Foundations: No.64 Spring 2013

Book Reviews


Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Pillar New Testament Commentary)
Colin G. Kruse, Apollos, 2012, 627pp, £32.99

The Pillar New Testament Commentary series began by drawing together four previously independent commentaries (Don Carson on John, Philip Edgcumbe Hughes on Revelation and Leon Morris on Matthew and Romans) and has since been expanding to cover the rest of the New Testament. There are currently 14 volumes available and the series is deservedly popular for achieving its goal of blending “rigorous exegesis and exposition, with an eye alert both to biblical theology and to the contemporary relevance of the Bible, without confusing the commentary and the sermon” (xiv).

Alongside this expansion there is also a recognition that the earliest volumes require updating. Carson is said to be writing on Revelation to replace Hughes’ commentary and Kruse’s new commentary on Romans replaces that of Morris. Although Morris’ Romans is only 25 years old, the need to update was there almost from the beginning. Published in 1988, the same year as Dunn’s flagship New Perspective work in the Word Biblical Commentary series, Morris makes no reference to E. P. Sanders’ 1977 work Paul and Palestinian Judaism. As a result readers have had to look beyond the Pillar series for critical reflection on the New Perspective, and have been well served by the commentaries of Douglas Moo (NICNT, 1996) and Thomas Schreiner (BECNT, 1998). In light of this, Kruse’s new commentary was certainly required to keep the series up to date, but the question that many will ask is whether is it worth acquiring it either ahead of, or in addition to, those excellent commentaries?  In search of an answer we will give a brief sketch of the approach Kruse takes, comparing it with Morris along the way and with Moo and Schreiner towards the end.

In keeping with the Pillar series, Kruse offers a brief introduction (34pp) and then exegetes the text verse by verse, based on the NIV 2011. The introduction deals with questions of the letter’s purpose and integrity, and judiciously weighs the contributions of rhetorical studies of Romans and the New Perspective. [1] On the latter, Kruse concedes that Paul’s doctrine of justification was articulated in defence of the Gentile mission and that the doctrine of justification is not itself the gospel, which Kruse defines as “the good news of what God has done through his Son’s atoning death and resurrection to deal with the effects of the fall upon individuals, society, and ultimately the cosmos” (22). On the other hand Kruse insists that Paul was “equally if not more critical of the legalistic tendencies found among some of his fellow Jews” (21) as he was of their ethnocentrism and exclusivism, and that justification accordingly “has to do with God’s gracious acquittal of guilty sinners” (22). The introduction concludes with a helpful overview of theological themes in the letter and a discussion of where to locate the centre of Paul’s theology. Like Morris, Kruse notes the “overwhelmingly theocentric nature” of Romans and, taking that as a guide, argues that “the centre, heart, and organizing principle of Pauline theology is the action of God through the person and work of Jesus Christ to deal with the effects of human sin, individually, communally, and cosmically” (33). [2] 

Kruse outlines the flow of Romans as follows:

I. Letter introduction (1:1-17)
II. Exposition and defence of the gospel (1:18-11:36)

A. Humanity under the power of sin and exposed to wrath (1:18-3:20)
B. God’s saving righteousness revealed (3:21-4:25)
C. Justification brings freedom and hope (5:1-8:39)
D. Israel and the purposes of God (9:1-11:36)

III. The ethical outworking of the gospel (12:1-15:13)
IV. Paul’s ministry and future plans (15:14-33)
V. Conclusion (16:1-27)

Embedded within the exegesis of those sections are the “additional notes.” These are adopted from Morris’ commentary, rather than being a regular feature of the Pillar series, and are one of the highlights, but whereas Morris had 6 additional notes, and none after chapter 3, Kruse has 49 by my count. These vary in length from a few paragraphs to a few pages and they vary somewhat in purpose. In some cases they address debates surrounding the text under consideration (e.g. “A contradiction between 9:6-13 and 11:25-32?”) or explain more fully interpretive roads not taken in the exegesis (“The identity of the ‘I’ in 7:7-25”). Some relate terms in a passage to the letter as a whole (e.g. “The meaning of salvation in Romans”), and others have Paul’s whole body of work in view (e.g. “Eternal life in the Pauline corpus”). The result is a series of useful dictionary length articles interspersed throughout the commentary, located to answer questions as they arise.

