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Bible Resource Spotlight: Matthew: A Theological Commentary on the Bible

posted by Mike Nappa

Reader Appeal: Pastors, Bible teachers

Genre: Commentary

FBSN Rating: B+

 

It seems strange that asking a theologian to write a Bible commentary would be considered, well, strange. But in the “academic silo” world we live in, the fact is that theologians don’t typically write commentaries. Professors of biblical studies write commentaries, while theologians write, um…whatever it is that theologians are supposed to write. For that reason, Westminster John Knox’s decision to publish a series of Bible commentaries written exclusively by theologians is a unique choice.

Anna Case-Winters tackled the theological commentary on the book of Matthew. Dr. Case-Winters is a professor of theology at McCormick Theological Seminary and an ordained Presbyterian minister. Her approach to the text is unique and interesting. Whether because it was written by a theologian, or because Dr. Case-Winters’ personality is reflected in her writing, the commentary segments in Matthew trend toward introspection and personal application. They are much more devotional in nature than one would expect, and perhaps (at least in part) that’s because this commentary tackles chunks of Scripture at a time rather than going verse by verse through Matthew’s gospel.

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“This commentary meanders among layers of meaning,” Dr. Case-Winters says up front, and she’s telling the truth. Her meditative approach to the Scripture is the defining aspect of this book. Reading this commentary feels more like listening to someone else’s sermon than anything else. Her deep exploration of the Lord’s Prayer is an example of this, and though more devotional and sermonic than educational, it does make for an interesting perspective. Dr. Case-Winters also sprinkles in relevant quotes in callouts and adds occasional “Further Reflections” sections when she feels the need to “meander” a bit more extensively about a particular subject raised in the text.

For the pastor or Bible teacher who is mainly looking for facts to use in next Sunday’s sermon, this commentary will disappoint. But for the pastor or Bible teacher who is looking for stimulating discussion about specific texts in Matthew, Case-Winters’ commentary will add texture and insight. Be aware, though, that Matthew: A Theological Commentary on the Bible requires the reader to engage thoughtfully, and so may require more study time than expected from a typical Bible reference work.

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Matthew: A Theological Commentary on the Bible by Anna Case-Winters

(Westminster John Knox Press)

 

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Bible Resource Spotlight: After Acts

posted by Mike Nappa

Reader Appeal: Bible teachers, students, Bible Study Nerds

Genre: Christian History

FBSN Rating: B

 

Dr. Bryan Litfin is a theology professor at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He also holds a Ph.D. in the field of ancient church history and a master’s degree in historical theology. So, you know, he’s a big ol’ Bible Study Nerd—and he really gets into researching ancient biblical events and people.

In his book, After Acts, Litfin puts his full nerdiness on display by digging into church history after Jesus’ resurrection, trying to determine what really happened and what simply became legend in the lexicon of our faith. As he says:

“Peter was crucified upside down,” you hear in a sermon, “according to tradition.” “Paul went to Spain,” the pastor says on another day, “according to tradition.” Thomas founded the Indian church, Mary lived in Ephesus, the original apostles became martyrs—all according to this vague yet authoritative source called “early church tradition.” But what exactly do we mean by this term? Where do these ancient traditions come from, and how reliable are they historically?

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Litfin’s question offers a fascinating premise for a book on church history, and he ably investigates answers as they relate to several key figures of our faith.

After Acts researches the historical records regarding the lives of all four gospel writers, as well as Peter, Paul, James, Mary, Thomas and others. Litfin explores the common assumptions we have “according to tradition” and tries to determine how reliable that tradition is when compared to the evidence. For instance, it’s very likely that Jesus’ mother, Mary, was cared for by the Apostle John in her later life, but very unlikely that she lived in Ephesus with him. Also, history indicates that Simon Peter was indeed crucified under Nero’s persecution, and even likely buried “in a grave now located beneath the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica,” but there’s scant evidence to show that he “considered himself the preeminent authority figure of the Roman church.”

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The strength of After Acts—its dependence on provable, historical investigation—is also one of its few drawbacks, though. Sometimes the details of research are, well, boring to read. For example, Litfin opens the book with an extensive, three-page timeline of significant dates, followed immediately by page after page of term definitions (“apostle” “church fathers” “orthodoxy” “Gnosticism” and so on). While that background information may be important, filing the first 25 pages of After Acts with such dry reading makes it tempting to put this book aside before you even get to the good stuff. And make no mistake, the following chapters of Litfin’s book are “good stuff,” but you have to get to them to find out, and some just won’t make it. You might want to consider treating the early pages of this book as a skip-able appendix—something to refer back to if you have questions along the way during your reading of the body of the book.

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In all, though, After Acts is well worth the time spent (even the boring parts). Recommended for any Bible Study Nerd interested in learning more about the differences between “church tradition” and the legacies of our Christian faith.

 

After Acts by Bryan Litfin

(Moody Publishers)

 

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Bible Resource Spotlight: Reformation Commentary on Scripture, New Testament III: Luke

posted by Mike Nappa

Reader Appeal: Pastors, Teachers, Seminary Students

Genre: Commentary

FBSN Rating: A

 

The risk with Christian history and theology is that voices from our shared past are often drowned out by the voices of today’s popular thought leaders and megachurch pastors. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with listening to modern theologians. It’s just that sometimes we overemphasize to current at the expense of the past.

In Reformation Commentary on Scripture, New Testament III: Luke, editor Beth Kreitzer aims to expand our view beyond just today.

