Category Archives: Commentaries

Favorite Genesis Commentaries

Favorite Genesis Commentaries

Last year I intended to begin a series of posts on my favorite biblical commentaries. I began with a post on my favorite commentaries from 1&2 Samuel (click here), but unfortunately I have not taken the time to continue this series until now. Below I list some of my favorite Genesis commentaries. But before proceeding to the list below I’d like to explain a little about my selection of commentaries for biblical books. As Michael Heiser explains in his mobile ed course from Logos, Introducing Biblical Interpretation, there are 3 different kinds of commentaries: 1. Devotional or Popular (a one volume commentary with very general info);  2. Expositional (more specific, English based, dealing with some textual issues); and 3. Scholarly (based on research in the original languages, with more indepth discussion of the various issues raised by a text). Generally, my commentary selections come from category 3 because I have found these kinds of commentaries to be the most insightful and beneficial. Sometimes a selection may also come from category 2. Although devotional commentaries are a great resource for getting some basics and for inspiration, my focus is on those commentaries that give a deeper insight into the text. Following the lead of my previous article on Samuel commentaries, I will list my 5 favorite Genesis commentaries, although this time I have listed them in the order of my preference from 5 to 1.

This Genesis commentary is available at Amazon USA / UK
This Genesis commentary is available at Amazon USA / UK

5. James McKeown, Genesis, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2008), 398 pp.

What I like about the Two Horizons Commentary format is that the first part of the book focuses on the commentary proper while the second half of the book treats important theological topics raised by the biblical book under discussion. The commentary on Genesis itself in the first part of this book is only 193 pages. My first reaction was that this was a thin treatment of a biblical book with 50 chapters! However, McKeown doesn’t waste any space and does an excellent job of focusing on the main points of the text. The second half of the book greatly enriches the commentary portion and allows McKeown extra space to focus on important topics in Genesis. McKeown breaks his treatment down into 3 parts: 1) Theological Message of the Book; 2) Genesis and Theology Today; and 3) Genesis and Biblical Theology. Under “Theological Message of the Book,” McKeown devotes 100 pages to the important themes of Genesis. His opening discussion concerns “Main Unifying Themes,” of which he sees descendants (the theme of the seed), blessing (or relationship with God), and land as the key themes of Genesis. McKeown states that, “The theme of descendants is the foundational or key theme, since the others, blessing and land, can only be recognized by their relational function to those who benefit from them–the descendants” (p. 197). In Part 2: “Genesis and Theology Today McKeown examines the various questions regarding Genesis and Science (Creationist and other approaches, the Day/Age theory, etc.). Part 3: “Genesis and Biblical Theology,” examines the influence of Genesis (including quotes, allusions, and ideas) on the rest of the biblical canon. If someone was looking for an insightful, but shorter treatment of the Book of Genesis, this is a commentary I would definitely recommend.

This Genesis commentary is available at Amazon USA / UK
This Genesis commentary is available at Amazon USA / UK

4. Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 656 pp.

One of the greatest strengths of this Genesis commentary by Waltke, is also one of its weaknesses. Waltke pays great attention to the structure of the Book of Genesis. He believes it is an intricately woven set of concentric patterns (some would say chiastic patterns). Although Waltke really opened my eyes to the literary beauty of the Book of Genesis, and taught me to look at it in a way I had not before, many would argue that at least some of his concentric patterns are forced. Nevertheless, I appreciate the fact that his commentary follows the outline of the Book of Genesis by using the “these are the generations of” (Hebrew: toledoth) formula. A lot of the introductory material is designed to familiarize the reader with various literary techniques that can be found in the Book of Genesis. Things such as key word, contrast and comparison, foreshadowing, and inclusion, to name a few. Besides a commentary section, Waltke has many other useful ways in which he examines the passage. He summarizes the theme of each “book” (or toledoth), provides an outline, does a literary analysis showing the structure, summarizes the theology and adds other helpful discussions. For example, in “Book 2,” (Gen. 5:1-6:8), Waltke provides helpful discussions on genealogical structure and the use of numbers. While one may not agree with all of Waltke’s conclusions, this Genesis commentary is packed full of information and insight, and presents a very illuminating way of looking at the Book of Genesis.

Volume 1 of Hamilton's 2 volume Genesis commentary, available at Amazon USA / UK
Volume 1 of Hamilton’s 2 volume Genesis commentary, available at Amazon USA / UK

3. Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, vols. 1&2 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1990, 1995), 522 & 774 pp. respectively

The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (NICOT) series is simply one of the best commentary series out there (its companion on the New Testament is also excellent). If you’re looking for high quality evangelical scholarship, this series is hard to beat. Hamilton certainly upholds this standard in his excellent 2 volume Genesis commentary. Hamilton begins in volume 1 with a 100-page introduction which concludes with a whopping 25 page bibliography! In the Introduction, Hamilton discusses such topics as the structure, composition, theology, and canonicity of Genesis, as well as others. Unlike the other two commentaries mentioned above, the NICOT includes a translation by the author from the original Hebrew. Thus each section begins with this fresh translation and any footnotes the author deems necessary in explaining the Hebrew text and his translation of it. A verse by verse commentary follows. Each section (usually following chapter divisions) concludes with a helpful section entitled: “New Testament Appropriation.” This section looks at NT quotes from Genesis or the NT’s appropriation (hence the title) of certain concepts from Genesis (e.g., the image of God). As one might expect from a commentary that is approximately 1300 pages, Hamilton’s commentary patiently discusses significant problems in Genesis interpretation (e.g., who are the “sons of God?”) and provides a lot of wonderful insights.

Wenham's 2 volume Genesis commentary is available at Amazon USA / UK
Wenham’s 2 volume Genesis commentary is available at Amazon USA / UK

2. Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis, Word Biblical Commentary, 2 vols. (Waco: Word Books, 1987, 1994), 353 & 517 pp. respectively

For those of you who read any of my reviews, you may be aware that Gordon J. Wenham is a favorite author of mine (see my review of Exploring the Old Testament: Pentateuch, by Wenham). This is actually my favourite Genesis commentary, but my reason for putting it at number 2 will be discussed below under number 1. Wenham spends more than half of his introduction discussing “Genesis in Recent Research,” which involves the authorship and composition of Genesis. It includes a look at the documentary hypothesis (JEDP) and the “New Literary Criticism” approach. Wenham argues for the unity of many of the Genesis narratives and concludes that the most likely scenario for Genesis is that it was written by one author whom he designates as “J” (using the old terminology) somewhere between 1250 – 950 B.C., with a few late editorial updates (e.g., “Ur of the Chaldeans”–Gen. 15:7). Wenham sums up his discussion of the theology of Genesis by stating “If the message of Genesis is essentially one of redemption, Gen. 3-11 explains why man needs salvation and what he needs to be saved from” (p. lii). For those who are unfamiliar with the format used by Word Biblical Commentary, each section contains the following: 1) an original translation of the Hebrew text by the author; 2) notes on the translation itself; 3) comments on the form, structure, and setting of the passage under consideration; 4) a comment section (this is the verse by verse commentary); and 5) an explanation section which sums up the meaning of the text and seeks modern-day application. Each section also includes a detailed bibliography. One of the strongest aspects of Wenham’s commentary, in my opinion, is his analysis of the structure and flow of the narrative in Genesis. While this is more commonplace in commentaries today, Wenham’s Genesis commentary was among the pioneering efforts of the New Literary Criticism approach. The careful reader will be greatly rewarded working his or her way through this excellent commentary.

This 2-volume Genesis commentary by Mathews is available at Amazon USA / UK
This 2-volume Genesis commentary by Mathews is available at Amazon USA / UK

1. Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis, The New American Commentary, 2 vols. (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996, 2005), 528, 960 pp. respectively

My reason for giving the nod to Mathew’s commentary on Genesis over Wenham’s is because Mathews has the benefit of reaping the insights of Wenham, Hamilton, and many other Genesis commentators before him. If you could only buy one Genesis commentary, this is the one I would recommend because of the great synthesis of material that it contains. This is not to say that Mathews does not offer his own contributions to understanding the text of Genesis, but only to affirm that he has greatly benefitted from the work of others before him. The sheer size of this commentary, nearly 1500 pages, suggests its thoroughness (at least as far as can be expected on any one book of the Bible). Mathews excellent 90 page introduction in volume 1 only covers that volume (which treats Gen. 1:1-11:26). In volume 2, Mathews has another 60 pages of introductory material before beginning the commentary on Genesis 11:27-50:26. Mathew’s favors a literary approach, and this is one of the first things he discusses in the Introduction of volume 1. The stated purpose of the New American Commentary series by the editors includes “illuminating both the historical meaning and contemporary significance of Holy Scripture” (Editors’ Preface) and focuses on two concerns: 1) how each section of a book fits together; and 2) a theological exegesis which provides practical, applicable exposition. The NIV translation is used throughout the commentary with the author’s comments on the Hebrew text when necessary. Each section begins with an outline of the passage under consideration followed by introductory comments, commentary on the verses themselves. Theology and application is interwoven in the commentary and at points the commentary is punctuated by “Excurses” on important topics. Mathews demonstrates a mastery of the material and no important discussion is omitted. This commentary is the most comprehensive commentary on Genesis that I have come across. It should definitely be a part of any Christian’s library who desires to be a student of the Word.

There are, of course, many other commentaries on the Book of Genesis worthy of reading. Those mentioned above are simply my favorites. Honorable mention should also be given to Umberto Cassuto’s 2- volume Genesis commentary, Walter Brueggemann’s Genesis commentary in the Interpretation series, and Gerhard Von Rad’s Genesis commentary in the Old Testament Library series. For a popular treatment of Genesis that is based on scholarly research (but reads as if the author is telling you about his discoveries in Genesis), one should consult Genesis: The Story We Haven’t Heard by Paul Borgman. By the way, Borgman is the author of David, Saul, & God, previously reviewed by me at the following link (click here).

