah and I passionately argue the case that the prophet behind this book was stridently anti-war (which is not quite the same as claiming he was “pacifist”, which I do not claim)!

However, given that Micah is such a stirring read, I should not have been surprised (but I was!) with HOW MUCH scholarly material there is on Micah! The background reading was far more extensive that I originally anticipated. It was a joy, of course, to be able to read so much on 7 chapters of Hebrew Bible – but the debates and writing on Micah is rich and varied, and it was a real pleasure. Along the way – there were some delightful discoveries, such as Wessels’ essays in South African journals. I tried to pay attention to writers from non-Western countries as well, of course, as I believe that cross-cultural interpretation is an extremely important development in Biblical Studies.

2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

I wrote this work for anyone willing to seriously engage the text of the Bible, but with the old adage firmly in mind: “The Bible in one hand, the Newspaper in the other”. Some attribute that statement to Karl Barth, but I’ve heard others credited with it, too. I do a great deal of sociological and political observation in the commentary because I believe it is essential to maintain a dialogue on these matters when reading Biblical texts…precisely because I would argue that the Bible is ALSO a socially informed writing, and thus deeply political in orientation.

This applies even to issues of textual interpretation, including reading the Hebrew and Greek texts. Questions of nuanced translation can ALSO be influenced by social observations, for example. Nothing about Biblical interpretation is just pure theoretical mathematics, after all! Attitudes, experiences, insights, cultural experiences, all matter deeply.

But if there was a readership that I had in mind – I would have to say that it was foreshadowed by my personal comments at the front of the book. For example, I have many treasured friends among Maori Anglicans in Tairawhiti including the young Maori Anglican Archbishop, Rev. Donald Tamihere they are based on the East Coast of the North Island of Aotearoa/New Zealand, and I have learned a tremendous amount from them about interpreting scripture in the context of indigenous issues and identity. So, besides colleagues already interested in Micah and Prophetic literature, and besides my fellow Quakers and Mennonite who will certainly recognize many themes throughout, I hope that my work is found to be useful to my Maori Christian brothers and sisters, and indigenous Christians struggling with issues of identity, justice, and renewal.

3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of Micah?

I don’t know if it is “original” but I hope that my observations are considered helpful in that they are informed by an abiding interest in issues of social justice, minority and indigenous rights, and a critique of all forms of militarism and violence. Given the setting, the book of Micah speaks with a powerful critique. There is no mistaking this commentary as anything other than a serious Quaker’s reading of Micah, deeply informed by my Mennonite teachers in seminary, and continuing to be informed by my reading of progressive people of faith (esp. Jewish, Muslim, and Christian) in the modern world. In short, there are lots of “Micahs” out there!

4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?

The opportunity for a Quaker Bible teacher to work hard on the famous “Swords into Plowshares” passage was a gift. There is so much more to be said about this famous passage. I am convinced that there is a monograph in there somewhere…

5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

Two passages haunt me. The first one is quite difficult in Hebrew, and the NRSV does the following:

Micah 2:8 But you rise up against my people as an enemy; you strip the robe from the peaceful, from those who pass by trustingly with no thought of war.

I have (what I believe to be) strong reasons to read this passage differently. The details of how I think the Hebrew  grammar can make sense for my reading are a bit complex, but suffice it to say that I think that the Hebrew can quite fairly read to actually refer to what we would call today: “war-mongers” – and I believe he is referring to officials in Jerusalem who insist on mustering “war-mongers” – and I believe he is referring to officials in Jerusalem who insist on mustering local villagers (like Micah’s village) for wars that will only result in destruction of their peaceful villages in the foothills even if Jerusalem – a city with it’s walls and wells – might well survive. I read Micah as a very angry villager bitterly angry at Jerusalem for fomenting unnecessary rebellion for it’s own ends. On this, by the way, I think Micah may significantly differ from the “city-boy” Isaiah. It would certainly not be the first time that Biblical voices disagree, and I am by no means the first to propose that Micah and Isaiah might see things somewhat differently!

The other passage is far easier to understand, and is a really good sample of Micah’s fiery rhetoric of justice and injustice:

Micah 3:1 And I said: Listen, you heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel! Should you not know justice?– 2 you who hate the good and love the evil, who tear the skin off my people, and the flesh off their bones; 3 who eat the flesh of my people, flay their skin off them, break their bones in pieces, and chop them up like meat in a kettle, like flesh in a caldron. I am convinced that the contemporary American (esp. Evangelical) Christian obsession with political and economic conservatism (everybody for themselves) does a serious disservice to the passion for justice in a book like Micah – and the passion of the ministry of Jesus. I have for some time been concerned about reading and hearing Jesus as Prophet (among other aspects and titles). This particular emphasis has been sadly neglected, in my opinion. There is always a potential revolution when Christians begin to be as concerned to live what Jesus taught – just as concerned with living the message as they are concerned to be dogmatically specifically about who Jesus was (and is). It’s like the early Church councils. For example – some of our dear Christian predecessors spent so much time debating the specific Greek words to DESCRIBE Jesus (homo-ousias…homoi-ousias) but I wish they had spent some more of that time deciding how to minister to the poor and feed the hungry in OBEDIENCE TO Jesus rather than talking ABOUT Him. Now, maybe they did – but the point is that we don’t hear much about it. Wouldn’t it have been marvelous if an early Christian “Micah” had shaken up Nicea or Chalcedon with the needs of the urban and rural poor? Surely reading Micah might help shake us out of endless bickering about such doctrine? Especially when we face dark times? Contrast Nicea and Chalcedon with Medellin, Columbia, in 1968 when the Catholic Bishops met and gave official sanction to the movement we know today as Liberation Theology! Now THERE was a Church council Micah would have approved of!

6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on Micah?

[Hans Walter] Wolff, of course, has written some of the classic works on Micah. The Anchor Bible volumeAnderson and Freedman, is essential (even though I don’t go in for their detailed poetic verse analysis); and Dempster’s brand new volume on Micah is also helpful (but it came out after mine). Willi Wessel’s journal articles, written mostly in South African journals, is compelling reading. Mays’ previous volume in the Old Testament Library was a classic and still worth a serious read. Some of the feminist readings of Micah are also quite provocative, like Erin Runions.

