Monday, November 29, 2010

Giving Thanks By Giving

We've just passed Thanksgiving, a time where we remember and give thanks for all that God has done for us. He has blessed us in a multitude of ways, especially in material prosperity - almost embarrassingly so. At the holidays many of us like to express our gratitude to God by giving to those in need. I wanted to alert you to a worthy outlet for your giving. I know that some are suffering from fatigue from being asked to give to Haiti, but there's still an enormous need that we cannot forget or overlook. Let's not grow weary in giving thanks to God by giving.

A friend of mine, named Jenny Bahng has been to Haiti twice on short term mission trips since the earthquake. While there she spent her time ministering to children in some of the worst slums in Haiti. In January she's gong back for six months and she's raising money both for herself and for the children of Haiti. She's started a blog that you should check out. Read more about what she will be doing and if the Lord leads you, you can make a tax deductible donation by PayPal via the sidebar of her blog.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Paul's Argument in Galatians 3:15-29

15 Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. 16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. 17 What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. 18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

19 Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. 20 A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one.

21 Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22 But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (NIV)

I won't typically take passages this long in our study of Galatians, but it's too easy to chop up this single argument into bits and then get it wrong because you don't see how the whole passage fits together and also because Paul's analogy in verse 15 can get bent severely out of shape if pressed too far and not understood in light of the following paragraphs. In this section of his argument Paul substantiates his earlier claim that the covenant people enter the family of God on the basis of faith by exploring the relationship between the Abrahamic covenant and the law. This is one of the more difficult and dense sections in the letter so there will probably be a couple of posts spun off from here dealing with specific issues. Here we will focus on his main points.

Paul begins in verse 15 by using an example from Greek and Roman law. Wills are unalterable by anyone other than the person who made the will. The same is true in this case. God made a promise to Abraham and to his seed that he would receive an inheritance from God of, among other things, a worldwide family. It's important that we notice here that Christ is the recipient of the promise. It is to him as Abraham's seed that a family is promised. The Gentiles join Abraham's family via Christ, the seed, not via the law which came 430 years later. The problem with the law is not just that it came later and did not alter the already given promise. It's also that the law and promise are antithetical just as works of the law and faith were.

This naturally raises the questions that Paul deals with next; why did God bother giving the law at all? Are verses 19 and 20 suggesting that God wasn't the origin of the law? While Paul is clearly distancing God from the law a bit in those verses, it isn't fair to suggest as some (e.g., Martyn) have that the law didn't have its genesis in God. Paul's distancing God from the law for the purpose of showing that it is of less value than the promise. The law came for a limited time (until Christ - the one to whom the promise was made - came) and a limited purpose. It was never intended to be the means by which one entered the people of God.

The purpose of the law was limited, but it wasn't in opposition to the promise. The law has a 'negative' role, dealing with sin. More specifically the law was given to Israel, cursing them by displaying their inability to live God's way apart from the Spirit. They failed just as Adam failed. By extension it shows the inability of all to live God's way. Additionally, the law didn't free Israel from the power of sin, even though the sacrificial system was in place and did deal with sin in some limited sense. They, like all the rest were still under sin's power. The law also had a positive role that was related to its negative role, and this is where Israel was at an advantage. It was a means to protect Israel from the power of sin until Christ could come. Here it's worth noting that Paul isn't giving a complete theology of the law. Rather he's dealing with a very specific question: what is the role of the law in becoming a member of the people of God (none) and how did the law relate to the covenant (it's subordinate to it and preserved Israel so that the seed could come and show us the way to become true children of Abraham - by faith and to enable that path through his faithfulness). Additionally this will pave the way for Paul's later discussion of the Spirit as that which guides God's people.

Verses 26-29 sum up the argument thus far and also extend it with an argument from the Christian tradition. In verse 26 Paul affirms that Jew and Gentile alike are part of Abraham's family on the basis of faith and faith alone. Through baptism the Galatians came to be completely identified with Christ on the basis of their union with him. "For Paul, it is the participationist soteriology of being 'in Christ' that bridges the expanse between Abraham and the Gentile world, and not Torah observance as the Judaizers argued" (Longenecker 151). The Galatians were united with Christ and clothed with him, meaning that part of their identification with Christ involved a moral transformation - the way they lived looked like Christ, they had entered into the new creation, the new era, and thus, again, the law was unnecessary. He further substantiates that point by citing what in all likelihood was a snippet from an early Christian baptismal liturgy, possibly the one he himself used when baptizing his converts. The Jew/Greek distinction is irrelevant in Paul's eyes. At baptism both have entered the people of God by faith and both are full covenant members. There's no need for Gentiles to follow the law.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Personal Update

I don't write many posts of a personal nature, but I think that it might be of interest to some of you, and I would also appreciate any advice and prayers that you may have. For the past three semesters I've been taking classes part time at TEDS while working full time at a marketing research firm. The first year this went splendidly. Life was busy, but I was able to juggle everything. It's been tougher this semester. Having a baby is life altering in many ways. My free time for studying has greatly decreased and it's increasingly difficult to find a way to put in all of the time that I need to for my studies without abdicating my role in the family. When this was compounded with teaching a class at church in September and early October, I was doing too much. To be clear, none of this is a complaint. I am so happy to have my daughter and I loved teaching on Daniel. I love school and at least for now my job is a necessity (and is pretty good as far as jobs go).

