By Ray Van Neste and Michael Garrett
It’s been a busy publishing year in the field of biblical studies. Here are some of the titles that deserve consideration for a spot in your preaching library.
In The Bible for Everyone, (OT) John Goldingay and (NT) Tom Wright (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge) combine the two recent translations by these singular British Bible scholars. When Wright’s NT translation came out in 2011 I described it in this magazine as “fresh and interesting but idiosyncratic.” Goldingay’s OT translation has just appeared this year, and fits well with Wright’s NT. Although this volume is styled as “for everyone,” the subheadings are vague and less helpful and OT names are more like Hebrew transliterations, making them obscure to those accustomed to standard English translations. This can be a provocative tool for study, but not a particularly helpful resource for popular Bible reading.
Trent Hunter & Stephen Wellum are to be cheered for their pithy and well-written Christ from Beginning to End: How the Full Story of Scripture Reveals the Full Glory of Christ
(Zondervan). As the title indicates, this is a Christocentric understanding of the entire Bible from Creation to New Creation. Though it does encompass the entire Bible, the reading is not onerous in length or style. Pastors who wish to train competent and worthy teachers of the Scriptures for their congregations would do well to use this in weekly training sessions. Preachers who are wobbly in their understanding of the biblical story would benefit as well.
Two volumes in Zondervan’s Biblical Theology for Life series were released in the past year: Creation Care: A Biblical Theology of the Natural World by father-son team Doug and Jonathan Moo and Known by God: A Biblical Theology of Human Identity by Brian Rosner. The Moos begin with the basics: “What Do Christians Have to Do with Creation?” and “How Do We Think Biblically and Theologically about Creation?” From this rudimentary beginning, they move quickly through the biblical canon, examining the Bible’s view of the natural environment. With study questions at the end of each chapter and the avoidance of academic language, this book would serve to stimulate sermon ideas and provide biblical warrant for creation care.
Rosner’s theology of human identity follows the same basic pattern as the Moo volume. Addressing a question of paramount contemporary concern, Rosner begins the search for a definition of “personal identity.” His investigation proceeds from the Garden in Genesis, seeking to hear clearly from the biblical data. Though neither of these volumes is academic in orientation, they both supply ample fodder for spiritual and intellectual challenge.
Old Testament Law for Christians (Baker Academic) by Seventh-day Adventist Bible scholar Roy Gane prods the Old Testament and its Law for evidences of continuity and discontinuity with the New Testament. He finds, largely, continuous streams of grace that flow from Genesis to Revelation. Though he sees some elements of disjunction, Gane is primarily positive concerning the Law’s continuing usefulness, seeing it as “the manual for progressive moral wisdom” that inevitably leads to “holy living that is in harmony with God’s character and will” (also known as “growth in love”). In light of the obvious perplexity of many Christians concerning the Law, this book has great potential for helping preachers and Bible study leaders grasp a major element in God’s communication to us.
Paul Evans’1-2 Samuel (Story of God Commentary, Zondervan) situates the books within the larger scope of Scripture. This series is especially helpful for pastors addressing biblically illiterate audiences. Thorough summaries of the biblical narratives and practical application that is not pedantic Evans provides preachers with direction and example for carrying out their work. Solid scholarship and a readable text combine to make this an excellent guide.
Ezra and Nehemiah by David Shepherd and Christopher Wright (Two Horizons OT Commentary, Eerdmans) delivers on the series’ promise, giving less attention to critical and narrative issues and more focus on the text’s theological content. While the commentary portion of the text is substantial, half of the book is given to three outstanding essays: “Reading Ezra-Nehemiah Canonically,” “Reading Ezra-Nehemiah Theologically Today,” and “Leadership and Ezra-Nehemiah.”