But if you want to understand a really interesting way of reading Micah, read the lyrics of the great socialist anthem, “The Internationale“. There are so many thematic parallels, I would almost believe that the French writer of the original, Eugene Pottier, had been reading Micah while manning the barricades of the Paris Commune! 

7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

I am becoming increasingly fascinated with late 19th, early 20th Century Christian Socialists and their reading of the Bible. I am working on a book on this theme. Obviously, this is moving toward “History of Interpretation” a bit, which is new for me, but I hope to continue proposing that these interesting activists have some readings that are worthy of serious consideration textually and critically as well.

Like many Christians (but, apparently, not quite enough yet), recent events have pushed me to the left (where Jesus is to be found waiting for us), and my reading of the Bible continues to move that direction as well. I have been helped profoundly by the fact that previous generations of activists and social thinkers also derived great inspiration and comfort from Scripture in equally dark times.

I would have to say that – in a profoundly real way – Micah pushed me further left on the social and political spectrum.


Also see:

Question and Answer with Paul Evans on 1 and 2 Samuel

Learn more about 1 and 2 Samuel in the Story of God Bible Commentary Series

samuel bible commentaryPaul S. Evans (Ph.D., University of St. Michael’s College) is Assistant Professor of Old Testament at McMaster Divinity College. Dr. Evans specializes in Old Testament studies and in his teaching and research emphasizes the theological significance of the Old Testament and the value of its application for the Church today.

Besides 1 and 2 Samuel in the Story of God Bible Commentary series, Dr. Evan’s earlier work includes a monograph entitled The Invasion of Sennacherib in the Book of Kings: A Source-Critical and Rhetorical Study of 2 Kings 18-19, which was awarded the 2010 R.B.Y. Scott Award by the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies recognizing an outstanding book in the areas of Hebrew Bible and/or the Ancient Near East. Paul also co-edited a volume on the book of Chronicles entitled Chronicling the Chronicler which was published by Eisenbrauns in 2013.

In addition Paul has 17 research articles in print, with most focused on the historical books of the Old Testament, with the most recent appearing in the Journal of Biblical Literature 136.4 (2017): 749-764. Many of Dr. Evan’s articles are accessible through

1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on 1 and 2 Samuel?

The focus of my writing has been on the historical books of the Old Testament. My first book looked at Hezekiah and the invasion of Jerusalem by the Assyrians under their king Sennacherib and I also have written several articles on this part of Israel’s history. I have also written several articles on the historical narratives of the book of Chronicles, many of which have parallels in Samuel or Kings. Given my love of the historical books, I welcomed the opportunity to write a full commentary on Samuel.

2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

This commentary is written with pastors, students, and lay Christians in mind. It provides an accessible exposition of Samuel, keeping in mind the larger story of the Bible. At the same time, it is born out of new research, incorporates the best of biblical scholarship, and contributes to the scholarly discussion surrounding this important text.

3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of 1 and 2 Samuel?

This commentary incorporates the best of critical biblical scholarship but is written from a faith based perspective. For example, important work has been done on the complexity of Samuel’s characterization—that despite being God’s prophet, he shows much self-interest and is not an ideal character. In this commentary I look at where we see this in the text but also wrestle with statements that speak of Samuel as God’s faithful prophet. In the end I suggest Samuel’s flaws and humanity are underscored in the story, as are his faithful service to God. From this we can see that God used flawed people (as there are no other types of people) and this is encouraging to a flawed person like myself. Also, it is not helpful to try to idealize biblical characters and such approaches go against the intent of the text itself.

My commentary also underscores King Saul’s downfall as related to his obsession with superstition and ritualistic assurances of success, the relevance of which has often been overlooked. The relevance of this for Christians’ lives is brought out in the commentary as many people of faith often struggle with similar issues as we try to walk in faith rather than rely on signs. The commentary also highlights the importance of David and the promises to David (2 Sam 7) as a precursor to the Gospel and salvation by faith and not works. David and his role as God’s anointed one (messiah) is also emphasized and there are some amazing ways in which his life often prefigures events in the lives of Jesus, the Anointed One.

4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?

The story of Absalom’s rebellion in 2 Sam 15-18—which meant that David had to flee Jerusalem—was fascinating to write, especially because much of David’s story resonates with Jesus’ passion narratives in the gospels. David was cursed by Shimei (2 Sam 16) and had stones and dirt thrown at him, and like Jesus, “was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly” (1 Pet 2:23). David rebuked his loyal follower (Abishai) for wanting to kill Shimei in defense of David (2 Sam 16:10) saying that the Lord was behind Shimei’s assault (2 Sam 16:10–11), similarly, Jesus had to rebuke his loyal follower (Peter) for taking up the sword in defense of Jesus (Matt 26:52) similarly saying that God was behind the assault (John 18:11). David’s trusted counselor, Ahithophel, betrayed him to those who would kill him, and Jesus’s disciple Judas Iscariot (John 13:29) betrayed him to his death. Many of the locations mentioned in David’s flight from Jerusalem and Jesus’ passion narrative are the same. Both David and Jesus ascend the Mount of Olives and there learn of the betrayal (David is told by a messenger, while Jesus is betrayed with a kiss there). Also, both Ahithophel and Judas (Matt 27:5) hang themselves after betraying the anointed one. What is more, they kill themselves before the fruits of their betrayal are completed.

5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

The book of Samuel was encouraging to my faith in many ways. Examining the complexity of Samuel and David, with both their flaws and their strengths provided encouragement that God can use a flawed person like me. The tragic story of Saul, and David’s downfall in his later life provide cautionary tales about the importance of our choices and the consequences of sin, which continue to urge me to holy living. God’s enduring commitment to David, regardless of his failures (2 Sam 7) elicit continued encouragement to trust God with my future and not rely on my own strength or successes. God’s longsuffering, compassion and amazing love come to the fore in these narratives and lead me to love him more and cling to him in faith as our hope for the future.

6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on 1 and 2 Samuel?

Alter, Robert. The David story: a translation with commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel. New York: Norton, 1999.

Anderson, A. A. 2 Samuel. Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas, Tex.: Word, 1989.

Bodner, Keith. 1 Samuel: A Narrative Commentary. Hebrew Bible Monographs. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2008.