Something has to give for me, and it isn't going to be work or family, and my involvement at church will only increase. Thus I've decided to take a leave of absence from TEDS for a year, after which we will reevaluate our path and plan and whether it involves returning part time at that point or, as is more likely, resuming my education when we are in a financial position where I can attend seminary full-time (hopefully in the fall of 2013). This isn't an easy decision to make. I've learned a lot the past three semesters for which I am grateful, but we feel that taking a break is the best thing to do. Please remember to keep us in your prayers as we seek to follow God however he may lead us.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Other Regard and Ethical Kenosis

It is possible to think of sin as "a compulsion towards attitudes and actions not always of [humans'] own willing or approving" a power which prevents humankind from recognizing its own nature. This may be a compulsion to desire status over against God, the compulsion on which the Genesis 3 account focuses. But it may be a compulsion to gain power over others or to use sex for sex's sake or to satisfy a craving for an excess of alcohol, drugs, food, or sensation of whatever kind. All of these draw us into idolatry; they make of a substance or experience a kind of substitute god. All drain away the freedom that comes from worshipful dependence upon God. Such appetite consumes more of the world's fullness than is our share. The application of this principle of kenosis of appetite is widespread; it applies to deforestation to expand farmland for excess export crops, but also to the high-food-mile demands of the West that fuel so many unsustainable practices, to the taking of spurious long-haul flights as well as the frittering away of carbon-intensive energy in so many human dwellings.

A particular aspect of the kenosis of appetite, which links to the kenosis of aspiration, is the kenosis of acquisitiveness. Just as we humans must be willing to order our ambitions and our experiences in accord with the freedom of the redeemed order, so we must order our acquisition of the material trappings of life, which again are often acquired at the expense of the well-being of other creatures. The Pauline material does not, of course, uniquely or unambiguously generate specific indications as to what it might mean to live more lightly on the Earth, to lessen the impact of our ecological imprint. But it does, crucially, provide a model for placing such patterns of practice at the heart of Christian ethics, as a central part of what following (or, better, imitating) Christ implies (Horrell, Hunt, and Southgate 195-6).
What do you think? Are ecological ethics at the heart of Christian ethics?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Book Review: Colossians and Philemon

The NCCS series is off to a stellar start. I greatly enjoyed Keener's commentary on Romans (see my review) and I picked up Colossians and Philemon by Michael Bird with some anticipation. I have to say that I was very pleased on the whole.

The introduction of the commentary was very, very good, perhaps even the strength of the commentary. Bird deals with the question of authorship at some length, clearly exposing weaknesses in arguments against Pauline authorship. In particular, he notes that the language in Colossians is different than the undisputed Paulines because Paul quotes a lot of traditional material and the opponents he's facing are a bit different than the Judaizers (6-7). It is not fair to say, though, that Bird believes that Pauline authorship of Colossians is of the same nature as Pauline authorship of Galatians. He sees it as being co-authored by Paul, Timothy, and perhaps others. This accounts for some of the distinctiveness of Colossians when compared to the undisputed Pauline epistles. The most detailed and helpful portion of the introduction is the assessment of the Colossian philosophy (15-26). Bird surveys the scholarly landscape and eventually settles on a calling it a form of Jewish mysticism. Introductory matters related to Philemon are briefly but adequately addressed.

The commentary proper was very strong. Bird is an excellent writer and he presents his viewpoint in a compelling way. The most remarkable aspect of this commentary was its evenness. I never felt like there was a section where Bird didn't have much to say and hadn't thought deeply about the text. The main body of the commentary is a running explanation of the letter. Bird does an admirable job of keeping the big picture of what Paul is doing in the letter in full view, relating each section to the whole. This makes the commentary an enjoyable read and very helpful for someone looking to get a quick grasp on any particular passage or the book as a whole. Technical discussions related to Greek grammar and other matters are relegated to the footnotes (there's more detail on grammatical issues here than one might expect for a commentary of this nature). The sections on 'Fusing the Horizons' were top notch providing pastors with brief but rich ministry-shaping reflections on topics such as The Global Church (see a snippet here), Common Faith, and Ministerial Formation. Bird writes as one who writes for the church, and not just in the 'Fusing the Horizons' sections. Throughout the commentary he draws out ecclesial themes, especially how God's people should function; both at the local church setting and more widely (often by describing Paul's theology - one must have ears to hear).

There were a few sections of the Colossians commentary that I found particularly helpful. I'll highlight a couple. I was greatly aided by his organizing method for the Christ hymn of Col. 1:18-20. Bird claims that
...the coherence and unity of the poem is based around certain key motifs in both strophes that are activated by certain words.

He is... Divine Personhood: The identity of Jesus in relation to God.