As the first book of the Bible, and as the book that provides the foundation for all the rest, I would greatly encourage you to study the book of Genesis. I am confident that studying it with one or more of the commentaries above by your side would be a blessing and greatly enhance your knowledge and understanding of Genesis. For an overview of the main theme of Genesis see my article: The Theme of the Book of Genesis.

Exploring the Old Testament: Vol. 1 The Pentateuch

Exploring the Old Testament: Vol. 1 The Pentateuch

Exploring the Old Testament: Volume 1 The Pentateuch, is available from Amazon USA / UK
Exploring the Old Testament: Volume 1 The Pentateuch, is available from Amazon USA / UK

The Exploring the Old Testament (as well as Exploring the New Testament) Series, has similar goals to the “Encountering Biblical Study Series” (see my review here on Encountering the Book of Genesis), and the “Teach the Text Series” (see my review here on 1&2 Samuel in the Teach the Text Series). Each of these series focuses on providing the beginning Bible student with an overview of a certain book or certain portion of Scripture. The goal is to introduce the reader to the main teachings and issues involved. The biggest difference with the Exploring the Old Testament Series is that it focuses on larger blocks of Scripture (The Pentateuch, the Historical Books, etc.). The author of this volume, Gordon Wenham is Senior Professor of Old Testament Emeritus at the University of Gloucestershire and is currently lecturing at Trinity College, Bristol. Ever since his commentary on Leviticus in the New International Commentary Series published in the late 70s, Wenham has been a favorite author and commentator of mine. You can always expect to learn something new. His books are always insightful and clearly written.

Contents of Exploring the Old Testament Vol 1: The Pentateuch

Gordon J. Wenham, author of "Exploring the Old Testament Vol 1: The Pentateuch."
Gordon J. Wenham, author of “Exploring the Old Testament Vol 1: The Pentateuch.”

For a book with only 199 pages of text, Wenham covers a lot of territory and packs in a lot of information! There are 11 chapters (including a 1 page “Epilogue”). Chapter 1 begins by asking, “What is the Pentateuch? Basic Features.” Wenham discusses the name, the genre, why there are 5 books, and other introductory questions. Chapters 2-7 present an overview of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Each chapter looks at particular issues and problems related to each book, and gives a chapter by chapter commentary over the entire book. The reason that it takes 6 chapters to discuss 5 books is because Wenham spends 2 chapters on Genesis (dividing his discussion between Genesis 1-11 and then 12-50). Like the “Encountering Biblical Studies” (EBS), each chapter of “Exploring the Old Testament” includes maps, charts and tables. This volume on the Pentateuch, however, unlike EBS, does not include photos, which I believe is a wise choice. As noted in my review of “Encountering the Book of Genesis” (see link above), the reproduction of black and white photos tends to come out very poorly. When Wenham has felt the need to reproduce a particular image, it has been drawn rather than photographically reproduced. All of the drawings, maps, charts, etc., have been done by Wenham’s son Christopher, who has done an admirable job. I found the charts to be particularly helpful. Wenham frequently includes charts to show parallels or demonstrate differences in the text. Wenham also includes text boxes. Some of these highlight special issues such as “Egypt in the Joseph Story,” in the Book of Genesis (p. 53), or “Further Reflection on the Census Results,” in the Book of Numbers (p. 106). Many of the boxes are labeled “Digging Deeper.” Wenham explains these boxes to the reader by stating, “I want you to get out of the tourist bus and explore the terrain for yourself before you move on to the next issue” (p. xiv). These boxes are designed to present thought provoking questions and assignments that allow readers to do some “digging” for themselves. Here are a few sample topics: “Ancient Marriage Customs” (p. 48), “Making Sense of Sacrifice” (p. 86), “The Chosen Place of Worship in Deuteronomy” (p. 134), and “Claims of Mosaic Authorship” (p. 160).

The final chapters of Exploring the Old Testament Vol. 1: The Pentateuch (chaps. 8-10, not counting the “Epilogue”), include 3 important areas of discussion. Chapter 8 looks at the “Theme of the Pentateuch.” This chapter is a wonderful example of how this series seeks to present the Big Picture. Wenham approaches the theme of the Pentateuch with a  brief historical survey of what recent scholarship thinks. This not only gives the reader ideas on the main theme, it also introduces him or her to modern scholars and their thoughts on the Pentateuch (By the way, every chapter ends with a select bibliography for further reading and study). Wenham evaluates the various positions presented and then concludes with his own view of the theme of the Pentateuch. His conclusion is: “The theme of the Pentateuch is the fulfilment of the promises to the patriarchs, which are a reaffirmation of God’s original intentions for the human race, through God’s mercy and the collaboration of Moses” (p. 157).

Exploring the Old Testament is available in both hardback and softcover editions.
Exploring the Old Testament is available in both hardback and softcover editions.

In chapter 9, Wenham deals with the “Composition of the Pentateuch.” Some readers may be tempted to skip this section because it deals with the history of how scholars think the Pentateuch came into existence. I was tempted to skim it very quickly, not because I find this subject uninteresting, but because I have read many other summaries on this topic. However, I found Wenham’s treatment to be the best survey on this subject that I have ever read. He seeks to present each position clearly and fairly, allowing the reader to judge and evaluate the various theories and approaches. As in the previous chapter, Wenham also shares some of his thoughts on the production of the Pentateuch.

Chapter 10 entitled, “The Rhetoric of the Pentateuch,” is closely connected to chapter 9. Here the focus is not on how the Pentateuch came to be, but when. Based on the theories from the previous chapter, Wenham walks the reader through the various historical periods of Israel’s history asking the question “What would the original readers have learned if the Pentateuch had been written in this particular historical period?” The periods include the time of Joshua, the united monarchy (David and Solomon), the time of Josiah (7th century B.C.), and the post-exilic period (5th century B.C.). Wenham states the values of each historical situation and allows readers an opportunity to decide for themselves. Although Wenham doesn’t seek to prejudice the reader by naming a particular historical period that he thinks the Pentateuch was completed by, it seems (by reading between the lines, and being familiar with his commentary on Genesis!), that he would opt for an earlier period rather than a later one.

Evaluation: Exploring the Old Testament Volume 1

This volume concludes with an Epilogue, a short glossary of terms, and a subject index. As noted at the outset, Wenham has done a masterful job of packing a lot of information into a thin volume. This is an excellent text for anyone seeking to gain basic knowledge about the first 5 books of the Bible. Given the purpose, I cannot note any particular weakness. I would only say that if someone was looking for a little more indepth treatment of a particular book (such as Genesis), the EBS series, or the “Teach the Text” series would be better (although there is no Genesis commentary in the “Teach the Text” series yet). But if the Big Picture is what you’re after (and in my opinion getting the Big Picture is the best way to begin), then you can’t go wrong with this volume. As a teacher, it is exciting to see publishing companies coming out with excellent introductory series for the beginning Bible student. All 3 series mentioned in this article (EBS, Teach the Text, and the Exploring series) are well worth the investment of the student’s time and money. In conclusion, I highly recommend Exploring the Old Testament Volume 1: The Pentateuch.

Buy Exploring the Old Testament Volume 1: The Pentateuch at Amazon USA / UK or From IVP Academic

  • Series: Exploring the Old Testament (Book 1)
  • Hardcover: 223 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (September 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 083082541X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0830825417
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.9 x 10 inches

(Special thanks to IVP for providing this review copy in exchange for a fair and unbiased review!)

New Testament Bible Background Commentary

New Testament Bible Background Commentary

New Testament Bible Background Commentary from IVP Academic
New Testament Bible Background Commentary from IVP Academic

IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, Second Edition by Craig S. Keener, (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2014), 816 pp. Available from Amazon USA / UK

The New Testament Bible background commentary by Craig Keener has been a standard reference work for many years. The new second edition only makes this commentary more valuable. Keener has done a thorough revision of the original and has expanded his treatment of many passages. The goal has remained the same: “The sole purpose of this commentary (unlike most commentaries) is to make available the most relevant cultural, social and historical background for reading the New Testament the way its first readers would have read it” (p. 14). Thus, Keener is not seeking to offer theological commentary on the New Testament, but rather background material that will aid the reader in coming to theological conclusions. Although it is not his main focus, Keener also makes literary observations from time to time (for example, inclusios or chiastic structures–see his final chart at the end of the book entitled, “A Chiasmus: Acts 2:22-36“)

Keener’s audience remains the same as the first edition. He writes for “busy pastors and other Bible readers who have fewer resources and less time available” (p. 19). As a result, Keener omits most references that scholars and more curious Bible readers would find useful. With this target audience in mind, Keener’s New Testament background commentary begins with a 36-page introduction on how to use the commentary and why there is a need for such a commentary. As in the first edition, Keener has retained an introductory section discussing the significance of the gospels, as well as, New Testament letters. Each New Testament book is also preceded by a brief introduction. The glossary (also included in the first edition) has some new additions, such as “magic” and “Pilate,” while some definitions have been expanded such as “Satan” and “Son of God.” The maps and charts section at the end of the book remains basically unchanged (an additional map of Paul’s missionary journeys has been added rather than having one map for journeys one and two).