Brueggemann, Walter. First and Second Samuel. Interpretation, a Bible commentary for teaching and preaching. Louisville, Ky.: John Knox, 1990.

Fokkelman, J. P., Narrative Art and Poetry in the Books of Samuel: Vow and Desire (1 Sam. 1–12). Assen: Van Gorcum, 1993.

Fokkelman, J. P., Narrative Art and Poetry in the Books of Samuel: A Full Interpretation Based on Stylistic and Structural Analysis: Vol. 1, King David (II Sam. 9–20 & I Kings 1–2). Studia Semitica Neerlandica. Assen, The Netherlands: Van Gorcum, 1981.

Klein, Ralph W. 1 Samuel. WBC. Waco, Tex.: Word, 1983.

Long, V. Philips, The Reign and Rejection of King Saul: A Case for Literary and Theological Coherence. Edited by David L. Peterson. SBLDS, 118. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989.

Polzin, Robert, Samuel and the Deuteronomist: A Literary Study of the Deuteronomistic History: Part Two: 1 Samuel. Indiana Studies in Biblical Literature. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989.

Polzin, Robert, David and the Deuteronomist: A Literary Study of the Deuteronomistic History. Part Three: 2 Samuel. Indiana Studies in Biblical Literature. Bloomington; Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1993.

7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

I am currently researching and writing on the history of seventh century B.C. Judah and their recovery from the Assyrian invasion. At issue partly is how the Bible understands the Assyrian king Sennacherib’s retreat as a victory for Judah when most of their fortified cities were destroyed, and the Assyrians understand their campaign against Judah as a success when they failed to depose Hezekiah and take the capital city of Jerusalem. I also continue to work on the narratives of Chronicles and am working towards a book on the method of the Chronicler in his rewriting the historical narratives of Samuel and Kings. I regularly present my latest research in papers given at the meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature, the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies and the Evangelical Theological Society and some of my work in print can be accessed on my page where many of my articles are available for download.


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Question and Answer with Alex Stewart on The First Days of Jesus: The Story of the Incarnation

Learn more about the mystery of the incarnation

first days of jesus

Alexander Stewart (Ph. D., Biblical Studies, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the Academic Dean and Associate Professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Tyndale Theological Seminary.

Dr. Stewart is from Connecticut in the U.S.A. As a teenager and young adult he served with Teen Missions International as a summer missionary in Brazil, Israel, Pakistan, Thailand, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Switzerland. Through these early experiences he gained a vision and passion for God’s global kingdom; a kingdom not limited or hindered by political, economic, or cultural barriers. During Dr. Stewart’s undergraduate studies at Columbia International University God confirmed his call to overseas mission work with a particular focus on theological education.

God has blessed Dr. Stewart with a wonderful wife, Jenny, four boys, Elijah, Benjamin, Paul, and Micah, and two girls, Charis and Sarah Kate.

1. What previous research and/or personal interests helped prepare you to write The First Days of Jesus? How was this particular project born?

It is a bit funny, but my wife always jokes with me about being a scrooge when it comes to Christmas. I don’t particularly get into all the festivities and decorations very much and I don’t enjoy most popular Christmas songs (Jingle Bells, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, etc.). I find them annoying and even heretical (Santa Clause is omnipotent and omnipresent—he sees me when I’m sleeping?!; the little Lord Jesus no crying he makes—really?!). I do love Christmas songs which are theologically rich. This background explains my interest in, to use a very well-worn cliché, understanding the real meaning of Christmas.

I worked with Andreas Köstenberger and Justin Taylor on a previous book which focused on the last week of Jesus’ life called The Final Days of Jesus. This week of Jesus’ life, of course, relates to Easter. That project was well received and we began brainstorming together about a follow-up project on the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life and Christmas. Every year Christians celebrate these two events and pastors preach on passages related to Jesus death and resurrection at Easter and his birth at Christmas. Justin Taylor was not able to directly work on this second project with us but he encouraged the acceptance of the project with Crossway.

2. Who is the intended audience for The First Days of Jesus? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

Any interested Christian could benefit but the book is primarily directed towards pastors. Every year pastors are confronted with preaching sermons related to Christmas for most of the month of December. The goal was to help these pastors be better equipped for this task of preaching and teaching from the infancy narratives.

3. What is unique about The First Days of Jesus? What contribution does it make to biblical studies and/or biblical theology?

I think there are two unique features of this book. First, we seek to blend exegesis, history, theology, and devotional application. This is not as easy as it sounds! Many people who are interested in devotional writing become bored when confronted with exegesis or theology. Others love historical details but become uncomfortable when an author seeks to encourage spiritual commitment and growth. We do the best we can to blend these elements in one book on the infancy narratives.

Second, we include an extended discussion of John’s Gospel in a book on the infancy narratives. Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 are the normal texts on the infancy narratives but John’s prologue provides rich reflection on Jesus’ pre-existence and the incarnation and we include it in this study of Jesus’ birth.

4. How should Christians understand the Bible’s teaching on the virgin birth outside of Isaiah, Matthew, and Luke, where it seems to be so clearly articulated? Is it problematic that other writers like John, Paul, or other Old Testament prophets don’t write of the virgin birth so plainly?

I don’t think it is a problem at all. The Bible contains a united message about God and humanity but it is also incredibly diverse and discusses different things in different ways at different places. Different biblical authors emphasize different points. They are not uniform and we should not expect them to be. Now if some biblical author contradicted Matthew and Luke’s account of a virgin conception it would potentially be problematic but silence is not contradiction.

5. In the book, you contend for the virgin birth of Jesus and answer skeptics who have argued a contrary perspective. What advice do you have for pastors and teachers with regard to communicating this doctrine to congregations?

With most biblical teaching there needs to be wisdom and balance. I don’t think it is necessary to constantly teach or preach on the virgin conception, but it should not be downplayed or avoided when relevant to understanding who Jesus is and how God acted in sending Jesus to the world. Over the past few generations, the virgin birth has often been used as a litmus test for one’s commitment to the authority and inerrancy of Scripture. It is a teaching that sounds incredible, could only be miraculous, is rejected by most skeptics, but is clearly taught in the Gospels.

6. What section or passage of The First Days of Jesus was particularly memorable to research and write? What personally edified you in writing this book, increasing your affections for Christ?