Beyond those notes, the size and format of Kruse is very similar to that of Morris. They both weigh in at about 600 pages. Original languages are transliterated in the main text and (in Kruse) in the footnotes as well. The page layout, with the verse numbers in bold as the exegesis proceeds verse by verse is easy to navigate. The only downside is that, although the major sections receive some introduction, it is possible to lose sight of the epistolary forest once you are in the thick of the exegetical trees. [3] 

The content, although theologically very close to Morris, clearly reflects how much has changed in the intervening 25 years. N. T. Wright was not the ubiquitous figure he now is (in Morris’ index he is listed with just four references as T. W. Wright!). In addition to the gracious critique of the New Perspective, Kruse reflects or addresses a number of other trends. He detects five aspects to “the righteousness of God” when all the instances of the phrase across Romans are taken into account, namely God’s distributive justice, his covenant faithfulness, his saving action, his gift of righteousness and the righteousness of life he requires from believers (26, 79-81). He takes the much disputed phrase “faith of Jesus Christ” to mean our faith in Christ rather than God’s faithfulness in Christ, or the faithfulness of Christ. [4] The only surprise here is that he does not allocate an “additional note” to the question, given its current prominence. 

Kruse also reflects a greater willingness since Morris to reference extra biblical material (without going overboard) and ancient Christian interpretations of Scripture, (without neglecting either the Reformers or contemporary writers). [5] As with the additional notes, and rather impressively, Kruse manages to incorporate a great deal without cluttering his text.

That said, the question still remains: many of these strengths are shared by Moo and Schreiner, so is there a good reason to prefer Kruse or too add him to the shelf alongside them?

It will be no surprise that there is little theological difference between them. They all defend the view that Jesus’ death in Rom 3:21-26 has a propitiatory significance; they all take the view that Rom 7 basically describes the experience of Israel under the old covenant, even if that does not exclude either some sense in which it is Paul’s own autobiography before conversion, or some sense in which the chapter’s frustration might be experienced by a Christian; and they are united in the view that Rom 9 teaches individual election.

On the other hand there are four features of Kruse’s commentary that make it a worthwhile purchase. First, there are places where Kruse agrees with Moo and Schreiner but is better able to defend their conclusions. For example, all three argue that Junia in Rom 16:7 was female and “prominent among the apostles”, rather than well-known to them. Kruse, however, in two separate additional notes (a rare case of overkill!) cites research published more recently than Moo and Schreiner which buttresses that argument.

Second, since Kruse comes 15 years after Moo and Schreiner, he has also culled the best of other works on Romans published in the interim, including a host of monographs which inform many of the additional notes. Perhaps most notably Kruse plunders the best of Robert Jewett’s 2007 Hermeneia commentary and N. T. Wright’s 2002 NIB volume, saving his readers time and considerable money, given their combined price tag (£106.98)!

Third, there are of course places where Kruse differs with Moo and Schreiner. Three examples must suffice: 1. He takes 2:14-16 to refer to Gentile Christians who, by virtue of their inclusion in the new covenant, have the law written on their hearts. 2. He is more open to translating 4:1 in line with Richard Hays’ suggestion: “What then shall we say? Have we found that Abraham is our forefather according to the flesh?” instead of the NIV’s “What then shall we say that Abraham our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter?” 3. Kruse argues that “all Israel” in Rom 11:26 refers to the elect from Israel throughout history rather than to a future ingathering of Jews at the end of the age (Moo, Schreiner), or to all the elect from Jews and Gentiles, now seen as the new Israel (Calvin, N. T. Wright).

Fourth, as we have noted along the way, he is impressively concise and clear. Whereas Moo and Schreiner are both around the 1,000-page mark, Kruse is just over 600 pages and yet still manages to expound the text and situate his exegesis in the broader contexts of both Pauline theology and current debates.

