Category Archives: Commentaries

Brazos Theological Commentary: 2 Samuel

Brazos Theological Commentary: 2 Samuel

The Brazos Theological Commentary on 2 Samuel is available at Amazon USA / UK
The Brazos Theological Commentary on 2 Samuel is available at Amazon USA / UK

The Brazos Theological Commentary Series takes a different approach from most Bible Commentaries. Commentators are chosen on the basis of their knowledge and acquaintance with Church Doctrine over the past two thousand years. They are theologians (hence the title of the series), not necessarily historians or language experts, as is frequently the case with other commentary series. This does not mean that authors in this series are unfamiliar with the ancient languages or history, only that their expertise lies in the realm of theology. As such, they are expected to interact with the text through the medium of historical theology. Thus, in the Brazos series one will frequently see references to the great theologians and philosophers throughout the history of the Church. People like Irenaeus, Origen, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and a host of others frequent the pages of this series of commentaries.

This approach has its pluses and minuses. It’s fascinating, and quite often informative, to hear the reflections of these ancient theologians, as the Brazos commentator seeks to integrate their thoughts into an interpretation of the text. Depending on the commentator, however, it can at times be quite abstruse and esoteric (like the words I am using here!). With some of the commentaries in the Brazos series, I have found myself in deep water, wondering how I got there and if I would ever make it back safely to the land of biblical understanding. I must confess that with a few commentaries in this series it has been necessary to jettison them overboard because of the heavy, mind-bewildering theological freight they carry. Thankfully, that is not the case with the Brazos Theological Commentary on 2 Samuel by Robert Barron. Although Barron engages with the great theological thinkers of the ages, his commentary is clear and easy to read, while often full of wonderful and surprising insights. As I noted in a previous post (Is King David a New Adam?), Barron’s typological/analogical approach to the David story provides some interesting food for thought.

Strengths of the Brazos Theological Commentary on 2 Samuel

As noted in a previous post (NIV Application Commentary:1&2 Samuel), I have a mental checklist of things that I look for when reading any commentary on 1&2 Samuel. One of these items includes the commentator’s assessment of the various characters in Samuel, especially those whose character traits are somewhat ambiguous. I list here a sample of Barron’s thoughts on various characters:


  1. There are some who are preoccupied with power but not necessarily with honor, and Abner seems to be such” (p. 25).
  2. Abner evidently is not particularly interested in being king himself, but he is, like many behind-the-scenes players across the ages, deeply interested in holding the reins of power” (p. 32).


  1. Joab is speaking in the cadences and tones of the serpent (notice the allusion to the Garden of Eden, see my previous post), unduly planting suspicion and stirring up dissension without cause” (in reference to Joab’s negative response toward Abner’s peace proposal in 2 Sam. 3, p. 35).
  2. He is decidedly not someone who should be in a position of political leadership. He functions therefore as a symbol of the lethal violence that would plague Israel for centuries following the time of David” (p. 175).
  3. Regarding Joab’s protestations to the woman at Abel in 2 Samuel 20 that it is against his nature to destroy, Barron quotes Joab’s words and adds the response which follows. “‘Far be it from me, far be it, that I should swallow up and destroy! That is not the case!’ (2 Sam. 20:20-21). As even the most inattententive reader of this story knows, it is indeed the case” (p. 176).

Ziba & Mephibosheth

  1. Commenting on Ziba’s words in 2 Samuel 16:1-4: “What becomes clear just a few chapters later is that this little speech by Mephibosheth’s slave amounts to Ziba’s rather pathetic attempt to ingratiate himself with the vulnerable king and to denigrate any potential rivals” (p. 148).
  2. Regarding Mephibosheth’s response to David in 2 Samuel 19:30: “It would be hard to construe this intervention as anything other than a sincere acknowledgment of joy and gratitude on the part of Mephibosheth and thus as a fairly clear indication that Ziba was lying” (p. 170).

In my opinion, these are astute character observations on the part of Barron. Bible commentators are not always as discerning in making these finer judgments on ambiguous characters, which demonstrates his careful reading of the text.

David’s Attitude Toward Saul According to Barron

Robert Barron is the author of the Brazos Theological Commentary on 2 Samuel
Robert Barron is the author of the Brazos Theological Commentary on 2 Samuel

As any who have read anything I’ve written on 1&2 Samuel will be aware, I am not a fan of the school of interpretation known as “the hermeneutic of suspicion” (see  e.g., my book, Family Portraits, p. 265, n. 22) which suggests that the author’s insistence on David’s innocence regarding Saul and his family is all a carefully orchestrated ruse. I am glad to see that Barron does not fall into this camp of interpretation. Regarding David’s actions toward Saul Barron states, “A somewhat cynical reading would suggest that David wanted to advertise as far as possible his warm feelings toward the house of Saul so as to hold off the suspicion that he had been actively involved in causing the death of the king. Though attractive to postmodern interpreters, such a reading, in my view, does not shed the most light. Yes, Saul relentlessly pursued David, but nothing in a straightforward reading of 1 Samuel would justify the claim that David was harboring a hidden grudge against the king” (p. 18).

Weaknesses of The Brazos Theological Commentary on 2 Samuel

Barron’s outline of 2 Samuel is based on a thematic approach which doesn’t always take the structure of the text into consideration. The outline of his commentary is as follows:

  1. David Comes to Power (2 Samuel 1-2)
  2. Priest and King (2 Samuel 3-10)
  3. David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11)
  4. A Sword Will Never Leave Your House (2 Samuel 12-20)
  5. Toward the Temple (2 Samuel 21-24)

There are several problems with this division, no matter how convenient it might be for purposes of the commentary.