My favorite part to research and write was actually the appendix. In the appendix we discuss messianic expectation in the Old Testament and Second Temple Jewish literature. Most pastors and educated Christians will have heard about various Jewish works written in the centuries surrounding Jesus’ birth such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, Psalms of Solomon, 1 Enoch, 4 Ezra, and 2 Baruch among many others. Most Christians, however, don’t have any idea how to access these books and don’t have the time to read them even if they could find them. In the appendix we explore this literature, give some historical background, and provide examples from these books to illustrate the kind of Jewish messianic expectation that was current around the time of Jesus’ birth. I love grounding our claims in the primary sources and I thrive on this kind of historical research.

The most personally edifying sections to write were the hymns recorded in Luke’s account: the Magnificat (from Mary), Benedictus (from Zechariah), the Gloria in Excelsis (angelic announcement to the shepherds), and the Nunc Dimittis (Simeon’s declaration). These hymns powerfully situate the birth of Jesus within the context of Jewish national hopes for the fulfillment of God’s promises to his people. When reading these hymns it is easy to be caught up in the excitement and hope surrounding the birth of Jesus and God’s plan to finally fulfill his ancient promises.

7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

I just came out with a short book on perseverance in the NT: Perseverance and Salvation: What the New Testament Teaches about Faith and Works (Areopagus Critical Christian Issues 9; Energion Publications, 2018). This is a popular level (no footnotes) approach to several important questions like “Can a Christian lose salvation?” from the perspective of biblical studies.

My next academic monograph (lots of footnotes) is focused on the motivational use of fear appeals, scare tactics, and threats in the book of Revelation. Christians today, perhaps responding to our heritage of Hell, fire, and brimstone preaching, are quite afraid of fear and often don’t know how to incorporate a healthy fear of God into their faith.

Additionally, I hope to come out with a popular level book on how to interpret the book of Revelation in the next few years. This was the focus of my doctoral research and I think I have some important things to say on the matter but the problem is that the market is quite flooded with books about how to interpret Revelation. We will see how it turns out.

The best way to follow my writing and research is on academia.eduWhen I am not researching and writing I work full-time as a missionary teacher and academic dean at Tyndale Theological Seminary in the Netherlands. Tyndale is a missions seminary committed to training pastors and Christian leaders for God’s global kingdom.


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Question and Answer with Stephen E. Fowl on Ruth

Learn more about Ruth in the Brazos Theological Commentary of the Bible Series

ruth bible commentaryStephen E. Fowl (Ph.D., University of Sheffield) is the Chair of the Department of Theology at Loyola College in Maryland.

His research interests include the New Testament (esp. Pauline Studies), Hermeneutics, and the Theological Interpretation of Scripture.

Dr. Fowl’s recent publications include: Reading Scripture with the Church: Toward a Theological Hermeneutic with A.K.M. Adam, Kevin Vanhoozer, and Francis Watson (Baker Academic, 2006), and Theological Interpretation of Scripture (Cascade Books, 2009).

Besides his new volume on Ruth in the Brazos series, Dr. Fowl’s other commentaries are Ephesians in the New Testament commentary series (Westminster/John Knox, 2012) and Philippians in the Two Horizons commentary series (Eerdmans, 2005).

1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on Ruth?

Just to be clear, the volume combines Judges and Ruth. Laura Smit has prepared the Judges part. I have done Ruth. One of the aims of the Brazos series of theological commentaries is to offer commentary that is genuinely theological. There are only a couple of biblical scholars like myself who were invited to participate in this project. One of the requirements for us is that we work in our opposite testament. I think the point behind this is to try to free us from producing an overly technical work and to encourage us to be truly theological. So, since most of my writing has been on Paul, I had to pick an OT book. I was offered a number of books, but Ruth was the one that jumped out at me. For someone who is intrigued by the theological and practical issues between Jews and Gentiles in the earliest churches, Ruth is a great place to work.

2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

In all of my work I try to write in a way that maximizes the accessibility of what I want to say. So, I hope the book is accessible to a wide audience without short changing serious intellectual issues. Nevertheless, Pastors and seminary students and anyone else who engages the word of God in a regular and sustained way in service to the church comprise the audience I aim to reach.

3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of Ruth?

In the modern period there really are not many commentaries that aim to front-load theological engagement with the text of Ruth. One of the questions that animates this work is the fact that Matthew includes Ruth in his genealogy of Jesus. In some respects, this makes Matthew the first commentator on Ruth. What did Matthew see in this story of a Moabite woman who willingly joins herself to the people of Israel and their God, that made it important for him to include her as one of the very few women he mentions in Jesus’ genealogy?

4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?

To me, the interchanges between the three central characters, Naomi, Boaz, and Ruth were wonderfully rich to work with. Overcoming Naomi’s objections, Ruth binds herself to this woman and seeks her benefit with a deep Christ-like selflessness. Ruth shows great courage and pluck in her conversations with Boaz.

5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

One of the things people note about Ruth is that God plays such a limited role in the story. God’s will is accomplished through people being willing to act in ways that seem good to them. One could get hung up trying to distinguish God’s will from human actions in this story. I take it that one of the theological points one might make, however, is that this story shows that in the lives of devoted followers of God, it becomes ever more difficult to disentangle God’s will from their will and it is less crucial to do so.

6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on Ruth?

I particularly like Ellen Davis’ translation and Margaret Adams’ woodcuts for the book Who Are You My Daughter; Kirsten Nielsen’s commentary [Old Testament Library] is also clear and accessible and to the point.

7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

I am wrapping up a book on idolatry the explores the habits and dispositions that either lead Christians into idolatry or help them resist idolatry.


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Question and Answer with John Goldingay on the Old Testament For Everyone Series

Learn more about the Old Testament For Everyone Commentary Series

Isaiah bible commentaryJohn Goldingay (Ph.D., University of Notthingham, DD, Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth) is the David Allan Hubbard Professor Emeritus of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Dr. Goldingay was previously principal and a professor of Old Testament at St. John’s Theological College in Nottingham, England. For many years he also served as priest-in-charge of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Pasadena. Dr. Goldingay’s current research include Hosea to Micah, Daniel, and Genesis. 

