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Logos Bible Software is offering Roy Harrisville’s 1 Corinthians commentary in the Augsburg Commentary series for free, and Frederick Danker’s 2 Corinthians in the same series for only 99 cents. Harrisville is a long time professor of New Testament at Luther Theological Seminary. He was one of the editors on the Augsburg Commentary series, wrote the Romans commentary in the same series. He has contributed many articles on theological topics in Lutheran Quarterly and “Before Pistis Christou: The Objective Genitive As Good Greek.” Novum Testamentum 48.4 (2006): 353-358. This 294-page commentary was originally published in 1987, and the series is intended for laypeople, students, and pastors. The commentary is based on the Revised Standard Version and there is very little Greek in the text of the commentary. It is very readable and helpful for pastors and laymen.
Frederick Danker is best known as the D in BDAG. He was the editor and reviser of the third edition of Bauer’s A Greek Lexicon of the New Testament. This 221-pages commentary was published in 1989. Like Harrisville, Danker is primarily focused on the English text, although there is more drawn from the Greek in this commentary. Danker has an excellent section on the cultural context of 2 Corinthians (p. 20-25) and these sorts of insights are found throughout the book.
As always Logos is giving away a set of the Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament, a $229 value.
Both of these books are excellent additions to your Logos library, so make sure to add them to your library before the end of the month.
Peter T. O’Brien is emeritus professor at Moore College in Sydney, Australia. He has already contributed major commentaries on Colossians and Philemon in the WBC (1982), Philippians in the NIGTC (1991) and Ephesians in the PNTC (1999).
Introductory Material. An introduction to Hebrews covers topics not necessary for other New Testament books. O’Brien’s 43 page introduction deals with authorship first, beginning with the traditional view Paul was the author, then examines the evidence for Barnabas or Apollos as authors before settling on an unknown author as the most satisfying solution.
Most commentaries on Hebrews devote a significant section to the situation of the readers, destination and date. After examining the possibility the readers were Gentile, he concludes that the preponderance of metaphors drawn from the Jewish religious system favor a Jewish Christian readership who are “apparently in danger of returning to a ‘reliance on the cultic structures of the old covenant’” (12). These readers were either in Rome or Jerusalem. O’Brien briefly surveys evidence for the view of the early church that the recipients were in Jerusalem and concludes the readers most likely lived in Rome, “even if it remains a hypothesis” (14). While not ruling out any date between about A. D. 60 and 90, “much of the evidence supports some time before 70.” This date is based on allusions to Claudius’s expulsion of Christians and the present activity of the Temple. In addition, he finds the lack of ecclesiastical structure in the book an indication of an earlier date.
O’Brien argues the genre of the book is “synagogue homily” akin to Paul’s sermon in Acts 13 and was intended to be read aloud in before a congregation. Like Paul’s sermon, Hebrews is can “exhortation” and both frequently use the pronoun “we.” Both make use of the “language of speaking and hearing” (20). The “skillful oscillation between exposition and exhortation” in the book creates a pattern “that allows the speaker to drive home his points immediately without losing the hearers” (21).
Despite general agreement that Hebrews is a literary masterpiece, there is little agreement on the major divisions of the book. The book is often divided into sections based on themes (F. F. Bruce, for example), but this method struggles to take into account the rhetorical feature of the book. Koester’s Anchor Bible commentary identifies sections of the book as exordium (1:1–2:4), proposition (2:5–9), arguments (2:10–12:27), a peroration (12:28–13:21), an epistolary postscript (13:22–25). Rhetorical analyses of the book have been helpful, but the book does not consistently conform to Greco-Roman rhetorical forms. Perhaps a better method for identifying the structure of the book is a literary analysis. Albert Vanhoye has pioneered this influential approach to the book. He divided the book into five units based on the use of literary devices (hook words, the repetitions of words or phrases): The name superior to angels (1:5–2:18); Christ’s faithfulness and compassion (3:1–5:10); the central exposition on sacrifice (5:11–10:39); faith and endurance (11:1–12:13); the peaceful fruit of justice (12:14–13:19). As influential as Vanhoye’s proposal has been, O’Brien finds Hebrews to be more linear than Vanhoye’s complicated chiasm permits.
A final method for identifying the structure of a book is discourse analysis. This method is gaining popularity in recent years. George Guthrie examined the book using the method of discourse analysis while being “sensitive to literary and oratorical conventions of the first century” (29). Discourse analysis observes shifts between “cohesion fields” such as genre, topic, temporal indicators, spatial indicators, actor, subject, verb tense, mood, person, and number, reference, and lexical items. This means a shift from exposition or exhortation, for example, is a marker for the reader in the author’s overall argument. O’Brien finds Guthrie’s structure a helpful visualization of the book of Hebrews, although he differs from it in some details. O’Brien compares Guthrie’s discourse analysis with Cynthia Long Westfall, who organizes the book “around the structures of mood and voice, as expressed by performatives, that is, hortatory subjunctives” (33).
