When I was asked to come up with a list of the best Bible and Bible References in 2006, I had a certain goal I mind. I think that pastors and teachers need a library of around 150-200 books to have the bare necessities at hand. Here are about 100. Of course, this does not mean that all 100 books (and software packages) mentioned here should be included in the aforementioned library. But, it has also been my contention that references have a useful shelf life of around 20 years in order to remain current. So, I encourage you to consider those that will help keep the Word itself current (especially those with an * next to title), and impact the lives with which you have been entrusted.
The Archaeological Study Bible: An Illustrated Walk Through Biblical History and Culture sheds new light on the Bible. 520 articles, composed by 100 contributors in cooperation with Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, cover one of the following five categories: Archaeological Sites; Cultural and Historical Notes; Ancient Peoples and Lands; The Reliability of the Bible; and Ancient Texts and Artifacts. In addition to numerous footnotes, there are around 500 4-color photographs, charts, and in-text color maps. Also enclosed: a CD-Rom containing the full NIV text and all the photographs, maps, and charts.
A fully revised and updated version of The HarperCollins Study Bible has appeared, with essays, notes, and introductions prepared by the Society of Biblical Literature. Edited by Harold Attridge, the overall perspective is decidedly moderate in comparison to the Study Bible above.
Grammars and Interlinears
That pastors are being encouraged to take a step up in the quality of their sermon preparation is witnessed by the appearance of three English-Greek reverse interlinears, all of which employ special features. William Mounce’s Interlinear for the Rest of Us an expanded revision of his previous interlinear for Zondervan, comes complete with a Greek-English dictionary and the text of the Greek New Testament. This interlinear is keyed to his magisterial Mounce’s CompleteExpository DictionaryofOldandNew TestamentWords;* with contributions by reputable scholars that easily outstrips Vine’s. Previously, Mounce composed a grassroots grammar that instructs laymen on how to use the Greek in Greek for the Rest of Us (2003).
The C. John Schwandt and C. John Collins, The English-Greek Reverse Interlinear New Testament: English Standard Version (Crossway), also available as a free add-on to the new Logos Research Systems electronic biblical reference libraries, is keyed to a 14,500-entry concordance. It doesn’t have the accompanying Greek text like Mounce, but transliterates each word and is keyed to Strong’s rather than Goodrick/Kohlenberger (though Mounce gives the Strong’s number in his dictionary appendix). Also, a Holman CSB Reverse Interlinear (B & H Publishing Group) is in the works that covers the entire Bible. The New Testament portion follows the earlier work of John Kohlenberger in giving attention to phrase construction rather than formal word-for-word correspondences.
Finally, Russell Fuller and Kyoungwon Chio, Invitation to Biblical Hebrew (plus workbook) from Kregel, is an invitation back to rusty pastors as well as seminary students. Also, Robert Chisholm, professor of Old Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, has produced A Workbook for Intermediate Hebrew: Grammar, Exegesis, and Commentary on Jonah and Ruth. At 320 pages, the book is somewhat longer than the title. Designed forintermediate students or thosenearing the end of first-year Hebrew, this new resource aims to transformgrammar into syntax by providing direction towards developing a rough translation and outline of selected passages. Answers to all questions are provided.A useful parsing guide and glossary are also included. More briefly, Dennis Tucker has produced Jonah: A Handbook on the Hebrew Text (Baylor University Press).
Resurrected after 25 years, Andrew Hill’s Baker Book of Bible Lists covers genealogy, chronology etc. in the first two section, while the third section contains an A–Z listing of common topics. A college/seminary level text, The Torah Story: An Apprenticeship on the Pentateuch byGary Schnittjer (Zondervan) focuses is on the emergence of the salvation story. Dan Estes has written Handbook on the Wisdom Books and Psalms (Baker), a companion to the earlier Handbook on the Pentateuch and Handbook on the Historical Books by Victor Hamilton, and Robert Chisholm’s Handbook on the Prophets. All provide an overview accessible to laypersons.
Though too pricey for the average pastoral library (retail $100) The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World by Anson Rainey and Steven Notley sets the new standard for comprehensive Bible atlases with over 300 maps. As a follow-up to his acclaimed Jesus and the Gospels, Craig Blomberg has now written From Pentecost to Patmos* (B & H Publishing Group), an introduction to Acts through Revelation. The layman-friendly, DarrellBock-edited Bible Knowledge Word Study: Acts – Ephesians (Victor) analyzes words in biblical context, rather than providing a simple dictionary definition. J. Albert Harrill’s Slaves in the New Testament (witness his article in IVP’s Dictionary of New Testament Background) comes close to a definitive treatment of the subject (Fortress).
