Category Archives: Book Review

Darkness Visible: A Study of Isaiah 14:3-23 as Christian Scripture

How does one read the Old Testament as Christian Scripture?  This question, voiced in both academic and ecclesial settings, invites a reflection on how to take these texts with both hermeneutical alertness and sustained imaginative seriousness. While scholars have recently engaged in robust discussion about theological hermeneutics, there have been relatively few worked examples with particular Old Testament texts. This book seeks to meet this need by providing a close reading of Isaiah 14:3–23, a text with a complex amalgam of textual, historical-critical, history-of-reception, and theological issues.

Let’s see if it’s any good, shall we?  Since the author sent a review copy I think it only right.

Shadowy Characters and Fragmentary Evidence: The Search for Early Christian Groups and Movements

The present volume contains the proceedings of an international colloquium that dealt with heavily fragmented texts and hypothetical sources, and the “shadowy” characters and movements they feature. These two aspects are combined and studied to ascertain how they have been handled in the history of research, to find out what they reveal about the community or the group expressing itself through (or hiding behind) them, and to establish the role these documents and figures or groups should be given in reconstructing an overall picture of developments in the theology and religious life of early Christianity. As can be imagined, such documents and sources have sometimes been taken as an open invitation to come up with all sorts of highly creative exegesis, adventurous reconstructions of texts and movements, and quite daring suggestions about identifying particular groups or presumed literary influences between documents. The essays contribute to the writing of a critical history of researching these types of documents and movements.

Survey of contents
  • Joseph Verheyden: Introduction
  • – Christopher Tuckett: The Community of Q
  • – Korinna Zamfir:Elusive Opponents in the Pastoral Epistles
  • – Michael Sommer: Die Nikolaiten und die Gegnerfiktion in der Offenbarung des Johannes – eine Annäherung an einige hermeneutische Probleme der Apokalypselektüre
  • – Tobias Nicklas: Fragmente christlicher Apokryphen und die Geschichte des frühen Christentums
  • – Elisabeth Hernitscheck: Im trüben Wasser des “Davidsteichs” – P.Oxy. 840 und die Suche nach seiner Provenienz
  • – Wolfgang Grünstäudl: Enthüllung im Fragment – Notizen zu Überlieferungsgestalt und Figureninventar der Offenbarung des Petrus
  • – Andrew Gregory: The Nazoraeans
  • – Jean-Daniel Dubois: The Basilidians
  • – Johanna Brankaer: Revisiting Those Elusive Sethians
  • – Tobias Nicklas: Jenseits der Kategorien – Elchasai und die Elchasaiten
  • – Carl Johan Berglund: Evaluating Quotations in Ancient Greek Literature: The Case of Heracleon’s hypomnēmata
  • – Gianfranco Agosti: (Re)constructing a Christian Community through its Poetry

Mohr have sent a review copy, for which I am grateful.

The early church was anything but monolithic and any suggestion that early on there were ‘orthodox’ and ‘heterodox’ views is shown to be false by a simple reading of Acts where battling perspectives fight it out for supremacy.  And this struggle didn’t end when the composition of the books which we call the New Testament writings were completed.  It continued for centuries.

The present study is a carefully carried out examination of various aspects of that struggle.  The papers here collected were originally delivered three years ago at a conference in Leuven.  Since that time they have been reworked and edited for publication here.

The sequence of essays is roughly chronological in that the earliest conflicts within Christianity appear in the first chapters of the book and the latest at the end.  The essays are really quite helpful and the authors are clearly ‘up to date’ in terms of the status quaestionis.  Tuckett’s work on Q questions the whole premise of that community and Zamfir wonders if the ‘opponents’ of Timothy’s epistle are real or pretend.  That’s the same question Sommer asks regarding the Nicolaitans of Revelation.

The next three essays examine apocryphal texts and the four after are concerned with fragmentary texts and what they can contribute to our understanding of the conflicts within early Christianity.

Finally, the last essays are, to this reviewer, the least interesting.  I’m just not that into Heracleon or Origen nor am I particularly engaged by talk of Christian intelligentsia in the later days of the early Church.  But that’s a personal preference and says nothing of the usefulness of these essays to those who care about those topics.

Overall, the essays here are very informative and accordingly very much worth reading and engaging.  I was personally most appreciative of the first three (see the table of contents above) simply because I am far more interested in the earliest Church and its texts than I am the bits of the Church which produced materials that eventually were discarded by the Church as a whole.  I especially appreciated Tuckett’s honesty and open mindedness concerning Q and his unwillingness to draw conclusions when only speculation is their foundation.  His cautious and careful approach is far more helpful than the exaggerated speculations so common in many corners of biblical studies today.

The decision of the editors to place Tuckett’s essay first not only makes sense chronologically, but placing the best first invariably encourages the reader to move forward in anticipation.  The best wine, to borrow a metaphor, is here served first.  By the end of the party readers won’t really mind the lesser character of the later offerings.

Conference volumes, that is, volumes comprised of papers delivered at academic conferences, can be incredibly useful or incredibly boring.  This volume falls into the first category.  The editors are to be congratulated and the authors are to be applauded for what turns out to be a very fine work.  I recommend it.

The Biblical Canon Lists From Early Christianity

Oxford U press have sent  some weeks back a review copy of Gallagher and Meade’s new book.

The Bible took shape over the course of centuries, and today Christian groups continue to disagree over details of its contents. The differences among these groups typically involve the Old Testament, as they mostly accept the same 27-book New Testament. An essential avenue for understanding the development of the Bible are the many early lists of canonical books drawn up by Christians and, occasionally, Jews. Despite the importance of these early lists of books, they have remained relatively inaccessible. This comprehensive volume redresses this unfortunate situation by presenting the early Christian canon lists all together in a single volume. The canon lists, in most cases, unambiguously report what the compilers of the lists considered to belong to the biblical canon. For this reason they bear an undeniable importance in the history of the Bible.

The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity provides an accessible presentation of these early canon lists. With a focus on the first four centuries, the volume supplies the full text of the canon lists in English translation alongside the original text, usually Greek or Latin, occasionally Hebrew or Syriac. Edmon L. Gallagher and John D. Meade orient readers to each list with brief introductions and helpful notes, and they point readers to the most significant scholarly discussions. The book begins with a substantial overview of the history of the biblical canon, and an entire chapter is devoted to the evidence of biblical manuscripts from the first millennium. This authoritative work is an indispensable guide for students and scholars of biblical studies and church history.

I appreciate the review copy but was a bit surprised when the cover letter which arrived with it was addressed to someone named Michael Kruger.  I’m not sure who Michael Kruger is but I am positive I am not him.

The volume is made up of six chapters, an introduction, an appendix, a bibliography, and a couple of indices.  In regard to the chapters these are

  1. The Development of the Christian Biblical Canon: A Survey of the Early Period
  2. Jewish Lists
  3. Greek Christian Lists
  4. Latin Christian Lists
  5. The Syriac Christian List
  6. Selected Greek, Syriac, Latin, and Hebrew Manuscripts

These ‘canon lists’ are relatively hard to find in one place and the present volume solves that problem.

What counts, and what counted as Scripture in various communities across Christian history is a very important question because when we talk cavalierly about ‘the Bible’ we have to specify, even now, what we mean by that.  Do we mean the Hebrew Bible?  Do we mean the Greek Bible?  The Protestant Bible?

The question becomes even more complicated the closer we get to the early Church.  Now we have canons by the dozens and we have to ask even more specific questions about whose canon we’re discussing.  Do we include the Shepherd of Hermas?  Revelation?  The Didache?  1-2 Maccabees? Judith?

How did Christianity manage to develop within its fold so many varieties of Scripture and how did they differentiate between them?  Those are the questions this very helpful study discuss.

The volume has a decent ‘feel’ about it in terms of typography and layout.  The only shortcoming, in my view, is the exceptionally small font used for the Greek and Syriac and Latin texts.  I realize that I’m advancing in age whilst no one else seems to be, but tiny font is uncomfortable to deal with.

Footnotes are copious and thorough.  In some instances there is more note than text, which is perfectly fine with me.

Will readers find the present work helpful?  I think so.  Will it be useful for undergrad and graduate students?  Certainly.  Will readers ‘read through it’ as though it were a monograph or a novel?  I think probably not.  This volume feels more like a reference resource than it does a ‘read right on through it’ book.  People interested in Greek canon lists will refer to that chapter whilst persons interested in Latin lists will find their home there.

I think the volume is completely worth the reader’s time.  Just not all at once.  The reading of lists can be a tiresome task and of the making of book lists there is no end.  Fortunately, here, readers find all the essential lists in one location and don’t have to waste a lot of time trying to track them down in various places and volumes.  For that alone our authors are to be thanked.