  1. It separates 2 Samuel 2 from chapters 3-4. 2 Samuel 2-4 is a unit held together by David’s kingship in Hebron, the civil war between David and Ish-bosheth, and the prominent place in the narrative given to Abner and Joab.
  2. 2 Samuel 5 clearly begins a new unit with David being anointed king of all Israel and his conquest of Jerusalem. This unit seems to end with a summary of David’s righteous rule and a list of David’s cabinet members in 2 Samuel 8:15-18
  3. Almost all scholars take 2 Samuel 9-20 as a unit. A second list of David’s cabinet members at the end of 2 Samuel 20:23-26 forms an inclusio with the list at the end of chapter 8, while the intervening material (chs. 9-20) is all about the circumstances that lead to various crises in David’s kingdom. (Barron seems to be aware of all of this. For example, even though he separates the story of David and Bathsheba by itself, he notes its intimate connection with chapter 12–p. 107).
  4. While all recognize that chapters 21-24 form the close of 2 Samuel, Barron’s title for this section seems a bit overstated. “Toward the Temple” may describe chapter 24, but I’m not sure how it fits with the other sections in the conclusion of the book.

In spite of my criticisms here, Barron’s divisions of the text (no doubt to emphasize the theological points he sees as most important), are not detrimental to his overall treatment of 2 Samuel.

In my opinion, the more serious weakness of this commentary lies in Barron’s acceptance of the judgments of critical scholarship regarding certain troublesome passages. For example, concerning whether Absalom had sons or not Barron states, “These irreconcilable accounts are the result, no doubt, of different traditions that the editor carelessly conflated” (p. 134). I have suggested elsewhere that there are good reasons for the seeming contradictory accounts of how many son’s Absalom had (see my articles here and here). My point is not that Barron should have checked with me (!), but that scholars are all too frequently ready to throw in the towel with textual problems such as this, by simply saying, “Oh well, that clumsy editor did it again!”

Another example is in regards to the infamous Elhanan passage in 2 Samuel 21:19. Throughout the commentary, Barron speaks as if David was the champion who killed Goliath. For example, speaking of David, Barron states, “We see here the typical cleverness of the one who had outmaneuvered Goliath” (p. 49). However, when commenting on the Elhanan passage, Barron states, “What seems most plausible in point of fact is that the account in the present chapter is the correct one, and that it was later associated with the young David and retold with particular literary flare by the final editor of the Samuel literature” (p. 185). There are two problems here in my opinion. First, Barron is contradicting himself. If David did not in fact slay Goliath, then he did not “outmaneuver” him as Barron claims on page 49. Second, I have a problem with claims that biblical authors or editors embellished stories and attributed them to others. This means that facts were deliberately distorted, which doesn’t jive with a conservative (and I would argue more biblical) understanding of inspiration.


Every fish has its bones, and in spite of my disagreements with some of Barron’s viewpoints, I found his commentary to be very helpful and insightful. I would recommend it, not only to pastors and teachers, but also to the mature Christian seeking to grow in his or her understanding of the books of Samuel. This is one Brazos commentary that doesn’t leave you lost at sea.

Is King David A New Adam?

Is King David A New Adam?

In his recent commentary on 2 Samuel, Robert Barron suggests that David is a new Adam.
In his recent commentary on 2 Samuel, Robert Barron suggests that David is a new Adam.

David is indeed a cagey and capable new Adam, both tending and defending the new Eden,” so Robert Barron contends in his recent commentary on 2 Samuel (2 Samuel, Brazos Theological Commentary, p. 24). According to Barron, David is a new Adam, Israel is the Garden of Eden, and David’s enemies (e.g., the Amalekites, and even Absalom) represent the serpent. This typological approach is an interesting perspective from which to view 2 Samuel. It definitely causes one to think outside of the box.  While this might seem like an eccentric approach at first, scholars have noted for years the connections between Genesis and 1&2 Samuel. In fact, Barron’s approach is indebted to G.K. Beale who makes similar comparisons (A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New). Although Barron’s overall approach has an element of typology in it, it would be unfair to characterize the entire commentary this way. In this post I will explore the connections he makes between King David’s kingdom and Genesis and in a future post I will review and evaluate his commentary on 2 Samuel.

How Does David Function as a New Adam in 1&2 Samuel?

According to Genesis 1:28, Adam was created to rule over creation.
According to Genesis 1:28, Adam was created to rule over creation.

Barron notes that the dominant theme of 2 Samuel is the “contrast between the kingly path taken by Saul and that taken by David” (p. 3). This contrast introduces such questions as: “Does Israel require a king? What makes a king good or bad? How does the kingship of Yahweh relate to human kingship?” (p. 3). To answer these questions, Barron asserts that it is necessary “to return to the very beginning of the Bible, to the accounts of creation and the garden of Eden” (p. 3). Therefore, Barron’s typological approach is borne out of the necessity of understanding the fundamental problems encountered in the initial episodes of Genesis. He notes, as do many commentators on Genesis, the original couple was created to rule over creation. They were given “dominion” (Gen. 1:28). Thus Adam was the first king. Through “tilling” the soil and “keeping” the garden, Adam functioned as a good king. His rule, like that of the God whose image he was created in (Gen. 1:27), was to be benevolent, not oppressive (pp. 4-5).

Saul's rejection of God's word equates him with the old Adam rather than the new Adam.
Saul’s rejection of God’s word equates him with the old Adam rather than the new Adam.

Unfortunately, the rule of the first king and queen ended in failure, a “consequence of bad leadership” (p. 5). The reason for expulsion from the garden is a result of rejecting God’s word and seeking to “rule without reference to God” (p. 5). At this point, the typological parallels with 2 Samuel become significant. As Barron notes, the theme of 2 Samuel (and we could also include 1 Samuel) is the difference between Saul’s and David’s kingship. Like rebellious Adam, Saul’s offense is a rejection of the word of God (1 Sam. 15:23). Saul is noted throughout 1 Samuel for making his own decisions without reference to God. This insight is very important in understanding the message of 1&2 Samuel correctly. Scholars such as Gunn and Jobling seek to excuse Saul on the basis of misinterpreting God’s/Samuel’s commands. In the view of these scholars, God (and Samuel) becomes a malevolent presence intent on dooming Saul no matter what he does. However, the parallels with Adam, which Barron draws upon, act as a biblical aid in clearing up this scholarly misinterpretation of the story.