The long-awaited New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (in five volumes commencing with the first in Nov. 2006), based on the NRSV, will be authored by an ecumenical team of 900 international scholars who contribute new articles on 7500 topics; including persons, places, things, theological concepts, etc. Volume 5 will include a CD with full-color illustrations, and the entire text with maps and charts of each volume, fully searchable. The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies, edited by John Rogerson and Judith Lieu, covers history, language, social background, theology, method, and canon; all in 920 pages.
Textual/Literary Criticism, Exegesis, and Hermeneutics
Matt Williams’s Two Gospels from One (Kregel) examines the origins of the Synoptic Gospels, providing definitive textual evidence for the priority of Mark. Having proofread this for Kregel, I know firsthand just how good this book is. However, it presupposes a knowledge of Greek and is not for the faint of heart (though Williams does provide instructions for laymen to gather his main points). Philip Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts focuses on the most significant New Testament manuscripts, providing evidence for when they were written and which is most original (Broadman & Holman).
Paul Wegner has produced A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible (IVP), which tells us how we got the Hebrew and Greek texts that underlie modern translations. It is sufficient to replace separate OT/NT textual criticism texts. Grant Osborne has thoroughly revised The Hermeneutical Spiral (IVP), adding two new chapters in the process.
In the Stanley Porter-edited Hearing the Old Testament in the New Testament (Eerdmans), a stellar cast of NT scholars contribute various essays. In a tribute to Harold Hoehner, Darrell Bock and Buist Fanning, eds., Interpreting the New Testament Text: Introduction to the Art and Science of Exegesis* (Crossway hardback) covers the same ground as Erickson’s paperback (IVP, 2005) in the first half, while in the second half a distinguished cast of contributors tackle specific examples (i.e., I. H. Marshall, E. E. Ellis, D. Catchpole, E. Yamauchi, etc.).
From “A MINORE AD MAJUS” to “Zion,” Interpreting the Bible: A Handbook of Terms And Methods by W. Randolph Tate clarifies approximately 50 methods of biblical interpretation along with the terminology they employ. Based on A Handbook to Literature (Prentice-Hall), two examples of critical approaches to the Gospel of Mark are provided in appendices.
Moving from laymen-friendly to scholarly, six new books approach the Historical Jesus from different vantage points.Reinventing Jesus focuses primarily on textual criticism and canon, Bock on theuniqueness of the Biblical Gospels over against extrabiblical gospels, Bauckham on the reliability of eyewitnesses to Jesus’ ministry, N. T. Wright on the fallacy of the recently publicized Gospel of Judas, and Craig Evans on recent controversial books such as Misquoting Jesus, The Jesus Papers, The Jesus Dynasty and the Gospel of Judas.
Reinventing Jesus (Kregel), a joint effort by J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Saywer, and, Daniel B. Wallace, includes summary data on how we know the Gospels got it right when it came to the life of Jesus, how we know the scribes got it right when it came to the original text, how we know the church did not rip off pagan gods and simply invent the Messiah out of whole cloth, how we know the church got it right when it came to canon, and how we know we got it right when it comes to the interpretation of the person of Christ. 30% of the book is on textual criticism. Although written for a broad audience, it is backed up with the best of scholarship (65 pages of endnotes).
Darrell Bock successfully refutes, in particular, the popular assertions of Bart Ehrman, Karen King, and Elaine Pagels in The Missing Gospels (Thomas Nelson). It is a careful study of the first two centuries of texts; helping to explain what the extra-biblical gospels are and why they were not included in the NT canon, and citing some 21 of these as well as the Church Fathers and Apologists up to Irenaeus. In Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Eerdmans), Richard Bauckham draws on internal literary evidence, study of personal names in the first century, and recent developments in the understanding of oral traditions to prove Gospel truth.
In The Battle for Hearts and Minds, HarperSanFrancisco, generally the popular home of reputed doyens and media darlings John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg (Jesus Seminar), offers Ben Witherington’s methodical profile of the key characters in Jesus’ inner circle; What Have They Done with Jesus?: Beyond Strange Theories and Bad History – Why We Can Trust the Bible. N. T. Wright briefly goes about debunking the portrait of Jesus and Judas in the so-called Gospel of Judas in Judas and the Gospel of Jesus: Have We Missed the Truth about Christianity? (Baker). Finally and again briefly, Craig Evans, well known for his studies on the Historical Jesus, suggests valid methods for investigating the subject in Fabricating Jesus (IVP).
