Thomas Renz, The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah (NICOT)

Renz, Thomas. The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah. NICOT; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2021. xxxix+703 pp. Hb; $56.00.   Link to Eerdmans 

Thomas Renz is the rector of Monken Hadley. Previously, he taught Old Testament and Hebrew at Oak Hill Theological College (1997-2009). Renz published a revision of his 1997 University of Bristol dissertation as The Rhetorical Function of the Book of Ezekiel (VTSup 76; Brill, 1999). He has contributed many articles on these books and a monograph on Hebrew Poetry, Colometry and Accentuation in Hebrew Prophetic Poetry (​KUSATU 4; Hartmut Senner, Waltrop 2003). This new volume of the New International Commentary on the Old Testament replaces O. Palmer Robertson’s highly respected commentary on these three obscure Minor Prophets (Eerdmans, 1990).

Nahum, Habakkuk, and ZephaniahRenz states in the preface he tried to confine himself to matters which “illuminate our understanding of the received Hebrew text” (xv). Initially he did not want to be overly concerned with text-critical or redactional issues. But as the commentary progressed, he realized some discussion of source, form and reduction criticism was necessary. But these are not what drives this commentary. Technical details appear in the commentary under the heading “composition” or in the footnotes. This will make the commentary accessible to pastors without being overwhelmed by technical details.

In the twenty-page general introduction, Renz suggests prophetic books were written soon after they were uttered, and he is skeptical about reduction criticism in various sources theories suggested for these books. It is uncontroversial to speak of the unity of the twelve Minor Prophets even if there is no actual agreement on what constitutes that unity. Renz suggests that Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah were grouped together because they share the same setting, the changing of the empires regarding the life of Judah. “Nahum speaks to a people for whom Assyria seemed invincible, predicting the fall of Nineveh and the end of its empire. Zephaniah speaks into the period when Assyrian domination was less keenly felt, but the Neo-Babylonian Empire was not yet on the horizon. Habakkuk addresses the problem that the divinely promised rise of the Neo-Babylonian Empire merely substituted one evil for another.” (p. 20).

The introduction also has a brief sketch of the implied historical setting of these three books, the late Neo-Assyrian and early Neo-Babylonian Period. Nahum dates before 612 B.C., Habakkuk a bit later, just after the rise of Neo-Babylon and Zephaniah to the reign of Josiah. This gives a range of 660-600 B.C. for the three books.

Each commentary section uses the book’s superscription as an introduction to the book (thirty-five pages for Nahum, twenty-four pages for Habakkuk, and twenty-seven for Zephaniah). The first section, Profile of the Book, begins with the superscription and moves to what he calls the “macro structure.” This is more than just an outline since Renz includes literary and rhetorical notes as well. In this section he includes language, style, redactional history, and the textual witness. In the textual witness section Renz compares the MT with the LXX, any Dead Sea Scrolls available and other versions and briefly summarizes the difficulties which emerge. For Habakkuk and Zephaniah, Renz sketches the historical setting of the book (omitted for Nahum). However, for Nahum he has an extended discussion of the development of the book.

Each of the individual introductions conclude with the section on the rhetorical function of the book divided into five sections. First, he summarizes the message of the profit in its original context, then he places it into the context of the Twelve Minor Prophets in the larger biblical canon.

Following this is a history of interpretation. Renz begins this section with the Dead Sea Scrolls. For example, in 4Q169 the pesher interpretation of Nahum turns Assyrian brutality into Hasmonean cruelty under Alexander Jannaeus. He briefly comments on the fragmentary Zephaniah pesher (4Q170) but 4QpHab is missing from the history of interpretation for Habakkuk (Renz mentions it under textual witnesses for Habakkuk). For Christian interpretation he comments briefly on ancient fathers, Renaissance, Reformation, and modern critical writers. Renz does not intend this as an exhaustive survey and these books are not often mentioned in ancient sources.

Finally, he discusses the place of the individual prophet in the church today. Nahum celebrates God’s sovereignty and justice, and Nahum invites readers to join the celebration. The book of Nahum becomes a token of God’s final judgment over evil. Remarkably, Nahum is a book of comfort for people who are suffering at the hands of evil, people who are helpless abandoned in afraid. Habakkuk invites the reader to reflect on the breakdown of the good order, the weakness of the Torah to restore justice and the role of God in this world. Renz suggests Habakkuk teaches that thoughtful, engaged prayer, informed by scripture, can help discern what is really going on in an evil world. Zephaniah is clear wealth and power count for nothing in the face of God’s judgment. In fact, there may be benefits to being powerless.