PianoIn a helpful analogy, Barron compares God and his law to someone seeking to learn piano or golf. The instructor lays down certain rules, if followed, these rules lead to a person finding the freedom to become an excellent piano player or golfer. “The lawgiving instructor is therefore not the enemy of the student’s freedom but rather the condition for its possibility” (p. 14). Similarly, Saul’s rejection of God’s commandments is what makes him a failure as king, just as Adam’s rule in the garden failed because of his disobedience. In contrast, as a new Adam, David is the man after God’s heart. One illustration of this is his treatment of Saul. Barron notes that, “David’s stubborn unwillingness to do violence to Saul is another sign of his kingly worthiness, for it indicates that his actions were predicated not primarily on self-interest but rather on an attentive listening to the voice of God” (p. 15).

jacobs-prophetic-blessing-4-638Barron also seeks to demonstrate a connection between Adam and David by tracing this connection through biblical history. Following the history of sin in Genesis 1-11, God makes a new start with Abram. Barron states, “Abram will be a new Adam, cultivating a new Eden and expanding the boundaries of that ordered garden to include all the peoples of the world” (p. 6). The promise to Abram of numerous descendants recalls the original command to Adam to “be fruitful and multiply.” “The royal promise is extended to Abram’s grandson” (i.e. Jacob, p. 7). Through Jacob, the nation of Israel is birthed whom Barron sees as a “‘corporate Adam’ endowed with the privileges and bearing the responsibilities of the first tender of the garden” (p. 7). It is through Jacob’s deathbed blessing that, “the kingly task will be passed on to and through Judah and his tribe” (p. 7).  Barron continues tracing the theme of kingship by noting, “Throughout these opening books of the Bible, Yahweh has not yet found the king in whom his own divine purposes can become utterly incarnate. Hence Israel’s identity remains compromised and its mission unfulfilled.  It is against this rich and complex background that the emergence of Saul and David in the first book of Samuel has to be interpreted” (p. 7). Therefore, “from Adam on, Israel is marked by both good and bad kingship. God (and Samuel) stand opposed to those forms of kingship that mimic the style and substance of the kings of the surrounding nations, but they ardently desire a form of kingship in accord with God’s designs” (p. 8).

In 1 Samuel 12, Samuel exhorts the king and people to obey God.
In 1 Samuel 12, Samuel exhorts the king and people to obey God.

Tracing the theme of kingship from Creation to David, not only substantiates Barron’s approach, it also helps to explain what many scholars see as a contradictory view of kingship in 1 Samuel. In 1 Samuel 8-12, scholars frequently note the interplay between positive and negative statements about the kingship. Some are at a loss to explain these seemingly contradictory views, while others see it as the result of a clumsy editor. Barron’s approach demonstrates that kingship has always been a part of God’s plan and purpose. However, it is not simply kingship per se that God seeks to bestow–that is, kingship as defined by the world–but rather a king that would honor and obey God. This is the point of Samuel’s speech in 1 Samuel 12: “If you fear the Lord and serve Him and obey His voice, and do not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then both you and the king who reigns over you will continue following the Lord your God. However, if you do not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you, as it was against your fathers” (vv. 14-15).

While the old Adam (Saul) does not deal a decisive blow to the Amalekites, the new Adam (David) deals with all of Israel's enemies.
While the old Adam (Saul) does not deal a decisive blow to the Amalekites, the new Adam (David) deals with all of Israel’s enemies.

Barron also sees his approach as a helpful way of characterizing Israel’s (David’s) enemies. For example, he is hard pressed to understand God’s command to utterly destroy the Amalekites. “Why in the world would God decree that this beleaguered little people should be ruthlessly and relentlessly attacked?” His answer is to see Origen’s allegorical approach as helpful in this case. “Origen argues that, throughout the Bible, Israel stands for the ways and purposes of God, and the enemies of Israel stand for those powers that are opposed to God” (p. 9). He continues, “These various peoples are symbolically akin both to the tohu wabohu [formlessness and void] (Gen. 1:2) from which God brought the ordered world and to the serpent that Adam rather unsuccessfully managed in the garden. Though it is not entirely clear why this should be the case, the biblical authors seem to isolate Amalek as particularly expressive of this ‘nothing’ that militates against Israel” (p. 10). Although I’m not so sure that “beleaguered” is a correct designation for the Amalekites, nonetheless, I believe he (and Origen!) are correct in seeing these enemy peoples as a manifestation of the “seed of the serpent” (Gen. 3:15). As a result of Saul’s disobedience, Barron asks the following provocative questions: “Might Saul’s unwillingness to slaughter the herds of the Amalekites and to put to death their king symbolically represent the sort of confusion in regard to intrinsically evil acts that undermines God’s purposes? And therefore might one come to sympathize with Samuel’s conviction that Saul has, by this act, effectively forfeited his kingship?” (p. 10). In other words, a king who doesn’t protect his people against their enemies, is no king at all. And just as certainly, a king who does not wage war with God’s enemies, cannot be God’s  (or a godly) king.

Conclusion: King David is a New Adam

While there were times in my reading of Barron’s commentary on 2 Samuel, that I thought he was perhaps carrying the analogy of David as the new Adam too far, I must admit that I always found his interpretations challenging me to think of this narrative in new ways. The above examples I have given are not an exhaustive catalogue by any means of the comparisons made between David and Adam, but they are enough to demonstrate that such an approach is indeed fruitful. I also believe it proves helpful in getting at the significant theme(s) of 1&2 Samuel which modern scholarly efforts sometimes cloud. Like all typological/allegorical approaches, each interpretation must be questioned and validated. But, as I have written elsewhere (Typology: A Key to Interpreting the Bible), typology is an important method that allows Scripture to interpret Scripture. Barron’s commentary is an excellent contribution on Samuel studies and in my next post I will review it as a whole.

NIV Application Commentary: 1&2 Samuel

NIV Application Commentary: 1&2 Samuel

The NIV Application Commentary on 1&2 Samuel is available at Amazon USA / UK
The NIV Application Commentary on 1&2 Samuel is available at Amazon USA / UK

The NIV Application Commentary series is aimed at providing the best scholarly insights into the text, while also providing contemporary application. To accomplish its purpose, The NIV Application Commentary series divides comment on the text into three parts: 1) Original Meaning (“All the elements of traditional exegesis–in concise form–are discussed here,” p. 9); 2) Bridging Contexts (distinguishing the timeless message(s) of the Bible from the time-bound text); and 3) Contemporary Significance (do I need to explain this one?) Arnold’s 1&2 Commentary begins, like others, with a brief 20-page introduction. The introduction includes topics such as how to read the historical books, authorship, an overview of the contents of 1&2 Samuel, theological themes, etc.

