The Annual Preaching Survey of Bibles and Bible Reference Works

Ray Van Neste Articles

The major new translation this year is the Christian Standard Bible (B&H), which is a substantial revision of the Holman Christian Standard Bible. The revision was done by a Translation Oversight Committee co-chaired by Tom Schreiner and David Allen and including scholars from 17 different denominations.

Like a number of major translations, the CSB seeks to find a balance between being literal and clear. I think the CSB is a significant improvement over the HCSB, with a number of the more idiosyncratic translations replaced. For example, the CSB dropped the practice of translating God’s name “Yahweh,” since it was inconsistent in the HCSB and was confusing to readers.

With the new translation, the HCSB Study Bible was updated as well. The new design of the CSB Study Bible (Holman) is cleaner with crisp colors and easily discernible divisions between text and notes. With a few substantial updates, this is a significant Bible study resource.

Josh McDowell and his son Sean have produced an updated and expanded edition of Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Thomas Nelson). This helpful compendium of apologetics information has made use of some of today’s best Bible scholarship.

Danny Hays’ The Temple and The Tabernacle: A Study of God’s Dwelling Places from Genesis to Revelation (Baker) is filled with color illustrations and is accessibly written. The text provides sane and solid footing in the theology of God’s dwelling rather than the wild claims that some books have made in seeking to apply Temple discussions to today. This book will be indispensable for preachers.

The Essential Trinity: New Testament Foundations and Practical Relevance (P&R) edited by Brandon Crowe and Carl R. Trueman devotes a chapter to each section of the NT and then one to the OT demonstrating the biblical realities which lead to the doctrine of the Trinity. The second half of the book demonstrates the significance of the Trinity for various aspects of Christian living. This is a wonderful resource since people often wonder about the biblical basis of this essential doctrine and its practical relevance.

OLD TESTAMENT

Kelvin Moore’s The Old Testament for the 21st Century (Insight Press) is concerned about biblical illiteracy, especially the absence of Old Testament knowledge in churches. A concise survey of the OT story is followed by brief chapters on each book of the OT. Each chapter contains summary, outline, and application, as well as preaching and devotional guidance on select texts. It will be a helpful tool for building biblical literacy in congregations.

Christopher Wright’s How to Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth (Zondervan) shows how the OT fits into the story of the Bible and why it is important to see (and preach) each text in light of the whole story. He shows how the OT points to Jesus without reducing the OT to a mere bridge to the New. Wright points out key messages of the OT and warns against sloppy ways of seeing Jesus in the OT which miss other unique contributions of the text.

Jason DeRouchie’s How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament (P&R) provides a robust, thorough treatment of each step in the exegetical process from basic textual data to systematic theology.

Mark Boda explores three key themes from the OT in his The Heartbeat of Old Testament Theology (Baker). His theologically rich discussion, undergirded by solid biblical scholarship, explores who God is and who we are under the headings “God’s Historical Action,” “God’s Active Character,” and “God’s Relational Identity.” He follows the threads into the NT and shows how these themes apply to the church today.

Desmond Alexander’s Exodus entry in the Apollos Commentary Series (IVP) is a wonderful commentary. Following the series guidelines, it deals with more technical issues but Alexander’s literary and theological sensitivities, along with his lively writing style, make this a boon for preachers. Anyone planning to preach on Exodus ought to read Alexander’s introduction. His brief sketch of the book is masterful, demonstrating that its overarching theme is how God works so that his people might know him more fully. A must have.

The Concordia Commentary’s First Samuel by Andrew Steinmann is a substantial commentary with detailed notes on the Hebrew text, a fresh translation as well as commentary. Steinmann writes from a conservative and confessional Lutheran perspective. While academically robust, the commentary speaks directly to contemporary life as well.

James Adams’ War Psalms of the Prince of Peace: Lessons from the Imprecatory Psalms (P&R), a revised and expanded edition, is a very helpful little book, abundant in theological and practical reflection on these difficult psalms and our prayers. Since preachers must first be pray-ers, this is a very valuable book. In addition to his exposition, Adams devotes a chapter to understanding how to preach these psalms.