The body of the commentary begins with a new translation. This includes extensive textual and lexical notes often spanning several pages. For example, On Zephaniah 2:5-13 the notes run eight pages (through note nnn). The translation is often stunning. Renz strives for clear yet moving English phrases which reflect the heart of the Hebrew text. I would like to have his translation gathered into a few pages so one could read the whole of the book in a few pages.  Following his translation is a section commenting on the composition of the section, mostly form and redactional notes, but Renz also comments on rhetorical strategies in these brief sections.

The commentary is verse-by-verse with remarks on nearly every word of the verse. Renz provides clear exegesis of the Hebrew text, with all Hebrew appearing in transliteration. A non-specialist will have no trouble following the commentary. Virtually all secondary literature appears in extensive footnotes. Renz makes extensive use of recent European commentaries such as Jörg Jeremias on Nahum (BKAT; Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2019), Heinz-Josef Fabry on Habakkuk (HThKAT; Herder, 2019), Huber Irsigler on Zephaniah (HThKAT; Herder, 2002), and Johannes Vlaardingerbroek on Zephaniah (HCOT; Peters 1999). Renz’s commentary may be the only access to the resources for many English readers.

Each commentary unit concludes with a reflection which draws a few conclusions and occasionally connects the section with the larger canon of scripture. For example, reflecting on is exegesis of Habakkuk 2:4-5, Renz asks, “who are the righteous in Habakkuk?” The righteous are those who are victims of injustice and the inability of the Torah to set things right (p. 294). This leads him naturally into a brief discussion of the use of Habakkuk in Romans 1:17. Righteousness from God as a matter of Faith from beginning to end. Habakkuk is to continue to trust God and cling to his commands despite the apparent uselessness of such obedience.

There are several excurses scattered throughout the book: The Relationship between Nahum 1:15 (2:1) and Isaiah 52:7 (106-09); The Destruction Nineveh (129-30); Different Hebrew Terms for Lion and Lion Imagery in Assyria (141-46); The Assyrian Campaigns against Egypt (164-70); “Look You Scoffers” or “Look at the Nations” (239-41, on Habakkuk 1:5); Significant words in Zephaniah (431-32); Finding the Book of the Law (435-43).

Conclusion. Thomas Renz’s commentary on Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah is an excellent exegetical commentary which demonstrates mastery of the Hebrew text and provides sufficient historical setting to understand with clarity the text of these obscure prophets. This the most extensive commentary on Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah and will serve both the those teaching these prophets in the academy and church for many years.

 

Eerdmans should consider reprinting O. Palmer Robertson’s commentary in their Eerdmans Classic Biblical Commentaries series.

Five Questions with Thomas Renz at EerdWorld.

Reviews of other recent commentaries in the NICOT series:

 

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

 

Aaron Sherwood, Romans: A Structural, Thematic, and Exegetical Commentary

Sherwood Aaron. Romans: A Structural, Thematic, and Exegetical Commentary. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2020. xv+949 pp.; Hb.; $54.99. Link to Lexham Press

In the introduction to this new commentary on Romans, Aaron Sherwood states his goal is an accessible commentary that avoids atomistic approaches, one that “notes the trees but focus on the forest… the investigation especially looks at how Paul uses the letter structure to help convey his message. This approach allows Paul to set the theological priorities of Romans, ensuring that modern readers take Paul’s own meaning and theology from his discussion” (p. 1). Sherwood previously published a revision of his 2010 Ph.D. dissertation supervised by John Barclay, Paul and the Restoration of Humanity in Light of Ancient Jewish Traditions (Ancient Judaism and early Christianity 82; Brill, 2013) and The Word of God Has Not Failed: Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9 (Lexham 2015).

Sherwood RomansIn the 91-page introduction to the book focuses more upon the overall shape and message of Romans. Sherwood offers three reasons Paul wrote the book of Romans. First, Paul wants to establish a warm relationship with his audience (1:1-15; 15:14-33). Second, Paul wants to care for his audience pastorally (12:1-15:13). Third, Paul must defend himself against a negative reputation that has preceded him to the Roman churches. So 1:16-11:36 is Paul’s apology for his gospel. Paul’s goal in this large section of the letter is to ensure that nothing prevents his pastoral care from being effective nor hinders his mission to Spain. What is unusual in this commentary is Sherwood’s view that the main body of the letter is 12:1-15:13 rather than the eleven-chapter theological section. Scholars often wonder why Paul wrote such a detailed theological treatise to churches he had not yet visited.

