Michael Eschelbach is an LC-MS professor of theology and philosophy at Concordia University, Irvine, California. His CV is here.
Eschelbach has taught New Testament Introduction at Concordia Chicago and Concordia Irvine. The syllabus includes: “Students are required to submit two questions on the reading from the New Testament for each class meeting.
This book collects his answers to questions collected from more than forty sections of his course. Bible passages are ESV.
Eschelbach notes in the book’s introduction, “The questions have been lightly edited so the reader might see not just what the students asked but how they asked it.
“Unlike commentaries on books of the New Testament, this work only responds to questions that the content of the New Testament generates in the minds of college students. Some questions are more objective in nature and simple to answer; most questions indicate a difficulty in the text or a concept addressed in the text. The questions these students asked are significant. With few exceptions, each time I would read what the student submitted, I found myself thinking, ‘That’s a good question.’ Inviting students to ask their questions committed me to finding a way to explain the theology of the New Testament that would solve the puzzles it so often presents to its readers.”
In short, then, this book means to be a New Testament Bible class in print. It is designed for lay people, not pastors. Pastors/scholars generally seek more in-depth answers.
It pains your reviewer not to recommend this book, because it has so many positive aspects. Most questions and answers are biblical, not doctrinal. Few answers are more than a paragraph. You could share the vast majority with others. The two-column layout and typography of the book are pleasing.
But 1) the book needed better editing. For instance, two quibbles:
1a) “A meal of their own devises” (478). Either devices or devising would have been correct.
1b) “Christ was crucified in Jerusalem” (804). More precisely, “just outside” Jerusalem.
1c) Eschelbach talks about baptism in a number of places in a way that doesn’t fit Scripture. On baptism’s necessity, answering a question relating to Mark 16:16 (175): “Unless a person is ‘awash’ or ‘immersed’ in the Word of God, he or she cannot be saved.” This is unclear at best.
Similarly: “What is ‘washing of regeneration’ in Titus 3:5? Holy baptism. But Eschelbach answers, “a life awash in the Word, which regenerates the soul to life.” He makes similar statements on 338, 348 and 380. He says baptism and baptize have to do with establishing a relationship by immersing one thing in another (380).
BDAG isn’t that narrow. It defines βαπτίζω: “Use water in a rite for purpose of renewing or establishing a relationship w. God, plunge, dip, wash, baptize.”
1d) Eschelbach says that Acts 2:31 speaks of Christ’s descent into hell, and that no other verses besides Acts 2:31 and 1 Peter 3:19 support the language of the Apostles’ Creed about the descent into hell (755). But Acts 2:31 quotes Psalm 16:10. And not all scholars take either Psalm 16:10 or Acts 2:31 as referring to the descent into hell.
Lack of nuance:
1e) Editors could have refined Eschelbach’s opinions by adding more nuance. Amazon’s Search Inside feature says that Eschelbach uses the word “probably” 23 times and “perhaps” 95 times. More would have been better. For example commenting on 1 Timothy 2:14— “The woman was deceived because her compassionate instincts made her vulnerable to such” (653). Where does Scripture state this? “May have been deceived” seems more defensible.
1f) Similarly, Eschelbach, “The genealogy in Luke 3 is Mary’s” (12). Your reviewer agrees, but Scripture doesn’t say so explicitly.
1g) Eschelbach says the Magi were looking for the Messiah because of vestiges of what men like Daniel and Ezekiel left behind in Babylon (13). This is a good guess, but an unprovable one. And Eschelbach doesn’t cite the main pertinent verse which supports his guess, Daniel 2:48.
1h) On Matthew 3:11–12 the author says that baptizing with the Holy Spirit and with fire refers to Pentecost (16). That’s possible, but Paul Kretzmann, for example, disagreed. He thought it means: “those whose impenitent hearts would reject the purchased salvation He will immerse in fire.”
1i) Eschelbach gives several good guesses as to why Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights in the desert during his temptation by the devil, but Eschelbach does not call his answers guesses (17). He also does not mention Jesus’ active obedience to God in our place (a concept he mentions on the same page in connection with Jesus’ baptism). Eschelbach says the number of days and nights fasting was to correspond “to the number of days the spies were in the land of Canaan, which corresponds to the number of years Israel wandered in the desert.” He may be right, but Scripture does not say.
1j) Eschelbach says that there is no particular significance to the believers in Smyrna being put in prison for ten days (Revelation 2:10). He adds, “When there is significance for the number ten (as in the Ten Commandments), it has to do with what is required to live or realize life during our time in this world” (796). Your reviewer wishes Eschelbach had offered Scriptural proof for either assertion or had offered more nuance.
Doctrinal / moral errors:
2a) Commenting on 1 Corinthians 11:4–10, “What does this mean for us today? Are we supposed to keep our heads covered?” Eschelbach begins, “What Paul says here means the very same thing for all people of all times and places” (471). He qualifies his answer on the same page, and he gives a better answer about braided hair (1 Timothy 2:9–10, 651–652) yet …
2b) On 1 Corinthians 11:14, “Men who have long hair are going against what the Bible teaches” (475).
2c) On 2 Thessalonians 2:3–4, in answer to the question, “What distinguishes this antichrist from the many which are talked about in John?” Eschelbach answers, “Nothing; Paul and John are talking about the same thing that Jesus warned of in Mk 13:14 (1 Jn 2:18–19)” (645).
In Mark 13:14, though, Jesus seems to speak specifically of the abomination which caused God’s house in Jerusalem to be desolate when the Romans besieged and destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
Eschelbach does not cite the papacy in connection with the man of lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians 2.
2d) From 1 Corinthians 11:20–30, someone asks, “Can Lutheran and Catholics commune together?”
Eschelbach begins, “The answer to your question depends on the Lutheran church to which you belong” (478). The answer gets better after that, but the passages he cites at the end (2 Corinthians 10:4–6, 1 John 1:7 and Ephesians 4:13) aren’t the best ones to answer the question.
In short, this type of book likely ends up in a church or school library. In an ideal world, you could recommend it without caveats. To lay people, your reviewer could not.