A Short Review of Hugh Houghton’s, “The Latin New Testament: A Guide to Its Early History, Texts, and Manuscripts”

Author: Hugh Houghton is Professor of New Testament Textual Scholarship at the University of Birmingham as well as Director of the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing (ITSEE). He was appointed in 2017 as one of the two general editors for the Pauline epistles in the Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior. He has also translated the Latin Commentary on the Gospels by Fortunatianus of Aquileia and written a monograph on Augustine’s Text of John (2008). (https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/staff/profiles/tr/houghton-hugh.aspx)

Purpose and thesis: Houghton’s purpose in writing is threefold: to thoroughly and concisely introduce the reader to the history of the Latin NT, to guide the researcher forward in the study of the Latin NT through available resources, and to provide a complete starting point (a hand-book of sorts) for orienting oneself to the text of the Latin NT.

Review: As the title suggests, Houghton structures his book in three main parts: History, Texts, and Manuscripts. The first part includes five chapters detailing the historical development of the Latin NT from its earliest stages to the era of the printed book. Houghton begins at the outset of chapter 1 admitting the unknown origin of the Latin NT but goes on to “piece together” a reliable and plausible account of its early history (3). He highlights the importance of Tertullian for the development of the text, including his influence on “Christian vocabulary” that remained in use even to the Vulgate translation in the fourth century (7). Houghton claims that the most plausible origin story of the Latin text is that it began as one translation that “underwent numerous revisions” thereafter (12). This is in contrast to the claim that the Latin NT began in several forms, perhaps dispersed geographically.

By far one of the most fruitful chapters is chapter 2 on the history and development of the Vulgate (specifically the Gospels) in the late-4th century. Houghton documents Jerome’s textual basis (probably text-type I) as being very close to the Old Latin form (33). He also notes the correspondence of Augustine’s Gospel quotations to that of Jerome’s text and notes the influence (and possible basis) of Pelagius on the text of the Pauline epistles (41). The mixed reception and adoption of Jerome’s text over the Old Latin and other recensions is set forth in chapter 3, along with further descriptions of particular commentators’, theologians’, and lectionary use of text-types. However, the shift from the Old Latin to the Vulgate took time and can be observed in the 6th-century writings of Pope Gregory the Great (60). In chapters 4 and 5 Houghton covers the Latin tradition in the Insular monasteries (e.g., Bede and Northumbria) and in continental Europe, especially Charlemagne’s influence on the stabilization and quality in the making of Gospel books (81). He also documents the Spanish penchant for pandects and the impact that the rediscovery of Greek had on the transmission and scholarly avoidance of the Latin NT text (110).

In Part 2 Houghton examines and explains the historical editions of the Latin NT and how to use them. This includes outdated but useful texts, such as Sabatier’s, and the modern Vetus Latina edition that includes the data from Bonifatius Fishcer’s earliest computer-based collations in the twentieth century. The data indicate “a remarkable stability in the Vulgate text of the Gospels up to the year 1000” (125). Houghton provides helpful data on the history of modern shift from the Clementine Vulgate to the Nova Vulgata in the Catholic Church and gives instructions on how to use the Latin evidence in Greek editions. He also provides an extremely helpful section on how to properly handle biblical quotations in early Christian writers (139). Chapters 6 and 7 are by far the most beneficial to the researcher in regard to practical helps for seeking and handling data, as both chapters advise the reader in the raw data from the editions and address the Latin text as a witness for performing Greek NT TC. Part 3 begins with chapter 9, which is a guide through the physical and codicological aspects of Latin MSS. Chapter 10 is an extremely helpful and comprehensive catalogue of Latin MSS separated into three main sections: Vetus Latina, Stuttgart Vulgate, and Oxford Vulgate. Each entry catalogs the manuscript’s holding information, origin (if known), website for viewing (if available), as well as textual and other information.

Houghton’s book is a comprehensive introduction to the Latin NT and an indispensable handbook for researching the Latin text. In that regard it is much like David Parker’s New Testament Manuscripts and Their Texts. One slight difficulty is in Houghton’s first mention of MSS throughout. At each initial mention of a particular MS, Houghton gives its sigla or call number by which it is referenced throughout the rest of the book (with some exceptions). This is an economic and typical way of referring to MSS, but it can be cumbersome for researchers who are unaccustomed to Latin sigla and call numbers (e.g., VL 109, Vgs I, CLE-R, etc.). However, these sigla and full explanations of the texts they represent are provided in a concordance in Appendix I. If a critique can be made against Houghton’s book, it would be that the author provides so much raw data that the book reads at times like a list of bullet points. However, the critique is overturned by the sheer amount of information that Houghton masterfully provides—information that a NT researcher would be foolish to ignore.

A Short Review of Harry Y. Gamble’s, “Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts”

Author: Harry Gamble is Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. He earned his PhD from Yale University and has written on the formation of the biblical canon as well as early Christian book culture. His research interests also include patristic, Pauline, and historical Jesus studies.

Purpose and thesis: Gamble’s purpose in writing is to fill a gap in which scholarship has not previously dealt with the actual physical and “technological” factors in early Christian book production, specifically in the manufacturing and circulation of the book as the medium for the text. In this way, the early church’s textual endeavors did not substantially differ from the surrounding culture.

Review: Books and Readers is simply structured in five chapters. Gamble begins with the cultural environment of the early church and moves steadily through the church’s production and use of the book. The early church was not atypical from the surrounding culture in that most of its members were probably illiterate (6). In addition to the average but low literacy rate, even fewer Christians and Jews from the first two centuries could write than read (7). These hindrances ironically had no bearing on the fact that Christianity and Judaism were “bookish” religions, as both placed a “high value on texts” (8). Catechesis and congregational reading events in the context of worship, led by literate readers, drove the expansion of the church’s knowledge of its literature despite the only 10-15 percent (or less) literacy rate (10). Gamble deals with what he believes to be some of the categorical missteps of previous scholarship in chapter 1, especially in the misapplication of form criticism by Deissmann and Overbeck. Gamble holds that the church was far more similar to the surrounding culture in its reading events and literary shape than it was different, and these similarities led to the church’s expansion as it grew within the social and cultural life of the empire and accumulated both literate and illiterate converts (41).

In chapter 2 Gamble examines the physical aspects of book culture in the early church, including the Greco-Roman use of the roll book form and the shift in Christian circles from the roll to the codex. He analyzes in detail the physical aspects of both the papyrus and parchment codex as well as the discrepancy between Greek books dated before the third century that are in roll format (more than 98 percent) and the books from Christian circles during the same period that are almost all codices (49). Gamble believes the reasons for the church’s adoption of the codex may be traced to the use of early note-taking codices and the apostolic authority of Paul’s collected epistles that circulated in a collection almost immediately (63). The availability and ease of study in the codex format led to the universal adoption of the format for all Christian books. Gamble believes the author of 2 Timothy was referring to codex manuscripts in 2 Tim. 4:13, but he stretches in his explanation that the author was “contriving for verisimilitude” to sound more like Paul (64).