In conclusion therefore, Kruse’s commentary is an excellent addition to the Pillar series and commends itself in two particular contexts. 1. As an up-to-date, evangelical and well-researched-but-not-too-technical commentary it makes a great first purchase on Romans for a student or pastor. 2. Because it summarises the major interpretive questions and highlights the most significant recent literature it is an ideal first commentary to pull down off the shelf for any serious study of Romans, even if one might then want to turn to one of more technical commentaries for the intricacies of the debates. 

David Shaw
An elder of Grace Church, Cambridge


1 Corinthians (IVP New Testament Commentary Series)
Alan F. Johnson, IVP, 2004, 352pp, £11.99

This volume belongs to a commentary series designed for use by pastors, bible study leaders and teachers. Each author is a scholar with pastoral experience. The author of this commentary on 1 Corinthians was, at the time of writing, emeritus professor of New Testament and Christian Ethics at Wheaton College and Graduate School, and the combination mentioned in his title indicates that he will be competent to explain and apply this Pauline letter for living in the contemporary world. He has also written commentaries on Romans and on the Book of Revelation. 

Of course, there already are fine commentaries and works on 1 Corinthians and a glance at the bibliography informs us that the author of this commentary has consulted many of them. Yet because the commentary was published almost a decade ago, there is a sense in which some of his comments may seem a bit dated. Also his constant use of American examples to illustrate his points may not always make them clear to those who do not live there.

There are several ways in which the modern church is similar to the church in Corinth at the time when Paul wrote First Corinthians. The pre-occupation with following gifted church leaders, the abuse of spiritual gifts, difficulties connected to social issues (even to the extent of despising the poorer members at the Lord’s Supper), departure from what is regarded as essential doctrines (in their case the resurrection of Christ), toleration of immoral practices to an almost unbelievable extent, and the connections between the church and the surrounding culture are some of those ways. So it is not difficult to see how the message of 1 Corinthians is very relevant to the contemporary church in our society.

The introduction to the commentary details several interesting aspects of life in first-century Corinth, including the benefits of being a Roman city, a commercial centre, full of tourist attractions (the Isthmian games with musical performances and public debating as well as well as regular gladiatorial contests) and with a very diverse range of religious devotees. There is also a useful discussion outlining Paul’s involvement with the church in Corinth, the style of writing used in this letter (was it rhetorical?), and its main theological emphases. The author suggests that each of the problems dealt with by Paul can be connected to a failure to practise authentic love.

Johnson divides the letter into ten sections. The first is Paul’s introduction and prayer. This is followed by a long section in which Paul deals with the problem of factions in the Corinthian church. As is commonly known, the practice of identifying with a prominent speaker and stressing his oratorical abilities was common in the ancient world and had been engaged in by many in the congregation. Johnson explains that Paul’s solution to such a worldly attitude was to focus on the cross of Christ and its implications. When that happens, believers will have a proper attitude to their leaders. Yet at times Johnson fails to stress that other criteria need to be included. Regarding all leaders as Christ’s servants is important, but does it mean that we should regard all so-called church leaders as his servants? Otherwise we will include those who are doctrinally suspect, which Johnson does in a list of such persons (does Benny Hinn fall into the category of church leaders we should listen to?). Nevertheless I found Johnson’s discussion of church leaders helpful, including his references to Greek customs and terminology.

The next sections deal with (1) Paul’s response to moral issues in Corinth (incest, litigation and Christians and sex in chapters 5 and 6) and (2) Paul’s comments on marriage, divorce and singleness in chapter 7. Johnson goes along with traditional interpretations of those matters. Sometimes he does not comment on issues on which I would have liked further discussion, such as the role of the church in the future judgement of humans and angels. Nor does he deal with one possible deduction from Paul’s comments on litigation which is that the church is competent, and indeed required, to deal with offences rather than allow them to go before the world. I have never heard of a church in Britain doing this, but I would have liked some discussion on it.

The section dealing with the problems connected to offering food to idols (8:1–11:1) has much to teach us about how far we can go as Christians in engaging in cultural practices, particularly in the areas of rights and Christian liberty. As Johnson points out, our priority must always be the progress of the gospel and the maintaining of a servant heart.