The Controversy over the Lord’s Supper in Danzig, 1561-1567

In 1561, a Eucharistic controversy erupted in Danzig of the sixteenth century, sparked by disagreements on the real presence and the practical treatment of the Eucharistic elements. It was one of many inner-Lutheran struggles over the Lord’s Supper in the years following the Reformation and therefore Bjørn Ole Hovda supplements the scientific studies on that topic. Different understandings of the presence of Christ during the Lord’s Supper formed different religious norms of practice. On the one hand, the controversy is here analyzed as a discussion on doctrine between opposing ecclesiastical factions, set in the context of reformatory theology and liturgical practice. The theological discussions had important practical and cultic implications. One the other hand – and in contrast with the most of earlier works – the study seeks to treat with equal seriousness the wider societal and political aspects of the controversy. Hovda shows how deeply embedded the Eucharist was within broader discourses of culture, society and politics. Far from being just an abstruse ecclesiastical matter, it was a question of great sociopolitical interest and potency. The Eucharist served both as the prime symbol of Christian unity, as well as a confessional border stone between rivaling groups.Other important aspects of this wider analysis are tensions between the ordained ministry and the city council regarding authority, internal social tensions within the city, as well as the strategic interests of the city in its relations to the Polish crown, the Hanseatic league and the emerging new trading powers, among others.Through a close study of one particular controversy, light is cast on a variety of issues with relevance to the broader field of Reformation studies, especially concerning the centrality of the Eucharist.

This volume arrived from the publisher a while back.  It has to be said, first, that the table of contents (which is meticulously full) and the front matter are available to readers at the link in the sentence above.  And second, it has to be said that this present study is a very important contribution to a very important sub-field of Reformation History.

It’s a well known fact that the Eucharistic Controversy was the core conflict among the Reformers.  But that conflict didn’t end with Luther and Zwingli.  Among Luther’s own followers there was serious doubt cast on Luther’s reading of the Supper.  This revised doctoral dissertation takes us on a guided tour of just one sliver of that widespread debate.

The Eucharistic controversy in Danzig (Dantzigk) began in 1561, when the minister (Prediger) Erhard Sperber accused his colleague, Veit Neuber, of irreverent treatment of the remaining elements of the Lord’s Supper, and of rejecting a continuing real presence after communion. In response, Sperber was accused of a new sort of “Papism.” Anxious to avoid unrest, the city council started a process of investigation and interrogation in order to resolve the conflict. Sperber was deported, and Neuber later left the city. Among the clergy, however, the controversy over the understanding of the real presence and the practical treatment of the sacrament continued.

Having thus set the stage, Hovda specifies further

The furious tensions in the controversy are striking. The object of disagreement must have been regarded as something tremendously important. It was not only intellectualistic hairsplitting; it was an integral element of devotion, faith, identity, society and politics. When we study this controversy, it is natural to inquire into the background and the reason for the tensions, and the reason for the success of one of the parties. The present study hopes to shed light on central aspects of the diversity of early Lutheran tradition, and on the role of the Eucharistic controversies on the road to parallel and uniform confessions.

It is the fact of diversity within the Lutheran communion itself which will strike readers most forcefully.  Luther’s bold declarations at Marburg were not adhered to even by his closest friend, Melanchthon.

Melanchthon rejects the idea that “the bread is substantially the body of Christ,” as well as that “the bread is the true body of Christ.” Instead, he claims that the bread is “united with” (consociatio cum) the body of Christ, and only “in the use” and “not without cognition,” not in such a way that it could be eaten by mice. He rejects the idea that the body is “in the bread or in the species of the bread, as if the true sacrament was instituted for the sake of the bread and the Papist adoration.”

Lutherans may be shocked by that viewpoint but readers of this volume will discover a range of belief within their camp which they never imagined existed.  Luther persuaded Luther- but he didn’t persuade Zwingli or Melanchthon or Calvin or Bullinger or many, many Lutherans.

As the study fleshes itself out, we are informed that:

Each party in the controversy in Danzig held that the opposite party did not understand the doctrine of Extra usum correctly. As we have seen, this axiom, developed by Melanchthon, was interpreted quite heterogeneously within Lutheranism. The difference in the interpretations was closely integrated into the disagreement over Eucharistic practice and the understanding of the mode and duration of the real presence and of how it came into existence.

And by the 17th century, we are gloriously informed:

… there appears to have been no theologian who defended the worship of Christ’s flesh in the sacrament. In this regard, the Melanchthonian Eucharistic theology prevailed at the cost of Luther’s.

This is a fantastic study and worth the reader’s rapt attention.   Especially will those who hold to the false notion that Luther’s views were Lutheran views benefit from an accurate historical examination.

Semper Reformanda: John Calvin, Worship, and Reformed Traditions

A recent volume, sent for review by the good folk at V&R, offers readers a glimpse into the afterlife of Calvin’s ecclesial reforms.

The chapters in this volume contribute to recent scholarship exploring the reform of worship as a central feature of Protestant communities at their inception and through the ages. Case studies ranging from sixteenth-century Geneva and its environs to the early modern Netherlands and South Asia to nineteenth-century America provide a corrective to traditional depictions of Reformed worship as a static, sober, interior, and largely individual experience focused on the sermon. The key moments in the broad stream of Reformed worship traditions analysed by an international team of experts yield collectively an image of the adaptive and negotiated character of worship attitudes and practices over time and in varied cultural settings. The contributions examine the phenomenon of worship in broadly construed ways and from angles ranging from ritual studies, liturgical innovation, material culture, and social impact. A second ‘red thread’ running through the volume concerns the material, sensory, emotional, and experiential dimensions of Reformed religious culture. Worship emerges as both a site of conflict and renewal in Reformed traditions, inspiring not only confrontations and debates but also fruitful engagements that stimulated and continue to invite reflection on this critical category of Reformed faith traditions, self-understandings, and cultural impact.

The link above takes potential readers to a pdf of the front matter, table of contents, and sample chapter of the volume, so those materials won’t be repeated here.

John Calvin was the most influential theologian ever to inhabit the city of Geneva.  And his influence out lived him by over five centuries and counting.  Why is that?  Is that so at all?

The essays in this collection offer answers to that question.  So, for example, Maag justifies her contribution to the volume by writing

This contribution will build on this recent scholarship challenging the received notion of Geneva as a Protestant citadel where everyone lived and worshipped as Reformed Christians, providing evidence from a range of primary sources that shows that Genevans, their extended families, and visitors had a much more flexible attitude towards acceptable expressions of worship and devotion.

So, by working through a series of case studies, Maag is able to show that

These cases and others highlight the persistent power of Catholic worship practices and rituals in the minds and hearts of Genevans, especially given the close ties between these practices and their sense of family loyalty and tradition.

The notion, then, that Calvin was able to mold Geneva into his image is just simply wrong.  Similarly, the other essays in the work show readers that preconceptions about Calvin’s influence need to be re-thought.

When it comes to the quality of the essays, they are uniformly helpful.  But the best of the lot is Andrew Spicer’s The Material Culture of the Lord’s Supper: Adiaphora, Beakers, and Communion Plate in the Dutch Republic.  It is so well written and so wonderfully illustrated that readers will wish the title had been as lively as the content.

While there was no restriction on attendance at sermons and the ministers were expected to baptize any infant that was brought to them, the Reformed Church closely controlled access to the Lord’s Supper. Only those who were regarded as worthy by the ministers and ecclesiastical authorities were allowed to participate. This meant submitting to the oversight and consistorial discipline of the Church, to preserve the sanctity of the rite. Relatively few members of the community were prepared to submit themselves to this level of intrusive scrutiny and examination; it was estimated in 1587 that only one in ten people in Holland were full members of the Reformed Church.

The things one learns here.  Amazing.  This volume is worthy of the attention of all who are interested in the outworking of Calvin’s reform.

The volume includes very helpful bibliographies along with each essay so that readers are armed for further research.  I recommend it.

Die Bibel: Lutherübersetzung 2017

This lovely little handbook edition of the 2017 translation of the Bible in German and published by the German Bible Society arrived from the nice folk at Hendrickson.  They’d like my take on it,  so here it is.

The present translation is the result of 2600 weeks of work by 70 translators and which was released in time for the 500th anniversary celebration of Luther’s reformatory efforts.  The language of the translation is simple, elegant, readable, and faithful to the underlying Hebrew and Greek sources and that, quite honestly, is the greatest compliment that can be paid to a version of the Bible.

A comparison between Luther’s 1545 edition and the 2017 edition (of Psalm 23) will show readers the differences quite clearly:

1545- Ein Psalm Dauids. DER HERR ist mein Hirte, Mir wird nichts mangeln. Er weidet mich auff einer grünen Awen, Vnd füret mich zum frisschen Wasser. Er erquicket meine Seele, er füret mich auff rechter Strasse, Vmb seines Namens willen.  VNd ob ich schon wandert im finstern Tal, fürchte ich kein Vnglück, Denn du bist bey mir, Dein Stecken vnd Stab trösten mich. DV bereitest fur mir einen Tisch gegen meine Feinde, Du salbest mein Heubt mit öle, Vnd schenckest mir vol ein. Gutes vnd Barmhertzigkeit werden mir folgen mein leben lang, Vnd werde bleiben im Hause des HERRN jmerdar.

