Isaiah 1-39 (CSC) by Gary V. Smith

The Christian Standard Commentary (CSC) series continues its early trend of nabbing the most well-received volumes of its predecessor, the NAC series, with this release by Gary V. Smith covering Isaiah 1-39. He also did the Isaiah 40-66 volume, which some thought was even better, in the old series, so we can assume it will be soon to follow in this new series. To be sure, this volume was always ranked as one of the most competent conservative volumes in the old series and it gets updating here. As for me, I had often used it over the years.

The Introduction is thorough with particularly fine historical background. He describes what can be known about the man Isaiah, though the Bible does not present a strait forward history of him. Isaiah also does not always run chronologically, but he does a good job keeping you on track. He covers more information about the text than most will need, including showing that the Dead Sea Scrolls varied little from the Masoretic text. Since Isaiah has often been attacked by redactional critics, he does a convincing job encouraging confidence in the text including seeing clear evidence of structure in 1-39 as a whole. In fact, he works out a lot of fine information about structure in sections. He further discuss theological themes that makes sense for Isaiah.

The commentary proper bears evidence of a skilled commentator. Since there are so many sections that are hard to comprehend on first reading, he digs beautifully into the historical background as well as explaining the theology backed up with good exegesis. For these many good traits, this commentary is indispensable.

Though I would hate to be without it, I do have one problem with this commentary. I noticed it in the old edition, and though this update improves the commentary throughout, that problem remains. Just where you will most likely turn for commentary in the Book of Isaiah, such as 7:14 and 9:6 for example, is exactly where this commentary will fail you. In 7:14 that is quoted often every Christmas season, he never mentions Christ! He makes the surprising conclusion for a conservative commentary that the word often translated “virgin” means only a young woman and not necessarily a virgin. He does not seem to subscribe to the idea that many prophecies have a near and far meaning. When it comes to the near meaning, like what might be happening in Isaiah‘s day, he cannot be beat. You’ll have to go somewhere else for help with the other. In 9:6 he is unnecessarily vague about Christ though he mentions the future Messiah. Perhaps I am being hard on him because he is an acknowledged conservative scholar.

Caveats notwithstanding, I would never do important study in Isaiah without consulting this work. It is just simply too good a resource in many important ways.

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.

Discovering the New Testament, Volume 3, by Mark Keown

As I approached this volume, I returned to my reviews of the earlier two volumes that together with this one will comprise a major 3-volume set of New Testament introduction. I recalled how impressed I was with the two previous releases and immediately thought that the only question would be if this volume could maintain the high quality. I’ve seen multi-volume sets by one author run out of gas before the end; haven’t you? That’s not the case here and that’s all the review owners of the previous volumes will need to desire this one.

The design remains unchanged and that allows a great template for us. He gives quality help throughout. He isn’t speculative. For example, after telling us the major positions on the authorship of Hebrews, he admits we really don’t know. He is balanced. For example, when explaining the millennial positions in Revelation, he encourages us to not put a “preset grid for interpretation”, though he is sympathetic to futurist perspectives. He is consistent throughout.

At this point, it is, perhaps, more important to gear this review toward the three-volume set since I suspect that is how it will be marketed going forward. As with previous NT introductions , this one presents great background information. How, though, does this set stand out? The hint is in the subtitle where with background we find “theology and themes”. To tell the truth, that can often help pastors and Bible students even more than the background stuff. Background shows you where it came from while theology and themes tell you where it’s going. That we need to know and this work will guide us there.

Let the other such NT Introductions step aside. There’s a new top dog in town.

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.

Lamentations (NICOT) by Goldingay

Hard on the heels of Goldingay’s recent NICOT volume on Jeremiah comes this one on Lamentations. Who better to write on Lamentations than one who just finished a major work on Jeremiah? While not a sequel, the two works are natural companions. Fortunately, he didn’t run out of steam from exhaustion with the major labor that work on Jeremiah surely required. Perhaps the genre difference in Lamentations sparked his interest as he writes with obvious vigor.

