Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through Revelation

I was unaware of the existence of this book (and of the series of 4 other volumes with which it serves as part) until it arrived for review.  So I thank Lexham for sending it along, doubtless knowing of my great interest in such things.

My review will post tomorrow.  Stay tuned.

The Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through Revelation delivers fresh insight by drawing attention to the geographical setting for the spread of Christianity in the first century AD. Geography is a central concern in Acts, but the full significance of its geographical context is easily overlooked without a familiarity with the places, the types of transportation, the relative distances, and the travel conditions around the Mediterranean in the first century AD. Luke’s account mentions places from all over the known world, and Paul’s missionary travels covered an estimated 15,000 miles by land and sea.

Jesus’ words in Acts 1:8 literally map the future travels of the Apostles and provide the structure for the rest of the book: The Apostles will take the gospel from Jerusalem (1:1–8:3) to Samaria and Judea (8:4–40, 9:32–11:18), and finally throughout the Roman world and beyond (13:21–28:31). Geography also provides a new depth of insight into John’s letters to the seven churches in Rev 1–3. Their locations along key Roman mail routes suggest the letters may make up a single composite message to be received in stages as the letters are passed along from one church to the other. The references in Acts and Rev 1–3 cover the full geographical context for the first century Church since some of the cities Paul visits in Acts are later the locations of churches that receive his letters such as Ephesus (Acts 19; Eph 1:11 Tim 1:3). The Lexham Geographic Commentary gives you insight into the importance of all of these locations—both culturally and spatially—and provides a deeper understanding of the spread of early Christianity.

The title of the volume is a bit misleading, as this is not, in fact, a geographic commentary on Acts through Revelation.  It is a commentary on fragments and select passages from Acts through Revelation.  The first ten chapters cover only select passages in Acts (by a variety of scholars) and it isn’t until the eleventh chapter that snippets from Acts, 2 Cor, Hebrews, I Peter, and Revelation are included.

Snippets from Acts predominate.  Indeed, it isn’t until chapter 42 that Acts is left behind and we move to Philippians.  Then Colossians appears, 1 Thess, Philemon, 1 Peter, and then Revelation (through the letters to the Seven Churches only).

Poor James and Jude are evidently geographically empty.

Mind you, there are lots of maps, charts, graphs and other useful illustrative material along with a subject index, a Scripture index, image source listing, and brief bios of all the contributors.

If they had titled the volume ‘Lexham Geographic Handbook on Acts Through Revelation’ it would be a virtually perfect volume.  But as they didn’t, and instead called it a commentary (which it is not), I have to quibble.

A commentary is a particular genre which prospective readers understand to be a volume or volumes which takes the text as it unfolds and explains it.  Commentaries don’t hop and skip and jump from hither to yon frenetically.  They are organized canonically.  And this book is not.

Further, there are places where the content itself is a bit troubling (or questionable) from a biblical studies point of view.  In chapter 35 Eckhard Schnabel opines that there is sufficient evidence to suggest that Paul was released from Roman imprisonment and made his way to Spain to carry out missionary work there.

Schnabel argues his case not on the scriptural evidence, since there is none, but on late secondary sources (which, as we all know, are seriously questionable as accurate historical sources).

After citing his secondary materials Schnabel writes

Many scholars accept these two passages as historical evidence that Paul was released from his (first) imprisonment in Rome, which allowed him to go to Spain.

Many more, however, do not.  Further on

It is a plausible assumption that Paul preached in Tarraco, but there were other cities that would have been plausible sites for missionary work…

Like Madrid or London I suppose.  Or Paris…  The point being that plausible assumptions are not the stuff of scholarship.  They are the stuff of fantasy.  The truth is, we simply have no reason to suggest that Paul made it to Spain.  The evidence is lacking.  He may have, but the best we can do is say ‘we don’t know that he did and we have no useful facts to say otherwise’.  As I remind students fairly often, ‘absence of evidence is evidence of nothing.’

It’s not all bad, however.  There are some genuinely excellent chapters.  Chapter 43, by Alan Cadwallader on Colossae is fantastically written and thoroughly unobjectionable.  And chapter 53 by Cyndi Parker on Laodicea is also exceptionally done.  The bibliographies are very good and, again, the maps are just fantastic.  Indeed, the maps alone are reason to obtain the volume.  Readers need merely be careful with the content because it is extremely conservative at points and thus not very useful (for academic purposes).

At the end of the day I would suggest you obtain a copy of this volume.  It’s worth having, even if it doesn’t live up to its title and its contents are dicey from time to time.