Johnson explains the section on gender roles (11:2-16) from the viewpoint that accepts that the Bible allows leadership roles to men and women. This was not always his personal view and indeed he once refused to attend a church where a woman taught the adult Sunday School class. Later, however, he changed his mind. His explanation of this controversial passage assumes that the problem in Corinth with regard to headship and to hairstyles was connected to the shame-honour culture of the time, the ignoring of which had consequences both within the church at its worship services and outside the church in evangelism. He suggests that Paul wanted the church to be mindful of cultural expectations and not cause unnecessary offence. While this may have been the background, and the author admits we cannot know with certainty what it was, his attempt to deduce equality of leadership roles from this passage are not persuasive, at least to this reviewer.

There then follows a brief section on the Lord’s Supper and the way it was abused in Corinth, after which the author considers Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts and their contribution to body life (chapters 12–14). With regard to the latter, he again argues for full participation by both genders, but he does not explain satisfactorily Paul’s requirement that in some situations women have to be silent.

The ninth section concerns Paul’s teaching on the future resurrection (1 Corinthians 15). The author mentions various possible reasons for its denial in Corinth and provides a helpful explanation of Paul’s description of the order of events and nature of the resurrection state. He suggests that it is hard to fit a premillennial scheme into Paul’s order of events and also indicates that the Son’s voluntary submission to the Father at the resurrection should not be taken to imply that there is inferiority between the persons of the Trinity, but is instead connected to the Son’s role as the “second man”. The author concludes his commentary with a brief section on the various practical issues mentioned by Paul in his final chapter.

This commentary is certainly easy to read and in this matter the author is a model for those who venture to compose one. His range of background reading extends from the church fathers to authors from the late-twentieth century and I appreciated the occasions when he provided summaries of different views and who held them. As well as being explanatory, he also writes with a warm devotional style and in doing so helped maintain the interest of this reviewer. There were occasions, as I have indicated, when I disagreed with his interpretation, although as far as I could see he was fair to all viewpoints when dealing with a controversial matter.

Should one purchase this commentary? It all depends how many commentaries one wants on First Corinthians. I would be reluctant to suggest to Bible Study leaders and adult Sunday School classes that they use this book unless I was sure they would understand that others have disagreed convincingly with the views on gender roles that he advocates. But pastors would find many of his comments helpful.

Malcolm Maclean
Minister, Greyfriars and Stratherrick Free Church of Scotland, Inverness


The Good God: Enjoying Father, Son and Spirit
Michael Reeves, Paternoster, 2012, 112pp, £9.99

Michael Reeves, Head of Theology for UCCF, presents here a highly accessible introductory guide to the doctrine of the Trinity. His aim, to present the biblical teaching on the Trinity as central to the faith, vital and essential to the Christian life, and revolutionary in its scope, is admirably and abundantly realised.

In the first chapter – What was God doing before creation? – Reeves argues that God is inherently, eternally, and pre-eminently love. Moreover, this can only be so if he is Trinitarian – “God is love because God is a Trinity” (p.vii). The doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son is indicative of the eternal love, communion and union between the Father and the Son. In this, and throughout the book, Reeves contrasts the Trinity with all other proposed deities. The latter are either solitary, since they are unitary and undifferentiated, or else matter co-exists and so they are not in control. Because God is love and triune, common perceptions of “God” are rendered irrelevant, erroneous and misleading. Reeves also exposes as inadequate, superfluous and laughable common attempts to illustrate the Trinity by clover leaves, the temperature of water or a Trinitarian shield.

Following this, there are chapters considering the three persons in turn. Reeves relates the self-giving love of the Trinity to the incarnation and the cross. He stresses that the vibrancy of God’s overflowing life – seen in the generation of the Son by the Father from eternity – is expressed in creation and redemption. From our perspective, salvation is more than a moral code or a transformed lifestyle; it is participation in the vibrant life of God, communicated to us in the Holy Spirit. The consequence is that the claims of militant atheism are themselves demonstrably irrelevant, for the idea of “god” against which they are levelled is that of a cold, remote, supreme ruler, rather than the loving and life-giving Trinity.