2017- Ein Psalm Davids. Der HERR ist mein Hirte, mir wird nichts mangeln. Er weidet mich auf einer grünen Aue und führet mich zum frischen Wasser.  Er erquicket meine Seele. Er führet mich auf rechter Straße um seines Namens willen. Und ob ich schon wanderte im finstern Tal, fürchte ich kein Unglück; denn du bist bei mir, dein Stecken und Stab trösten mich. Du bereitest vor mir einen Tisch im Angesicht meiner Feinde. Du salbest mein Haupt mit Öl und schenkest mir voll ein.  Gutes und Barmherzigkeit werden mir folgen mein Leben lang, und ich werde bleiben im Hause des HERRN immerdar.

Elegant, accurate, intelligible.  Those are the chief benefits of the new edition.  Secondary benefits of this particular incarnation (and the German Bible Society has published a wide range of styles and types of the 2017 revised Luther Bible) are that it includes maps, charts, a brief dictionary and concordance which discusses key terms and offers indications of where those words are used within the Bible, a listing of weights and measures, and a brief chronological table.  In short, it has what you need when you read Scripture.  It also has a lovely red ribbon bookmark sewn into the binding.

As to the text itself, few footnotes are included and these are only mentions of the most important textual variants and cross references.  Psalms are found in a single column but the rest of the books are double columns per page.  The volume contains along with the ‘Protestant’ Bible the books of the Apocrypha too.  This would not surprise Luther, given the fact that his 1545 edition also contained the Apocrypha.  However, unlike the 1545 edition, which has all the apocryphal books at the end – after Revelation – the present edition has the apocryphal books in their normal ‘Catholic’ positions.

There are section headings which are very useful in guiding readers to the main ‘gist’ of the chapters.  At the beginning of each biblical book readers will also find a very broad outline of that book’s contents.

The font used is quite pleasant.  Fonts matter and this font is lovely.

Is this edition useful?  Yes, it is.  Is it worth the price?  It’s worth more than its price.  Should readers use it?  Absolutely.  Is it the best German translation?  In my view no, it isn’t.  In my estimation, the best translation of the Bible in German is the Zurich Bible of 2007/2008.  Here’s that version’s rendering of Psalm 23-

Ein Psalm Davids. Der HERR ist mein Hirt, mir mangelt nichts, er weidet mich auf grünen Auen. Zur Ruhe am Wasser führt er mich, neues Leben gibt er mir. Er leitet mich auf Pfaden der Gerechtigkeit um seines Namens willen. Wandere ich auch im finstern Tal, fürchte ich kein Unheil, denn du bist bei mir, dein Stecken und dein Stab, sie trösten mich.  Du deckst mir den Tisch im Angesicht meiner Feinde. Du salbst mein Haupt mit Öl, übervoll ist mein Becher.  Güte und Gnade werden mir folgen alle meine Tage, und ich werde zurückkehren ins Haus des HERRN mein Leben lang.

Beautiful.  Nonetheless, the Luther 2017 Bible presently under review is incredibly useful and thus thoroughly and unhesitatingly recommended.  Just be sure to get a copy of the Zurich Bible too.  Because, let’s be honest, one can never have too many editions of the Bible.  Or too many books.

If you’re keen to have it, visit Hendrickson’s chief distribution partner,

Crossing Traditions: Essays on the Reformation and Intellectual History in Honour of Irena Backus

Irena Backus’ scholarship has been characterised by profound historical learning and philological acumen, extraordinary mastery of a wide range of languages, and broad-ranging interests. From the history of historiography to the story of Biblical exegesis and the reception of the Church Fathers, her research on the long sixteenth century stands as a point of reference for both historians of ideas and church historians alike. She also explored late medieval theology before turning her attention to the interplay of religion and philosophy in the seventeenth century, the focus of her late research. This volume assembles contributions from 35 international specialists that reflect the breadth of her interests and both illustrate and extend her path-breaking legacy as a scholar, teacher and colleague.

Brill provided a review copy back in December and I’ve worked my way through it, delightedly.  Let me say, then, that Backus really deserves this wonderful Festschrift.  She has done so much for the field of Church History and what she has done has been so sharp that it’s hard to argue with her well deserved recognition.

The volume is comprised of the following:

À la croisée des traditions et des savoirs : notes introductives sur l’historiographie d’Irena Backus– Maria-Cristina Pitassi

Part 1. The Reformed Churches: Institutions, Policies, and Society

  • Conflict and Dissidence within the Early French Reformed Churches- Philip Benedict and Nicolas Fornerod
  • Calvin’s Creative Revision of Liturgical Time- Elsie McKee
  • Jean Calvin au miroir de l’Interim d’Augsbourg. Réactions polémiques, discours consolatoire et genèse d’un nouveau projet de réforme (1548–1550)- Nathalie Szczech
  • Les raisons d’un Bannissement (1562) : Antoine Froment, une Figure de l’implantation de la réforme à Genève, entre intégration et éviction- Geneviève Gross
  • Bèze raconte sa rencontre avec Henri Iv à l’Eluiset- Alain Dufour
  • A Quarrel between St. Rocco, a Chestnut Tree, and a Church Bell: Popularising Calvin for the Italian Reformed in the Grisons- Federico Zuliani
  • Les registres des consistoires réformés. « Lieux de mémoire » et récit collectif- Christian Grosse

Part 2. Looking over the Past: The Reception of the Church Fathers and the History of Biblical Hermeneutics

  • Erasmus (1515) between the Bible and the Fathers: Threshold of a Hermeneutic- Mark Vessey
  • Voix sans vertu. Complément à l’histoire des théologies de la Parole- Philippe Büttgen
  • Calvin’s Commentary on Psalm 1 and Providential Faith: Reformed Influences on the Psalms in English – Barbara Pitkin
  • Ésaïe 11 dans l’Esaiae prophetia d’Augustin Marlorat (1564) : quelques remarques exégétiques- Annie Noblesse-Rocher
  • Pierre Pithou, Théodore de Bèze et la chronologie des traités de Tertullien- Pierre Petitmengin-
  • Les pratiques de la lecture érudite de la Bible avant 1630- Ian Maclean
  • Le triomphe de l’église anglicane ? Johann Ernst Grabe éditeur d’Irénée- Jean-Louis Quantin
  • Notes on the Use of Irenaeus and Justin Martyr in Isaac Newton’s Of the Church- Pablo Toribio Pérez
  • The Contribution of the History of Exegesis to the History of Ideas- Mark W. Elliott

Part 3. The Reformers: Theological Views and Religious Struggles

  • Charles Quint, la peur, le sang …- Denis Crouzet
  • Huldrych Zwingli’s Dream of the Lord’s Supper- Bruce Gordon
  • Les auteurs païens dans les Colloques d’Érasme et de Maturin Cordier- Karine Crousaz
  • Le discours de Pierre Viret sur la pauvreté. Quelques réflexions sur ses influences- Claire Moutengou Barats
  • « Mieulx vault essuyvre la verité en petit nombre … » Choisir le bon côté et définir les adversaires dans l’Epistre très utile de Marie Dentière- Daniela Solfaroli Camillocci
  • Tolerant Humanists? Nikolaus Zurkinden and the Debate between Calvin, Castellio, and Beza – Ueli Zahnd
  • “Flowers Wrought in Carpets”: Looking Afresh at the Homily against Peril of Idolatrie- Antoinina Bevan Zlatar
  • The Critique of Calvin in Jansenius’s Augustinus – Ralph Keen
  • Femme qui prêche : une figure de la polémique confessionnelle au crible de Bayle- Marianne Carbonnier-Burkard
  • Who is Actually Catholic? How Our Traditional Categories Keep Us from Understanding the Evangelical Reformations- Randall C. Zachman

Part 4. Theology and Philosophy in the 16th and 17th Centuries: Arguments, Challenges, and Encounters

  • Palinodiam Canere: Rhetoric, Philosophy, & Theology in Erasmus- Brian Cummings
  • Melanchthon et l’éthique réformée. Le probleme du statut du droit naturel – Christoph Strohm
  • L’assujettissement du fils selon Calvin – Marc Vial
  • Was It Really Viral? Natural Theology in the Early Modern Reformed Tradition- Richard A. Muller
  • Leibniz’s References to St. Paul – Hartmut Rudolph
  • Houtteville et les Modernes – Carlo Borghero
  • Aux origines des Lumières. Les manuscrits philosophiques clandestins et l’histoire des idées – Gianni Paganini
  • Bibliographie d’Irena Backus
  • Index of Names

As wide ranging as the topics are, so too are the insights gained from them.  Regular readers, though, will know that my eyes were immediately drawn to the essay by Bruce Gordon on Zwingli so naturally I read it first (and I confess, I read all the English essays first and only then dove into the French, which took considerably more effort and which also deserve wider discussion than I can offer).  Gordon observes

In the story of Zwingli’s dream we find the confluence of medieval and early modern perceptions of sleep and dreaming with Reformation claims for prophetic authority.

