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Paul and His Letters | John B. Polhill

The cover of Paul and his LettersIt’s safe to say that the church wouldn’t exist in its current forms without Paul. Although the Spirit worked through many characters hinted at tangentially (Apollo, for example), Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. His complex background, dramatic conversion/commissioning, zealous missionary work, and extant letters have been a puzzle tackled by Pauline scholars throughout the ages.

Polhill’s book begins with about a hundred pages of introductory material on Paul before giving way to chapters about his key letters. Chapters about his travelogue are interspersed amongst the letters. Polhill presents a conservative view of Paul, assuming the Pauline authorship of the thirteen epistles that bear his name. At the end of each chapter a helpful bibliography for further investigation is included, divided into Greek-based and English-based sources.

I struggled with Polhill’s lack of subtlety in handling Paul’s motives and actions. For example, Polhill notes how “Paul remained a Jew even as a Christian . . . [h]e maintained Jewish practices, like taking a Nazarite vow (Acts 18:18) and participating in the vows of others (Acts 21:26)” (26). While it’s a given that Paul remained an ethnic Jew while following the Jewish Messiah, Polhill oversimplified the situation. Paul’s participation in the vows of others was conceived by James and company and implemented as a tactic to avoid a religio-political confrontation. (The ruse failed!)

Current issues in Pauline scholarship were undertreated. The “new perspective,” for example, receives a one page overview with the following summary statement: “The debate on Paul’s view of the law is far from finished and promises to continue for a long time to come” (297). Again, this statement is true but unhelpful. Such a major interpretive issue should be more thoughtfully handled. In these cases Polhill always assumes a traditional conservative view.

Paul and His Letters is a solid overview of the life of Paul. For a fuller picture of the enigmatic apostle, this volume should be supplemented by more current scholarship and divergent viewpoints.

Polhill, John B. Paul and His Letters. Nashville: B&H Academic, 1999.

From Pentecost to Patmos | Craig L. Blomberg

The cover of Blomberg's From Pentecost to PatmosWhen I returned to Seminary in the fall of 1999, my first professor assigned Blomberg’s Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey. I was hooked. Blomberg pulled me into the world of the Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John with his knack for explaining details without needless complexity.

That book on the Gospels evolved from a set of lecture notes Blomberg used to teach undergraduate and graduate students. In 2006, Blomberg’s lecture notes on the rest of the New Testament received similar treatment resulting in From Pentecost to Patmos. The two volumes together take you through the entire New Testament.

Some features of the classroom lectures make their way into the book. There are a scattering of very helpful charts for understanding key ideas. Also, each section ends with a series of thoughtful questions to help students process the material more thoroughly.

Blomberg’s approach to the New Testament is thoroughly conservative. In the introduction to each book he always affirms traditional authorship, although dissenting views are surveyed.

The best quality of this book is Blomberg’s respect for the biblical text itself. He dedicates the bulk of his writing to bringing out the structure and content of the text.

I spend most of my time, … surveying the actual structure and contents of each book, the main points in each section, the distinctive exegetical cruxes, and several key items for contemporary application. (3)

From Pentecost to Patmos is a textbook for seminarians. However, any thoughtful Christian would benefit greatly from reading Blomberg’s book alongside the New Testament during morning devotions.

Disclaimer: B&H Academic provided me a review copy of this text free of charge.

—Craig L. Blomberg, From Pentecost to Patmos: An Introduction to Acts Through Revelation (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2006).)

The Lord’s Supper | Thomas R. Schreiner & Matthew R. Crawford

The Cover of the Lord's Supper“This is my body” (1 Corinthians 11:24). Hoc est corpus. Defining the verb, “to be” in this context has been one of the most divisive tasks the church has undertaken. On one side of the spectrum you have the transubstantiation of the Roman Catholic church. On the other side you have the memorialism of Zwingli’s  descendents. “Do this … in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:25).

In The Lord’s Supper, Schreiner and Crawford have collected essays from Southern Baptists which reflect on the “biblical, historical, theological, and pastoral issues” required to properly understand the meal (391). The survey of Biblical material is particularly helpful. Köstenburger leads the volume with an essay exploring the Passover roots of the meal before Pennington and Hamilton Jr. survey Gospel and Pauline literature, respectively.

The historical essays begin with the church fathers, pause on each of the reformers, and close with a look at recent Baptist history. Here the polemic of the volume comes to the forefront. Each of these essays examine the way a particular group understood the Lord’s Supper before pointing out how these views are in part faulty. This volume is “a book written by Baptists for Baptists, a fact that [the editors] make no apology for” (391).

There are challenges even within the Baptist camp. In Gregory A. Wills’ essay, “Sounds from Baptist History,” he traces the movement of the Southern Baptist church from close to open communion. (Close communion is restricted to church members whose regeneration and subsequent baptism has been demonstrated.) You can almost hear the pain in his voice when he writes, “The widespread adoption of open Communion among conservative Southern Baptists indicated that they did not cross the twentieth century unscathed by the progressive currents against which they struggled.” (311). “Close Communion was not the only victim. … The traditional church practices and structures lost their basis in a ‘thus saith the Lord'” (312).

Craig L. Blomberg offered this blurb for the back cover: “While Schreiner and Crawford stress that this volume was written by Southern Baptists for Southern Baptists, it would be a pity if this emphasis prevented their book from receiving the very wide readership that it deserves.” Blomberg is right. The Lord’s Supper provides the reader with a thorough education on the various elements of our Christian meal. If you’re not a Southern Baptist, be prepared to interact critically and thoughtfully with the material.

—Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford, Eds, The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ Until He Comes (Nashville, NT: B&H Academic, 2010).

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