O’Brien includes a section in his introduction placing Hebrews in the first century world. The influence of Graeco-Roman culture is found primarily in its “elegant language and elevated rhetoric” and the book’s use of the categories of honor and shame (36). Most commentaries on Hebrews discuss the influence of Philo of Alexandria on the writer of Hebrews. O’Brin states there is now “considerable doubt as to whether the author of Hebrews knew the writings of Philo” (37). This is also the case for the influence of Gnosticism on the book, since Gnostic literature postdates Hebrews and “there is virtually no first-century evidence for a Gnostic redeemer myth” (38). While O’Brien thinks Hebrews includes apocalyptic element comparable to the Dead Sea Scrolls, he recognizes scholarship is not in agreement as to the function of apocalyptic in Second Temple Judaism in general or Hebrews in particular. While there are some similarities between Hebrews and the literature of the Qumran community, there are “striking linguistic and conceptual differences” (40).
Finally in the introduction, O’Brien comments on the origins of Christianity and the book of Hebrews. This is necessary because scholarship on Hebrews often suggest the author drew on either Pauline theology or a Jewish Christianity as represented by the apostles represented by 1 Peter or the preaching of Hellenists such as Stephen. After examining the usual evidence for a Pauline influence, O’Brien conclude “the author of Hebrews drew his ideas from Paul, this is unlikely” (41), but he also rejects any dependence on 1 Peter or the speech of Stephen in Acts 7.
Hebrews does have similarities to other New Testament books, but ultimately “these affinities show that Hebrews is located within the mainstream of early Christian tradition” (43).
The Commentary. The body of the commentary follows the same pattern the other Pillar commentaries. After a translation of the text, O’Brien set the context of the pericope and proceeds through the text in a phrase-by-phrase fashion. The main text deals with English text, all Greek appears in the footnotes. While he occasionally interacts with scholarship in the main text, much of this is relegated to the footnotes. This makes for a readable commentary. There is one excursus on Christ as Divine Wisdom (53-4). Although it is labeled “Note 1” there is no other note in the book.
Since Logos Bible Software provided me the review copy of this book, I will comment on the usability of the book in the Logos Library. I used a laptop and an iPad to read the book. All of tools Logos provides are available for this book. The in-line search feature can be used to find all occurrences of any give word in the main text and footnotes. For example, there are 127 references to Philo, three reference to Nero. These searches are “fuzzy,” meaning a search for “eschatology” hits eschatological as well. Logos can display a single line of context for an in-line search, but also a paragraph or article. All biblical texts are linked in the commentary, hovering over the text will float the scripture in a window, clicking will align linked Bibles to the text selected. This works for non-canonical texts as well. Since I have Philo in my library, I can click on a reference and go to the text. This works for Josephus and the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha as well.
There are a few minor difference in the iPad version. For example, the individual sections of the table of contents are not hyperlinked. I do find the Logos reader to be the best available. If the book is downloaded to the device, footnotes appear at the bottom of the page, and real page numbers are displayed. When I read I usually take notes in Evernote and often cut and paste text from Logos to a note. Logos has a good note-taking and highlighting utility that syncs iPad and Desktop versions.
Conclusion. O’Brien’s commentary is an excellent contribution to the study of the book of Hebrews. It does not present any radical views on the controversial introductory issues and in many ways it is quite traditional. O’Brien’s exegetical insights are important and the book ought to be one of the “first off the shelf” for pastors and Bible teachers for years to come.
NB: Thanks to Logos Bible Software / Faithlife for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.
Beale, G. K. with David H. Campbell. Revelation: A Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2014. 576 pp. Pb; $35. Link to Eerdmans
Greg Beale’s commentary on Revelation in the New International Greek Text Commentary series was published in 1999 (briefly reviewed here). At than 1300 pages, the book was ponderous to say the least. A paperback version of this commentary was released in 2013, but at $78 retail the volume is still priced out of the range of most pastors and Bible teachers. Hardback copies of the commentary are available on Amazon for well over $100. By reducing the size (and price) of the commentary by more than half, Beale contributes a commentary most Bible will find valuable for understanding this very difficult New Testament book.
What is different in this shorter commentary? First, there are some obvious cosmetic changes that save a great deal of space. He has removed direct references to the Greek text, although his exegesis is based on the Greek Bible. When Greek or Hebrew appears in the commentary, it is in transliteration. Often the larger commentary would use a smaller font to deal with a meticulous detail of the Greek text, these sections are completely removed from the shorter commentary.
Second, Beale has removed footnotes to secondary literature. This makes for a very readable commentary, although more advanced readers will want to know the source of some assertions. Beale says in the preface his “longer commentary serves as one big footnote to this shorter commentary” (viii).