And then

Fear, pedagogy, the cultivation of exemplary conduct, echoes of humanist vitae, and preaching were interwoven in a dream story intended to justify the reform movement and confirm Zwingli’s status.

And a bit further on

The Zwingli account, one of the first Reformation dream stories, resonates strongly with medieval hagiography: every detail of the story was carefully constructed to be interpreted in light of the final resolution, the revelation of true doctrine.

And then

True preaching, by which Zwingli’s own authority was confirmed, immediately resulted in the establishment of certainty: those students who did not understand the nature of the Lord’s Supper or the parable had the mist lifted from their eyes.

And finally

Zwingli was also making a claim against his opponent Luther, who had declared himself a prophet. The Zurich reformer was locked in battle over the interpretation of scripture, and he had to take a stand. None of this is to suggest the dream did not happen, but rather it forces us to consider how the text, which was written to make sense of the event in a way that would form the community, reflected a potent mixture of traditional beliefs and radical new ideas.

Is Gordon’s analysis correct?  Was the dream an effort to legitimize Zwngli’s understanding of the Supper and thus to legitimize his Reformation?  Probably so.  Does that mean that the dream never happened?  That we shall never know, although it has to be said that Zwingli was an honest person and it is highly unlikely that he would have simply made up such a story for manipulative purposes.  He probably had a dream and he probably felt like it accorded with his already developing understanding of the Supper.

Gordon’s analysis is superb, as is the case with the essays enclosed between these covers as a whole.   Elsie McKee and Ralph Keen do a very good job with their topics (as one would expect of such stellar thinkers).  But so do Zuliani, Vessey, Elliott (whose essay is very, very interesting indeed), and Zachmann (who has also constructed an incredibly engaging piece).  Strohm and Muller also give readers lots to consider and several things to reconsider.

Readers should also be sure to visit Backus’s bibliography.  It’s an exercise in humility for anyone who has accomplished less, and to be fair, that’s most of us.  Be sure to read this volume as a part of your own intellectual pilgrimage, and you’ll be inspired to think more deeply and write more intelligently than you ever have before.

The FS opens with a photo of the recipient/ celebrant, and so I end this brief review with the same image.  Congratulations, Professor, and congratulations to the editors and contributors of this volume:  well done, thou good and faithful servants-

irena backus

«Gottes kräftiger Anspruch» : Die Barmer Theologische Erklärung als reformierter Schlüsseltext

Die sechs Thesen der Barmer Theologischen Erklärung von 1934 gehören zum protestantischen Traditionsgut. Aber wie vital sind sie eigentlich? Die Autorinnen und Autoren dieses Bandes konzentrieren sich auf das reformierte Profil der Barmer Thesen. Was heisst es heute, dass Jesus Christus das eine Wort Gottes ist? Was, ihn als «Gottes kräftigen Anspruch» auf unser ganzes Leben zu bekennen? Warum fehlen die Juden in diesem Text und mit welchen Folgen? Welchen Beitrag leisten die Thesen zur politischen Ethik? Die weltweite Rezeption der Barmer Theologischen Erklärung kommt ebenso zur Sprache wie die brisante Frage, ob und mit welchem Anspruch heute noch bestimmte Glaubenspositionen verworfen werden können. Alle Aspekte kreisen um die zentrale Frage: Warum sollen wir heute «Barmen» noch lesen, diskutieren, bekennen?

TVZ sent a review copy.

The central question which occupies the present volume is a simple one: is the Barmen Declaration still useful?

In an attempt to answer this question, the contributors first describe and discuss the six theses of which the Declaration is comprised (Part 1).  Then a consideration of the Declaration’s biblical and historical contexts is proffered (Part 2).  And then finally the ‘reception history’ (for lack of a better umbrella term) is examined (Part 3).

The volume concludes with an index of biblical texts and a brief bio of the collection’s authors.

The essays here collected were originally papers delivered in Bern at a series of lectures commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Declaration.  Fourteen essays by as many authors cover the topics described above and some of the contributors are ‘super-stars’ in the historical theology field.  These include Gottfried Wilhelm Locher, Peter Opitz, and Peter Winzeler.

A book of this sort will interest many, and since the table of contents is the open window on the volume’s intention, I include a couple of photos of the full TOC (since they aren’t online):



As can be seen, the essays all cohere around the theme of the work.  They are uniformly well written and very helpful indeed- not only in assessing the ongoing relevance of the Declaration but in setting the text in its historical setting.

I feel quite comfortable in recommending this volume and it isn’t saying too much if I suggest that readers will thoroughly enjoy it.  I did.  It begins with the right tone and carries that tone to the conclusion.  The font is lovely and the several photographs of the Declaration which open the work are very interesting indeed given their marginalia.

And, just on the off chance that readers of this review are not sure of the content of the Barmen Theological Declaration- here it is:

In view of the errors of the “German Christians” and of the present Reich Church Administration, which are ravaging the Church and at the same time also shattering the unity of the German Evangelical Church, we confess the following evangelical truths:

1. “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold through the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved.” John 10:1,9

Jesus Christ, as he is attested to us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God whom we have to hear, and whom we have to trust and obey in life and in death.

We reject the false doctrine that the Church could and should recognize as a source of its proclamation, beyond and besides this one Word of God, yet other events, powers, historic figures and truths as God’s revelation.

2. “Jesus Christ has been made wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption for us by God.” 1 Cor. 1:30

As Jesus Christ is God’s comforting pronouncement of the forgiveness of all our sins, so, with equal seriousness, he is also God’s vigorous announcement of his claim upon our whole life. Through him there comes to us joyful liberation from the godless ties of this world for free, grateful service to his creatures.

We reject the false doctrine that there could be areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ but to other lords, areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.

3. “Let us, however, speak the truth in love, and in every respect grow into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body is joined together.” Eph. 4:15-16

The Christian Church is the community of brethren in which, in Word and Sacrament, through the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ acts in the present as Lord. With both its faith and its obedience, with both its message and its order, it has to testify in the midst of the sinful world, as the Church of pardoned sinners, that it belongs to him alone and lives and may live by his comfort and under his direction alone, in expectation of his appearing.

We reject the false doctrine that the Church could have permission to hand over the form of its message and of its order to whatever it itself might wish or to the vicissitudes of the prevailing ideological and political convictions of the day.

4. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to have authority over you must be your servant.” Matt. 20:25-26

The various offices in the Church do not provide a basis for some to exercise authority over others but for the ministry [lit., “service”] with which the whole community has been entrusted and charged to be carried out.

We reject the false doctrine that, apart from this ministry, the Church could, and could have permission to, give itself or allow itself to be given special leaders [Führer] vested with ruling authority.

5. “Fear God. Honor the Emperor.” 1 Pet. 2:17

Scripture tells us that by divine appointment the State, in this still unredeemed world in which also the Church is situated, has the task of maintaining justice and peace, so far as human discernment and human ability make this possible, by means of the threat and use of force. The Church acknowledges with gratitude and reverence toward God the benefit of this, his appointment. It draws attention to God’s Dominion [Reich], God’s commandment and justice, and with these the responsibility of those who rule and those who are ruled. It trusts and obeys the power of the Word, by which God upholds all things.

We reject the false doctrine that beyond its special commission the State should and could become the sole and total order of human life and so fulfil the vocation of the Church as well.

We reject the false doctrine that beyond its special commission the Church should and could take on the nature, tasks and dignity which belong to the State and thus become itself an organ of the State.

6. “See, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matt. 28:20 “God’s Word is not fettered.” 2 Tim. 2:9

The Church’s commission, which is the foundation of its freedom, consists in this: in Christ’s stead, and so in the service of his own Word and work, to deliver all people, through preaching and sacrament, the message of the free grace of God.

We reject the false doctrine that with human vainglory the Church could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of self-chosen desires, purposes and plans.

The Confessing Synod of the German Evangelical Church declares that it sees in the acknowledgment of these truths and in the rejection of these errors the indispensable theological basis of the German Evangelical Church as a confederation of Confessing Churches. It calls upon all who can stand in solidarity with its Declaration to be mindful of these theological findings in all their decisions concerning Church and State. It appeals to all concerned to return to unity in faith, hope and love.

Verbum Dei manet in aeternum.
The Word of God will last for ever.

The declaration’s final word is true of Scripture, and it may also be true of this important document.  Our volume faithfully informs us of its abiding significance and if history, as they say, repeats itself, we can expect the Declaration to retain its importance for as long as human history continues.