Central Themes of 1&2 Samuel According to the NIV Application Commentary

Arnold understands the overall theme of 1&2 Samuel to center around two questions:

1) “What is the acceptable nature of the Israelite monarchy?”

2)”Who can serve suitably as king?”

The first question is primarily addressed in 1 Samuel 1-15, while the second question occupies the material in 1 Samuel 16 — 2 Samuel 24 (p. 32). I found the second question concerning who is suitable as king to be a very insightful way of understanding the contrast between the kingships of Saul and David.

In the NIV Application Commentary on 1&2 Samuel, Bill Arnold notes the key place that repentance plays in the overall storyline.
In the NIV Application Commentary on 1&2 Samuel, Bill Arnold notes the key place that repentance plays in the overall storyline creating what I call a “repentance sandwich.”.

Arnold notes three main theological themes in 1&2 Samuel. The first concerns the  above question of who is suitable to be Israel’s king, or the messianic theme. Arnold states, “The concept of an ideal anointed one arises gradually and is sustained in the narrative” (p. 36). Another theme which grows out of the two main questions concerns the use and abuse of power. Arnold sees the messianic and power themes bound together by a third theme dealing with the nature of repentance. He insightfully points out that, “The books of Samuel . . . contribute graphic illustration to the Bible’s teaching on the precise nature of confession and repentance through the three portraits of Samuel, Saul, and David” (p. 38). The key passages are 1 Sam. 7:2-6; 1 Sam. 15; and 2 Sam. 12.

Through Samuel, the first story illustrates “the nature of true confession and repentance.” In the second account, Saul, “acknowledges wrongdoing instead of repudiating it; [He] regrets his actions because they leave him vulnerable, not because they were self-destructive and offensive to God” (p. 39, author’s emphasis). The third narrative concerning repentance involves David’s straightforward confession which illustrates true repentance, the kind of repentance that Samuel had urged upon Israel so many years before. The book also concludes with a fourth story of repentance (2 Sam. 24). On this occasion, David does not even need a prophet to convict him of wrongdoing, but confesses on his own, demonstrating growth in his relationship with God. Thus, these three characters form a “repentance sandwich” (my expression). The outer layers (Samuel and David) show what true repentance is, while the inner layer (Saul) demonstrates what it is not.

Agreements and Disagreements with the NIV Application Commentary on 1&2 Samuel

agree-or-disagree-1-638One way to evaluate a commentary is to examine how it treats important topics or controversial passages. I have a mental checklist that I go through when reading a commentary on Samuel. Some of the items on my checklist are important, others are a matter of curiosity (how is the commentator going to deal with this?). Below I have listed a few of the items on my mental checklist. This is not an exhaustive list, nor will I have space in this post to reflect on how Arnold deals with each of these. However, after sharing the list, I will examine Arnold’s interactions with some of the items on my list.

  1. How does the commentator approach the authorship of 1&2 Samuel? (How one perceives “Deuteronomistic authorship” often colors one’s interpretation of the text).
  2. Does the commentator consider Samuel to be a positive or negative influence on the narrative?
  3. Is Saul responsible for his sin, or is he a victim of a capricious God who decided from the outset that Saul would be condemned?
  4. Which reading does the author prefer concerning Goliath’s height? (this is just a matter of curiosity, but see my article Goliath’s Height).
  5. How does the author treat the problem of Saul not knowing who David’s father is in 1 Samuel 17:55-58? (Another matter of curiosity over a notoriously difficult passage).
  6. Is the commentator’s view of David wholly positive until his sin with Bathsheba, or does he see the narrative as reflecting faults earlier in David’s life?
  7. Does the commentator use a “hermeneutic of suspicion?” Which means, does he see the biblical author trying to defend a cunning David who manipulates circumstances regarding the deaths of Saul’s family members, or does he accept the author’s statements that David is innocent?
  8. Does the commentator view David and Jonathan’s relationship as homosexual?
  9. How does the commentator resolve the problem in 2 Sam. 21:19 which states that Elhanan killed Goliath?
  10. What is the commentator’s evaluation of certain characters whose actions are, at times, ambiguous? (e.g., Abner, Joab, Mephibosheth, or Ziba).

Concerning whether Saul is a victim or a free moral agent (#3 above), I believe Arnold is correct in stating, “[Saul] fails to accept the structure of authority established for him by Yahweh and his prophet Samuel at the time of his appointment (1 Sam. 13:14). . . .Thus, Saul’s guilt derives from his determination to usurp power rightly belonging only to Yahweh and his servant Samuel” (pp. 200-201). This is an important point in understanding the kind of person Yahweh is looking for as Israel’s king, and it is a point missed by those who accuse God of being either arbitrary in his forgiveness (Brueggemann), or showing his “dark side” (Gunn).

Contrary to Arnold's interpretation in the NIV Application Commentary on 1&2 Samuel, I believe David's request for a sword demonstrates a lack of faith.
Contrary to Arnold’s interpretation in the NIV Application Commentary on 1&2 Samuel, I believe David’s request for a sword demonstrates a lack of faith.

One point of disagreement I have with Arnold is his interpretation of certain stories of David’s flight from Saul (#6 above). For example, when David is fleeing from Saul, he goes to the high priest Ahimelech where he receives bread and Goliath’s sword (1 Sam. 21). Arnold’s take is that the sword reminds David of the victories of his youth while his contact with the priests show him turning to the faith of his childhood (p. 310). I believe that David is much more like Abraham. Both men show faith in God, but they have their ups and downs as they experience doubt and fear and occasionally step out in the flesh. I think that David’s lie to Ahimelech, along with his request for a sword (which contradicts his statement of faith in 1 Sam. 17:47), demonstrate a lack of faith on this occasion.