Throughout, the lively text is laced with judicious humour. There are sidebars on related themes, likenesses of such as Aristotle, Augustine, the “god” Marduk, Luther and John Owen (“with as much powder in his hair as would discharge eight cannons”). Picture and line-drawings entertain. The text itself is racy but serious, by no means superficial. Clearly and vividly it expresses profound doctrine. The book is ideal for readers for whom the Trinity appears remote, boring, or irrelevant.

I have only one minor criticism. The expression “Father, Son, Spirit,” is commonly used for the three and is prevalent here. These are personal names but used anarthrously they convey the possibility that they are merely adjectival, attributes akin to “love, goodness, holiness.” This is clearly something Reeves does not accept; naming them properly as “the Father”, “the Son”, and “the Holy Spirit” would convey his intention better.

All told, this is a splendid book, far and away the best of its kind that I have read. It should be put into the hands of as many church members as possible, besides not a few ministers. 

Robert Letham
Wales Evangelical School of Theology


Baptist Theology
Stephen Holmes, T & T Clark, 2012, 192pp, £14.99

Stephen Holmes was trained and later taught at Spurgeon’s College, London, and now teaches theology at the University of St Andrews. His goal, as the title suggests, is to set out a distinctive Baptist theology.

He begins in chapter 1 by providing us with an introduction to the English Baptists. After beginning in the early seventeenth century with both Arminian and Calvinist streams, the Civil War and the influence of the Model Army ensured the spread of Baptist principles, until religious liberty was finally secured in 1689. The eighteenth century was marked by divisions between Arminians, Calvinists and Hyper-Calvinists, until a robust movement of Calvinistic Baptists emerged under the leadership of Andrew Fuller.

In chapter 2 we see the emergence of the Baptists in America. They struggled under religious persecution by the Congregational establishment, and became pioneers in their campaigns for religious liberty. It was not until 1833 that they gained the freedom to worship in every state without penalty or restriction. Their numbers then grew rapidly, from 100,000 in 1800 to over three million in 1900. Much of this numerical growth was in the latter part of the century through the adoption of the “New Measures” of Charles Finney, and the organisation of local “revivals” with their associated religious excitement. However, this century also saw the emergence of a growing group of Calvinistic Baptists who adhered to the 1689 Confession of Faith. There were other divisions too, over Landmarkism, and along ethnic lines.

The second half of the nineteenth century saw the increasing influence of Modernist theology, and the social gospel. Holmes describes the emerging reaction of Fundamentalism, and then the New Evangelicalism led by Billy Graham and Carl Henry. Holmes notes the later movement of the SBC towards historic Calvinistic Baptist roots, but it is clear that he does not approve of what he regards as a new and narrow separatism, led by the likes of Mark Dever and Al Mohler.

Chapter 3 picks up the story of the English Baptists once more, noting that the nineteenth century was marked by rapid growth, and a new spirit of evangelical unity in the development of the Baptist Union. The major figure of this period was, of course, Charles Spurgeon. He issued scathing attacks against baptismal regeneration, and theological liberalism. Holmes dismisses him as “no theologian”, states that he “…did not understand the twists and turns that had taken place in Reformed theology….” and that he “…read widely in contemporary theology, but failed to understand the subtleties of what he read…” (55). There is then brief mention of developments in Europe and beyond.

In chapter 4, Holmes engages more directly with his task of identifying distinctive Baptist theology. He notes that there is little which is distinctive about the Baptists on the major doctrines of ecumenical theology. The 1689 Confession has much in common with the Westminster and Savoy standards.

There is more to be said about Baptist distinctives in the doctrine of the church. Baptism is obviously considered first; Baptist churches in America and elsewhere would normally exclude from the Lord’s Table and membership those not immersed as believers. However, in Britain the picture is different; Baptists historically stood alongside other Dissenters in facing persecution, and latterly wanted to emphasise evangelical solidarity with other believers. So, while some retain a “closed” table, many British Baptists in the tradition of Bunyan and Robert Hall do not. While many Baptists view the ordinance as a mere symbol (an enacted sermon), some see it as a “means of grace” in which the Holy Spirit is at work through the act. The emphasis on Baptism goes hand in hand with personal conversion, commitment to holiness and to mission.