In chapter 3 Gamble documents the Greco-Roman practices of book production and examines early Christian practices in light of the data. He determines that “Christian writings were produced and disseminated in much the same way as literature within the larger environment” (94). To support this, he examines the tendency away from dictation as a typical means of copying and the existence of private book collections and “private channels” as the avenues for the proliferation of books (92). However, he offers little evidence for his position that the early Christians felt liberty by and large to assume control over the text of Paul’s letters once they entered circulation, textual variation notwithstanding (96-97).

The transmission of texts was directly related to letter couriers, which eventually led to the accumulation of books in centralized or congregational libraries (chapter 4). Gamble notes that the earliest Christian libraries housed pagan as well as Christian books and “carried on the heritage of classical literature” (202). He concludes in chapter 5 with the uses of Christian books, i.e., how books were read and in what circumstances. He concludes along with most other scholars that books were read aloud and publicly, especially in the context of worship (205). Gamble also connects the church’s practice of reading Scriptures aloud with the synagogue from which the Christian movement developed (210). He discusses the practices of reading that developed over time, drawing from the writings of Justin Martyr and others, noting the position of the reader in congregational worship (a raised platform) and the later modes of reading (often the chant; 228). Gamble strangely concludes the book with a section on the magical use of biblical texts (bibliomancy; 239) but ultimately draws the reader back to the power that the written word experienced during the foundational period of the church within Greco-Roman culture (241).

A Review of Bart D. Ehrman and Michael W. Holmes’ (ed.), “The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis”

Editors: Bart Ehrman is James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has written extensively on issues relating to the historical Jesus, NT canon, and NT TC, including The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (1993). (https://religion.unc.edu/_people/full-time-faculty/ehrman/)

Michael Holmes earned his PhD at Princeton Theological Seminary and has written and contributed to many books, including numerous journal articles and society meeting papers. He has also worked as chief editor on a volume on the apostolic Fathers and produced the SBL Greek New Testament. He is currently the University Professor of Biblical Studies and Early Christianity at Bethel University. (https://bethel.academia.edu/MichaelHolmes/CurriculumVitae)

Purpose and thesis: This volume is a collection of essays from many contributors, assembled to provide the student of textual criticism with the current state of textual studies and a potential springboard for further research. Each author contributes his or her own unique skill set and specialization to the full picture of contemporary textual research.

Review: This volume improves on the previous edition published in 1995 by updating certain information within the essays, by adding seven new essays altogether, and by bringing in the work of several younger scholars. The essays are grouped loosely by topic, beginning with the general types of MSS organized by medium (papyrus, majuscule, lectionary, etc.). The next group of essays deals with the NT versions (Latin, Syriac, etc.), which is followed by sections on method, theory, and practice. In total, the book provides the reader with a foundational knowledge of all the issues pertaining to NT TC and gives an impressive bibliographical basis for further study.

Chapter 1 is Eldon Epp’s study on the NT papyri. He begins with an orientation to the study of the papyri, including the history of their discoveries over the last two centuries. He generally holds that it is nearly impossible to know the provenance of the extant papyri due to the nature of the writing environment in Egypt during the first few centuries CE. He laments that the papyri have been underutilized in the publishing of critical editions of the NT over the last century, with only “gradual” inclusions of the papyri in recent editions (17-18). However, an understanding of the scribal habits of the copyists in the papyrus era is fundamentally important for categorizing later MSS and for challenging, when needed, broadly-held assumptions relating to text-types, geographical textual, criteria, etc. that stand in the field of TC.

In chapter 2 David Parker introduces the reader to the current state of research on the NT majuscule MSS. He gives some background information on the history of the MSS themselves, including their general form of writing, materials, and the contents of extant continuous script majuscule MSS (42-43). He then documents the history of the study of majuscule MSS in modern study, beginning with Erasmus’ mention of Codex Vaticanus in 1521 and the citation of Codex Bezae at the Council of Trent (45). Parker documents the study of majuscules and their use in critical editions from the time of John Mill (1707) to the modern period. The study of majuscules has become more ubiquitous in recent years, due in part to the publication of online images, and the field has leaped forward due to improvements in methodology as well. With this in mind (and in typical fashion for Parker), he emphasizes the study of individual manuscripts as artifacts before making decisions on their texts prematurely (61).

Chapter 3 is Barbara Aland and Klaus Wachtel’s contribution on the minuscule MSS of the NT. The authors document the provenance of minuscule script for NT MSS, especially in the early-9th and 10th centuries, and the importance of the minuscules for NT study despite their comparatively late dating when considered alongside the majuscule MSS and papyri (71-72). The importance for the study of minuscules is found in the task of tracing the history of the NT tradition, especially in determining the “stemmatic relation of manuscripts to one another” (74). In chapter 4, Carroll Osburn provides and introduction to the lectionary MSS of the NT. He distinguishes between most lectionaries’ two parts: the synaxarion (readings that follow the ecclesiastical calendar based on the date for Easter) and the menologion (readings that follow the civil calendar independent of ecclesiastical dates; 95). Osburn concludes that a critical edition of the lectionary MSS is needed as well as the consideration of their textual data in the determining the oldest attainable text of the NT (109). In chapter 5, Ulrich Schmid discusses the Diatessaron of Tatian and its importance for NT textual research. Schmid views Codex Fuldensis as vitally important in the determination of Tatian’s Gospel harmony and in distinguishing between the Syriac and Latin harmony traditions (137).

Chapters 6-12 are individually dedicated to the versions of the NT. In chapter 6, Peter Williams introduces the reader to the Syriac versions, including the Diatessaron, the Old Syriac versions (Curetonian and Sinaitic), the Peshitta, the post-Peshitta versions (Philoxenian and Harclean), and the Christian Palestinian Aramaic version. Philip Burton introduces the Latin version of the NT in chapter 7 and documents its history in the Old Latin era (including Tertullian’s confounding citations [195]) and its further development in Jerome’s Vulgate. In chapter 8, Christian Ashkeland examines the Coptic versions of the NT, challenging the popular belief that it emerged simultaneously alongside the written Coptic language (207). Rochus Zuurmond surveys the state of research and history of the Ethiopic version of the NT in chapter 9. He holds that the chief importance of the Ethiopic text is its use as a window by which to view the history of textual transmission of the NT text (249). In chapter 10, S. Peter Cowe surveys the history, the current state of research, and the witness of the Armenian version for the NT. In chapter 11, Jeff W. Childers documents the Georgian version of the NT, noting that it is “one of the least well-studied versions” (293). He gives an overview of its recensional history in the Gospels and epistles and surveys the Georgian patristic and lectionary texts, but he laments the lack of scholarly attention given to these in the Georgian version (311). The final chapter on versions is Carla Falluomini’s chapter on the Gothic version. She gives a history of the translation and its general “adherence to the Byzantine text” (330, 332). The Gothic version’s close relationship to the Byz is one factor that has led to its exclusion from most modern critical texts (332). However, the Gothic version in this regard is helpful in tracing the history of textual transmission over time.

