The Letters to Philemon, to the Colossians, and to the Ephesians by Witherington

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Ben Witherington III is easily one of the most prolific commentators of our day. It’s hard to believe that he has written major scholarly commentaries on as many books of the New Testament as he has done. As with all his commentaries, he provides what he calls a socio-rhetorical commentary. Here he tackles Philemon, Colossians, and Ephesians. When he says he commentates on the Captivity Epistles, you may notice that Philippians is missing. He explains in the Introduction that that omission is only because he had written a commentary on Philippians earlier. If you are familiar with any of his other commentaries, you will be comfortable in this one. As always, he writes well, he loves scholarly interaction, and he’s not afraid to chart his own course.

The Introduction runs at less than 40 pages and is an Introduction to the three letters together. This serves to highlight well the commonalities between the three. You won’t get far into this book before you see that his conclusion that these letters use an “Asiatic rhetoric” affects all his conclusions. While I find that hard to swallow, I did appreciate several of his conservative conclusions. He crushes the argument that the vocabulary of Ephesians denies it’s the possibility of a Pauline authorship. The other major component of the Introduction is the social settings of Paul and his audiences. In that section, he will cover Paul, his imprisonment, some of his companions, the effect of slavery in the Roman world and the philosophies at play in these regions. He provides a nice bibliography as well.

After one long paragraph of Introduction to Philemon he dives into the commentary. It is quite helpful. Colossians gets its own introduction before the commentary as does Ephesians. You won’t doubt that he has surveyed most all scholarship in his reading to prepare this commentary. He takes an egalitarian position in his commentary in the requisite passages in Colossians and Ephesians. (In Ephesians, he battled Peter O’Brien in his scholarly interaction and in my opinion lost badly).  Still, this commentary is a major contribution.

Witherington’s works are a great second commentary to refer to. This one has the quality and sparkle of all his other commentaries that I have seen.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Song of Songs (OTL) by Exum

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This volume covers the Song of Songs in the Old Testament Library (OTL) series. It’s best known for its literary criticism and I can see why as that’s clearly the emphasis throughout the book. As is common with this series, it takes a critical position throughout, but as is also common for commentaries on this book of the Old Testament, there are some strange theories suggested. It succeeds in what it attempts to do, yet I’m not sure it makes the same theological contribution as some others in the series. It’s not the place to look for application either. Though I did not at all agree with the overall arguments made in this commentary, there were some fascinating paragraphs.

The introduction is longer than most in the OTL series. After a substantial bibliography, the introduction begins by describing the Song as a love poem “about erotic love and sexual desire”. You will notice quickly how key the author finds this to be in the Song. I’ve seen a few popular commentaries that almost make it a book about marital intimacy, but this is the first major commentary that I’ve seen that goes as far as this one does. The most shocking part is the author takes what seems to be the strongest literal interpretation and then says there could be some allegorical meaning to it. The difference is it’s not an allegory of God and His people, but just of love. It’s surprising the way the author digs into this subject of love, relationship, and eroticism over many pages of the introduction. Along the way, gender studies are brought in. I really can’t agree with any of these conclusions, but this is the place I would suggest you go if you want to look into it.

There’s a look at poetic composition and style, including a discussion of whether it’s one poem or many, and a thorough review of literary arrangement and its significance. There’s a fine listing of how other commentators have divided up the book. From there more literary concerns are considered including the literary context of the ANE world. Copious examples are brought to bear. There’s a section on the historical-cultural context as well as a consideration of how this book made it to the Bible. The author concludes allegorization came about to explain its blunt material. There’s a good review of the historical interpretations that the Song has gone through.

The commentary itself is detailed and continues to be dominated by the things brought up in the introduction. Along the way, you will get a good representation of a critical outlook of the book. It’s not my favorite commentary in the OTL series, but it’s one of the most important critical commentaries available.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

I & II Timothy and Titus (NTL) by Collins

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Raymond Collins wrote this commentary on the Pastoral Epistles in the New Testament Library (NTL) series. Its critical stance is in line with what I found in several of these NTL volumes, though there are a few a little less critical in the series. I’ve heard it criticized for having too little scholarly interaction, but that proved no detriment to me as he at least thoroughly articulates his own critical position. I’m not sure I found as much theology as can be found in some of these NTL volumes, but at around 400 pages he never skimps on various passages.

After a bibliography, Collins provides an overall introduction to the Pastoral Epistles. From several angles (second-century witnesses, how the Pastorals differ from other epistles, and a scholarly review of authenticity and literary form), he rejects Pauline authorship and dates late. He reviews other issues within the Pastoral Epistles and determines that it’s reasonable to assume a single author for all three epistles though they came from someone else’s hand after the death of Paul. Strangely, in a section entitled “engaged teaching”, he argues that the teaching presented is taken beyond that which Paul gave. It is in this section, though, that he outlines what are the main themes, in his opinion, of these epistles.

