After a flurry of good study Bibles the last few years, I saw no thorough study Bibles come out this year—i.e. ones with running notes throughout the text. Several study bibles were published which simply combined the text with excerpts from other sources or occasional themed notes including The Names of God Study Bible (Baker), The A.W. Tozer Study Bible (Hendrickson) and The Mission of God Study Bible (B&H).
N.T. Wright’s translation of the New Testament, The Kingdom New Testament (Harper One), is fresh and interesting but idiosyncratic, as demonstrated by Robert Gundry’s penetrating review in Books and Culture. The translation can serve as a supplemental resource but not a primary text for study or preaching.
David Barrett’s ESV Concise Bible Atlas (Crossway) is a nice abridgement of the very fine ESV Bible Atlas. This edition is paper back, only 64 pages, contains less text and is focused on the key maps—helpful and handy.
The Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics, edited by Joel Green (Baker) is a serious disappointment because it downplays the authority of Scripture (the Bible is “somehow the rule of our individual lives and of our common life”) and suggests the church begin blessing homosexual unions.
Hendrickson has produced one of the most interesting language resources with their The Audio Greek New Testament, read by John Schwandt. One DVD contains the full New Testament read in Greek by Schwandt, founder of the Institute of Biblical Greek, in files divided by chapter or periscope. This can be a very helpful way to gaining more exposure to the Greek text, getting a feel for the language and for keeping up language skills.
Biblical Theology/Hermeneutics, etc.
Biblical theology is an important topic for preachers as it addresses how the Bible fits together and how any particular text we might preach fits in the story line of the whole Bible. Getting this trajectory of the Bible story right is what helps us keep our interpretation on the right track. In this discussion Graeme Goldsworthy has been a key contributor and his Christ-Centered Biblical Theology: Hermeneutical Foundations and Principles (IVP) gives a thorough defense of his approach and why biblical theology is so important. I share his opinion that biblical theology is essential to effective pastoral ministry. Christopher Seitz has also been a key voice, and his The Character of Christian Scripture: The Significance of a Two-Testament Scripture (Baker) is a significant contribution though it is more technical than Goldsworthy.
Two larger, very significant books on this topic have also appeared: G.K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Baker) and Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum’s Kingdom Through Covenant: A Biblical Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Crossway). While the size of these books might put off some, they are both important books for pastors. I don’t have space here to discuss their differences, but I urge you to get them and chip away at them as you seek to show your people how the whole Bible fits together.
Lesser known, though very pastoral and helpful, is Charles Leiter’s The Law of Christ (Granted Ministries Press). The book is a treatment of biblical theology considering how the Old Testament connects to the New Testament and how it applies today. Leiter argues for a position similar to Gentry and Wellum though less technically. His appendix addressing various pastoral questions (e.g., Sabbath observance, tattoos, food laws) is very helpful for day to day pastoral ministry.
Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible: A Guide to Reading the Bible Well (Crossway), edited by Wayne Grudem, C. John Collins and Thomas Schreiner is the most accessible of these. It is a brief volume gathering key portions of the ESV Study Bible into a handy reference tool. This will be excellent one stop resource.
Andreas Köstenberger and Richard Patterson’s Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature and Theology (Kregel) is a significant, comprehensive treatment of the process of interpretation. Their treatment and attention to history, literature and theology will be very helpful.
Three recent books essentially argue for ways to adjust or reinterpret the Bible in order to make it more acceptable to people today: Douglas A. Knight, Amy-Jill Levine The Meaning of the Bible (HarperCollins), John Shelby Spong, Reclaiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World (HarperCollins) and Philip Jenkins, Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can’t Ignore the Bible’s Violent Verses (HarperCollins). Jenkins’ books seemed most promising as he takes up such an important topic. However, he begins with a low view of Scripture and sees world religions growing out of their more primitive, violent earlier natures.