The next three chapters pertain to the use of patristic data in NT TC. Chapter 13 is an immensely helpful essay by Gordon Fee (revised by Roderic Mullen) on the use of the Greek Fathers for NT TC. The authors document some of the general difficulties in determining a Father’s tradition/exemplar used in his citations and warn against the overuse and misuse of the Greek Fathers in attempting to determine the earliest NT text. Chapter 14 is Hugh Houghton’s analysis of the use of the Latin Fathers for NT TC. He traces the history of patristic Latin exegesis and explains the usefulness and hazards of using the Latin Fathers in determining the earliest attainable Greek NT text. He also provides a helpful section on tools for working with the Latin Fathers. Chapter 15 is Sebastian Brock’s examination of the use of the Syriac Fathers in NT TC. He compares the difficulties of working with the Syriac Fathers with that of the Greek Fathers, i.e., in determining where a particular Father is drawing his citation.

Chapter 16 is Peter Head’s examination of the use of other Greek witnesses in tracing the history of the NT text. He includes very helpful sections on ostraca (e.g., pottery), amulets (e.g., charms worn on the body), and inscriptions (texts carved into hard surfaces). Head’s article is helpful for showing how these oft-forgotten witnesses can assist in tracing textual development, and it shows how the biblical text was understood and remembered by the Christian community (452-3). The primary advantage of inscriptional data is in pinpointing the form of the text geographically. In chapter 17, James Royse surveys the habits and tendencies of the earliest scribes, including a snapshot of the most common copying errors (spelling, homoeoteleuton, haplography, etc.). He challenges common oversimplifications misuses of certain TC canons, such as lectio brevior potior and lectio difficilior potior (464-465). Like Epp, Royse also laments the lack of influence of the papyri on modern printed editions (474). Kim Haines-Eitzen’s contribution in chapter 18 covers the social history of early scribes, taking into consideration literacy rates and the codicological and paleographical elements of book production.

Chapter 19 begins a larger section on the methodology and practice of doing NT TC with Thomas C. Geer, Jr.’s essay on analyzing and categorizing Greek MSS. He examines the history of MS analysis beginning with Colwell’s methods and their further development in later scholarship (498-9). Colwell emphasized categorization by establishing “relationships among MSS” (499) which led in later years to the development of more complex methodologies, such as the CBGM and Comprehensive Profile Method. Chapter 20 by Eldon Epp is an argument for the supersession of the idea of “text-types,” as this term is in many ways ahistorical and untenable in classifying MSS (530-5). He argues for a more tenable approach and terminology, using instead the term “textual clusters,” as he believes this comports more with the extant data and the transmission history of the Greek text by emphasizing relationship through agreement and disagreement (541, 571).

In chapter 21, Tommy Wasserman analyzes evaluating readings in NT TC. He gives a brief historical survey, noting Westcott, Hort, and Colwell’s influences and provides a template for examining internal and external data. Wasserman also gives a small case study and brief overview of the CBGM and its viability in evaluating readings. In chapter 22, Jan Krans explores the use of conjectural emendation in critical editions of the Greek NT. He notes the difficulties in setting the boundaries for proper conjectural emendation (as readings which have no explicit written support) and provides occurrences in the critical editions. In chapter 23, Michael Holmes offers his expertise on the debate between the terms “original text” and “initial text,” or the like. He addresses what was once a near-consensus in the field of TC, that the common goal is to determine which of the variant readings most likely represents the original text” (637). However, this quest for the “original text” has slowly gone out of chic by many scholars in lieu of a prescribed goal that reflects a quest for the “earliest recoverable text” (Epp), a “hypothetical initial text” (ECM), and others, including Holmes’ own two-stage goal centering on tracing the textual transmission to the earliest text possible (656).

In chapter 24, Juan Hernandez, Jr. examines the robust collection of modern editions and their respective apparatuses. He covers major editions, such as the ECM, as well as lesser known editions like Reuben Swanson’s Horizontal Line Synopsis volumes. Daniel Wallace examines the Majority Text theory from a historical, critical, and judicial point of view in chapter 25. He offers his criticism of modern Majority Text (MT) proponents, such as Maurice Robinson and other “Burgonians” (724). Wallace then critiques the MT theory in light of internal and external evidence, concluding that it is no longer viable in light of recent discoveries and work in the MSS (738). Chapter 26 is J. K. Elliott’s explanation and defense of thoroughgoing eclecticism (TE) in NT TC, i.e., the method that gives priority to a manuscript’s internal evidence in lieu of external/documentary evidence (745). TE gives precedence to details involving Semitisms, grammar, transcriptional probability, and intrinsic probability over the weight of external evidence pertaining to types and number of extant MSS. This view is challenged by Michael Holmes in chapter 27, who advocates reasoned eclecticism, which takes a more balanced approach to both internal and external evidence. Bart Ehrman concludes the book in chapter 28 with a look at the NT MSS as they relate to the social history of Christianity. He takes into account the theological controversies, social structures, and missionary movements that may have impacted textual transmission. He views the text’s transmission history as a window in which to view the social history of Christianity unfold over time (825).

A Short Review of Wayne C. Kannaday’s, “Apologetic Discourse and the Scribal Tradition: Evidence of the Influence of Apologetic Interests on the Text of the Canonical Gospels”

Author: Wayne Kannaday is Professor of Religion at Newberry College in South Carolina. He received his PhD from the University of North Carolina with Bart D. Ehrman as his doctoral supervisor. Between his MDiv and post-graduate work, Kannaday served for ten years as the pastor of Mt. Hermon Lutheran Church. (https://www.newberry.edu/faculty/details/kannaday-wayne)

Purpose and thesis: Kannaday’s purpose is to show, through an examination of both historical and textual records, that the scribes of the NT MSS altered their texts from time to time for apologetic purposes, especially defending the barrage of pagan critics over theological or practical concerns in the Gospels.

Review: Kannaday’s book is a well-researched, thorough, and essential contribution to the field of NT TC. He wastes no time in Apologetic Discourse with front matter (the acknowledgements and abbreviations take up a total of three pages) but begins straightaway in chapter 1 with the research problem and his methodology against the prevailing methods and state of research in his preferred subset of TC (i.e., socio-historical interests of the text’s transmission). In this chapter he criticizes scholars of the last century for their deference for the literary aspects of NT TC while virtually ignoring the field as it is: a “historical discipline” (4). His purpose is to uncover the reasons for the deviations in the textual record as opposed to simply mapping out textual variants and forming conclusions based on weighing MSS (16). His thesis is driven by the question: “Are any of the variant readings located in the canonical Gospels best explained as the product of scribes acting intentionally to modify their exemplars under the influence of apologetic interests?” (17). Kannaday cleverly likens this process to a chef tampering with a recipe, manipulating the texts, ironically, for the purpose of bolstering them against attacks (23, 250). In chapter 1 he outlines the pagan critics of Christianity (e.g., Celsus, Porphyry, Tacitus, and Suetonius) as well as the Christian apologists who defended the faith (e.g., Origen, Justin Martyr, and Melito of Sardis), with both parties influencing the history of the text’s transmission. 