On baptism, the believer is received into membership of the church. All members profess faith and are committed to following Christ; church discipline excludes the unrepentant. Baptists believe in the independency and primacy of the local church; while belonging to a variety of associations and groupings, none of these has jurisdiction over the local assembly which can withdraw at will. Churches are apostolic in the sense of holding to the apostolic teaching, and the apostolic mission of making disciples. This has nothing to do with “bishops” or ecclesiastical structures. The catholicity of the church is about unity with all true churches and believers wherever they might be, and the primary loyalty of the Baptist is not to nation or culture but to the Lord and the gospel.

The church as the body of believers is reflected in congregational church government. The body of believers is corporately responsible for discerning the mind of Christ who is the head of the local church. While sometimes accused of aping worldly “democracy”, this Baptist commitment predates modern political structures. Furthermore, it is not democracy in the sense of each one expressing his or her own will, but together by consensus discerning the will of Christ.

Associations have been a rich feature of Baptist life over the centuries, whether for sharing insights and wisdom, or for joint enterprise in training establishments and missions. Associations are built on mutual understanding and trust, and a common commitment to the gospel and to mission.

Holmes looks briefly at belief and practice regarding ordination. He clearly has little time for restricting eldership and teaching roles to men and describes this practice as completely inconsistent with Baptist principles, where all members share the same authority.

Chapter 6 is important in highlighting Baptist convictions on the liberty of conscience. Thomas Helwys’ Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity published in 1612 acknowledged that kings have authority to rule their realms, but in matters of religion they must not interfere, and priests and bishops must not compel. Roger Williams took up the same themes in America later in that century. Isaac Backus maintained that God had established separate spheres for civil and ecclesiastical government, and Backus had a particular objection to the imposition of church taxes. The issue of personal responsibility before God was highlighted in the case of Roger Williams who exiled Joshua Verdin from Providence, for compelling his wife not to attend worship. The wife has the right and duty to disobey her husband in obedience to Christ. Edgar Mullins took up this theme of “soul competency” (an unfortunate term to describe an important principle) in 1908 in his book The Axioms of Religion, maintaining the soul’s direct access to God without human mediation.

In the final chapter, on making disciples, Holmes acknowledges the extraordinary ministry of Johann Oncken in continental Europe in the nineteenth century. His famous motto was “Every Baptist a missionary” and he emphasised the primary role of the local church. The ordinance of baptism speaks of mission, as it is characterised by the personal testimony of the baptismal candidate and public declaration of the gospel. The heritage of Andrew Fuller and William Carey speaks of the missionary God who sent his son, and now sends his people in his name.

The work of discipleship does not end, of course, with conversion. Baptist churches are covenanted communities, where each member is committed to the other in mutual accountability as they seek individually and together to serve Christ.

In summary, the distinctive Baptist theology identified by the author is an emphasis on the personal accountability of every soul before God. This leads directly to a distinctive emphasis on religious liberty which has made an impact well beyond Baptist circles.

This sense of personal accountability is not mere individualism; it is accountability first to the Lord and then to others in obedience to him. This leads to a healthy emphasis on the local church as the focus of God’s work in the world, and a positive vision of the church as a covenanted group of believers who are responsible together (both by mutual accountability and corporately) to order their affairs according to the revealed will of Christ, the head of the church. It is refreshing to be reminded that Christian unity does not rest in organisational structures, but a common confession of the Gospel. And there is a strong sense of the imperative of mission to the world.

Baptist distinctives are also prone to abuse, however. Congregational church government can degenerate into mere democracy, and the church meeting an opportunity to air personal views and agendas. An emphasis on the local church can lead to a proud sense of autonomy and independence from the wider church, which is debilitating (we need to be reminded of the history of Baptist associations, especially amongst the early Particular Baptists). The emphasis on baptism of believers alone can lead to the unchurching of those with different convictions. All of these themes deserve further attention; the errors are best corrected by a reminder of the biblical principles which underpin Baptist practice, and how these have been worked out historically. As the author himself states, he has only made a beginning. It would be refreshing to see more work along these lines from within the conservative evangelical constituency.