Hearing the Old Testament: Listening for God’s Address (Eerdmans), edited by Craig Bartholomew and David Beldman, is a very helpful book examining theological interpretation of the OT section by section. This will be immensely valuable for preachers. A Theological Introduction to the Pentateuch: Interpreting the Torah as Christian Scripture (Baker) edited by Richard Briggs and Joel Lohr is similar though it focuses just on the Pentateuch and is generally more skeptical of the historicity of the text.
David G. Firth and Paul D. Wegner (Ed.) Presence, Power and Promise: The Role of the Spirit of God in the Old Testament (IVP)—impressive lineup of OT scholars examining the work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament—helpful overview and exegetical essays.
Ed Hinson, Gary Yates (eds.) The Essence of the Old Testament: A Survey (B&H)—solid, straight forward, brief survey of the OT with standard material. Might have hoped for more on things such as historical Adam. Will be covered by things most pastors already have.
B&H has published two new OT surveys: Ed Hinson & Gary Yates (eds.) The Essence of the Old Testament: A Survey and Eugene Merrill, Mark Rooker, Michael Grisanti, The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament. Both are useful though most pastors will probably already have items that meet this need.
OT Canonically (Commentaries, etc.)
Rob Roy McGregor has put us in his debt by continuing his fine translations of Calvin’s sermons, producing this year, John Calvin, Sermons on Genesis, chapters 11—20 (Banner of Truth). This is a feast for preachers as Calvin gives a fine example of interpreting the text in light of the whole of Scripture and applying it searchingly to the hearts of his people. John Thompson gives us a window on how the Reformers in general interpreted Genesis in his volume in the Reformation Commentary on Scripture Series (Genesis 1—11, IVP). Miguel De La Torre’s Genesis (Belief: A Theological Commentary, WJK) is not as helpful. It is written from a liberation perspective and is unconcerned about historicity, understanding the stories as testimonies (not necessarily correct) of encountering God.
Victor Hamilton’s Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary (Baker) provides close exposition and textual notes with some discussion of NT connection. However, the value for preaching is limited as there is little discussion of theology or larger meaning. Ross Blackburn’s The God Who Makes Himself Known: The Missionary Heart of the Book of Exodus (New Studies in Biblical Theology, IVP), though not a commentary, is stimulating and helpful for thinking through big picture theological aims of Exodus (missing in Hamilton). God in our Midst: The Tabernacle and Our Relationship with God, by Daniel Hyde (Reformation Trust) is a series of sermons through the latter half of Exodus where the building of the Tabernacle is described. Hyde rejects the overwrought allegory so common in discussions of the Tabernacle seeking to understand these texts in their context, in light of the whole of scripture as it leads to Christ. This better grounded Christo-centric approach is helpful.
Edward Woods’ Deuteronomy (TOTC, IVP) is a brief but substantial commentary in the best of the TOTC tradition, explaining the text and moving to its larger, theological meaning. The helpful, brief introduction is also a plus. Ajith Fernando’s Deuteronomy: Loving Obedience to a Loving God (Preaching the Word, Crossway) is more sermonic, in keeping with its series. These nicely done sermons will be helpful for preachers.
Graeme Auld’s I and II Samuel: A Commentary (WJK) is more technical with little discussion of theology. John Olley’s The Message of Kings (IVP), however, in brief compass explains text section by section always with an eye to NT connections and overall meaning. Though brief it is very helpful. Scott W. Hahn’s The Kingdom of God as Liturgical Empire: A Theological Commentary on 1—2 Chronicles (Baker) is an intriguing work which seeks to demonstrate the overall theological message of chronicles within the whole story of the Bible. Hahn deals with large chunks at a time making it more difficult to use for preaching on specific passages but can be helpful for considering the books as a whole.
Tremper Longman III’s Job (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, Baker) contains a helpful introduction which summarizes his understanding of the book as a whole and how it works. This is especially helpful since most preaching of this book will take large portions together. Curiously, he argues the “accuser” at the beginning of the book isn’t Satan.