New Testament Bible Background Commentary: New Content

Craig S. Keener, author of IVP's New Testament Background Commentary
Craig S. Keener, author of IVP’s New Testament Bible Background Commentary

Besides the changes mentioned above, the commentary itself has been expanded in many places. As an example, I compared Keener’s treatment of Luke and Acts with the first and second editions of his commentary. These additions include anything from a sentence to a whole new paragraph. Sometimes additions are weaved around previous material and in other instances a new paragraph, or more, may be added. Some examples of ample additional material include Keener’s comments on ancient literacy in Luke 4:16, and his comments on hospitality and the woman who anointed his feet in Luke 7:43-46. Keener has greatly expanded his comments about Paul’s sea voyage to Rome (Acts 27), as well as his circumstances in Rome (Acts 28), compared to his earlier treatment of this material. Keener has also added some helpful new tables within the commentary such as Table 1 in the Gospel of Luke (“Early Parallels in Luke’), Table 2 (“Echoes of Hannah’s Song”–comparing the Mary’s Magnificat with 1 Samuel 2:1-10), and Table 7 in 1 Thessalonians (“Parallels Between 1-2 Thessalonians and Jesus’ Teachings”). At times, Keener has also omitted some material. For example, in the story about the widow of Nain in Luke 7:11-17, he omits his previous comment about what philosophers would often say to console the bereaved (compare Luke 7:13 in both editions).

What Can Be Learned From Keener’s New Testament Bible Background Commentary?

What can be learned from this commentary? Much more than there is space to tell! The reader will learn about ancient weights, measurements and money, funeral customs, weddings, geography (including how understanding certain facts about various ancient cities helps one to better understand a particular story), the nature of teachers and their disciples, honor and shame, kinship bonds and relations, education, schooling, and literacy, population estimates of various significant cities, Roman government officials, Roman armies (their makeup, their leaders), and on and on.

Whether you are new to the study of New Testament backgrounds, or a more knowledgeable student, Keener’s New Testament Bible background commentary contains something that everyone can benefit from. Allow me to cite two examples. Keener notes that ancient authors writing either histories (like Acts) or biographies (like the gospels) often drew parallels between people in the narrative. An example of this is the contrast between Zacharias’s response to the birth announcement by the angel with that of Mary’s (see comments on Luke 1:26-38, p. 180). Another helpful insight concerns the way ancient histories were written. Keener notes that ancient authors intentionally varied their vocabulary when talking about an identical event. He states, “This pattern should warn us not to read modern expectations of verbatim quotation into ancient works that no one would read that way” (p. 319, comments on Acts 1:1-5). This observation is helpful for understanding the slightly different versions that Luke gives of Jesus’ words before he ascends (comparing Luke 24 and Acts 1), as well as, Paul’s three slightly different accounts of his conversion.

In conclusion, Keener has made an excellent commentary even better with this newly revised edition. This is definitely a book that should be on everyone’s shelf who is interested in better understanding the New Testament.

Purchase The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament at Amazon USA / UK

 

  • Hardcover: 816 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic; 02 edition (January 3, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0830824782
  • ISBN-13: 978-0830824786
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 2.2 x 9 inches

(Thanks to IVP for providing a copy of this New Testament Bible background commentary in exchange for a fair and unbiased review).

1 and 2 Kings for Everyone: A Book Review

1 and 2 Kings for Everyone: A Book Review

John Goldingay, 1 and 2 Kings for Everyone (Britain & USA: SPCK & Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 212 pp.

1 and 2 Kings for Everyone from SPCK publishers is also available at Amazon UK.
1 and 2 Kings for Everyone from SPCK publishers is also available at Amazon UK.

Originally from Britain, author of 1 and 2 Kings for Everyone, John Goldingay is currently a professor of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary. Although there is no statement in the preface defining the targeted audience, one would expect that a commentary series with the title “For Everyone” in it would seek to communicate to people who have various levels of understanding of the Old Testament. But Goldingay’s targeted audience becomes clearer when, in his introduction to the commentary, he laments that “[the Old Testament Scriptures] were for everyone in fact. So it’s strange that Christians don’t read them very much. My aim in these volumes is to help you do that” (p. 1). The small size of this commentary (190 pages, plus a 10 page glossary), along with Goldingay’s comment in the introduction, makes it evident that his main purpose is to introduce readers to some of the basics of 1 and 2 Kings. The designation “For Everyone,” then is a bit of a misnomer, unless the title means to convey the common person in the pew. 1 and 2 Kings for Everyone is designed for the Christian who knows little about the books of Kings.

The structure of the commentary is simple. Goldingay begins with a brief 5 page (really 4 1/4 page) introduction. He presents an outline of Old Testament history to help those who might be unfamiliar with its timeline and then gives a brief summary of the content of 1&2 Kings. Goldingay incorporates other introductory matters, such as the date of writing and theories of composition regarding 1 and 2 Kings, into the textual commentary itself. Each section of the commentary begins with a fresh translation by Goldingay of the Hebrew text (more on this later), followed by an introductory anecdote (usually drawn from his personal life) that segues into a discussion of the text itself.

1 and 2 Kings for Everyone: The Good

John Goldingay, author of 1 and 2 Kings for Everyone.
John Goldingay, author of 1 and 2 Kings for Everyone.

John Goldingay is a well-known Old Testament scholar who brings considerable knowledge to the table. This knowledge is shared in a warm-engaging style throughout the commentary. Through the personal anecdotes that begin each section (although Goldingay admits disguising some in order to be fair to others–p. xi), one comes away feeling like he or she has had a personal discussion with the author about 1 and 2 Kings. One area of Goldingay’s knowledge that the reader will benefit from in reading 1 and 2 Kings for Everyone, is the way he weaves archaeological information into the text to help illuminate it. For example, Goldingay notes that the temple of Solomon follows the plan of other Canaanite sanctuaries or royal palaces. He demystifies the interior layout of the temple by explaining that, “it follows the logic of any house, or in particular of a palace. There is a public area where people are welcomed into the king’s presence, the equivalent of a yard or lounge [temple courtyard]; there is the hall where the king would meet with his staff [holy place]; and there are the king’s private quarters [holy of holies]” (p. 27).

Theologically Goldingay does a good job combining discussion of both bigger and smaller issues raised by 1 and 2 Kings. In this reviewer’s opinion he presents a balanced view of the sovereignty of God and the freewill of humans. One example of this is the discussion of Ahab’s death in 1 Kings 22. He writes, “God’s relationship with people is always a dynamic one. God doesn’t have a plan that is foreordained to evolve. God’s purpose is worked out in dialogue with people’s responses, and it is worked out through acts like the random action of the anonymous archer who shot Ahab by accident” (pp. 105-106). Goldingay frequently appeals to the principle enunciated in Jeremiah 18:1-10 which states that God will change his actions based on people’s (or nation’s) response.  Besides addressing “Big” theological issues, the commentary also draws out helpful insights, such as in the story of Naaman. Goldingay notes the significance of the captured Israelite maid who informed Naaman about Elisha, along with other “servants” (probably soldiers) who accompanied him and advised him to follow Elisha’s advice. This leads him to write, “The Naaman story illustrates how ordinary people sometimes see things that leaders can’t see” (p. 123).

1 and 2 Kings for Everyone: The Bad

This is the cover of 1 and 2 Kings for Everyone as published in America by John Knox Press. This is also available at Amazon USA.
This is the cover of 1 and 2 Kings for Everyone as published in America by John Knox Press. This is also available at Amazon USA.

The greatest disappointment of this commentary is its incompleteness. By that I mean that sections of 1 and 2 Kings are not translated or commented on. In my opinion this is a serious deficiency. It can be a frustrating as well as a disorienting experience to be reading the translation when all of a sudden a […] appears and several verses of text are skipped over. On other occasions even larger blocks of text are omitted with only a very brief summary of what they contain. I find it ironic that Goldingay states in the introduction, “My hesitation is that you may read me instead of the Scriptures. Don’t do that” (p. 2). This causes the commentary to send a mixed message: Scripture is important, but there isn’t room to include it in some places in the commentary, so…some parts aren’t as important! What naturally follows with the omission of chunks of text is omission of any commentary on that portion of text (except for the brief summary offered of the omitted text). How could this deficiency be corrected? I have several suggestions. First, 1 and 2 Kings is a lot of material. Why not make 2 commentaries (as is done with Goldingay’s Genesis for Everyone commentary)? One devoted to 1 Kings and the other to 2 Kings. If there is an unwillingness to do this (for a reason I can’t think of), then I have a few other suggestions. Second, although the personal anecdotes add character and charm to the commentary, they are not intrinsic to it. Why not omit the anecdotes and gain further space? Third, omit the 10-page glossary at the end (even though it is a helpful feature for those who don’t understand certain concepts) and utilize that extra space for the translation and commentary. Fourth, and finally, allow the author a little extra space. What’s an extra 30 pages or so going to hurt? It’s still a very small, compact commentary even with the extra pages.

When I first picked up this commentary my hope was to use it as a textbook for my class on 1 and 2 Kings. I thought, “Great here is a small commentary that my students can read through in order to gain the big picture of 1 and 2 Kings.” Some may disagree, but I find it hard to gain the “big picture” in a commentary that doesn’t present the “whole picture.” This leads to my other concern with the commentary. It really doesn’t present the big picture of 1 and 2 Kings. Goldingay is great with interesting insights about a particular story in the books of Kings, but he never steps back to connect the stories and show the overarching themes that hold the stories together–big themes like grace and judgment, or the fulfillment of the prophetic word that run through the entire book of 1 and 2 Kings.

1 and 2 Kings for Everyone: The Ugly

Now for the "ugly" part of 1 and 2 Kings for Everyone!
Now for the “ugly” part of 1 and 2 Kings for Everyone!