Paul as Pastor

Paul as Pastor demonstrates the critical nature of Paul’s pastoral care to his identity and activities. Despite the fact that Paul never identifies himself as a pastor, there is much within the Pauline letters that alludes to this as a possible aspect of Paul’s vocation and commitments, and this has been a topic of relative scholarly neglect. The contributors to this volume consider the household setting of Paul’s pastoral practice, the evidence of Acts and a survey of themes in each of the letters in the traditional Pauline corpus. Additionally, three chapters supply case studies of the Wirkungsgeschichte of Paul’s pastoral practice in the pastoral offices of the Anglican Communion in the denomination’s Ordinal, and in the lives and thought of Augustine of Hippo and George Whitfield. As such Paul as Pastor provides a stimulating resource on a neglected and critical dimension of Paul and his letters and an invaluable tool for those in pastoral ministry and those responsible for their training.

Bloomsbury have kindly supplied a review copy.  First off, might I recommend that you visit the link above in order to see the table of contents.

On the whole the collection is quite good, with a variety of engaging essays and a couple which are rather sub-standard in terms of the whole work.

The excellent essays are  Paul’s Pastoral Sensitivity in 1 Corinthians – Matthew R. Malcolm,  and Pastoring with a Big Stick: Paul as Pastor in Galatians – Michael F. Bird.  The bulk of the rest are quite good and it is just these two which would probably have improved the collection had they been left out:  ‘He Followed Paul’ Whitefield’s Voice: Heroic, Apostolic, Prophetic – Rhys S. Bezzant and Mother, Father, Infant, Orphan, Brother: Paul’s Variegated Pastoral Strategy Towards His Thessalonian Church-Family – Trevor J. Burke.

So, for instance, on the excellent side of things, Mike Bird colorfully writes

… in Galatians Paul is engaging in some intense pastoral care for the Galatian churches by using his epistolary crook to scrape off some theological dung that has attached itself to the flock in Galatia… (p. 71).

The two excellent essays are characterized by clearly demonstrably scholarly research whilst the two weakest are characterized by overly idiosyncratic interpretations of the data.  They seemed, to me at least, plodding and over worked.  In short, they tried too hard to say too much with too little information.

So, for instance, Burke writes, whilst discussing ‘Paul as infant’…

As regards the former [i.e., concerning Paul describing himself as an infant- J.W.] the NIV, for example, translates… (p. 134).

Using the NIV (or any translation, to be fair) as the basis for an exegetical novelty (which is what Burke’s reading is) is less than sensible and to say more of it would be uncharitable, so I will move ahead…

Reviews are always subjective enterprises, though, and it may be that others will find the two strongest essays weak and the two weakest strong.  But they would be wrong to do so.  The volume is genuinely weakened by these two weakest links.

My advice to readers- if you wish to truly enjoy this genuinely enjoyable volume, skip the two essays which I have described above as the least helpful and you will find the work very, very insightful.  My warning- if you read the two least helpful of the essays you’ll experience what can only be likened to eating a fine dinner at a lovely restaurant and only discovering at the end of the meal that there’s a hair or five in your dessert.  You will have enjoyed it all up to that point and then your disposition will instantly sour.

In sum- read this book.  But skip the cheesecake filled with hair parts and you’ll like it more than you will if you don’t skip the cheesecake filled with hair parts.

What Did Jesus Look Like?

Jesus Christ is arguably the most famous man who ever lived. His image adorns countless churches, icons, and paintings. He is the subject of millions of statues, sculptures, devotional objects and works of art. Everyone can conjure an image of Jesus: usually as a handsome, white man with flowing locks and pristine linen robes.

But what did Jesus really look like? Is our popular image of Jesus overly westernized and untrue to historical reality?

This question continues to fascinate. Leading Christian Origins scholar Joan E. Taylor surveys the historical evidence, and the prevalent image of Jesus in art and culture, to suggest an entirely different vision of this most famous of men.

He may even have had short hair.

The publisher has sent a review copy of this exceptionally grand book.

The title of the book poses a question:  what did Jesus look like?  At first blush it may seem that the aim of the book is to answer that question of the man known as Jesus of Nazareth but in fact the question, more fully stated, which this book addresses is far more comprehensive than merely wondering what Jesus of Nazareth looked like.  It wonders how Jesus has been imagined through the entire history of Christianity.  What did Jesus look like to the Byzantines?  What did he look like to Europeans?  How has he been portrayed in art and icon?

The result of Taylor’s incisive study is a spectacular survey.  Chapter one lays the groundwork and states explicitly that the Gospels tell us nothing about the physical appearance of Jesus.  But people have an innate desire to know – to see in their minds – famous and impressive persons.  So the Church commenced a quest for the physical Jesus and it did it in art and in literature; in literary imagery and artistic renderings.

In her own words

In this book we will embark on a quest, moving through the portrayals of Jesus in art, relics, and literature, in order to see whether there are vestiges of true information about Jesus’ appearance anywhere in these (p. 14).


We will see that Christian authors from the second century onwards believed that Jesus was ugly and short, extrapolating his appearance from the prophecy of Isaiah 53, and we will trace the legacy of this notion (ibid.).


What did Jesus look like?  We may not be able to create a perfect photograph, but perhaps we can move closer to a truer depiction than the one we have inherited, even if the result is a little blurry (ibid.).

And then commences, in the second chapter, a survey so rich in textual illustration and artistry that by the time the reader has made it through to the end of the book their only utterance is a quietly whispered ‘wow’ breathed out in awe.

Taylor provides all the evidence one needs to see Jesus as he was seen by his friends and foes decades and centuries and millennia after his death.  And the learning on exhibit in these pages is just jaw-dropping.  I know a fair bit about the history of Christianity but I learned something I had never known before from virtually every single page of this volume.

Those interested in particular relics and reliquaries will also have plenty to consider when reading through the volume.  The relics discussed naturally include the so called Shroud of Turin, which Taylor thinks inauthentic (i.e., not ancient).  The chief factor in the promotion of all such relics were their ability to draw in tourists and their money.  To be sure-

They can inspire us and create deep responses.  But they do not take us back to the actual appearance of Jesus (p. 67).

And I haven’t even mentioned yet the seventy seven plates incorporated into the prose of the work; brilliant color, sharp images, and clarity the likes of which one finds only in those beautiful coffee table art books that used to adorn your grandparent’s houses.

Add to all of this- the genius writing and the fantastic illustrations- the very full historical detail and the helpful bibliography and the thorough index and this volume is, insofar as such things are possible, nearly perfect.  Chapters 10 and 11 in particular, where Taylor addresses the topics of ethnicity, height, age, hair, and clothing and one comes away knowing more about the man Jesus than one has ever known.

Take, for instance, this tidbit:

Without careful tending, hair was invariably subject to lice.  Studies of ten combs found in the Judean desert cave have shown that in eight out of ten of these there were lice. Anyone sleeping rough [the British term for the homeless- JW], and not using a comb, would have been prone to them (p. 167).

Jesus, with lice…   This book is genius.  A term I am not used to using of books, or most authors and scholars.  But here it applies to both book and scholar.  Pure genius.  Read it and you’ll not regret a page of it.

Interpreting Revelation and Other Apocalyptic Literature

With historic events seeming to burgeon with signs of the last days, the study of apocalyptic literature–that which is concerned with the end of history as we know it and the coming kingdom of God–has become increasingly relevant. C. Marvin Pate provides a guide to the distinctive content, form, and function of apocalyptic books for those who are interested in exegesis of biblical apocalyptic materials and related literature outside of the Bible.

Pate considers the background of Old Testament apocalyptic literature, such as Daniel, demonstrating its foundational role for properly understanding the New Testament discussions. He also elucidates the tie that binds all apocalyptic writing together–the coming restoration of Israel–before delving into his main emphasis on Revelation and other New Testament writings. Key principles of interpretation specific to this genre are provided for the reader, as well as steps to communicate the theological messages of biblical apocalyptic literature to a modern audience often anxious about the implications of the end times. Beyond a basic grounding in the field, Pate’s in-depth explanations also include new insights into the texts, such as viewing the Roman triumphal entry as the key background to the book of Revelation.

Designed for pastors, students, and informed laity, Interpreting Revelation and Other Apocalyptic Literature ensures that readers will gain a foundational understanding of the material, thereby sidestepping the pitfalls of interpreting this literature by the standards of other biblical genres or avoiding the genre altogether due to its complexity.

Fear and trembling is my usual default disposition whenever I see a book on the subject of apocalyptic or the Book of Revelation.  I suppose, to be honest, I’m ‘gun shy’ because of all the absolute rubbish I’ve read over the years on the topic.  Nine times out of ten, the volumes are trite, silly, and even substandard academically.  The majority tend to be just plain idiotic.

So I was a bit afraid when invited to review the present volume.  Fortunately, I have been pleasantly surprised.  This is a useful book indeed.

Pate here leads readers, quite carefully, through the relevant issues related to apocalyptic, beginning with the genre itself and the figures of speech commonly found therein.  Next he discusses the historical background of the apocalyptic texts.  Next, the function of apocalypticism in the story of Israel and then he gives a sort of primer for those interpreting apocalyptic texts.  He offers sensible guidance in terms of tools and translations and all those technical things which exegetes must make use of.  He rounds off the volume with a couple of examples of sermon prep on apocalyptic texts and finishes up with a list if selected sources.  Pate also provides a glossary.

