Herbert Bateman and William Varner, James: An Exegetical Guide

Bateman IV, Herbert W. and William C. Varner. James: An Exegetical Guide for Preaching and Teaching. Big Idea Greek Series. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2022. 317 pp. Hb; $33.99. Link to Kregel Academic.

This new entry in Kregel Academic’s Big Greek Idea Series joins volumes on Ephesians, Philippians, and John’s Letters. The series is designed as an exegetical guide for busy pastors, overloaded professors, and students with demanding Greek professors.  Bateman is well-known for other exegetical guides and his Jude commentary in the Evangelical Exegetical series (Lexham, 2015). William Varner is a professor of biblical studies and Greek and the Master’s Seminary and has previously published two books on the Greek text of James.

James Big Greek IdeaThe book begins with a thirty-two-page introduction explaining what the authors mean by a causal outline. Although this is like Bill Mounce’s “phrasing,” Guthrie and Duvall’s “grammatical diagram” there are significant differences. Bateman and Varner focus on visualizing subordinate and coordinate clauses to explain syntactical relationships, parallelisms and other grammatical emphases in the letter.

The introduction includes a discussion of James’ style and vocabulary. They observe James has a more literary style than other books in the New Testament. Since they accept the traditional view that James is Jesus’s brother, the literary style implies the use of amanuensis. There are several interesting rhetorical features in James, including various kinds of wordplay. The most important element of style is the hortatory character of the letter. James heavily uses imperatives; there are nearly sixty commands and only 109 verses. There is a chart on page 46 comparing this use of imperatives to all other books in the New Testament. The introduction includes A three-page chart of all fifty-three hapax legomena in James (words used only once in the New Testament), including the lexical form, a gloss, and the page number in BDAG.

Bateman and Varner break James into eight sections. Each unit begins with a quote big Greek idea” which ironically is in English. They provide a structural overview for the section and an outline breaking the section into sub-units. The commentary then progresses through each of these subunits, focusing on the syntax and semantics of the Greek text. Since Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, is a popular seminary textbook, they use his semantic categories using in-text citations.

Scattered throughout the commentary are several sidebars, entitled “Nuggets.” There are several major categories: grammatical, syntactical, semantical, lexical, feel logical, and text-critical. These categories are often combined. For example, a Grammatical Nugget appears in James 3:11, “what is the significance of the particle μήτι?” sometimes the semantic and lexical categories overlap, many in both categories have to do with the proper translation of a particular word, such as the meaning of δοῦλος in James 1:1. Theological Nuggets deal with issues such as “What is meant by ‘save our souls’?” in James 1:21. But the focus of a Theological Nugget is still the Greet texts, such as “What is the message conveyed through the infinitive clause” in James 4:2? The answer is based on the syntax and semantics of the Greek text.

There are a few less-common categories: structural, interpretive issues, figures of speech, historical, literary, quotation, and background. For example, in the context of James 5:12, “Did James every quote Jesus?” Answer: there are eight firm allusions to Jesus in James.

Conclusion. James: An Exegetical Guide for Preaching and Teaching will be useful for a pastor who is supplementing reading in a commentary on James (an over-worked seminary student doing Greek homework). Since this is the goal of the volume, do not expect a full commentary. This is an exegetical guide and does not have additional preaching and teaching helps found in Kregel’s Kerux series, for example. Few pastors have the time to read their text in the Greek Bible to prepare for a sermon, so an exegetical guide like this book will help them with some of the more difficult aspects of James’s Greek.


NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.






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