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Lightfoot, J. B. The Epistles of 2 Corinthians and 1 Peter: A Newly Discovered Commentary. Edited by Ben Witherington III and Todd D. Still. The Lightfoot Legacy Set 3; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2016. 317 pp Hb; $40.00. Link to IVP
In the last two years IVP published the first two volumes of newly discovered commentaries by the late nineteenth century scholar J. B. Lightfoot. In the forward to that volume Ben Witherington recounted how he discovered hand-written manuscripts several long-forgotten commentaries J. B. Lightfoot in the spring of 2013. With this commentary on 2 Corinthians and 1 Peter all of manuscripts discovered by Witherington have been published.
Compared to the other two volumes in this series, the commentaries on 2 Corinthians or 2 Peter are brief and fragmentary, 2 Corinthians runs about seventy pages and 1 Peter has a twenty page introduction with a mere nineteen pages of commentary with the notes breaking off in 1 Peter 3. Many of the comments on 2 Corinthians are simply textual notes with only a word or two of comment. Chapter 9, for example is about a half-page of text.
Since the commentary is less than 100 pages, the editors have included several additional essays by Lightfoot to round out the volume. As an introduction to 2 Corinthians commentary Lightfoot wrote a “Pauline Prolegomena” on the chronology and context of the letter. The essay interacts with a German text on Pauline chronology by Wieseler published in 1848, although these pages take the form of notes on Wieseler’s work.
Following the 1 Peter commentary are several appendices. The first is an essay on the mission of Titus in 2 Corinthians originally published in The Journal of Sacred and Classical Philology (1885). This essay was originally collected in Biblical Essays (1904, reprinted by Baker, 1979). The second appendix is a reprint or some lectures notes on “St. Paul’s Preparation for Ministry” (1863), also reprinted in Biblical Essays. Appendix three is a sermon preached in 1877 on 2 Corinthians 3:6 entitled “The Letter Killeth but the Spirit Giveth Life.” The sermon was preached at St Paul’s in Cambridge and collected in an 1893 volume.
The fourth appendix reprints “Lessons of History from the Cradle of Christianity.” Witherington had discovered this essay among Lightfoot’s papers, although a later edited version was published in the Durham University Journal in the 1980s. This manuscript was handwritten timed essay, eventually edited and published (and subsequently reprinted in the Durham University Journal in 1987).
Appendix five reprints “The Christian Ministry.” This 90 page essay first appear in Lightfoot’s commentary on Philippians. As Witherington comments in his note, editing this lengthy essay was the last scholarly work undertaken by B. F. Wescott, longtime mentor and friend of Lightfoot. This edition includes several pages of notes from Lightfoot not included in my copy of his Philippians commentary (Zondervan reprint, 1973).
Appendices six and seven essays evaluating the contribution of Lightfoot published in a 1992 Durham University Journal celebrating the centenary of Lightfoot’s death. First, C. K. Barrett’s considers Lightfoot as biblical commentator and James Dunn offers an essay looking back at the influence of Lightfoot, especially his commitment to historical inquiry. Initially this took the form of responding to D. F. Strauss. Lightfoot calls Strauss a “mythicizer” who dismisses the search for historical truth in the biblical records as hopeless. Lightfoot strenuously disagreed and sought to study early Christian with historical rigor, believing there is nothing to fear from the “full light of science and criticism” (cited by Dunn, 307). I find this a less-than-common attitude among conservative biblical scholars more than 100 years after Lightfoot.
Conclusion. When I reviewed the previous volumes in this series, I asked why a modern reader care about a lost commentary written by a scholar who died in 1889? That IVP Academic would be interested in reprinting the notes for commentaries never completed by a scholar who died more than a hundred years ago is a testimony of the influence Lightfoot had on scholarship. That Ben Witherington and Todd Still would devote effort to organize the volumes is a significant testimony to Lightfoot’s long shadow over contemporary biblical studies, even if that influence is not always recognized.
