Reviews on Resources for Biblical and Theological Studies


Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Aug• 29•15

Wilson, A. N. The Book of the People: How to Read the Bible. London: Atlantic Books, 2015.

This is not a textbook on the methodologies or theories on biblical interpretation. This is rather an autobiographical work that presents the authors experiences, and struggles and to a certain extent experiments with the Bible. The author who is a renowned journalist also offers insights in to a lay person’s struggles with the critical theori97881848879607es on Bible. The style is unique. The author adopts at places the style of an autobiography, at times he turns to a dialogue with his conversation partner, an anonymous L.

The book is divided into chapters which are not quite self-explanatory. ‘1.This Mountain’, ‘2. The Vulgate Experience’, ‘3. Prophets’, ‘4. Holy Wisdom’, ‘5. Job’, ‘6. Living in a Metaphor: Psalms’, and ‘7. The Rebirth of Images.’ It also has a prologue and an epilogue.

Though not an academic work it does take even a biblical scholar on an enjoyable tour through the landscape of our cultures’ struggles with the Bible. I found the author’s company as a tour guide extremely enjoyable and to a considerable extent informative.

Das. Galatians 2014 (Concordia Commentary)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Nov• 18•14

Das, A. Andrew. Galatians. Concordia Commentary: A Theological Exposition of Sacred Scripture. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2014

Das GalatiansBeing a seminary professor and pastor lay leaders and pastors approach me to recommend a commentary that they can use for their teaching and preaching. Though I have a list of commentaries ready, I find myself at a loss as to what to recommend. There are scholarly commentaries but they are too detailed, require knowledge of biblical language and critical skills. Then on the other end of the spectrum are very simple but shallow treatments of the biblical text. However, this commentary on Galatians by Andrew Das fills this gap as it is aimed at pastors but is very scholarly—where current biblical scholarship is presented in a ‘non-threatening’ way!

Here we have a commentary which trained academics will cherish and pastors and lay persons without much training will love to read. It is amazingly detailed. The commentary on the six chapters of Galatians are presented to us in 656 pages! For example, the detailed discussion on the fruit of the Spirit runs many pages. The explanation of ‘love’ in this passage has taken up two full pages with ten footnotes documenting modern authors and ancient writers. Each verse, and word is so thoroughly treated and the reader gets the feeling that there is no leaf that is not unturned.

This includes a very sumptuous introduction that deals with topics that widen the readers’ understanding of the situation in Galatia that Paul addresses, Pauline chronology, rhetorical analysis of the epistle, etc. Besides this there is a detailed up-to-date bibliography, scripture and subject indices. Non-academic readers will find the three-page glossary of terms a blessing. Besides the commentary there are a number of excursus that are really a treat for the learners. Look at a sample: ‘Modern Perspectives on Conversion’, ‘The extent of Paul’s Arabian ministry’, ‘The metaphorical and social context of Galatians 4:1-7’, ‘The elements of the cosmos’, etc.

This easy to read but profound commentary on Galatians will be welcomed by both academics and lay persons as ‘The Commentary on Galatians’ for many years to come!


Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jun• 10•14

CASCADE_TemplateGriggs, Robert W. A Pelican of the Wilderness. Depression, Psalms, Ministry, and Movies. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2014.

This is not an academic book and thus doesn’t really qualify to be reviewed on this site! However, this is a book that every academic should read! This is about a pastor who holds degrees from Harvard Divinity School, University of Minnesota and Andover Newton Theological School who suffered severe depression to the extent of attempting suicide. So, this is a ‘must-read’ for all academics for a reality check and see where they are heading. There is a second reason for reading this book. In this autobiographical account Griggs has woven his academic knowledge and personal experience into a beautiful fabric. That is what makes Walter Brueggemann comment on the blurb that, ‘Robert Griggs has deftly transported them (the Psalms) into his own story of depression, anguish, and recovery of health, life, and faith.’