Sherman observes that scholars generally agree on most critical introductory issues for the book of Romans. Paul wrote the letter from Corinth in the winter of AD 56-57. The audience is a combination of Jews and non-Jews who were committed to Israel’s scriptural heritage. Paul wrote to numerous house churches, which were healthy, although they were facing a few challenges. Scholars are equally unanimous interview that Phoebe carried Paul’s letter to Rome and was the initial reader of the letter (p. 778). He agrees with Esther Ng’s conclusion that Phoebe was not the leader of a congregation, Paul’s patron, nor his serving helper. She worked as the provider of hospitality and a supporting member of Paul’s missionary organization.

Regarding the theology of Romans, Sherwood argues the main point of the book is the Gospel and the Christ-event which inaugurated God’s Kingdom on earth, so that believers are as eschatologically restored. Israel is located in Jesus, so those who trust in Jesus are Israel (p. 42). All believers are quote God’s “humanity of Israel,” so they ought to live out their relationship with Jesus and their identity as Jesus’s disciples (ethics, pastoral care). Since God’s goal in the Christ event his eschatological restoration of humanity, missions is God’s vehicle for working with God to provide salvation for unreached people.

With respect to Christology, Sherwood detects a (proto)Trinitarianism in Romans. Jesus is God’s Messiah, but the Father, Son and Holy Spirit share unique divine identity of Israel’s God. Soteriology saturates the book of Romans. He coins the term “righteousization,” which is more or less equivalent to the more common theological word “justification.” This term appears consistently throughout the commentary where one would expect the word justification. Believers are righteousized by entering into a trust relationship with God in Christ. In Romans, “the process of righteousization (or justification) seems to follow a certain algorithm:

  • Believers believe in the report of the Christ event.
  • At the same time, believers trust God’s declaration of who Christ is and what he accomplished, as well as what God accomplished through him.
  • Also at the same time, believers are in a trusting personal relationship with Jesus, and with God in Jesus.
  • Then, with the above three elements in place, God gifts believers with the removal of sin and guilt against himself.
  • God also gifts them with a transformation of their identity, by which their character emulates God’s own divine character (p. 60).

Sherwood observes that soteriology is relatively distant from the center of Paul’s theology in the book of Romans. “It is profound, but it is less substantial than is typically assumed” (p. 62). For example, Paul’s limited references to soteriology in Romans do not show God’s grace is inherently irresistible, nor does Sherwood find any idea of imputed righteousness in the book. Rather than imputed righteousness, “righteousizing is transformational” (p. 61).

This rejection of imputed righteousness is associated with a New Perspective on Paul, but Sherwood is not a representative of this view. He thinks the New Perspective provides two helpful correctives to the traditional view of Paul. First, Romans does not focus on the tension between grace and works (or Law), and second, Second Temple Judaism was not a legalistic religion. However, Sherwood thinks the New Perspective reduces Paul’s theology to its sociological dimension, something he calls “an unsound methodological emphasis” (p. 67). Sherwood takes the “works of the law” (ἔργων νόμου) in Romans 3:20 as the whole law rather than limiting the phrase to the boundary markers (such as circumcision, food taboos and Sabbath). In fact, Sherwood translates ἔργων νόμου as Torah rather than “works of the law.” He says this phrase means “the Jewish commonplace of Torah observance, in the sense of having a lifestyle, identity, and devotion to righteousness that is characterized by habitually living in faithfulness to the Torah” (p. 227). He includes a lengthy digression on the use of the phrase “works of the law” in 4QMMT. He concludes the similarity between Romans 3:20 and 4QMMT is “rather incidental” and 4QMMT “should not be allowed to distract from a proper understanding of Paul’s message” (p. 234). This discussion is somewhat disappointing since the primary source he cites in this section is a 1994 Biblical Archaeology Review magazine article by Martin Abegg rather than the two major articles on Paul and 4QMMT by James Dunn or N. T. Wright.