When I reviewed the earlier Jeremiah work, I felt he was more overtly conservative or at least more sympathetic to such conclusions and that made it for me his best work to date. Perhaps he wouldn’t agree at all with my perceptions, but I have them nonetheless and continue to have in this Lamentations volume. If your view of Scripture is like mine, that will make this volume much more valuable to you.

Beyond his conclusions, questions of scholarly work and investigation can never be doubted in his work. No one would ever accuse him of laziness. He is at his best in addressing questions that interest scholars. Some of those questions are more esoteric to, say, pastors or general Bible students, but I feel that he has written more profitably for such audiences without sacrificing the scholarship that is his thing. Again, more so than some other works of his. I’m other words, the work isn’t dry.

While there isn’t a section called structure in the Introduction, he covers it effectively in “the unity and interrelationship of the poems” and following. Genre works into that discussion beautifully here and is likewise explained. Since Lamentations describes the devastation of 587 B.C., the historical background is straightforward yet well presented here. He wisely comes out for the MT though it is through something of a circuitous journey. The theology and thematic sections culminating in the questions of theodicy are rich. In fact, that is where the treasures of Lamentations lay for pastors and Bible students.

The commentary proper is on target. Take for example my favorite passage in Lamentations in chapter 3 where hope rises precisely where all looked lost. Amid the scholarship, he made me pause and thank my Lord for His steadfast love (Hesed). That’s striking the right balance in an exegetical work for sure. Another good 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.

Psalms (EBTC) [2 volumes] by Hamilton

Mark down these two volumes on Psalms by James Hamilton Jr. as my new favorite in this newer Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary (EBTC) series. Strangely enough, in this series that emphasizes theology it isn’t the theology that makes me rate it so highly (though the theology is excellent), but the overall approach to the Psalms themselves. In short, he sees an overarching structure and unity that presents a purposeful, carefully planned presentation rather than a loose collection with no more interconnection than a hymn book. You know how a hymn book works—each new edition drops a few songs while adding others with no loss other than if the changes involved your favorite song or not. There’s no overall theme to affect. Hamilton doesn’t want us to see the Psalms that way. I’m convinced he’s right.

More than the proclamation that the Psalms are a unity and interconnected, the details that Hamilton marshals and presents are profound. As you read, you catch yourself saying, of course that’s right! You might might disagree on a few details but there are too many to dodge. I’ve always felt this must be true of the Psalms and how I enjoyed reading the labor shown here to work it out.

There’s a second reason to love this commentary. It stands above the pack in an even more fundamentally important category. I’ve had the privilege to review many commentaries and have had occasional opportunity to declare that a particular commentary presents well-argued conservative conclusions. On a high level that’s true here too, but there’s more. I can’t recall ever reading such an impassioned exhibition in a major commentary series for the necessity of seeing Scripture as the inspired Word of God. Scholarship frowns too often on childlike faith and so even many scholars who possess such faith write as if they hear the eggshells breaking under their feet. They write in a subdued manner as if someone might show up and make them sit in the corner, or worse, call them out as not a REAL scholar. Hamilton didn’t take that defensive position. Let’s just say he was on offense and turned the discussion on its head so much so that it’s those other scholars who can take their place in the corner. What a breath of fresh air! He wasn’t brash, but he just brought the discussion back into the light of day. We hold a book in our hands that is a production of the Almighty. How can we believe less than what he shared here? How did scholarship lose sight of the big picture? I have the highest admiration for what I read here.

Everything else was on target in this commentary. The exegetical depth of the comments are as far as the parameters of the series allows and give real help. Why should I say more? You can already tell these two volumes are 5 star all the way to me.

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.

Thomas Charles of Bala by John Aaron

Having recently read Thomas Charles’s Spiritual Counsels, I was excited to get into this new biography of this formerly unknown-to-me servant of Jesus Christ. Rather than a reprint from earlier times, this book is a fresh production by John Aaron. The preface showed that Aaron’s previous work has been more geared to translation and editing so I began reading wondering if he could handle the unique task of biography writing. When I finished this book, I wondered no more. He could and did. It matches the quality of many of the fine Banner of Truth biographies in print.