The Christ of Wisdom: A Redemptive-Historical Exploration of the Wisdom Books of the Old Testament (P&R) is Palmer Robertson’s introduction to the wisdom books (including Lamentations but excluding Psalms, which he covered in The Flow of the Psalms). Robertson’s thorough discussion of these books offers generally traditional perspectives on authorship and origin. The core of the book is his rich examination of the theological messages of each of these books and their application. He rejects the arguments of others that these books are largely secular, thus the “redemptive-historical” of the title. This will be usefully used alongside commentaries on these books. Commentaries on the individual books often do not locate these books in the broader canon or God’s redemptive purpose. Robertson also resists the breezy platitudes too often offered in more popular treatments of these challenging books. Robertson faces the challenges and finds bracing wisdom for all areas of life, grounded in God’s redemptive purposes.

Ezra & Nehemiah in the Reformed Expository Commentary (P&R), contains Derek Thomas’ Sunday evening sermons. These are solid and faithful sermons. Preachers will be helped by this example of sober engagement with the text from this academic and preacher.

Christopher Wright’s Hearing the Message of Daniel (Zondervan) is a collection of engaging expositional sermons on a book which is often difficult to preach. Wright does not deal with many of the technical details but he provides a fine example of how to apply this text to our contemporary setting. His experience living in India and elsewhere particularly enrich his exposition of a book about living faithfully in a challenging context.

Peter Gentry’s How to Read & Understand the Biblical Prophets (Crossway) is an excellent little book by a major OT scholar. In just over 100 pages, in accessible language, Gentry explains how the prophets primarily preach from Deuteronomy and how literary devices and structure illuminate the message of the prophetic books. Gentry doesn’t get bogged down in many of the standard introductory topics but gets right into the task of interpretation. Any preacher can benefit from this work, which I think is now the preeminent resource for better understanding and preaching the prophets.

The Anchor Bible’s Amos by Göran Eidevall (Yale) bypasses speculation about the man, Amos, since we have no solid information about him. Eidevall focuses on the literary product, seeing the book as the result of a process of redaction. He suggests the book can be helpfully read as a drama. He maintains a critical distance from the text’s theological message. This allows him to avoid judging the truthfulness of Amos’ message (since, according to Eidevall, Amos is just one voice in the community!). He evidences no particular interest in the theology of the book or its contemporary relevance. This commentary is useful for technical data but not so much for preaching.

The most recent Two Horizons Commentary is Stephen Dempster’s Micah (Eerdmans). Dempster is a leading voice for biblical theology in the OT, so I was excited to see this commentary. He does not disappoint. Dempster attends to all of the standard interpretive issues but also interprets Micah according to its place among the Minor Prophets, the OT and the rest of the Bible. He writes well – engaging and smooth – with attention to literary features in a way that is not merely academic but catches emotive power (and draws in the reader!) [e.g., “the prophet is howling like an animal and commands people of various towns to weep”]. His theological reflections at the end of units are wonderful, rich in application as well. This will be a real help to preachers, especially since the prophets can be such a challenge to grasp.

NEW TESTAMENT

Following the successful first volume of Devotions on the Greek New Testament: 52 Reflections to Inspire and Instruct, Zondervan has published a second volume, edited by Paul Jackson. These brief reflections demonstrate how edifying it can be to read the Greek New Testament. Pastors who are using their Greek or those who want to refresh their language skills will find this to be a wonderful help. The index will also make this a useful resource for sermon preparation.

Philosopher and theologian David Bentley Hart has translated The New Testament (Yale). He is deeply conversant with Greek and had desired for some time to attempt a translation “not shaped by [post-New Testament] theological and doctrinal history.” The introduction is a delight to read- even where one disagrees strongly- due to Hart’s forthright and punchy writing. This translation shouldn’t replace your currently used English text but it can be a provocative dialogue partner as you study.