Zephaniah, Haggai, Malachi (Reformed Expository Commentary, P&R) is jointly authored by Iain Duguid and Matthew Harmon, two capable exegetes laboring in the same congregation. They are not shy about approaching the prophets with a Christian sensibility. Since these books are not generally well-served (when was the last time you preached through Zephaniah?), pastors would do well to embrace this particular model.
Mignon R. Jacobs’ Haggai and Malachi (NICOT, Eerdmans) is the latest installment in this venerable series and replaces the older commentary by Peter Verhoef. Jacobs’ method takes seriously the historical context of the prophets, so her commentary is replete with engagement of historical and text-critical issues thus requiring substantial interaction with contemporary scholarship. The text is dry, however, with little theological reflection, and thus less helpful to preachers than Verhoef’s.
The 892-page second edition of Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus by Klyne R. Snodgrass (Eerdmans) has been released, ten years after its initial appearance. For preachers of the parables who have not already acquired this book, beg, borrow, or fill out your Christmas list to get your copy. This was an award-winner when it first appeared, and its value has not decreased. After two informative introductory chapters discussing the nature of parables and their existence in the ancient world, each of Jesus’ parables receives full commentary treatment. After prodding and probing the parable from a number of different angles, he concludes the discussion of each with a section he calls “Adapting the Parable” where he attempts to discern the meaning of the parable for the contemporary church. Even preachers who disagree with his conclusions will find Snodgrass to be an indispensable instructor in hearing “the voice of Jesus” in the parables.
In Jesus the God-Man: The Unity and Diversity of the Gospel Portrayals (Baker Academic) Darrell Bock and Benjamin Simpson have carefully investigated the Gospels (divided into Synoptics & John) to see how each one tells us who Jesus is. Written as an update and rework of the final section of Bock’s prodigious Jesus According to Scripture, they hope to clearly communicate Jesus’ personality, His mission, and His message. Preachers intending to preach through any of the Gospels will find this relatively brief book to be an able assistant in gaining a fresh perspective on the Jesus of the Gospels as both a teacher of wise living and a preacher of a coming kingdom.
Patristic scholar D.H. Williams has provided a superbly edited collection of comments on Matthew from Bible scholars of the early church, ranging from Ambrose to Victorinus (The Church’s Bible, Eerdmans). Readers accustomed to the brief excerpts provided by similar series will be pleased to see the fulsome space afforded to the individual commentators.
Matthew by Rodney Reeves (Story of God Commentary, Zondervan), in keeping with this series, covers the big picture rather than mining details, which he accomplishes magnificently. His natural literary reading helps his audience see each portion of the story in light of the whole of the history of redemption, yielding rich theological insight. Preachers will find this one to be especially helpful.
Eckhard Schnabel’s Mark (Tyndale NT Series, IVP) replaces Alan Coles’ 1989 volume. This new commentary is one of at least 33 Mark commentaries that did not exist in 1989, a sign of the robust attention paid to the Gospel over the past 25 years. Schnabel writes for a broad audience, and busy pastors will appreciate his clear and concise style. Weighing in at 441 pages, the commentary does not seem overly brief, but readers will appreciate the direct interpretations offered by Schnabel along with limited interactions with other commentaries (though his research always undergirds his writing). A “Theology” section has been added after the exposition of each section of Mark’s text. This volume would be an excellent place to start for many pastors.
Michael Wolter’s two-volume The Gospel According to Luke (Studies in Early Christianity, Baylor) was originally published in German in 2008. This English translation conveys the dense technical nature of the original. Theological students and patient readers of the commentary will appreciate Wolter’s abundant notations and vigorous prosecution of the Greek text.
Bryan Stewart & Michael Thomas’s John (The Church’s Bible, Eerdmans) follows the same form as the Matthew volume above, though it includes medieval commentators as well as the early church fathers.
Douglas A. Campbell’s Paul: An Apostle’s Journey (Eerdmans) is a quick-read that moves through Paul’s life and on to the churches that he established. This is no hatchet job; it is worthy of reading for a broad overview of the Apostle’s life and work. But at times Campbell’s theological discernments are off-track, most explicitly in one of the final chapters “God Wins.” Here he endorses universalism and declares that Paul was teaching this understanding of universal salvation.