Third, Beale has also removed various excurses in the larger commentary which focused on details of the text that are not necessary in this shorter commentary, including all his sections on Jewish interpretations of Old Testament passages used in Revelation. For example in the larger commentary he has a section on the Jewish legal background of Satan as an accuser in Revelation 12:10. This is omitted in the shorter commentary, since it is a detailed examination of Second Temple Literature and goes beyond the scope of the shorter commentary.
Fourth, the original commentary had a 177-page introduction; the shorter commentary has only 34 pages. Many of the main issues covered in the original commentary or simply inappropriate for this shorter, handier commentary. For example, the original commentary had a long section on the plan in the structure of John’s apocalypse. Beale compared various views of how the seals, trumpets and bowls are structured. The original commentary had a section on the use of the Old Testament in the Apocalypse. Since writing his commentary he has contributed several other works on the topic, but this shorter commentary reduces this complicated discussion to just a few pages with no reference to other ways of approaching the topic. Once again this is simply a result of shrinking the commentaries size and making it more useful for a pastor or a teacher. There are quite a few other monographs available on the topic of the Old Testament in Revelation (by Beale and others), this commentary can only sketch the issues involved.
Fifth, this shorter commentary includes more than sixty “Suggestions for Reflection” to help readers better grasp the relevance of Revelation to their lives and our world today. These are all new paragraphs which focus on application, or perhaps they can be considered “preaching tips.” Applying the book of Revelation is always very difficult, so Beale’s comments are welcome. Commenting on in the fourth trumpet in Rev 8:6-12, Beale draws an application on the purpose of disasters within the plan of God (179). There are obviously some places in Revelation which are easier to apply than others, such as the seven churches.
Something that stays the same in this short commentary is Beale’s approach to the book. In his introduction he offers a very short summaries of the classic positions on Revelation (Preterism, Historicism, and Futurism), but ultimately finds a “Redemptive-Historical-Idealist view” the most useful. This is not to say he rejects all futurist application of the book, but he wants to separate his work on Revelation from the sort of populist “Left Behind” style presentations of Revelation. He is not a futurist, and he certainly not a dispensationalist. He makes it very clear in his comments on Rev 20 that the millennium is inaugurated during the Church Age as the church limits Satan’s power and deceased Christians begin to reign in heaven. Yet there is a future rebellion after which a final judgment will occur “at the end of world history” (458).
Conclusion. I have used Beale’s larger commentary for years and find it highly valuable because of his interest in the use of the Old Testament in Revelation. David Aune’s 1200+ page, three volume work in the Word Commentary series was completed just prior to Beale’s NIGTC and is every bit as valuable, although for different reasons. It is hard for me to overstate the value of recognizing the way John crafts the Old Testament into a new apocalyptic prophecy, Beale is a master at explaining how John has used his sources in order to communicate the story of the Old Testament to a new generation. This shorter commentary on Revelation is a welcome contribution to the ongoing study of the book of Revelation.
NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.
Garrett, Duane A. A Commentary on Exodus. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2014. 741 pp. Hb; $39.99. Link to Kregel, including a sample PDF of the first 50 pages of the introduction.
Duane Garret’s commentary on Exodus is the latest installment in the Kregel Exegetical Library (Alan Ross on Psalms, Robert Chisholm on Judges and Ruth). Garrett is well-known for his work in Wisdom Literature (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs in the NAC series, Song of Songs / Lamentations in the WBC, and a forthcoming commentary on Job in the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary series from Logos) as well as the Hosea and Joel volume in the NAC series. He has contributed a textbook Classical Hebrew (B&H).
In his introduction, Garrett identifies several features of his commentary. First, he attempts to give readers short introduction to Egyptian history culture language and geography. While this appears primarily in the introduction, the commentary itself often sets the text in a historical context. Second, he attempts to state the “evidence and arguments over crucial questions.” Obviously these will include things like the date of the Exodus and the location of Sinai. His goal is to “walk readers through the complexities involved.” Although he reaffirms the reliability of the text, he does not distort the evidence in order to produce a “conservative answer.”
Third, Garrett analyzes Hebrew prose on a clause-by-clause basis. This is truly an exegetical commentary on the Hebrew text of Exodus. In this respect, the commentary is challenging to read for those with limited Hebrew language skills. Fourth, Garrett tries to argue the book of Exodus contains a series of poems in addition to the Song of the Sea (Exod 15). Fifth, Garrett attempts to make this commentary useful for pastors and Bible teachers. He does not want to neglect what he calls “thorny problems,” but often relegates the details of his arguments to the footnotes. Last, Garrett reads Exodus is as a Christian theologian. He pays attention to the New Testament and Christian doctrine knowing the commentary will be used by Christian ministers, pastors, and Sunday school teachers as they prepare sermons and lessons based on this important Old Testament book.
The commentary is worth purchasing for the 145 page introduction to the book of Exodus. If I were teaching a class on Exodus (or even the Pentateuch) I would assign this section as a textbook since it summarizes many of the key problems for interpreters of Exodus in a very readable format.