On understanding the psalms in general, the best new resource is Gordon Wenham’s Psalms as Torah: Reading Biblical Song Ethically (Baker). It is wonderfully written, engaging and inspiring. W.H. Bellinger Jr.’s Psalms: A Guide to Studying the Psalms, 2nd ed. (Baker) is a competent though less exciting student guide. The Joy of Rediscovering God’s Hymnbook by Frank Smith is a short booklet on the importance of actually singing the psalms, a point too often missed in some circles. Forgotten Songs: Reclaiming the Psalms for Christian Worship (B&H), edited by Richard Wells and myself, seeks to illuminate the purpose and value of the psalms for worship in a variety of ways. Frank Hossfeld and Erich Zenger’s Psalms 3: A Commentary on Psalms 101—150 (Hermeneia; Fortress) is rich in places (especially the thorough treatment of NT uses, even allusions, of each psalm) but its technical orientation and high price will make it less useful to many. Allen Ross’ A Commentary on the Psalms, Vol. 1 (Kregel) is a valuable new commentary. Ross engages the psalms with an awareness that they are to be sung and prayed. He discusses at length their importance for the church’s worship across its history. Ross’ attention to the text and to its meaning will make this very useful to preachers. I look forward to Vol. 2.
Peter Enns’ Ecclesiastes (Two Horizons, Eerdmans) is well written and engaging. In keeping with the series, the first half of the book is a learned exposition; the second half explores theological themes of the book, how they relate to the rest of the Bible in light of Christ and how they intersect with life today. This commentary is stimulating and helpful even if we don’t agree everywhere. Less helpful is Harvey Cox and Stephanie Paulsell’s Lamentations and Song of Songs (Belief: A Theological Commentary, WJK). Cox, on Lamentations, provides more of a series of essays on themes in the book which are often helpfully provocative. Curiously Paulsell makes sure to affirm that the Song has a place for homosexuality.
Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets (IVP) edited by Gordon McConville and Mark Boda is a significant reference work similar to the others in this series. It is important to note the entries come from a wide range of perspectives, including Jewish perspectives, so one ought not assume a certain article comes from an evangelical or even Christian angle. Shalom Paul’s Isaiah 40—66: A Commentary (ECC, Eerdmans) is technical commentary from a fairly critical angle and is less useful for preaching. More helpful is The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 (Kregel), edited by Darrell Bock and Mitch Glaser. These essays survey the history of interpretation of Isaiah 53, explore its theology and make practical applications.
Thanks to IVP’s Ancient Christian Texts Series, Jerome’s Jeremiah (trans. by Michael Graves, ed. by Christopher A. Hall) is available in English. This volume is more readily useful for preachers than some others in this series as Jerome gives a careful reading of the text noting the flow of thought and making application. Even where one must differ, in Jerome we hear how the text was understood by the leading biblical scholar of the ancient church.
Carl Beckwith’s Ezekiel, Daniel (RCS, IVP) provides good, sizeable excerpts from Reformation era commentary on these prophetic books. It is especially valuable in difficult books such as these to see how the church in previous ages dealt with certain texts.
B&H has published two new NT surveys. The Lion and the Lamb by Kostenberger, Kellum and Quarles is an abridgement of their previous book The Cradle, the Cross and the Crown. For pastors, the fuller volume will be preferable. The Essence of the New Testament: A Survey, edited by Towns and Guiterrez is aimed more at students. Gerd Theissen’s The New Testament: A Literary History (Fortress) is a confidently skeptical reconstruction of how the NT came into being which, because it doubts most of the NT will be of little use to those who preach it.
Two recent festschriften provide significant essays on various areas of NT interpretation: Jon Laansma, Grant Osborne and Ray Van Neste, New Testament Theology in Light of the Church’s Mission: Essays in Honor of I. Howard Marshall (Wipf & Stock) and I. Howard Marshall, Volker Rabens and Cornelis Bennema The Spirit and Christ in the New Testament and Christian Theology: Essays in Honor of Max Turner (Eerdmans).