The collection of 19 essays in“In Christ” in Paul: Explorations in Paul’s Theology of Union and Participation, edited by Thate, Vanhoozer, & Campbell (Eerdmans), deeply investigates this central theme in Paul’s writings – a theme which is essential for understanding and enjoying the Christian life. The authors come from diverse perspectives, both theologians and Bible scholars, and attend to the theme through biblical exegesis, history of exegesis, and theological essays.
Jerry Sumney’s Steward of God’s Mysteries: Paul and Early Church Tradition (Eerdmans) can be safely dismissed by most preachers. Its concern for the early textual traditions that stand behind final Pauline rhetorical stylings will frustrate all but the academic specialist.
Romans Verse by Verse (Lexham Press) is one of Grant Osborne’s last contributions to this series as he passed away in 2018. This volume, like the previous ones in the series, provides clear, faithful exposition without getting bogged down in minutiae. He understands Romans 9-11 as a thorough Arminian, but he does not try to explain away the stress on God’s sovereignty. Pastors and Bible study leaders will find Osborne to be a capable guide.
The Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Zondervan) is one of the outstanding commentary series currently being produced. Paul Gardner’s entry on I Corinthians is not an exception to this estimation. Written by a churchman with rigorous academic training, the commentary exhibits the marks of a long and deep engagement with the text of Scripture. The pithy introductory material ushers in a meticulous treatment of the Apostle’s Greek text which combines almost every aspect needed in a careful study of the text.
Tom Schreiner’s new volume on 1 Corinthians in the Tyndale NT Series (IVP) replaces the original by Leon Morris. Schreiner is a long-time fan of the Tyndale, and it shows as he fits hand in glove with the style and substance of this extraordinarily helpful series. This particular volume is now one of the premier shorter commentaries on this letter. With his rich background in Pauline studies, Schreiner is an insightful guide through the text. He summarizes the theology of each section but does not get bogged down in interaction with the vast secondary literature. Though thorough exegetes may need to apply themselves to other more lengthy commentaries, this volume will be a boon to preachers.
Ian Hamilton’s Ephesians (Lectio Continua, Reformation Heritage Books) is a hearty pastoral and theological exposition drawing keen insights from the best of the Reformed tradition. It is a joy to read and will be very useful in sermon preparation as well as devotional reading.
Mark J. Keown has produced a substantial two-volume commentary on Philippians (Evangelical Exegetical Commentary, Lexham Press). With more than 1100 pages, Keown has adequate space to address both major and minor issues of the text. His in-depth introduction (almost a tenth of the work) will especially benefit readers attempting to understand the church at Philippi and their cultural setting. The commentary commences with detailed treatments of each section of the letter. The segments contain their own introduction, with each subsection having an introduction, outline, fresh translation, discussion of textual issues, commentary, discussion of biblical theology and application. Keown is particularly attuned to literary and linguistic issues. If the preacher can avoid getting lost in the details, this will be a significant commentary for sermon preparation.
Scot McKnight follows up last year’s substantial work on The Letter to Philemon with The Letter to the Colossians in the same series (NICNT, Eerdmans). McKnight often provides helpful cultural background material. While I applauded his Philemon volume, I am not as taken with this one. It is harder to skim than others, often difficult to pick out his theological reflections. He often goes to great lengths to avoid evidence of complementarianism in the text, while he seems less interested in pursuing other classic theological points at key texts.