In chapter 2, Kannaday addresses some of the charges by pagans against the early Christian movement, namely its lack of antiquity and lack of logical continuity (64). One particular critic, Porphyry of Tyre (c. 232-305), leveled numerous accusations against the Scriptures for their “prophetic corrections,” e.g., the disputed reading in Mark 1:2 that indicates Isaiah as the prophet responsible for the quotation, a text that was allegedly later changed to the more generic phrase, “in the prophets” (65). Kannaday gives many examples and observations in chapter 2, leading to the claim that the majority of NT scholars have dealt only with the texts rather than the historical and apologetic crucible that forged such readings. He argues that scribes bolstered their exemplars’ readings to combat such attacks on the faith and on the Scriptures themselves. Chapter 3 continues this refrain but focuses on the critics’ attacks on Jesus himself. Scribes allegedly altered the texts of the Gospels in order to protect the character if Jesus, whose trade as a carpenter had become an embarrassment of sorts and was accused as such by Minucius Felix in his work, Octavius (117). Additionally, Jesus’ critics accused him of being a deceiver of the people and a magician. According to Kannaday, the MS tradition reflects these apologetic concerns and shows that scribes manipulated the MSS to soften the critics’ views of Jesus, a practice that Kannaday calls “scribal apologetics” (139). In chapter 4, Kannaday examines scribal apologetics as it pertains to the followers of Jesus, especially in the critics’ assessment of them as “fools” (167) and “hysterical women” (177). Chapter 5 is an account of the apologetic textual tradition as it relates to the Roman state, and chapter 6 includes a summary of the book as well as methodological considerations for further research.

Kannaday’s work is to be praised for its boldness and thoroughness. Most chapters follow the same basic format (introduction of critics’ attacks, apologists’ defense, and ensuing textual modifications in response), but the book is in no way predictable or drab. His conclusions typically follow the data explicitly with a few exceptions (e.g., the arguments for apologetic alteration ending on pp. 96, 128, and 133). He does, however, have a good bit of “apologetic filler” that does little justice to his case and really just takes up space, such as the variant in Luke 9:54 where the addition states, “just as Elijah did” (76). His conclusions here are less than “concrete” (78) and do little to forward his position. The same may be said for his rather weak (but lengthy) account of the variant in John 7:6, 8 (93-97). In fact, his examination of the “eclipse” (or lack thereof) in Luke 23:45 is much more substantive but sadly only receives a fraction of the treatment as the variant in John 7:6 (97-98). Kannaday also favors the “Western” textual stream quite a bit for its apparent apologetically motivated variants, and he uses this stream often in his arguments for apologetic alterations. In fact, one can almost blindly open the book to a random page and encounter a variant that hinges on the D-text (cf. 127, 129, 152, 183, etc.). However, barring these criticisms, Apologetic Discourse is essential reading in the field of TC and should be considered a leap forward in the socio-historical study of textual variation.

Homer, Hitchcock, and Hell on Earth | A Review of the Film “1917”

Far be it from us to accuse Sam Mendes of lacking originality or boldness. He released a WWI epic in December 2019 only a few days following Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, one of the most anticipated films of all time. And albeit a little overshadowed in popularity by Skywalker at the time of release, Sam Mendes’ 1917 is a stellar film and one of the most gripping war movies of all time.

1917 takes place over the period of one day in France on the Western Front of WWI. Two British soldiers, Lance Corporals Tom Blake and William Schofield, are chosen by General Erinmore (Colin Firth) to take a message across “no man’s land” to the Second Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment about a day’s journey away. The Germans have cut all lines of contact and booby-trapped the entire area, making the land impassible except by one man or, at most, two men at a time. The Germans’ feigned “retreat” is actually a trap to lure the British army into a fortified area that would be a certain and quick victory for Germany. With no way for Erinmore to directly communicate his fresh intel of the trap to the regiment on the front lines, he commissions Blake and Schofield to set off across the unknown and perilous “no man’s land” with a dire message warning commanding officer Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) not to lead his men into what would be the immediate slaughter of all 1600 British troops, including Tom’s brother, Lieutenant Joseph Blake.

At times, the quietude of the film is palpable. During the first 30 minutes or so there is little to no music as the two reluctant heroes put one foot in front of the other, fully expecting to be shelled or shot at any moment in their quest to the front line. The film score is a little underwhelming, but Thomas Newman does a decent job, though keeping the music ethereal and far in back of the story. Actors George MacKay (Schofield) and Dean-Charles Chapman (Blake) are exceptionally believable modern Odysseuses trekking life and limb through the abysmal wasteland of war. At key junctures throughout the film, Mendes places several well-known English actors, such as Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, and Benedict Cumberbatch. All perform exceptionally (especially Andrew Scott), but the timed “unveiling” of these stars over the course of the film seems contrived, as if to say, “Tada! It’s someone you know!” The film’s budget would have been better spent on tightening up the CGI on Schofield’s leap into the river outside of Écoust, one of the only visually detracting moments of the film.

The performances are a little one dimensional to be sure. More of Blake’s character is revealed during the first twenty minutes than of Schofield’s during the entire film. At one point, Schofield stumbles into a bombed-out basement in Écoust only to find a young French woman caring for an orphaned infant. Schofield offers the hungry child some milk to drink (that he serendipitously had in his canteen) and spends a moment speaking in broken French to the woman and comforting the child before taking up his journey once more. The scene is sweet but ill-timed and seems forced into the film as though Mendes were saying, “Look! Schofield isn’t one-dimensional after all!” Still, the scene affords a brief reprieve from gunshots, shouts, mortars, and fires to peek into what would have been a common experience during the Great War, in this case, a woman hiding in terror of being captured, killed, or worse with a child she didn’t know.

On that note, I have to disagree with Mark Meynell (and Peter Sobczynski), that 1917 “[does viscerally] for World War I what Saving Private Ryan did for the D-Day landings.” To put it bluntly, 1917 is just not a gory movie. Yes, the film has its share of carnage and corpses (it is a war movie after all). In one shot early in the film, Schofield stumbles and accidentally jams his already-wounded hand into the gaping abdomen of a German’s corpse. Though Mendes gives plenty of imagery to immerse us in the horror of war, he isn’t as bent as Spielberg on showing us what all of our insides look like on screen. Instead, we observe the horror and anxiety of war as onlookers of Blake and Schofield’s very normal and terrifying experience. Mendes balances very existential human staples (walking, chatting, passing gas, etc.) with imminent cataclysm to the extent that we are both expectant and surprised when the conflict happens on screen. The old screenwriting proverb, “Show me; Don’t tell me,” rings true here as much as in any great film, but more importantly, Mendes lets us observe the characters’ experience of the war. In this way, 1917 is visually and emotionally gripping. Mendes does the work of bringing us into the pain and stench—the fear and funk—of the quest. He immerses us, so far as we are willing to go, into the Great War, but he does so without making our stomachs turn too much.

