Bateman, IV Herbert W. and Steven W. Smith. Hebrews: A Commentary for Biblical Preaching and Teaching . Kerux Commentaries. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Ministry, 2021. 389 pp. Hb. $36.99 Link to Kregel Ministry
This Hebrews commentary is part of Kregel’s new Kerux commentary series. Projected to be a 46-volume series, seven are available at this time. In the preface to the series, Herb Bateman explains the Kerux commentary series attempts to join experts in biblical exegesis with experienced communicators. The commentary intends to provide solid exegesis, the theological focus and preaching strategies (“big idea,” contemporary connections, and success suggestions for creative presentations). Although the commentary is intended to help a busy pastor, the pastor in mind has a knowledge of both Hebrew and Greek and spends a significant amount of time preparing to preach and teach the word of God. Each volume in this new series will have two authors and exegete and a preacher. In this Hebrews commentary, Herb Bateman IV writes the exegetical portion and Steven W. Smith writes the preaching portions.
The commentary begins with fifteen pages summarizing the twenty preaching passages (units, pericopes) for the book of Hebrews. Each unit begins with an exegetical idea, theological focus, and preaching ideas and preaching pointers. These units are as few as four verses (Heb 1:1-4) but sometimes as long as an entire chapter (Heb 11:1-40). Although this is not explicit in the commentary, this section is basically a pastor’s preaching outline for a long series in the book of Hebrews.
In the twenty-eight-page introduction to Hebrews, Herb Bateman begins with his view of the authorship of the book. As is well-known, Hebrews is anonymous and there are a bewildering number of suggestions for who the author might be. Bateman argues passionately for Barnabas as the author of Hebrews. He provides several pieces of evidence and provides a two-page chart listing other advocates for Barnabas as the author of the book (from Tertullian in the third century to Albert Vanhoye in 2015). Throughout the introduction, he refers to Barnabas as the author.
The book of Hebrews is a “sermonic-midrash-like letter” written to Jewish followers of Jesus who lived in Rome either just before Nero’s persecutions in A. D. 64 or just before the Jewish war with Rome began in A.D. 66. Given his view on the date for the book of Hebrews, Bateman provides a brief sketch of the history of Jews in Rome.
A common view on the occasion for the writing of Hebrews is the danger of Jewish Christians returning to Judaism to avoid this occasion. For Bateman, the political instability in the Roman Empire and Judea may have caused some Jewish Christians to doubt that Jesus was the Messiah. The book therefore argues Jesus is, in fact, the divine son of God, who has an eternal priesthood and who inaugurated God’s new covenant.
Each unit in the commentary’s body begins with a one-page summary of this section. This begins with a single brief sentence summarizing the exegetical idea, the theological focus, and the preaching idea for the unit. Following these brief notes are two paragraphs of suggestions for taking the exegesis and making it “work” in contemporary preaching. Exposition is verse by verse, often phrase by phrase. Bateman bases his exegesis on the Greek text. Given the constraints of the format of the commentary, Bateman’s exegesis is excellent (as expected from his Epistles of John and Jude commentaries).
Following the exegesis is a brief section entitled preaching ideas. This begins with a brief exegetical and theological synthesis and a repetition of the preaching idea. The next section is “contemporary connections” and asks questions like, “What does it mean?” “Is it true?” “Now what?” Finally, there is a section entitled creativity in presentation. Here, Smith suggests connections to popular cultural artifacts such as films, TV, or contemporary news stories. Following the preaching ideas are a few discussion questions and occasionally a further reading section offering bibliography for the unit. It is unclear why this further reading section does not appear in every section. Given the goals stated for the commentary, it is surprising that the preaching section is so brief. One might have expected a balance between exegesis and homiletics, but that is not the case.
Bateman supplements the commentary with a series of extremely helpful sidebars which deal with issues of historical background or exegetical detail. For example, there are sidebars on the Jewish theology of rest, the theology of Jewish tithes, and the Qumran document Song of the Sabbath Sacrifice (4Q400-407). There is a long excursus of Psalms 2 in the context of Hebrews 1. There are several sidebars defining terms or key people, such as “Who was Philo?” “Who was Ben Sira?” Sidebars include detailed word studies of key Greek terms, and occasionally comments on the syntactical structure of Greek verses. In addition to sidebars, there are a handful of notes entitled “translation analysis,” “textual analysis” and “lexical analysis” scattered throughout the book. These are printed slightly differently than the regular sidebars, although it is difficult to see any difference in the content. I noticed that the number of sidebars diminishes later in the commentary. There are only seven sidebars for Hebrews 10-13, although early in the commentary there seven in the first chapter which on;y covers four verses (Heb 1:1-4)
The commentary includes many charts scattered throughout the volume, offering a convenient summary of key ideas. Bateman loves charts! (See my review of Charts on the Book of Hebrews, Kregel Academic, 2012). On at least one occasion, he cites his earlier book and the charts for Hebrews 11 are also similar to the Chartbook. This is not a problem, of course. Looking back at that book, I notice Bateman collects evidence for several of the potential candidates for the authorship of Hebrews but in the brief introduction to this commentary; he can only advocate for his preference (Barnabas).
Conclusion. When I first saw volumes of this commentary series, I was reminded of the venerable Pulpit Commentary. The goals are similar: to provide solid exegesis from leading scholars and teaching ideas for pastors. This volume of the Kerux series achieves the goal of solid exposition of the text and it does offer help for busy pastors preparing to teach Hebrews from the pulpit, Sunday School classes or small group setting.
NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.