First, the introduction discusses the sources and composition of the book of Exodus. While he does briefly treat the documentary hypothesis, he is more interested in recent studies in the “Book of the Covenant (Joe Sprinkle) or T. D. Alexander’s study of the unity of Exodus 19:1-24:11. If someone attempts to study the sources of Exodus, there are more up-to-date methods to explore than “continually flogging the dead horse of the documentary hypothesis” (20).
Second Garrett deals with the Hebrew text of Exodus and the translation method used in the commentary. For prose, he translates each clause separately, for poetry he attempts to make use of the cantillation system for translating lines of Hebrew text.
Third, Garrett been offers a lengthy discussion of Egyptian History, including brief summaries of the reigns of key Pharaohs in the New Kingdom since this is the period in which the Exodus occurred. He follows Kenneth Kitchen closely with respect to chronology.
The fourth section of the introduction is perhaps the most important. In reading a commentary on Exodus, most readers will immediately turn to the section on date of the Exodus. In this sixty-page section, Garrett discusses a range of options for the date of the Exodus. This introduction covers both the early and late dates for the date of the Exodus, but also “very early” and very late” dates. Garrett even includes several “eccentric positions.” This is one of the best essays I have read on the date of the Exodus! Garret points out each one of these positions have support from Scripture when interpreted in a literal, “most obvious” sense and each has at least some archaeological support. None of these positions should be described as the “liberal” or “conservative” view.
He concludes: “the exodus, we may be sure, did happen as described in the Bible. On the other hand, we must be humble about our ability to assign it to a specific date” (101). He recommends that a Bible teacher for Pastor should simply avoid specifying the exodus took place during the reign of any specific pharaoh. The book of Exodus is simply called him “the pharaoh.” Having surveyed several eccentric views, Garrett also warns readers to avoid any revisionist Egyptian history. As he says “the Internet is awash in a weird theories of who the Pharaoh of the Exodus was together with major revisions of Biblical chronology that supposedly solve all the problems” (102). Despite the fact that Garrett does not specify a particular date or pharaoh for the Exodus he says that “I see nothing the causes me to distrust the Biblical account” (103). This sort of faith commitment to Scripture and agnosticism towards history may frustrate some less-conservative readers of the commentary. His dismissal of eccentric views will certainly anger readers who are committed to these fringe views. Yet I find Garrett’s comments appropriate and measured considering our lack of knowledge for the details of this period of Israel’s history.
Another major issue users of a commentary on Exodus are interested in is the location of the Red Sea (yam suph) and Mount Sinai. He summarizes a “southern Sinai Peninsula theory” supported by Hoffmeier and a “NorthwestArabia theory” offered by Colin Humphreys, a physicist from Cambridge University. A third view begins with Paul’s statement in Galatians 4:25 that Sinai is in Arabia. Garrett asks, which Arabia would Paul refer to? It is entirely possible that Transjordan and the region of the east of the Dead Sea could be described fairly as Arabia when Paul wrote. Garrett concludes that Humphreys’s solution is the best available and that the Red Sea is the north end of the Gulf of Aqaba (134).
After all of this historical detail Garrett concludes the introduction to the commentary with a brief eight page summary of the message of Exodus. This section places Exodus is within the overall narrative of Old Testament theology. Particularly useful is the section on the nature of Yahweh. He also offers a few comments on the presentation of Moses in the book. Garret devotes about a page on “Egypt as a symbol of worldly power.” Since there is a great deal of theology of liberation based on God’s rescue of his suffering, poor people from the oppressive government of Egypt, I would have expected a longer section here.
The body of the commentary breaks the book of Exodus into sections. Each section begins with a phrase by phrase translation. In sections Garrett finds poetry, he includes the phrase-by-phrase translation along with the Hebrew portion and an indication of syllable count. This will help the reader to follow the flow of the Hebrew poetry. Garrett deals with Hebrew grammatical matters in footnotes. These notes deal primarily with matters of Hebrew syntax although occasionally he will discuss lexical issues.
Each section structured into an outline prior to the commentary proper. Within the commentary Garrett occasionally refers to the Hebrew or Greek text without transliteration. For the most part Garrett does not interact a great deal with other commentaries, but occasionally there are a few footnotes pointing to key articles for positions in other commentaries. After the commentary section Garrett offers a few theological summaries by way of bullet points. These are simple observations based on the commentary and will be very useful for pastors and teachers working through Exodus. There are a few excursus scattered through the commentary.
Conclusion. I find this commentary to be one of the best that I have read in the Kregel Exegetical Library so far. The introductory material is superlative and worth the price of the book alone. Garrett writes as a believer, yet as a scholar who is intimately aware of the historical complexities of the book of Exodus. His comments on the Hebrew text are excellent and reflect an expert knowledge of Hebrew syntax and grammar. While these features may challenge some readers this commentary is nevertheless an excellent resource for pastors and teachers hoping to preach the book of Exodus.
NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.