Given Sherwood’s previous work on Paul’s use of Scripture in Romans 9, it is not surprising he devotes a large section of his introduction to Paul’s use of scripture. He provides two charts of Paul’s citations of the Hebrew Bible, one in canonical order in a second in order of appearance in Romans. Sometimes Paul’s use of Scripture is described as a midrash, although it is certainly not exegesis. Sherwood points out Paul has already done his exegesis and is now using cited Scripture in a “faithful, contextually determined meaning of that scripture in a way that serves his communicative strategy” (p. 74). He suggests Paul uses references to Scripture in a way analogous to a modern academic. Paul makes his theological point and then offers a “footnote of authorities” to support his point (p. 77). He argues Romans was not written from the perspective of New Testament studies, “Paul’s use of Scripture requires an interpretation that comes out of Old Testament studies” (p. 77).

The introduction concludes with helpful a ten-page glossary of key terms.

In the body of the commentary itself, individual units begin with Sherwood, his own translation. This is followed by a paragraph highlighting key idea of the pericope with the thesis statement for the unit set out in bold type. He then outlines the structure of the unit by means of a syntactical display of the English text. Although there are some comments on the structure, he avoids technical rhetorical terms. “Analysis and Interpretation” is a phrase-by-phrase commentary on the English text. There is no Greek in the commentary’s body, and it is rare in the footnotes. Occasionally he refers to textual critical issues in the footnotes, but this is not the focus of the commentary. There are references to contemporary scholarship in the footnotes, but in the main text Sherwood provides a readable and accessible commentary on Paul’s key ideas uncluttered by scholarly debate. As he stressed in the introduction, his commentary is selective and non-comprehensive. Each unit concludes with a summary and theological reflection. These reflections focus on the unit itself rather than larger ideas of Pauline or canonical theology.

In addition to the commentary Sherwood provides several short digressions throughout the commentary. These deal with controversial issues such as homosexuality in Romans 1 (155-57), imputed righteousness (269-71), and Paul’s view of empire (p. 673-76). Following the commentary are seven substantial excurses on controversial theological topics commonly addressed in a Romans commentary.

  • Natural Theology and the Identity of the Accused in Romans 1:18-32
  • Interplay between Romans 3:27-8:17 and Galatians 3:1-4:7
  • Salvation, Redemption, Deliverance, and Atonement in Romans
  • The “I” In Romans7
  • Divine Foreknowledge and Predestination in Romans 8:28-30
  • The Salvation of “All Israel” In Romans 11:25-27
  • The Disputed Originality of Romans 16

These excurses are substantial (over fifty pages total). By separating them from their context in the main commentary, Sherwood achieves his goal of an accessible and readable commentary since the average reader is not prepared for a protracted discussion of the “I” in Romans 7. Sherwood argues Paul’s speaker in Chapter 7 is “a representative Jew who is both convicted of his obligation to obey Torah perfectly and is perfectly appalled by his inability to do so” (p. 629). Regarding predestination and Election in Romans 8:28-30, Sherwood avoids both Reformed and Arminian positions, stating that his exegesis is compatible with either position (which is probably not going to make either side very happy). Regarding the originality of Romans 16, he states clearly “all things considered, there are no compelling let alone sound reasons for rejecting the originality of Romans 16:1-23” (p. 851).

He does not think that “all Israel” in Romans 11:25- 27 refers to future salvation of unbelieving Jews (p. 841). In his view, the best reading of this passage is that Paul is making a positive statement about God’s process of reconstituting his people, come what may. “All Israel” therefore “refers to God’s corporate Christocentric people” (p. 846) and that a reading of Romans 11:25-32 “with an expectation of ethnic Jews’ salvation would be a mistake” (p. 847).

Conclusion. Sherwood achieves his goal of providing an accessible commentary that sheds light on Paul’s Letter to the Romans. He avoids tedious comparisons of views from other major commentaries, although he is certainly informed by them. Nor he does not get bogged down in exegetical details which distract the commentator from Paul’s overarching theological themes.

 

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

 

Amy Erickson, Jonah: Introduction and Commentary

Erickson, Amy. Jonah: Introduction and Commentary. Illuminations. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2021. xxiv+466 pp. Hb; $70.00.   Link to Eerdmans 

Amy Erickson’s new commentary on Jonah is the second in the Illuminations series from Eerdmans, joining series editor C.L. Seow’s Job 1-20 commentary (Eerdmans 2013). This series is unique because it combines a solid exegetical commentary with an unusual history of interpretation. In the introduction to the series Seow suggests several ways the commentary could be considered a “history of interpretation,” or a “history of effects,” even a history of influence.” He settles on a “history of consequences” since the commentary will track how people have interpreted and been inspired by the biblical book in various traditions but also in a wide range of media including art, literature, film, music, and architecture.