Tom Thatcher speculates on the oral tradition behind the Gospel of John in Why John Wrote a Gospel: Jesus – Memory – History (Westminster John Knox). Thatcher analyzes how John differs from the Synoptics and how the Gospels altogether relate to the Jesus of history.
In The Book of Proverbs in Social and Theological Context (Cambridge University Press), Katherine Dell suggests that Proverbs is theological from the start; God’s creativity is an integral theme of the text rather than one added in later redactions, and more echoes of other OT genres can be found (esp. in chapters 1-9) than are usually recognized. F?mi Adey?mi surveys the history of interpretation and offers his own novel referent for Torah in The New Covenant Torah in Jeremiah and the Law of Christ in Paul (Peter Lang). Out of the price range for most pastors ($134) is Gregory Wong’s Compositional Strategy of the Book of Judges: An Inductive, Rhetorical Study (Brill). This book effectively rebuts the common assumption that Judges is part of the Deuteronomistic History while asserting composition by a single, creative author.
More reasonable, now that it is available in paperback ($55), is Charles Hill’s monumental affirmation of The Johannine Corpus in the Early Church (Oxford). Hill dismantles the prevalent theory that the Johannine writings faced an uphill battle towards canonization. Morten Jensen, Herod Antipas in Galilee (Mohr) surveys the literary and archaeological sources on the reign of Herod Antipas with a view to determining its socio-economic impact on the region. Jensen argues that the impact of Antipas on early first-century Galilee was probably more moderate than Historical Jesus scholars have generally assumed until now.
Mark Boda calls superb The Coming King And the Rejected Shepherd: Matthew’s Reading of Zechariah’s Messianic Hope by Clay Alan Ham (Sheffield Phoenix). Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile: Restoration Eschatology and the Origin of the Atonement, a dissertation submitted to David Aune at Notre Dame by Brant Pitre (Baker), essentially concludes that the Great Tribulation signaled Israel’s return from exile and largely consigns it to Jesus’ lifetime with the cross as its signal moment. Not for the fainthearted.
Four notable new titles (formerly JSNT/JSOTSup) appear this Fall from T. & T. Clark: Uprooting and Planting: Essays on Jeremiah for Leslie Allen edited by John Goldingay (I guess since Goldingay just finished a massive effort on Isaiah 40-55 and Allen contributed a two-volume Ezekiel in the Word Biblical Commentary series, they decided to meet in the middle on this one); The Theme of Temple Christology in John’s Gospel by Stephen Um (water, Spirit, and truth; Jn 4:6-26); Heavenly Perspective: A Study of the Apostle Paul’s Response to a Jewish Mystical Movement at Colossae by Ian Smith; and Mark Taylor’s Text-Linguistic Investigation into the Discourse Structure of James. Taylor posits that the quotation of Lev. 19:18 and echoes of the Shema (Deut. 6) that occur in significant structural locations suggests that the double-love command in the Jesus tradition (cf. Mt. 22:34-40) is a hermeneutical key to the interpretation of the letter.
D. A. Carson has revised his How Long, O Lord? (Baker). Carson addresses key biblical passages related to human suffering and evil with helpful pastoral applications. B & H Publishing Group (formerly Broadman & Holman) has launched the NAC (New American Commentary) Studies in Bible and Theology (NACSBT) with James Hamilton’s God’s Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old & New Testaments. Coming in January, Believer’s Baptism, edited by Thomas Schreiner and Shawn Wright.
James Beilby and Paul Eddy have edited yet another Four Views volume for IVP, The Nature of the Atonement; which takes into account views that critique the traditional penal substitutionary view. Meanwhile, Zondervan has released Remarriage after Divorce in Today’s Church: 3 Views, with contributions by Gordon Wenham, Craig Keener, and William Heth. Tyndale House research fellow and expert on Jewish background David Instone-Brewer has had his Divorce and Remarriage in the Church reissued by IVP. Chad Brand has edited Perspectives on Election: Five Views (B & H Publishing Group.
From “Abiding in Christ” to the “Wrath of God,” Henry Holloman runs the gamut of pertinent doctrinal topics in the Kregel Dictionary of the Bible and Theology. Written for laypersons, pastors, and Bible students, those who prefer a dispensational orientation can find a host of subjects covered in two paragraphs to four page-lengths. This on Drake William’s Making Sense of the Bible from I. Howard Marshall: “It provides an excellent way for lay Christians to grasp the teaching of the Bible as a whole.” Here, Drake focuses his study on ten key theological themes that unite the Old and New Testaments. Hardly lightweight, not too weighty.