Unlike many introductions to Bible interpretation that come across as overly mechanical, Andy Naselli’s How to Understand and Apply the New Testament: Twelve Steps from Exegesis to Theology (P&R) affirms clearly that we are reading the Bible as the very Word of God with the aim of knowing God. With that end in mind, we will think hard and interpret carefully. Naselli’s warm and engaging guidance will help us all to be more competent in this task.

Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels by Richard Hays (Baylor University Press) is not merely a book to be consulted but rather one to digest fully and deliberately. Hays works through the four Gospels, demonstrating how the authors built their argument based on themes and ideas from the Old Testament. While some scholars suggest complicated and abstract methodology, Hays simply calls us to pay careful attention to how stories actually work. We readily make allusions to other stories we all know, making passing references to a funny line or a significant occurrence. We build from shared memory. The gospel writers are doing the same for people who are steeped in the world of the Old Testament. For many Christians today, the Old Testament is unknown and thus our reading of the New Testament is impoverished and distorted. Preacher, spend time with this book; take time to read it carefully and see if your preaching of the Gospels is not enriched and revitalized.

Matthew by Anna Case-Winters is the latest entry in Westminster John Knox’s Belief commentary series, which announces itself as a theological commentary on Scripture. Like many volumes in this series, I find this one too brief and theologically trendy to be of much help to the working preacher. What it adds to other commentaries is suspect. For instance, the discussion of the Incarnation is theologically faulty and scattered. She seems to say we can believe in the Incarnation because we realize that God is actually in all creation, just as He was in Jesus. Such wobbliness pervades the text.

Chuck Quarles’ Matthew in the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (B&H) continues the significant work Quarles has produced on Matthew, making him one of the premier evangelical guides for this gospel. In keeping with the series, this book focuses on key Greek words, grammar and structure. Quarles combines careful detailed analysis with gospel warmth making this a wonderful resource for anyone working in the Greek text.

Jonathan Pennington’s The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing: A Theological Commentary (Baker) is a major contribution not only to exegetical study of the Sermon on the Mount but also to the overall understanding of the Bible and the Christian life. Pennington surveys how the church has wrestled with the Sermon in various ways and then works carefully through the context of the Sermon, providing a thoughtful approach to the words of Jesus as they relate to the rest of Scripture.  This profound study offers a vision of what it means for human beings to flourish as well as providing significant instructions for faithful pastoral ministry.

Mark Through Old Testament Eyes (Kregel) by Andrew LePeau is the inaugural volume of a series which will focus on the OT background of NT books. This volume is not technical and is aimed at preachers and Bible study teachers. LePeau shares some of the concern of Hays’ book (above), and his introduction helpfully demonstrates how OT allusions work by equating it to a similar device in popular movies that make passing reference to previous movies for a variety of reasons. His statement that for many Christians today the OT is a closed book is unfortunately true. That reality is even more distressing considering that the thought of NT authors was deeply shaped by the Old Testament. This series intends to rectify that situation. While this is not a full scale commentary, it keeps its focus, making it a useful resource. I am quite intrigued by the possibilities of this ongoing series.

Alan Thompson’s Luke (B&H), in the same series as Quarles’ Matthew, is a wealth of information on key words and grammar of the Greek text. However, the use of parenthetical references in this volume makes the text very busy and sometimes difficult to follow closely.

A Commentary on the Gospel of John by Johannes Beutler (Eerdmans) is a significant commentary from a key voice in Johannine scholarship over the past half century, especially in Europe. It is profound and stimulating. However, it is a bit removed from the concerns of the preacher.

The latest entry in the New Testament Library is Acts by Carl R. Holladay (Westminster John Knox). This is a major critical commentary from a leading NT scholar. The text is loaded with the detailed information and technical data one would expect along with a more skeptical take on historical matters and traditional positions. I find it to be very helpful on technical details, and the excurses on the use of the OT in Acts is stimulating, but it would be best to consult this in a library.