Bill James
Pastor, Emmanuel Church, Leamington Spa


Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony
Richard Bauckham, Eerdmans, 2008, 552pp, £17.99

This book, which the formidable Bauckham himself regards as perhaps his most important work, has justifiably attracted a great deal of attention. The central aim of the book is to establish the crucial place of eyewitness testimony in the formation of the canonical Gospels. In this way, “theology and history may meet in the historical Jesus instead of parting company there”(5) – as they have done so often and so disastrously in the annals of critical scholarship. It is a substantial and scholarly work, which covers a great deal of ground in considerable depth; Bauckham’s mastery of a wide range of disciplines is evident and verges on the intimidating!

Bauckham really has two key arguments in this work: that the Gospels are based directly on eyewitness testimony; and that eyewitness testimony can, under the right conditions, be extremely reliable and consistent. These arguments are applied extensively to specific Gospels, especially the Gospel of John.

To establish his first argument, he draws heavily – even exhaustively – on Papias, returning repeatedly to the fragments quoted by Eusebius and making us wish that the latter had allowed more material through his critical filter. What Bauckham does with these few paragraphs is impressive and for the most part very convincing. This allows him to do a thorough demolition job on the persistent legacy of form criticism and the whole idea that the Gospels emerged from an extended period of anonymous transmission and reshaping in the various communities that gave rise to them. (I did find myself wondering whether James Dunn had actually read the rather stern rebuke he receives on page 291 before writing his enthusiastic cover blurb!) He then proceeds, in a series of absorbing chapters, to find evidence for the role of eyewitnesses in the text of the Gospels, especially Mark (supporting the traditional role of Peter in its composition) and John. If the arguments here occasionally seem to press a little too far and become convoluted especially in chapter 7, this is a minor criticism only. The discussion of protective anonymity in chapter 8 is fascinating and again convincing.

Bauckham’s second key argument is about the reliability of eyewitness testimony. Here he critiques several models of oral tradition and lays the foundations for what follows – putting the eyewitnesses in their “proper place” in the model of transmission. It is here that the breadth of Bauckham’s interaction with other fields is at its most impressive. Before addressing specific accounts, he next makes a more general approach to the New Testament documents. He discusses possible explanations for differences between the Gospel accounts. Of the five reasons he cites (in addition to failures of memory and mistakes (286-87), three are at least potentially in conflict with a doctrine of verbal inspiration. Some attention to this issue would have been very welcome, but this, it seems, is methodologically excluded from consideration.

This treatment of transmission is followed by an extended discussion of the reliability of eyewitness memory as it relates to the Gospel traditions. There is much of interest here in terms of bolstering the reasonableness of trusting the Gospel accounts, but again and unsurprisingly, no mention of the Spirit’s role in safeguarding the witnesses’ memories or overruling the production of the subsequent records. Most of the rest of the book is devoted to the authorship of John’s Gospel and related issues (see below) and Bauckham closes with a general argument for the value of personal testimony in historiography, especially in extraordinary and unique events. Here he draws a striking parallel, which will probably cause offence in some quarters despite the care with which he does it, between the eyewitness testimonies of Jesus and the testimonies of Holocaust survivors.

The book has many great strengths and will prove of considerable help in evangelical apologetics. Tim Keller refers to it several times in his The Reason for God and King’s Cross. In summary, then, Bauckham takes us about as far as it is possible to go towards establishing the reliability of the Gospels on the basis of logic and reasonableness. To go further would require more – invoking the doctrine of verbal inspiration of the Scriptures – and here, of course, Bauckham does not venture. In this book, he occupies the space between the sceptical liberal scholarship which approaches the New Testament documents with a bias to contempt, and a full evangelical doctrine of Scripture. What is impressive is how far he can go without invoking that doctrine.