One of the things I appreciate about the NIV Application Commentary on 1&2 Samuel is that Arnold listens to the voice of the narrator and takes his message seriously. In other words, Arnold does not get caught up in a “hermeneutic of suspicion” (#7 above). When David mourns over Saul and Jonathan (2 Sam. 1), or puts to death the men who murder Ish-bosheth (2 Sam. 4), or shows kindness to Mephibosheth (2 Sam. 9), the narrator seeks to show that this is all in agreement with David’s stance toward not lifting a hand against the Lord’s anointed and honoring his covenant promises to the house of Saul. Arnold sees clearly that 1&2 Samuel is earnestly seeking to demonstrate David’s character and integrity. For example he states, “The narrator has been clear from the outset: This anointed one, unlike Saul, is driven only by the promises of Yahweh and takes action under Yahweh’s leadership” (p. 422). Furthermore, Arnold states, “David is celebrated in these texts as the ideal king, who willingly submits to God’s timing and direction and consistently repudiates the way of power politics and force” (pp. 445-446). A hermeneutic of suspicion destroys this key teaching of 1&2 Samuel, therefore, I believe that Arnold has done us a service by helping us to hear the text more clearly.

Evaluation of The NIV Application Commentary on 1&2 Samuel

There are many other areas of both agreement and disagreement I could cite, but the disagreements are minor and overall I have found Arnold’s commentary on 1&2 Samuel to be very informative and a delightful read. The NIV Application Commentary Series is designed for the teacher, pastor, and serious student. Someone new to the books of Samuel or to the study of the Old Testament might find themselves in deep water at times, but it’s well worth the effort. Thanks to Arnold, I discovered many new insights and perspectives on 1&2 Samuel and would highly recommend this commentary to anyone interested in an in-depth study of these books.

The NIV Application Commentary on 1&2 Samuel is available at Amazon (see links above) and Zondervan

The NIV Application Commentary on 1&2 Samuel is available at Amazon USA / UK

Hardcover: 688 pages
Publisher: Zondervan; First Edition edition (February 1, 2003)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310210860
ISBN-13: 978-0310210863

The “I” in Romans 7:14-25

The “I” in Romans 7:14-25

One of the most challenging question in Romans is, "Who is the 'I' in Romans 7?"
One of the most challenging question in Romans is, “Who is the ‘I’ in Romans 7?”

No part of Romans, . . . has been the object of so much scrutiny and the source of so much confusion as what Paul writes in [Romans] 7:14-25” (Richard Longenecker, NIGTC, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 652). With these words, Richard N. Longenecker in his new (and much anticipated) commentary on Romans dives into this difficult passage of Scripture. Since Longenecker’s commentary is “hot off the press,” I will examine his approach to these verses and use it, as well as contributions from others, as my basis for discussing Romans 7:14-25.

Two Approaches to Romans 7:14-25

Richard N. Longenecker's commentary on Romans is available at Amazon USA / UK
Richard N. Longenecker’s commentary on Romans is available at Amazon USA / UK

Longenecker notes that there are two approaches to Romans 7:14-25. The first, which he labels, Traditional Understandings, proposes that the “I” is  autobiographical, thus Paul is referring to himself. Some believe that Paul is speaking about his life under the law before he came to Christ, while others contend that Paul is speaking of the struggle experienced by the Christian whose dual nature consisting of The Spirit and the flesh battle against each other. Longenecker identifies a number of scholars subscribing to each group. The group arguing for Paul’s personal experience under the law includes “Origen and most of the Greek Fathers,” John Wesley, and more modern scholars such as C.H. Dodd and Doug Moo. Those who argue for Paul speaking about his own struggles as a Christian include “Augustine and the Latin Fathers,” as well as the Reformers Luther, Melanchthon, and Calvin, and modern scholars such as Cranfield, Dunn, Murray, Morris, and Barrett. What struck me about this list, and the reason I mention it here, is that the earliest interpreters understood Paul to be talking about his life under the law, not his struggle as a Christian. Longenecker does say, “most of the Greek Fathers,” took the view that Paul was speaking of his struggle under the law. The word “most” leaves some doubt, but does this mean that the view that Paul was talking about his struggle as a Christian, only originated with Augustine? Although one’s position on this subject must ultimately be decided by the text, the fact that earlier interpreter’s apparently did not understand Paul’s remarks in Romans 7 as referring to the Christian should at least provide a caution to later interpreters who take this view.

In A Rereading of Romans, Stanley Stowers argues convincingly that Paul used the common literary device known as "Speech in Character," in Romans 7.
In A Rereading of Romans, Stanley Stowers argues convincingly that Paul uses the common literary device known as “Speech in Character,” in Romans 7.

Although Longenecker favors the autobiographical use of “I” in Romans 7:7-13, he does not follow the “traditional understandings” noted above when it comes to Romans 7:14-25. Thus he explains a second way to view Paul’s use of “I” in Romans 7:14-25 known as a “Stilform of Speech and Writing” (italics original, p. 653). This can also be referred to as “Speech in Character” (see Stanley Stowers, A Rereading of Romans, pp. 16-21). In this case, the “I” is not autobiographical, but is a device that allows the hearer or reader to experience/identify with someone’s situation (according to Stowers, the person can be real or imaginary, p. 17). In such cases, the writer is seeking to communicate “a general truth” (Longenecker, p. 655). Longenecker points out that this device was a common way of communicating in Paul’s day. He references Jewish sources (including Philo and the Dead Sea Scrolls), as well as Greco-Roman sources (including Euripides, Ovid, and Quintilian) to illustrate this frequent usage of “I”. Most convincing, is the fact that Paul uses “I” this way in other letters, and it is clear in these contexts that his reference is not autobiographical. One example, found in Romans itself, is 3:7: “If the truth of God is enhanced unto his glory by my falsehood, why am I also still condemned?” It is clear in the context that Paul is not referring to himself, but to a hypothetical individual who is raising this objection. Other passages include 1 Corinthians 6:15; 13:1-3; and Galatians 2:18. Therefore, regarding Romans 7:14-25, Longenecker argues convincingly (in my opinion) that Paul’s usage of “I” is not autobiographical, but rather a literary device common in the ancient world used to express a general truth.