One of the many astonishing technical features of the film is that it appears to be one very long shot. Obviously, one long shot is impossible for a two-hour movie, but the cinematography and editing techniques, commandeered by master DOP Roger Deakins (The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, Skyfall, Blade Runner 2049, etc.), convey a one-shot sequence of events. The single exception to this one-shot feel is a scene involving Schofield blacking out after an altercation with a German sniper. The cinematography is, for lack of a better description, perfect. Near the climax of the film, Schofield runs parallel along the most forward trench of the front line in order to deliver Erinmore’s message to Colonel Mackenzie. As the British forces begin their attack, running out of the trench toward the action perpendicular to Schofield’s path, the camera tracks with the tenacious hero as he dodges hundreds of men with guns and bayonets. The scene is epic and one that will be revisited for decades in film school classes. Deakins is a master of cinematography fully displaying his dominance in the craft, and the “one-shot” feel of Mendes’ direction feeds his vision rather than appearing as a gimmick.

James Stewart once remarked about Hitchcock’s 1948 film Rope, which features essentially the same filming technique, “The…thing being rehearsed here is the camera, not the actors!” (Donald Spoto, “The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock,” 306). The same might be said for 1917 or almost any other movie that highlights a particular technique, special effect, or director’s pet spectacle du jour (e.g., Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey). However, Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins actually do tell the story rather than simply highlight the technique as a novelty in itself (cf. Hitchcock). It simply works, and 1917 could not have been told or shot any other way.

The film ends as it began with one of our Odysseuses taking a seat with his back against a tree, flipping through photographs, presumably of his wife and children, as if Mendes is saying to us, “All in a day’s work for this chap.” However, the two-hour inclusio bracketed by the cognate intro and outro scenes speaks a respective twofold message: “Soldier, awaken for war and begin your journey today,” to which the responsive echoes, “Soldier, take your rest. Well done.” The question we are left asking is not “Was it worth it?” but rather, “Would I—Could I even—have done the same?” For all of its ups and downs, foibles and triumphs, 1917 is closer than most modern films to masterpiece territory. It shows us ordinary valor in the face of gloom and an ordinary hero’s resolve to see the job done, no matter the cost. Well done, chaps.

A Very Short Review of Carl P. Cosaert’s, “The Text of the Gospels in Clement of Alexandria”

Author: Carl Cosaert serves as Dean of the School of Theology and professor of Biblical Studies at Walla Walla University (Seventh-Day Adventist). He served as a pastor for ten years before earning his PhD in 2005 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill under Bart Ehrman as his dissertation advisor. Cosaert has recently written a commentary on Galatians and has several forthcoming commentaries as well as a contribution in the Andrews Study Bible. (https://www.wallawalla.edu/academics/areas-of-study/theology/faculty/)

Purpose and thesis: Cosaert’s purpose in writing is to examine and trace the transmission history of the NT text through the collation, analysis, and evaluation of Clement of Alexandria’s Gospels citations. According to Cosaert, Clement’s citations exhibit (with some variation and early Byzantine mixed throughout) a Primary Alexandrian influence for John and Matthew and a Western influence for Mark 10 and Luke.

Review: In The Text of the Gospels in Clement of Alexandria, Cosaert begins by introducing the reader to the church father and his text, describing Clement’s setting in Alexandria, his educational and ecclesiastical backgrounds, and his massive importance for textual studies due to the sheer number of biblical references in his works. Cosaert evaluates Clement’s hermeneutical affinities and their impact on how he cited biblical passages from both OT and NT. He then compares these biblical citations with Clement’s citations of secular Greek writers (chapter 1). The bulk of Cosaert’s book is comprised of an apparatus (chapters 3 and 4) comparing Clement’s text in all four Gospels with “representative textual witnesses” in the Primary Alexandrian, Secondary Alexandrian, Byzantine, Caesarean, Western text families, and other church fathers (48, 52). Cosaert then performs a quantitative analysis of his findings using a modified form of the methods devised by Colwell-Tune, Ehrman, Richards, and Racine (chapter 5).

In order to refine the analysis of each group’s textual affinities, Cosaert applies Ehrman’s Comprehensive Profile Method to the text of each grouping of Gospel citations (253; chapter 6). He then examines the results of the data and draws conclusions relating to the prevailing text (or lack thereof; 305) in Alexandria at the time of Clement’s writing (chapter 7). His analysis points to a “textual fluidity” vacillating between two major textual streams—Primary Alexandrian and Western—and “a consistently high rate of agreement” between the Alexandrian Fathers (Origen, Athanasius, Clement, Didymus, and Cyril; 309-10, chapter 8).

Cosaert has produced a fine study on the text of the Gospels in Clement and contributed to the work of Ehrman, Holmes, and others in drawing out the pertinent data from nearly every conceivable resource. His insights detailing Clement’s philosophical and hermeneutical points of view (the “divine voice,” 22) in chapter 2 are particularly helpful in determining genuine citations and why they differ from the Gospel texts (as opposed to the precise citations in the Pauline epistles; 28). His apparatus is indispensable for text-critical work in Clement and the other Alexandrian Fathers, and his conclusions are drawn logically and directly from the results of his research. If a weakness can be found it is perhaps Cosaert’s lack of reference to Gospel manuscript equipment, paleographical elements, and codicology, though these issues may be beyond the scope if this book.

A Short Review of E. Randolph Richards’ “Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition, and Collection”

Richards, E. Randolph. Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection. Downers Grove, IL; Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press; Apollos, 2004. 

E. Randolph Richards earned his PhD at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and has written extensively in the field of biblical studies, often focusing on the work and theology of the Apostle Paul. Richards is currently provost and professor of biblical studies at the School of Ministry at Palm Beach Atlantic University (IVP author website).

Drawing examples from a large pool of ancient letters and other literature, Richards argues for a more thoroughgoing view of Pauline letter writing than has been previously addressed in biblical scholarship. He seeks to “bridge the gap” between the presuppositions surrounding Pauline letter writing and what he believes to be a more accurate representation of the apostle’s formation, editing, and dispatching of letters (17). Alongside the Pauline epistles (both disputed and undisputed) Richards compares a large body of ancient sources in order to establish Paul’s most likely writing situation. He depends largely on Cicero’s letters for his descriptions of the “mundane” details relating to the mechanics, composition, and delivery of ancient letters (15). Richards draws from other ancient letters as well that evince similarities or background information for interpreting Paul’s letters, including the Oxrhynchus and Tebtunis Papyri.

Richards carefully deconstructs some conscious and subconscious presuppositions, addressing joint authorship, dictation, secretarial input and editing, and the first-century writing environments in which Paul would have most likely found himself (23-26). Drawing from archeological data from Pompeii, Richards critiques the stereotypical picture of Paul sitting at an isolated writing desk and instead places Paul in the living rooms of friends’ homes, in workshops, and even in the open air while traveling (chapter 2). Richards has some peculiarities along the way, such as his odd claim that Isa 29:11-12 is the “only biblical text that defines literacy” (28). Perhaps his definition of “define” is more nuanced than most interpreters’, but the manifold biblical texts (and contexts) that reference reading seem ample enough to derive a working concept of literacy from each or all of them (cf. Jer 36:15, Mt 12:5, Col 4:16, et al).

