Book Notes: Telford Work, Deuteronomy, BTCB

Work, Telford.  Deuteronomy. Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible Edited by R. R. Reno. Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2009.

Telford Work organized his comments on Deuteronomy in the categories, “Plain,” “Faith,” Hope,” and “Love.” These categories are meant to roughly correspond to the medieval fourfold sense: plain equals letter, allegorical equals faith (what is to be believed), tropological equals love (that is, what is to be done corresponds to the law of love), and the anagogical equals hope.

In the commentary proper, therefore, each section of text is followed by comments under the headings Plain, Faith, Hope, Love. Work purposely kept his comments on the plain sense to the minimum since, he noted, others have already provided plain sense commentaries that are better than what he could hope to produce (19). 

This does not mean, however, that Work’s commentary is heavy on allegory. His comments often amount to helpful theological meditation and application. For instance on Deuteronomy 1:2-3a, Work notes under the heading “Love” that Israel’s disobedience at Kadesh-barnea not only led to a wilderness wandering but also resulted in Israel gaining land in the transjordan. Work perceptively ties this to Romans 5:20 (26).

Other times Work addresses a theological issue that the text raises for the modern reader. Under the heading “Plain,” he notes the regulations regarding females taken in battle (21:10-14) are hardly what a woman herself would desire (he doesn’t mention potential conflict with biblical ethics elsewhere). He responds to the challenge in the next section (“Faith”) by appealing to Matthew 19:8. The law here is not laying out the ideal. It is seeking to restrain sin while nevertheless making concession for the hardness of the Israelite’s hearts (192).

Work also attempts to make Christological connections when possible. Some of these are forced. For instance, on the passage about not muzzling the threshing ox (25:4), Work ends up talking about harvest imagery used of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospels (224).

Other attempts are more insightful. A comment (under “Faith”) on the requirements regarding a rebellious son notes that this accusation was brought against Jesus (Luke 7:34) but that Jesus was shown to be a pleasing Son (and his enemies rebellious sons) by the resurrection (193).

In general, Work’s commentary provides a light treatment of Deuteronomy’s plain sense and a more detailed treatment of theological connections to the New Testament and Christian doctrine and practice. A number of these connections are insightful; others are a bit of a stretch. Though uneven, there’s enough good to be worth consulting.

Public Policy and Deuteronomic Curses

Our era imagines social policy to be determinative for a people’s future: if disaster strikes, policy is how we address it. However, the social act that leads any policy in Israel to succeed is obeying YHWH’s voice. No other change—political reform, economic development, social revolution, not even the many policies in Duet. 12-26—can counter the covenant’s curses on rebels; only repentance and restoration to fruitful obedience can accomplish it.

Telford Work, Deuteronomy, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible, ed. R. R. Reno (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2009), 246.

Book Notes: Radner, Leviticus, BTCB

Radner, Ephraim  Leviticus. Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. Edited by R. R. Reno. Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2008.

Ephraim Radner recognizes the primary problem with a commentary on Leviticus is the relevance of the book to Christians today. He clearly states in the introduction to the commentary his dissatisfaction with critical and even Reformation approaches to the book of Leviticus.

Historical-critical approaches end up providing an account of the state of Israel’s religion at a certain period. At best, they may comment about the function of the book as a tutor that would lead God’s people into greater (and less opaque) spiritual truth in the future.

Radner criticizes Reformation approaches for being too repetitious. They are right, as far as they go, to make connections between the sacrificial system and Christ. But one can only make this point so often before growing tedious. Radner prefers the approaches of Origen and of medieval Jewish commentators.

In practice, Radner comments very little on the details of the sacrificial regulations but instead launches directly into figural interpretations that range from connections to Cain and Abel to Christological interpretations grounded in Hebrews.

In other sections, however, Radner’s comments are more traditional. In chapter 18, for instance, he addresses the modern questions raised by this passage’s treatment of homosexual behavior before moving to his figural interpretation of the passage as relating to the church as a family.

Overall Radner’s comments seemed distant enough from the actual text that I didn’t come away with a better understanding of Leviticus. In making his commentary relevant for Christians today, Radner seemed to leave Leviticus in the shadows.

Calvin on Fundamentalist Taboos

A ban on dancing had already been introduced before Calvin’s time, but it is true the regulations had been tightened. Calvin thought that since the way people touch each other in dance is nothing less than a first step to adultery, the purity of the body would be better safeguarded by the complete avoidance of dancing. Even if nothing untoward was to happen it was . . . in Calvin’s words, ‘an invitation to Satan.’

Herman J. Selderhuis, John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life, 151.

July 10, 1509

Calvin took his task as a preacher seriously. He saw the preacher as God’s ambassador to the church. Calvin thought that when he spoke as a preacher, it was God himself who spoke. This also meant that Calvin would have to account for every word he uttered. It was for this reason that Calvin could not ascend the pulpit without careful consideration, because he thought of it as ‘the throne of God, and from that throne he wants to govern our souls.’ The presence of the pulpit meant that at church the congregation would come face to face with God’s judgment seat, where guilt must be confessed and where forgiveness would be obtained. For the preacher it meant speaking only after first listening respectfully to his Taskmaster. This was true not only for Calvin but also for every other preacher. If a pastor did not first become a student of the Word, ‘it would be better if he were to break his neck while climbing into the pulpit.’ ‘For God there is nothing higher than the preaching of the gospel . . . because it is the means to lead people to salvation.’ Calvin had enough self-knowledge to realize that he himself had to be subject to the Word as well. ‘When I climb into the pulpit, it is not simply to instruct others. I do not exclude myself, since I myself must remain a student as well, and the words that come from my mouth are to serve me as much as others. If not, woe to me!’

Herman J. Selderhuis, John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life, 110f.

Book Notes: Godfrey, John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor

Godfrey, W. Robert. John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor. Wheaton: Crossway, 2009.

Sample Pages

This book is an ideal introduction to Calvin’s life and theology. Godfrey begins not with Calvin’s birth but with Calvin at Strassburg producing his first commentary (on Romans), the first major revision of his Institutes, and his “Reply to Sadoleto.” The remainder of the first chapter places Calvin and his theology in his Reformation context by examining the reply to this Roman Catholic Cardinal.

Chapters two through five provide a brief survey of Calvin’s life. Chapters six though eleven provide a survey of various topics.

I found the biographical chapters enjoyable but without information that I hadn’t heard elsewhere. The chapter on worship was my favorite of the topical chapters. The chapter on the sacraments was, as expected, the chapter where I most disagreed with Calvin.