There are at least two points at which Bauckham’s confidence in his reasoning runs a little too far – or at any rate, these are the two which will immediately jar with readers of Foundations. These relate to his conclusions about the authorship of the gospels of Matthew and John. On Matthew, firstly, he concludes that Levi (in Mark 2:16 and Luke 5:27) cannot, in fact, be another name for the disciple Matthew (Matthew 9:9). His reasoning (108ff) is based on his analysis of the frequency of Semitic personal names. Essentially, because Levi and Matthew are both common names, they almost certainly cannot be borne by the same man. Consequently, the name of Levi must have been deliberately changed in Matthew’s Gospel, presumably to provide a narrative of the calling of the disciple after whom the Gospel is named. From this it is deduced that Matthew the disciple cannot himself be the author of the Gospel, since if he were, he could have supplied the true account of his own calling.

Bauckham stands by this argument in spite of his own stated position: (a) that he takes Papias very seriously, and Papias clearly believes Matthew wrote the Gospel that bears his name; (b) that the Twelve (i.e. including Matthew) corporately preserved the Gospel traditions (not to mention the other controls on accurate transmission which Bauckham so carefully sets out); and (c) that the Gospels bore the names by which they are now known right from the outset. His statement elsewhere that Matthew the disciple was a major source for this gospel does not really square this particular circle.

Secondly, on John’s Gospel, Bauckham devotes several of his closing chapters – in fact it amounts to nearly a third of the book – to establishing the identification of four characters: the “beloved disciple” of John’s Gospel; the author of John’s Gospel; “John of Ephesus”; and Papias’ “John the elder”. Bauckham argues that these are all the same person and that, therefore, John the son of Zebedee was not the author of the Gospel. There is a great deal of very strong argumentation here. The idea that John 21:24 might envisage only a distant relationship between the beloved disciple and the writing of the text is rightly rubbished (361). The way in which this disciple’s relationship to Peter is presented in the gospel is helpful and convincing, though the conclusion itself is not particularly new (“the point of the double story of the two disciples is to show how each, through his own, different way of following Jesus, relates to the church after the resurrection” (400).

The problems arise over the interpretation of the early writers on John. For a start, Bauckham’s argument from Papias depends on the assumption that his “John the elder” is a different person from the John he lists among the apostles. What if “John the elder” (along with Aristion) is listed separately only because, unlike the others, he was still alive at the time Papias is describing? (This is the possibility that Carson argues, for example.) The discussion of Polycrates is complex – it involves his description of John wearing the high-priestly petalon – but here Bauckham’s argument rests on Polycrates’ supposed identification of the beloved disciple and John the author of the Gospel (an identification Polycrates certainly does make) with the priestly John of Acts 4:6. But the evidence is not strong enough. How could a second century bishop, with very strong connections to the heroes of the first century, possibly believe that a disciple of Jesus could have become high priest? Bauckham’s assertion that Irenaeus makes no clear identification of John the son of Zebedee with the Gospel writer is surely also questionable.

As with the authorship of Matthew, Bauckham’s conclusion here simply raises further questions. If he is right, why is John the son of Zebedee never individually mentioned in John’s Gospel? And where is the historical room for this beloved disciple, this second John who is not one of the Twelve, whose eyewitness access to Jesus is intermittent, and yet takes the place of greatest intimacy at the Last Supper? And again, given the argument that the Gospels must have been identified by name very early, is it at all credible, particularly in view of the commonness of the name John, that the recipient churches would not make certain which John was the true author? In both these arguments over authorship, I think the problem originates from extended chains of reasoning, probability based on probability. As any student of statistics knows, a succession of conditional probabilities swiftly leads to extreme unlikelihood.

So much for the caveats. Much more could be said, but overall, this is a great book. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in defending the integrity of the Gospel accounts or in the evidence for the way they came to be written. It is not a quick read, but it is an absorbing one. It is a book that any future authors in this field will need to interact with, which is probably the appropriate criterion for defining it as “important”. And the cover blurbs are fully justified in saying so.

Steve Wilmshurst
Director of Training, Kensington Baptist Church, Bristol