Crossway recently launched a multi-volume, multi-author, whole-Bible commentary (The ESV Expository Commentary edited by Ian Duguid, James Hamilton, and Jay Sklar). Four volumes have appeared so far, but I have only been able to examine one volume in time for this issue. Volume 12 contains these commentaries: Hebrews by Dennis Johnson, James by Robert Plummer, 1 Peter by Sam Storms, 2 Peter& Jude by Matthew Harmon, 1-3 John by Ray Van Neste and Revelation by Tom Schreiner. While the 1-3 John commentary is more difficult to assess – given my personal involvement – I find the other commentaries, in format and manner, to be pitched at an admirable level for sermon preparation. Each commentary provides a brief but helpful introduction as well as a section on preaching that particular portion of Scripture. Following the verse-by-verse commentary there is a “Response” section dealing with application, and each commentary concludes with a brief annotated bibliography of about five main commentaries on the book. Schreiner’s introduction on Revelation is particularly enlightening for preachers of that challenging book.
Danny Akin’s compact Living Doctrine: The Book of Titus (Lexham Press) contains a practical, brief exposition of this important Pauline letter with questions for application and meditation after each section. This will be useful for sermon preparation as well as small group study.
The careful and detailed analysis of the Greek text by Larry Perkins (Handbook on the Greek Text, Baylor) in The Pastoral Letters will be useful to the pastor working through the text, but often he merely catalogs interpretive options without arguing for a specific stance. This process can be helpful but Yarbrough’s new commentary (below) is much more valuable.
Robert Yarbrough is among my favorite living commentators so I was eager to see his new commentary on The Letters to Timothy and Titus (Pillar, Eerdmans). His introduction is a tour de force, arguing at length that the Triune God Himself is the central message of these letters. His contention is that Paul’s theological and pastoral message is obscured by a myopic, Western academia which has lost sight of the central concerns of historic Christianity. The commentary is detailed and careful while remaining understandable and clear. Yarbrough pays particular attention to key words and how their use in other literature from the same era can aid in understanding. As expected, this is one to be sure to acquire.
Dennis Edwards (Story of God Commentary, Zondervan) on 1 Peter is decent but not great, certainly not one to buy if you have access to others. By constraint of the series, the exposition is limited and substantial space is given to application, though it is theologically thin overall.
1, 2, & 3 John by Constantine R. Campbell (Story of God Commentary, Zondervan) provides a good introduction to theological themes. Again, the constraints of this series mean that it cannot replace a more substantive, standard commentary as a first choice, but it would be a helpful supplement.
Patrick Henry Reardon is one of my favorite authors so I was intrigued to see he had written a book on Revelation, Revelation: A Liturgical Prophecy (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press). His introduction is helpful if only because of his nice writing, but the commentary is so brief (one or two small pages on some chapters), that its contribution for sermon preparation is negligible.
Revelation by Joel Beeke (Lectio Continua, RHB) is a collection of sermons, in keeping with the series. The preaching is faithful to the text, but the commentary often did not answer questions I am looking for in the text. Also since it is running prose it is more difficult to scan to see what I’m looking for. However, I loved his introductory comments on the aims of preaching.
Readers of the Apocalypse will be glad to see that the Tyndale NT Commentary on Revelation (IVP) has been updated after more than 50 years. Ian Paul’s commentary succeeds Leon Morris’ 1969 work. This is the most useful of the new commentaries on this book. It is engagingly written, and the introduction is helpful particularly on the imagery or metaphors of the book and its theology.
Paul preaches weekly and is aware of the needs of pastors and other readers. Though he recognizes that John is communicating visions, Dr. Paul is determined to remind us that John uses words to do so, thus the attention to John’s actual words in this commentary. John’s use of the OT is highlighted as well. Paul is not clear about the school of interpretation that he follows. We understand that, as he says, this is a result of our interpretation rather than a guide to it, but it would be useful for him to let readers know his conclusions. Still, this is a valuable resource for studying this challenging book.
Ray Van Neste is Dean of the School of Theology and Missions, Professor of Biblical Studies, and Director of the R.C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee.
Michael Garrett is Assistant Director and Librarian of the Ryan Center for Biblical Studies at Union University.