His recent publications include The First Testament: A New Translation, A Reader’s Guide to the Bible, and Biblical Theology: The God of the Christian Scriptures. His well-reviewed Bible commentaries include Psalms in the Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms series, Isaiah in the Understanding the Bible Commentary Series, and Daniel in the Word Biblical Commentary series.

Dr. Goldingay was married to Ann for 43 years until she died in 2009. He is now married to Kathleen and the two of them are well-known in jazz and other clubs.

1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write The Old Testament for Everyone series?

It wasn’t my idea! The publisher first suggested it in the 1990s when he also approached Tom Wright about the NT series, but it seemed an insane notion and in any case I couldn’t fit it in then. When he asked me again in the mid-2000s, when I had changed jobs, I had more time, and I was just finishing an Old Testament Theology, and a friend I always ask for advice on writing projects suggested it was an opportunity to share the fruits of thinking about the Old Testament as a whole at a different level.

2. Who is the intended audience for this series? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

As I’ve just implied, it’s written for “ordinary people,” who may come in any of those categories! I guess in theory it’s really aimed at “lay Christians in the local church” but the emails I get about it tend to come from pastor-types. Last week I got one from a former seminary colleague who said she was reading one of the volumes every morning as she did the scripture reading for the day as it comes in the Anglican lectionary.

3. What is unique about The Old Testament for Everyone series? What is distinct about it in relation to other commentaries available today?

I haven’t read all the other commentaries so I don’t know. The idea for the series goes back to the William Barclay series on the NT and then to the Daily Study Bible which tried to do something similar for the OT. The prescription was, divide the text into manageable chunks, translate it, start with a story or a personal illustration, then write a thousand words of explanation.

4. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

The most demanding aspect of the project was having a story or reflection to start each section, but that need made me reflect on my own life and think back over things that had happened and how what God had been doing with me or with people I knew, and it was encouraging to reflect in that way.

5. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

I’ve just finished commentaries on Genesis and on Hosea to Micah for Baker and I’m just starting on a commentary on Jeremiah for NICOT. You can check me out on, where there are lots of my articles etc.


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Question and Answer with Stephen B. Chapman on 1 Samuel

Learn more about 1 Samuel as Christian Scripture: A Theological Commentary

samuel bible commentaryA proponent of theological interpretation, Dr. Stephen B. Chapman (Ph.D., Yale University) has studied, lectured, and taught internationally in a variety of academic and church settings. His work focuses on the formation of the biblical canon, the nature of the Old Testament as scripture, the dynamics of biblical narrative, the challenge of biblical violence, and the history and use of the Old Testament within the Christian tradition and Western culture.

Dr. Chapman is the author of 1 Samuel as Christian Scripture, which was awarded 2017 Reference Book of the Year by the Academy of Parish Clergy (2016) and The Law and the Prophets (2000), as well as numerous essays. He coedited The Cambridge Companion to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament (2016) and Biblischer Text und theologische Theoriebildung (2001). He is an affiliate faculty member with Duke’s Center for Jewish Studies and Director of Graduate Studies for Duke’s Ph.D. program in religion. He serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Theological Interpretation and the monograph series Siphrut: Literature and Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures (Eisenbrauns). He is also an ordained American Baptist minister. His current project is a book on The Theology of Joshua for Cambridge University Press.

1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on 1 Samuel?

Like many people, I have been interested in the theological interpretation of scripture. My first book was a historical study of Old Testament canon formation. It struck me back then that if we could gain a clearer understanding of how the canon was put together, it might give us some cues about how best to read it today. (I still think so.) I had followed up that project with a number of methodological essays, but it increasingly seemed to me that I needed to tackle an entire book of the Bible. I had a hunch that the discipline of expositing an actual full-length text might cast a new light on the methodological issues at stake. That hunch proved to be truer than I suspected! The most challenging thing in the world, I discovered, is to explicate a biblical text from start to finish. At every turn there are temptations to deviate from its plain sense. The biblical interpreter must constantly decide what not to talk about. But I learned things about theological interpretation that I don’t think I could have learned any other way. I hope that the result may be a helpful exploration for others who are pursuing theological interpretation in the academy and the church.

2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

From the outset I hoped to write my commentary as a stand-alone volume rather than as part of a series, because I wanted to revisit the basic questions of what a commentary is and what it is for. I worry that the typical commentary format does not help to open up the theological riches of biblical books, and perhaps even gets in the way sometimes. Commentaries usually read biblical books in discrete units and then offer abbreviated theological reflections on each unit. But this kind of approach often results in a series of interpretive fragments without a clear sense of coherence or focus. After reading such a commentary, I am left wondering what the biblical book is actually about. So I planned my commentary in three sections instead. In the first section, I engage preliminary questions about the historical and literary nature of the Samuel narrative. I also work closely with the conclusion of 2 Samuel, since 1 and 2 Samuel were originally a single narrative. A crucial aspect of my reading of Samuel is that the narrative characteristically withholds information in order to evoke interpretive questions, later providing additional clues to their answers. The best example of this narrative technique, which I call “retrospective disambiguation,” is how David finally speaks in 2 Samuel 22 and 23. David is notoriously tight-lipped throughout the Samuel narrative, and the narrator gives us little help when it comes to what is going on in David’s mind. But at the very end of the narrative the words pour forth from David, and they come toward the reader with the force of a great revelation. We finally learn what has been inside David the whole time, and it turns out to be the Psalms! For this reason, I argue that 1 Samuel can only be rightly understood against the backdrop of 2 Samuel 21-24.

In the second section of my commentary, I exposit 1 Samuel from start to finish. Although I do divide up the narrative in units in order to structure my treatment, I intentionally do not try to theologize each one. The idea is rather to see what 1 Samuel as a whole says and does first. What I am after in this section is the theology of 1 Samuel in its entirety. Then in the third section, I ask contextualizing historical and theological questions: What time period and/or Israelite tradition(s) might help to explain what 1 Samuel is doing? What are the points of connection between 1 Samuel and Christian theology? In this final section, I not only advance a theological construal of the Samuel narrative, I offer explicit reflections on the significance of 1 Samuel for followers of Jesus Christ.