Erickson JonahIn the sixty-four-page introduction to the commentary, Erickson deals with the texts and versions of Jonah. Although she does not suggest a specific date for the book, it is certainly post exilic and she argues Jonah is late biblical Hebrew. She does not think any theory of composition adequately explains the awkward juxtaposition of styles in the book (p. 28). She considers the book of Jonah to be an example of scribalization of prophecy. Revelation occurs through interpreting earlier prophets (p. 31). There are allusions to earlier texts that require the reader to make connections. Jonah is “dehistoricized and decontextualized” (p. 37). Erickson does not tie Jonah to aa single place or time.

As is well known, there is a wide range of options regarding the genre of the book of Jonah. She summarizes 3 examples, a didactic story about the prophet, a satire, or an epic. Erickson suggests “one may have better look identifying and classifying formal units within the book then trying to create a genre for the book as a whole” (p. 45). Yet Jonah is an artistic masterpiece filled with humor and allusions to earlier prophets. “Jonah is a narrative yawning with gaps and teeming with ambiguity (p. 50).

In the 171-page History of Consequences section of the introduction, Erickson tracks Jewish interpretations of the book, beginning with Second Temple and early Rabbinic literature. She collects examples from medieval Jewish writers (including the Zohar) and the modern period (including martin Buber and Abraham Heschel).

Christian interpretation begins with the New Testament, especially Jesus’s “sign of Jonah.” She surveys the early Greek, Syriac, and Latin interpreters and early Christian artistic depictions of Jonah’s story. She has a long section on the medieval period, including Christian Mystics such as Saint John of the Cross. This section also includes examples of illuminated medieval manuscripts of Jonah. There is far less in this section on modern Christian interpretation than expected, but the modern scholarly interpretations of Jonah would fill an entire book. Under Muslim interpretations of Jonah Erickson summarizes the four accounts of Jonah’s story in the Quran, which emphasize the importance of submitting to God. She also summarizes references to Jonah in Stories of the Prophets and other Islamic literature. Under “Jonah in the modern world,” Erickson mentions virtually every significant mention of Jonah in art, literature, and music. She even includes a modern Israeli stamp. Erickson briefly mentions the Veggie Tales Jonah film, perhaps the first such reference in a scholarly commentary on Jonah. She provides detailed bibliographies after each section throughout the commentary.

After her translation of the chapter, the body of the commentary includes three sections. The first unit (“Interpretation”) interacts with scholarship and makes a few literary or theological comments. Following this section Erickson provides additional History of Consequences (printed in a grey box, like a sidebar or excursus). For example, in the section dealing with the great fish Erikson discuss is early Christian interpreters who consistently read this as a figure of Christ’s resurrection. But Jonah’s association with resurrection is not limited to Christian interpretation. In Jewish interpretation associated Jonah with rebirth and resurrection as early as the second century BCE. Jewish writers identified Jonah as the son of the widow Elijah raises from the dead in 1 Kings 17 (Mdr. Pss. 26). Erickson provides several examples of Jonah’s resurrection in the past associated with a resurrection in the future. Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the fish provides a model for medieval commentators 4 prayers of confession. She finds a similar reading of Jonah’s prayer in the Quran.

Following this History of Consequence section is a literary reading of the chapter followed by a short summary (“Retrospect”). This sets the chapter into the context of the overall book Jonah. The third section is the commentary proper. She provides a phrase- by- phrase commentary on the Hebrew text. All Hebrew words appear transliterated, and she refers to secondary literature with in-text citations. She deals with matters of Hebrew syntax, often comparing early versions (Old Greek, Peshitta, and Targums). Using these versions is consistent with the goal of this commentary, the reception of Jonah by later readers.

The commentary concludes with subject, author and Scripture indices.

Conclusion. Amy Erickson’s book is really two useful contributions to the study of Jonah. The commentary on the text Jonah is clear and helpful for anyone studying this popular prophetic book. But the History of Consequences section of the introduction and the additional units in each chapter are fascinating reading. Erickson assembles an immense collection of sources documenting how Jewish, Christian, and Muslim readers have understood Jonah.