Beauty is certainly in the “eye of the beholder,” so I’m aware that some will disagree with me here. When one reads through this commentary on 1 and 2 Kings, it is easy to discern Goldingay’s love and respect for the Word of God. It is also easy to discern his love for God and his desire to communicate God’s love and word to others. This is why I find statements throughout the commentary that undermine the trustworthiness of the Old Testament so perplexing. As I read the commentary I often had the feeling that Goldingay was trying to live in two worlds: the world of an evangelical believer and the world of a liberal critical scholar. (I realize these stereotypes are inadequate, but please forgive me. I’m trying to paint a picture of two world-views that seem to be colliding in the commentary.) This is illustrated in two ways. First, anyone who’s read 1 and 2 Kings knows that it contains violent stories. Goldingay’s comments on 2 Kings 1 (Elijah calling fire down to destroy the king’s soldiers) are typical of his treatment elsewhere of violent stories. On the one hand, he seems embarrassed by them and apologetic that they are found in the Old Testament. He writes, “That fact [the apostasy of the king of Israel] doesn’t stop us disliking the way the story then unfolds, with the hapless military losing their lives for following the king’s orders” (p. 108). Again he states, “It still raises the question of why God was willing to have the story in his book and what we are supposed to learn from it” (p. 109). He then goes on to cite the example of Jesus rebuking the disciples for wanting to do the same thing (Luke 9:52-56), but then continues by saying that even Jesus talked “a lot about people ending up in fire (e.g., Matt. 25:41). This leaves me a bit confused on exactly what Goldingay thinks about the passage in 2 Kings 1. I say “a bit” because I am also troubled by another statement he makes, which leads to the second problem I have with his approach: undermining the integrity of the text. Regarding this story he states, “We might be inclined to think that it’s not a fact; maybe this is ‘just a story.’ The formulaic way it’s told might suggest that this is so…” (p. 109). Another example of this same phenomenon is on page 111, where he questions whether some of the miracles of Elisha actually happened. He writes, “For myself I am not sure what to think about that question.” He then proceeds to give an answer for each side of the fence.

Examples like the ones sited above could be multiplied. Although I am of a different theological persuasion than Goldingay on these matters, I want to be clear about what disturbs me. There are many scholars who’ve written many commentaries with similar arguments to Goldingay’s. I may not agree with them, but they have a right to express their views. However, my problem with 1 and 2 Kings for Everyone is, again, twofold. First it seems unwise to speculate in a commentary that doesn’t allow room to further explain your conclusions. As another example of this let me offer Goldingay’s comment on page 23 that “Deuteronomy hadn’t been written by Solomon’s day….” Goldingay is only quoting scholarly dogma here which contends that Deuteronomy didn’t come into existence until the time of Josiah, and was only later completed during the exile. But a beginning reader has no idea what he means because he doesn’t have the space to offer a fuller explanation. (By the way, in case you’re wondering, I don’t agree with this conclusion.) A statement like this is probably going to result in confusing the reader (who hopefully knows that Moses came before Solomon). On the other hand, the reader may accept it at face value (because, after all, a scholar said it), but have no idea for the basis of this assertion. Second, because of the brevity of space, it seems that it is more important to focus on what the text means (presumably that’s why a beginning student of the Old Testament is reading the commentary). The reader probably has enough questions about the Old Testament. Why not use the commentary on the text to answer some of those questions, rather than undermine the text? 1 and 2 Kings is written as history. Granted, it is theological history, and it is history written based on ancient, not modern standards. But to say that “this could just be a story,” or “we don’t really know if this happened,” undermines the ancient author’s authority who presents the events as factual.

Conclusion: 1 and 2 Kings for Everyone

Based on the reasons enumerated above (the bad and the ugly), if a person was looking for one good commentary on 1 and 2 Kings, I, unfortunately, could not recommend this one. This is not to say that a person could not profit from some of the insights contained in this commentary (the good), but with all due respect to Professor Goldingay, there are simply better “layman” commentaries available for 1 and 2 Kings.

1 and 2 Kings for Everyone is Available at Amazon USA / UK

(Special thanks to SPCK for providing a copy of 1 and 2 Kings for Everyone in exchange for a fair and unbiased review)

Encountering the Book of Genesis: Book Review

Encountering the Book of Genesis: Book Review

Bill T. Arnold, Encountering the Book of Genesis (Baker Academic, 2003), 234 pp.

Encountering the Book of Genesis: Goals

Encountering the Book of Genesis is available at Amazon USA / UK
Encountering the Book of Genesis is available at Amazon USA / UK

Encountering the Book of Genesis is part of the Encountering Biblical Studies (EBS) series. According to the editors, the goals of the EBS series include 5 intellectual goals and 5 attitudinal goals. The intellectual goals include: 1) present the factual content of each OT book; 2) introduce historical, geographical, and cultural backgrounds; 3)outline primary hermeneutical principles; 4) touch on critical issues (why some people read the Bible differently); and 5) substantiate the Christian faith. The attitudinal goals are a unique feature of the EBS series and include: 1) to make the Bible a part of students’ lives; 2) instill in students a love for the Scriptures; 3) to make them better people; 4) to enhance their piety; and 5) to stimulate their love for God. The attitudinal goals, along with intellectual goal number 5 (substantiate the Christian faith) make this series unabashedly evangelical in the truest sense of the word (seeking to share the gospel with a view to transforming lives). The goals also make it obvious that the focus of this series is on students. In fact, the publisher’s preface states that “this Genesis volume is intended primarily for upper-level collegians” (p. 13). This should not discourage any serious Bible student from picking up this book however. Although at times there is some “upper-level” collegiate language, the book is eminently readable and full of good information for anyone wanting to explore the main messages and issues concerning the Book of Genesis.

Encountering the Book of Genesis: The Structure

Bill T. Arnold is the author of Encountering the Book of Genesis. He is Paul S. Amos Professor of Old Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky
Bill T. Arnold is the author of Encountering the Book of Genesis. He is Paul S. Amos Professor of Old Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky

Arnold breaks his treatment of the Book of Genesis into 5 different parts. “Part 1: Encountering God’s Creation” looks at the so-called Primeval history found in Genesis 1-11. “Part 2: Encountering Abraham: God’s Faithful Servant,” treats Genesis 12-25. “Part 3: Encountering Jacob: God’s Troubled Servant” looks at Genesis 25-36. “Part 4: Encountering Joseph: God’s Model Servant” examines the rest of Genesis (chapters 37-50). “Part 5: Encountering the Authorship of Genesis,” completes the book by reviewing and evaluating the evidence on the authorship of Genesis. This includes everything from examining and evaluating the evidence for Mosaic authorship to surveying the history of the documentary hypothesis. A final concluding section surveys the story of Genesis and shows Genesis’s part in the canon of Scripture, especially as it relates to the Pentateuch (entitled: “From the Patriarchs to Moses”) and the rest of Scripture, including the New Testament (entitled: “From Moses to Jesus”). In terms of his actual commentary on the sections of Genesis, Arnold follows the toledoth (“these are the generations of…”) formula, which is the natural outline of the Book of Genesis itself.

Encountering the Book of Genesis: The Content

Each chapter of Encountering the Book of Genesis begins with an overview of what the student can expect to learn (laid out in terms of an “Outline” of the biblical text, and “Objectives”–what the student should know after reading the chapter). Similarly, each chapter ends with a set of study questions. Unlike some books with study questions, these questions are actually helpful in making the student think about the material covered in the chapter. By answering the study questions, the student can be confident that he or she has achieved the goals announced in the “Objectives” section at the beginning of the chapter.

Because Encountering the Book of Genesis is intended to be a student textbook, each section not only includes a commentary on the passage under consideration, it also includes photos, maps, charts, tables, and special text boxes that deal with specific topics. This layout has many features in common with the “Teach the Text” series reviewed elsewhere on this blog (see my review on the Samuel commentary in this series, including the Logos version which can be found here). The text boxes are often quite interesting. Some of the topics include: “Did God Use Evolution to Create the World?” (p. 27); “Life-Spans of the Pre-Flood Family of Adam” (p. 56); “Polygamy in the Bible” (p. 95); and “Levirate Marriage in the Old Testament (p. 150), to name only a few.

What I Didn’t Like About Encountering the Book of Genesis

don't likeWhile it is a great idea to include photos, maps, charts, etc., the black and white presentation of the Encountering Biblical Studies series is very disappointing. In most cases the black and white photos are so indistinct that they are not helpful whatsoever. The colorful cover of Encountering the Book of Genesis is very appealing, but sets you up for a major disappointment when you open the book. Next to the photos, some of the maps that are included are unhelpful. For example, under a section entitled, “Who Were Israel’s Neighbors?” (p. 44) a black and white map of the ancient Near East is included–so far so good–but the map doesn’t detail the names or places of any of Israel’s neighbors! I also didn’t find the map of the much-disputed location of Sodom and Gomorrah very helpful (p. 103). To be fair, however, many of the other maps included are useful. Another small irritant is the use of endnotes rather than footnotes. Considering that the editors didn’t want to muck up the format by having footnotes at the bottom of the page, this is understandable, nevertheless, for those of us who like to look at the footnotes, it is a constant nuisance. My final complaint about this volume concerns the binding. I have the paperback version of Encountering the Book of Genesis and I found it to be very unwieldy. The book is very stiff and difficult to handle when turning from page to page. As books become used and the binding relaxes, they can often be opened to a particular page without the entire book folding back in on itself. Such is not the case with this book. You must hold it open with two hands or give up trying to read a page. This feature is another reason why the use of endnotes is annoying.