This is not just about Psalms. As the title indicates Griggs tells us how many contemporary American films helped him in his recovery. Thus he benefited from two resources that is available to all of us. The ancient text of the Psalms still maintain the power to help us cope with our present day realities of pain and joy. Then there is quite a lot of wisdom in the contemporary world as well. This comes in the form of books that interpret for us the modern society, culture and religion. Griggs has compiled a very useful bibliography as well as a filmography—a list of films that helped him.

With all the degrees and experience of serving the same church as pastor for twenty-six years Robert Griggs had lot of knowledge and helped a lot of people. However, he discovered in the Psych Unit that he is dried up—literally, because the chemicals that help people to keep their balance (like Serotonin and Norepinephrine) had dried up in his brain. These had to be replenished through rest and medications. He had to be trained to cope with life with the help of his doctors and fellow inmates over a period of five weeks that he was in the ‘loony bin.’ He had to readmitted for another week because he seems to have ignored the lessons he learnt.

In his depression he was like a ‘pelican in the wilderness’ (Psalm 102:6). He borrows the language of the Psalms to understand and cope with his situation. And he comes out of it finally as the prophetic fulfilment of the words of another psalmist: ‘They that sow in tears shall reap in joy’ (Psalm 126:5). In the process of narrating his story Griggs also helps us to understand the importance of making choices, struggles with issues of faith, hope etc. This story aptly illustrates what Brueggeman describes as ‘disorientation’ and ‘reorientation’ in the Book of Psalms: ‘From Pulpit to Psych Unit’ (first chapter) and ‘From Psych Unit to Pulpit’ (last chapter). For any academic this gives a very useful, helpful break from the daily encounter with the ‘heavy stuff.’


Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jan• 03•14
9781934996201Vanhoye, Albert. A Different Priest: The Letter to the Hebrews. Miami, Fla.: Convivium Press, 2011.

Though it is popularly known as “the letter to the Hebrews,” Scholars were divided if this book is a sermon or a letter. It seems to show the characteristics of both. Vanhoye has a very simple solution to this debate. According to him the book is a homily and the writer is an itinerant preacher. However, the sermon is written down and sent to Christian communities far and wide by adding epistolary material (13:22-25) after its conclusion (13:20-21). Take the epistolary intrusion away, it is a great sermon.

This understanding of the book as a homily from beginning to end is the basis of the rhetorical analysis of in the present work. Being a homily, it is rhetorical in nature. However, the rhetoric of the book of Hebrews is not very much in line with that of the Greco-Roman world. Vanhoye argues that the author/preacher has Judaeo-Hellenistic education. However, his rhetoric style is very much Semitic in style.

Albert Vanhoye is a French Jesuit who taught scripture in a number of schools and is a noted biblical scholar on the Book of Hebrews. He was appointed Cardinal by Pope Benedict xvi in 2006. This book is the fruit of his many years of work on the study of Hebrews.

Hamilton Jr. What Is Biblical Theology? (2014)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Nov• 18•13

Hamilton Jr., James M. What Is Biblical Theology? A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns

9781433537714Hamilton proposes a new method of doing biblical theology. In his opinion most of the biblical theologies that are written enforces a modern, rationalist world-view on the bible which mutes the biblical authors. The conservative scholars, those who stand for the unity and coherence of the Bible also used the tools and methods use by those whom they oppose. Both are wrong because they failed to see the world-view of the biblical authors.

In his opinion, biblical theology is done by sharing the world-view of the biblical authors and by trying to understand the scripture in that perspective.

The author’s convictions are deeply rooted in the divine inspiration of the Bible. This leads him to argue that the biblical authors share the same world-view. In other words, there is only one world-view that is shared by all the authors, though they lived in different places, different times and addressed different issues. That is the bible’s one story.

His treatment of biblical theology follows a three-fold pattern. To quote, “The rest of it falls into three parts: the first sets out the Bible’s story, the second looks at the way the biblical authors use symbols to summarize and interpret that story, and the third considers the part the church plays in that story. So the three parts of the books can be put in to three words: story, symbol, and church.

This book is innovative in its approach to biblical theology. Its attempt to navigate a third way between the “liberal” and the so called “conservative” biblical theologians let in a lot of fresh air. However, the assumption that all the biblical authors share one world-view ignores the multiple voices (sometime even contradictory but certainly complementary) that we find in the Bible. Moreover, though this method very well can accommodate the narrative sections, the poetry of the Bible and especially the wisdom tradition seems to fall out of its scope.