 

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

Daniel C. Timmer, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah (Tyndale Old Testament Commentary)

Timmer, Daniel C. Obadiah, Jonah and Micah. Tyndale Old Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2021. xxxvi+229 pp. Pb. $25.00   Link to IVP Academic  

This new volume in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary series replaces the 1988 volume by David Baker (Obadiah), Desmond Alexander (Jonah) and Bruce Waltke (Micah). Daniel Timmer is Professor of Biblical Studies for the PhD program at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. Among his many publications, he contributed a commentary on Nahum (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary) and “A Compassionate and Gracious God”: Mission, Salvation, and Spirituality in Jonah (NSBT 26; IVP Academic, 2011).

Timmer, Obadiah, Jonah, and MicahObadiah is naturally the shortest section of the book at only twenty-nine pages, including seven pages of introduction. Timmer is not interested in any redaction history or sources for the book and grounds the prophet’s words in the events of the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.

Jonah (fifty-two pages, including twelve pages of introduction) is a carefully constructed, wonderfully simple, and theologically powerful work (p. 31). But since it is a book about a prophet, rather than the words of a prophet, it is difficult to establish either a date for the book or the relationship to the prophet. Timmer favors a date before the exile. He suggests the book is inseparable from the neo-Assyrian empire, and he observes “the punch of Jonah’s story would be felt most keenly by an audience familiar with the neo-Assyrian empire” (p. 34). Regarding genre, he considers the book a historical narrative he devotes four pages of the introduction describing the neo-Assyrian empire. Because of the brevity of the commentary, he does not have space to discuss the wide range of suggested genres for the book of Jonah.

The commentary on Micah is 144 pages, about 60% of the book. In his seven-page introduction, Timmer accepts an eight century B.C. context based on the four kings listed in Micah 1:1 and he devotes four pages outlining that history. Micah has a wide range of genre, and once again he is not interested in the often-complicated compositional theories associated with this prophet. Unlike the other two prophets covered in this commentary, he provides his own annotated translation for Micah. There is nothing in the introduction on intertextuality in Micah, although he provides a chart comparing Deuteronomy 10:12-13 and Micah 6:8.

The body of the commentary is based on the English text, although Timmer uses his own translation. The commentary itself has three sections. First, under the heading context he offers a brief paragraph placing the unit into the overall outline of the book. The second section is entitled Comment. He proceeds verse by verse through the text. On rare occasions when he refers to the original language, Hebrew words appear in transliteration. Although he occasionally deals with matters of Hebrew syntax, the commentary is not overly burdened with technical details and will be accessible for readers without training in the Hebrew language. Most interaction with secondary literature and technical details appear in the footnotes.

The third section of the commentary is a concluding paragraph entitled meaning. Under this heading he summarizes the unit with a focus on biblical theology and occasionally New Testament connections. For example, commenting on Obadiah 21 Timmer says, “With sinners removed from his temple-like kingdom, which is characterized by holiness, YHWH’s reign is fully established over his purified and multi-ethnic people (Rom. 2:28-29), who inherit, as Abraham’s seed, the kingdom that cannot be shaken (Heb. 11:10; 12:28)” (p. 29). He only briefly discusses is the use of Micah 5:2 in the New Testament. The commentary is not overly interested in larger canonical connections.

Like other contributions to the Tyndale Old Testament commentary series, the commentary does not have indices. Timmer provides twenty-page bibliography subdivided for each prophet.

Conclusion. Timmer’s brief commentary is exegetically sound and is a worthy successor to the 1988 volume. The commentary provides the necessary background for reading these three eighth-century prophets with clarity. This clearly written commentary i should be accessible to laypeople, pastors and teachers. Although more scholarly readers will look for more details in the introduction to each book, Timmer has provided what is necessary within the strictures of the Tyndale series.

 

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.

