(Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching)
John Knox Press
Reviewed by John M. Fowler, Associate Director, General Conference Education Department
John Knox Press has done a commendable work to Christian scholarship and proclamation by publishing this new and dynamic set of New Testament commentaries. New not only in terms of date, but also in approach to the understanding of the New Testament. Dynamic because each page of the commentary bubbles with its commitment to Christian exposition and the purpose for which the biblical material was first written.
The New Testament part of the commentary is now complete, and soon the Old Testament part will be. Seventeen scholars attempt to offer a complete interpretation of the New Testament material, including historical context, theological purpose, homiletical relevance, and spiritual direction. No preacher or Sabbath School teacher will find the commentary too hard to understand, or too high-in-the-sky and boring. The commentary has the distinction of being true to the original meaning of the language without humbling the lay reader for want of Greek knowledge. Very little Greek is referred to, and where there is such a reference, it is used to simplify the text rather than confuse the reader.
Pastors will find the commentary especially useful in their homiletic task. Each New Testament book is clearly outlined, and within the outline, the commentary pursues both an expository and theological task. While Adventists who have a unique understanding of eschatology may find some of the interpretations of the Apocalypse and the last day events not to their liking, there is plenty of background material even here as to be of critical usefulness for biblical preaching. For example, the study of the seven churches has much to offer to our preaching on the subject.
The expository part of the commentary is full of insights, originating from the context itself. For example, as I read the commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, I was impressed with the fresh insight on the famous passage Ask and it shall be given. As preachers, we have often used this text as God’s guarantee to answer prayers of our need. But the commentator transcends this simplistic approach and points out that prayer is not intended as a means of manipulating God into satisfying our selfish desires (Matthew, p. 78). Rather the passage is a promise that the Lord can and does enable the Christian to walk the difficult walk of the gospel, portrayed earlier in the context: to forego anger, to love our enemies, to overcome the itch to retaliate, to refrain from judgmentalism, etc. This insight alone is worth the price of the volume.
The commentary excels also in explaining difficult passages, by turning to contemporary literature and context. For example, Paul justifies his anger over the incestual relationship of a man with his father’s wife (1 Cor 5) by referring to the fact that such a thing would not be tolerated even among gentiles. The commentary gives an example from Cicero that is not only notable for its literary eloquence but moral high ground. A preacher can certainly better his sermon by turning to such material. Some readers may disagree with the hermeneutic or the expository model employed by various commentators in the set. One need not agree with every thing said, every interpretation made, or every method used. But here are seventeen scholars who take Scripture seriously, and who interpret them as best as the Spirit would use them, and come through with a product that exalts the central theme of the New Testament: God revealed in Christ for our reconciliation and for the creation of the Kingdom of God. To that extent, the Interpretation commentary on the New Testament is indeed a valuable tool for pastors, evangelists, Sabbath School teachers, and any Christian who want to understand the Scripture and its relevance for today.