Each chapter begins with a block of material titled ‘The Chapter at a Glance’ in which the materials of each section are summarized.  Chapters are then richly festooned with tables and illustrative charts.  And then at the conclusion of each there’s a ‘Chapter in Review’ block.

So much for the form of the work.  Now, the substance.  Does this book do what the publisher’s blurb, cited above, claims it will do?  Yes, indeed it does.  It does exactly what the publisher says it will do, and more.  This is a very fine introduction to a pathway to understanding the apocalyptic materials of the bible.  Make no mistake, it is a general introduction to the genre.  It opens the door to the topic and invites readers in.  It does not, however, fully discuss the historical background nor the interpretative/ exegetical implications of the material and to be fair, it is not trying to.  For that, one needs access to further more detailed monographs.

Here one is introduced to the genre and shown the basic outlines of its study.  That is all, and it is enough for the intended audience.  Indeed, it may be a bit too much for some.

The publisher suggests above that the book is aimed at Pastors, students, and informed laity.  But unless those people can make use of Greek, they will find bits of the book completely beyond their grasp.  Not only is Greek used, it is not transliterated.  Indeed, pages 130ff, 190ff, and others will be completely useless to anyone who doesn’t read Greek.

The interested laity for whom the book is intended had better brush up on their Greek, or just skip over all those places where it is used.  And knowing the linguistic skills of many Pastors and students, they will be skipping over a good bit themselves.

Indeed, to be fair to the author and to the intended audience, it might be suggested that potential readers have at least a year or two of Greek under their belts, along with a College or University course on biblical hermeneutics too, or the book will simply be too overwhelming.

This is a very useful book.  For the proper audience.  That is, for University students who are biblical studies majors or Seminary students who have taken several introductory courses.  Those with less background in the field will not profit as much from it as they could had they the requisite skills to do so.

Faith and Reason

How do we harmonize the findings of science with the revelation of Scripture? Were there errors in the original manuscripts of the Bible? What of those who willfully bend a verse to say whatever they want? Blocher, who is former president of the European Fellowship of Evangelical Theologians, provides a persuasive primer on apologetics.

Hendrickson have sent a copy for review.

This small volume can easily be read in an afternoon and read straight through at that.  Engaging and informative, it seeks to guide readers into the basics of apologetics; a task which the author is not ashamed of nor afraid of.

Those familiar with Barth’s view of apologetics will realize right up front that for Barthians such an art is outside the boundaries of good taste.  And yet it is, I think, precisely the Barthians and those uncomfortable with the apologetic enterprise who may benefit most from a  reading of this volume.

Blocher’s writing is homey and familial and it warmly invites readers to view things from his perspective.  Here, he begins with a discussion of the relationship between faith and reason.  Next, he brings Scripture into the fray and offers some quite helpful remarks concerning its usefulness in discussions with those of a ‘rationalistic’ bent.  He even offers some advice concerning when to call it quits in terms of dialogue with skeptics!

The meat of the book, past these introductory and foundational topics, is a discussion of various objections to the Christian perspective:  against those who suggest that the Bible can be made to say anything; against those who see a conflict between faith and science; and against those who deny the miraculous.

Each of these discussions is quite intriguing and whether or not one agrees with either his method or his conclusions, one has to admit that Blocher knows how to make his case.

Blocher’s little work will not appease those who are looking to find fault with Christianity and it won’t convince skeptics to abandon their skepticism and embrace the Christian faith.  But it will give Christians a bit of an intellectual footing in discussions with skeptics without hostility or rage and I suppose that, given the acrimonious debates so common in our day about everything under the sun, that’s quite an achievement.

For a fuller discussion of the relationship to faith and reason, allow me to recommend, as a sort of follow up volume to Blocher’s book, Emil Brunner’s quite industrious ‘Revelation and Reason‘.  Beginning with Blocher and moving towards Brunner, those interested in the apologetic enterprise will be well armed and effectively equipped to engage the doubting world.

Kritiker und Exegeten: Porträtskizzen zu vier Jahrhunderten alttestamentlicher Wissenschaft

No one does this kind of work like Rudolf Smend.  He is, hands down, bar none, the BEST biographer of Old Testament theologians who has yet lived.  Truly, no one knows more about OT scholars than he does.

Die Hebräische Bibel der Juden, das Alte Testament der Christen ist seit dem Beinn der Neuzeit Gegenstand vielfältiger historisch-kritischer Bemühung gewesen, an der sich eine große Zahl bedeutender Gelehrter aus verschiedenen Nationen und Konfessionen beteiligt hat.

Das Buch von Rudolf Smend, Ergebnis jahrzehntelanger Forschung, führt 54 von ihnen vor, darunter J. Buxtorf, B. Spinoza, J. Astruc, R Lowth, J. D. Michaelis, J. G. Herder, E. W. Hengstenberg, A. Kuenen, J. Wellhausen, B. Duhm, R. Kittel, H. Gunkel, M. Buber, A. Alt, W. Vischer, G. v. Rad, M. Noth, I. L. Seeligmann, W. Zimmerli, H. W. Wolff.

Rudolf Smend ist der Meinung, dass jeder von ihnen zu seinem Teil, auf seine Weise und natürlich auch in seinen Grenzen das Ganze dieser Wissenschaft repräsentiert und dass sich von jedem noch heute etwas lernen lässt. Besonderer Wert wird darauf gelegt, sie auch mit ihren eigenen Worten zu charakterisieren. In der Begegnung mit ihnen begegnet man auch dem großen Gegenstand, dem sie alle gedient haben.

V&R have sent a review copy via their distributor here in North America, ISD.   After the several months it took to work through it I’d like to offer the following observations about it:

Along with most of the most important Old Testament scholars, Smend also introduces us to some of the less familiar like Bleek, Kamphausen, Guthe, Meinhold, and Veijola.  He includes, as he has in most of his previous works in the genre, a portrait of almost every scholar as well.  Quotations from each abound and biographical details are naturally interspersed voluminously in the discussion of each.  Smend also indicated their chief theological and historical contributions and supplements every detail with rich bibliographic entries.

In short, readers are offered here a biographical encyclopedia of biblical scholars.  The order is chronological (the most remote from our day in time appear first and the nearest to us chronologically appears last).

The more interesting entries concern Delitzsch, Alt, Budde, Rudolf Smend (the elder; the author would never include himself in such a  volume merely because he is far too humble although by rights he belongs among the luminaries), whom he notes he does not remember, though he does his grandmother, R. Kittel (whom I personally find one of the most fascinating of persons), Baugmartner, and the greatest of all the greats, von Rad.  Smend remarks, so very correctly of him, that no one in the field of Old Testament studies has contributed more broadly or deeply.

The consequences of reading this volume are twofold-  first, readers will fall in love, again, with the giants upon whose shoulders every Old Testament student stands today, even if they are not familiar with their names; and second, readers will be compelled to re-examine books long dust covered and yet filled with undiscovered and unremembered riches.

In a day when Biblical Studies seems stuck in the mud with little real forward progress, returning to our roots to rediscover where we have come from is the first step in moving forward.  Knowing our past helps us to realize that so many of the ideas we think are novel or groundbreaking are actually old hat and only seem new to us because we are deeply and profoundly ignorant of the work of those who have come before us.

The chief problem with many Old Testament scholars today is that they actually believe they’ve come up with some new ideas.  The truth is, what they think is new was discussed ages ago, and better, by our betters.  Smend’s work, then, is a cure to pride and a signpost pointing the way forward.

Read it.

Gerechtigkeit leben: Konkretionen des Glaubens in der gegenwärtigen Welt

Gerechtigkeit ist konkret. Sie steht für die Gestaltung von Lebensvollzugen und Beziehungsverhältnissen. Darum bedarf das Gespräch über das Thema »Gerechtigkeit« der immer neuen Anregungen aus den vielfältigsten Lebensperspektiven und Denktraditionen. So kann es gelingen, Gerechtigkeit als hermeneutisch verantwortete Konkretion des Christusglaubens zu leben.

Den im Vorjahr begonnenen Diskurs um das Verstehen von Gerechtigkeit setzt die 19. Jahrestagung der Rudolf-Bultmann-Gesellschaft fur Hermeneutische Theologie e.V. mit dem Thema »Gerechtigkeit leben« fort. Der Sammelband dokumentiert die Erträge der Tagung.  Anlässlich der Gründung des Arbeitskreises um die „Alten Marburger“ vor 90 Jahren bietet dieser Band auch einen Einblick in die (Vor-)Geschichte der Rudolf-Bultmann-Gesellschaft fur Hermeneutische Theologie.

Mit Beiträgen von Lukas Bormann, Christian Stäblein, Ute Mennecke, Johannes Eurich, Rochus Leonhardt, Jörg Kinzig, Konrad Hammann, Bernd Wildemann.

The Verlag has sent a copy.  More anon.

Three New Volumes From Bloomsbury

Isaiah 6-12– in the long esteemed ICC series.