Firstborn Divine Preeminence: The supremacy of Jesus over creation and new creation.

Because Divine Perspective: An explanation of how Jesus relates to the prerogatives and presence of God.

In him Divine Agency: What purposes the Father works out through the Son.

Whether... Divine Authority: Signals the extent of the Son's reign over creation and salvation. (50)
Another helpful section was on 3:5-11, which Bird titled, 'Living as the New Humanity of the New Age.' These are the portions of Paul's letters that often become a bit too familiar for me and I end up breezing through them and domesticating Paul's strong metaphors (like 'put to death'). Bird does the opposite. He also shows how Paul's understanding of us as being new creation is the linchpin of the entire section. It controls both ethics and identity.

The best adjective to describe the Philemon commentary is 'solid.' I didn't gain any new insights, but there also wasn't any spot where I really disagreed either.

All in all this is a commentary worth deep engagement. The more time spent dwelling on Bird's attempt to think Paul's thoughts after him, the more one will get out of it, particularly on Colossians. I think that Bird nails his audience right on. It will be a helpful addition to any pastor's or studious lay person's library. If you want a commentary that gets to the point while not being shallow or unsatisfying then you'll love this commentary. Overall, I'd place Colossians and Philemon right next to or just behind NT Wright's fine entry in the Tyndale series and give it 4.5 stars.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Paul's Argument in Galatians 3:6-14

6 So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

7 Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. 8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9 So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 11 Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” 12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (NIV)

In this section Paul continues his argument that Gentiles are part of the people of God by faith. In the prior section Paul argued from experience. Scripture is the basis of his argument here. Abraham is used as an example of one who was considered righteous on the basis of his faith. However, we need to see that Abraham is more than an example, he's the archetype. Paul selects Abraham because he is the father of the family, the patriarch of the people of God. What's true in his case is normative for his descendants. We can be a bit more specific regarding Paul's argument than that, though. The clearest summary of verses 6-9 comes from Dunn and I will replicate it below:

Abraham's righteousness-->faith-->Abraham's children (iii.6-7)

Abraham's blessing-->faith-->all the nations (iii.8-9) (p. 168)

What Paul's doing in verses 6-9 is showing that Abraham's children contain members of all the nations by arguing that the basis of righteousness and blessing isn't circumcision, it's faith.

In verses 10-14 Paul continues that line of argument (for those keeping score at home, here I am largely following Wright 137-56). The Torah had been in the business of cursing the Jews for some time. The blessings of the Abrahamic covenant weren't coming to pass through it because Israel was failing at its job of being a light to the nations. But all along the plan had been that Abraham's people would be based on faith not ethnicity. Torah had created a problem for the original covenant people, however. As we noted above, it was cursing them. Jesus, the Christ, came to fulfill the role of being the light that they were supposed to be. Not only that but '...the death of Jesus finally exhausts the curse which stood over the covenant people , so that the blessing of Abraham might after all come upon the Gentiles' (Wright 156).

Monday, November 8, 2010

Commentary Review: Daniel

In my opinion, Daniel is not the best covered Old Testament book as far as commentaries go. This isn't an uncommon phenomenon among Old Testament books. Though I've looked at them, I'm not going to review some of the older Evangelical Daniel commentaries (like e.g., Baldwin). They don't provide much that you can't get in either Longman or Lucas. If you're unfamiliar with the series that one or more of these commentaries are in check out my commentary series overview.

It was a very close call but my favorite commentary on Daniel is Goldingay's. While there were a few places where I disagreed with his interpretation, I found the commentary to be exemplary. If you're going to teach Daniel, especially the apocalyptic portions, you need a commentary that provides you with a lot of background material. Goldingay, while not as broad as Collins, certainly provides you with quite a bit. His exploration of the background to the apocalyptic symbolism is very helpful. You gain a good sense of what is being communicated by the symbols, not just to whom they refer. Questions of genre are discussed in detail; helpful parallel texts are dug up (while avoiding parallelomania). The most helpful aspect of the commentary was his detailed literary analysis. It showed how the passage as a whole fit together, especially pointing out chiasms in the text. His explanations should not be ignored either. These are among the best of any in the Word series and clearly are far from the afterthought that they seem to be in some volumes. Overall, I found this commentary to be detailed but you never feel overloaded at the same time.

Daniel is a bit of a battle ground in Evangelical circles over dating. For those of you interested, Goldingay does hold to a second century date and sees many of the prophetic portions as ex eventu prophecy. This raises theological issues for the doctrine of Scripture for Evangelicals (of which Goldingay is one). I give him credit for dealing with them head on. I personally learned a lot from Goldingay, and even if you disagree with this stance on the dating of Daniel, I think you will too. No pastor should attempt to study Daniel without this commentary in his collection. 5 stars out of 5.

