Bible Commentary: Leviticus and Numbers – Interview with author Joe Sprinkle

Mount Sinai

Mount Sinai

Joe M. Sprinkle (PhD, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion) is professor of Old Testament at Crossroads College in Rochester, Minnesota. He is author of The Book of the Covenant: A Literary Approach and Biblical Law and Its Relevance, as well as articles in journals, dictionaries, and a study Bible.

1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on Leviticus and Numbers?

I became interested in Old Testament laws to a greater degree when I studied at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois under Walter Kaiser. His book Towards Old Testament Ethics influenced that interest. Then I studied for my Ph.D. at the Jewish seminary, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati where the Torah was emphasized. I ended up doing a dissertation on the so-called Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20:22-23:33) under Rabbi Dr. H. C. Brichto, and most of my publications subsequently have been in the area of biblical law. I was asked do a second draft translation editing of the Holman Christian Standard Bible’s book of Leviticus that got me into the exegesis of that book. Knowledge of my interest in Old Testament laws no doubt influenced the editor of the Teach the Text series, John Walton, to invite me to contribute to the series on Leviticus and Numbers.

2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

Anyone wanting a guide to understanding the meaning and relevance of Leviticus and Numbers should find the book valuable. The series is intended for pastors and lay teachers who actually intend to “Teach the Text.” A large women’s Bible study group at my church used it for their study of Numbers, and I got very positive feedback from that group. I have used it as a textbook for an undergraduate course in Numbers, and I think it works well as a college/seminary textbook too.

3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of Leviticus and Numbers?

The organization of each section places some stress in the historical-archaeological backdrop of each unit (where applicable). Each unit, in addition to exegesis, has guidance on how one could actually “teach the text” in a Christian context. There are also teaching illustrations at the end of each section (some of which were written by the publisher’s ghost-writer, but about 50% of these are mine). And there are profuse illustrations (photos, maps, charts, etc.) provided by the publisher (many at my suggestion) that add color and interest to books of the Bible that frankly could use a bit of that to maintain the interest of readers.

4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?

One thing that comes to mind is when I as I was studying the Balaam Cycle. I came to the conclusion that the the talking donkey scene was a flashback (resumptive repetition) to the dream-vision God gave Balaam earlier in the chapter. While the Jewish theologian Maimonides saw this centuries ago, I may be the first modern commentator to defend it. This is probably the most distinctive proposal I offer in the commentary.

5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

Writing on books that many Christians just skip over as not particular relevant has reconfirmed to me that “All Scripture is inspired by God . . . and profitable for teaching” (2 Tim 3:16), even parts that upon first glance seem not inspiring or profitable. I found that even the most unpromising chapters have relevance spiritually. However, the value in the non-narrative parts of these books is only seen by study and reflection, not just reading over them. I much enjoyed the occasion for doing this personally. And of course the laws of sacrifice continually reminded me of how these sacrifices foreshadow the sacrifice of Christ.

6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on Leviticus and Numbers?

For pure exegesis the massive commentaries on Leviticus and Numbers by Jacob Milgrom are unsurpassed. Milgrom left no stone unturned exegetically and his critical stance is such that even a conservative like me could find much of value there. Many ideas in my much more modestly sized commentary have been drawn from Milgrom’s 3000+ pages of dense comment on these books. Also the commentaries of Gordon Wenham on Leviticus and Numbers respectively are of much value. John Hartley on Leviticus and Dennis Cole’s commentary on Numbers are also excellent.

7. What’s next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

I am working on a commentary on Daniel for Broadman/Holman. People who like my work can look for that to appear in the next couple of years. It will emphasize the biblical theology of that book.


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