Peterson, David G. Hebrews. Tyndale New Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2020. xx+332pp. Pb. $30.00 Link to IVP Academic
David Peterson’s new commentary on Hebrews in the TNTC series is a welcome contribution to the study of this difficult book. The commentary is a model of generally conservative, evangelical scholarship in the tradition of F. F. Bruce.
Prior to his retirement, Peterson was senior research fellow and lecturer in New Testament at Moore Theological College in Sydney. He did his doctoral work on Hebrews under F. F. Bruce and has published monographs: Hebrews and Perfection (SNTS Monograph Series 47; Cambridge, 1982), Possessed by God: A New Testament Theology of Sanctification and Holiness (NSBT 1; IVP Academic 1995) and the Acts volume in the Pillar New Testament Commentary. His personal blog collects many of his published articles.
The sixty-page introduction to the commentary covers the usual issues expected in a Hebrews commentary. Peterson begins by examining the character and style of the book. As is well-known, Hebrews balances exposition of Scripture with exhortations. These two threads run through the entire book. Regarding the structure and argument of the book, he briefly notes the contributions of various commentaries which make use of Greco-Roman rhetorical handbooks. But he ultimately rejects rhetorical as helpful for reading Hebrews. Following Lane, he states that Hebrews resists Greco-Roman rhetorical texts and cannot be forced into the mold of classical speech (15). Nor is this commentary overly influence by Philo. (The Tyndale Series does not include any indices so I cannot count the number of times the body of the commentary alludes Philo.)
Peterson argues the audience of Hebrews was a mixed congregation of Christians with a synagogue background, some of whom were in danger of drifting away from the Gospel. The pastor therefore exhorts these believers to encourage them to endure suffering and even martyrdom (19). That “drift away from the Gospel” may be towards the Jewish synagogue, but this is not a major point in the commentary. The author is addressing a “deteriorating situation” (16) in which some readers are becoming weary of pursuing Christian discipleship and are considering a return to the safer option of the Synagogue. The author’s motivation is this unwillingness to progress in their discipleship, as well as the threat of persecution from Rome. The book is therefore a pastoral exhortation “to run the race set before them with endurance” (12:1-2).
Regarding destination and date, Peterson draws parallels to the situation in the Roman church found in Romans 14:1-15:7. Paul deals with some hostility between two parties over certain Jewish practices, specifically food and holy days. The consensus view is that Romans was written from Corinth in the winter of 57-58 to several house churches in Rome; Hebrews was written after Romans and deals with similar issues on a more serious, detailed way (20). Since the audience has not yet suffered to the point of shedding blood, (12:4), Peterson suggests a date before Nero’s persecution of Roman Christians in A. D. 64.
A major section in any introduction to Hebrews is authorship. Peterson offers a few comments on the usual suspects (Paul, Barnabas, Apollo) and observes the book of Hebrews itself considers human authorship secondary to the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of human authors. For example, Hebrews 3:7 quotes Psalm 95 with the introductory phrase “As the Holy Spirit says…” This is certainly an irenic strategy for stepping back from the usual heated debates about authorship, it may not satisfy those looking for support for their view.
The final section of the introduction offers an outline of the theology of Hebrews. Peterson argues God is central to the argument of Hebrews and the book as an “emerging Trinitarian perspective” (27). This Trinitarian God speaks through Scripture, and no other book of the New Testament makes use of the biblical text like Hebrews. As Caird observed, Hebrews is one of the earliest attempts to define the relationship between the Old and New Testaments (34).
Hebrews begins with the phrase “in these last days” so Peterson includes a section on eschatology and salvation in Hebrews. Hebrews argues “the end” was achieved by Christ and that salvation can be experienced as a present reality. Although there are a few hints of a future salvation (1:14, “inheriting salvation”), believers are encouraged to take part in the New Covenant and experience the fruit of sanctification at the present time. This leads to a major issue in Hebrews, apostasy and perseverance. The so-called warning passages address to the whole church (not just those in danger of drifting away from the Gospel). The author’s point is to encourage his readers to live faithful and fruitful lives and he is confident his readers will persevere (47). Peterson draws a parallel between Hebrews and the Parable of the Sower. There are some who are drawn to Christ but do not persevere. Perseverance is the mark of the genuine believer and warnings encourage the genuine believer to persevere (48).
The body of the follows the pattern of the Tyndale series. Chapters follow Peterson’s outline of the book, broken into shorter sections on each pericope. There is no new translation or textual notes, this sort of information is integrated into the body of the commentary (often in footnotes). Peterson begins each section with a brief paragraph setting the context, then works through the text’s sub-units (sometimes a single verse, but usually several verses at a time). All Greek appears in transliteration in both the body and footnotes, although Greek does not dominate the discussion. Peterson often comments on how major translations render a particular word or phrase. Each sub-unit ends with a brief paragraph, drawing some theological conclusions from the unit. Although he occasionally interacts with other major commentaries on Hebrews, Peterson’s goal is a concise explanation of the text rather than a report on what other commentaries have already said. This makes for a clear, readable commentary.
Conclusion. Peterson’s Hebrews commentary achieves the goal of providing a basis for Christian teaching and preaching of this important book of the New Testament. It will be useful for both Bible students and laypeople who want to study Hebrews closely.
The Tyndale New Testament Commentary series has collected some of the best short exegetical commentaries written by conservative and evangelical scholars. This new volume in the TNTC replaces Donald Guthrie’s 1983 commentary, which replaced Thomas Hewitt’s 1960 commentary. As typical happens, the commentary has expanded from Hewitt’s commentary was 217 pages and Guthrie’s 281 pages to 332 pages in this 2020 commentary. Given some expansive commentaries published in recent years, this commentary on Hebrews is a model of concise exegesis focused on the text itself.
Other reviewed commentaries in third Tyndale series:
NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.