If Goldingay's commentary is choice number 1, John Collins' brilliant effort in the Hermeneia series is number 1a. Collins is an expert in apocalyptic literature, so his analysis of the apocalyptic sections along with the introduction is the strength of the commentary' (that does not suggest that the rest of the commentary isn't good). What makes Collins work so helpful is that it's extremely detailed on background issues (more so than Goldingay). The only annoyance for me is that he doesn't always comment on every single verse. As an additional bonus, you get a commentary on the additions to Daniel that are found in the Apocrypha (I think that spending a little time on the additions to Daniel is a helpful exercise when studying Daniel 1-6). As this volume is in the Hermeneia series there isn't nearly as much theological reflection as there is in Goldingay, and that's why I give this commentary 1a status. With that said I understand why a busy pastor wouldn't want to wade through Goldingay and Collins (they're both pretty long), if you have the time it's worthwhile to engage in both. 5 stars out of 5.

After you leave the woods of the academic commentaries on Daniel, there isn't a lot to recommend in my opinion (granted I have not seen Duguid's commentary). However, for a lay audience, Longman's commentary stands out. Obviously you're not going to get anywhere near the detail of Collins or Goldingay in an NIV Application volume, but the 'Original Meaning' section is beefy for a volume in this series. Longman isn't afraid to discuss ANE background, and he appropriately simplifies it for a lay audience. You don't find much original research here. Rather it serves as a handy, accessible guide drawing upon the best of current studies on Daniel. Longman does opt for a sixth century date, but is sympathetic towards late daters like Goldingay. This commentary was conservative without being polemical. The applications were often helpful and I never found them to be cliched. With that said I often found myself wanting to go in slightly different directions in my own teaching. This is my commentary of choice for lay students and also should be consulted for those teaching in a church setting. 4.5 stars out of 5.

Lucas' commentary is a little difficult to rate. In many respects it felt like Goldingay light. There's a lot of repeated material here. I'd also say that he felt like Goldingay made clearer, as Lucas is a very clear writer. Obviously with that said, Lucas didn't just blindly follow Goldingay on everything, and he does have a fair amount of material of his own. There also were spots where I thought that Lucas had better points than Goldingay. One potential advantage, depending on your circles, is that he spends more time than Goldingay or Collins do interacting with conservative Evangelical scholars. He also is a bit less likely than Goldingay or Collins to accept the critical consensus (again not that either of those scholars always accept it - Goldingay in particular diverges at some key interpretive points). At times, though, it was a bit difficult to determine what his view was on some issues. I'm still not sure when he thinks Daniel was written. I think you could read Lucas either way, perhaps he intended it that way. This is definitely the best mid-level commentary on Daniel. It's not a must have if you already have Goldingay, but even if you do, there's enough unique material to make it worth owning. 4 stars out of 5.

Miller's commentary in the NAC series is a mid-level dispensationalist commentary. I wasn't a big fan. I think that it majors on historical matters while ignoring literary ones. This may be because Miller sees the book as completely historical. With that said, the genre of history still may be written in form of a story and thus I find Miller's approach inadequate. History is so important to Miller that it completely dominates the commentary, not only to the neglect of discussing literary style and genre, but also to theology. A glaring example occurs at the close of chapter 5 and the start of chapter 6. He closes his comments on chapter five with a seven sentence discussion of the theological emphases of the chapter. Chapter 6 opens with a seven page discussion of the identity of Darius the Mede. I think that demonstrates misplaced priorities on Miller's part. I wasn't impressed in his handling of the apocalyptic sections either (and not just because I'm not a dispensationalist). The symbols have both a sense and a reference. He focuses too strongly on the latter while missing out on telling the reader why the historical referant is presented in that particular mode. Thus, for someone teaching the text, I don't think that Miller provides a whole lot of help, certainly any of the above commentaries would be far more helpful. 2.5 stars out of 5.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Commentary Series Overview

When I write commentary reviews, one of my main goals is to assess how well the commentator hit the intended audience of the commentary and utilized the format of the commentary. This often necessitates cluttering up the post discussing issues of format. To eliminate that, I thought that I would make some general remarks about the format and audience of each of the series that appear in my reviews. Terms like liberal, conservative, etc. are not used pejoratively but simply as descriptors. Many of you are familiar with Jeremy Pierce's commentary series overview. If you don't see a particular series covered here, check out his post to see if it's reviewed there. I am making no attempt at covering every series, just the series that I use. Additionally, new series (such as the NCCS) have been started in the five years since he wrote his very helpful guide, so I thought that it might not be completely out of order to have another person tackle commentary series overviews. This is a post that will be expanded regularly and I will post a link to it at the top of all of my commentary reviews, that way you can check it out if you're not familiar with the series a particular commentary is in. I'll also place links within this post to the commentaries in each series that I've reviewed, making it a good place for easy reference for all of my reviews.