This commentary series, according to general editor Timothy George, “seeks to introduce its readers to the depth and richness of exegetical ferment that defined the Reformation Era.” In other words, Kreitzer’s Luke collects the wisdom of pastors, teachers, priests, and leaders of the Reformation and places it in reader-friendly segments that cover every major passage of the good doctor’s gospel. The sheer scope of that task is daunting to say the least, and all the more impressive because the finished work is both insightful and accessible for even the novice Bible Study Nerd.

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Kreitzer has collected excerpts of sermons, commentaries, treatises, and confessions from the foremost theologians of the 16th century, translated many into English, and organized them into easy-to-follow commentary that takes us from Luke 1:1 all the way to Luke 24:53. This includes several schools of exegesis from medieval times, including Biblical humanism, the Wittenberg school, Strasbourg-Basel tradition, Anabaptist thought, Genevan reformers, the Zurich group, and more. It also includes biblical insights from well-known Reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin, William Tyndale, and Huldrych Zwingli, as well as lesser-known thinkers like Lancelot Ridley, Johann Gerhard, Katharina Schütz Zell, and others. The result is fascinating, like a glimpse of both the past and the future. These people literally changed the world with their thinking, and it’s sometimes exhilarating to follow their chains of thought in reference to specific passages from Luke—and to see how that might apply to us today and tomorrow.

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In addition to the Reformers’ commentary, Kreitzer offers helpful background on the history of the Reformation and biographical sketches of its major influences, both people and documents. Subject and Scripture indexes round out the tools provided for the reader.

In all, this is a well-researched, surprisingly interesting, unique commentary on the gospel of Luke. It’s a worthy volume to add to the shelves of any pastor, teacher, or Bible Study Nerd.

 

Reformation Commentary on Scripture, New Testament III: Luke edited by Beth Kreitzer

(IVP Academic)

 

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Matthew 11:1-19; Jesus and John the Baptist (Inductive Studies)

posted by Mike Nappa

“Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”

It’s interesting that John asked an academic question, recorded in Matthew 11:3, and Jesus responded with a legal answer (Matthew 11:4-6). John’s question really only required a yes-or-no reply, but instead of giving that simple solution, Jesus convened an impromptu, informal court—right there in front of God and everybody.

Figuratively speaking, to answer John’s great question, Christ took off the cloak of Rabbi and put on judicial robes instead. “Go back,” he instructed the Baptist’s disciples, “and report to John what you hear and see…”

  • Exhibit A: “the blind receive sight,”
  • Exhibit B: “the lame walk,”
  • Exhibit C: “those who have leprosy are cleansed,”
  • Exhibit D: “the deaf hear,”
  • Exhibit E: “the dead are raised,”
  • Exhibit F: “the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”

Anyone familiar with Old Testament prophesies of Isaiah—and John was—would recognize fairly quickly that each and every one of these miracles was overwhelming proof of the promised Messiah, the Coming One. In this way Jesus conclusively and forcefully answered John’s faith crisis by placing the Baptist squarely in the jury box and saying essentially, “Look at the evidence, Cousin. You’ll find the truth in there. ”

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Why did Jesus change the parameters of John’s simple question into something of a courtroom drama? The author of Hebrews gives us a clue: “Faith,” he said, “is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 NKJV, italics mine).

Perhaps John needed more than a simple assent regarding what he couldn’t see; perhaps he needed evidence of those unseen things. Jesus gave to John substance on which to pin his hope and clear evidence to believe. In doing so, he gave to John the gift of real, unshakeable faith—a faith that would endure in the depths of prison, a faith that would remain strong even when the executioner came to bring a savage end to John’s earthly life.

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See also: Isaiah 29:18, 35:5, (blind see); Isaiah 35:6 (lame walk); Isaiah 53:4 (lepers healed); Isaiah 29:18–19, 35:5 (deaf hear); Isaiah 26:18–19 (dead raised); Isaiah 61:1 (good news preached to poor).

 

Works Cited:

[GSM, 107-108]

 

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About: For Bible Study Nerds™

About: Mike Nappa

Copyright © 2014 to present by Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Previous Posts

Bible Resource Spotlight: Matthew: A Theological Commentary on the Bible
Reader Appeal: Pastors, Bible teachers Genre: Commentary FBSN Rating: B+   It seems strange that asking a theologian to write a Bible commentary would be considered, well, strange. But in the “academic silo” world we live ...

posted 12:00:18pm May. 01, 2015 | read full post »

Bible Resource Spotlight: After Acts
Reader Appeal: Bible teachers, students, Bible Study Nerds Genre: Christian History FBSN Rating: B   Dr. Bryan Litfin is a theology professor at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He also holds a Ph.D. in the field of ...

posted 12:00:16pm Apr. 29, 2015 | read full post »

Bible Resource Spotlight: Reformation Commentary on Scripture, New Testament III: Luke
Reader Appeal: Pastors, Teachers, Seminary Students Genre: Commentary FBSN Rating: A   The risk with Christian history and theology is that voices from our shared past are often drowned out by the voices of today’s popular ...

posted 12:00:14pm Apr. 27, 2015 | read full post »

Matthew 11:1-19; Jesus and John the Baptist (Inductive Studies)
“Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” It’s interesting that John asked an academic question, recorded in Matthew 11:3, and Jesus responded with a legal answer (Matthew 11:4-6). John’s question really ...

posted 12:00:44pm Apr. 24, 2015 | read full post »

Matthew 11:1-19; Jesus and John the Baptist (Bible Difficulties)
When John the Baptist was in prison and heard that Jesus was nearby, he sent his disciples to ask of Christ himself: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:3). Why did he ask this ...

posted 12:00:43pm Apr. 22, 2015 | read full post »

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