Moody Professor Trevor Burke argues that huiothesia has been misunderstood, misrepresented or neglected through scholarly preoccupation with its cultural background. He redresses the balance in this thorough study, Adopted into God’s Family (IVP). Old Testament professor Mark Boda describes Old Testament Theology, Volume 2: Israel’s Faith best: “In Israel’s Faith, Goldingay offers us the second in a series that will most likely constitute his magnum opus. While the first volume (Israel’s Gospel) masterfully traced the theological story of Israel, this volume provides a discerning synthesis of key theological streams in the Old Testament.
H. Wayne House has made the differing theological approaches to introductory issues in theology easier to grasp in Charts of Systematic Theology, Volume 1: Prolegomena (Kregel). The magnum opus of the longstanding professor of Hebrew at Dallas Theological Seminary, Eugene Merrill delivers another theology of the Old Testament, Everlasting Dominion* (B & H Publishing Group). Thus, depending on your theological proclivities, there are two magnum opera to choose from!
With the publication of Volume 12, The Crisis of Empire, AD 193-337 in November 2005, The Cambridge Ancient History (2nd ed.) can now be purchased as a complete set. It seems that with each passing year since the 70s a spate of new titles disputing the historicity of the OT appears, and Mario Liverani’s Israel’s History and the History of Israel (Equinox) is no exception. However, the combination of Liverani’s expertise in ANE background combined with setting Israel in the context of the larger world (esp. the sixth century BC) sets this history apart, and much insight can be gathered here.
Marc der Mieroop’s second edition of the best, succinct A History of the Ancient Near East Blackwell) has now appeared. Van de Mieroop is an expert in cuneiform texts. The IVP Atlas of Bible History* by Paul Lawrence draws on the latest finds of historians and archaeologists with 100 relief maps, 20 site/battle plans, and 140 photographs. In Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books* (IVP), editors Bill Arnold and Paul Williamson have enlisted an internationalcast of scholars; each addressing topics within their specialties. In the past twenty years a burgeoning list of titles addressing the historicity of the OT has appeared, thus making it necessary for a dictionary that addresses these particular concerns. With entries ranging from “agriculture” to “Zion traditions,” DOTHB packs competently presented information cover-to-cover. One of the best dictionaries I have encountered.
The last two titles in the five-volume The Baker History of the Church series appear this year; Age of Reason by Meic Pearse, and The Medieval Church by Paul Bassett. This series is intended for college-level courses, and superior to the two-volume effort by Everett Ferguson on Church History (Zondervan, 2005, 2006) at twice the page count but more than double the retail price ($150 versus $60). Ferguson tends towards a dependency on older secondary sources, a commonplace caveat for works by professors emeriti. The advantage of the Baker series is the option to focus on a particular historical period (generally 300-350 year intervals). Bassett, however, covers 601-1349 AD; a period known for a paucity of quality references (that’s why they called half of it the dark ages, folks).
British historian Derek Wilson offers a brief but compelling portrait of Charlemagne (Doubleday), a king who many consider the father of Western European Christendom whose embrace of scholarship and preservation of ancient manuscripts fueled the emergence from the Dark Ages. One-third of the book is devoted to chronicling Charlemagne’s influence on the present-day European Union. More substantial is medievalist Alessandro Barbero’s Charlemagne: Father of a Continent (University of California Press, 2004).
G. R. Evans, already the author of several books and essays on key figures in the Middle Ages (Augustine, Gregory the Great, Anselm, Bernard of Clairvaux, etc.), has written the first major biography of John Wyclif in 100 years (IVP). Wyclif, who presaged the English Reformation with his refutation of key Catholic doctrines and first English translation of the complete Bible, died in 1384. Timothy Wilson-Smith canvasses the brief appearance of Joan of Arc on the European stage and the endurance of her legend in Joan of Arc: Maid, Myth, and History (Sutton).
Richard Carwardine, Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power (Alfred A. Knopf) places Lincoln’s not-so-quite Christianity in the context of his need to accommodate the Whigs and Republicans that put him in power, and a genuine quest to reconcile his intellect and faith. In a CT Review, historian Mark Noll also calls this the best Lincoln book since Allen Guelzo’s Redeemer President (Eerdmans, 1999). Speaking of Mark Noll, he adds The Civil War as a Theological Crisis (U. of North Carolina Press), which discusses the theological upheaval precipitated by the Civil War, both in North America and as seen through European eyes. In another Civil War era tome, Vale of Tears: New Essays on Religion and Reconstruction (Mercer U. Press) covers the aftermath of the righteous cause each combatant believed would result in victory.