Jensen. God, Desire, and a Theology of Human Sexuality. 2013.

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Oct• 04•13

Jensen. God, DesireJensen, David Hadley. God, Desire, and a Theology of Human Sexuality. 1st ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013.

Jensen’s work on human sexuality falls in to seven chapters as:
(1) Scripture and Sex: Narratives of Desire
(2) God and Sex: Holy Desire
(3) Christ and Sex: the resurrection of the body
(4) Eschatology and Sex: Making all Things New  (5) Lord’s Supper and Sex: A Sumptuous Banquet
(6) Vocation and sex: living in light of desire
(7 )Ethics and sex: flourishing desire
It is complete with index and bibliograpy. However, a book such as this which covers so much of biblical material should have a scripture index as well.
The author invites us to join him in his journey of exploring the the theme of human sexuality through the Bible and Christian traditions by the rather ‘puzzling’ opening statement: ‘Sex is an expression of Christian faith.’ Throughout the book we see an attempt to liberate the notion of sex from its traditional understanding and also to critique its distortions and misrepresentations in modern consumer culture. It is thus a double-edged sword wielded against the conservative Christian view of sex as well as against the distorted views of sex that the contemporary secular society promotes.
Certainly sex for the author is not just the act of making love but it is broader than that. It is this broader view of sex which has to do with desire, intimacy, etc. that allows him to see the theme of sex in the various aspects of Christian faith. He takes the Bible as a narrative of desire and maps the theme of desire throughout the Bible. In his exploration he disagrees with many popularly held Christian notions. For example, the author doesn’t agree with the popularly held notion that in the risen body the sexual attraction disappears though there will be sexual difference. He affirms that, ‘Sex in its ambiguity, is neither left behind in the resurrection nor consummated as the chief activity of heaven; rather it is redeemed in the risen body of Christ who gives us new life.’
He critiques the modern north-American consumer culture that promotes sex as being about possessiveness, that involves violence and deprived of real joy. He also takes in to account modern realities of life in shaping his views on sex. For example, his views on sex before marriage. The average age of marriage is now around thirty which is much higher than the medieval times where age of marriage and puberty was very close. The Christian doctrine of sex within marriage is framed against the background of this social reality. His new broader view of sexuality allows him to advocate sex before marriage, but consider sex outside marriage as dangerous because sex has to be celebrated within a framework of covenant.
Even though many may find it diffcult to accept all the views of the author, any reader will be highly impressed by the thorough research that has gone behind this work. This book on a  topic that is a taboo for many Christians is well articulated and engages anyone’s mind. The author’s engagements with ancient authorities on the topic is highly impressive.


Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Dec• 04•12

Pagola, Jose Antonio. The Way Opened Up by Jesus: a Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. 1st ed. Convivium Press, 2012. Pages: 256. ISBN: 978-1-934996-28-7.

This is not an exPagola. Matthewegetical commentary but a homiletical one. This means that the readers will not find lengthy discussions on the background, critical issues, theology, lexical or word studies here. It is based on the simple, plain message of the scripture. In his treatment of the Gospel of Matthew, Pagola first of all shows the reader what a given passage means. Then he goes on to show us how these passages challenge the modern Church and its adherents. It offers in-depth, incisive critique of our modern society.

For example, the focus of the commentary on Matthew 16:13-20 is not a study of the concepts or words but narrows down to the question of Jesus: ‘Who do you say that I am?’ The commentator suggests that this question should not be understood philosophically or theologically. It is not on the identity of Jesus but about the identity of those to whom the question is directed. ‘… that question, more than a test of our orthodoxy, is a call to a Christian way of life.’ Then he goes on to explain that Christian way of life expected from our modern world. Or, take for example his treatment of Matthew 5:13-16 where he sharpens the focus on being the salt of the earth. Then he helps us to understand how the Church could add more flavour to our world, the world where the driving force is profit and with corruption at its foundations.