A great part of Richards’ arguments throughout the book rest on the prevalent employment of secretaries in both the upper and lower classes of the Greco-Roman world and Paul’s almost certain usage of them (60-63). Richards argues that the extent to which these secretaries influenced the content, structure, and style of Paul’s letters is more substantial than current scholarship has acknowledged (chapter 5). Tertius is the most explicit example of a secretary (81; cf. Rom 16:22), but Paul’s insertions “by his own hand” in other closing passages also display secretarial involvement (1 Cor 16:21, Gal 6:11, Col 4:18, etc.). Richards rules out strict dictation as the mode of writing and opts for a “middle road” somewhere between dictation and composition (93), which challenges the common view of sole Pauline authorship (118).

In chapter 6 Richards offers some helpful insights on Paul’s use of inserted and preformed material, especially on the rhetorical thrust of preformed hymnic excerpts (95). Richards outlines some criteria for detecting inserted preformed material (multiple attestations, initial relative pronoun for hymns [e.g., Col 1:15, ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου], OT citations, etc.; 97). He sharply disagrees with most scholarly perspectives on the nature of interpolations (i.e., post- and non-Pauline insertions of material) without manuscript support (100, 107). He also claims that Paul’s use of secretaries and their post-Pauline/pre-dispatch editing of the letters could explain the foreign material rather than textual variations in the manuscript tradition (102). This challenges the popular view of deutero-Pauline authorship, as what often looks like non-Pauline insertions (or complete letters) could very likely exhibit secretarial co-authorship. This comes to play in the “weaving together” of a letter, as “there can be authorized non-Pauline insertions (119).

Richards’ insights on the dispatching (chapters 10 and 11) and sending of letters (chapter 12 and 13) are helpful, but his criteria for estimating the cost of labor and writing supplies are conjectural (though probably necessarily so [168-169]). Paul’s carriers probably explained the content of the letters they were carrying to the recipients when necessary, the logistics of which Paul most likely developed over time (208). Richards’ chapter on letter collection compares different collection theories, but he arrives ultimately at “an unintentional adoption of the codex,” wherein the very collection of Paul’s letters necessitated the codex format (214). This view challenges Skeat, Gamble, Roberts, and Hurtado on their view that the early Christian preference for the codex was instrumental in its widespread adoption after the NT books were being collected in the post-apostolic era (211-214). Much of Richards’ argument rests on his assumption that Paul retained copies of his own letters that he then collected as a unit (221). Richards’ closing chapter on inspiration is filled with many insightful conclusions as he offers a “less robotic view of inspiration” (224), i.e., a view broad enough to accommodate all the aspects of letter writing. He posits the view that the entire letter writing process—including writer(s), situational conflicts, etc.—was divinely inspired which then produced the divinely-inspired epistles (229). Richards’ concluding chapter includes a final and cogent stab at pseudonymity as a viable option for any of the letters bearing Paul’s name (232).

Richards accomplishes his vision, providing ample data and sound interpretation. He presumes a bit much at times, especially in his oft-perceived analogy between modern cultural and social situations and those of the ancient world (27). However, Richards’ research bears on many issues—including pseudonymity, textual criticism, and book formation—and his conclusions on these matters are both challenging and important for current scholarship. Richards makes missteps along the way, such as his claim that Isa 29:11-12 is the “only biblical text that defines literacy” (28) and his argument against practicality as an impetus for the codex format (214). However, his work on secretarial involvement, co-authorship, and the dispatching of letters is perceptive and thought-provoking. His defense (“beating the drum,” really) of Pauline authorship in the disputed epistles is refreshing but oftentimes simply conjectural. One might wish that Richards had devoted less time to defending Paul in the disputed epistles and saved his ammunition for another book on the topic. Critiques notwithstanding, Richards has produced a book on first-century letter writing that will be a “peg in the ground” for years to come in the field of NT studies.

A Short Review of C. Clifton Black and Duane F. Watson’s “Words Well Spoken: George Kennedy’s Rhetoric of the New Testament”

Black, C. Clifton and Duane F. Watson, eds. Words Well Spoken: George Kennedy’s Rhetoric of the New Testament. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2008.

C. Clifton Black is Otto A. Piper Professor of Biblical Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. He is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church (Princeton Seminary web page). Duane F. Watson is Professor of NT Studies at Malone University and holds a PhD from Duke University.

Black, Watson, and the other contributors to this volume dialogue with George Kennedy’s work in the fields of rhetorical criticism and biblical studies, addressing specific points of contact where Kennedy’s work touches their own, in order to acquaint the reader with both Kennedy’s work and the field of rhetorical criticism as a whole. Editors Black and Watson present eleven chapters of contributions from various authors touching the fields of rhetorical criticism and NT studies. The book includes a short introduction by Black and Watson followed by a concluding afterword by George A. Kennedy, in whose honor the book is written. Strangely, however, Black and Watson claim in the introduction that the book is not intended to be a Festschrift (3). This is surprising (if not a little humorous), as the format and contributions exhibit that the book is precisely what the editors say it is intended not to be. Chapters 2 through 10 all begin with helpful introductions to the content of each author’s contribution, from Margaret Zulick’s “Brief History” of rhetoric (chapter 2) to Greg Carey’s “Pathos in the Book of Revelation” in chapter 10.

Zulick begins with a history of rhetoric from its classical origins in Aristotle to the patristic, medieval, and Renaissance eras and even to the modern movements in North America. In tracing the development of rhetoric, she acknowledges in Augustine’s writings the lack of “inventions” in his arguments in lieu of hermeneutics (as if that were a bad thing, 10). She also notes the revival of rhetoric in the humanist tradition that in many ways opened the door for its resurgence in “revolutionary France, Britain, and America” (11). From this American revival she notes the “too often overlooked tradition of Protestant preaching” as it bears on American political discourse (15). In chapter 3, Thomas Olbricht outlines in detail the influence of Kennedy’s work in the United States (though his comments on Kennedy are so deferential they border on hagiography). He concludes with a helpful section on the rhetorical analysis of Scripture, noting the neglected contributions of Philip Melanchthon (31).

Chapter 4 is Duane Watson’s contribution detailing the influence of Kennedy on the rhetorical criticism of the NT. In this chapter he outlines Kennedy’s five-step methodology (53), noting Kennedy’s belief that the NT writers were familiar with rhetoric, making rhetorical criticism a “historical enterprise” (43). Watson elaborates on Kennedy’s work in drawing out the rhetorical features in the Gospels, including familiarity with chreia (a saying or action useful for living) and progymnasmata (ancient rhetorical exercises; 46). Watson briefly addresses rhetoric in the Pauline Epistles and the Book of Revelation as well as the work of Vernon Robbins (55). C. Clifton Black’s contribution in chapter 5 addresses the curious lack of appeal for Kennedy’s methodology among scholars of the Gospels. This chapter is highly speculative, asking many questions but offering few answers. The exception is Black’s application of Kennedy’s methodology in seeing the Gospels, not as speeches, but containing speeches (71). Watson concludes with an insightful consideration that rhetoric is in some way “the Creator’s desire to communicate” (76).