Next, he provides a short introduction to 1 Timothy alone. Mostly that is just to discuss its unique elements. From there, he dives into commentary on the text. The same pattern is followed with 2 Timothy and Titus. Though I often disagreed with him, he did give some good food for thought for several passages. He used the analogy of “text and context” to reserve some of the more debated passages in these epistles to Paul’s day alone (e.g., the Household Code).

While this might not be my favorite NTL volume, it does uphold the series’ aims and is a good representation of the critical position. It’s not as wordy as those in the Anchor Bible Commentary series and so is probably the ideal commentary for those who want to add a critical commentary to round out their studies.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

New Testament Christological Hymns by Matthew Gordley

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This book tackles a subject that I must admit is not one that I have delved into deeply in the past. There is no doubt that this subject is one that the author, Matthew E. Gordley, champions. New Testament Christological hymns are clearly his wheelhouse. This book both taught me and answered every question I had on the subject.

In the first chapter as the author describes the place of these hymns in the New Testament and in scholarship, he didn’t obscure the fact that not everyone agrees about what these New Testament hymns are. It boils down to a question of were these exalted passages that became the hymns of early Christians or were these early hymns that were incorporated into the scriptural text. The author makes a passionate case for the latter and that is apparently the prominent position in the scholarly world. Personally, I hold with the former and really see no evidence that could conclusively change my mind. My holding a different perspective than the author did not denude this book’s value for me.

Once we passed the chicken-or-the-egg argument, Gordley really illuminated what hymns are and the role they likely played with early Christians. What he shared there could likely be accepted no matter which viewpoint you held on these New Testament hymns overall. He stated in the book that he did not want this volume to only be a book of exegesis on those famous passages. He succeeded in sharing his thesis, giving insights on worship among early Christians, yet still provided helpful exegesis on these texts. Three chapters were given to cover the three most famous of these texts: Philippians 2:6-11, Colossians 1:15-20, and John 1:1-17. Because these are some of the most important passages on the doctrine of Jesus Christ they are worthy of the most intense study. There’s another chapter that studies a few other passages that are considered to possibly be a hymn.

The author writes well. He accepts some theories of redaction that I reject out of hand and a few other scholarly concessions that I wouldn’t care for, but he still delivers fine, important book here. If you are like me, you will be satisfied to have this one book as the one and only one on your shelves to address this subject. Scholarly and passionate, this book is a winner.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

First, Second, and Third John (Interpretation) by Smith

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Moody Smith delivered this commentary on the Epistles of John in the Interpretation Bible Commentary series. You may have noticed his name showing up in the literature on the Gospel of John so he was a natural choice to tackle the Johannine Epistles in the series. As you are probably aware, this series is known for its critical outlook and its homiletical/theological contributions. Though a thinner volume than I expected, it succeeds in reaching the aims of the series. Probably his background on John made him able to say much in fewer words.

He offers a somewhat breezy introduction to these epistles. Even where I could not agree with his conclusions, there was an evident love for these epistles which always raises the value of a commentary to my mind. In the unusual buildup within this introduction, I was beginning to believe he was going to suggest that the Apostle John himself was the writer. That was a surprise because it would not be typical in this series. As it turned out, he closely followed the well-known critical scholar, Raymond E. Brown, and his well-known thesis of the Johannine school or community. Though some of us have never bought into that theory, even critical scholarship has backed away from it in recent years. He does share some good information on how the same person could have written the gospel and these epistles, but his conclusions in my judgment on the impossibility of John himself as the writer fell flat.

He also discussed the audience and purpose of the letters, had some discussion of the composition and structure of these letters that also reminds one of Raymond Brown’s positions, and the use of these letters in the church. From there, he discussed interpretation and shared a few good insights along the way. The final two sections that describe the commentary itself and biological reflection were of less value.

Though it was somewhat brief and guided by some of the earlier critical conclusions mentioned, his exegesis was well done. There are reports that he plans a more substantial volume on these epistles in the future. Overall, I would label it a solid volume in the style I have come to expect from this series.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Judges (OTL) by Niditch

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This new volume in the Old Testament Library (OTL) series replaces the old volume by J. Alberto Soggin. Niditch has improved on that older entry. I always turn to this series to grasp the critical viewpoint and to get some theology that you just don’t get in other places. This volume generally falls within the expectations of the series yet would not necessarily be my favorite. In the plus column, the book is well-written and it’s easy to follow the author’s train of thought, but on the negative side it pushes the envelope too far in some places and is too brief in others.

There’s a lengthy bibliography provided at the beginning of the book. The commentary section is substandard and only lists seven titles. On the other hand, the rest of the bibliography is quite thorough.