Martin, Ralph P. 2 Corinthians. Second Edition. Word Biblical Commentary 40; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2014. 751 pp. Hb; $54.99. Link to Zondervan Academic
This is the first revised commentary I have used in the Word Biblical Commentary since Zondervan took over the series a few years ago. Martin’s original 2 Corinthians commentary was among the best commentaries on this difficult letter of Paul. Zondervan’s new updated edition of the commentary will remain one of the first off the shelf for me for many years to come.
There are a few cosmetic changes that make a great deal of sense. First, the introductory pages now use Arabic numerals rather Roman numerals. It was always frustrating in the old WBC series to cite pages by Roman numeral: citing page xxviii looks clumsy. Second, all of the excurses in the commentary are printed on gray pages making them easy to find. I noticed that some of the original excurses are not identified as such in this new addition. Rather, they are simply “notes” on particular issues. It appears the note is only a few pages and an excursus is several pages long. It appears the original commentary excurses are now called notes.
One unfortunate change to the series is that Zondervan has printed the hardback edition of this book without a slip jacket. This simple cosmetic change likely saved the publisher money and made the book less expensive to the consumer, but I personally have never liked the look of printed boards on a hardback book. In additional change is that the paper is not as high-quality as the earlier Word editions. However, these criticisms are simply a reflection of the cost of printing a book today. (I was told by a Zondervan insider that all WBC commentaries will be reprinted this way.)
Martin has revised the text of the commentary in order to correct what he calls a “few slips” and to update abbreviations (BDAG for Bauer’s third edition) and to improve the reading of the text. Since it took him 10 years to write the original commentary, Martin explains he is “not inclined to meddle with the text.” As a result, there is not much new in the actual commentary.
Instead of updating the main text of the commentary, Martin includes several new excurses written by colleagues. First, Carl N. Toney contributes a 13-page excursus on the “Composition of Second Corinthians (1985-2007).” Like all sections in the WBC, this begins with a lengthy bibliography including works written before 1985. He compares several partition theories and discusses where the text breaks in 2:14 through 7:4. He concludes by supporting the view of the commentary, arguing chapters 1-9 were written as a distinct letter prior to chapters 10-13 and that “the reduction of these chapters points to the importance of reading them in their final form” (63).
Toney contributes a second lengthy excursus on “Rhetorical Studies of 2 Corinthians.” Rhetorical studies of Paul’s epistles have multiplied since 1985, so this excursus brings the commentary up-to-date in this area. Toney begins by discussing providing a brief overview of rhetorical studies in general and offers several comments on the theological value of rhetorical analysis.
A third new excursus in this commentary is on the “Social Setting of 2 Corinthians” by Mark W. Linder. As with rhetorical studies, cross-disciplinary studies using social science have been applied to Paul’s letters with great profit since the original commentary was published. Linder sites specifically Bruce Winters, After Paul left Corinth, Wayne Meeks, The First Urban Christians and Gerd Theissen, Social Setting. Perhaps even more influential on Pauline studes is Danker’s 1989 commentary on 2 Corinthians and his work on The Collection.
Martin contributes another excursus on the “Opponents of Paul in 2 Corinthians.” This essay was published in the Earl Ellis Festschrift in 1987. It is reprinted here as an update to the commentary, although it is nearly as old as the original commentary. Martin surveys the common suggestions that Paul’s opponents were “Judaizers” or “Hellenists.” He points out that Paul is respectful of the “highest apostles” in 11:5, but he “fiercely lambasted” the false apostles as Satan’s agents (113). Paul’s gospel embodies a “theology of the Cross” while these false-apostles preach a “theology of Glory.” Since Paul suffers greatly, is physically weak and an ineffective miracle worker, his opponents ridicule him and dismiss his Gospel.
The commentary now includes an essay Martin originally published in the Festschrift for G. R. Beasley-Murray, “The Spirit in 2 Corinthians in the light of the ‘Fellowship of the Holy Spirit’: 2 Corinthians 13:14.” Martin updates the original excursus on “Theology and Mission of 2 Corinthians” with an essay originally published in Gospel to the Nations (IVP 2000).
Carl Toney writes an excursus on the resurrection into Corinthian’s in the context of 2 Corinthians 5. After surveying 1 Cor 15 and 2 Cor 5, Toney summarizes several approaches to the resurrection found in the commentaries. He concludes the two passage are discussing the same kind of resurrection and Paul’s language does emphasize a “physical, somatic resurrection” (254-5). While 1 Cor 15 describes the resurrection as a transformation at the Parousia, 2 Cor 5 discusses the resurrection in the light of present suffering and the possibility of death.
As an introduction to chapters 8-9 there is a brief note on the Pauline Collection which is more or less the same as the original commentary. But the older excursus is supplemented by a short note from D. J. Downs updating the discussion with material from 1985 through 2000. Downs maintains Martin’s view that the Pauline collection was intended to address “a real material need among the Saints in Jerusalem.” But the collection also likely served other needs as well such as “a tangible expression of the mutual relationship shared by Jews and Gentiles” (424).