I attempted to write the commentary with pastors and lay people in mind, as well as ministerial students and scholars. But the second section is probably the most approachable. I would be delighted if a pastor were to plan a sermon series on 1 Samuel, or if an adult Sunday School class were to work through 1 Samuel, using the second section of my commentary as a resource and guide.

I also tried to write for theologians – theologians who want to use the Old Testament more but don’t always know how to go about it. For them in particular, I would recommend my introduction and the second half of my final chapter, where I discuss Saul as a tragic figure who can function as an Old Testament type for Christ crucified.

3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to 1 Samuel?

This commentary models a more literary approach to biblical interpretation than what is normally done. It also integrates the reception history of Samuel, both Jewish and Christian, to an extent that is unusual. However, the key contribution of the commentary’s content is to shift the theological focus from David to Saul. David has almost always been interpreted heroically in the Christian tradition, since he is considered a forerunner of Christ. And Saul has been correspondingly demonized. Against this tendency, I point out how the Samuel narrative does not develop a view of David as all good or Saul as all bad – but rather portrays both in shades of gray. This is because the difference between them is not a moral one, but a difference born of God’s sovereign choice. I point out that Saul does not start out bad but is instead mysteriously deficient, unable for some reason to achieve the spiritual connection to God that David somehow possesses more or less naturally. So Saul becomes a figure for the unelect, a tragic symbol of faith that has not found fruitful soil. The narrative never blames Saul for the fact that God did not give him the gift of faith, but it never releases him from responsibility either. I then treat Saul as an instance of what literary scholar Emily Wilson has called “the tragedy of overliving,” a tragedy about someone who did not die “on time” but lingers on, diminished and deteriorating. This framework is crucial for reading the second half of 1 Samuel, in which Saul has already been rejected by God but is still on the throne persecuting David. Nevertheless, I argue that Saul can be interpreted as a type for Christ just as much as David. If David can be said to represent Christ as Lord, then Saul can be understood as the crucified Christ, the Christ of Golgotha rather than Easter. From this vantage point, Saul also becomes a figure for Christians who struggle and suffer, those who know the dark night of the soul.

4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write?

The first passage that comes to mind is 1 Samuel 28. Before I started looking into the history of this chapter’s interpretation, I had no idea just how much interest in it existed in the early church. The presenting problem, of course, is that in this episode Saul is able to raise Samuel from the dead with the assistance of a witch. So on its face, this narrative appears to provide a biblical warrant for the efficacy of witchcraft! There is accordingly an entire literature of interpretive commentary on this one chapter alone, and it is fascinating in all its passionate complexity. Just reading the various treatises on it is like attending a school of biblical interpretation. It is also a nice example of how modernity has forgotten certain things and can relearn them from the past. Most academic interpreters in contemporary North America are likely not too concerned about witchcraft as genuine spiritual threat, but early Christian interpreters were very worried about it – and they read 1 Samuel 28 in light of that concern, which opened up a dimension of the narrative that today is usually overlooked or even deprecated in a patronizing manner.

5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

I was continually amazed by the beauty and nuance of this ancient text. I love the Bible. I love the way each word counts, the way the text expresses realities that resonate deep down inside me. Sometimes the Bible seems to put things into words which I know I have also felt but didn’t know how to express. The Samuel narrative is full of masterful craftsmanship. There are real textual difficulties, to be sure, but the text that we have received is much, much more than a series of technical problems. The narrative cajoles and prods and even shoves the reader along, and the reader realizes again and again that it is ultimately the character of God which is at the heart of the matter. Reading the Samuel narrative becomes a means of encountering God anew. I offer explicit Christological connections at the conclusion of my commentary, and in doing so I experienced once more the awesome mystery of Christ’s crucifixion and the way that Christ revealed for us what it truly means to be human before God. Finally, I was struck by how all the interpreters of the biblical text down through the ages form something like a living chain, a community of interpretation extending through time, and it was thrilling to imagine that in my own small way I was now a part of it.

6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on 1 Samuel?

Everyone should read the section on Samuel in Karl Barth’s great excursus on election in his Church Dogmatics II/2, pp. 366-93. Barth reads the narrative with what he calls “Christian astonishment.” His typological interpretation was highly influential for me. Among older commentaries, I would single out Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel, Library of Biblical Interpretation (Zondervan, 1986) and H. W. Hertzberg, I & II Samuel, Old Testament Library (Westminster, 1964). Their historical content has become dated, but they deal with theological issues in a more insightful fashion than many newer commentaries. For a Christological interpretation of Samuel in a more traditional evangelical vein, I would recommend John Woodhouse, 1 Samuel: Looking for a Leader (Crossway, 2014). A gem of an essay on Samuel is A. B. Davidson, “Saul’s Reprobation,” in his volume titled The Called of God (T & T Clark, 1902), 143-61. Finally, for all biblical narratives, in the New Testament as well as the Old, I highly recommend the classic work by seventeenth-century Anglican bishop Joseph Hall, Contemplations on Historical Passages of the Old and New Testaments, 3 vols. (Nelson and Sons, 1860). This is an incredible treasure trove of riches – which you can now download very cheaply on your Kindle! – and one that all pastors and biblical interpreters can use to great advantage.

7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

My current book project is The Theology of the Book of Joshua for the “Old Testament Theology” series published by Cambridge University Press. Along with my colleagues Tremper Longman and Nathan MacDonald, I coedit the monograph series “Siphrut: Literature and Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures,” published by Eisenbrauns. Over the next few years, I will also be editing “Touchstone Texts,” a new series of exegetical explorations of key biblical passages, sponsored by Baker Academic. An updated edition of my dissertation, The Law and the Prophets, will be released by Baker this coming year. I continue to teach in the Divinity School at Duke University, where I also direct the PhD program in religion.


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Question and Answer with David Lamb on his book Prostitutes and Polygamists

What are polygamists and prostitutes doing on the pages of Holy Scripture?

lamb prostitutes and polygamists

David T. Lamb is the Allan A. MacRae Professor of Old Testament at Biblical Theological Seminary.

Dave lived in Lexington (KY) long enough to become a Wildcat fan (age 1), lived in Downers Grove (IL) long enough to become a Cubs fan (age 5), and lived in Ames (IA) long enough to learn how to walk beans and de-tassel corn (age 18).