The Introduction begins by describing the Book of Judges as epic-style literature. There’s a discussion of the office of a judge that is quite interesting. Folklorist insights calling them epic heroes, social bandits, etc., are a little much for me. There’s discussion of the war and fighting in the Book of Judges, the history of the Book of Judges (the author at least sees the material as “meaningful” to the time of the Kings). I had trouble accepting the redaction history that was given as well as some of the discussion about genre. The discussion of the voice of the theologian and the humanist gave some food for thought. The section called texture provided some helpful structural insights. There seemed to be, however, an over-emphasis on the oral nature of the material in the text-critical section.

Where the commentary wasn’t too brief, there were some interesting observations in the commentary proper. At times there’s too much of a feminist angle, but at other times you will find some real help. The exegetical work is sufficient within the framework of the author’s outlook.

Critical scholarship is usually never too kind to the book of Judges. In any event, this book is probably as good as any in understanding a critical approach to the book. While not the equal of some in the series, it does have value.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

II Corinthians (NTL) by Matera

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Frank Matera, a well-known New Testament scholar, contributes this volume on II Corinthians in the New Testament Library (NTL) series. Though this volume would be labeled critical in its approach, he took a surprising number of positions that you might find in a less critical work. For that reason, I thought this volume one of the better in this series. You will still be made aware of some of the critical outlook that this series usually provides, yet you might appreciate his opinion on the unity of the letter and his exegetical work too.

After a bibliography, the author begins the introduction by addressing ministry and conflict in the letter. He labels II Corinthians as “perhaps the most personal and revealing of Paul’s letters”. He sees it as “an intensely personal writing it which the apostle speaks more extensively and intimately than in any of his other letters”.

Next, he dives into the argument and structure of the letter. He divides the letter into three parts and explains his reasoning for the division as well as for the subdivisions. He summarizes his position in a list of four things that Paul is defending. His reasoning and the subsequent outline give good food for thought. From there, he tackles the theology of the letter. He sees the theology as rich and it would be hard to disagree with the importance of the six things he lists as the key theology of the letter.

In the next section, when he considers the time between I and II Corinthians, he wades into the morass that often entangles the scholarly world. The next few sections of the introduction continue to look at this subject from various angles. Along the way, you get a good overview of where the scholarly world has twisted and turned on this issue. Pleasantly, he argues for the unity of the letter.

In the commentary proper, I thought the exegetical work to be some of the best I’ve seen in this series. There are many good insights to be found.  This book could profitably be added to the list of those you consult when studying II Corinthians.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Some Great John Stott Commentaries!

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Mr. John Stott remains one of the more beloved writers of Christianity today even though he’s been passed away for a few years now. He was widely published and has books carried by several publishers, but he had a special relationship with IVP and they carry all his great commentaries. In this blog post we will review a sampling of four of these great commentaries. In addition to these reviewed below, he has some equally fine commentaries on the Sermon on the Mount, Acts, Romans, Galatians, and Thessalonians.

  1. The Letters of John (TNTC)

This commentary is, perhaps, his most well-known. At the least, I’ve seen it quoted time and again in later major exegetical commentaries on the Epistles of John. It’s his only commentary in the wildly popular Tyndale New Testament Commentary (TNTC) series. I imagine this series has been one of the best-selling of all time because of its broad usefulness. Despite its age, I still see it widely recommended and even called the best in this series by many reviewers.

The thorough introduction is wisely divided into three parts: authorship, occasion, and message. He reasons beautifully for the authorship of the letters by John. He has wonderful things to say about occasion and message. There is much learning there. He seems to conclude much as the earlier commentator Robert Law did, though he’s far easier to follow in my opinion. I don’t exactly agree with Law’s premise, but it’s well explained here.

The commentary proper is model commentating. The introduction and commentary on II and III John are equally compelling. This book lives up to all its hype.

The TNTC is currently going through its second major revision. That means this title will likely be replaced by a new author. I’m confident that IVP will not allow this book to go out-of-print and if you ever can’t find it in the TNTC look for it is as a classic reprint by them. Get this one!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

  1. The Message of Ephesians (BST)

You could never accuse the beloved Mr. John Stott of shying away from the more difficult books of the New Testament. I mean he’s written on Romans and Galatians and has also tackled the sublime Book of Ephesians here in the Bible Speaks Today (BST) series. In fact, as the editor for the New Testament volumes of this series, it appears the whole series was a labor of love for him. For the record, he produced its best volumes in the eight he contributed. This series has a different design than the TNTC and he excelled in both.

He allows the introduction to the letter to be handled in his commentary on Ephesians 1:1-2. I personally don’t see any loss in that design. With skill he argues for the authorship of Paul even though the scholarly world has mostly gone in the ditch on the subject. He covers the recipients and the message of the letter here as well.