What I Did Like About Encountering the Book of Genesis

i.1.s-facebook-like-button-first-amendmentWhat did I like about Encountering the Book of Genesis? Absolutely everything except what I have noted above. The text is well written and full of good information, especially for the beginning student of Genesis. Don’t let the 234 pages fool you; there is a lot of information packed into this volume! For one thing, the book is larger than usual, measuring 17.1 x 1.4 x 24.8 cm (Americans break out your measurement converters!), and consisting of two columns of text per page. Arnold is well-read. He draws from the best material available on the Book of Genesis and the ancient Near East and does a great job of distilling it for the student. He clearly communicates the main themes of Genesis (see my article, “The Theme of Genesis” for what these are), and deals with all the major issues pertaining to it. The bibliography is excellent and there is also a glossary to help the student with unfamiliar terms.

Besides his insightful comments on the text, Arnold has a couple of chapters that focus on helping the reader to gain the bigger picture of the ancient Near Eastern context of Genesis. In Chapter 3 “What’s Wrong with This Picture?” (pp. 43-53), Arnold looks at Israel’s neighbors, ancient Near Eastern parallels to Genesis 1 and 2-4, as well as ancient views (including Israel’s) of the nature and makeup of the universe. In the chapter on the Flood story, he also looks at ancient Near Eastern parallels to the Flood (pp. 59-61). In Chapter 6 “Tracking Abram and His Family” (pp. 77-88), Arnold looks at the geography of the ancient Near East, deals with questions related to the historicity of Abram, introduces the student to the scholarly breakdown of ancient archaeological periods (Early Bronze, Middle Bronze, etc.), and discusses the nature of the religion of the Patriarchs. In my opinion, Arnold’s discussion of the religion of the Patriarchs (which he discusses in several places throughout the text), and its differences with the later Mosaic Period, should prove to be insightful to beginning students of Genesis. While some might call Arnold a bit “preachy” I would prefer the word “pastoral.” However one looks at his application of biblical truths (personally I liked it), he admirably achieves one of the stated goals of the EBS series.

Evaluation of Encountering the Book of Genesis

I suppose the highest personal praise I can give this book is that I plan on using it as a foundational textbook for my class on Genesis. The books in the EBS series are intended to be textbooks, and Encountering the Book of Genesis has certainly achieved that goal. This book deals with all of the major themes and issues related to the Book of Genesis, while at the same time doing it in a concise way. The text boxes, tables, charts, as well as some of the maps, also go a long way in visually orienting the student for a greater learning experience. I recommend Encountering the Book of Genesis, not only to “upper-level collegians,” but to all who are interested in learning more about the Book of Genesis, while also being personally challenged to grow in their relationship with the Lord.

Buy Encountering the Book of Genesis at Amazon USA / UK

  • Series: Encountering Biblical Studies
  • Paperback: 234 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic (January 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801026385
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801026386

(Special thanks to SPCK for sending me this copy of Encountering the Book of Genesis, in exchange for a fair and unbiased review!)

Teach the Text Samuel Commentary in Logos

Teach the Text Samuel Commentary in Logos

Available at Logos.com
Available at Logos.com

1&2 Samuel Commentary Teach the Text from Logos Bible Software.

I have enjoyed the 1&2 Samuel commentary in the Teach the Text series so much that I decided to request a copy from Logos Bible Software. Logos offers many additional benefits that are not possible with a hardcopy. Because I have previously reviewed the contents of this commentary, I will focus on the benefits offered by the Logos edition. If, however, you have not yet read my review of the commentary itself, I have included it as well.

The Benefits of the Logos Edition of the 1&2 Samuel Commentary in the Teach the Text Series

The first thing that Logos allows me to do is show you the beautiful layout of this commentary. In my first review I noted that the Teach the Text series is attractively presented. In the photos that follow, you will have an opportunity to see what I mean.

This sample page shows the colorful maps and photos that adorn the pages of the 1&2 Samuel commentary
This sample page shows the colorful maps and photos that adorn the pages of the 1&2 Samuel commentary

Every author of the Teach the Text series follows a five-point outline. I have detailed these in the review below, but here I offer a photo of the introductory pages showing the five-point layout.

This photo shows the 5-point layout of the commentary. I have highlighted the heading. Logos allows you to use a highlighter pen just as you might in a hardcopy.
This photo shows the 5-point layout of the commentary. I have highlighted the heading. Logos allows you to use a highlighter pen just as you might in a hardcopy. The folder to the left of the highlighting also allows you to make comments on the portion you have highlighted.

The great benefit of Logos is that it allows you to interact with the text in various ways. Logos users will be familiar with some of the advantages that I list here. First, the ability to hover your mouse over something in the text and receive immediate information is extremely helpful. For example, how many times have you seen a textual reference in parenthesis and meant to look it up but never got around to it? With Logos you can simply hover over the textual reference and see it immediately without leaving the page. The photo below not only shows this feature, (the mouse is hovered over Matt. 12:34–see the lower righthand corner), it also shows an example of the layout of Chisholm’s 1&2 Samuel commentary. The photo shows the “Theological Insights” and “Teaching the Text” sections on 1 Samuel 16 (top of columns 1&3), while also showing another interesting feature of Chisholm’s commentary–a dialogue box that focuses on special issues (this one intriguingly entitled, “Divine Deception?”).

Logos allows you to see a Scripture reference immediately simply by hovering your mouse over it.
Logos allows you to see a Scripture reference immediately simply by hovering your mouse over it.

The hovering feature is also helpful when there are abbreviations in the text that you’re not sure of. Furthermore, when an author references a certain source, if you have that source in your Logos library, you can hover your mouse over it and pull up the reference to that source. This is especially helpful if the author is referring to a Hebrew word and quotes BDB (Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew Lexicon) as his source, or is referring to an ancient text that you may have available in your Logos library (such as Hallo and Youngers’ The Context of Scripture, which contains translations of ancient Near Eastern texts). Since the internet has become such a great source of information, modern authors will sometimes give website addresses in the footnotes. If you’re reading a hardcopy you have to jot down the reference and then open your computer to check it out. Again, it’s probably one of those things you’d like to do, but may never get around to. In Logos, it’s just a button click away! All you need to do is click on the web address and Logos immediately takes you there!

There is a dropdown menu in Logos that provides a number of advantages including a special “reading view,” which is the view I have been using for these photos. A really nice feature I have recently discovered is the “read aloud” option (see the menu on the left and go halfway down). If you’re tired of reading, or prefer someone else to read to you, you can click on this function and Logos will read the text to you! You can also click on “show table of contents” in this panel and immediately go to any part of the book. The following photo shows the drop down panel with these and other options. I have also chosen this page from Chisholm’s Samuel commentary because it illustrates the verse by verse commentary section, it shows an example of a chart (partially blocked by the drop down panel), and it shows an example of the “Key themes” box which summarizes in a few words the important ideas of the text under consideration.

Note the drop down panel in the left column which gives the Logos reader many options.
Note the drop down panel in the left column which gives the Logos reader many options.

Besides highlighting text (mentioned above), Logos also allows you to copy text. So if you are making notes for a sermon or Bible study, or you are writing an article, all you have to do is use your cursor to highlight the text, right click, and click copy. Logos even supplies the footnote so you don’t have to remember where you got the information from. This is especially convenient if you’re writing a paper because you don’t have to go to the trouble to compose the footnote! These are just a few of the wonderful features of reading in Logos. I’m sure as time goes on, I will discover others. As I promised, below is a review of Chisholm’s Samuel commentary. If you haven’t previously read it, please continue in order to gain a fuller appreciation of this book.

General Observations on the Teach the Text Commentary Series

The “Teach the Text Commentary Series” was commissioned to help the busy pastor and to fill a void in commentaries that are both scholarly, and yet practical. The aim is to present the “big picture” of a biblical book by dividing it “into carefully selected preaching units, each covered in six pages” (p. ix). There are 5 main areas of focus within these 6 pages: 1) Big Idea; 2) Key Themes; 3) Understanding the Text (this is the longest section including such subjects as context, outline, historical and cultural background, interpretive insights, and theology); 4) Teaching the Text; and 5) Illustrating the Text (pp. xi-xii). It is important to keep this structure and the necessary restrictions in mind when evaluating each commentary in this series.

Such an approach is clearly not intended to be exhaustive. So is there room for a commentary series with this more generalized approach? I believe there is. My own classroom teaching experience has demonstrated to me the need for students to gain the “big picture” of a biblical book. It is important to be able to summarize the main themes and key ideas of a book. Oftentimes people read or study a biblical book and have no idea of how to summarize its main message(s). The “Big Idea” and “Key Themes” features of this series go a long way in aiding the reader to achieve this goal. Therefore, the structure of the Teach the Text Commentary series is not only helpful to the pastor, who may be consulting it for his weekly sermon, it is also beneficial for the beginning student.

Before making specific remarks on Chisholm’s 1&2 Samuel commentary, I would also like to add that the “Teach the Text Commentary Series” is attractively presented. Each hardback volume is printed on heavy-duty paper which is ideal for the many helpful maps, photos, and illustrations contained in each commentary.

Comments on 1&2 Samuel Commentary

Chisholm begins his 1&2 Samuel commentary with a brief 7-page introduction. He summarizes these books by noting the three main characters (Samuel, Saul, and David) and by stating, “David is the focal point of the story” (p.1). Saul acts as a foil to David, while “Samuel’s support of David becomes foundational to the narrator’s defense of David” (pp. 1-2). The high point of the book is the Lord’s covenant with David, securing his dynasty and proving faithful even in the midst of David’s sin. Chisholm divides 1&2 Samuel into 7 sections based on “its major plot movements, revolving around the theme of kingship” (p. 4). His outline is as follows: 1) Prelude to Kingship (1 Sam. 1-7); 2) Kingship inaugurated (1 Sam. 8-12); 3) Kingship Fails (1 Sam. 13-15); 4) Kingship in Limbo (1 Sam. 16-31); 5) Kingship Revived (2 Sam. 1-10); 6) Kingship Threatened and Preserved (2 Sam. 11-20); and 7) Epilogue (2 Sam. 21-24). One potential weakness is that this outline is not clearly delineated in the commentary that follows. Perhaps Chisholm’s reason for ignoring this is because he does not find “clear-cut structural markers” in the text (p. 4), but sees the divisions above as related to plot development.

