Daniel Graham’s Review of WRITTEN FOR OUR INSTRUCTION: ESSAYS IN HONOR OF WILLIAM VARNER, edited by Abner Chou and Christian Locatell

Published on April 17, 2023 by Eugene Ho

Fontes Press, 2021 | 340 pages

A Book Review from Books At a Glance

by Daniel Graham 


Written for Our Instruction is an edited book published in honor of Dr. William Varner, currently professor of Biblical Languages and Bible Exposition at The Master’s University in California. Contributors to this volume include colleagues and students of Dr. Varner who have written chapters inspired by Dr. Varner’s diverse academic interests. Since his interests are so diverse, the essays in this volume span a number of different disciplines focused both on theoretical issues and practical application to Scripture. The editors note that they have placed essays focused on theoretical and methodological foundations first and more concrete essays dealing with particular texts and topics afterward (2).  


Summary of Contents

After a brief introduction from the editors summarizing the contents of the book, Herald Gandi provides a biographical sketch of Dr. Varner, highlighting his time as director of the Israel Bible Extension program at The Master’s University (9-10).  

Chapters 3-5 then cover various theoretical or methodological issues. Stanley Porter begins in chapter 3 with a comparison of discourse analysis and literary criticism. Porter provides a brief historical survey of the growth of these respective disciplines as well as their defining characteristics and concludes with a comparison of the methods. He notes that they differ in their definition of a text, assumption of where meaning lies (author, text, or reader), and analytical procedures. But Porter also notes that these methods share the goal of understanding language-use and both struggle to provide meaning that is transferable to the interpreter’s context (48-49). 

Then in chapter 4, Christian Locatell defends a polysemous approach to word meaning, arguing that words usually have multiple, related yet distinct meanings. Locatell first contrasts the usual extremes of either asserting that all words have one core meaning or providing an unrelated taxonomy of various word meanings (52-54). He then proposes that the cross-linguistic phenomenon of lexical words developing grammatical functions (grammaticalization) provides a path for understanding how the metaphorical extension of meaning becomes entrenched over time and causes contextual meanings to join the basic semantics of a given word. Using ὡς as an example, Locatell concludes that a map of word meaning which accounts for the extension of meaning over time provides a much better tool to define the meaning of words.

Drew Longacre concludes the methodological chapters in chapter 5 by comparing New Testament and Old Testament textual criticism. Longacre notes that these disciplines are often perceived as being hopelessly divided but argues that this division is artificial and unnecessary (88). He argues his case by exploring oft-cited divides between the disciplines and demonstrating how the divides either do not exist or are not as wide as often supposed. Exploring issues such as the number and temporal proximity of manuscripts, our understanding of the languages, the methodology and goals of text criticism, and available digital tools, Longacre demonstrates how OT and NT text criticism are more united than divided. He concludes with a plea for interdisciplinary dialogue that would greatly improve both disciplines (111). 

The remaining chapters in this book deal with concrete application of theory to biblical and early Christian literature. Michael Grisanti begins in chapter 6 by exploring the apparent contradiction between God’s command in Deuteronomy 10:16 for Israel to circumcise their hearts and His promise in Deuteronomy 30:6 that He will circumcise their hearts. He resolves this apparent contradiction by explaining that while there was always a remnant in the Old Covenant who internally adhered to God’s commands (fulfilling Dt 10:16), this inner adherence was not necessary or automatic in the Old Covenant but was promised by God to be an automatic part of the New Covenant (fulfilling Dt 30:6). 

Abner Chou follows this in chapter 7 by exploring a biblical theology of wilderness, arguing that David’s wilderness wanderings in 1 Samuel 21-26 form part of the biblical context for Jesus’ temptation in Matthew 4. After using discourse analysis to demonstrate the parallels between David’s and Jesus’ wilderness wanderings, Chou explains that Matthew portrays Jesus as the ultimate King of Israel who emerges from the wilderness to lead His people out of the wilderness (171). 