AB: The Anchor Bible series is a leading academic commentary series. Most of the contributors could be labeled as moderates, with quite a few volumes have been written by Catholic scholars. This series has been in progress for a long time and thus is probably the most uneven series on the market. The newer volumes are always among the top on their given book. Most of the older volumes have been surpassed by newer volumes in other series. However, some of the older volumes are classics and are still must reads. Not only is the quality of the series uneven, but the feel and focus of commentary varies from volume to volume. Some focus more on rhetoric, others on historical matters, and some on literary criticism. A lot of leeway is given to each individual writer. The commentary begins with lengthy introduction dealing with the full assortment of background issues in good detail. The main body of the commentary proceeds as follows: the author's translation of the text, followed by a notes section and a comment section (though sometimes the comments precede the notes). The notes section goes through the text verse phrase by phrase in a detailed manner. The comment section can be anything that the author wants to make it and varies greatly. (See my reviews of Song of SongsGalatians, and Jude)

ACCS: The ACCS series seeks to introduce the modern reader to Patristic theologians. Brief explanations of the text proceed phrase by phrase (rather than verse by verse) with selections made from sermons, commentaries, and other written sources. Typically, the comments will be drawn from about eight or so different fathers, with comments here and there by other voices when they have a significant insight. The main contributors are selected to try to be representative of the breadth of the era, selecting both Greek and Latin fathers. It certainly shouldn't be the first commentary off the shelf when researching a given passage, but it's too easy to overlook the early insights that Patristic theologians had. It's definitely a series worth consulting. (See my review of Galatians)

AOTC: The Apollos Old Testament Commentary series is a mid-length commentary series aimed at pastors, leaning a little more on the academic side. It's like a more accessible version of the Word Biblical Commentary series. Not too many volumes are out yet so we will see how this series develops and if that generalization remains true. You get a full length introduction that deals with all of the critical issues. Each contributor provides their own translation and provides substantial annotations dealing with text-critical and translation issues. Hebrew and Aramaic are transliterated making these notes more accessible than the equivalent notes in the Word Biblical Commentary series. After those notes you get sections discussing the form, setting, and structure of the text. Here relevant background matters as well as the literary form and structure are discussed, though not to quite the same length as you get in the Word series (at least in the better volumes). After that is a 'Comment' section which is critical assessment of the meaning of the text. It's followed by an explanation section which exposits the text a bit and deals with matters of theology. (See my review of Daniel)

BECNT: The Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament is an advanced commentary series that is aimed at the pastor and graduate student. Thus most volumes are not quite as advanced or thorough as you would find in the WBC series (though some are) but a working knowledge of Greek would benefit you. This is a little bit of a difficult series to describe because the format has not been entirely consistent from volume to volume. However, I can make some general comments. The introductions are of fairly typical length and cover your usual topics. There's nothing unique there. The format of the commentary proper is a bit different, though. Each section begins with a one to three paragraph long summary of the text followed by the author's translation and then exegetical notes. Strangely the notes do not proceed verse by verse but paragraph by paragraph. Since the notes are detailed, the number of pages between headings is far too many making it maddeningly difficult at times to find what you're looking for when cracking the commentary open for quick reference (this is not a problem in the volumes on Luke but it seems to be for the rest of the volumes). Following the exegetical notes are 'Additional Notes' covering text critical matters. My personal opinion of this series varies by volume. Some are fantastic, and some are just ok. (See my review Jude)

BMT: The Bible in Medieval Tradition is a brand new series that meets a serious lacuna in the commentary market, that of Medieval Catholic commentaries. As of the writing of these notes, the only volume out thus far is on Galatians and it is excellent. My complaint with the ACCS series is that the selections are sometimes too brief to get a true feel for a particular father. That's not the case with the BMT. It translates (in Galatians for the first time) either whole commentaries or commentaries on whole chapters. In the Galatians volume six different commentators were selected. The introduction is thorough and provides a nice biography of each contributor so you can place the work in the context of their life and Medieval Catholicism. I think that this is a very important series and I'm very excited to see future volumes. (See my review of Galatians)

BNTC: The Black's New Testament Commentary series is a mid length commentary aimed at students and pastors. Each commentary has a brief introduction and then proceeds section by section. Translations are the authors.' Comments proceed verse by verse and comments on variant readings and grammatical issues are usually relegated to the footnotes. All important interpretive issues are discussed in some detail, but not quite to the same level as some of the more rigorous mid level series like the PNTC or NICNT. The pages are small for a commentary so don't let the page count fool you. Most of the contributors are mainline protestants and overall it seems to be a pretty moderate series. The series took a long time to complete, so some of the earlier volumes, while good are a bit dated. Most of the newer volumes are very solid entries with some being among the top two or three on their book. It's a series that is definitely worth checking out! (See my review of Galatians)

BO: The Berit Olam series is a relatively new series that draws from a range of traditions for its contributors. The commentaries a short to medium in length and begin with a brief introduction followed by running comments on the text that proceed section by section. The discussion is based off of the NRSV. The focus of the comments is on literary aspects of the text. Footnotes are sparse. I've only seen Diane Bergant's volume on the Song of Songs, but its very very good. If it's indicative of the quality of the rest of the series then it is not one to overlook despite the limited fanfare. I think this series is appropriate for both lay people and pastors, especially if one wants something a little different than the typical short commentary. (See my review of Song of Songs)