Chisholm packs a lot of information and insight into each 6-page unit of commentary. The information provided on historical and cultural background, though not found in every section, is very helpful for the beginning reader and student. Topics include foreign gods such as Baal or Dagon, divination, the Amalekites, or documents of the ancient Near East that have parallels with biblical material. This information enriches the presentation, as do the color photos that frequently accompany them. At times Chisholm includes side boxes that deal with special issues such as “The Problem of Genocide” or “The Legal Background of Tamar’s Request.”

Two characteristics of Chisholm’s exegesis that I found particularly helpful include his attention to certain words, and parallels and/or contrasts between biblical characters. Chisholm does an excellent job of paying attention to words or phrases found in 1&2 Samuel and demonstrating their connection with another incident in 1&2 Samuel (or the Former Prophets, meaning Joshua-2 Kings). For example, he notes that the expression “terror filled his heart” in 1 Samuel 28:5, in reference to Saul, only occurs one other time in 1-2 Samuel. It is found in the story of Eli’s demise as his “heart trembled over the fate of the ark of God” (p. 184). This kind of verbal connection suggests the author is comparing the circumstances of Saul and Eli. Similarly, Chisholm frequently points out similarities between incidents or characters in 1&2 Samuel with other biblical characters or incidents. One example is the similarities between the actions of Absalom in 2 Samuel 13-14 with Abimelech in Judges 9 (p. 252). This attention to biblical typology is extremely helpful when interpreting a narrative text (see my discussion in Family Portraits, p. 11).

Considering the constraints placed upon him by the commentary’s design (6 pages per literary unit), Chisholm’s overall treatment of the text of 1&2 Samuel is excellent. There is, however, one exception. Although 2 Samuel 2:1-5:5 can legitimately be viewed as a structural unit, treating it in the 6-page format does it a great injustice. This material is too important and too theologically rich to be skimmed over so briefly. Dividing this section by episodes, or even by chapters, would have been a better approach. This imbalance is all the more noticeable when the following section (2 Sam. 5:6-25), arguably less “meaty” than 2 Samuel 2-4, is given the full 6-page treatment. (For Chisholm’s reasoning on this see my interview with him which was conducted after this review.)

Perhaps the greatest challenge in writing a commentary of this kind is providing illustrations for the text. This is certainly a subjective task. Certain illustrations will ring true with some, while others will find them unhelpful. In an interview I conducted with Chisholm (click on link above), I discovered that this section was added by the editors, not by Chisholm himself. While I would not endorse the use of every illustration suggested in this commentary, I do believe a sufficient job has been done. The editors themselves point out that this section of the commentary is intended to provide “general ideas” and to “serve as a catalyst for effectively illustrating the text” (p. xii).

In conclusion, Chisholm’s 1&2 Samuel commentary achieves the aims of this series admirably. He is a scholar of high caliber and is a well-established expert on the entire corpus of the Former Prophets. Pastors, students, and others wanting to become grounded in the message of 1&2 Samuel will benefit greatly from this commentary. I used it for my own 1&2 Samuel class this past semester and will continue to do so in the future. I heartily recommend it to others.

Purchase Robert Chisholm’s 1&2 Samuel Commentary from Logos Bible Software by clicking on this link.

(Many thanks to Logos Bible Software for supplying this review copy of Robert Chisholm Jr.’s 1&2 Samuel Commentary in the Teach the Text Commentary series in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.)

Favorite 1&2 Samuel Commentaries

Favorite 1&2 Samuel Commentaries

From time to time I am asked by students and others what my favorite Bible commentaries are. I thought I would start with my favorite books to teach (1&2 Samuel) and list the commentaries that have had the greatest impact on me. In the future I will list favorite commentaries from other Old and New Testament books. I’ve decided not to limit myself to a certain number (5, or 10–although this particular post has 5!) because the number may be different with each book of the Bible. If you are interested in purchasing any of these commentaries, I have provided links to Amazon (USA =.com and UK =.co.uk) under the book images. In no particular order, here are my favorite 1&2 Samuel commentaries.

Available at Amazon USA / UK
Available at Amazon USA / UK

1. Robert Bergen, 1, 2 Samuel, The New American Commentary, (Broaman & Holman, 1996), 512 pp.

The New American Commentary is a solid evangelical commentary series. The NIV version is used, followed by a verse by verse commentary by the author. Bergen’s commentary begins with approximately a 40 page introduction to the books of Samuel. Like many modern commentaries, Bergen is sensitive to the literary art of the ancient biblical writer, which means he looks at the final form of the bibical text and focuses on its message. For me, the main strength of this commentary is Bergen’s knowledge of the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy) and how the authority of the “Books of Moses” are reflected in 1&2 Samuel. At every turn, Bergen gives examples of how a knowledge of the Law of Moses deepens the reader’s understanding of 1&2 Samuel. For example, in the introductory material, Bergen provides two charts (historical interconnections and legal interconnections, pp. 47-50) which demonstrate the interconnections between the Pentateuch and 1&2 Samuel. In my opinion, one of Bergen’s weaknesses is that David can seemingly do no wrong (except of course in the case of Bathsheba and Uriah!). For example, when David asks the priest Ahimelech for bread and a sword, he lies to the priest by telling him that he is on secret business for the king (1 Sam. 21:2). To save David from an obvious lie Bergen suggests that the king David has in mind is Yahweh (p. 221). That’s a small criticism, however. Bergen’s commentary is sure to increase your understanding of the books of Samuel. I would give it 4 1/4 stars out of 5.

Available at Amazon USA / UK
Available at Amazon USA / UK

2. J. Robert Vannoy, 1-2 Samuel, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, (Tyndale House, 2009), 452 pp.

Vannoy’s 1&2 Samuel commentary is also the work of an evangelical scholar. He begins with a 38 page introduction discussing such topics as date and occasion of writing in which he challenges some of the long-held presuppositions of some scholars regarding the so-called “Deuteronomistic History” (Many scholars contend that Deuteronomy was written in two instalments: 1] during the time of Josiah; and 2] during the exile). He argues that moving the date of Deuteronomy from the Mosaic era and placing it at the end of the kingdom period “has far-reaching implications for the literature of the Old Testament.” This, of course, includes the books of Samuel. Vannoy argues for an early date of writing for the books of Samuel (about 931 B.C. following the division of the kingdom, p. 9). Vannoy also approaches the text with a literary sensitivity. He calls attention to the structure of different parts of 1&2 Samuel and his comments are based on the final form of the text. This commentary uses the NLT. Each section consists of the NLT, followed by a “Notes” section which comments on significant Hebrew words and textual issues. Next is the author’s verse by verse commentary followed by “Endnotes.” Vannoy’s greatest strength, in my opinion, is his ability to relate the text of 1&2 Samuel to Christological concerns. For example, he states, “…while Christian interpreters should take their point of departure, as much as is possible, from the perspective of the original author and his audience, they must also read every narrative of Scripture in the ever-widening context of the growth of revelation and redemption as it is disclosed in the entirety of the Christian canon” (p. 10). I would give this commentary 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Available at Amazon USA / UK
Available at Amazon USA / UK

3. Dale Ralph Davis, 1 Samuel: Looking on the Heart, and 2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity, Focus on the Bible (Christian Focus, 1999 & 2000), 336 pp. each.

If you’re looking for someone who knows all of the scholarly issues, is evangelical, and communicates in a common-sense, down-to-earth style, then Dale Ralph Davis is your commentator! These two Samuel commentaries form part of a six-commentary series by Davis, extending from Joshua-2 Kings. Davis is a former seminary professor (Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Ms.), and a current pastor (Woodland Presbyterian Church, Hattiesburg, Ms.). His pastor’s perspective will speak to the average Christian who enjoys good commentary interspersed with homey illustrations (warning–be prepared to learn a lot of American Civil War history–a favourite topic of Davis’s illustrations).

Available at Amazon USA / UK
Available at Amazon USA / UK

Even though Davis is coming from a Reformed background, his commentary is balanced and it is rare to see (though not impossible) Calvinistic coloring bleed over into his interpretation. Davis wastes no time with introductory matters in his 1&2 Samuel commentaries; he allots all of 2 pages in each one! Instead, he dives right into the text. Even though reading both volumes amounts to a little over 700 pages of reading, Davis is one of my students’ favourite commentators. Some prefer his style (which is very colloquial) to that of other, more formal, commentators. To give you a flavor for Davis’s style, here are a few quotes: “Amnon has far more glands than brains” (2 Sam., p. 167). Speaking of Joab’s murder of Amasa, Davis writes, “It was business as usual. No need to cry over spilled blood. It’s merely a clinical matter for Joab” (2 Sam., p. 254). Davis is colorful, but he is also very knowledgeable. His 1&2 Samuel commentaries will definitely increase your understanding of these books. I would give Davis 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Available from Amazon USA / UK
Available from Amazon USA / UK

4. David Firth, 1&2 Samuel, Apollos Old Testament Commentary (IVP & Apollos, 2009), 614 pp.

Of all the commentaries I recommended to this point, Firth’s is the most comprehensive. This is due largely to the format of the Apollos Old Testament Commentary Series. Firth’s commentary consists of an original translation of the Hebrew text, followed by notes on the text, a section on “Form and Structure,” followed by the verse by verse commentary section, and finally, an “Explanation” section which consists of further reflections on the passage (for a fuller breakdown of the format followed by the Apollos OT series,  see my review of 1&2 Kings).  Usually a commentary that has notes on the Hebrew text explaining the author’s translation is very technical and only for scholars and those who know the original language. However, Firth’s textual notes are very readable and quite interesting. I often pulled out my yellow highlighter to note a point he was making. Firth’s commentary is solid and insightful with one exception: his interpretation of the David and Bathsheba episode (which he argues is not the best title for this incident, and he is probably right). Firth attempts to incorporate some sociological insights into why the incident happened using the values of honor and shame. Although a knowledge of cultural values can prove extremely enlightening (as I frequently argue in my posts on this blog), in this case I think that it has led Firth astray in his understanding of the narrative. Briefly, his argument is that David does not send for Bathsheba because she is beautiful (and he lusts after her), but in order to “claim authority from Uriah” and ultimately to kill him (p. 416). Firth says that the text gives no reason for David’s desire to kill Uriah and suggests that perhaps Uriah is a threat to David like David was to Saul. He emphasizes, however that this is only a supposition. In my opinion, this interpretation completely distorts things that we know about David and, perhaps most importantly, misses the parallels between David and his son Amnon (who clearly has a lust problem with his sister–2 Sam. 13). Other than this one unusual interpretation, I find Firth’s commentary to be very insightful and a rewarding read. I would give it 4 1/4 stars out of 5.