My main criticism of this volume is that these are not newly discovered commentaries, but brief notes which Lightfoot may have later used to write a commentary. The bulk of this book are reprinted essays by Lightfoot and two celebrating his legacy. This does not limit the value of the three volumes of this series published by IVP Academic. The series is a fitting tribute to an important scholar and will serve as worthy introduction of Lightfoot to many younger students of the Bible and early Christianity.
NB: Thanks to InterVarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.
Lightfoot, J. B. The Gospel of John: A Newly Discovered Commentary. Edited by Ben Witherington III and Todd D. Still. The Lightfoot Legacy Set 2; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2015. 317 pp Hb; $40.00. Link to IVP
Last year IVP released the first of three newly discovered commentaries by the late nineteenth century scholar J. B. Lightfoot. In the forward to that volume Ben Witherington recounted how he discovered hand-written manuscripts several long-forgotten commentaries J. B. Lightfoot in the spring of 2013. IVP plans one more volume collecting Lightfoot’s notes on 2 Corinthians and 1 Peter.
When I reviewed Lightfoot’s Acts commentary, I asked why would anyone care to read a lost commentary written by a scholar who died in 1889? For some modern readers, Lightfoot’s legacy has been forgotten. But the mid-nineteen century, Lightfoot was considered one of the foremost scholars of his day. The editors of this book begin their introduction with the words of William Sanday: “No one could match Lightfoot for ‘exactness of scholarship, with the air addition, scientific method, sobriety of judgment and lucidity of style.’” His commentaries on the Galatians (1865), Philippians (1868) and Colossians (1875) are often reprinted and his work on the Apostolic Fathers was the standard until the Loeb edition by Krisopp Lake.
The forward to Lightfoot’s John commentary is nearly identical to the Acts forward and the Editor’s Introduction only adds three pages specific to Lightfoot on the Gospel of John. Witherington points out that Lightfoot had often lectured on John at Cambridge and was deeply concerned at the negative impact the higher criticism of F. C. Baur had on the study of John’s Gospel. Although it was unusual for a British scholar to be too concerned with German scholarship, Lightfoot read Baur and others seriously and sought to defend the authenticity of John’s Gospel against the protestant liberalism of his day.
For this reason the commentary includes a lengthy discussion of the external and internal evidences for the authenticity of John (pages 41-78) as well as two appendices reprinting articles published posthumously in Bible Essays (pages 205-66, external evidences, pages 267-325, internal evidences; Macmillan, 1904, reprinted by Baker, 1979). More than a third of this commentary is devoted to answering challenges to John’s authenticity by the Tübingen school popular in the late nineteenth century.
Unfortunately the body of the commentary only covers the first twelve chapters of John. After a short note on the meaning of Logos (pages 80-86), the commentary proceeds as does Lightfoot’s other published commentaries. He begins with a brief summary of the pericope followed by short notes on Greek words and phrases of interest. After this commentary, there are a few pages of notes on the Greek text itself, commenting on textual variants and suggesting solutions. As Hengel comments in his appendix to this book, Lightfoot’s academic method was based on the recovery of the text of early Christian writing (p. 333). Compared to modern commentaries (Keener on John, for example), the comments are indeed sparse.
There are at least two reasons for this. First, this is an unpublished set of notes, not a full commentary. If Lightfoot had intended to finish this commentary, the notes would have been expanded, although not as much as demanded by modern commentary buyers. Second, commentaries produced in the latter part of the nineteenth century focused on helping a scholar to read the Greek text of the Bible. Notes on textual variations and translation issues were the stuff of commentaries, with little or no interest in historical background or theology. Lightfoot was not uninterested in those issues, but the commentary was not the place to deal with background or theological issues.
Perhaps the most interesting section of this commentary is a reprinted article by Martin Hengel on Lightfoot and German scholarship on John’s Gospel” (p. 326-58). Originally printed in the Durham University Journal (1989) on the occasion of the centenary of Lightfoot’s death. As Witherington points out, Hengel himself was a historian and linguist at Tübingen, although he was far more sympathetic to Lightfoot’s views than F. C. Baur. Hengel offers a brief history of David Strauss and F. C. Baur and their approach to the Gospels, especially John. Baur famously dated the book to about A.D. 170. For Baur, Valentianian, Montanism and Gnosticism were “historical background” to the Gospel of John (p. 329).