CCC: The Crossway Classic Commentaries series consists of classic commentaries written by luminaries within the Protestant tradition such as Martin Luther or Charles Hodge. No effort was made to cover every book and some books were covered twice. They simply wanted the best of the Lutheran and Puritan tradition. These are some of the finest commentaries of their era, but at times will feel much more preachy than modern commentaries. Each volume will vary some and will take on the characteristics of the era in which it was produced (there's a few centuries in between, e.g., Luther and Ryle). If you have the time, it's worth checking out. (See my review of Galatians)

Hermeneia: The Hermeneia commentary series is one of the leading academic series on the market. It covers both the Old and New Testament and has contributors from a variety of backgrounds, though they are generally liberal. Hermeneia also contains translations of several works by continental European scholars. The strength of these commentaries often is their introductions (e.g., the introductions in the Romans and Daniel commentaries are unparalleled). This isn't surprising given their focus on historical and critical matters. The commentary proper begins with a translation of the text that is footnoted to deal with text critical issues. Then it moves to a discussion of the form and structure of the text, usually comparing the text at hand to various parallel texts and also dealing with background issues. The verse by verse notes offer detailed exegesis. Seminary students and scholars are the primary audience of this series. The value to the pastor varies book by book. Some are very helpful but some can probably be skipped. (See my reviews of Song of Songs and Daniel)

INT: The Interpretation series is directly aimed at helping preachers and teachers preach and teach. Explanations are tackled one paragraph at a time in a running exposition. At the end of each section the authors engage in a discussion of how to preach or teach the given text (or alternatively, pitfalls to avoid). These volumes don't typically forge new trails of cutting edge scholarship (though, some like 1 Corinthians by Hays are an exception), but they definitely are useful to their intended audience when paired with more detailed commentaries. Most of the volumes are pretty good and consistent, but there are a few week entries. Unfortunately some volumes are getting long in the tooth and it may be time for the publisher to consider replacing them. The biggest downside of the series are the God-awful dust jackets. This series has a very strong moderate Mainline Protestant feel. (See my review of Galatians)

: The New American Commentary series is published by Broadman & Holman and thus as one would expect has a distinctively conservative baptist feel. These are fairly typical mid length commentaries geared towards pastors and studious members of the laity. The introductions are fairly meaty and often deal with difficult historical questions. The NIV is the standard translation and comments are based on that. The commentary goes verse by verse providing substantial exegetical help and interacting with a variety of viewpoints, but never getting too technical. (See my review of Daniel)

NCCS: When it came to commentaries, I used to think that length was a virtue. Over the past couple of years I've been changing my mind as I've both encountered some long commentaries that I didn't care for, and encountered many brief commentaries that are top notch. Shorter commentaries tend to be clear and concise, and not bogging you down with too many alternative viewpoints. A good one will do that without being superficial. The New Covenant Commentary Series (NCCS ) seems to seek to be the standard bearer for this style of commentaries on the New Testament. The two series editors, Michael Bird and Craig Keener have assembled an international collection of scholars that are top notch. The commentary usually will have a medium length introduction followed by the commentary proper. There you get the author's translation followed by a short section giving an overview of the section that will come under discussion, after which the text is discussed by paragraph in the form of a running explanation rather than verse by verse. Technical matters are relegated to footnotes. Each volume also has several excurses dealing with background issues in greater depth. Additionally there are several sections titled 'Fusing the Horizons' sprinkled throughout. Here the commentator show the relevance of the ancient text to our current situation. This series is aimed at pastors and serious lay students. (See my reviews of Romans and Colossians and Philemon)

NIB: The New Interpreter's Bible Commentaries seek to provide pastors and students with a brief commentary by leading moderate Mainline Protestant scholars. The introductions are exceedingly brief and the comments proceed verse by verse. The goal of the commentary is to lay out the author's view and not clutter you with a myriad of interpretive options. Interaction with other scholars is limited to a few leading commentaries which makes the commentary very accessible and easy to read. These factors make this series a nice option for busy pastors or undergraduate students, however it simply can't substitute for more substantial works. Unfortunately, volumes aren't sold separately, but fortunately, the contributors are top notch, so it's one of the few series that isn't too bad to purchase in bulk. (See my review of Galatians)

NICOT/NICNT: This is a series I probably don't need to comment on as most of you will be familiar with it. I consider it to be the best Evangelical commentary series on the market. The series has been around for a long time; long enough that replacement volumes are now coming out. The older volumes are on the shorter end of intermediate commentaries and tend to be fairly conservative. The newer volumes are much fuller, coming close to the length and depth of more technical series and also, while still conservative, are a but more moderate than their predecessors. Each volume opens with a medium length introduction and then moves into a bibliography and then the commentary proper. The text being commented on is printed in the commentary. Some commentators provide their own translation while others use the NIV/TNIV. First comments are addressed to paragraphs as a whole and then they move into verse by verse discussions. Technical details are relegated to the footnotes. What makes this series so good is its combination of exegetical rigor and theological sensitivity. It's a must read for pastors and useful for scholars and students. I am slightly concerned with the trend I am seeing towards longer and longer volumes. It would be a shame to see pastors potentially scared off from the series by the length of some of the volumes. (See my review of Song of Songs)