The Parables after Jesus: Their Imaginative Receptions across Two Millennia by David Gowler (Baker) is a helpful resource to use when preaching Jesus’ parables. Often we are not aware of the limitations our own setting brings to our reading. This is always true, but is more pronounced when reading things like parables. Seeing how Christians over the past two thousand years interpreted the parables does not necessarily show us the right way to read them, but it can expose things we missed or failed to consider. In this way this book can enrich and enliven the preacher’s grasp of the parables.

Romans by John Harvey is a substantial offering in the Exegetical Guide to the New Testament series (B&H). This volume is longer than any of the Gospel volumes in this series. This extra space allows for outlines of each paragraph of Romans as well as extensive bibliographies. The text is also not as crammed (see Luke above), making reading more enjoyable. Harvey provides careful analysis of significant words and the grammar of the Greek text and summarizes the key arguments in other commentaries.

David Peterson’s Commentary on Romans (Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation; B&H) is a substantive, informed commentary with a theological introduction. Though the biblical theology angle is not pronounced, this is a helpful commentary.

While Philemon is usually paired with Colossians, Scot McKnight was allowed to treat it separately in The Letter to Philemon (NICNT; Eerdmans). McKnight persuasively argues that Philemon deserves such individual treatment, particularly due to the modern question of slavery. In an extensive introduction McKnight traces an overview of slavery in the ancient world and slavery in the modern world. He refutes the suggestion that slavery in the ancient world was “not that bad.” After surveying arguments to the contrary, McKnight faces head on the fact that Paul nowhere in the letter calls for the manumission of Onesimus or criticizes the institution of slavery.

McKnight also pushes back on our modern assumptions, pointing out that very few in the first century knew anything close to what we in the modern West think of in terms of freedom. In the end, McKnight argues that Paul was not disturbed by the institution of slavery and did not address what the Roman society or legal system should do in regard to slavery. Rather, Paul’s concern was for liberation within the church, the creation of a new society in the church where all people are welcomed and valued. This churchly focus then shapes the exposition in a way that illuminates the significance of this little but important letter.

Andreas Köstenberger’s Commentary on 1-2 Timothy & Titus (B&H) from the relatively new Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation series is a standard commentary followed by a discussion of key theological themes in the letters. The commentary is erudite and aware of the secondary literature. It will prove to be helpful for exegesis.

In Letters from the Pillar Apostles: The Formation of the Catholic Epistles as a Canonical Collection (Cascade) Darian Lockett argues that James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, & Jude should be read as intentionally connected to one another. This will not be a book for weekly sermon preparation, but would be useful to read and ponder as you consider how you interpret these often overlooked letters.

The Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture (Baker) on James, First, Second, and Third John is authored by Kelly Anderson (James) and Daniel Keating (John’s Letters). These brief but competent commentaries from a conservative Catholic perspective add little to what is found elsewhere. Their distinctive contribution is in quotes from the church fathers and occasional reflections on Catholic doctrine.

Richard Phillips opens his Revelation (P&R) with a hearty preface extolling the contemporary value of this often misunderstood and misused, and therefore frequently avoided, book. Anyone preaching this book would do well to read the preface and first chapter, at least. You could think of this commentary as sermonic renditions of Greg Beale’s magisterial commentary. Phillips follows Beale’s basic trajectory and does solid exegesis and application for the church.

The Top 10 Commentaries & Bible Study Tools of 2017

Christopher Wright, How to Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth (Zondervan)

Daniel Hays, The Temple and The Tabernacle: A Study of God’s Dwelling Places from Genesis to Revelation (Baker)

Desmond Alexander, Exodus (Apollos Series; IVP)

Peter Gentry, How to Read & Understand the Biblical Prophets (Crossway)

Stephen Dempster Micah (Two Horizons; Eerdmans).

Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels (Baylor University Press)

Andy Naselli, How to Understand and Apply the New Testament: Twelve Steps from Exegesis to Theology (P&R)

Jonathan Pennington, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing: A Theological Commentary (Baker)

Scot McKnight, The Letter to Philemon (NICNT; Eerdmans).

Richard Phillips, Revelation (P&R)