Both chapters 8 and 9 take up the concept of intertextuality. In chapter 8 Geoffrey Kirkland explores the use of Psalm 69:9 in Romans 15:3, noting how Paul challenges his readers to live a life that is radically God-centered so that they will feel the reproaches directed towards God and persevere in the hope that Christ offers as they bear with their weaker brothers. In chapter 9, Daniel Forbes explores the use of Psalm 118 in the synoptic versions of Passion Week. He argues that the various interpretive issues in this Psalm are often misunderstood and that the psalmist is not welcomed carte balance but is implicitly opposed at the gate (192, emphasis original). He further argues that the Gospel writers recognize this opposition as they apply Psalm 118 to Jesus’ rejection and passion in the final week of His life. 

Chapters 10 and 11 both explore early Christian Christology. Wyatt Graham first explores the Jewish-Hellenistic awareness of metaphysics to explain the plausibility of an early high Christology (211). He argues that the Old Testament presentation of both angels and the heavenly temple demonstrates a Jewish understanding of metaphysics related to Platonism. Graham then demonstrates how the Gospel of John’s portrayal of Jesus as divine draws on this Jewish metaphysic and makes plausible the reality of an early high Christology (234). Clifford Kvidahl then explores the high priestly Christology of the book of Hebrews. Kvidahl argues that Hebrews presents Jesus being installed as high priest at His ascension into heaven and not during His earthly ministry. This places the timing of the atonement at Jesus’s entry into the heavenly sanctuary, which accords with the earthly high priest who first makes a sacrifice and then enters the holy of holies to make atonement with the blood of the sacrifice (259).

In chapter 12, Chris McKinny explores biblical archaeology as he traces the itinerary of Gideon’s pursuit of the Midianites in Judges 7-8. After sifting through the evidence and proposals for the locations of various cities noted in these chapters, McKinny concludes that Gideon’s question to the Ephraimites “What have I done now in comparison to you?” (Judges 8:2 ESV) mockingly appeased the Ephraimites since Gideon’s journey and military feats greatly surpassed theirs. Todd Scacewater concludes the volume in chapter 13 by using discourse analysis to demonstrate the centrality of economic ethics in the Didache (an early Christian discipleship manual). Scacewater argues that the central concern of the Didache is for Christians to “watch over your lives in these last days, especially by not letting false teaches lead you astray from loving your neighbor” (301). Scacewater notes both the importance of economic concerns in loving one’s neighbor as well as the way that the economic ethics of false teachers reveals their deceit.  



As a volume in honor of Dr. Varner, Written for Our Instruction succeeds in exploring his diverse academic interests. This diversity is both a strength and a weakness of this volume. Positively, readers are exposed to several academic disciplines that will challenge them to carefully consider the biblical text in new ways. As a result, readers will be challenged to pursue their own well-rounded intellectual and devotional development. Particularly noteworthy in this regard is the inclusion of Wyatt Graham’s discussion of metaphysics, which begins to bring together the often-diverse fields of biblical and systematic theology. Several chapters also include challenges to the readers to not only think about the topic but to apply it to their own lives as Christians today, demonstrating how these various fields impact life in the 21st century. Negatively, the academic diversity of this volume could make it difficult to follow for readers unfamiliar with the various topics. None of these chapters are intended to serve as introductions to the topics they cover, so the unfamiliar reader may need to acquaint themselves with discipline in order to follow and evaluate each chapter. To aid readers, each chapter does provide ample references so readers can know where to go to gain an introduction to the topic at hand.

A number of the chapters in this volume explore controversial topics, so readers may not always agree with the conclusions proposed by the various authors. For example, in chapter 6 Michael Grisanti explores passages central to the dispensational-covenantal debate concerning the relation between the Old and New Testaments. He does not directly discuss this debate in his chapter, but his conclusion advocates for a definition of the Old Testament people of God often proposed by advocates of Progressive Covenantalism. Readers may also wrestle with Clifford Kvidahl’s argument for the timing of the atonement in chapter 11 and Daniel Forbes’ interpretation of Psalm 118 in chapter 9. While the conclusions in these chapters may be controversial, each author does defend his position well and offer ample evidence for readers to consider the merits of their conclusions.

Finally, given Dr. Varner’s interest in the biblical languages, readers who are not familiar with Greek and Hebrew may have a hard time following or enjoying this volume. Knowledge of Greek and Hebrew is not strictly required to read Written of Our Instruction since English translations are consistently provided; however, a basic knowledge of the biblical languages will greatly facilitate one’s ability to follow and evaluate the various positions in this book.


Daniel Graham

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Fontes Press, 2021 | 340 pages

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