Conclusion. I am pleased the venerable Word Biblical Commentary is being updated. Some of the volumes are in need of replacement; most are in need of the sort of updating demonstrated in Martin’s 2 Corinthians. The cosmetic changes are acceptable, especially if these changes keep the cost of printing lower. If you have the original commentary, the added sections make this update worth while.
NB: I purchased this book for my personal library. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.
Chung-Kim, Esther and Todd R. Hains, editors. Acts. Reformation Commentary on Scripture: New Testament 6. Downers Grover, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2014. 430 pp. Hc; $40.00. Link
This is the latest installment in the Reformation Commentary Series (RCS). Following in the footsteps of the popular Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture from InterVarsity, this commentary collects key sections from Reformation commentators and presents them in an accessible format for the modern reader. Esther Chung-Kim is a professor of Religious Studies at Claremont McKenna College specializing in the History of World Christianity and Todd Hains is a PhD candidate in historical theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity.
Timothy George’s General Introduction to the RCS is a good 23 page refresher on what constitutes the literature of the Reformation in terms of chronology and confession. There is far more to read from this period than just Luther and Calvin. This commentary therefore includes Erasmus as a biblical humanist as well as obvious examples from (Wittenberg, Luther; Strasbourg, Bucer; Zurich, Zwingli; Geneva, Calvin). There are also examples from the British reformation (including John Donne and William Perkins) and a few from the Anabaptist tradition.
The editors draw together a few key themes in their introduction to the commentary on Acts. First, the reformation commentators thought of themselves as “actors on the same stage” as the apostles in Acts. Acts was not history to a writer like John Donne, it is the story of what continues to happen in the present experience of the Church. In fact, Acts provided Reformation commentators an opportunity to discuss the “office of the Word,” or how one goes about preaching the Gospel. An additional interest of the Reformation commentators is baptism. This is not surprising given the variety of views sacrament during this period of history as well as the inconsistency of Acts in portraying the rite. In the body of this commentary, diverse opinions are included, so that from the text of Acts 2:42 Michael Sattler (a Swiss radical, 1490-1527) can argue circumcision is not a type of baptism, Peter Walpot (a Moravian radical, d. 1578) can dismiss infant baptism, and the Augsburg Confession (1530) argues in favor of efficacious infant baptism (p. 32-33). Luther can turn Paul’s baptism in Acts 9 into a defense of infant baptism, while Leonhard Schiemer (an Austrian martyr, d. 1528) uses the same text to argue for believer’s baptism (146-7).
Another interest of the Reformation commentaries on Acts is treatment of the poor. The church had to deal with the poor in a world that was rapidly changing. While Calvin and the Geneva reformers sought to create a kind of social welfare system to assist the poor, immigrants and others displaced by political turmoil, the radical reformers were abolishing personal property and living lives of voluntary poverty. Obviously the Munster radicals did not write commentaries on Acts, but the model of Acts 2:42-47 was taken seriously. Peter Walpot is included as a voice declaring personal property to be the source of all kinds of sin, while Calvin and others argue for the proper use of property from the same texts.
One of the most important themes of Acts which resonated with the Reformation commentators is suffering for the faith. As Chung-Kim and Hains state, the Reformation “caused a revolution in the Christian theology of suffering” (liv). Menno Simons, for example, describes Paul’s suffering at Lystra as an example of the “misery, tribulation, persecution, bonds, fear and death” that attests the Spirit of Liberty (198).
The body of the commentary begins with the ESV text of Acts followed by a brief overview of the pericope. The editors then collect brief extracts from Reformation commentaries in two columns, providing a short summarizing heading in bold type. The name of the writer appears first in small caps, followed by the extract. Latin is given in brackets when necessary. The entry concludes with the name of the work and a footnote provides the reader necessary bibliographic information on the entry. There are no sidebars or explanations of the details of the text of Acts (with the exception of a chart on the Herodian dynasty in Acts 12, p. 162). Since the purpose of the commentary is to report the interpretations of the Reformers, this is to be expected.
The book concludes with several appendices, including a map of Europe during the Reformation and a timeline for events in the Reformation countries for the years 1337-1691. There is a 23 page collection of biographical sketches of the Reformers collected in the commentary as well as short descriptions of key documents and confessions of the period. A bibliography of primary sources is included along with several indices. The bibliography lists online resources where available.
Conclusion. Like the Ancient Christian Commentary series, this book is not a commentary on the text Bible as much as a collection of observations Acts drawn from a narrow range of history. While some of these issues seem obtuse to the modern reader, many questions the Reformation raised when they read Acts are similar in nature to what Christians ask 500 years later. The editors of the volume are to be commended for culling through a massive literature in order to find salient points of contact over this long period of church history.
One contribution of the series is to provide English translations for some Reformers who have yet to be translated. By arranging these readings in a semi-topical fashion, the editors make it quite easy for the non-expert to read what might be an overwhelming and bewildering commentary. A good introduction to reading Reformation writers for those interested is Reading Scripture with the Reformers by the Reformed Commentary series editor Timothy George.