As a young man, he went west to Stanford (CA), where he studied economics (BA), industrial engineering (MS) and Bible (in InterVarsity). He witnessed “The Play” where the Cardinal band came on the field after the Cal player’s knee hit the ground (before lateraling the ball). He served on staff with InterVarsity (1986-1999) at Claremont, Redlands (CA), and Penn (PA).

Against her better judgment, Shannon agreed to marry him (1991), and together they created Nathan and Noah. One can never have enough advanced degrees, so he got an MDiv (Fuller Seminary), an MPhil, and DPhil (University of Oxford).

Since 2006, he has taught Old Testament at Biblical Theological Seminary. He loves to give others a love for God’s word.

Besides Prostitutes and Polygamists: A Look at Love, Old Testament Style (Zondervan), Dave has written three books: The Historical Writings: Introducing Israel’s Historical Literature (co-written with Mark Leuchter; Fortress), God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist? (InterVarsity), Righteous Jehu and His Evil Heirs: The Deuteronomist’s Negative Perspective on Dynastic Succession (Oxford). Dr. Lamb’s fifth book is a commentary on 1, 2 Kings in the Story of God series (Zondervan, forthcoming).

1. What previous research and/or personal interests helped prepare you to write Prostitutes and Polygamists? How was this particular project born?

After I wrote God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?, I received a lot of questions about people behaving badly in the Bible, particularly in the realm of sex and sexuality. What about all those polygamists, many of whom are portrayed positively (e.g., Abraham, Gideon, Saul, David, Solomon)? How are we to understand the stories of prostitutes who are clearly viewed favorably (e.g., Tamar, Rahab)? What do we do with the gruesome account of the rape of the Levite’s concubine (Judges 19)? The narratives of these polygamists may be familiar but teachers of the Bible don’t usually address their polygamy. The tales of these prostitutes, and that of the Levite’s concubine frequently get ignored. Paul would say that by avoiding these portions of Scripture, we aren’t profiting from them, since all Scripture is inspired (2 Tim 3:16). I desperately want the church to profit from these sordid stories. As I discuss these stories in Prostitutes and Polygamists, it is my hope that people would have a profound encounter with the grace of God. Because, when humans behave badly, even in the realm of sexuality, God behaves graciously.

2. Who is the intended audience for Prostitutes and Polygamists? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

This book could be helpful to anyone who reads the Bible and wants to understand it better, so pastors, professors, students, all Christians, ideally. I do a lot of academic writing, but I really enjoy writing for a broader audience (we need more biblical scholars who can write for “normal” people). If you are familiar with any of the following: Arrested Development, Time Magazine, Game of Thrones, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Christianity Today, Green Acres, Sex and the City, The West Wing, Barbie, Pretty Woman, Doonesbury, Monsters University, or “I’m My Own Grandpa,” then you will find a point of connection with this book. I love to discuss Scripture, but to understand it and apply it, it needs to connect to our world and our lives. So, I tell stories and attempt humor (sometimes successfully). My audience is any one who has ever committed a sin, or who knows someone else who has.

3. What is unique about Prostitutes and Polygamists? What contribution does it make to biblical studies and/or biblical theology?

Several aspects of the book make it unique. First, it examines the ancient contexts behind these stories, helping us understand why polygamy was so common and what might lead a woman into a life of prostitution. Second, it is unusual for a more popular book like this to have so many biblical references (my Scripture index is 6 pages long); I want people to get a sense that what I’m saying is rooted in Scripture. Third, I include tables to organize material (a “Plethora of Prostitutes” on pages 68-69 and a Table of Incestry” on pages 144, 145). Fourth, while most scholars call David an adulterer, I call him a rapist for what he did to Bathsheba (see pages 127-133).

4. In the book, you approach a serious topic, using commonly misunderstood and confusing passages from the Old Testament, with a surprising amount of laugh-out-loud stories and one-liners. What made you think to tackle the subject matter in such a unconventional manner? Why is it effective?

I have been told that I sometimes make inappropriate jokes. Guilty as charged. Perhaps I made too many in a book that addresses serious subjects (rape, prostitution, adultery, incest). I would never want to make light of these sins, or to downplay the pain of anyone who has been victimized in these areas. But I believe humor serves three purposes. First, humor helps us deal with pain. I recently attended my father’s memorial service in Kentucky, surrounded by family and friends. As we shared stories of dad, we cried, and laughed. Both were therapeutic as we grieved his loss. Second, humor keeps us humble. The target of much of my humor is myself. My sons would say there’s a lot of material to work with there. Third, humor helps us speak the truth. George Bernard Shaw reportedly said, “If you are going to tell people the truth, you better make them laugh; otherwise they’ll kill you.” I pray that my humor makes people more receptive to hear truth from God’s word.

5. In addition to laughing and smiling a lot, what kind of applications can readers expect to have from reading Prostitutes and Polygamists?

Scripture records the worst sins of some of the most pious people in history in the best-selling book of all time. Why record all this dark material (rapes, adultery, polygamy, prostitution, and incest)? The pattern we see repeated throughout Scripture is that when humans behave badly, God behaves graciously. My primary hope and prayer for people—including victims and perpetrators of sexual sin—is that they would be overwhelmed by the amazing graciousness of God.

6. What section or passage of Prostitutes and Polygamists was particularly memorable to research and write? What personally edified you in writing this book, increasing your affections for Christ?

The story of Tamar, the daughter-in-law of Judah is fascinating to me (Gen 38). It curiously interrupts the much more familiar story of Joseph, leading one to ask, why is her story included here? Tamar is a Canaanite woman who was sexually exploited by at least two members Jacob’s family (his grandson Onan and son Judah). Judah wants to kill her for immorality, but then he is convicted when she subtly reveals that he is the one who impregnated her. Judah states, “She is more righteous than I” (Gen 38:26). I state, “After his encounter with Tamar the pious prostitute, Judah morphs from being a prostitute-frequenting, slave-trading brother, into a self-sacrificing, volunteer-to-be-enslaved brother” (p. 100). Tamar is also the first woman mentioned in the New Testament (Matt 1:3), right there at the beginning of Jesus’ family tree, reminding us that Jesus came into the world for all of us, even Tamar the pious prostitute.

