The First Days of Jesus Q & A with Author Alex Stewart

7 Questions about the mystery of the incarnation

first days of jesus book cover

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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Ruth Commentary Q & A with Author Stephen E. Fowl

7 Questions on Ruth in the Brazos Theological Commentary Series

ruth commentary book coverStephen 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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Old Testament For Everyone Commentaries Q & A with Author John Goldingay

7 Questions about the For Everyone Old Testament Commentary Series

old testament commentaries book coverJohn 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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1 Samuel Commentaries Q & A with Author Stephen B. Chapman

7 Questions on 1 Samuel as Christian Scripture: A Theological Commentary

samuel commentary book coverA 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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Prostitutes and Polygamists Q & A with Author David Lamb

7 Questions about Love in the Old Testament

prostitutes polygamists book cover

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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Malachi Commentary Q & A with Author Peter Adam

7 Questions on Malachi in the Bible Speaks Today Commentary Series

malachi commentary book coverPeter 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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Dictionary of Christianity and Science Q & A with Co-Author Christopher L. Reese

7 Questions about “The Definitive Reference for the Intersection of Christian Faith and Contemporary Science”

dictionary Christianity science book coverChristopher L. Reese is a publishing professional, writer, and editor. He is an associate publisher at Lexham Press, and was previously an associate publisher at Moody Publishers and marketing manager for B&H Academic.

He earned a Master of Divinity from Beeson Divinity School, and a Master of Theology (ThM) from Talbot School of Theology.

He is also co-founder of the Christian Apologetics Alliance (, and general editor, along with Paul Copan, of the forthcoming book Three Views on Christianity and Science (Zondervan, 2019). You can find him on Twitter (@clreese), LinkedIn, and Facebook.

Chris lives in the Nashville area with his wife, Naomi.

1. How was the idea for this dictionary born?

My friend Madison Trammel, an acquisitions editor at Zondervan Academic, conceived the idea, and asked me if I would be interested in participating. I was eager to, and Madison, the other three general editors, and I began mapping out the details–topics we thought should be covered, contributors, the timeline, and all the related details.

2. Who are the authors? How were they selected?

The general editors are Paul Copan, Tremper Longman, Michael Strauss, and me. Because discussions of Christianity and science cut across so many disciplines, we wanted general editors who brought expertise from some of the main fields, including philosophy, theology, biblical studies, and science. We also recruited about 140 contributors who work professionally in those areas, many of whom have previously written on topics related to Christianity and science.

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

We tried to make the entries as accessible as we could for those coming to the topics for the first time. Each of the audiences you mention will find the Dictionary helpful in their own context. Pastors will find it useful for answering questions asked by church members, professors and students will find it beneficial for classroom use, and any believer who wrestles with issues related to science and faith will find helpful guidance.

4. What is unique about this dictionary? Why should Bible readers add it to their reference library?

Before the Dictionary, there wasn’t a single volume from an evangelical perspective that provided overviews of such a wide array of topics in the realm of Christianity and science. The Dictionary brings together some of the leading evangelical thinkers on these subjects along with some of the most up-to-date discussions.

For some of the more controversial topics, we also included a unique “counterpoint” format that provides two different perspectives on several issues, such as the age of the universe, Adam and Eve, interpretations of Genesis, and the relationship between theology and science. We tried to represent the most common evangelical approaches to these issues.

There are also three types of entries, with some giving brief overviews, others providing essay-length treatments, and a third that develops extended arguments that last for several pages. Each entry also concludes with a bibliography for further reading and study.

5. How has working on this project increased your affections for Christ? How would you anticipate it doing so for readers?

While working on this project over a period of five years, I gained an even greater appreciation for the beauty and complexity of God’s creation. Just as remarkable is the fact that human beings can comprehend it, which by itself is evidence for God’s existence, and our creation in his image.

I was also reminded that evangelicalism is a big tent whose members hold a variety of views on the relationship between science and Christianity. We hope the Dictionary exemplifies and will stimulate constructive dialogue on these issues, and that evangelicals will better understand one another and those who take different perspectives.

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Romans Commentary Q & A with Author Ben Witherington

7 Questions on Romans in the Socio-Rhetorical Commentary Series

romans commentary book coverBible scholar Ben Witherington is Amos Professor of New Testament for Doctoral Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary and on the doctoral faculty at St. Andrews University in Scotland. A graduate of UNC, Chapel Hill, he went on to receive the M.Div. degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from the University of Durham in England. He is now considered one of the top evangelical scholars in the world, and is an elected member of the prestigious SNTS, a society dedicated to New Testament studies.

Dr. Witherington has also taught at Ashland Theological Seminary, Vanderbilt University, Duke Divinity School and Gordon-Conwell. A popular lecturer, Witherington has presented seminars for churches, colleges and biblical meetings not only in the United States but also in England, Estonia, Russia, Europe, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Australia. He has also led tours to Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Jordan, and Egypt.

