[K:NWTS 8/1 (May 1993) 49-56]

Book Reviews

Elmer Martens. Jeremiah. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1986, 327 pp., $17.95 paper. ISBN: 0-8361-3405-2.

Martens's commentary is part of the Believers Church Bible Commentary Series. Every book in this series seeks to provide rich commentary written in a style simple enough to be useful to Sunday School teachers, Bible study groups and other interested laypersons. Furthermore, each book in the series is unashamedly committed to being written from a Believers Church (Mennonite) perspective. Martens's commentary is successful in this regard. But does Martens's Jeremiah do more than it claims? Does it also provide discoveries useful for biblical-theological preaching?

Martens has packed a great deal of material into a relatively small volume. All of the material is useful for some religious discipline if not all for biblical theology. Contained in this volume are autobiographical and/or theological reflections on past church leaders and groups: Jerome, Origen, Augustine, Menno Simons, Sir Thomas More, Luther, Calvin, Methodists, Nazarenes, Reformed and Presbyterian Churches, etc. These are useful for studies of church history, historical theology and for comparisons between current denominations. Martens also takes the time to discuss trends and events. The volume contains a vast range of contemporary material. The biblical-theological preacher is encouraged that with such a broad range of material there must also be something for him.

In reading this commentary one finds a variety of helps that aid the biblical-theological process. For one thing, much help is provided for Hebrew. For instance, throughout the book Martens provides the reader with many rich studies of key words and continually points out Jeremiah's play on words. Additionally, Martens includes a dictionary-like article on wordplay in a glossary at the end of the book. He also identifies specific literary genres. In a more general fashion, Martens identifies each new section as either poetry or prose. In each chapter of the commentary, the author consistently offers a structural analysis, pointing out such items as parallelism, chiasm and inclusio. Furthermore, he includes an assessment of the English translations which best capture the sense of the original. In a similar vein, he gives text-critical help regarding conjectural emendation and regularly compares disputed readings with the rendering of the Septuagint. The serious student is interested in redemptive history as recorded in the original tongue. Thus, Martens's work with the Hebrew helps us to better appreciate the unfolding of God's plan.

Another useful contribution is found in the way the author occasionally focuses on the role each character plays in the drama of God's unfolding plan. In one instance Martens compares the role Josiah played in the discovery of the law scroll (2 K. 22) with the role Jehoiakim played in burning the scroll (Jer. 36). He then explains how these two scroll-acts intensify the drama leading to the coming destruction of Jerusalem. Assessing the roles of certain characters is to some degree connected with Martens's so-called correspondence theory of history. This theory maintains that redemptive history is at the same time both linear and cyclical (compare Vos, Biblical Theology [1948], p. 16). According to Martens, one event or act in redemptive history may correspond to a similar act in the past or future. In defending his view, he notes a close correspondence between Jeremiah and Jesus. I found myself wishing that in drawing our attention to such correspondences, Martens would have attempted to explain why such redemptive patterns recur. The reader is left to draw his own conclusions. 

Of major benefit is the attention Martens pays to geography. Through his attention to geographic detail, the reader never feels disoriented, but becomes a part of what is taking place in the text. The reader always has a sense of where he and the individuals in the story are going. This geographical emphasis makes one increasingly aware of the fact that redemption did occur "in history," and that the God of heaven intervened on earth.

So far, I have mentioned only resources having an indirect influence on biblical theology. Yet this commentary contains more direct help as well. This is especially true of one of the unique features of the book: At the end of each chapter there is an article called "The Text in Its Theological Context." Here Martens references both earlier and later events related to the events of the passage under consideration. These articles help the reader to think both retrospectively and prospectively.

Throughout the commentary there are frequent tidbits helping us to think in a retrospective/prospective fashion. However, caution needs to be urged at this point. The biblical-theological tidbits contained in this book are just that—tidbits!—designed to stimulate our own reflection process. Anyone looking for more than a suggestion will be disappointed. This commentary is well suited for the person who can capture a small idea, then research, run with and enlarge upon that idea. Remember, Martens's book doesn't claim to be a formal biblical theology; more has already been asked of this book than it claims for itself. 

The material in this book is laid out exceptionally well. Each chapter provides an overview, followed by an explanation of the text, followed by two articles, "The Text In Its Theological Context" and the "Text in The Life of The Church." Furthermore, in each chapter the reader is provided with more references for the more technical discussions which are confined to the back of the book. This promotes continuity of thought and prevents the reader from getting bogged down with painstaking detail. Martens helps us see the whole forest and not just individual trees—itself a boon for biblical theology.

Martens approaches the person and work of Christ from several angles. He alludes to Christ's future suffering for the sake of his people, to Jesus as moral example, to Christ's being the ideal future king and righteous branch (contrasted with Judah's evil king), and to his anti-typical identity with Jeremiah as the greater prophet.

Martens remains a conservative Mennonite throughout; still, he effectively utilizes the tools of form and redaction criticism. His Mennonite bias never seems to get in the way of careful exegesis, though he does tend to ride his "pacifist" hobbyhorse into the ground. He speaks much of covenant and of covenants, but appears to be too much influenced by premillenialism. Stating, as Vos did, that covenant is not subject to abrogation, he then applies promises to today's national Israel. He regards Jer. 31:31 as the apex of Old Testament salvation history. He holds that both the Abrahamic and the New Covenant are conditional covenants by nature. He does so by pointing to "loyalty" as the unspoken condition of every covenant.