NIVAC: The NIV Application Commentary series is written by Evangelical scholars with the layperson and the pastor in mind. The introductions are generally brief covering the basics. The text used in the commentary is, of course, the NIV and comments are made based on that translation. Discussion is broken up into three sections: 'original meaning,' 'bridging contexts,' and 'contemporary significance.' In the 'original meaning' section, you get a fairly brief discussion of the original meaning of the text (though some volumes in this series are a bit more detailed). Ideally the 'bridging contexts' portion of the commentary should help prepare the way for the 'contemporary significance' section by dealing with issues related to the cultural location of the text. The 'contemporary significance' section guides the reader in application of the text. I used words like 'ideally' and 'should' because sometimes it seems as if the writers in this series don't stick to the layout and talk about whatever they feel like in each section. Unfortunately, when authors do that, a lot of the utility of the series is lost. Overall I feel this series is a bit uneven, but the better volumes are worth owning for anyone who teaches in a church setting. (See my reviews of DanielGalatians,and Philemon)

NTL/OTL: The Old and New Testament Library series is one of the more difficult to make general comments about. Part of the reason is because some of the volumes in this series are old, but even among the newer commentaries, there is a great deal of disparity in the degree of thoroughness. Some, like de Boer's excellent volume on Galatians, are among the most detailed on the book they cover. Others, like Cousar's volume on Philippians and Philemon are fairly brief. In most of the newer volumes, there is a moderate length introduction covering the usual critical issues and the analysis of the text proceeds paragraph by paragraph. Each paragraph gets a brief introduction covering literary and/or rhetorical matters and then each verse is commented on in detail. Generally, the volumes come from a moderate to liberal perspective and are written by leading scholars in the field. They strive to be accessible to the general reader, and in this regard they're more successful than the Anchor Bible series is, but it's still a mid length series (for the most part). For those who don't have extensive background in Greek and Hebrew many volumes in this series are an excellent resource as they discuss lexical and syntactical issues in an accessible manner. For the most part, for whatever book you want to study through, I'd strongly recommend checking out the volume from this series. They're not all must own, but many are. (See my reviews of Song of SongsGalatians, and Philippians and Philemon)

PC: I can't provide a lot of comment on the Pentecostal Commentary series in general. At the time of writing there were four volumes on the market and only one (Fee's on Galatians) that I've ever even seen in a library, so I'm not sure if the series will get wide circulation or not. As you might guess from the title of the series, it is geared towards Pentecostal Christians and hence is probably conservative on the whole. The Pentecostalism doesn't come through very strongly in Fee's commentary for the most part. It's only in the application portions where Fee opts to address his fellow Pentecostal's directly. Fee's volume is a solid mid length commentary that comments on the text paragraph by paragraph, probably most comparable to the NCCS volumes. As for the series as a whole I can't comment or make a recommendation as I'm not familiar enough with the other scholars who have written in the series. (See my review of Galatians)

PNTC: The Pillar New Testament Commentary series is an intermediate series covering the New Testament and comes from an evangelical perspective. Most of the volumes in this series fall in the more academic half, similar to what you would get in an NICNT. A few of the older volumes are less detailed. The introductions typically are lengthy and deal with all of the standard critical issues as well as some theological matters. In the commentary proper the NIV text is printed and comments proceed verse by verse. Before the verse by verse notes is a section that summarizes the paragraph as a whole and sometimes focuses on structural and rhetorical issues. The notes on individual verses are detailed and usually there is a fair amount of footnoting to deal with matters of Greek grammar, where the author has his choice of using Greek font or transliterating. More space is given to theological issues in this series than many, making that one of its strengths. All of the volumes in this series that I have looked at have been good and some of them are among the two or three best on their book. Whether you are writing an academic paper, preparing a bible study or sermon, or studying for your own enrichment you would be wise to check out the PNTC series. (See my reviews of Philemon and Jude)

THNTC/THOTC: The goal of the Two Horizon's commentary series is to help the student of the Bible fuse the horizons between the biblical world and their own. The commentary proper and introductions probably fall into the middle range in terms of accessibility, however much more attention is paid to theology than one would typically get in a standard commentary. Their goal is to produce a robust theological interpretation of Scripture, and it seems that most of the volumes come from a theologically moderate perspective. Technical matters get a little less attention than in most mid-level commentaries, but there are plenty of other series that cover those matters. After the main body of the commentary you get a plethora of essays dealing with theological matters that arise throughout the commentary. These offer an opportunity for greater synthesis than you typically get in an excursus in a typical commentary. Unfortunately, by being relegated to the back of the commentary, they may go unnoticed by some. This series is most helpful to a pastor or teacher going through a whole book. (See my reviews of Philemon and Jude)