By the time Lightfoot entered Oxford’s Trinity College in 1847, the influence of the Tübingen School was at its height. Baur would outlive Lightfoot by 8 years. Lightfoot’s work on the Apostolic Fathers was considered a “nail in the coffin” of Tübingen (p. 336) and his excursus on Paul and James in his Galatians commentary “the most important contribution to the Tübingen controversy” (337). Lightfoot did not engage in polemics, but built a positive argument for the authenticity of John, as is evidenced by the detailed material in this commentary.
Hengel’s essay also includes an assessment of Lightfoot’s influence on scholarship in England. Some considered him a representative of unbelief on par with Voltaire and some compared him to the antichrist (p. 352)! Ironically his commentary on John is now published by an evangelical publisher and Lightfoot is presented as a premier biblical scholar who stood against the inroads of protestant liberalism of his day. Hengel points out that Lightfoot not only remained a faithful member of the Church and “wore himself out” serving as both bishop and scholar (p. 342). It is a sad commentary on attacks on real scholarship done within the church by conservative Christianity in both the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries. Perhaps this is the best reason to read Lightfoot’s commentaries today.
Conclusion. Like Lightfoot’s newly discovered commentary on Acts, this commentary is a valuable contribution to the history of scholarship on the Book of John. In some ways it is dated since few scholars would argue along with Baur today that John is the product of the late second century. Yet Lightfoot’s model of Christian scholarship is important for a new generation of students of the Bible.
NB: Thanks to InterVarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.
Lightfoot, J. B. The Acts of the Apostles: A Newly Discovered Commentary. Edited by Ben Witherington III and Todd D. Still. The Lightfoot Legacy Set 1; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2014. 399 pp. Hb; $40.00. Link to IVP
Ben Witherington discovered the hand-written manuscript of this long-forgotten commentary on Acts by J. B. Lightfoot in the spring of 2013. The introduction to the commentary explains how Witherington had an opportunity to examine Lightfoot’s papers during a sabbatical visit at St. John’s College at Durham University. (See also Witherington’s “Text Archaeology: The Finding of Lightfoot’s Lost Manuscripts,” Biblical Archaeology Review 40.2 [March/April 2014]). This volume contains 6 black and white glossy pages of photographs illustrating the original pages discovered at Durham. According to IVP Academic, there are two more volumes planned in this series, one on the Gospel of John and another on 2 Corinthians and 1 Peter.
Why would anyone care to read a lost commentary written by a scholar who died in 1889? For some modern readers, Lightfoot’s legacy has been forgotten. But the mid-nineteen century, Lightfoot was considered one of the foremost scholars of his day. The editors of this book begin their introduction with the words of William Sanday: “No one could match Lightfoot for ‘exactness of scholarship, with the erudition, scientific method, sobriety of judgment and lucidity of style.’” His commentaries on the Galatians (1865), Philippians (1868) and Colossians (1875) are often reprinted and his work on the Apostolic Fathers was the standard until the Loeb edition by Krisopp Lake.
Witherington says “Lightfoot believed wholeheartedly that nothing could be theologically true that was historically false when it comes to matters involving a historical religion such as Christianity” (36). Lightfoot believed that “Faith seeking understanding” and “honesty about early Christianity and its Lord need not be feared by a person of Christian faith” (40). The authors of the introduction to the commentary are obviously infatuated with Lightfoot and sometimes bemoan the fact that this material was not published soon after was written. If it had been, Witherington speculates, perhaps it would have “forestalled all sorts of rash judgments about Luke as a writer of Greek orHe historian and would equally have made it impossible the conjecture that this document was written in the second century A.D. (39).
Lightfoot offers a discussion of the inspiration of Scripture as a “pre-introduction” to his commentary. Lightfoot balances divine inspiration with human agency in a way that seems familiar to evangelicals today. He calls inspiration which loses sight of human agency “irrational.” “The timidity which shrinks from the application of modern science or criticism to the interpretation of Scripture, is evinces a very unworthy view of its character. If the Scriptures are indeed true, they must be in accordance with every true principle of whatever kind” (49). This tenacious commitment to both Scripture and Reason is rare in the modern commentator, favoring either one or the other extreme.