The reader is drawn to Martens's fascinating discussion of the creation motif in Jeremiah. Martens grounds the validity of God's promise in creation, yet he then allows creation to stand alone without integrating the creation motif with the renewal motif (Jer. 31:31) of new creation/redemption.

This commentary contains a wonderful glossary with many dictionary-like definitions of importance. It includes an annotated bibliography which is quite beneficial. Moreover, it contains many helpful outlines, charts, diagrams and some maps. Occasionally Martens provides newspaper-like headings to various chapters or portions of chapters. These may assist the preacher with appropriate sermon titles. The commentary would be enhanced with both a subject and Scripture index.

This commentary is suitable for the discriminating student/ preacher who needs little more than tools and a suggestion to get started. In many ways, it is ideal for the young preacher because the overviews, summaries and diagrams bring rapid orientation so as to stimulate assimilation. One may eventually outgrow this commentary; however, it is inexpensively priced in paperback form so that if this should occur it could be passed along to another for their benefit.

Gary Findley
Presbyterian Church in America
Prescott, Arizona

Trent C. Butler, General Editor. The Holman Bible Dictionary. Nashville, TN: 1991, Holman Bible Publishers. 1450 pp., $29.98, cloth. ISBN: 1-5581-9053-8.

Broadly speaking, the evangelical biblical-theological enterprise is in two parts: the study of the grammar of the sacred text and the study of the history revealed in the text.

Accordingly, if the most important tool in the biblical-theological process is the Bible concordance, then the second most important tool is the Bible dictionary. Since its publication in 1962, The New Bible Dictionary (NBD), edited by J. D. Douglas, has been the one-volume Bible dictionary of choice for evangelical Bible students. A new entry by Holman is designed to replace the NBD.


The NBD is composed of articles by top-notch American and British scholars. The HBD is dominated by American Southern Baptist scholars, though not exclusively. Some of the more notable contributors include (alphabetically): George Beasely-Murray, Donald G. Bloesch, John J. Davis, Laird R. Harris, R. K Harrison, Colin Hemer, Walter Kaiser, Helmut Koester, Ralph P. Martin, J. Ramsey Michaels, Leon Morris and Edwin Yamauchi.


My 1975 edition of the NBD contains no color photographs and just a few black and white prints. The HBD is replete with gorgeous color photos. The HBD offers excellent (NASA generated!) color maps. The HBD's extensive table of contents functions as an index. A more extensive index would be helpful.

Where the NBD followed the long-standing (but irritating!) practice of listing the author of a given contribution only by their initials, the HBD gives the author's full name after each article. Unfortunately, the HBD does not follow the NBD's practice of providing a bibliography at the end of the article or citations within the article. This may be explained by the fact that the HBD intends to be a popular rather than an academic reference tool.


The NBD is notable for its consistent, generally thoughtful, theological conservatism. The HBD does not show similar reliability. The article "Inspiration of Scripture" says "the infallible theory" is but one choice among others, including the natural intuition, mechanical dictation, general Christian, partial, verbal and dynamic inspiration theories. Donald R. Potts says, "The Bible has no theory of inspiration.... There are elements of truth in all theories." This article might have been written by a turn-of-the-century critic and shows no familiarity with any of the major conservative, evangelical publications on the doctrine of Scripture.

Clark Pinnock's "Bible, Formation and Canon of" disappoints by neglecting the views of Herman Ridderbos and Richard Gaffin. The article "Creation" does not take a position vis-a-vis the evolutionary hypothesis, but does a good job of synthesizing New Covenant teaching on the new creational work begun in Christ. Donald Bloesch's entry "Propitiation/Expiation" gives a helpful summary of the various views of the atonement and the relationship between expiation and propitiation. However, he fails to reject views which deny a personal, vicarious, propitiatory atonement. The article "Election" is Biblical, clearly Calvinistic, and intended to address concerns of Arminian readers. The most interesting article I have so far discovered is Trent C. Butler's "Covenant." However, most scholars of the covenant will probably disagree strongly with his contention that the "New Testament by the use of the Greek Diathke transformed covenant into testament...."

The HBD is dominated by Baptist contributors and this influence is strongly reflected in the article "Church." Unfortunately "Infant Baptism" highlights a few arguments in favor of infant baptism, but rejects them strongly by using misleading caricatures of the Reformed position. This narrowness will necessarily limit the HBD's usefulness for students outside the Baptist tradition.


Presumably, the primary reason for a major new one-volume Bible dictionary is to account for progress in the increasingly specialized fields of Biblical and theological studies. The HBD does this only unevenly. Many articles seem to be largely directed to those within Baptist circles. Among the numerous articles I read, I did not find a single entry which could be fairly called outstanding. The maps and photographs are probably not enough to recommend spending $29.98 (retail) for the Holman Bible Dictionary.

R. Scott Clark
Walnut Creek Presbyterian Church
Kansas City, Missouri