As it was, no one won. A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan (Alfred A. Knopf)written by Michael Kazinis the first major biography of Bryan in almost forty years. As expected, this book draws on previously untapped resources (letters, speeches, etc) to draw a portrait of a leading figure in turn-of-the-century politics and the church. The Azusa Street Mission and Revival by Cecil Robeck (Thomas Nelson), professor of Church History at Fuller Theological Seminary, has written the most comprehensive study of the early days of Pentecostalism.
Commentaries by Evangelical Scholars
In his commentary of Genesis 1-4 (Presbyterian & Reformed), C. John Collins, professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary, employs a text-linguistic approach to discover the original context and subsequent usage of the primeval text. He adopts an analogous days interpretation, in which the creation occurs during God’s “days” rather than man’s. As such, each day can represent an unspecified length of human time.
The thing that most impressed me about Douglas Stuart’s commentary on Exodus* for the New American commentary series (Broadman & Holman) is the easy proficiency with which Dr. Stuart exegetes how a particular Hebrew word or phrase should be taken in context, weaves in the ANE background, and demonstrates the way the theology not only relates to Exodus and the rest of the Pentateuch, but to entire biblical corpus. Those familiar with Dr. Stuart’s prior work will not be surprised by the depth of scholarship undergirding his insights here. For a conservative commentary that is sufficiently meaty but still easy on the eyes, one could do no better. By the way, Brent Strawn, an expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls, has been assigned The Book of Exodus in the NICOT series (Eerdmans).
Based on the premise that obedience determines whether or not a king is acceptable to God, in The First Book of Samuel* (Eerdmans) David Toshio Tsumura unravels the difficult Hebrew text, paying attention to the Canaanite and Philistine cultures which serves as the backdrop to this enigmatic book. Gus Konkel, professor of Hebrew at Providence Theological Seminary in Manitoba, has written one of the most paradigmatic (at times) applicational commentaries in the NIVAC series (Zondervan) in 1 & 2 Kings.* Though typically associated with Chronicles-Esther, Konkel follows the Hebrew pattern of associating Kings with Joshua, Judges, and Samuel. He truly shows how Kings is prophetic literature, not just history. In various moments his eloquence is absolutely transcendent. Check out pp. 316-19.
In this first volume Psalms 1-41*on the book of Psalms for the Baker Commentary on the Old Testament: Wisdom and Psalms, Old Testament scholar John Goldingay provides an introduction to the entire book of Psalms. He considers the literary, historical, and grammatical dimensions of the text as well as its theological implications. Also included is an extensive glossary section treating the vocabulary of Psalms 1-41 and noting how certain words are used to convey critical concepts.
Tremper Longman’s coverage of Proverbs* from the same series as Goldingay unravels the original intent of these wisdom sayings so that teachers ranging from scholars to Sunday school might pass on its knowledge to their various charges. In doing so, Longman also unpacks the book’s theology insofar as it impacts the church today. Additional volumes planned for the series are Job by Tremper Longman III and Ecclesiastes by Craig G. Bartholomew. Also available is the recently published Songs of Songs* (Richard Hess). Worth the effort, especially for preachers, is pastor John Kitchen’s thorough exposition of Proverbs in the Mentor Commentary series (Christian Focus Publications). What’s more, a thematic index opens up the possibilities for preaching Proverbs.
John Goldingay, The Message of Isaiah 40-55* (T and T Clark) traces the words of encouragement evidentin Isaiah 40-55. God’s intention is to restore the Judean community; some in exile in Babylon, others living in the city of Jerusalem ruined by the Babylonians in 587. Goldinggay recently finished two-volumes on Isaiah 40-55 for the ICC series, with David Payne (T. & T. Clark). Needless to say, the combined 900 pages will be the benchmark for further studies on these 16 chapters. Reflecting an evangelical-critical perspective, Goldingay suggests the prophet Isaiah as progenitor for the author of 40-55. Popularly written but sufficiently weighty, Mark Rooker’s Ezekiel (Holman Old Testament Commentary) was the only Israelite prophet to carry out his ministry entirely outside Israel’s homeland. Gary Smith on Isaiah 1-39 in the NAC series (B & H Publishing Group) will appear next March.