Don’t expect a verse by verse commentary of the entire book of Matthew. This is a commentary based on selected passages. The basis of selection is those passages that ’emphasize the Good News of God proclaimed by Jesus, an inexhaustible source of life and compassion for all.’ Not only the passages selected but the passages omitted will show us that the Pagola like to present the book as a book of hope that challenges the modern believer. For example, 11:12-124 which has condemnatory tones are included, especially woe sayings against the cities.

This is not a surprise anyway; in the introduction, Pagola has already stated that his purpose in life is, not ‘…to condemn, but to liberate. I do not feel called by Jesus to judge the world, but awaken hope. He has not sent me to quench a flickering flame, but to light a candle of faith that is trying to ignite.’ This does not explain why the significant portion of the passion narrative 26:1-27:38 is left out as well as some other passages that are not condemnatory at all.

This book is of great value for those who would like to know the contemporary significance of the Gospel of Matthew. Pagola’s analysis of the contemporary context is thorough and incisive. Those who struggle to bridge the gap between the world of Jesus and of our own from the pulpit will find this extremely helpful.


Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jul• 24•12

Jacobson, Rolf, (ed). Soundings in the Theology of Psalms: Perspectives and Methods in Contemporary Scholarship. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011. ISBN: 9780800697396.

This volume of eight essays by noted Old Testament scholars is the outcome of the ‘Book of Psalms Section’ of the 2008 SBL meeting in the expanded and revised form. However, the papers of the SBL session were complemented by other solicited essays and reprint of Walter Brueggemann’s essay. This volume also has an ecumenical flavour since scholars from various traditions like Wesleyan, Catholic, Baptist, and Lutheran have joined the group that is predominantly Reformed.

 The first essay by Walter Brueggemann is a reprint (‘The Psalms and the Life of Faith: A Suggested Typology of Function’). Based on Paul Ricoeur approach Brueggemann suggests ‘the sequence of orientation-disorientation-reorientation’ to understand the use and function of Psalms.

 In the second essay, Harry P. Nasuti (‘God at Work in the Word: A Theology of Divine-Human Encounter in the Psalms’) argues that just as the description of God is a valid theological method in approaching the Psalms, an equally important method is to see the relationship between God and the believing communities. He argues that this relational aspect underlies the approaches that highlight ‘righteousness’ and the ‘righteous’ as the focal point of the Psalms.

Jerome F.D. Creach in his essay ‘The Destiny of the Righteous and the Theology of the Psalms’ argues that concern for the life and the destiny of the righteous  is a common theme of the Psalter that allows it to be read as book. Moreover, this theme also provides the theological context for other themes such as reign of God, justice and peace. The exploration on the methodolody and themes of the Psalter continues in the essay by J. Clinton McCann Jr. ‘The Single Most Important Text in the Entire Bible: Toward a Theology of the Psalms.’ He very convincingly argues that Psalm 82 is ‘crucially important for understanding the Psalms and especially for beginning to move toward a theology of the book of Psalms.’ He takes his cue from Dominic Crossan who remarked that, Psalm 82 is ‘the single most important text in the entire Christian Bible.’ He also suggests that in the context of violence, injustice and inequalities that we witness in our world today, Psalm 82 is very relevant for our times.

Violence and curses in the Psalms are the concerns of some of the essays as is the case of the essay by Nancy L. deClaisse-Walford ‘The Theology of the Imprecatory Psalms.’ She argues that the so called imprecatory Psalms are very much part of the Jewish and Christian canon. ‘We cannot summarily dismiss the imprecatory psalms and banish them to the periphery of the canon. They are integral part of the words of the Psalmists, rendered by their inclusion in the canon as the words of God and embraced by millennia of the faithful as part of the Scripture.’ Her persuasive arguments in favour of the imprecatory psalms end with how they can be incorporated in our worship.

 The same tone is maintained in the essay, ‘Saying Amen to Violent Psalms: Patterns of Prayer, Belief, and Action in the Psalter’ by Joel M. LeMon. He helps us to understand the violent imageries of the Psalms. This essay explores the ethical implications of the Psalms that have violent tones.