Dr. Witherington has written over fifty books, including The Jesus Quest and The Paul Quest, both of which were selected as top biblical studies works by Christianity Today. He also writes for many church and scholarly publications, and is a frequent contributor to the Patheos website.

Along with many interviews on radio networks across the country, Witherington has been seen on the History Channel, NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, The Discovery Channel, A&E, and the PAX Network.

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

Romans is the most commented on book in all of human history. But oddly, when it comes to Protestant commentaries, there are almost none written from a perspective other than the Reformed perspective on the book. I am a Methodist, and knew that another reading, a far more Arminian or Wesleyan reading of the book was possible, and needed to be offered.

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 for pastors and educated lay people, but it is also regularly used by seminary students as well.

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

This commentary is unique in two ways: A) it is the first full dress socio-rhetorical commentary on Romans, and B) it combines that with a non-Reformed reading of the theology of the book.

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

Particularly important is the treatment of Rom. 7-11. For instance, Rom. 7 is not about the struggle of Christians, it is a Christian view of life outside Christ, first the life of Adam in Rom. 7.6-12, and then those who have ever since been ‘in Adam’ and outside of Christ in the rest of the chapter. Romans 8 is not about people being chosen from before the foundation of the universe to be saved or elect. It is about the destiny of those who are already in Christ— God is working things together so they will be conformed to the image of Christ in the end. Rom. 9-11 is a defense of God’s faithfulness to Jews, and in Rom. 11, Paul predicts that once the full number of Gentiles are saved by grace through faith, then in like fashion ‘all Israel will be saved’ at the return of Christ.

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

I enjoyed writing all of this and learned a lot. The description of the work of Christ in Rom. 3-6 in various places is inspirational.

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

There are many interesting commentaries on Romans, both historically and in modernity. Of the older one’s Melanchthon’s rhetorical commentary is especially revealing and interesting. Of more recent ones, I especially love the English translation of Kasemann’s famous commentary on Romans.

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1-2 Timothy, Titus Commentary Q & A with Author Robert Yarbrough

7 Questions on 1-2 Timothy and Titus in the Pillar Commentary Series

timothy titus commentary book coverRobert Yarbrough (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is the professor of the New Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary. He taught previously at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Covenant Theological Seminary (1991-96), Wheaton College, and Liberty University. He has been involved in theological education in Eastern Europe since 1990 and in Africa since 1995. He served on pastoral staffs in Montana, Missouri, North Carolina, and Illinois.

Dr. Yarbrough is author of 1, 2, and 3 John (2008) in the Baker Exegetical Commentary Series, which he co-edits. Other books include The Salvation-Historical Fallacy? Reassessing the History of New Testament Theology; and The Gospel of John. With Walter Elwell he authored the widely used textbook Encountering the New Testament: A Historical and Theological Survey (3rd ed. 2013), which has been translated into numerous languages. At the popular level Dr. Yarbrough is author of The Kregel Pictorial Guide to the New Testament (2009).

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 Timothy, and Titus?

First, I have been involved in pastoral ministry since about 1975. Paul’s “pastoral” epistles have always been a natural and favorite focus. Second, I have taught and written about Paul extensively in various settings around the world in connection with pastoral training since 1989. These epistles’ truth and wisdom are never far from my thinking. Third, since the early 1990s I have been a contributor to three different editions of the book Women in the Church, which explores 1 Timothy 2:9-15 in depth. This has kept me active in hermeneutical questions at the center of interpreting not only 1 Timothy 2 but Paul’s letters overall.

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

Don Carson’s “Editor’s Preface” in every Pillar series commentary nails it: “Designed for serious pastors and teachers of the Bible, the Pillar commentaries seek above all to make clear the text of Scripture as we have it. The scholars writing these volumes interact with the most important informed contemporary debate but avoid getting mired in undue technical detail. Their ideal is a blend of rigorous exegesis and exposition, with an eye alert both to biblical theology and to the contemporary relevance of the Bible, without confusing the commentary and the sermon.”

I would underscore “serious pastors and teachers of the Bible” in the paragraph above, but I would expand those words to include “all serious readers of Scripture hungry better to know what it says and eager to put it into practice.”

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

Unique? I refer to 50 Pastoral Epistles commentaries in my bibliography; all have common features and concerns. In that sense none is unique, and I doubt mine is either.

How about “distinctive”? My commentary seeks to

1) see the Pastorals (and questions like their authorship) in the light of global Christianity and not primarily the post-Enlightenment (and often post-Christian) historical-critical paradigm;

2) show how the Pastorals reflect Pauline and apostolic teaching, both linguistically and thematically;

3) pay due attention to word meanings without overlooking literary, contextual, and theological considerations of equal importance; and

4) highlight the pastoral wisdom on display in these writings, as they model an approach to care of souls in the church that will prove fruitful wherever the gospel message is received.

