Monday, May 12, 2014

Book Review: And Now For Something Completely Different

The book of Hebrews is a challenging portion of the Bible, heavy on Old Testament references to the Jewish law system that most modern Christians are pretty ignorant of. To read it and understand it requires knowledge of that system – or a guide to fill you in on the details. Matthew Martin's And Now For Something Completely Different strives to be that guide.
The author thoroughly dissects the book of Hebrews verse by verse, explaining in great detail the ideas in each as well as its place in the overall argument the book is making about the superiority of the New Covenant to the Old. Martin seems to have extensive knowledge in this area and offers a good number of helpful insights. The chapter titles alone gave me a good overall picture of the organization and argument being made in the biblical book.
However, on a more “micro” level, I didn't find Martin's guide that useful for me . . . although I think that's my fault and not Martin's. His intention seems to be that someone struggling with a particular section of, say, chapter four can turn to that part in the guide and get help in their understanding. And it probably serves that purpose well. To someone like me, on the other hand, who is just reading straight through to get an overall view of the entire biblical book, he often seems to be saying the same thing over and over. (My husband remarked that he had the same experience reading through his study Bible with all the notes; it's not really meant to be read that way.) Personally, I think I would have benefitted from a more general discussion of each chapter's main points, followed by the detailed analysis of each verse if I wanted to dig deeper or had a more specific question.
Martin also uses the King James Version of the Bible, which I find very difficult to understand in Hebrews. Few Christian writers use the KJV exclusively anymore other than the minority group who hold to the belief that it is the only accurate English translation we have – so I am led to assume that Martin is one of that crowd. That being the case, I was surprised then to find places in his analysis where he offered what he thought would be a better translation of a certain word or phrase.
My biggest beef with the book, however, came before I even started chapter one. Martin ends his introduction saying, “This book is written only for the benefit of any who wish to read another's opinions (grammatical errors included) and reflections on this marvelous work of inspiration.” Grammatical errors included? He's not kidding about that. Angel is sometimes spelled angel and sometimes angle. Altar and alter are interchangeable, no matter which meaning is intended. Weird spacing errors . . . random capitalizations of words (with no consistency throughout even the paragraph that contains them) . . . blatant misspellings that a spellcheck would have found (beng?) . . . various wording errors that would have been easily caught by a close reading of the text. For an English teacher and self-proclaimed grammar diva, it was very distracting. Not that I'm a total snob – I could appreciate the points he was making even with the errors (which is apparently what he asked me to do there at the end of the introduction). But it is easy to get the impression that there wasn't a lot of care put into getting things right -- which is not the impression one wants to give of a scholarly work. I found myself searching for a biography of the author to determine whether he had the credentials to justify his claims on the biblical text (such a biography is not included, by the way – I'm left to simply trust that this guy knows what he's talking about).

In the end, I felt this was a work with good intentions, a work with good potential, but a work in search of a good editor. If you are not troubled by editorial needs and are looking for a new analysis of the book of Hebrews, you can find this one right here.

Disclosure:  I received this book free from the publisher through in exchange for an honest review.

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