Book Review: Greg Forbes, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: 1 Peter

Forbes, Greg. Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: 1 Peter. Nashville: B&H, 2014. 202 pp. Pb; $24.99. Link to B&H Academic.  Click here for a 21-page sample from the book in PDF format, including front-matter and first chapter.

Forbes, 1 PeterThis new volume in the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament series is a handbook for reading the text of 1 Peter. Following the same format at previous volumes in the series by Murray Harris (Colossians and Philemon, 2010) and Chris A. Vlachos (James, 2013). Greg Forbes, head of the Department of Biblical Studies at Melbourne School of Theology in Australia, is better known for his work on Luke (The God of Old: The Role of the Lukan Parables in the Purpose of Luke’s Gospel, JSNTSup 198; Sheffield, , 2000), but has contributed a few journal articles on 1 Peter.

The purpose of this book is an “exegetical companion,” meaning anyone working on teaching or preaching from 1 Peter can use this guide as the read the Greek New Testament. The handbook does not “give all the answers” by parsing every verb. In fact, it rarely parses forms fully. What is provided is a running commentary on syntactical categories and lexical data intended to illuminate the text for teaching and preaching. This means Forbes only comments on the nuance of a particular case or verb tense if it sheds light on the meaning of the text. He assumes a great deal from the reader, especially knowledge of Greek syntax. The guide makes use of abbreviations for standard works and syntactical categories. These are all families to scholars, but frequent consultation of the abbreviations page will be necessary for beginners. It does not help much to be told a genitive is “partitive” if one does not know what a partitive genitive is! This of course is no different than any tool used in exegesis, whether in a guidebook like this or a computer program which parses all forms with a single click.

The book follows a set structure found in the other volumes in this series. First, Forbes produced a detailed exegetical outline for the entire book. The guide then proceeds through each unit of his outline by providing the Greek text arranged in a syntactical display. Forbes briefly explains the structure of the passage and then moves phrase-by-phrase through the section. He comments on syntactical and lexical issues that bear on the meaning of the text, offering options when syntax may be nuanced differently in the commentaries. For example, in his discussion of 1 Peter 3:10, the ὅτι clause can be translated in three ways. Forbes lists the options along with support for each from various translations, lexicons and commentaries. He comes to a clear decision and demonstrates how that decision impacts his pastoral concerns (p. 109).

Rather than provide glosses for every word, he focuses on the more rare words and provides pointers to more detailed lexicons and theological dictionaries. These are not full word studies since the exegete will still need to look up the cited texts and read the details before making a decision on the meaning of a particular word.

Textual variants are briefly described based on the UBS 4 text, with the addition of eight additional variants found in the 5th edition (which was forthcoming when this book was published). Forbes gives a brief summary and evaluation of the textual evidence and offers an opinion on which variant is preferred.

Homiletical suggestions for preaching the pericope. Like most works of this kind, these outlines are not to be followed slavishly, but are hints for preachers who ought to compare their own work to Forbes’s outlines. While these outlines are brief, they are clearly drawn from the exegesis of the text and are an excellent model for text-based preaching.

Perhaps the most helpful sections of the book are the forty-two appendices scattered throughout the text on topic. After each section Forbes offers a short “for further study” section with monographs, book sections, journal articles and other resources bearing on that particular pericope. Some of these are book sections an exegete might overlook simply because it is embedded in a systematic theology. Others are mini-bibliographies for very specific topics. For example, after the section in 1 Peter 1:22-25, Forbes offers a collection of nine resources on community ethics (list 20; p.52-3). Every resource on the list is excellent and worthy of consideration. While some of the lists are cross-reference to others, there is no master index of all the “for further study” sections in the book. This would be a valuable addition to the series in the future.

Conclusion. The main competition for this book is the Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament. Mark Dubis contributed the 1 Peter volume in that series. Forbes uses Dubis occasionally, but the B&H series has more homiletical goals than the Baylor series. For the most part, the Baylor Handbooks are reading guides, providing far more parsing information than the B&H series. The EGGNT series will assist busy pastors and teachers who want to do quality exegesis by providing them with a quick overview of the major issues of their passage. This strength is also a potential drawback, since this book can become a crutch replacing the necessary exegetical work required to know a passage well. As with all such projects, the reader must know what to do with the information. The exegetical information in the book needs to be used properly in a lecture or sermon, that is the task of the well-trained teacher and pastor.

I recommend this book for anyone who is preaching or teaching 1 Peter, but also to students who want to develop their exegetical method. I see this book being used as a textbook in an intermediate Greek exegesis class. I look forward to future contributions to this series!


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