TNTC/TOTC: The Tyndale series is a conservative Evangelical series, but beyond that it's little tough to classify. Many of the volume are more technical in their discussions than one would typically find in a commentary geared towards lay people. But most of the volumes also aren't detailed enough to be a true mid-level commentary. The introductions succinctly cover critical issues and the commentary proper proceeds paragraph by paragraph through the text. This series has been around for a while so some of the volumes are a bit dated. Some of them are really excellent, however, and cannot be ignored. (See my review of Philemon)

WBC: The Word Biblical Commentary is a critical, broadly Evangelical commentary series covering both the Old and New Testament. The format of the series is widely panned, but I personally don't think it's so terrible. The introductions are usually moderately lengthy, though they don't usually compete with what you get in Hermeneia or the ICC. In the main body of the commentary, commentators provide their own translation with notes dealing with text critical issues as necessary, after which the comments are split into three sections, 'Form/Setting/Structure,' 'Comments,' and 'Explanation.' The 'form/setting/structure' section deals with background and parallels as well as a discussion of literary form and structure as well as rhetorical analysis if the author is so inclined. The 'Comments' section deals with the text phrase by phrase commenting on the original language. Theology and contemporary significance tend to be dealt with in the 'Explanation.' This division frustrates some people because they have to look in up to three different spots to find comments on a particular phrase or verse. I think, however, that if you read the commentary straight through (which I know most people don't) that there is some merit in this distinction, especially since it makes it easy for one to consult the commentary at each phase of research into the passage. The biggest problems with this series is the unevenness of it. Some volumes are fantastic while others are very mediocre. There's also a big difference in the degree to which each section is utilized by the commentators. For example, some almost ignore the 'Explanation' section. Additionally, some of the commentaries in the series have been surpassed by newer works in other series. While the WBC is certainly intended for academics, pastors would be wise to pick up some of the stronger volumes (it's intended for them too!), as it is probably the most accessible and inexpensive truly academic series. (See my reviews of Song of SongsDanielGalatiansPhilemon and Jude)

WeBC: The Westminster Bible Companion series is a mainline protestant series geared towards the lay Bible study leader. The select high profile professors to write a short commentary that deals some with technical matters but also expounds the theology of the text. The focus is primarily on the latter and I would say that while not always persuasive, the suggestions that both Davis and Brueggemann make are interesting. Even for a lay Bible study leader these could never be a sole resource for study of a particular book. In order to keep the commentary brief, whole paragraphs are occasionally skipped to allot space for extended comments elsewhere. Sacrificing breadth for depth is not a bad thing in a series like this, it just is what it is. On the whole I would call the WeBC series moderate as they do respect Scripture though occasionally come to conclusions that would rub many conservatives the wrong way. I've only spent significant time in two volumes, Isaiah and Song of Songs, so my experiences may not be indicative of the series as a whole. (See my review of Song of Songs)

ZECNT: The Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament is one of the newest commentary series on the market. At the time of writing only four volumes are out and I've only seen Blomberg on James. The series is aimed at pastors and students who have had two years of Greek, though one could work their way through the commentary with less exposure, but it would be difficult. I would probably put it at the bottom of the advanced range due to the use of the original Greek and the lack of transliteration, though some intermediate series will have more detail overall (e.g., the NICNT). The format of the commentary is unique and I think immensely helpful. There is a brief introduction followed by the commentary proper. Each section of text is split into six parts. The first section is the 'Literary Context' which seeks to situate the passage within the larger flow of the book. The second section is a two sentence summary called the 'Main Idea.' This is followed by a translation of the text in diagram form. The diagram seeks to show the relationship between clauses. On the left side of the diagram is a one word description of the function of each clause. Following the translation is an explanation of the 'Structure' which, as expected, deals with matters of structure and rhetoric. Finally we arrive at the 'Explanation of Text' which contains the typical exegetical notes one expects in a commentary and they proceed verse by verse. The last section is 'Theology in Application' which provides some direction for thinking about how to apply the text. The discussion here is at the paragraph level. After the close of the commentary there is a short section on the theology of the book. Major topics are given a page or two, where the author can do some synthesis. The layout is very clean, using line breaks and different font sizes and faces well which makes the format work exceptionally with the end result of an exceedingly clear presentation of the contents of the commentary. If you're a pastor and you haven't picked up a volume in this series yet, try it, you'll love it! (See my reviews of Galatians and James)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Michael Bird on Unity

Why is the church so diverse, and is this a good thing? After all, diversity breeds difference, debate, and even division. Would not a uniform, homogeneous, almost clone-like church be better for unity? Yet the body of Christ has an indelible and irreducible plurality built into it. The church is one body with many parts complete with a unity in diversity. Experiencing the power of forgiveness and being made part of the renewed Israel is a saving event that crosses racial, geographical, and cultural boundaries. Christians have a shared identity in Jesus Christ, they are part of a new Adamic race, they have accepted the call to come into Abraham's family of the faithful, they are forgiven of their wicked and godless ways, and they seek to cultivate the virtues of faith, hope, and love as well. That which unites them is infinitely stronger than anything that might divide them from one another (Bird 45).