Available at Amazon USA / UK
Available at Amazon USA / UK

5. Robert B. Chisholm Jr., 1&2 Samuel, Teach the Text Commentary (BakerBooks, 2013), 337 pp.

I won’t say a lot about Chisholm’s commentary here because I have reviewed it elsewhere (click here to see the review, click here to see an interview with Chisholm), and I will be reviewing the Logos Bible Software version of it in a future post. I will simply say that if someone wants a good introduction to the books of 1&2 Samuel, this is one of the best. It is clearly written, and Chisholm is a knowledgeable evangelical scholar. The book includes pictures, charts, and sidebars which are of the highest quality and add to the overall presentation. Chisholm seeks to provide readers with the “Big Picture” and key themes of 1&2 Samuel and he admirably succeeds. The only shortcoming of the book is its brevity and some of the “application sections” (not added by Chisholm, but by the publisher). The brevity, however, is part of the overall design of the “Teach the Text Commentary” series. The fact that I am using it as one of the main textbooks in my 1&2 Samuel class should let you know how highly I think of it. I would give it 4 1/2 stars out of 5.

The temptation at this point is to go on and name a few other favorite Samuel commentaries, but I believe this is a good stopping point and so I will leave you with these 5. Feel free to suggest your own favorite Samuel commentaries in the comments, or to ask me a question about these or others.

1&2 Kings Apollos Commentary: Book Review

1&2 Kings Apollos Commentary: Book Review

Available at Amazon USA / UK
Available at Amazon USA / UK

Lissa M. Wray Beal, 1&2 Kings, Apollos Old Testament Commentary, (Nottingham & Downers Grove: Apollos and IVP, 2014), 615 pp.

1&2 Kings in the Apollos Commentary series by Lissa M. Wray Beal is a thorough and thoughtful treatment of these Old Testament books. Wray Beal is evangelical in her outlook but she is conversant with all scholarly positions. The commentary follows the usual format of the Apollos Old Testament series which includes:

1) Translation–A fresh translation of the original text by the author.

2) Notes on the Text–The author’s notes on the original text(s) (explaining grammatical and textual difficulties, noting alternative readings, and, at times, explaining the author’s reasoning for a particular translation).

3) Form and Structure–Insights on how the text is put together and reasons for treating a particular passage as a unit. Wray Beal also notes the theories of other scholars who speculate on the original sources that a given passage may have been derived from. She is usually dismissive of these theories and always asserts her interest in focusing on the final form of the text.

4) Comment–This section is a verse by verse exposition of the text of 1&2 Kings.

5) Explanation–A focus on the theology of the passage and how it relates to biblical themes and ideas presented elsewhere in Scripture. Wray Beal frequently shows how the theology of 1&2 Kings anticipates important theological concepts in the New Testament.

1&2 Kings Commentary Introductory Material

The commentary begins with a 38 page introduction on 1&2 Kings in which Wray Beal outlines the significant issues and features of 1&2 Kings, as well as her understanding and approach to these books. She notes both the prophetic and historical character of 1&2 Kings and has an extended discussion on the historiography of 1&2 Kings. She understands “the nature and purpose of 1-2 Kings to be representational historiography” (p. 39) By this she means that “the accounts are referential and not merely fictional or aesthetic…the author is constrained by the actualities of the subject matter” (p. 40). In other words, she sees the content of 1&2 Kings as a record of real historical events. However, she also notes that, “As narrative historiography, the accounts of the past are artistically drawn” (p. 40). This means 1&2 Kings contain the elements of good storytelling (e.g., characters, plot, narrative time and space). Her interpretation of 1&2 Kings is guided by both of these approaches. 1&2 Kings is also famous for its confusing numbers regarding the reign of the kings of Israel and Judah and Wray Beal has a brief section explaining her approach in the commentary. Basically, she accepts the well-known conclusions of Edwin Thiele regarding co-regencies and the different reckoning systems of accession and nonaccession years (I know this sounds technical for those not familiar with these issues, nevertheless, it is an important topic for studies in 1&2 Kings).

Wray Beal’s concluding section of the Introduction examines the main theological issues of 1&2 Kings. These include: 1) the influence of the lawcode in Deuteronomy; 2) the covenant made with David; 3) the power of the prophetic word; 4) the sovereignty of YHWH (Yahweh) over history; 5) the realities of judgment and grace; and 6) kingship as a tutor that leads to Christ. If you want a bird’s eye view of the messages of 1&2 Kings, this section is well worth the read.

The Commentary Itself

As one can gather from the above discussion this commentary is most suited for pastors, seminary students, and serious students of the Bible. The commentary is very readable, but Wray Beal assumes her readers are familiar with scholarly issues and jargon. The commentary itself is very solid. Wray Beal has compiled a lot of useful insights and information on 1&2 Kings. She has definitely benefitted from those who have written on these books before her. However, there are not any significant novel insights in the commentary section. Wray Beal doesn’t strike any new ground; she lays out the various possibilities suggested by others and tells you where she stands and why. Therefore, if you’ve read a number of commentaries on 1&2 Kings, there will not be any new earth-shattering interpretations here.

The real strength of Wray Beal’s commentary (besides her solid, even if not creatively new, exposition) is the “Explanation” section. Here she often “waxes eloquent” on various theological issues raised by the text. Starting with the text in 1&2 Kings, she will then trace an idea or theme throughout the biblical canon, showing its meaning in other OT texts, as well as its NT significance. For example, she notes how the righteous reign of King Asa of Judah breaks the previous three generational pattern of apostasy. She states, “As predictable as sinfulness is, its cycle can be broken by righteousness” (p. 216). Asa is an example that Yahweh may always break in and interrupt the downward spiral of sin. She notes other biblical examples like Noah and King Josiah. Yet, while these inbreakings of righteousness are powerful, they are never complete. Asa’s reform left the high places, and Josiah’s reform could not reverse the coming judgment. All of this anticipates Paul’s cry, “Wretched man that I am, who will save me?” Wray Beal then comments, “Paul answers his own cry of wretchedness with thanksgiving to the last king of Israel–Jesus Christ. He is the one righteous king who fully and finally broke the cycle of sin, ending its power” (p. 217). This “big picture” approach of biblical doctrines and themes is characteristic of the Explanation section and adds some real punch to the value of the commentary.

If you’re looking for a solid commentary that combines the best of modern scholarship with some excellent theological reflection, and you’re not afraid of wading into the deep waters of academia, then Lissa M. Wray Beal’s 1&2 Kings Commentary in the Apollos Old Testament series is an excellent choice. I highly recommend it for serious Bible study.

Buy 1&2 Kings Apollos Old Testament Commentary from Amazon USA / UK

 

  • Series: Apollos Old Testament Commentary (Book 9)
  • Hardcover: 615 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (March 28, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0830825096
  • ISBN-13: 978-0830825097

(Thanks to IVP for providing this book in exchange for an unbiased review!)

 

The IVP Bible Background Commentary Part 2: Genesis – Kings

The IVP Bible Background Commentary Part 2: Genesis – Kings

untitledTHE IVP BIBLE BACKGROUND COMMENTARY: Old Testament. By John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000. 832 pages. Available at Amazon USA / UK

In my first review (which you can read by clicking here), I looked at the overall purpose and scope of the IVP Bible Background Commentary. In this review, I will focus on some of the interesting insights that can be learned by using this resource. Because of the sheer volume of material, I have chosen to focus on the Books of Genesis through 2 Kings. In a future review, I will look at the sections concerning the Psalms and Wisdom literature, as well as the Prophets.

Cultural Insights from the Ancient Near East

Since this is a commentary on Bible backgrounds, one expects information that provides insight into the culture of the ancient Near East. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, is loaded with wonderful insights that the ordinary Bible reader would be unfamiliar with. Moderns may think that the practice of polygamy in the ancient world was simply to satisfy the sexual desires of the male, but there were other motivating factors as well: “1) an imbalance in the number of males and females; 2) the need to produce large numbers of children to work herds and / or fields; 3) the desire to increase prestige and wealth of a household through multiple marriage contracts; and 4) the high rate of death of females in childbirth” (comment on Gen. 4:19, p. 34 and 1 Sam. 1:2, p. 281). Although this insight doesn’t justify polygamy, it does demonstrate some of the cultural factors that led to the practice.