The Identity of the “I” in Romans 7:14-25

In this introductory book on Romans Doug Moo makes some good points about why Paul is not describing the Christian in Romans 7:14-25.
In this introductory book on Romans Doug Moo makes some good points about why Paul is not describing the Christian in Romans 7:14-25.

Whether one believes that Paul is using “I” autobiographically, or as “Speech in Character,” we are still left with the question of identifying who he means. Is Paul describing the Christian, the Jew under the law, or all people in this passage? Doug Moo’s comments are appropriate here: “Debate over Romans 7 is so lively precisely because each view has some points in the text in its favor. There is no slam dunk in the interpretive game here. So the best interpretation will be the one that produces the best overall fit with all the evidence” (Douglas J. Moo, Encountering the Book of Romans, p. 109).

One of the most popular identifications of the person in Romans 7:14-25 is that he/she is a Christian. Note in my opening paragraph above how many theologians over the centuries have advocated this view. This view is frequently subscribed to by many Christians who quote it as evidence that they still struggle with the flesh. Although it is true that Christians must “reckon themselves as dead” (Rom. 6:11), I do not think that Paul is referencing the inner struggle of a Christian. In fact, in my opinion, whoever the person is that Paul is describing, the one thing that is for certain is that it is not a Christian. I am in agreement with Moo when he observes that the description of the person in Romans 7:14 “unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin,” is “an impossible state for any believer.” Furthermore, Moo notes that being “ ‘a prisoner of the law of sin’ (7:23), . . . contradicts the situation of all Christians, who have been ‘set . . . free from the law of sin and death’ (8:2)” (Moo, p. 109). There are, in fact, a number of contrasts between the Christian and the person described in Romans 7:14-25. The chart below notes the contrasts that Paul makes in chapters 6-8. One side of the chart shows the characteristics of the person Paul calls “I,” while the other side shows characteristics of the believer.

Lecture 12, 13 & 14 Romans 6&7.001
Going from left to right, note the contrast between the “I” and believers.

Another excellent chart along these same lines can be found in Craig Keener’s commentary on Romans. Keener states, “. . . the contrasts with the larger context are simply too great to fit the Christian life as he describes it, even had Paul thought himself an unusually weak Christian” (Craig S. Keener, NCCS, Romans, p. 92). Quoting Moo again, he states, “. . . I admit that verses 15-20, taken on their own, could describe the struggle with sin that even the best Christians continue to have. But what we must recognize is that the struggle depicted in these verses issue in defeat: imprisonment by the law of sin. This is not the outcome of the Christian’s struggle with sin” (p. 111).

Returning to Longenecker’s view, he too does not see the individual in Romans 7:14-25 as a Christian, especially in lieu of what Paul says in Romans 8. For Longenecker this person is a picture of “. . . all people who attempt to live their lives by their own natural abilities and acquired resources, apart from God” (p. 673). Longenecker’s references to Greco-Roman writings that refer to the problem of self-mastery makes a strong case for his argument that Paul’s “Speech in Character” fits “all people.” Some, like Moo, however, argue that the person Paul is referring to is “an unregenerate Jew under the law” (p. 110). I am yet undecided whether the person Paul describes is Jewish or refers to all. The context of the law in Romans 7 causes me to lean toward Moo’s interpretation of the unregenerate Jew, but  I am also inclined toward Longenecker’s view because the overall context (going back to Romans 5:12-21) has to do with all who are in Adam. Furthermore, as Longenecker points out, the struggle to want to do right but to do the wrong is a universal human struggle, it is not simply the problem of the Jew under the law. And so the jury remains out on this point as far as I am concerned. I would welcome any insights from those who read this article. Please feel free to leave your comments below.

Conclusion: Who the “I” is Not

conquerorsIn my teaching of Romans over the years, I have found chapters 5-8 to be particularly important when it comes to believers understanding what Christ has accomplished for them and who they are in Christ. The section begins with Paul saying, “Therefore, having been justified by faith. . .” (5:1) and he continues by detailing the benefits of the Christian’s justification. In my experience, this is a message that Christians in the 21st century need. We need to know that we’ve been transferred from the realm of Adam where sin and death reign, to the realm of Christ where grace, righteousness and life reign (5:12-21). We need to hear that grace is more powerful than sin, but also that people under grace are an obedient people. We need to know that Christ has won a decisive victory over sin and in our identification with him in baptism, we too have died and been raised to walk in newness of life (6:1-6). We who are redeemed and yet feel so powerless against sin, need to know that sin has lost its power over us (6:17). We especially need the good news that there is a solution to the human dilemma of wanting to do what’s right, but instead doing what’s wrong. Paul declares that Jesus has delivered us from this body of death and that he has set us free from the law of sin and death (7:25; 8:2). I still have a number of questions about Romans 7:14-25, but one thing I am convinced of is that it is a mistake for a Christian to identify with the person Paul describes there. I am not the “I” of Romans 7:14-25. In Christ, we have all been justified, therefore our lives are not one of torment like the individual Paul describes. Instead “we have peace with God,” (5:1) and an absolute assurance that “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (8:37).

For other thoughtful articles on Romans 7, see at this link.

Exploring the Old Testament: The Histories

Exploring the Old Testament: The Histories

Exploring the Old Testament: The Histories is available at Baker Academic.
Exploring the Old Testament: The Histories is available at SPCK.

Exploring the Old Testament: The Histories, vol. 2, by Philip Satterthwaite and Gordon McConville, continues the same excellent standard of evangelical scholarship found in volume 1 of this series on The Pentateuch. Having already given an overview of the purpose of this series (read my review on vol. 1 here), I will focus on the contents of The Histories. The Histories gives an overview of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Ruth, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles. If you’re wondering about the order, the authors follow the Hebrew ordering of the biblical books, rather than the English ordering (which is based on the Septuagint = LXX). One of the purposes for this is so that the books that scholars frequently designate as “the Deuteronomistic History” (Joshua – Kings) can be treated consecutively.