Vernon Robbins’s chapter on rhetography—i.e., descriptive or pictorial language used to evoke images in the mind of the hearer or reader—is one of the delightful highlights of the book (81). He contrasts rhetography (pictorial narration) with rhetology (argumentative narration), noting (via Kennedy) that the NT writings have a blend of both for the purpose of persuading its recipients. Kennedy’s terminology for these two types of rhetoric are “radical rhetoric” and “worldly rhetoric” respectively (85). Kennedy and Robbins conclude that the first-century Christians blended these two types of rhetoric rather than conceive of a new type of rhetoric altogether (87; but see “Paul’s ‘new’ rhetorical vision” in Hester’s chapter 9 [148]). In chapter 7, Blake Shipp notes Kennedy’s influence on the interpretation of Acts and considers the usefulness of several rhetorical approaches for the text of Acts. He concludes (along with Kennedy) that Acts was originally meant to be read aloud—as were the other NT texts—and this inherent communal reading function influences its rhetorical impact and features (114-115; Also cf. Brian J. Wright’s work on this topic in Communal Reading in the Time of Jesus: A Window Into Early Christian Reading Practices).

Chapters 8 and 9 deal with Kennedy’s influence on the study of the Pauline Epistles. In chapter 8 Frank Hughes gives a thorough run-through of recent scholarship in the rhetorical study of Paul (128-131) and considers the implications of rhetorical criticism for Pauline studies (131). He poses the question that, if Paul was actually “doing rhetoric,” are interpreters supposed to “look the other way and talk about matters other than rhetoric,” or are they to address it head-on (133)? In chapter 9 James Hester considers Paul’s Epistles as “epistemic,” i.e., creating knowledge in their recipients (153-154). Hester, like Kennedy and others, see the NT texts as containing speeches as “rhetorical artifacts” meant to be spoken aloud for full rhetorical emphasis (145). Chapter 10 is Greg Carey’s contribution of pathos in the text of Revelation and the book’s boundary-breaking rhetorical genre (164). Chapter 11 contains Kennedy’s own concluding remarks (to put it nicely).

Words Well Spoken is a book spotted with nuggets of exegetical gold but unfortunately buried beneath layers of requisite academic sentiment bordering on “boot-licking.” In addition to the necessary endnotes in each chapter, this book of merely 255 pages suffers from a mass of needless girth at the end (62 pages of bibliography, index, and it includes Kennedy’s CV of all things!). The chapters are also unnecessarily crowded with authors’ autobiographical self-pandering and lengthy veneration of Kennedy and his work throughout. Many of the contributions do contain a great deal of insight for novices and seasoned scholars alike, especially those by Robbins, Shipp, and Hester. These authors and others add a great deal of merit and usefulness to the book. However, Kennedy’s afterword is an ill-fitting and odd mix of scholarly testimony and secular humanist manifesto. He scarcely touches the topic of rhetorical criticism in two out of eleven pages. This book is a noble effort but laden with dead weight that should have been off-loaded to save the ship (à la Acts 27), rhetorically-speaking, of course.


A Short Review of A. H. B. Logan and A. J. M. Wedderburn’s “The New Testament and Gnosis: Essays in Honour of Robert McL. Wilson”

Logan, A. H. B., and A. J. M. Wedderburn, eds. The New Testament and Gnosis: Essays in Honour of Robert McL. Wilson. London; New York: T&T Clark, 2004.

Alastair H. B. Logan is retired Senior Lecturer in Theology at the University of Exeter and has written extensively on the history and development of Gnosticism, including its points of contact with early Christianity. Alexander J. M. Wedderburn is retired Professor of New Testament at the University of Munich and has several published works in the areas of Gnosticism, New Testament theology, and early Christian historiography.

The various contributors to this Festschrift for Robert McLachlan Wilson collectively explore the implications of Gnosis and Gnosticism for New Testament studies without isolating the respective texts and ideologies from their social and religious contexts. Logan and Wedderburn begin with a description and rationale for the thematic arrangement of the contributors’ content in the current volume, including the overarching layout of the book in its three parts. Chapter 1 serves as James M. Robinson’s introduction and survey of the book’s contents as well as a general state of research regarding Gnosis and Gnosticism in light of the Nag Hammadi discovery. He articulates the obvious importance of the Nag Hammadi texts for Gnosticism studies but also surveys the ways in which biblical scholarship has incorporated the Nag Hammadi texts in recent years in the form of NT introductions (2). Drawing from other essay contributors in the current volume, he engages the shifts in Gnosticism studies over the course of the twentieth century.

Part 1 of the book begins with Kurt Rudolph’s endeavor to define and set some proposed scholarly boundaries on the terms “Gnosis” and “Gnosticism.” He critiques Wilhelm Bousset’s view that “Gnosis” began in a “pure” pre-Christian form only to later refine into more developed systems regarded properly as “Gnosticism” (22). Rather, Rudolph proposes a view closer to that of Wilson, who held that Gnosis (or, pre-Gnosis) arose contemporaneously with the Christian movement (23). Ugo Bianchi’s essay (chapter 3) reiterates Wilson’s warning against reading “Gnostic doctrines and myths into texts belonging to the first century A.D.” (33).

In chapter 4, Gilles Quispel examines the interrelationship between Judaism, Judaic Christianity, and Gnosis, noting the material in the Gospel of Thomas that evinces Judaic-Christian underpinnings (47). Quispel then argues for a Christian-influenced Gnosis but also acknowledges Philo’s exegetical contribution to the Gnostic understanding of key OT passages (60-61). Quispel concludes that many of the elements that would later culminate in Gnosticism were incipient in Judaic and Christian traditions (63). This is followed by Matthew Black’s brief examination of the name and etymology of the Gnostic Demiurge Jaldabaoth in chapter 5.

Birger A. Pearson then continues Quispel’s earlier inquiry and expands upon Philo’s relationship with the NT writings as each body of writings relate to Gnosis. He asserts that the Corinthian church’s dilemma to which Paul writes in 1 Corinthians is explicable by examining the Hellenistic-Judaic writings of Philo (77). Alexander Böhlig concludes Part 1 with his examination of the influence that Christian soteriology had on the Manichean myth by comparing the two systems (92). He makes clear that the dualisms of Manicheism is intertwined with Christian doctrine (cf. Col 3:9) in order to formulate Mani’s system of belief (101).

Part 2 begins with Walter Schmithals’ essay on Gnosis in the Pauline and “deutero-Pauline” letters. Schmithals traces Pauline scholarship beginning with Schmidt (1804) and Schleiermacher (1807) in order to distinguish between Paul’s polemic in the undisputed letters and the anti-Gnostic sentiment in the disputed letters. In chapter 9, C. K. Barrett examines the “Gnostic and anti-Gnostic” tendencies found in the Apocalypse of John (127). In chapter 10, Frederik Wisse decries his previous generation’s state of Gnosticism research where scholars focused on the heresiologists’ (e.g., Justin Martyr) interactions and attacks on Gnosticism as the basis for modern study. Wisse is followed by Elaine Pagels’ interpretive survey of marital controversies in the second century. Robert M. Grant’s contribution in chapter 12 explores the social statuses of the members of the Christian and Gnostic movements (182).