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

Not surprisingly, 1 Timothy 2 stands out as challenging. I was pleased to arrive at a reading that emphasizes women’s call to discipleship, not their leadership limitations, and pastors’ responsibility to maximize women’s call to and competency for serious learning in connection with the church’s pastoral teaching.

Beyond that, my abiding memory of the several years that went into the writing is two-fold.

First, commentary writing is painfully hard work. In that sense I’m glad the work is through. Yet second, at every turn deeper study revealed truths and insights I had not seen before, or had not seen with such clarity or been gripped by with such conviction. In that sense I am grateful for the prolonged intellectual-and-spiritual-retreat that work on the commentary provided.

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

I was frequently moved by the confluence of various commentators—despite the complexity of the text and the interpretive issues, there is impressive agreement in much (not all) of the literature when it comes to major points of emphasis, especially Christology, soteriology, Christian ethics (good works), and the grandeur of God that commends his worship.

Also, because I have served in pastoral roles, and trained pastoral workers, not only in the US but in eastern Europe, African, and Asia, I was reminded again and again of the global truth and force of the message that permeates the Pastoral Epistles (as it does the entire Bible). What is good in this world is the work of the God we meet in the Pastorals through his Son, by whom all humanity benefits from both his common and his special grace.

The Pastorals attest, directly and indirectly, to a theology of the cross that often led to persecution in that era. It was edifying/sobering to rediscover this as it is observable in so many quarters of the global church at present, with some of which I have had personal contact.

Some days more so than others, admittedly, researching and writing the commentary was a doxological experience. Also, I would be remiss not to mention the collegial encouragement gained from interaction with Don Carson and Eerdmans editor Craig Noll as the commentary took final shape.

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

Phil Towner’s NICNT remains the scholarly gold standard in English. Howard Marshall’s ICC (written with Towner’s assistance) is masterful in succinctness and interaction with German commentators. L. T. Johnson’s commentaries are expansive and creative; his Anchor Bible on 1-2 Timothy is a powerful tribute to the plausibility of Pauline authorship. For preaching, a go-to resource is Andreas J. Köstenberger’s Commentary on 1-2 Timothy and Titus in the Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation series. Ben Witherington III in his Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, vol. 1, draws helpfully on Mounce, Johnson, and many others and often arrives at fresh insights for rumination and proclamation.

For English-speaking readers seeking church historical depth (which should be true of all preaching pastors!), Luther (on 1 Timothy) and Calvin (on all three of the Pastorals) should not be overlooked.

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

Along with other projects, I’m working on a Romans commentary in the ESV Expository Commentary series. I hope to publish lectures soon on elitism and populism in New Testament theology. I also edit the pastoral and theological journal called Presbyterion for my seminary. At just $12/year for two issues (160 pp.+ each time) it’s hard to beat! Go to

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Romans Commentary Q & A with Author Frank Thielman

7 Questions on Romans in the ZECNT Commentary Series

romans commentary book coverFrank Thielman (Ph.D., Duke University) is the Presbyterian Chair of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School. Dr. Thielman joined the Beeson Divinity School faculty in 1989, teaching courses in Greek exegesis. He is a noted New Testament scholar, concentrating primarily in the Pauline epistles.

Dr. Thielman is the author of many books including, Ephesians in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament and Philippians in the NIV Application Commentary. The complete list of his publications is listed on Dr. Thielman’s faculty page.

He is a member of the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas (SNTS), and is an ordained Presbyterian (PCA) minister. He and his wife, Abby, have three adult children, a daughter-in-law, and a grandson.

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

My interest in studying Romans goes back to the early 1980’s and my work toward an undergraduate degree in Theology and Religious Studies. I had a wonderful teacher during my first year of that study, N. T. Wright, who helped me prepare for an examination at the end of the year over John’s gospel and Paul’s letter to the Romans. Dr. Wright was a clear, patient teacher who was excited about Romans and communicated that excitement to his students. Several years later, I wrote a doctoral dissertation on Paul’s view of the Mosaic law, and much of that dissertation was devoted to a study of the law in Romans. Since then, I have published a couple of book-length studies of Paul’s view of the Mosaic law and written articles that deal with passages in Romans or theological themes important to the argument of the letter. I have taught the Greek text of Romans many times, first to undergraduates and then, since 1989, to divinity school students.

Romans never gets old. Every time I work through this theologically rich, intellectually challenging letter, the wonderful gospel that it explains remains encouraging and edifying.