Dr. Philip Satterthwaite is co-author of Exploring the Old Testament: The Histories, is responsible for the material in the Introduction through chapter 7.
Dr. Philip Satterthwaite is co-author of Exploring the Old Testament: The Histories, and is responsible for the material in the Introduction through chapter 7.

Following the Hebrew ordering of the books also allows the authors to make contrasting observations about the effect of each canonical ordering (Hebrew vs. English = the LXX) on the reader. For example, the order in English Bibles of the histories ends on somewhat of a downer with Nehemiah struggling to contain the Jewish community’s waywardness (Neh. 13) and Esther and Mordecai narrowly helping the Jews escape annihilation at the hands of the Persian Empire (Esther). McConville concludes that, “This unpromising end to the ‘history’ of Israel leaves an open question in English Bibles to which the prophetic section of the Old Testament gives an answer, with its predominant structure of judgment followed by salvation” (p. 288). Conversely, the order in the Hebrew Bible includes Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles in the last portion of the Canon known as “The Writings.” Notice that these books are also placed out of chronological order so that Chronicles comes after Ezra and Nehemiah. In fact, Chronicles is the last book of the Hebrew Bible. According to McConville, “This suggests that the Hebrew canonizers wished to allow Chronicles’ report of deliverance from exile (2 Chron. 36:22-23) to be the final word in the story of the post-exilic community” (p. 288).

Contents of Exploring the Old Testament: The Histories

Philip Satterthwaite begins this volume with a brief “Introduction” followed by chapter 1 which is entitled: “What are the Histories? A survey of recent scholarship,” which deals with such topics as “The Histories as literary texts,” “The Histories as Historical documents,” “The Histories as part of a larger story,” and the theology and ethics of the Histories. In this chapter, and throughout the volume as a whole, the authors are very fair in presenting various scholarly approaches and methods, while citing their own presuppositions and approaches. For example, Satterthwaite notes that he and McConville see the Histories as “artfully constructed texts,” and while understanding that various sources and hands may have played a part in the formation of the Histories, he states that, “Our interpretations of the Histories begin with an assumption of literary unity” (p. 25).

J. Gordon McConville is the co-author of Exploring the Old Testament: The Histories, vol. 2
J. Gordon McConville is the co-author of Exploring the Old Testament: The Histories, vol. 2 and is the author of chapters 8-11.

After a brief overview of ancient Near Eastern history in chapter 2, a survey of the biblical books, beginning with Joshua, starts in chapter 3. The chapters adhere to the following outline: 1) An outline of the book which includes a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the contents; 2) key themes of the book; 3) critical issues–dealing with various issues that have arisen in the scholarly study of the book; 4) historical issues; and 5) how the book is reflected throughout the rest of the biblical canon. Each chapter, like its predecessor (The Pentateuch, vol. 1), is also interspersed with boxes dealing with special issues or question boxes prompting students to “dig deeper.” Satterthwaite is responsible for the material in chapters 3-7, while McConville is the author of chapters 8-11. Because the review would be too long to include comments about each chapter, I have chosen a few chapters to illustrate the content.

Joshua is the first book of The Histories
Joshua is the first book of The Histories

Chapter 3: Joshua–Satterthwaite agrees with the general 4 point outline of Joshua’s structure found in other commentaries on Joshua. He notes that the law of Moses is “a particular unifying factor” (p. 41). The Book of Joshua is (in)famous for several knotty problems. One involves the utter destruction (kherem) of the Canaanites. Satterthwaite devotes a special two-page box discussing kherem, including that kherem involves “making a person or object entirely over to YHWH” (p. 46), and the relationship of kherem to holiness and sacrifice (pp. 46-47). A second problem, related to kherem is the inference in some passages that there were no survivors, while other passages indicate that survivors did exist (e,g., compare Josh. 10:28, 30, 35 with 15:13-16). One of the ways Satterthwaite explains this is by a helpful comparison of Joshua 1-12 with other ancient Near Eastern conquest accounts. This comparison, found on p. 51 notes, among other similiarities, that hyperbole is “typical of ancient Near Eastern conquest accounts” (a quote from K.L. Younger in his book, Ancient Conquest Accounts. A Study in Ancient Near Eastern and Biblical History Writing, pp. 226-228). Among other important issues, Satterthwaite argues for a 13th century B.C. date for the Exodus (p. 68), and that certain interpretations of the Book of Joshua (often used to argue that Joshua is a fictionalized account) are invalid when Joshua is examined more carefully.

king david
Satterthwaite concludes that the books of Samuel “remain our major source for Israel’s early monarchy,” and that the picture is “plausible, and the grounds urged for rejecting it are not compelling” (The Histories, p. 143).

Chapter 5: 1 and 2 Samuel–Satterthwaite follows the usual outline of the books of Samuel, except that he includes 2 Samuel 8 with chapters 9-20. Notable observations include connections between 1 Samuel 1-15 with the Book of Judges (pp. 105-106); the contrast between faithful and unfaithful leaders in 1 and 2 Samuel (p. 108); rather than “anti-monarchic” and “pro-monarchic” sources in 1 Samuel 8-12, both authors argue for a “unified but nuanced account of Saul’s rise…. The people were wrong to ask for a king, not because monarchy was intrinsically unsuitable for Israel, but because they asked with wrong motives; the result was that a wrong sort of king was chosen” (p. 112). Among some of the difficulties addressed, Satterthwaite discusses the evil spirit from the Lord sent upon Saul (p. 116); and two ways of looking at the execution of Saul’s sons by the Gibeonites (2 Sam. 21:1-14, p. 133). Other tough issues such as the question of double narratives in 1 Samuel 16-17 (p. 117), Saul’s seance (119), and whether Mephibosheth or Ziba was lying (p. 130), are left for students to chew over. Under “Key Themes” Satterthwaite lists the “Rise of monarchy: theological implications,” “Prophecy,” “Monarchy: politics, pragmatism and image?,” and “Divine-human interaction.” Under “Literary Critical Issues,” Satterthwaite discusses some of the usual sources proposed by scholars such as “The History of David’s Rise” (1 Sam. 16:14-2 Sam. 5:25) and the “Succession Narrative” (2 Sam. 9-20 and 1 Kings 1-2), but concludes that, while there are undoubtedly different sources and traditions underlying the material, it is not easy to identify such sources in the present text of Samuel. Therefore he concludes, “In their present form, 1 and 2 Samuel are more or less a seamless robe” (p. 139). Satterthwaite accepts the picture laid out in the books of Samuel as historical. He also notes the famous Tel Dan Stela which provides archaeological evidence for the existence of the Davidic monarchy (p. 142).