NB: Thanks to InterVarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.
Logos Bible Software has a great deal on 24 “classic commentaries” on Mark. The current community price bid is $30 for all 24 volumes, so a lilttle more that a dollar a book. Logos has produced a good number of these “classic” sets, providing a good value on resources that are not readily available. By getting in on the community price bid, you can get the books for far less than they will cost later.
By classic, they mean old (published between 1860–1954). Some of these are not particularly valuable; I am not sure I would purchase Arthur Ritchie’s Spiritual Studies in St. Mark’s Gospel even at a dollar a volume. (Ritchie was the rector at St. Ignatius’ Church in New York at the end of the 19th century and wrote several multi-volume “spiritual studies” sets.) There are commentaries from Lyman Abbott and William Kelley; both were of interest when they were published but are quite dated. Some of the commentaries are of historical interest, however. Leicester Ambrose Sawyer’s First Gospel, Being the Gospel according to Mark (1864) is an interesting insight in to the state of Mark and Q studies int he mid-19th century. Benjamin Bacon’s Is Mark a Roman Gospel? (Harvard University Press, 1919) is well worth a browse as well.
An added value for some scholars will be several foreign language commentaries. In French, the collection includes Marie-Joseph Lagrange (Évangile selon Saint Marc, 1935). Lagrange was the founder of the École Biblique in Jerusalem as well as the journal Revue Biblique in 1892.
There are three German commentaries as well. Reading these in the Logos format will be much easier since older German books were printed in the older letters (Fraktur). There are three German commentaries in the collection, including Julius Wellhausen’s Das Evangelium Marci übersetzt und erklärt,originally published in 1903. While Wellhausen is better known for his OT studies, this commentary on Mark is a significant contribution since he argues the priority of Mark against the hypothetical “Q” document. Another name associated with OT studies is included August Klostermann (Das Markusevangelium nach seinem Quellenwerthe für die evangelische Geschichte, 1867). Finally, the collection has a commentary by Bernard Weiss (Die Geschichtlichkeit des Markusevangelium, 1905).
Is the set worth $30? I think that it is, since I might have paid that for Lagrange and Wellhausen alone if I ran across them in a used book store. Head over to Logos, browse the list and decide for yourself.
Chisholm, Robert B. A Commentary on Judges and Ruth. Kregel Exegetical Library; Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2014. 697 pp. Hb; $39.99. Link.
Long time Dallas Theological Seminary professor Robert Chisholm wrote Interpreting the Historical Books for Kregel’s Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis series. This new commentary on Judges and Ruth in the Kregel Exegetical Library offers a more detailed application of Chisholm’s method from that introduction. He describes this method as a “literary-theological” method (p. 14). By this he means that he attempts to track the author’s literary strategies in the canonical form of the book in order to identify the text’s theological message.
The introduction to Judges (88 pages) begins with an overview of the literary structure of the book. With respect to chronology, Chisholm is open to the idea that the three major judges overlap with earlier material (p.22), although this is not critical to a literary-theological reading of the book, although he makes an attempt to create a chronology of the period (p. 34-53). After surveying a number of options, he argues for the Exodus about 1260 B.C., the invasion of Canaan in 1220 B.C. with the completion about 7 years later. The chronology of Judges begins in 1190 (Judg 3:8) and ends with Samson’s 20-year leadership sometime between 1110 and 1070. This overlaps with Eli’s 40 years at Shiloh (1130-1090) in 1 Samuel; the anointing of Saul is about 1050. This chronology does not differ much from other conservative writers, although it will not please everyone.
Chisholm is inclined to date the book before David and he detects something of an anti-Benjamin/anti-Ephraimite agenda (p. 66). While Judges is not wholly “pro-Judah” it does seem to argue Israel needs a strong, godly king. Chisholm is content to see the book as in the context of an early Davidic dynasty, although it is entirely possible this message would have been of interest in the late Solomonic period or just after the split. For example, Dale DeWitt’s unpublished dissertation “The Jephthah Traditions: A Rhetorical and Literary Study in the Deuteronomistic History” argues for a post Solomonic context for Judges.
Of interest is Chisholm’s eleven page section entitled “What Role Do the Female Characters Play?” (69-80). There are indeed a large number of female characters in the book and many of them are portrayed in a very positive light (Deborah is a judge, Jael kills Sisera, Delilah gets the best of Samson), although others are tragic figures Sisera’s mother, Jephthah’s daughter, the Levite’s concubine). For Chisholm, the book portrays strong women as warriors and leaders in contrast to the weak spiritual leadership of men like Barak and Jephthah. Ultimately the “downward spiral of Judges” paves the way for Hannah, the woman who gives birth to Samuel at the darkest moment in the Judges period, who will anoint David as king.