Martin Krause’s essay begins the third and final part of the book with his argument that the Nag Hammadi codices display evidence of the addition of Christian elements to purely non-Christian Gnostic texts as well as the removal of Christian elements from others (187). He believes Egypt would have been the ideal setting for such textual enhancements due to the two ideologies’ accommodation to one another (187-188). He then suggests the application of “objective criteria” in order to parse the texts for scholarly research but concludes by inviting Egyptologists to take this mantle (189, 193). In chapter 14, Helmut Koester extracts three parables from the Gospel of Thomas and examines them alongside the same (or like) parables from the Synoptic Gospels. He addresses the nature of the cited material in the parables, concluding that the Gospel of Thomas exhibits citations strictly from memory (194, 201).

Eric Segelberg in chapter 15 addresses similar issues for the Gospel of Philip, namely, the influence and/or use of the NT (and OT) in the book. He concludes by acknowledging a relationship to the OT and NT in the Gospel of Philip albeit inclusive of another “more authoritative sacred source” (212). Hans-Martin Schenke’s contribution in chapter 16 presents the importance of the Book of Thomas for NT studies. He refers to the book as “a magnifying glass or mirror for New Testament problems, methods, and theories” (213). Yvonne Janssens concludes the book with a look at the Trimorphic Protennoia for understanding John’s Gospel.

Logan and Wedderburn have assembled a thoroughgoing state of research pertaining to the study of Gnosticism as it bears especially upon New Testament studies. The contributing authors clearly engage the previous generations’ research and conclusions while correcting misconceptions. Pagels’ essay regrettably (and ironically) touches comparatively little Gnostic texts when set against the other chapters in the book (e.g., Schmithals’ essay) and comes across as caustic at times, especially the closing paragraphs. The contributions of Krause and Koester are among the more enlightening, however, with each exploring specific and direct relationships between the NT and Nag Hammadi texts.


A review of David L. Allen and Steve W. Lemke’s “Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism”

Allen, David L., and Steve W. Lemke, eds.  Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2010.

David Allen and Steve Lemke have undertaken the task of compiling the thoughts of some of the most influential minds in the SBC for the purpose of instructing the Christian community concerning Calvinism and its influence in Southern Baptist churches and seminaries. The book’s contributors include seminary presidents, professors, and pastors who are all admittedly non-Calvinistic. By examining the historical, theological, and biblical bases for Calvinism, each author proposes his own response to Calvinism, specifically for Southern Baptist life and faith.

David Allen is the Dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and has written extensively in the areas of biblical theology and preaching. He has also authored several journal articles and New Testament commentaries.[1] Steve Lemke is the Provost Professor of Philosophy and Ethics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and has written a great deal in the areas of Christian philosophy, ethics, and world religions.[2]

Whosoever Will begins with a sermon transcript of Jerry Vines’ message delivered at the 2008 John 3:16 Conference in Woodstock, GA. In this chapter, Vines deals with the love of God as it is described in John 3:16, and he essentially gives a word-by-word exposition of the passage. He focuses on the universal love of God to all persons at all times, thereby excluding any Calvinistic notion of electing love over and against the free universal love of God (28). Vines’ contribution is one of the more enjoyable chapters to read in the book, and his exposition is well ordered.

Paige Patterson begins the book by taking on the first of the five points of traditional Calvinism, Total Depravity. He argues against the idea that regeneration precedes faith quoting the quintessential Calvinistic Baptist, Charles Spurgeon, “I am only to preach faith to those who have it. Absurd, indeed” (35)! However, Patterson’s arguments tend to prove nothing more than that it is indeed impossible for a sinner to come to God without some radical divine heart change (38). He attempts to explain how a spiritually dead person can still respond to the gospel, but he gives an example from his childhood experience of hunting snakes that is completely unhelpful and actually contrary to his own argument (38).

Richard Land’s chapter on election is by far the most cogent in the book. He argues for a middle ground between the Calvinist and Arminian soteriology; a view that he calls congruent election (50). He begins by summarizing one of the historical Southern Baptist conceptions of election going back to the Sandy Creek Tradition, what he calls the “melody of Southern Baptists” (49). Land believes Scripture teaches two different types of election, Abrahamic election and salvation election. The first involves God’s general choice of a group of people for salvation while the second group consists of those who have responded to the gospel within that larger group. Land does a great job developing his position albeit lacking an explanation of human sinfulness.

Despite David Allen’s goal to avoid being bombastic (61), his argument for universal atonement is the longest chapter in the book. He claims that “the best arguments against limited atonement come from Calvinist writers” (66), therefore he goes into extreme historical detail on the doctrine, quoting men from Calvin, Baxter, Edwards, and others. He develops his argument from a biblical, theological, logical, and practical basis. He advises against Calvinist pastors taking non-Calvinist churches and vice-versa in order to hinder church divisions over the issue (102). Allen comprehensively covers the issue, and his conclusions derive from his arguments.

Lemke approaches irresistible grace in much the same way Allen handles atonement in the previous chapter. It is less than clear, however, whether or not he is fully in command of the subject. He critiques John Piper’s statements calling them “apparently contradicting assertions” (112) but does so without much explanation. Also, his remarks against R.C. Sproul’s position seem to be taken out of context and have the deafening ring of pretentiousness (113). Earlier in the book, Land makes the statement that “the goal should always be ‘both/and’ not ‘either/or’ when it comes to harmonizing Scripture” (51). Perhaps Lemke should take Land’s recommendation.

Kenneth Keathley takes on the doctrine of perseverance beginning with a historical approach. He critiques the Puritan view calling it “pastorally damaging” (170). He goes through an assessment of several theologians’ classical views but narrows on the views of Thomas Schreiner and Ardel Caneday. The solution for Keathley is what he calls the “Modified Evidence-of-Salvation View” (184). It takes into consideration the objective work of Christ as the basis of perseverance but involves the subjective element of “a certain knowledge of salvation as well.

Kevin Kennedy continues the treatment of the extent of the atonement by claiming that Calvin himself believed in universal atonement. He quotes Calvin extensively (almost exhaustively, 211) and builds a surprising case for this position. Malcolm Yarnell’s chapter on the potential impact of Calvinism in Baptist churches is well ordered and logical. He astutely notes that “in spite of its methodological claim for sola scriptura, Calvinism typically moves beyond the Bible in order to create its theological standards” (215) and recognizes the penchant for elitism in Reformed theology (222). In a rather unpleasant way, Bruce Little finalizes the book by addressing the problem of evil in the milieu of Calvinism. He opposes the idea that evil is necessary for God’s plan (285) and that God does not have a “purpose” in all suffering, contra John Piper (289).

One of the overarching arguments of the book is that most Baptists who claim to be Calvinists do not have a true understanding what it means to be a Calvinist (7). This book helps to sort through those misunderstandings and lead to a better approach to doing theology in the context of the SBC. Although many of the arguments in this book are weak, they do not utterly render useless the book’s contribution to the theological community.

[1] http://www.swbts.edu/academics/faculty/theology/dallen/

[2] http://www.nobts.edu/Faculty/ItoR/LemkeSW/