Tag Archives | commentary

First and Second Samuel | Walter Brueggemann

The cover of Brueggemann's First and Second SamuelThe books of Samuel describe a critical shift in the life of Israel.

When the book begins, Israel had suffered through a series of increasingly impotent judges. The loose confederation of tribes increasingly wandered from God and did what seemed right in their own eyes. Into this world Hannah struggled and conceived a child—Samuel. When the book ends, Israel is a monarchy under the rule of King David, the second of two Kings Samuel anointed.

Here is the critical shift: Israel has gone from being a nation under YHWH to a nation under human kings.

Brueggemann’s commentary is excellent. He presents a close reading of the story of Samuel, Saul, and David with an eye for detail. All the political nuances which might escape the casual reader of scripture are brought to the forefront for consideration.

In Brueggemann’s reading, the heroes and villains of scripture are no one-sided caricatures. They are complicated, as human beings always are. David is no mere Sunday School hero—he is at the same time politically shrewd and spiritually attuned. He is human, warts and all.

The Interpretation commentary series is not overly technical. I would encourage any thoughtful Christian with a love for scripture to pick up this gem and read it alongside the text.

Brueggemann, Walter.  First and Second Samuel. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990.

The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon | James D. G. Dunn

The cover of Dunn's The Epistles to the Colossians and to PhilemonColossians is a stunning letter. Written near the end of Paul’s life, his message to the church is rooted in a profound understanding of Jesus Christ and the implications of Jesus’ death and resurrection for both the universe and individual believers. Consider the epic vision of Jesus portrayed in the Christ Hymn:

He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation
For in him were created all things
in the heavens and on the earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions
or principalities or authorities;
all things were created through him and for him.
He himself is before all things,
and all things hold together in him;

and he is the head of the body, the church.
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
in order that he might be in all things preeminent.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
and through him to reconcile all things to him,
making peace through the blood of his cross (through him),
whether the things on the earth or the things in the heavens.
(Colossians 1:15-20 Dunn)

In other words, “Christ is all and in all” (3:11 Dunn).

Having studied Dunn’s Theology of Paul the Apostle in detail (check it out here if you’re interested), I am always eager to read another of his commentaries. His NIGTC entry is detailed without feeling ponderous. Dunn brings out the meaning of the Greek language with clarity. He brings the perceptive reader to the point where the implicit relevance of the text shines through the exegesis.

The NIGTC series is written for the study of the Greek text. However, you don’t have to be a language expert to follow Dunn’s arguments. This commentary should appeal to any thoughtful Pauline exegete.

Dunn, James D. G. The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon. NIGTC. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996.

The Acts of the Apostles | James D. G. Dunn

The cover of Dunn's The Acts of the ApostlesActs begins in Jerusalem and ends in Rome. It starts with the Jewish people and ends up reaching the heart of the Gentile empire.

In this commentary, Dunn reads the text closely and provides a number of insights to help the reader understand how each story works in the broader context of Acts. He demonstrates that Christianity stands in unity with the Jewish faith while at the same time reaches beyond it in embracing the radical message of the Messiah in the power of the Spirit.

This commentary hits the sweet spot. It is non-technical and easy to read while at the same time deep and thoughtful. Dunn gives plenty of enough substance that will enrich your own understanding of scripture and give fuel to the teachers.

Dunn, James D. G. The Acts of the Apostles. Narrative Commentaries. Valley Forge, PN: Trinity Press, 1996.

From Pentecost to Patmos | Craig L. Blomberg

The cover of Blomberg's From Pentecost to PatmosWhen I returned to Seminary in the fall of 1999, my first professor assigned Blomberg’s Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey. I was hooked. Blomberg pulled me into the world of the Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John with his knack for explaining details without needless complexity.

That book on the Gospels evolved from a set of lecture notes Blomberg used to teach undergraduate and graduate students. In 2006, Blomberg’s lecture notes on the rest of the New Testament received similar treatment resulting in From Pentecost to Patmos. The two volumes together take you through the entire New Testament.