Jodi Magness’ Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus (Eerdmans) is meticulously researched and will provide a wealth of background information for New Testament studies. The book focuses primarily on purity issues and evidence from Qumran though it ranges more broadly. This book will give you information not found in standard NT background texts. The World of Jesus and the Early Church (Hendrickson), edited by Craig Evans, also addresses background issues with a series of scholarly essays. Some are less directly useful for preaching, but others are quite interesting such as the one on house churches in the NT, their size and the place of children in them.
Craig Keener’s Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (2 vols., Baker) is astounding in its breadth, comprehensiveness and pastoral sensitivity. The length of this work and the fact that it does not connect directly to specific texts may keep some pastors from pursuing it. However, this is a gem. If you only read the introduction and conclusion it will be beneficial, and then you can dip into other parts. Keener in a rare measure, combines amazing research and writing skills with genuine compassion and pastoral sympathy.
James Dunn’s Jesus, Paul and the Gospels (Eerdmans) deals with more background issues than direct commentary but provides, in readable fashion, helpful material on various topics including demonstrating, contrary to some scholars, that Paul is not in conflict with Jesus and providing a helpful portrait of the typical size and setting of Pauline churches.
Craig L. Blomberg’s Interpreting the Parable (2d ed.; IVP) has been released in a second edition. As with the first edition, this is more of a technical work for scholars with less interest in theology and meaning. Thus, it is of limited use to preachers.
Samuel Stennett’s An Exposition of the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13 (Particular Baptist) is good example of thorough 17th century theological exposition. The introductory discussion on the nature of preaching is worthwhile in itself. Dane Ortlund’s Defiant Grace: The Surprising Message and Mission of Jesus (Evangelical Press) is an exuberant exposition of grace in Jesus’ ministry. With one chapter on each gospel, this well-written, little book will be a boost for anyone and a boon for preaching. Charles Quarles’ Sermon on the Mount: Restoring Christ’s Message to the Modern Church (B&H) is among the best treatments of this key text available—careful, thorough exegesis, abreast of scholarship, theologically oriented, with an eye to interpretation. Matt Woodley’s The Gospel of Matthew: God with Us (Resonate, IVP) deals with the text in sections in an engaging narrative style illustrating and applying along the way. It will be useful for catching the big picture and applying the text.
Mary Ann Beavis’ Mark (Paideia, Baker) is a helpful, brief commentary. Francis Moloney’s The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary (Baker) is strong in noting the importance of the flow of the story in this gospel. It is also a bit technical and less strong on theology. Both commentaries can be helpful, but neither are necessities.
David Garland’s Luke (Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament Series, Zondervan) is excellent and is a must-have for preachers. Garland skillfully and engagingly provides literary context, flow of thought, exegetical comment and theological application. Exemplary! David Lyle Jeffrey’s Luke (Brazos Theological Commentary, Baker) is also a fine work, though less comprehensive than Garland’s. Jeffrey excels in capturing the overall picture of each scene and helps us read the text with the church through the ages. It is another great resource. Darrell Bock’s A Theology of Luke and Acts (Zondervan) is a helpful reference work for getting an overview of key themes and issues in these two books.
Frederick Dale Bruner’s The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Eerdmans) is a treasure not least because it includes key quotes about each section from leading voices through the history of the church and then comments freely on the text without the severe disconnect between scholarship and life so common in commentaries. This will be a valuable resource for preaching.
Rodney Reeves’ Spirituality According to Paul: Imitating the Apostle of Christ (IVP) is an engaging discussion of Christian living as expounded in Paul’s letters. Reeves asks how the doctrines taught by Paul should impact our living, making this helpful for preaching. More technical, but still accessible is James W. Thompson’s Moral Formation According to Paul: The Context and Coherence of Pauline Epistles (Baker). Thompson surveys the state of Pauline studies and covers Paul’s thought more thoroughly. Thompson notes Paul’s stress on the role of the community of faith in discipleship.