The commentary is wonderful. It has the positive aspects of both good commentary with all the requisite background information as well as the warmth of an outstanding sermon. Whether this book is in the BST series or not, it has no shame on the shelves among the big boys. It would be a mistake to not own it!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

  1. The Message of 1 Timothy & Titus (BST)

This fine commentary by the late John Stott is a two-for-one special as you get commentary on both I Timothy and Titus. It’s another of Mr. Stott’s outstanding commentaries in the exposition – friendly Bible Speaks Today (BST) series. I consider this volume one of his more underrated commentaries. His pastoral heart made him the ideal commentator for these two New Testament books.

This book begins with a special section discussing the authenticity of the Pastoral Epistles. I’ll never understand why the scholarly world is so preoccupied with denying Paul authorship of a handful of his letters, but I wish scholars would punt the ball and make what Mr. Stott says here the 20-yard line.

The commentary on both these letters is warm, accessible, yet in no way shallow. Perhaps the comments are shorter, yet they say more than many commentaries twice the length. Mr. Stott has lived up to his own subtitle of “guard the truth” in this fine volume that you need in your library!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

  1. The Message of 2 Timothy

The quality of Mr. Stott’s commentating never wavers as you can see in what is, perhaps, one of his lesser-known works in this commentary on II Timothy in the valuable Bible Speaks Today (BST) series. Until this whole series is revised and replaced, I won’t be able to think of it in any other way than Mr. Stott’s baby.

I have no idea why II Timothy has its own volume while I Timothy and Titus are put together, but since you need all these commentaries anyway it’s better to have to buy two instead of three! Don’t be surprised if someday when this series is revised that all three Pastoral Epistles found in these two of Mr. Stott’s commentaries end up in a classic reprint by IVP.

He gives an introduction that champions Paul as author and explains the contents in regards to his life and work with Timothy. While the commentary is not especially long (only 127 pages), there’s not a wasted word. I’ll always consult it no matter how many thick volumes sit beside it on my shelves. For pastors, this book is indispensable.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Revelation (TNTC) by Ian Paul

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Here we are in the early stages of the second full revision of the venerable Tyndale New Testament Commentary (TNTC) series and we have a new entry on the Book of Revelation. This replaces the volume by the second series editor, Leon Morris. As much as I love the works of Mr. Morris, I’ve never heard his commentary on Revelation being talked up as his best. This new volume by Ian Paul is a substantial entry at 370 pages. I feel that Mr. Paul fully grasped the parameters of this series and put it to good use.

I’m going to rate this commentary highly even though I subscribe to a different theological perspective on prophecy than is entertained here. In my judgment, this book has these key superlatives: incredible background information of the time John wrote, profound but sane discussion of numerology, a fairness in mentioning other viewpoints since Revelation is one of the most debated books of the Bible, and solid exegesis. Even as one who takes a pre-millennial outlook, I think every pastor or Bible student needs a book from this viewpoint, especially since it dominates current scholarship. The beautiful thing about this volume is that it covers the same ground well and much more succinctly. Osborne, Beale, or Aune would take much more of your time while Paul here can give you all you need.

Even with my differing viewpoint, I found his introduction filled with good things worth pursuing. No matter your theological perspective, you will find much to mine here. The commentary itself, though if you’re of a different theological persuasion you may broadly disagree, is still filled with great insights into the words of the text and other parallels. You won’t regret consulting this book!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

I and II Thessalonians (NTL) by Boring

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Prolific writer Eugene Boring gives us this thorough commentary on I & II Thessalonians in the New Testament Library (NTL) series. A decade earlier he produced the commentary on Mark’s Gospel in this same series. That shows that he has far-ranging interests in New Testament scholarship. You will find that the same areas that he received praise for in the Mark commentary are true here. In short, he excels in historical scholarship and background information.

The book is designed with an introduction to I Thessalonians followed by commentary on it, and then an introduction to II Thessalonians followed by its commentary. I enjoyed the introduction to I Thessalonians much more than that for II Thessalonians because I just can’t agree that the second letter came from some hand other than Paul’s.

He begins the introduction by explaining what it is to read in varying contexts including the reader, the canonical context, the mediating context that reviews church tradition and academic research. He also has some insight on recent scholarship. What follows is the highlight of the introduction: his description of the historical context of I Thessalonians. That includes a look at Paul’s life, the city of Thessalonica, and the church therein. He has a few words on the genre and rhetoric of the letter. After an outline and a brief discussion of structure, he gives his theological perspectives on the book. The commentary proper is quite helpful and teems with great historical information.

The introduction to II Thessalonians is consumed with it being Deuteropauline. Though that is a common thought modern scholarship, I find the arguments particularly weak and circular. The commentary, however, is equal to that in the first letter.

Mr. Boring is one of the most respected writers in this series and I can understand why. This is a fine commentary.

I received this map free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.