In his 32-page introduction to Ruth Chisholm surveys the bewildering number of suggestions for the genre of Ruth. Since he does not care much for form-critical categories, he focuses on the literary and theological nuances of the book. He therefore highlights the fact that God is concerned for the needy and rewards those who demonstrate loving kindness (hesed) such as Ruth and Boaz. While he notices the canonical placement of the book of Ruth after Proverbs, Chisholm does not treat the book as wisdom literature. To me this is an important oversight since the book does illustrate via narrative the type of woman described in Prov 31:10-31 as well as the way a person of wisdom demonstrates hesed.
Each section of the commentary begins with a translation and narrative structure analysis. The translation is a “slightly revised version” of his contribution to the NET version. Chisholm breaks English verse into Hebrew phrases in order to visually demonstrate the flow of the original. He then assigns a narrative tag to these Hebrew phrases (initiatory, focusing, complementary, sequential, etc.) These categories are briefly described in the introduction (pp. 81-86) and Chisholm devoted the first chapter of Interpreting the Historical Books to reading narrative. The footnotes in this section of the commentary are concerned with narrative features of the Hebrew clauses and occasionally textual variants.
After a short comment on the literary structure of the pericope, Chisholm proceeds to the exposition of the text. This follows an outline developed from his narrative reading and covers sub-units rather than a phrase-by-phrase commentary. Hebrew occasionally appears in this expositional section without transliteration, but a reader without knowledge of Hebrew will be able to follow the commentary. More technical details of Hebrew syntax appear in the footnotes. Chisholm occasionally interacts with other major commentaries on Judges and Ruth, although this usually appears in the footnotes. The result is a very reading exposition of the text which provides sufficient detail for pastors and teachers presenting sermons and lessons on Judges and Ruth.
Following the exposition of the text, Chisholm offers a section entitled “Message and Application.” First, he includes a few “thematic emphases” of the pericope. These are exegetical in nature and are closely connected to the text examined. Second, he gives some “theological principles” drawn from the section. These are broader than the thematic observations, connecting to theological themes of the whole book and to the rest of the Hebrew Bible. Not surprisingly, the theological teaching in Judges often centers on sin and its effects, while in Ruth God’s sovereignty is the main feature. Third, Chisholm offers a few “homiletical trajectories” intended to give a preacher some hints at how they might present the text in a sermon. For each, Chisholm gives a short “exegetical idea,” “theological idea,” and “preaching idea” summarizing the section. For a busy pastor preparing a sermon on Judges or Ruth, these sections will be the most valuable.
Conclusion. Chisholm’s commentary on Judges and Ruth is an excellent exposition of the text from a conservative scholar. For the most part he assumes the historicity of the text and ignores any discussion of potential sources or anachronisms. He specifically eschews these methods in the introduction (p. 15), characterizing these as “creative scholarly conjecture” (p. 30). He considers revisions of Noth’s Deuteronomisitc History to be a “debate going around in circles” (55). His exposition of the text is based on the assumption the book was intended to be read as a literary whole.
There is less historical background material in this commentary than might be expected. Major commentaries on Old Testament books can become bloated with material accessible in other resources (Bible Dictionaries for example). Since his interests are literary and theological, there is no need to offer descriptions of geographical locations or comments on archaeology (or the lack thereof) as background to the stories.
I would recommend the book to pastors and teachers who are preparing sermons on the often overlooked book of Judges. Chisholm’s exposition is easy to read and provides excellent illumination of the text for the purpose of serving the Church today.
NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.
Here is a link to three reviews of Craig Keener’s Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, Volume 1 on Review of Biblical Literature. Keener’s commentary is a a masterpiece, the introduction is at least three or four monographs worth of material.
Richard I. Pervo is quite complementary, despite a careful review of Keener’s view of the value of the history of Acts. Even though Keener does not accept Pervo’s view on Acts as Novel, Pervo finds much in this commentary similar to his own thinking. Pervo argues in this review that “every episode should be evaluated for historical worth on its own merits,” rather than resorting to literary or historical theories in each case. For the most part Keener does not interact with Pervo since his work was more or less finished by the time that Pervo’s commentary was released.
Joseph B. Tyson looks more closely at Keener’s approach to “Acts as an apologetic historiography.” As he states, it is hard to judge how this will work out in the commentary since the only the first two chapters are included in the first volume. But it is clear that Keener is willing to accept more as historical than most modern commentaries, especially miracles. “to dismiss claims about miracles is a Western ethnocentric, largely academic, worldview and that an unbiased approach would consider their possibility,” writes Tyson. This is not really a surprise since Keener has also written a lengthy defense of miracles.
Daniel L. Smith is a bit less complimentary, finding that the length of the book makes for difficult reading, with “occasional redundancies and repetitions.” The commentary is “cumbersome at times” yet still in many ways “fresh and appealing.” Despite any misgivings, Smith still describes the commentary as “the result of the careful, balanced work of a senior scholar.”
All the more reason for you to invest in Keener’s first volume on Acts!