Richard Longenecker’s Introducing Romans: Critical Issues in Paul’s Most Famous Letter (Eerdmans) is a great source on introductory issues in this important letter. Longenecker’s evangelical and pastoral approach makes this helpful for preachers, though not crucial. Romans: Interpreted by Early Christian Commentators (The Church’s Bible, Eerdmans), edited by J.P. Burns Jr., provides long selections from patristic writers making it typically more useful than the ACCS Series. Curiously, it quotes Pelagius and other condemned heretics without indication that the church roundly rejected the teachings of these individuals. It is appropriate to include such writers, but if we want to know what the early church said—and if we aim to help the church today—a clear statement on the church’s conclusion about orthodoxy and heresy is needed. Most significant on Romans is Colin Kruse’s Romans (Pillar, Eerdmans), a very helpful, solid commentary. Kruse gives serious attention to the text, is aware of current scholarship, and writes accessibly and with an eye to what the text means for today.
Andrew Naselli’s From Typology to Doxology: Paul’s Use of Isaiah and Job in Romans 11:34-35 (Pickwick) is more detailed than most will want for preaching just two verses, but provides an example of careful reasoning about how the Old Testament is used in the New Testament and the implications of this for interpretation.
Ben Witherington III, a good creative writer and accomplished NT scholar, has given us a treat in his short novel A Week in the Life of Corinth (IVP). Rather than providing a list of facts about life and culture in NT times, Witherington has composed an interesting story in which we can see and learn this information along the way. This will be a fun way to enhance our understanding of the world in which the NT takes place—and it would be helpful for preachers to read some good fiction along the way!
Pheme Perkins’ First Corinthians (Paideia, Baker) is quite brief so pastors already in possession of the key commentaries on this letter (e.g., Fee, Garland, Rosner and Ciampa) can skip this one. Ian Levy’s The Letter to the Galatians (Eerdmans) is a promising beginning to the new series The Bible in Medieval Tradition. Levy provides translations of several medieval commentaries on this letter which were not previously available in English. This is an interesting volume and very helpful for the history of interpretation, though it will only be a secondary source for most preachers. Martinus C. de Boer’s Galatians: A Commentary (WJK) is learned, but idiosyncratic and less reliable theologically, making it less helpful for pastors. Of immediate help to pastors will be John Fesko’s Galatians, which is the inaugural volume in the new Lectio Continua Series (Tolle Lege Press). Fesko provides solid, exegetical, theological sermons on each section of the letter.
Stephen Fowl’s Ephesians (NT Library, WJK) is a solid mid-range commentary. Fowl makes soundly reasoned comments on the text and is concerned for theological reading. Ben Witherington’s Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Eerdmans) continues his own particular approach to the text. It is well written and useful, though perhaps written a bit more to other scholars than preachers. This will be a helpful commentary alongside other standard ones.
Anthony Robinson and Robert Wall’s Called to Lead: Paul’s Letters to Timothy for a New Day (Eerdmans) accepts non-Pauline authorship but seeks to understand these letters as Christian Scripture. They make some helpful points along the way, but I found the overall approach and significant portions of the exegesis unconvincing and less helpful. Paul Jeon’s To Exhort and Reprove: Audience Response to Chiastic Structures in Paul’s Letter to Titus (Pickwick) gives helpful, close attention to an often neglected epistle. Though I am not convinced by his overall argument, the exegetical work is helpful.