7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

In June I finished my first draft of a commentary on the book of Kings for Zondervan (the Story of God series), which will hopefully come out in 2019. In July, I wrote an article on the characterization of King Hezekiah of Judah, to be published in a volume on the book of Kings. I argue that Hezekiah trusted not only in God (see 2 Kings 18:5), but also in foreign powers (Assyria, Egypt, and Babylon). I have a blog (, but have not be able to make regular posts on it recently. People who have questions for me, or who want to invite me to speak, can contact me via email: [email protected].


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Question and Answer with Peter Adam on Malachi

Learn more about Malachi in the Bible Speaks Today series

malachi bible commentaryPeter Adam is vicar emeritus at St. Jude’s Carlton, formerly principal of Ridley College Melbourne, and vicar of St. Jude’s.

His publications include Speaking God’s Words: A Practical Theology of Preaching, Hearing God’s Words: Exploring Biblical Spirituality, Written for Us: Receiving God’s Words in the Bible, The Majestic Son: The Letter to the Hebrews, and Walking in God’s Words: Ezra and Nehemiah. He speaks at training conferences for preachers.

Peter Adam is a founding member of the Council of The Gospel Coalition Australia.

1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on Malachi?

I first heard expository preaching when John Stott visited Australia in 1965, and gave us 2 Corinthians. I had never heard expository preaching before, and I thought,’That is how to preach’, and ‘That is what I want to do!’ I was a recent convert, but the only preaching I had heard was on isolated verse from the Bible out of context. I was ordained in 1970, and have expounded books of the Bible whenever possible. [Though I also do some topical preaching, to show and train people to answer questions they have, and to answer questions they are asked by others.] So I have expounded Malachi several times. I did so one year at the Evangelical Ministry Assembly in London, and the people from IVP heard the talks and asked me to write the commentary.

So I have trained myself to spend a lot of sermon preparation time working on the book as a whole, asking questions like: ‘What is this Bible book about?’ ‘Why was it written?’ ‘What does God want to achieve through this book today?’ ‘How can I help these people to grasp this book?’ ‘How do the different parts of this book contribute to its main purpose?’ ‘How does this book communicate its message?’ ‘How can I project the message of this book effectively?’

When I began preaching, very few people preached from the Old Testament, so I have done lots of Old Testament preaching. Christians who know the Old Testament better understand the New Testament, and have a more secure faith.

2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

Its intended audience is pastors, lay people who lead Bible studies, and lay people doing their own Bible study. It is not really designed for professors or Bible College students.

Preachers need help in their sermon preparation, and this series includes application as well as exegesis. Lay people need to know the Bible for themselves and their own growth in Christ, and they also need to know the Bible so that they can ‘teach and admonish one another with all wisdom’, and also answer those who enquire about Christianity [Col 3:16, 4:6].

So when I am preaching the Bible, I aim to grow Christians to maturity in Christ, aim to grow the church to maturity in Christ, and aim to train and equip Christians to teach others. [I learnt about using the sermon to train Christians from John Calvin’s sermons].

3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of Malachi?

The features of this commentary are:

– It includes exegesis and application.

– In its application it follows Malachi in addressing the corporate or body-life of God’s people, rather than addressing individuals. Like Malachi, it is working for significant cultural change in the shared values, strengths, weaknesses and sins among God’s people. [When I began preaching, I preached to individuals. After about 5 years, I realised that most of the Bible addresses God’s people as a whole, not just individuals].

– It identifies the condition of God’s people as neither decisively turning away, nor decisively returning to him. They have enough religion to feel safe, but not enough religion to love God whole-heartedly and passionately. They are deluded: there is no neutral ground from God’s perspective. This reminds me of some Christians and some churches today. Malachi exposes the unsustainable tension of this stance.

– It interprets Old Testament priests and sacrifices in the light of the gospel.

– It interprets and applies Malachi as both prophetic of Christ and the gospel, and also as profitable for teaching, reproof, correcting, training in righteousness, and equipping for good works [Combining the two purposes of Scripture give us by Paul in 2 Timothy 3:15-17].

– It tries to explain Malachi’s teaching on marriage and divorce in the light of the whole Bible.

These are some of the features of this commentary. Of course these are found in other commentaries as well, but it is the combination of these features which is its contribution.

4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?

The first words of the LORD, ‘I have loved you’ is the key to the book of Malachi. If only God’s people knew that, there would be no need for the book!

And God’s love here is not primarily for individuals [though he does love individuals] but for his people. If God loves his people, then we should do the same. We must not hug God’s love to ourselves, and judge others or judge the church by law. This is a challenge for pastors, and a challenge for lay people! God has not given up on his church. He loves it: he loves us. ‘I have loved you’. Wonderful!

5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

I was reminded that God’s love is clearly demonstrated by looking at the alternative, God’s hate. We only know the strength and power of God’s love if we know of God’s eternal judgement.

I often assess how much God loves me by how happy I am, how well my life is going, how well my ministry is going. Many others do the same. We are on the happiness marathon, not the holiness marathon. But the convincing, eternal, and permanently powerful proof of God’s love is the death of his Son in our place, to save us from wrath and judgement. Amazing love!

6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on Malachi?

Calvin, John, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Calvin’s Commentaries Vol. XV, [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981 {1848}].

Jacobs, Mignon R., ‘Malachi’, in Kevin J. Vanhoozer, ed., Theological Interpretation of the Old Testament, [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic/London: SPCK, 2008], pp. 305-312.

Pohlig, James N., An Exegetical Summary of Malachi, [Dallas: SIL, 1998].

Smith, Ralph L., Micah-Malachi, Word Biblical Commentary 32, [Waco: Word, 1984].

Verhoef, Pieter A., The Books of Haggai and Malachi, NICOT, [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987].

7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

I am now retired from full-time ministry. So I am free to mentor people in ministry, train preachers, speak at ministry and preaching conferences, pray, and preach and teach the Bible. in 2018 I am speaking in several places around Australia where I live, and also in Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and New Zealand.

My current writing project is a book on wisdom. It is both a Biblical Theology of wisdom, and also an application of that wisdom to those in gospel ministry.

I have also written commentaries on Hebrews, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Esther.
My home church is St Jude’s Carlton in Melbourne Australia, where I was the pastor for 20 years. So you can find information about me at


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