The quality of biographical writing is one thing while the biographical subject is distinctly another. What of Thomas Charles? Let’s just say I tip my hat to this humble but zealous man whose life was all wrapped up in Jesus Christ. He is not as well known as some other preachers but deserves to be in their circle. Why is this so? My conjecture after reading this biography is that he was less bombastic than others but not less effective. He probably didn’t dominate a room when he entered, nor did he feel the need to. In modern parlance, he was comfortable in his own skin. In more spiritual language, he was aware of his God-given spiritual gifts and he quietly, persistently put them to steady use for God’s glory. We must get through our fleshly fascination with the spectacular to fully appreciate the faithful following of “the still, small voice”. When we emerge from that fog, we find that the results are often more rooted and can extend farther. Think of Charles as an Elisha following the Elijahs who called down the fire in great Welsh revivals.

Like Elisha’s vision in the school of the prophets, Charles’s innovation in the creation of Sunday Schools to teach doctrine and reading so as to enable Bible reading was a master stroke that affected Wales for generations. His wisdom in Bible printing for the common people in Wales showed incredible spiritual perception as well. Charles lived in Bala, which was the spiritual wasteland of Wales even after the great revivals, but by Charles’s death Bala was the most lush green field of spirituality in Wales.

His life story was instructive as well. His is a test case for the value of diligent labor enveloped by a love of his Lord. He died shy of his 59th birthday and its cause humanly speaking was overwork. Yet he died triumphantly, without an ounce of regret, on his sick bed saying, “There is a refuge”. Well, there is. This biography reminds us.

Like in so many biographies of great servants of God, we see the valleys of suffering walked through. Death of children, the poor health of his wife, early ministry setbacks, and his own bouts of debilitating heath including severe frostbite of his hand was the shape of his agonies. As always in these great lives, these sufferings were the anvil on which the Spirit hammered a spiritual masterpiece.

This is a wonderful biography. Much of the last chapter strikes me as an appendix to prove his orthodoxy in doctrine, but who would doubt it by the end of his life’s story? I need biographies like this one. They remind me of things I’m prone to forget. I predict you will love this lovely biography as well.

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.

Thomas Charles’s Spiritual Counsels

Banner of Truth has a knack to introducing us to choice servants of Christ that we’ve never heard of before. After we meet them, we are so glad that we did. Thomas Charles falls especially in that category. Actually, BOT had a joint release of this volume and a new biography of Charles. At first, I was conflicted over which one to read first. I finally decided to meet him through his writing so I’d feel more bought in when I read the biography. It worked. I’m on board for sure.

Fortunately for me, this volume opens with a biographical sketch penned by Iain Murray. If you’ve read Murray before, you know what to expect. Biography on any scale is Murray’s gift. Charles didn’t seem, then, like a stranger when I got to his writings.

The first chapter on spiritual pride blew me away. It’s like it peeled several layers and at the deepest level I’d ever been in that regard I saw the hideous grotesque mess that is the spiritual pride in me. The next chapter on humility stayed in the same vein. Let’s just say that it was nothing like the pablum found in the usual run of Christian books today. No, it was much more penetrating.

Reading on, the subjects changed but the depth did not. At one point, I stopped and asked myself why is this writing so good when he really didn’t come across as a wordsmith, and at times would use the most common expressions to explain himself. I finally figured it out. There was something tangible of the Spirit in it. It is clear that he knew God, he knew people, and he knew the task that God had given him to minister to people. It was like we were seeing a master physician of the soul with both the knife and the balm of the Word of God in hand.

I personally liked the writings on the Bible subjects better than the letters, but all were good. The printing quality and the beauty of the volume that we have come to expect from a hardback volume from Banner of Truth was on full display too.

When I read a book like this, it strikes me that there must be so many of the most wonderful servants of Jesus Christ that we know absolutely nothing about. It reminds me too that the goal is not fame, but God‘s will. We will not all be famous, but we can be in the center of God‘s will and serve Him.

This book is a jewel, and now I’m ready to tackle that biography.

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.