This eagerly anticipated volume is the second installment in H.G.M. Williamson’s International Critical Commentary on first Isaiah.  For over one hundred years International Critical Commentaries have had a special place among works on the Bible. They bring together all the relevant aids to exegesis – linguistic, textual, archaeological, historical, literary, and theological – to help the reader understand the meaning of the books of the Old and New Testaments. Williamson continues in this tradition, adding to his already published volume on Isaiah 1-5. Covering the next seven chapters of Isaiah Williamson incorporates a range of secondary scholarly material with examination of all the key textual and critical issues surrounding the text.

The Bible and the Qur’an

The Bible and the Qur’an provides an overview of all the figures and groups who are mentioned in both the Bible and the Qur’an. Principal focus centres on the similarities and differences between the presentations of these characters in the two texts, with special emphasis placed on how they appear in the Islamic text. References are also included to how many of the individuals/groups discussed are treated in other Islamic sources.  Each figure or group includes: (1) a list of relevant Qur’an passages; (2) a description of how the individual/group is presented in the Islamic Texts; (3) questions and issues to consider; (4) suggestions for further readings. An introductory section provides a basic orientation to the Qur’an and other Islamic sources.

Reading Christian Theology in the Protestant Tradition

Reading Christian Theology in the Protestant Tradition offers a distinctive approach to the value of classic works through the lens of Protestantism. While it is anachronistic to speak of Christian theology prior to the Reformation as “Protestant”, it is wholly appropriate to recognize how certain common Protestant concerns can be discerned in the earliest traditions of Christianity. The resonances between the ages became both informative and inspiring for Protestants who looked back to pre-reformation sources for confirmation, challenge, and insight.  Thus this book begins with the first Christian theologians, covering nearly 2000 years of theological writing from the Didache, Justin Martyr, and Origen to James Cone, José Míguez Bonino, and Sallie McFague. Five major periods of church history are represented in 12 key works, each carefully explained and interpreted by an expert in the field.

Bloomsbury have provided review copies of each.  Stay tuned, once I work through them I’ll report on them.

Reformation of Prayerbooks: The Humanist Transformation of Early Modern Piety in Germany and England

In her study Chaoluan Kao offers a comprehensive investigation of popular piety at the time of the European Reformations through the study of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Protestant prayerbooks. It pursues a historical-contextual approach to spirituality by integrating social and religious history in order to yield a deeper understanding of both the history of Christian piety and of church history in general. The study explores seven prayerbooks by German authors and seventeen English prayerbooks from the Reformation and post-Reformation as well as from Lutheran, Anglican, and Puritan traditions, examining them as spiritual texts with social and theological significance that helped disseminate popular understandings of Protestant piety. Early Protestant piety required intellectual engagement, emphasized a faithful and heartfelt attitude in approaching God, and urged regular exercise in prayer and reading. Early Protestant prayerbooks modeled for their readers a Protestant piety that was a fervent spiritual practice solidly grounded in the social context and connections of its practitioners. Through those books, Reformation could be understood as redefining the meanings of people’s spiritual lives and re-discovering of a pious life. In a broader sense, they functioned as a channel of historical and spiritual transition, which not only tells us the transformation and transmission of Reformation historically but also signifies the development of Christian spirituality. The social-historical study of the prayerbooks furthers our understanding of continuity, change, and inter-confessional influence in the Christian piety of early modern Europe.

V&R have provided a review copy.

The volume contains a series of examinations of various English and German prayer books.  The purpose of the volume, then, is quite straightforward: to investigate the form and purpose of these kinds of texts in their 16th and 17th century contexts.  Along those lines, the author writes

… the study will mainly explore seventeen English texts from Anglican, early Puritan groups in addition to seven German texts from the Lutheran group for consulting or for reference.

In the course of the work, which is carefully written, we learn the following:

In the seventeenth century, German prayerbooks slightly changed their focus and methods of expression to better sustain their readers’ spiritual growth.


The first women’s writing for female readers can be found in Prayers or Meditations, a text published under the name of Queen Katherine Parr (1512– 1548) and was printed by Thomas Bertheletin in Londonon June 2, 1545.

This latter fact is one of many interesting snippets which bring to our awareness the fact that both women and children were not only engaged by prayerbooks but in the case of women, were instrumental in their composition.  The old notion that the Reformation was man’s work is debunked thoroughly not just here but in much recent Reformation scholarship.

Prayerbooks served another purpose besides enabling piety: they also served as doctrinal instruction:

In addition, since the Protestant reformers believed that wrong doctrines of prayer led to wrong exercises and directed people to wrong practices, their prayerbooks emphasized the importance of correct doctrine.

But according to the author, the most important aspect of the new prayerbooks was the fact that…

… early Protestant prayerbooks moved people’s prayer schedule from the traditional seven or eight times a day to a more flexible pattern.

In all, the book is seriously significant and provides really important insights into the practices of the earliest generations of Protestants and Reformed.

It does, however, have one minor issue which I wish had been noticed at some point in the editorial process: it lacks a native English speaker’s eye.  For instance, in several places where the definite article is needed, it is absent.  And grammatical oversights like this one are not overly common, but they do occur:

Although Luther and Calvin kept a slight different concept of private confession,
they did open up a way for self-examination to their followers.

A native speaker will notice right away that ‘slight’ should be ‘slightly’ and ‘kept’ is rather odd sounding and should probably be replaced with ‘held’.  Non-native readers will probably not find the sentence as it stands odd or unusual, but native speakers will.

This isn’t meant as an overt criticism; rather, it should be understood as a constructive comment- i.e., something to keep in mind in future volumes.

The volume’s table of contents and other front matter along with samples are available here.  For that reason, the TOC is not reduplicated here.  Interested readers of this review are encouraged to check there for the minute details of the work.

I enjoyed this book.  And I learned from it.  Accordingly, I’m quite comfortable with recommending it to you.

Philipp Melanchthon: Der Reformator zwischen Glauben und Wissen. Ein Handbuch

This newly published work arrived in August for review from DeGruyter:

Written by a team of internationally renowned scholars, this newly conceived handbook provides a reliable introduction to the life, work, and impact of Philipp Melanchthon. It presents the latest research on Melanchthon’s role in Reformation history, but beyond this, reveals his importance in intellectual history as a universal scholar of the 16th century.

The publisher, first of all, has provided the TOC here.  Consequently, I won’t duplicate that material at this place.  Readers are encouraged to take a look before moving forward with this review.

A work as massive as this, containing all of the information which it does, is difficult to summarize in a short space.  Nonetheless, it’s worth the effort:  The volume at hand is a complete guide to Melanchthon’s life, work, theology, relationships, influences, and reception.  And the use of the word ‘complete’ is no exaggeration for effect.  Literally every aspect of Melanchthon-studies is included.  No stone is left unturned in the editor’s quest to give students of Melanchthon everything they need to know under one cover.

Naturally, not everything that can be said is said.  Instead, the volume is the perfect starting point for those wishing to examine, and understand, every aspect and corner and stone in studies of the greatest of the German Reformers (in truth, Philipp was even greater than Luther).

The philosophical section of the volume is outside my wheelhouse and I confess to being less interested in it than I was in other parts.  Indeed, the most engaging portions have to do, for me, with Melanchthon’s life and theology.  Secondly, I found the Reception of Melanchthon in other European lands to be particularly engaging precisely because how those outside Germany viewed him is such an interesting topic.  Thirdly, the section which discusses the various genres of Philipp’s works was also incredibly engaging.  The man was a true genius, interested in and contributing to so many fields of knowledge.

Indeed, the overarching ‘take-away’ from this important work is the fact that here Melanchthon is shown to be so much more than simply the sidekick of Martin Luther and the chap who helped him translate the New Testament because he was better at Greek than Luther was himself.  This tome is a wonderful instruction manual in Melanchthon-onia.

A few, a very few of the highlights of this collection of essays are (in order to provide potential readers with a sampling of the work):

Melanchthon hingegen gewann keinen sonderlich positiven Eindruck von Zwingli und bezweifelte, ob dieser überhaupt ein Christ sei (Scheible 1997a, 107). Sokames zu keinen weiteren direkten Begegnungen und Briefen zwischen den beiden Reformatoren mehr, doch herrschte in Zürich auch nach dem Zwinglis Tod im Jahr 1531 Melanchthon gegenüber eine freundliche Grundstimmung. Denn Melanchthon galt für Zwinglis Nachfolger als Vorsteher der Zürcher Kirche, Heinrich Bullinger, als große theologische und kirchenpolitische Autorität. Bekannt ist, dass der junge Student Bullinger, als er sich 1521/22 der Reformation zuwandte (Egli 1904, 6.14–15), stark von Melanchthons Loci communes beeindruckt gewesen war. Nach seiner Rückkehr in die Eidgenossenschaft hielt er zwischen 1523 und 1529 in Kappel Vorlesungen über Werke Melanchthons und verfasste einen – nicht erhaltenen – Kommentar zu zwei seiner Loci (Egli 1904, 8.11.13).