Some features of the classroom lectures make their way into the book. There are a scattering of very helpful charts for understanding key ideas. Also, each section ends with a series of thoughtful questions to help students process the material more thoroughly.

Blomberg’s approach to the New Testament is thoroughly conservative. In the introduction to each book he always affirms traditional authorship, although dissenting views are surveyed.

The best quality of this book is Blomberg’s respect for the biblical text itself. He dedicates the bulk of his writing to bringing out the structure and content of the text.

I spend most of my time, … surveying the actual structure and contents of each book, the main points in each section, the distinctive exegetical cruxes, and several key items for contemporary application. (3)

From Pentecost to Patmos is a textbook for seminarians. However, any thoughtful Christian would benefit greatly from reading Blomberg’s book alongside the New Testament during morning devotions.

Disclaimer: B&H Academic provided me a review copy of this text free of charge.

—Craig L. Blomberg, From Pentecost to Patmos: An Introduction to Acts Through Revelation (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2006).)

Revelation | G. K. Beale with David H. Campbell

The cover of Beale's RevelationRevelation is a book that strikes fear into the heart of pastors! How on earth to you preach about beasts, harlots, sci-fi creatures, and glittering cities dropping from the sky?

The first time I spoke through the book of Revelation, I used a number of resources including G. K. Beale’s excellent offering in the New International Greek Testament Commentary series. 1300 pages on the Greek text of Revelation is a lot of material to work, through. I only used Beale’s work to drill down on certain verses.

When I decided to teach through Revelation a second time, I found Beale’s new work: Revelation: A Shorter Commentary, co-written with David H. Campbell. At 500 pages, you may disagree with the subtitle, but compared to his first work this is the Cole’s Notes version!

Revelation has been interpreted in various ways. Preterists view the book as referring to first century events. Futurists view the book as referring to the future. Beale’s view is far more nuanced. He advocates a Redemptive-Historical Idealist view. That is, the bulk of Revelation refers to the ongoing battle between good and evil. Beale does admit, however, that some parts of Revelation point decisively to the future. This is made clear in his interpretation of the cycles of judgment: seals, bowls, and trumpts. While the majority of the seven judgments in each cycle refer to the current battle between good and evil, the end of each cycle always points toward the future.

This “Shorter Commentary” contains the perfect amount of detail for pastors looking to seriously wrestle with the text and meaning of Revelation. Each section concludes with valuable “Suggestions for Reflection” which provide easy launching pads for sermons.

Revelation shouldn’t be ignored. In it, the church is exhorted to remain faithful despite present circumstances. Spiritual reality is often quite different from earthly appearances. Despite chaotic circumstances, God remains on his throne.

—G. K. Beale with David H. Campbell, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015).

A New Humanity | Luciano Lombardi

The cover of Lombardi's A New Humanity

It’s been said that most of Paul’s writing can be boiled down to, “Hey you two—get along!” Nowhere is this more obvious than in Ephesians where Paul goes to great lengths to convince Jews and Gentiles that in Christ they participate in one new humanity.

There are two key perspectives that make Lombardi’s commentary shine. In the first place, he is determined to understand Paul first as a Jew. One of the early footnotes on Ephesians 1:4 made me want to stand up and cheer:

Other scholars will focus on the terms holy and blameless to reference an “imputed righteousness” that effects substantive change to our being through a transfer from Christ to us. Such a view assumes that Paul is using Greek philosophical categories, where being is understood in terms of substance, as opposed to Hebrew relational categories that describe God’s connection, in His own presence and action, to humanity and creation. Paul’s writings make far more sense when he is considered to be thinking as a Hebrew rather than as a Greek. (21)

This Hebrew understanding of Paul seems blindingly obvious but is often overlooked by the Reformed tradition.

The second perspective Lombardi brings to the text is a solid understanding of Paul’s Roman milieu. Using the history of Rodney Stark, Lombardi brings out elements of Roman culture that illuminate many of the things Paul wrote. For example, it’s difficult for Twenty-First Century Christians to understand why Paul would not call for an end to slavery. The observation that “the Roman Empire literally ran on slave power” (123) along with the statistics that back the statement up helps clarify why Paul wrote about how slaves should behave.