David Baker’s entry on Joel, Obadiah, and Malachi in the NIVAC series (Zondervan) gives a fuller picture of God-who rightly judges sin and rebellion, but who also lovingly invites people to return so that he might bestow his wonderful blessings. On one hand are messages of impending judgment- against Israel, against Israel’s enemies, and against all peoples on the Day of the Lord. On the other hand are messages of the pouring out of God’s Spirit, of restoration and renewal, and of a coming Messiah. The manuscript for Joshua (NIVAC) has been reassigned back to Robert Hubbard. Regarding Psalms Volume 2: It was discovered that after Gerald Wilson died that he had actually not gotten very far on the second volume, so Jamie Grant, Lecturer in Biblical Studies at Highland Theological College, Dingwall, Scotland is essentially starting from scratch. It will follow Wilson’s lead.
Bruce Waltke’s A Commentary on Micah (Eerdmans) is a significant expansion of his earlier work in the three-volume The Minor Prophets by Baker, already the best effort in that compendium. With exegetical precision and appreciation for its historical context (while recognizing Micah’s contribution to Christian theology), Waltke spans the gap between Micah’s OT setting and today’s world.
Ben Witherington’s offering on Matthew in the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series is best described by Matthean commentator Donald Hagner: “[Witherington] has packed the volume not only with superb exegesis, historical-cultural information, and theological discussion, but also with abundant practical wisdom.” The Smyth & Helwys series is certainly the most attractive, with numerous sidebars, photos, engravings, paintings, etc. In sum, a commentary that could be read cover-to-cover with delight. However, the series, as a whole, is largely moderate in perspective.
John Nolland, expositor of The Gospel of Matthew in The New International Greek Testament Commentary Series (Eerdmans) has been working on this commentary for ten years. Believing that the apostle Matthew was not the author, he nevertheless holds that the portrayal of Jesus’ ministry is mostly accurate and that the gospel was written prior to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. In addition to a thorough exegesis of the Greek text, Nolland focuses on the presentation of Matthew as story.
Hall Harris, who has already published an excellent, unheralded commentary on 1-3 John free online (print and Libronix download, Biblical Studies Press, 2003), has now produced An Exegetical Commentary on John which is available free online. Biblical Studies Press has also reprinted the three excellent commentaries on the Minor Prophets (Thomas Finley, Richard Patterson, Eugene Merrill), also available as a Libronix download, which formerly were released by Moody.
In The Two Horizons series on Paul’s letter to the Philippians (Eerdmans), Stephen Fowl traces the history of interpretation, past and present, in an attempt to discover how the original theological context of the letter makes its contribution to biblical theology. As such, it is far more a section-by-section commentary than Marianne Meye Thompson’s similar effort on Colossians/Philemon, and would serve as a very useful adjunct to a traditional commentary for discerning the big picture of a passage.
Already the author of several commentaries that focus on socio-rhetorical context (Mark, Acts, 1 and 2 Corinthians, etc.), Ben Witherington now gives us his analysis of 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Witherington suggests the methods of rhetoric employed by Paul in the context of a free city in the Roman Empire populated largely by Romans in the midst of a Greek culture. Philip Towner, the director of translation at the United Bible Society, is the author of the newest NICNT volume 1-2 Timothy, Titus* (Eerdmans). Towner, an egalitarian, takes the injunction against women teaching men as historically conditioned by dangerous trends outside the Ephesian church at the time.
Providing the fullest recent conservative exposition on The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude* (Eerdmans), Peter Davids, the author of a commentary on the Greek text of James and a commentary on First Peter (both Eerdmans), tackles these two, complementary letters with the same precision he evidenced in his prior works.
The Cornerstone Biblical Commentary series from Tyndale (18 volumes) ? with the first commentaries available on Job (Gus Konkel), Ecclesiastes, and Songs (Tremper Longman), Isaiah (Larry Walker), Jeremiah/Lamentations (Elmer Martens), Matthew (David Turner), and Mark (Darrell Bock) ? is the product of nearly 40 scholars, many of whom participated in the creation of the NLT. Thus, the commentaries are meant to be read with the same contemporary ease as that translation.
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, revised is a new thirteen-volume edition based on the original twelve-volume set. It’s a timely revision, as the original EBC was about ready for pasture. The new series demonstrates the same commitment to the divine inspiration, trustworthiness, and authority of the Bible. Of the fifty-six contributors, thirty are new. The others are completely revised by the original author. In volume 12: Ephesians (William Klein, replacing Skevington Wood), Philippians (David Garland, replacing Homer Kent), Colossians (Todd Still, replacing Curtis Vaughn), Thessalonians (Robert Thomas, updated), Pastorals (Andreas Köstenberger, replacing Ralph Earle and Edmond Hiebert), and Philemon (Arthur A. Rupprecht, updated). A big improvement.