With respect to typical matters of introduction, Lightfoot begins with a discussion of the manuscripts he will use in his commentary. After briefly discussing the rules of textual criticism, he offers a short history of textual criticism in modern times. Remember Tischendorf had only just discovered and published Sinaticus when this commentary was being written. Alexandrinus and Vaticanus are the two main texts he consults, along with Codex C and Codex Bezae. He offers several pages on the authenticity and credibility of the book of Acts. This section appears in more or less outline format and some of his points are not argued. Obviously if this commentary were completed these points would have been expanded. With respect to authorship, Lightfoot believes it is undoubted the author was a companion of Paul, and concludes the traditional view Luke is the author seems to be “the most natural conclusion” (65).
The commentary itself proceeds as does Lightfoot’s other commentaries. He begins with a brief summary of the pericope followed by short notes on Greek words and phrases of interest. After this commentary, there are a few pages of notes on the Greek text itself, commenting on textual variants and suggesting solutions. The editors the book describe Lightfoot as a “walking lexicon of Greek literature of all sorts, and not infrequently he was able to cite definitive parallels to New Testament usage that decided the issue of the meaning of a word or a phrase” (38). This is clear from a reading of the commentary; Lightfoot constantly cites a wide range of classical Greek sources to illustrate the meaning of the text.
With respect to textual critical issues Lightfoot touches on a large number of variants, often arguing the Received Text (the Majority Text) is in error and must be modified. Lightfoot obviously wrote well before the discovery of most of the papyri and he certainly is unaware of the vast majority of manuscripts which have come to light since the middle of the 19th century. Nevertheless his comments on textual criticism are often insightful for understanding the text of Acts.
The editors of the commentary provide occasional footnotes reporting corrections of marginal comments made by Lightfoot at a later time. For example, occasionally the editors include penciled in comments like “this was written before I saw Alford’s note” (p. 199). Sometimes the editors correct Lightfoot where he has cited the wrong text (p. 103).
Appendices. Following the commentary, the editors have included several additional items related to Lightfoot’s work on Acts. First, an article on Acts for Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible is included (279-326). The editors speculate this introduction was one of the last pieces he ever wrote on the New Testament. It is in fact a worthy introduction to a commentary on Acts.
The second appendix is an article entitled “Illustrations on the Acts from Recent Discoveries,” originally published in Contemporary Review in May 1878 (327-337). Lightfoot states “no ancient work affords so many tests of veracity,” a remarkable statement compared to contemporary commentaries on Acts which dismiss the book as historically unreliable. I doubt this brief article would convince anyone today dismiss the historical value of the Book of Acts.
A third appendix reprints a lecture on Paul’s history after Acts. Lightfoot surveys a number of early church writers who report the tradition Paul was released after the book of acts and continued his ministry in Spain. He therefore assumes this widely excepted tradition in sketches a brief chronology of what happened after Paul was released from prison. Order to do this Lightfoot makes use of the Pastoral Epistles, another rare practice in contemporary commentaries on the Book of Acts.
The final appendix is Lightfoot’s obituary from Contemporary Review in published in 1893 (352-386). The editors have enhanced this piece by adding footnotes identifying the various works mentioned in this anonymous homage, likely penned by either John Harmer or F. J. A. Hort, according to Witherington.
Conclusion. Overall this commentary is a valuable contribution to the history of scholarship on the Book of Acts. Modern commentaries still cite Lightfoot and his views on textual issues and lexical issues should not be taken lightly. Yet it must be understood this commentary is 150 years old and Lightfoot is simply unaware of the research done on the Second Temple Period in recent years. Nevertheless the simplicity and clarity of Lightfoot’s commentary is a joy to read. Like the Ancient Christian Commentaries and the Reformation Commentary published by IVP Academic, this commentary serves the purpose for which it was intended. This is not a cutting-edge, highly detailed commentary on Acts, but it does reflect serious exegesis from one of the great commentators of the nineteenth century.
NB: Thanks to Intervarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.