 The last two essays are again on the methodology of doing a theology of Psalms. In ‘“The Faithfulness of the Lord Endures Forever”: The Theological Witness of the Psalter’ Rolf Jacobson suggests that the dominant vision of the Psalms is the faithfulness of the Lord.  His essay is to elaborate on this theme which he thinks plays the central role in the Psalter. He explores the semantics, genre of Psalms where this theme is used, faithfulness as experienced in the history, means of God’s faithfulness, etc sufficient to convince us that the theology of Psalms can be centered around this.

 In the last essay ‘Rethinking the Enterprise: What Must Be Considered in Formulating a Theology of the Psalms?’ Beth Tanner, helps us to understand the whole enterprise of biblical theology in general and theology of Psalms in particular. Tanner begins with the nature of Biblical Theology and the ways of doing it. She affirms that, ‘… at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the biblical theological enterprise has become contextual, and thus canonical, transitory and pluralistic.’ She also insists that in doing a theology of Psalms its poetic nature should be given due place. She goes on to insights from neurosciences about the role of poetry in human emotions and behavior should be considered in doing the theology of Psalms. ‘The Psalms reach places in both the brain and the heart that other genres do not.’ Tanner’s explorations thus are really daring!

 This volume like other titles in the series pushes the edges of Psalms study further towards new horizons. All the essays are equally illuminative and take the readers to a new level of understanding the Book of Psalms, fresh, insightful and innovative.


Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Mar• 15•11

Barstad, Hans M.  A Brief Guide to the Hebrew Bible  (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010). ISBN: 978-0-664-23325-9.

This is a student-friendly introduction to the Old Testament and can be rightly hailed as ‘excellent primer.’ It is translated from the Norwegian original, Det gamle testamente. En innforung  (second edition which appeared in 2003). The author has an novel approach. A brief and simple introduction treats topics a student of the Old Testament need to know before entering into a detailed study. This section deals with topics like, the cultural history of the Bible, the academic study of the Bible, the OT and the NT, a description of the ANE, its culture and languages, canonization, transmission of the Hebrew Bible, Qumran and Biblical exegesis. Instead of presenting book by book, he introduces the theological traditions of the Old Testament and classifies the Pentateuch and Former Prophets according to “authorial groups.” So we have the tetrateuch introduced as the Priestly History and the books from Deuteronomy to Kings as the Deuteronomistic History. This is followed by an introduction of the Chronicler’s works. Two chapters offers a survey of the prophetic literature and the poetic traditions. The books of Jonah, Ruth and Esther are considered as novellas in the last chapter. The Introductions to the Hebrew Bible have been bulky since they deal with individual books separately. These book-by-book treatment is at the cost of userfriendliness. However, Barstad’s Introduction is concise and introduces the students to the corpora of the literature than to individual books. This helps the students to have a grasp of the theologies and movements that shaped the Hebrew Bible. This certainly helps in their appreciation of the individual books and their themes later in their study.


Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Feb• 15•11

Meynet, Roland. A New Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels (Miami, Florida: Convivium Press, 2010). ISBN: 9781934996119

This title is the English translation of the French Une nouvelle introduction aux evangiles synoptiques (2009).

This rhetorical critical study of the Synoptics is based on a notion that rhetoric is not just Greco-roman as the West understand but there is Hebrew Rhetoric which is very different from that of Greek and Roman. The New Testament follows this Hebrew Rhetoric and so this could be called Biblical Rhetoric which is akin to Akkadian, Ugaritic and other ancient texts. This Rhetoric is shared by not only Hebrew Bible or New Testament but also the Quran.

Meynet deviates from the traditional approach to the study of Synoptic Gospels where the pericopes are put in parallel columns but he insists that one should study the whole pericopes, the sequences and subsequences. He likens his approach to the study of three architectures of a building than comparing the stones of three similar buildings.

He applies this study to a number of selections from the Synoptics.

This is indeed a trail-blazer in Synoptic studies. The fact that the French original is made available in English within a year of its publication is remarkable. This means that the influence of this novel approach to the Synoptics will be farreaching in the scholarly community.