Additional Commentaries Worth Noting
The latest Anchor Bible offering is William Propp’s Exodus 19-40. Propp is excellent on textual criticism (with DSS readings), and social background. This volume contains many helpful appendices such as the formation of the Torah (JEDP) and Israelite monotheism, but the denseness of the volume makes it impractical for pastors.
A new offering, 1 and 2 Kings, in the Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries by Gina Hens-Piazza, an expert in OT rhetorical analysis, teases out the ironies, ethical ambiguities, and roles of the minor players in the story, and how they contribute to the greater theological purpose of the author(s). Ralph W. Klein’s published books include the new Hermeneia volume on 1 Chronicles* from Fortress Press, a commentary on 1 Samuel in the Word Biblical Commentary series, and the commentary on Ezra and Nehemiah in the New Interpreter’s Bible; one of the finest in that series. Masterful though briefer than Knoppers’ two volumes. Like Knoppers, he does not believe the Chronicler’s sources (Samuel, Kings) were identical to the Masoretic text.
Dr. Clines’ two volumes on Job* (Thomas Nelson) bring to a conclusion his monumental study of the Book of Job, a work begun more than 15 years ago (Job 1-20). With a thoroughgoing exegesis characteristic of his endeavors in volume one, Clines unpacks the numerous linguistic challenges that Job presents to the modern reader. Though indispensable to the scholar, these two volumes are not necessarily inaccessible to laymen. Included in the third volume on Job (38-42; to be published next year) is a 200-page index to all three volumes.
Hugh Williamson (Ezra, Nehemiah, Word Biblical Commentary) has contributed the first commentary of three on Isaiah 1-27 for the ICC series in Isaiah 1-5 (T. & T. Clark) at the same time that John Goldingay and David Payne have covered the back end (40-55, see above). At 650 pages (compared to 900 pages total for the two 40-55 volumes), this is going to be one whopper of coverage for one book (seven volumes at $90-110.00 per retail).
Margaret Odell, the author of Ezekiel* in the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series has written an exposition that is not only sensitive to the literary construct and theological message of Ezekiel, but the superb layout of the Smyth & Helwys series, with it’s numerous photographs, charts, and sidebars, makes this a near-textbook of Babylonian life as it existed through the prism of the exile community’s eyes. Though moderate in perspective, she has garnered the plaudits of evangelical expositors Lawson Younger (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) and Daniel Block (Wheaton), whose own two-volume commentary on Ezekiel in the NICNT series (Eerdmans) is the standard by which all other commentaries are measured.
A commentary to watch, especially considering its emphasis on the imperial context in light of Paul’s anticipated journey to Spain, is Robert Jewett’s 1000-page Romans for the Hermeneia series (Fortress). After a long and distinguished career as an expert in Gnosticism and Early Christianity, Robert McL. Wilson brings us a painstaking commentary on Colossians and Philemon (T. & T. Clark). Previously, McL. Wilson provided a commentary on Hebrews in the dormant NCB series. On February 13th, 2006 he turned 90!
In the latest title from the New Testament Library series (Westminster John Knox), Luke Timothy Johnson, probably the leading Catholic exegete next to Joseph Fitzmyer, largely fills in the gap between his acclaimed 1-2 Timothy and James commentaries in the Anchor Bible series (Doubleday) with an excellent exposition of Hebrews.* Johnson is a conservative exegete who premises his argument on the assumption that Hebrews is a letter calling on believers to grow in maturity through perseverance in the midst of suffering after the example of Jesus.
Due to be published next year is a full revision of 1-3 John by Stephen Smalley in the Word series (Thomas Nelson). It’ll be interesting what Smalley does with 1-3 John in light of his recent The Revelation to John (IVP, 2005), in which he argues that Revelation was composed by John the apostle before the gospel and letters. See you next year on this!