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

I suspect this commentary will be most beneficial to pastors, teachers, and students with some knowledge of ancient Greek. Since all the Greek is translated, however, and the format is designed to make the commentary widely accessible, I hope that anyone, from layperson to scholar, who is interested in both the historical setting of the letter and its modern significance will find the commentary helpful.

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

The literature on Romans is vast, and Christians have many good resources available to them for understanding the letter. A couple of features of this commentary, however, may set it apart from most others.

First, the commentary contains a full diagram of the literary structure of each passage (in English) before commenting on it. This slows the reader down and lets the reader see in a diagrammatic way some of the major exegetical decisions in the commentary before reading the commentary’s exposition of each passage. Commentaries are typically difficult books to read, and the diagram hopefully makes reading and understanding the commentary easier.

Second, the commentary devotes a bit more energy, perhaps, than is common in exegetical commentaries on Romans to theological reflection on the text and the application of that reflection to the life of the church.

It is important to say that neither of these features of my commentary on Romans were my idea. They are part of the format of the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary series. As I progressed in writing the commentary, I became more and more convinced that the series editors had made wise choices when they put the format together this way.

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

It is so difficult to select a favorite part of Romans! It’s joyful, life-giving message and symphonically complex structure make the study of every paragraph enormously rewarding. Probably, Romans 8:31–39 is my favorite passage in the letter simply because of the cheerful hope that it gives the believer. But your question has to do with a passage that was particularly memorable to research and write, and I think I have to answer (to my surprise!) 16:1–16. It was immensely enjoyable to see how these seemingly mundane greetings help the letter’s first century context come alive and demonstrate the practical effect of the gospel that Paul had been explaining in the preceding fifteen chapters.

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

As I worked on this commentary over the last seven years or so, I was reminded weekly and often daily of the profound, steady, costly love of God for his people and for me personally. Romans tells us that God is a God of immense love, shown most perfectly in the death of his Son for the sins of his people, but also displayed in the gift of the Holy Spirit’s power to transform their lives. Turning over every word and phrase of Paul’s exposition of this message was profoundly enriching.

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

It is hard not to talk in superlatives when talking about Romans, and this is also true of the vast body of literature written down through the centuries on this wonderful text. In chronological order, I would recommend Origen’s Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, available in two volumes, translated by Thomas P. Scheck. Origen anticipates many of the exegetical problems that commentators still discuss and often provides them with interesting, sensible solutions. John Calvin’s commentary on Romans, written in 1540, is a model of concise, clear, and sensible exegesis together with rich theological reflection. The same is true of the 1886 edition of Charles Hodge’s commentary.

The International Critical Commentary on the Greek text by William Sanday and Arthur Headlam (5th edition, 1902) is outstanding for its clear treatment of the grammar, its reasonable exegetical decisions, and its lucid presentation of the letter’s overall argument. C. E. B. Cranfield’s two-volumes on Romans replaced Sanday and Headlam’s commentary in the ICC and has quickly achieved the status of a classic. It is precise, clear, exhaustive in its examination of key exegetical problems, and often theologically rich. James D. G. Dunn’s Word Biblical Commentary explains the letter through the lens of the so-called New Perspective, but does much more than this. It is also a beautifully written and enormously learned study of the Jewish context out of which Paul wrote. The commentaries by Douglas Moo and Thomas R. Schreiner are models of expositional and theological accuracy and clarity. Robert Jewett’s Hermeneia volume is especially helpful in understanding the historical and cultural setting of the letter in the mid-first century Roman Empire. For any readers of German, Eckhard Schnabel’s exhaustively researched two-volume commentary in the Historisch Theologische Auslegung series will be enormously helpful.

Two books that touch on significant themes in Romans will help their readers not only understand what Paul means by “law” and “grace” in the letter, but guide them through the web of recent scholarly discussion on these issues. The first is Stephen Westerholm’s Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The “Lutheran” Paul and His Critics. Westerholm provides a clear, sensible, and often delightfully humorous look at the modern discussion of law and righteousness in Paul’s theology. The second book is John M. G. Barclay’s Paul and the Gift. This book puts the concept of God’s grace in Paul’s theology into its original first-century setting and helps the reader understand how Paul’s concept is both similar to and different from the concepts of grace in his cultural world.

If I could only buy five books to help me understand Romans, however, I would invest in Calvin, Cranfield, Moo, Schreiner, and Westerholm. German readers should add Schnabel’s learned work to that list.

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

Lord willing, I’ll continue teaching the wonderful students at Beeson Divinity School. I just finished an article on Paul’s use of Scripture in Romans 9:32–33 that should appear soon in the journal New Testament Studies. I am also currently working on a book on Paul’s missionary career and letters, but it is in its infancy. I don’t have much of an online presence, but from time to time I show up in a podcast or chapel sermon on Beeson’s web site.

Get Dr. Thielman’s Romans commentary

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