Piercing Leviathan (NSBT) by Eric Ortlund

It is often said to not judge a book by its cover, but in the case of this new volume in the NSBT series, I suggest you not judge it by its size either. It’s worth many books five times its size! It has something to say and it says it well about the enigmatic character of Job. Our reactions to the story of Job fluctuate between fascination and fear. The book of Job asks the questions we have all wanted to ask, and yet we’re almost afraid of the answers. Especially if the answer is not in the form that we want it. And especially not if some of the mystery remains after the Lord reveals what He is willing to share. Because of the uniqueness of the book of Job, many people interpret it any way they like as long as they acknowledge that some mystery remains. The book of Job pushes us to the edge of these deepest questions until we finally grapple with how there is evil and suffering in a world formed and controlled by our God.

Before I attempt to describe the contents of this book, I must offer an admission that the author did not answer all the questions about suffering and evil. The book did, however, tell me more about my God and made me feel better, even hopeful. I remain baffled about some of the suffering in my own life, but I feel more at peace reading this book. You never expected I would say that about a book written in a scholarly series, did you?

Just because I found such personal value in this book, don’t think for a moment that is not written with top-notch scholarship. The scholarship is present, but the stiltedness is not. I don’t think you’ll ever drift off to sleep reading this book and yet you will learn just as much as you will learn in any other scholarly effort. The contents of the book proceed chronologically through the book of Job making many observations and conclusions before a grand theological conclusion is drawn at the end.

In fact, this book succeeds in two different categories. You could place this book with your commentaries on the book of Job and you could easily follow the line of thinking of the book and have a much better chance at arriving at proper interpretation. Additionally, as you might imagine in a series of this sort, you could put this book with your theology books as it does have something to contribute to these dogged questions of theodicy.

I almost feel like if I said more about what you learn in this book I would have to put out a spoiler alert. You will learn about Behemoth and Leviathan, and the often-accepted descriptions of hippopotamus and crocodile, but you will learn of cosmic chaos and evil as well. Perhaps you will be like me and when you finish this book you will say to yourself, now that is what the book of Job is really saying.

This erudite work trades in profundity and joy. That is not easy to do, so you should treat yourself to secure this book today.

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.

2 Corinthians (CSC) by David Garland

David Garland is a busy scholar. In addition to this revision of his older NAC volume on 2 Corinthians for the emerging Christian Standard Commentary (CSC) series, he has just released a new commentary on Romans for the TNTC series. In resent years he’s written well received volumes on the Gospels as well. If you think about it, it’s an elite group of scholars who write multiple commentaries. I guess that is for good reason as it’s likely success in earlier commentaries that catch the eye of series editors and make for further opportunities. Then, of course, there’s the work itself. Ever notice how many announcements for commentaries in all the major series never actually appear? Back to Garland. He’s good and he’ll keep getting these opportunities as long as he wants to do them.

I’ve used the first volume of this work to advantage, but as I read the introduction of this revision I kept thinking that Garland is really good, even sneaky good. There’s quality and clarity in his straightforward, yet incisive writing. It’s the accumulation of good things for the reader every few pages that makes it so substantial. For example, in a few pages Garland took me to Corinth. While that might not be a place you’d actually want to go, it’s a place you much go to understand the epistle. Later he will take you through a discussion of the unity of the letter. You know that yawn-inducing trek so many scholars take you that goes at best in circles. I loved it this time! He was gracious yet I envisioned a bomb going off and wacky scholarly arguments flying through the air as I read. It only took a few pages to prove how disingenuous such arguments are at best and how delusional they really are.

The commentary itself is similarly golden. I offer his discussion of 4:16-18 as proof. Read it. Now that’s commentary writing. There’s plenty more too.

If pastors, teachers, or dedicated Bible students could only have one volume on 2 Corinthians, here’s the perfect choice.

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.