Replacing George B. Caird’s earlier volume, moderately conservative Oxford scholar Ian Boxall’s has delivered a straightforward commentary of moderate length on The Revelation of Saint John* in the Black’s New Testament Commentary series (Hendrickson). Far more learned than the usual non-technicality of most expositions, the introduction features an analysis of Revelation’s first-century context (esp. Patmos). Boxall takes seriously the authorship of the apostle John and Revelation as prophetic-apocalyptic literature. Though mainly preterist in perspective (attaching key figures to first-century events), readers will be richly rewarded by Boxall’s assertion that the apocalyptic genre is largely devoted to revealing heaven’s mysteries rather than predicting future events (I consider myself a progressive dispensationalist, but the richness of symbolism evoked by Boxall enlarges my own understanding). Had I received this prior to submitting the revision of my commentary survey, I would have heartily endorsed its use; particularly together with the commentaries of Grant Osborne (evangelical, semi-technical), Stephen Smalley (moderate, technical), and Craig Keener (evangelical, expositional) until D. A. Carson’s Pillar New Testament Commentary entry appears (Eerdmans). Other suggested conservative commentaries are: Greg Beale (technical), Robert Mounce (semi-technical), Alan Johnson (expositional), and Dennis Johnson (expositional).
In a recent software review, I evaluated four programs (see http://mysite.verizon.net/vzeojt6o/esucommentaryandreferencrvey/id17.html):
Accordance (2006) is a Porsche; built for both speed and drivability;
BibleWorks (2005) is a Mercedes (sorry BMW),
Logos Scholar’s Library: Gold (2006) is a Cadillac (for library size and bells and whistles)
Zondervan’s Scholar’s Edition (2004) is a Ford pickup (for utility, especially in the NIV).
To these I would add Thomas Nelson’s eBible Platinum (2004), which contains many titles produced by Nelson of special interest to the pastor and fully-integratable with the various Libronix platforms available. Several of these titles are rather good including study guides and various other pastoral helps.
The Zondervan Scholarly Bible Study Suite for Macintosh® (Oaktree Software), which basically has the same content as the Scholar’s Edition above (with the added bonus of the new second edition of the Carson/Moo Introduction to the New Testament) is now available. Also, the Word Biblical Commentary on CD-ROM has now been made available for Mac (Accordance-compatible). The Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (BECNT)* on CD-ROM (Libronix-compatible) is now available (the first eight volumes of 21). Finally, both The New International Greek Testament Commentary* and the Pillar New Testament Commentary* (both Eerdmans) have become available in Libronix (PC) and Accordance (Mac) formats. More than likely, within five years every commentary series will be available on CD.
A Final Note
Jeffery Sheler, Believers: A Journey into Evangelical America (New York: Viking, 2006), 324 pp.
Ordinarily, I’m not one to recommend books on Christian culture, but here is a book that should be read. Jeffery Sheler started out fundamentalist in Grand Rapids and eventually settled into a “conservative” Presbyterian congregation in Washington D.C. Determined to demystify the stereotype of “fundies” typically held by his colleagues and the public-at-large, Sheler decided that it was up to an ex-believer like himself to set the record straight.
In Believers: A Journey into Evangelical America, he visits Saddleback Church, Wheaton College, the Creation festival (an outdoor contemporary Christian rock/folk fest), political operatives in Washington, and goes on a mission trip to Guatemala with a youth group. He doesn’t always accurately portray evangelicalism, but tries to get it right. Reading this book is rather like getting a peek at your personal psychological profile. You just can’t wait to see what they’re saying about you! Endorsed by former ABC correspondent Peggy Wehmeyer, Believers is more fair than Randall Balmer’s Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory (which appeared in its fourth edition this year); positing that there’s a major disconnect between Christian leaders and moderately minded “common” folk.
For instance, politics “dominates” his interview with James Dobson, though acknowledging that the focus on politics was clearly irritating Dobson. Latching onto a touring Brethren couple on his way out of Focus headquarters, he discovers that “common’ people don’t think Dobson should focus so much on politics; they liked him much better when he talked family. Here and elsewhere, I was rather surprised that a journalist, and an editor at that (Sheler is religion editor for the US News and World Report) would depend on anecdotal evidence to make a point; especially evidence obtained from a single couple who just happened to pass by! One can’t quite come away from reading this without noticing that the ‘common” folk Sheler has in mind is the moderate himself. Still, an enlightening look inside an outsider’s look inside.
Shelr is also the author of Is the Bible True? (HarperSanFrancisco, 2000); which, by the way, he believes is mostly historically accurate. A counterbalance to Sheler in more accurately discerning fundamentalism’s roots and its current manifestations, George Marsden’s second edition of Fundamentalism and American Culture (Oxford) appears with a new chapter.
John Glynn is an author living in Stoughton, MA. He is the author of the Commentary and Reference Survey.