While really written for students, Karen Jobes’ Letters to the Church: A Survey of Hebrews and the General Epistles (Zondervan) can be a helpful resource for preachers, providing in one place an overview of the content of these books and the issues surrounding them. The book is nicely done both in terms of content and presentation. Gareth Cockerill has given us one more very good commentary on Hebrews with The Epistle to the Hebrews (NICNT, Eerdmans). He is clear, thorough and expounds the text. With Cockerill and the previously published good commentaries on this book, Stephen Long’s Hebrews (Belief: A Theological Commentary, WJK) can be safely skipped by the preacher.
N.T. Wright’s The Early Christian Letters for Everyone: James, Peter, John and Judah (WJK), in keeping with the series, is not a thorough commentary but a brief, illustrative discussion on highlights of the text. Wright’s gift for clarity and punchiness is well suited for this format, making it helpful as a supplement.
Duane Watson and Terrance Callan’s First and Second Peter (Paideia, Baker) and Daniel Keating’s First and Second Peter, Jude (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, Baker) cover essentially the same territory. Both affirm Petrine authorship of 1 Peter but not of 2 Peter. Watson and Callan give more attention to the literary structure, and Keating connects to and illustrates with Catholic theology. Both are competent middle-range commentaries that can be helpful but cannot replace the weightier commentaries such as T. Schreiner’s. Curtis P. Giese 2 Peter and Jude (Concordia) is more substantive, providing in-depth exegesis, as well as theological conclusions. Giese defends apostolic authorship of both letters and will be very helpful for preachers.
N.T. Wright’s Revelation for Everyone (WJK), like his other volume in this series previously mentioned, is helpful for illustrating and Wright makes stimulating suggestions about portions of Revelation. Jim Hamilton’s Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches (Preaching the Word, Crossway) contains substantive sermons through the book. His carefully constructed introductions, as well as his exposition, will be helpful for anyone preaching through this challenging book, even when we inevitably differ in interpretations. William Weinrich has provided us with English versions of four of the earliest commentaries on Revelation in Latin Commentaries on Revelation (IVP). Especially in debated books such as Revelation, it is helpful to hear from church leaders (martyrs and pastors) of the past.
History, Theology, and Practice
This area is not the main focus of this survey, but here are a few highlights of new books in this broader category.
Gerald Bray’s God Is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology (Crossway) is a wonderful resource because in it one of brightest evangelical theologians of our day explains the Christian faith in a conversational way. Bray sought to write in a way that non-specialists around the world could understand, and he has given us a very helpful resource.
Grace Publications has published John Owen’s Gospel Church Government, an abridged version of what can be found in Owen’s collected works with updated language. John Owen was a masterful teacher, but his dense writing has made it difficult for many to engage his work. This updating is thus very helpful and Owen’s contribution on this topic is significant.
Banner of Truth has reprinted The Select Practical Writings of John Knox, which contains some real gems including a treatise on prayer and several letters to his mother-in-law who apparently wrestled with assurance. You have heard Knox thunder. Listen here as he comforts a tender soul with the balm of grace.
C.H. Spurgeon’s Forgotten Prayer Meeting Addresses (Day One Publications) contains messages on prayer, which are not included in the two sets that collected Spurgeon’s sermons. Anyone who appreciates Spurgeon will relish having these items available.
Fortress has published a third edition of the helpful volume, Luther’s Basic Theological Writings. This is a good one stop resource for Luther.
David G. Peterson is always good, and he is at his pastoral and theological best in Transformed by God: New Covenant Life and Ministry (IVP) as he traces the impact of the promise of a new covenant in Jeremiah and its implications in the NT for life and ministry.
Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley have done us a great service by compiling and editing Feasting with Christ: Meditations on the Lord’s Supper (Evangelical Press). This book contains rich meditations from various writers of the past for preparing for, receiving and rejoicing in the Lord’s Supper. Also Reformation Heritage has published English transaltions of two valuable 17th century Dutch tracts on communion as In Remembrance of Him: Profiting from the Lord’s Supper by Guilelmus Saldenus and Wilhelmus á Brakel. The emphasis on joy in the supper, and this volume is a helpful corrective to much of what is done today.