Aida Besançon Spencer, A Commentary on James (Kregel Exegetical Library)

Spencer, Aida Besançon. A Commentary on James.  Kregel Exegetical Library; Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2020. 320 pp. Hb; $26.99.   Link to Kregel Academic

In the twenty-seven page introduction, Spencer describes James as a messianic Jew. He is a prophet, calling his readers to repent (5:1-6), a teacher who educates his readers (3:1-4), a pastor who exhorts and an artist who works creatively with language. He has a rich knowledge of the Old Testament and uses creative metaphors and similes. He even coins new words. She presents the traditional view that James, the Lord’s brother is the author of the letter along with several objections to this view. In the end she supports the traditional view and sets the letter in the context of James, the leader of Messianic Jews in Jerusalem. When James addresses the letter to twelve tribes in the dispersion (1:1) he refers to the dispersion following Saul’s persecution (Acts 8:1). Spencer argues the letter was written before the Jerusalem Conference (Acts 15) but does not narrow the date any more than between AD 34-48.

Spencer, Commentary on JamesSpencer consistently refers to the community addressed by the letter as “messianic Jews” and she is clear the readers are Jewish Christians before the inclusion of Gentiles (p. 32) and states Acts 8-9 fit the context of James’s letter best (p. 33). This thesis has exegetical ramifications for reading the text of James. For example, the diaspora (1:1) refers to the scattering of Messianic Jews after Acts 8:1 (not gentiles and not “the universal Church”). This stands in contrast to Kurt Richardson, who says the phrase “twelve tribes “is unequivocally being applied to the church of Jesus Christ (James; NAC, 1997, p. 55). Douglas Moo comments that the word diaspora “probably has a figurative meaning, characterizing Christians as people who live in this world apart from their heavenly ‘homeland’” (James, PNTC; Eerdmans, 2000, p. 50). Commenting on James 2:2, Spencer states “the setting is a synagogue where these Messianic Jews attend for teaching and worship” (p. 123). Richardson, in contrast, calls this a “Christian meeting” and draws a parallel to “church” (ekklēsia) in 5:14 (p. 111). Moo suggests synagogue is a Christian synagogue meeting, or a generic use of the word (p. 103). Spencer consistently stresses the Jewish character of James and the communities to which he writes.

With respect to structure, Spencer focuses on three themes introduced in the first section of the letter: trials (1:2-4), wisdom (1:5-8) and wealth (1:9-11). James is notoriously difficult to outline, but these three themes resonate throughout the letter, as a helpful chart on pages 45-46 demonstrates. She argues the book is a letter with both prophetic and wisdom elements (p. 44). Remarkably, there is no “theology of James” in the introduction, although each chapter ends with “theology and homiletical topics.”

The body of the commentary is divided into five chapters, following the canonical form of James. Spencer provides a translation of the chapter broken into phrases or clauses, each identified syntactically. After a brief comment on the literary structure of the chapter, her exposition moves through the Greek text word-for-word. Greek appears in the body of the commentary without transliteration. Since each chapter is about sixty pages, she is able to provide a detailed exegesis of the text. Secondary literature appears mostly in footnotes using APA style. References to standard Greek grammars and lexica appear in the notes as well as occasional textual critical issues. Although the commentary is based on the Greek New Testament, Spencer’s comments do not engage with obscure details of syntax, making this a very readable commentary.

Each chapter ends with a section entitled “Theological and Homiletical Topics.” These are brief notes to help a pastor or teacher drawn application arising from the chapter. For chapter 1, Spencer comments on grammatical and natural gender in translation; chapter 2 deals with impartiality as applied to wealth and poverty in an American context; chapter 3 is a series of suggests for being a wise teacher; chapter 4 deals with James and Christ; chapter 5 presents James as a transformational letter (and the foundation for the AA twelve-step program).

Of these five topics, I will only comment on James and Christ. When reading a new commentary on James, one of the first things I check is how the writer deals with the lack of Christology in the letter. Spencer argues the entire letter of James echoes the teaching of Jesus. She provides a detailed list of parallels (with references primarily to Matthew in the notes). “James shows Christ by alluding to and developing Jesus’s teachings” (p. 242). Spencer’s detailed list of parallels between James and Jesus is extremely helpful and clear, although we are still left with questions about what James thought about Jesus.

In addition to the commentary, Spencer provides several appendices. Before the introduction is a three-page Definition of Terms in Grammatical Analysis. Following the commentary is a helpful Glossary of Stylistic Terms used in the commentary, an annotated List of Unusual Words and Phrases in James, a list of Imperatives in James, and a bibliography.

Conclusion. Spencer’s commentary on James is a fine example of an exegetical commentary for pastors and teachers working their way through this important letter.

 

Review of other commentaries in the Kregel Exegetical Commentary series:

 

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