[K:NWTS 11/3 (Dec 1996) 34-38]
E. John Hamlin, Surely there is a future: A commentary on the book of Ruth. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1996, 82 pp., paper, $10.00. ISBN: 0-8028-4150-3.
This is a politically correct commentary on the book of Ruth. The agenda of the commentator is to use the ancient text as a foil for the modern interpreter's application. Since exegesis begins with contemporary application, Hamlin is eager to show his twentieth century audience that Naomi (for example) is a modern existentialistic woman exercising the freedom to decide on her own ("According to Sartre, freedom of choice is the essence of life"quoting sister Mary Corona of India, p. 14).
Having warmed to this ridiculous eisegesis, our author further informs us that gleaning (as in Ruth gleaning Boaz's fields) is the basis for modern government food surplus programs—as if Boaz's personal generosity could be socialized or communized by a bureaucracy (p. 27). But by page 28, Hamlin has hit his stride. Ruth is, in reality, a third-world feminist: "Ruth is easily recognizable today as a vulnerable woman in a world dominated by men." A series of anti-patriarchal (patriarchy being labeled the original sin of this late twentieth century) quotes from a Chinese female pastor dominates pages 52-54. These paragraphs assure us that "Ruth's commitment to her mother-in-law" may be likened to "the dedication of women pastors to their church" (p. 52).
By the time we reach the end of this book ("Interpreting the Story of Ruth Today") we realize that Ruth is a 1300 B.C. disciple of Dietrich Bonhoeffer ("costly decision"), a member of an oppressed minority ("marginalized person"), a leader against ethnocentrism and a closet female pastor ("Ruth . . . remind(s) some of the reluctance of many congregations to accept women pastors or give them their rightful place in church leadership," p. 78).
I'll bet none of our readers ever drew these applications from the book of Ruth!! Aren't you delighted that Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (are there any doubts about the agenda of this firm!) has finally enabled you to see the true contemporary meaning of this biblical story?! When application dominates exegesis, this is the drivel we get. May the savior of Ruth and Boaz (who receives minimal attention in this work) enable us to begin with him and not with the (un)veiled agendas of E. John Hamlin.
Kerux subscribers will be better served by the short but lovely commentary by Leon Morris published by IVP (Judges-Ruth, 1968). For more detail, consult Robert L. Hubbard, The Book of Ruth (Eerdmans, 1988). Both the above should be supplemented by the superb study of chapter one by Donald Rauber, "Literary Values in the Bible: The Book of Ruth," Journal of Biblical Literature 89 (1970): 27-37.
Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, I. Howard Marshall, eds. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1992, 933 pp., cloth, $37.99. ISBN: 0-8308-1777-8.
This is a useful summary (to about 1990) of recent discussion of Jesus and the gospels. More than 170 articles treat each of the four gospels including key synoptic and Johannine issues, persons, places and religious groups.
The theological point of view is evangelical with some qualification. The virginal conception of Christ is affirmed (with a tip of the hat to J. Gresham Machen, p. 70); Jesus taught eternal punishment (p. 311); Christ rose bodily from the tomb (p. 673). Elsewhere we discover evangelicals using the (outmoded) techniques of dialectical theology (i.e., neo-orthodoxy). Fast-track, evangelicals are ever Johnnie-come-latelies racing to catch up to where liberalism was about twenty years ago. M. M. Thompson uses the saliah model to reduce the Johannine Jesus to the "agent of God" who is less than ontic deity. The death of Christ is not an atonement, yet his life culminates in his "significant" death. Jesus' eschatological expectations are reflected in Albert Schweitzer's "consistent" eschatology (the "future" ended at the cross). Form criticism, redaction criticism, document "Q" receive respectful, albeit cautious, treatment. Evangelicalism slouches toward accommodation with the culture of higher criticism. The uniqueness of the revealed and inspired word is submerged in attempts to mimic fadish critical methods. One article is a model of scholarship and fairness: Colin Brown's "Historical Jesus, Quest of" (pp. 326-41) surveys the old quest (Schweitzer), the new quest (J. M. Robinson) and the third quest (Jesus Seminar).
The indexes (pp. 897-933) are superbevery biblical passage is listed together with thorough subject fields. All the articles have bibliographies appended. Contributors reflect the tone and goal of the volume: firmly orthodox (Edwin Yamauchi), moderately critical (Craig Blomberg), outright radical (Scott Bartchy and John Painter). While the volume provides updated information on gospel questions, its limited focus (only the four evangelists) may make it generally less helpful than a Bible encyclopedia set.
Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, Daniel G. Reid, eds. Dictionary of Paul and his Letters. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1993, 1038 pp., cloth, $37.99. ISBN: 0-8308-1778-6.
This companion volume to the previous title completes a set intended to survey gospel and Pauline material from a contemporary evangelical point of view. The tone of the volume is set by Scott Hafemann in "Paul and his Interpreters." Gathering up the current discussion as it has evolved from Schweitzer's "mystical" approach to Paul, Hafemann describes Bultmann, the post-Bultmannians (Kasemann, Stuhlmacher) and the "new perspective" (E. P. Sanders, J. D. G. Dunn). This is a helpful overview of the present state of Pauline studies. Other outstanding articles include: David Wright, "Homosexuality"; Richard Gaffin, "Glory, Glorification"; Edwin Yamauchi, "Gnosticism." In the latter, Yamauchi reminds us that there is still no proof for the existence of pre-Christian gnosticism (p. 352) and that those who find gnostics underneath every Pauline antithesis are fantasizing. Several authors concede their debt to the works of Geerhardus Vos and Herman Ridderbos. The eschatological tone of Paul's epistles (especially the now/now yet dynamic) is accepted as a general scholarly consensus. Even the centrality of the resurrection for Paul is acknowledged. Yet there are some blemishes among the 214 articles. Deutero-Paulism is a term bandied about freely. This is the concept that Paul is not the immediate author of the thirteen epistles which claim his name (Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians and the Pastorals being assigned to Paul's disciples). The article on "Judgment" hesitates to use the term hell or eternal condemnation even hinting that those justified by grace may lose it (the article on "wrath" is more orthodox). Alister McGrath's article on "Justification" is a major disappointment. More a history of doctrine than an elaboration of the Pauline concept, McGrath seems blithely ignorant of the eschatological aspect of justification central to Rom. 1:4, 5; 4:25; 1 Tim. 3:16.
Each article contains excellent bibliographies. The Scripture and subject indexes are superb. But weighing the cost and limitations of this volume make investment in a current multi-volume Bible encyclopedia a better decision.
Alfred J. Hoerth, Gerald L. Mattingly, Edwin M. Yamauchi, eds. Peoples of the Old Testament World. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994, 400 pp., cloth, $29.99. ISBN: 0-8010-4383-2.
Biblical theology is dependent upon history. The principle of the progress of redemption in and through history is fundamental to the science. Thus historical background, as it impinges on revelation, is essential to the biblical-theological student. Topicalist, moralist, reductionist managers of the modern church are ahistorical existentialists, i.e., the immediacy of the religious encounter is the heart of the matter. History is a distraction—indeed an irrelevancy in the "church of what's happening now!" The volume above will be of no interest to contemporary advocates of gratification hermeneutics. But for those devoted to the exposition of the Bible in its Old Testament historical context, this book will be a significant help.
All major nations of the Old Testament world are included: Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Persians, Hittites, Canaanites and Amorites, Phoenicians, Arameans, Philistines, Egyptians, Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites. Each group is surveyed historically, archaeologically and with respect to the Bible (the volume contains subject, author and Scripture indexes for ease of use). The biblical theologian cannot understand the book of Hosea without understanding the resurgence of the Neo-Assyrian empire in 745 B.C. The biblical theologian cannot explore the context of the book of Obadiah without comprehending the history of the Edomites. Thus the goal of this book to provide summary sketches of each contingent Biblical group is salient indeed. In fact, the editors have attempted to revise and update a volume edited by D. J. Wiseman twenty years ago (Peoples of Old Testament Times). The Baker volume is more evangelical in its treatment than the former title (dependent on various strains of higher criticism). However the Baker volume is not as well written as the earlier work. The prose is often merely factual and stiff. One article is an exception in every way. Edwin Yamauchi's "Persians" is a remarkably stimulating summary of the great empire of Cyrus II (559-30 B.C.). Essentially a condensation of his full-length treatment in Persia and the Bible (Baker, 1990), Yamauchi shows why he is a world-class historian and orthodox believer. (Incidentally, his 1990 volume is essential for background to the books of Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Haggai and Zechariah.)
Peoples of the Old Testament World is a worthy addition to the biblical theologians' library. It is more up-to-date than most Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias and Old Testament commentaries (i.e., sections on historical context). Its chief competition now comes from the four-volume Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, edited by Jack Sasson (Scribners, 1995). Baker's offering is handier, cheaper and more friendly to conservatives.