Changed into His Likeness (NSBT) by Millar

This new release in the New Studies in Biblical Theology (NSBT) stands out among the other volumes in the series that I have reviewed. There is still much scholarly research as well as a host of biblical passages exegeted that I’ve come to expect in this series, but the scope of the subject isn’t as narrow as that found in most volumes. Most surprisingly, too, there is at times what could be used devotionally to be found. Not at the expense of scholarship, but in addition to it. In that sense, it’s quite rich. Maybe this isn’t so surprising after all, as how can you study personal transformation biblically without it turning personal?

The introductory chapter examines what we mean by transformation by looking even at prevailing trends in psychology regarding it. That discussion was nothing short of fascinating and reinforced why we’d better turn to the Bible to see what it has to say on the subject. The next chapter turns to biblical anthropology regarding personal transformation and defines key terms like “heart”, “mind”, “soul “, etc. I was impressed again.

The third chapter scans the Old Testament for personal transformation. The approach mostly takes key characters and states (overstates?) his appraisal of the biblical data. The level of digging into these beloved figures was in no way shallow, even incredibly perceptive at times, but was almost depressing as he was trying to make his case that there was little personal transformation there. He moved my thinking a little but I believe a much stronger positive case could be made than his gloomy analysis. In the next chapter, as he surveys the New Testament, he goes the other way and becomes especially positive on personal transformation and perhaps overlooks a few hiccups in those characters lives. I wonder if his covenantal theology guided him overmuch. Please don’t think I’m downgrading the overall depth and quality of his work, but let’s just say that he is not one of those scholars who’s afraid to persuasively present his conclusions!

Chapter 5 was a masterpiece. He took theology as expressed by key theologians and crafted an exquisite theology of personal transformation. You would never guess in the chapter’s opening paragraphs when he tells you of three broad groups (inner life/ Augustine & Edwards, Christology/ Calvin, piety/Owen) what a profound reading journey you are about to take. Other theologians are mentioned, but the synthesis and collation of theology are where he soars. As I read, I was finding myself agreeing in many ways with all three positions. So did he. My only criticism, and a mild one at that, is that he sometimes switched from biblical theology to trying to ascertain the official Reformed position as if it never crossed his mind that anyone outside a reformed persuasion would read his work.

The book concludes by drawing out the biblical conclusions articulated by some master theologians and reflecting on key biblical passages. His conclusions all make sense to me—as a Bible student and a Christian sometimes sad my transformation hasn’t been more profound. Personal transformation, even biblically, is complicated, but maybe less so after reading this book. Without doubt, this one is a keeper!

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.

Romans (TNTC) by David Garland

This latest release in the time-tested Tyndale New Testament Commentary (TNTC) series is a substantial commentary, perhaps more so than usual, but still will be welcomed, I believe, by the target audience of the series. Romans of necessity is going to be a key volume for any NT series and so the selection of David Garland was a coup for the editors. He’s written enough well-received commentaries in several other series to show he’s up to the task. When you open the book itself, you will find that he lived up to the expectations formed by his prodigious output.

After a bibliography that rivaled more technical series, he dives into an Introduction that shined. The TNTC is going to limit authors here more than larger series, but what he delivered in the constraints upon him was impressive. He made the sentences count. His comments on audience were penetrating and filled with nuggets one could expand in profitable directions. As he proceeded, you will appreciate the conservative conclusions, the clearheadedness to weigh scholarly matters based on real importance, and a consistency to approach the text as if, you know, it was the Word of God. It held my interest to the end which is more than could be said for some commentary’s introductions.

In the commentary proper, I read sections of several passages that will tell you where the commentary will take you. There’s just something about Romans that makes the perusal of key passages more obvious to anticipate the quality of the whole. On the other hand, it might make you turn away too quickly if you are already determined you know Romans. I stayed in even after he and I got crossed up on a few passages and found quality in every case. He is clearly reformed (that statement already tells many of his conclusions, doesn’t it?), but this is no defense of the Reformation which derails many commentaries on Romans. He is in the text. He is careful with the text. He is respectful of the text and realizes, as he should, that exegeting it is the task at hand. Use him and there’s enough worthwhile content to help you form your own conclusions.

His commentary replaces the volume by renowned scholar, F. F. Bruce. As great as Bruce was, Garland has easily surpassed him. This is a must-have volume.

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.