The pastoral insights interspersed throughout the commentary are very apropos. To continue with the topic of slavery, Lombardi notes that “one of the lessons to be learned form this is the importance of choosing where to fight the battle against evil in society” (124). In another stand-up-and-cheer worthy line, he observes that “beginning to address attitudes and behaviour is more conducive to change than trying to coerce the adjustment of cultural norms by influencing legislation” (124). This is worth remembering this election year!

A New Humanity is a brief but thought-provoking look at the new sort of unity God has accomplished in Christ. “One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:5-6 ESV).

—Luciano Lombardi, A New Humanity: A Walk Through the Letter of Ephesians (Belleville: Guardian Books, 2014).

Galatians for You | Timothy Keller

The cover of Keller's Galatians for YouGalatians is a powerful letter that has inspired many responses. Luther’s Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians was one of his most important works. In it he fleshed out what it meant to be justified by Christ’s merits alone. Eugene Peterson was so driven to communicate the truth of Galatians to his church, he translated it into modern language—the birth of The Message. Now Timothy Keller launches a new study guide series: Galatians for You. (I wonder: is For You a comment on N. T. Wright’s For Everyone series?)

Having read this letter and many of its chief commentators in the past, I wanted a fresh take on it to inspire a weekly Bible Study and Prayer meeting at my church. Timothy Keller’s work fit the bill.

Keller is that unique person who is able to marry deep theological truth to practical reflection. On page after page, you are led to reflect on the meaning of the passage as well as how it can change your life. This is one of the few study guides where I’ve actually used many of the discussion questions at the end of each section.

I do have a few issues with Keller, largely resulting from the theological disconnect between my Wesleyan-Arminian roots and his Calvinism. I also was disappointed by his lack of interaction with the New Perspective on Paul (although he does offer a short appendix on his rationale).

That said, these issues are minor. Like the cover says, this is an excellent book for you to read, feed, and lead others with.

—Timothy Keller, Galatians for You (Surrey, UK: The Good Book Company, 2013).

Philippians: Revised | Gerald F. Hawthorne & Ralph P. Martin

The cover of Philippians by Martin and HawthorneI did not expect to enjoy this commentary.

In fact, I don’t like the format of the Word Biblical Commentary series at all. The font size is small, the line spacing is cramped—even the paper quality is poor. I bought this book along with Fee’s NICOT entry on Philippians to prepare a sermon series. I fully anticipated on using Fee as my go-to, with Martin & Hawthorne as a second opinion

By the end of the introduction the tables had turned.

Gerald F. Hawthorne wrote the WBC entry on Philippians in 1983. Two decades later, in 2003, Ralph P. Martin was tasked with revising Hawthorne’s work. Martin wrote with charity and honesty when his views differed from Hawthorne’s. In the places where their views diverged, Martin set an example of how to disagree with grace.

This commentary excels in all areas. The introduction paints a good contextual picture of Paul’s setting and life in Philippi. As with all WBC entries, the Greek text is listed and discussed throughout the “Comment” section. Still, you don’t need to be a Greek scholar to understand the comments.

The best quality of this commentary was Hawthorne and Martin’s profound theological insight. Here are a few examples:

On the word “saints” in 1:1:

Ethics and religion belong together; relationship to God requires a moral response; God’s people must live like God. (7)

On “prayer” in 1:4:

Intercession indeed is the fundamental response of love within the community of believers. (20)

On “joy” in 1:4:

Joy is an understanding of existence that encompasses both elation and depression, that can accept with submission events that bring delight or dismay, because joy allows one to see beyond any particular event to the sovereign Lord who stands above all events and ultimately has control over them. (21)

Those three quotes are from the first 21 pages of commentary—280 more insight-packed pages follow.

Hawthorne & Martin’s Philippians: Revised is a detailed and inspirational resource on Paul’s letter which rewards a careful reading.


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