"The Histories" also has a good introduction and discussion of the Deuteronomistic History.
“The Histories” also has a good introduction and discussion of the Deuteronomistic History, a theory first proposed by Martin Noth.

Before leaving a discussion of those books designated as “The Deuteronomistic History” (DH), I should note that Satterthwaite devotes an entire chapter (chapter 7) to the origins and history of this well entrenched scholarly dogma. He discusses the origins of the original proposal by Martin Noth in 1943, and presents an overview of Noth’s basic thesis. Satterthwaite follows this up by looking at the various ways in which Noth’s original proposal has been revised or altered. Satterthwaite proves himself capable of some literary humor when, after finishing this survey, he quips to the reader, “Are you still awake?” (p. 208). Actually, I found Satterthwaite’s (McConville should be included here as well. The author frequently refers to “we”) evaluation of the DH and its scholarly mutations interesting. The authors agree that there are significant links between the ending and beginning of the various books “which are often reinforced by verbal echoes (e.g., compare Josh. 1 and Deut. 31 and 34 … )” (p. 208). They also agree that “the perspective of Joshua-Kings is ultimately that of the sixth century BC, simply on the basis that 2 Kings ends its account in that century” (p. 209). However, Satterthwaite and McConville also have important objections to the DH theory. They believe that Joshua-Samuel “(or something close to them) might have come into existence much earlier than is often argued” (p. 210). The authors point out that “According to a standard view Deuteronomy in its present form is a largely seventh-century work, linked to Josiah’s reforms” (p. 211), but they argue, “This, of course, runs contrary to the testimony of Joshua-Kings, according to which something like Deuteronomy (‘the Book of the Law’) was current long before the seventh century” (p. 211). Furthermore Satterthwaite states, “… the theological framework of Deuteronomy (linking faithfulness with blessing, unfaithfulness with judgment), which is what scholars often have in view when they argue that a text in Joshua-Kings reflects Deuteronomic influence, is not properly Deuteronomic at all, but a theological commonplace of the ancient Near East” (p. 211). Along these lines, the authors also note that the theology of Joshua-Kings is more complex than the simple “faithfulness brings blessing, unfaithfulness judgment.” Satterthwaite states these books “do not always conform to that schema; on the contrary, there are many unforeseen twists in Israel’s history, and they almost all relate to unexpected displays of divine grace” (p. 214). Another valid objection presented is that Joshua-Kings not only shows evidence of the Book of Deuteronomy, but also “significant echoes of Genesis-Numbers (particularly Genesis and Exodus)” (p. 216). In conclusion both authors question “the viability of the whole DH enterprise” (p. 217). While admitting that their position is not necessarily stronger, they claim that it is no weaker. I find myself in agreement with much that the authors say in this chapter.

McConville notes the literary artistry of the Book of Esther, including its comedic element.
McConville notes the literary artistry of the Book of Esther, including its comedic element.

Chapter 9: Esther–McConville’s outline of Esther follows the chapter divisions. He notes that a serious consideration of the Book of Esther prompts some provocative questions. For example, while most post-exilic books focus on the return to Judah, “In Esther, Jewish life goes on at the heart of the empire itself, with no apparent sense that Jews ought to return there” (p. 231). Furthermore, what is the reader to make of Esther’s marriage to a foreign king and the fact that she eats the food given to her without making objections based on Jewish food laws? The books of Daniel and Ezra-Nehemiah demonstrate other viewpoints on these important issues. McConville is keen to note the literary artisty of the Book of Esther, including its use of irony and perhaps comedy. He includes a “Think about” box which discusses the idea of the potential use of comedy in Esther (p. 241). McConville sees the “Key Themes” being, “God and events” (“The coincidences can be seen as evidence, not of randomness, but of God’s providential ordering of things”, p. 236); “Providence, prayer, and responsibility,” and “Retribution” (which prompts an important discussion about how such a theme should be viewed, p. 237). “Critical Issues” looks at the additions to Esther found in the Greek text. McConville points out where the additions occur and how these additions differ theologically from the other form of the book. One important feature of the additions is the explicit mention of God. As most are aware, the edition of Esther found in our English bibles never uses the word “God” or any form of God’s name.

Evaluation of Exploring the Old Testament: The Histories

Satterthwaite and McConville have written an excellent introduction to the Histories, geared toward the undergraduate student and interested lay person. Those who identify with these “learning labels” will surely find discussions of “Critical Issues,” and the chapter on “The Deuteronomistic History” deep wading, and perhaps as Satterthwaite jests, a bit difficult to keep one’s eyes open. Some might even object that such material could be dispensed with. I would disagree, however. Anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the Histories will inevitably seek out commentaries, dictionary articles, etc. to enhance their comprehension. In doing so, they will encounter all of the views (and many more) spelled out in this volume. Exploring the Old Testament: The Histories, gives the student a starting point of understanding concerning what the issues, presuppositions, and conclusions are of the scholarly literature that they will inevitably turn to. But more importantly, this volume is full of valuable information and insights. The content overviews of each biblical book is worth the price alone. The special boxes and charts enhance the learning process. Personally, I found myself in agreement with much of what Satterthwaite and McConville write, but I also found them fair in representing other approaches and scholarly positions. If you are interested in learning more about “The Histories,” then I would highly recommend this book as a well-written and informative introduction to them.

Buy Exploring the Old Testament Volume 2: The Histories at Amazon USA / UK or From SPCK Publishing


  • Paperback: 295 pages
  • Publisher: SPCK Publishing (21 Jun. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0281054304
  • ISBN-13: 978-0281054305
  • Product Dimensions: 18.6 x 1.6 x 24 cm

(Many thanks to SPCK for providing this copy of Encountering the Old Testament: The Histories, in exchange for a fair and impartial review.)