From the movie "The Ten Commandments," Moses (Charlton Heston) and his father-in-law Jethro.
From the movie “The Ten Commandments,” Moses (Charlton Heston) and his father-in-law Jethro.

One interesting problem that the commentary resolves concerns the supposedly different names for Moses’s father-in-law. Was his name Jethro (Exod. 3:1), Reuel (Exod. 2:18), or Hobab (Judg. 4:11)? Did one man really have 3 names, or as some more sceptical scholars suggest, are 3 contradictory sources being used? The authors explain that, “The difficulty can be resolved once the ambiguity of the terminology is recognized. The term designating male in-laws is nonspecific. The term referred to a woman’s male relatives and could be used for her father, brother, or even grandfather” (comment on Exod. 3:1, p. 79). The authors suggest that Reuel may be the grandfather, Jethro the father (of Moses’s wife Zipporah), and Hobab a brother-in-law of Moses, or some other such combination.

<img class=” wp-image-961″ src=”https://www.biblestudywithrandy.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/joshua.png” alt=”An account by Sargon II has similarities to Joshua 10:11” width=”173″ height=”213″ /> An account by Sargon II has similarities to Joshua 10:11

Other insights are provided by a brief discussion of the ancient Near East’s concept of corporate responsibility and how Achan’s sin impacted his whole family, not to mention the entire nation (comment on Josh. 7:1, pp. 218-219). A description of palace architecture also helps the reader better understand Ehud’s assassination of the Moabite king Eglon, and how he managed to escape (comment on Judg. 3:23, pp. 248-249). The authors also frequently quote from ancient texts that have similarities to biblical accounts. For example, one ancient Near Eastern text that comes from Sargon II, king of Assyria “reports that in his campaign against Urartu (714 B.C.) the god Adad stormed against his enemies with ‘stones from heaven’ and so annihilated them” (p. 225). This is reminiscent of the Lord’s intervention for Joshua against the kings of Canaan (Josh. 10:11).

The "witch" at Endor (1 Sam. 28)
The “witch” at Endor (1 Sam. 28)

One very interesting feature relates to an understanding of life after death in the ancient Near East. The authors discuss the strange story of the medium at Endor summoning Samuel at the request of Saul, after Samuel had died (1 Sam. 28). They comment, “This specialist from Endor used a ritual pit to conjure up the spirits of the dead….The pits were believed to be magical portals through which spirits could pass between the realms of the living and the dead. The practitioner was one who had special knowledge of the location of such a pit and who was familiar with the procedures necessary to summon the dead” (comment on 1 Sam. 28:7, p. 318). Of course, this doesn’t mean that the woman conjured up Samuel through her own power, but it does give insight into the ancient beliefs and practices involved. A comment on 1 Kings 16:4 regarding the fate of King Baasha of Israel and his family is also enlightening. The passage states that the king and his family members will be eaten by dogs if they die in the city or by birds if they die in the fields. The authors comment, “most ancient peoples believed that proper, timely burial affected the quality of the afterlife….We know that even Israelites believed that proper burial affected one’s afterlife, because they, like their neighbors, buried their loved ones with the provisions that would serve them in the afterlife; most often pottery vessels (filled with food) and jewelry (to ward off evil), with tools and personal items sometimes added” (p. 373).

IVP Bible Backgrounds Commentary, Old Testament: Limitations

Me hanging out with Philistines at Tel es-Safi (Gath).
Me hanging out with Philistines at Tel es-Safi (Gath).

The authors frequently site knowledge that is available through archaeology. This could be regarding certain cities, or artefacts. For example, when speaking of the Tabernacle (2 Sam. 6:17, p. 332), the discovery of a Midianite tent shrine that dates from the 12th century B.C. is noted. While this is interesting information, it also points up a shortcoming in the commentary. A photo of such discoveries would be helpful (or a reference where further info and pictures might be found). Additionally, it is the archaeological information contained in the commentary that particularly cries out for a new updated edition. For example, when the Philistine city of Gath is mentioned in the text, the authors constantly remind us that there has been no archaeological work done at this site (see e.g., the comment on 1 Sam. 27:2, p. 317). However, this is no longer the case. In fact, excavations have been going on at Tel es-Safi (biblical Gath) since 1996 with many fascinating discoveries made (see my article on Philistine cities here).

Although the authors have intentionally omitted the use of references for the sake of the average reader, still the lack of references hurt the commentary. Besides the Midianite tent shrine mentioned above, there are many places that references would be extremely helpful, even for the average reader. For example, there is a brief discussion of the problem of the date of the Exodus on page 86. Although the article gives the basic outline of the problems involved, it is still very general. The curious reader, however, is not left with any suggestions on how to pursue a deeper treatment of the subject.

The commentary is also full of repetition. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It can be quite helpful to have information at your fingertips rather than being told to go to another place in the commentary to find it. The problem is the authors do both. For example, whole sections of the commentary on 1&2 Kings refer the reader to 2 Chronicles. Again, if this was the practice throughout the commentary, I would have no problem with it. In fact, it would shorten the commentary considerably and might allow for the photos and references that I believe would be helpful. My complaint is that the decision to repeat information (sometimes 3, 4 or more times), while at other times saying, “see such ‘n such” for information on this passage, seems arbitrary.

Evaluation of Genesis – 2 Kings, IVP Bible Background Commentary

In spite of the shortcomings I have mentioned, I believe this commentary is extremely useful and informative. Besides simply providing a review, I have attempted to show the reader some of the interesting insights available. Other helpful features include geographical information (stating how far it is from one place to another, or what the terrain is like). This can raise important issues for interpretation. For example, what are we to make of the fact that Saul’s hometown is only a short distance away from Samuel’s hometown, and yet Saul had never heard of Samuel! (comments on 1 Sam. 9:6, p. 293). Other helpful explanations include the value of different types of money (shekels, etc.), the times of year represented by the names of various months, and the meaning of certain political or military offices (e.g., the Assyrian official known as Tartan means “field marshal, 2 Kgs. 18:17, p. 405). Although I am hopeful that an update on the Old Testament volume will be forthcoming from IVP (as the New Testament one which appeared this year), I would still heartily recommend this commentary as a source of valuable information in better understanding the Bible and the ancient Near East.

(A copy of this commentary has been provided for the reviewer in exchange for a fair and unbiased review. Many thanks to the publishers at IVP!)

The IVP Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Old Testament is available at ivpress.com, ivpbooks.com, and at Amazon USA / UK

 

 

IVP Bible Background Commentary Old Testament: Part 1

IVP Bible Background Commentary Old Testament

untitledTHE IVP BIBLE BACKGROUND COMMENTARY: Old Testament. By John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000. 832 pages. Available at Amazon USA / UK

This one volume commentary on the Old Testament is a companion to the IVP Bible Background Commentary on the New Testament (also available at Amazon USA / UK). The purpose of both of these volumes is to provide helpful information regarding the cultural context in which the Bible was written. This is a daunting task for the authors seeking to provide this information for the Old Testament. The number of books in the Old Testament, the length of historical time involved, and the vast knowledge required of different ancient cultures makes this a challenging undertaking. But Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas, all well-known Old Testament scholars, are up to the task.

Author John Walton
Author John H. Walton

The authors do not claim that the material included in the commentary will necessarily help with the theological interpretation of the Bible (p. 7). Although the authors include this disclaimer, one could certainly debate that a knowledge of cultural context can enhance one’s understanding of a given text of Scripture. In fact, throughout the commentary (as we shall see in future reviews) the authors demonstrate how a knowledge of background material influences one’s interpretation of the text. That being said, the authors’ main concern, according to the preface, is to provide enough cultural context so that the Old Testament is not misinterpreted by imposing our own cultural biases and worldview on the text. Regarding the background information provided they state, “In many cases there may not be anything that can be done with the information, but having that information may prevent one from doing something with the text that should not be done” (p. 9).

Author, Victor H. Matthews
Author, Victor H. Matthews

This commentary is written with the lay-person in mind. As a result, references to scholarly or ancient sources are omitted. There are no footnotes; only a 10-page bibliography for those who might wish to pursue a topic further. While this uncluttered approach makes reading easier, this volume is also intended for the pastor and student and the lack of references makes further research more difficult. A helpful glossary of terms is included at the back of the book for those not familiar with certain terms or names. The back of the commentary also includes charts on the various ancient tablets and inscriptions mentioned in the commentary, a timeline, and some general maps, all in black and white. Better maps are available in other resources, but for a quick general reference regarding a particular site or city, the maps included are adequate. Although it would have added to the length and expense of the commentary, photographs, charts, and maps within the commentary would have been very helpful for the lay-person.

Author, Mark W. Chavalas
Author, Mark W. Chavalas

The IVP Bible Background Commentary on the Old Testament only treats the books of the Protestant Canon (as opposed to the Catholic Canon) and approaches them in that order (as opposed to the order in the Hebrew Bible). The commentary is divided into four main sections: The Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy); Historical Literature (Joshua-Esther); Wisdom and Poetic Literature; and Prophetic Literature. Each section includes an introduction to the books or type of literature found in it. Scattered throughout the commentary are discussions on important topics such as, “Ancient Near Eastern Flood Accounts,” “The Date of the Exodus,” “Egyptian Information About Canaan and Israel,” “Afterlife Beliefs in Israel and the Ancient Near East,” and many others.

All in all, this is an extremely useful and interesting commentary. Because of the size of the IVP Bible Background Commentary on the Old Testament, I will be breaking it down into bite-sized chunks and reviewing various books, or sections, in future articles. Stay tuned for more on this excellent resource.

(Thanks to IVP for providing this review copy in exchange for an unbiased review. For other books from IVP please visit ivpbooks.com)