Melanchthon war persönlich anwesend auf den Reichstagen in Speyer 1529, Augsburg 1530 sowie Regensburg 1541. Von reichspolitischer Relevanz war außerdem seine Teilnahme anmehreren Reichsreligionsgesprächen, insbesondere den Verhandlungen zwischen Theologen und Kirchenpolitikern in Worms 1540/41 und Regensburg 1541, die zeitgleich mit dem Reichstag stattfanden. Zum Reichsreligionsgespräch in Regensburg im Jahr 1546 wurde Melanchthon nicht abgesandt; nach den Regensburger Erfahrungen fünf Jahre zuvor war er auch froh darüber, sich nicht an diesen Wortspaltereien beteiligen zu müssen (MBW 4140: „Sed illas conventuum σκιομαχίας non amo.“, MBW.T 15, 79,7– 8). Das letzte Reichsreligionsgespräch, an dem Melanchthon persönlich beteiligt war, fand 1557 in Worms statt.

And there are, as well, brilliant illustrations, including this one in the chapter discussing images of Melanchthon through the years-


Robert Boissard, Bildnis Philipp Melanchthon, aus: Jean Jacques Boissard, Icones quinquaginta virorum illustrium, Frankfurt a. M. 1597–99, Radierung/Kupferstich , 13,7 × 10,6 cm, Melanchthonhaus Bretten.

Melancthon was the most influential German of the 16th century.  It’s true, Luther is better known.  But once one learns what Melanchthon accomplished one swiftly discovers that Luther’s influence was narrowly framed (in theological and linguistic circles) whereas Melanchthon’s work touches every corner of academic inquiry.

This volume is as heartily recommended as I can manage.  do read it.

The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity: Texts and Analysis

This book contributes to the discussion on the development of the biblical canon by presenting clearly the early Christian lists of canonical books. Scholarly and popular literature frequently mentions the views of early Christians on the biblical canon, and frequently the information is wrong or insufficiently nuanced. This book clearly presents the early canon lists, with notes to guide the interpretation of the lists, and will clear up some confusion on the state of the Bible in early Christianity. The lists certainly do not solve every problem about the development of the Bible, and close study of their contents will in some ways add to the complexities of the subject. But in the belief that scholarship advances most soundly by constant interaction with the ancient sources that it seeks to interpret, ready access to a collection of canon lists in the original language with translation and notes should serve as a boon to biblical scholars and patristic scholars alike.

We shall see…  More anon…

Catholic Reform in the Age of Luther: Duke George of Saxony and the Church, 1488-1525

In his portrait of Duke George of Saxony (1471–1539) Christoph Volkmar offers a fresh perspective on the early Reformation in Germany. Long before the Council of Trent, this book traces the origins of Catholic Reform to the very neighborhood of Wittenberg. The Dresden duke, cousin of Frederick the Wise, was one of Luther’s most prominent opponents. Not only did he fight the Reformation, he also promoted ideas for renewal of the church. Based on thousands of archival records, many of them considered for the first time, Christoph Volkmar is mapping the church politics of a German prince who used the power of the territorial state to boost Catholic Reform, marking a third way apart from both Luther and Trent.

This book was orginally published in German as Reform statt Reformation. Die Kirchenpolitik Herzog Georgs von Sachsen, 1488-1525.

Bultmann Handbuch


This gem has been published by Mohr

Rudolf Bultmann (1884–1976) prägte durch seinen hermeneutischen Ansatz die exegetischen und systematisch-theologischen sowie kirchlichen Diskurse des 20. Jahrhunderts wesentlich mit. Als Mitbegründer der formgeschichtlichen Schule und früher Vertreter der Dialektischen Theologie setzte er sich in den 1920er Jahren kritisch mit Positionen der liberalen Theologie auseinander und rückte die hermeneutische Frage nach den Verstehensbedingungen der biblischen Texte sowie deren Bedeutung für die Leserinnen und Leser in der Moderne in den Fokus seiner wissenschaftlichen Arbeit. Seine Theologie entwickelte Bultmann im Gespräch und in der Auseinandersetzung; so pflegte er einen intensiven Austausch mit Kolleginnen und Kollegen auch anderer wissenschaftlicher Disziplinen, mit Studentinnen und Studenten, mit Pfarrerinnen und Pfarrern.

Dieses Handbuch bietet neben einem ersten Orientierungsabschnitt über Bultmanns Werke und den gegenwärtigen Forschungsstand, in einem zweiten Abschnitt einen Zugang zur Person. Darin werden die Biographie, die theologischen Prägungen, die Beziehungen zu wichtigen Gesprächspartnern und seine politisch-gesellschaftlichen Kontexte in den Blick genommen. Eine Beschäftigung mit dem Werk Bultmanns findet im dritten Abschnitt statt. In diesem Abschnitt werden die vielfältigen Gattungen und Themen seines Œuvres behandelt sowie die sein Gesamtwerk prägenden Strukturen. Schließlich wird die Wirkung und Rezeption seiner Theologie insbesondere im deutschsprachigen Raum dargestellt und diskutiert. Das Handbuch eignet sich für eine erste Orientierung in der Beschäftigung mit Bultmann; es ist darüber hinaus auch ein Nachschlagewerk für Fachleute und Bultmann-Kenner.

The publisher has sent along a review copy.

The volume consists of

  • A. – Orientation
  • B. – Person
  • C. – Works
  • D. – Reception

The Orientation takes readers through a very extensive listing of Bultmann’s works and works about Bultmann.  Section B. introduces readers to the biography of Bultmann and then to those scholars and theologians who influenced him and with whom he interacted (including, but not limited to Rade, Gunkel, Barth, Heidegger, his Marburg colleagues and Fuchs.  This section also includes descriptions of Bultmann’s relation to the Jews, Politics, the Church, and Culture.  Section C. focuses on the works of Bultmann and is comprised of descriptions of the genres of his books and essays, the structures of his thought, and the chief themes he works with (including but not limited to Hellenism and Judaism, The New Testament, the Old Testament, eschatology, faith, ethics and hermeneutics.  Finally the volume concludes in section D. with the various debates provoked by Bultmann’s work (like demythologizing, Jesus research, Johannine research, and Pauline studies).

The work also includes a list of contributors and a general bibliography along with the usual indices.

The aim of the work is described by its editor in the opening pages: it’s goal is to deepen our understanding of Bultmann’s work, and more importantly, to provoke us to read Bultmann himself.  Each chapter is brief but utterly packed to the brim with important and useful information.  Each includes a bibliography and each is festooned with indicators of further information to be found in other parts of the volume.  So, for instance, if one is reading the subsection about Bultmann’s biography and is intrigued by details concerning his time at Marburg, parenthetical references direct readers to other places in the work where that information is expanded upon or described more fully.

This is an authentic handbook (in that typically understated German sense of actually describing an encyclopedia).  The learning on display is encyclopedic and this could easily be called a Bultmann encyclopedia.  And should.  Its one shortcoming is a lack of images and portraits of the great teacher in and amidst his environment.  The only photo graces the cover, and it is of Bultmann mid career.

The highlights of the volume are numerous.  The discussion of Bultmann’s connection to Luther is sublime, as are the discussions of Bultmann’s politics and his interactions with Judaism.  When it comes to Section C., III (Themes) the material is a primer in Bultmannian theology the likes of which have never been produced before.  If readers wish to know what Bultmann taught concerning Jesus, Michael Theobald’s treatment is perfection.  Similarly, Christof Landmesser’s treatment of Bultmann’s theology of Paul is so far superior to anything in the genre that it is worthy of special notice.

Andreas Lindemann’s discussion of the ‘Bultmann School’ in D. I. is superb, as is Francis Watson’s description of Bultmann’s reception in the English speaking world in D. VIII.

It’s no secret, at least to people who know me, that Bultmann has been and remains one of the most important theological influences in my own life.  Among the greatest-  Zwingli, Brunner, Luther, Calvin, Barth, von Rad, and Kierkegaard, Bultmann is among the top three.  It was Bultmann who convinced me, as a Grad Student, that Faith and Understanding were two sides of the same coin.  It was he who taught me the folly of attempting to read the Gospels as biography.  It was he who introduced me to the profundinty of Paul’s theology.  It was he who taught me to look at the Gospels through redaction-critical eyes.  Among New Testament scholars he is and will always be the most influential.

That’s why, primarily, I welcome this brilliant and useful volume, and recommend it to you so enthusiastically.  If you think you know Bultmann- his life, his works, his influence- then you will still learn much from this book.  If you don’t know much about Bultmann at all, this is the book to read.  And if you’re a serious New Testament scholar you already know that at some point or other you will have to interact with Bultmann’s scholarship- no matter which aspect of New Testament studies interests you.  Bultmann is the Himalaya over which every scholar must traverse in their intellectual and theological pilgrimage in order to be a real scholar.  This book will help you understand him far better than you ever have.