A Commentary on the Psalms, Vol. 1 1-41: Kregel Exegetical Library
single comprehensive resource on the Psalms
Very few commentaries can function as a single comprehensive resource for the Biblical passage at hand. The wise expositor makes use of theological introductions, critical comments on the Greek or Hebrew, a good exegetical commentary and then a few devotional commentaries Ã¢ÂÂ of course he also makes his own personal study of the passage.
What Allen P. Ross does for us in his new book, "A Commentary on the Psalms: volume 1" (Kregel, 2012), is distill the insights of decades of research and study on the book of Psalms into a single tool that can truly be a one-stop-shop for the busy pastor.
Ross provides 180 pages of introduction to the book of Psalms, focusing on structure and theology. He then gives us more than 700 pages of commentary on just the first 41 psalms. Each psalm is covered separately, the text is provided with an eye for meaningful textual variants (which are discussed at some length). The psalmÃ¢ÂÂs composition and context is then briefly sketched and an exegetical analysis is provided. Then comes a detailed commentary focusing on exposition, and all this is wrapped up with a brief recounting of the message and application of the psalm.
Ross aims to help modern preachers and teachers to truly exposit all of the psalms in their entirety (not just a line here and there). He blends contemporary insights with gems of yesterday as he analyzes the Psalms and provides a very useful tool for the modern preacher. Ross with help from the team at Kregel, has crafted his tool to be most user-friendly. The font is large, there are helpful charts and diagrams, and clear section headings which break up the massive book. He uses footnotes throughout for more technical discussions, but chooses not to provide Hebrew transliterations as a rule, preferring just English translations and the Hebrew words themselves.
When we have his entire three volume commentary (at least from reading the introductory material it appears this will be three volumes), we will truly have a single and comprehensive resource for what may be the most important book in all of Scripture. His approach is to stick to the text but not to shy away from reading the text in light of the context of the NT revelation as well (at a later stage in the interpretation). Even if in some respects one differs with Ross, he will still find RossÃ¢ÂÂs book immensely helpful.
Ross shows how vital the Psalms were both for Hebrew worship and that of the early church. Even in the ReformerÃ¢ÂÂs era, intimate knowledge of the psalter was a prerequisite for anyone aiming to take up a pastorate. How far we have fallen from an age where psalms made up the bulk of corporate worship. May RossÃ¢ÂÂs work help revive a study and interest in the Psalms today.
Disclaimer: This book was provided by Kregel Publications. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.
May 4, 2012
A Solid Commentary
RossÃ¢ÂÂs introductory section (180 pages!) covers some of the typical issues (date, authorship, provenance, etc.) encountered in most commentaries, but he doesnÃ¢ÂÂt devote whole sections to them. He instead intersperses discussion of these issues throughout the commentary itself as he finds them relevant. His attention then is paid to matters that are more particular to the psalter: abbreviations, the psalmsÃ¢ÂÂ value, the text and versions of the psalms, and titles and headings. Reading through these chapters shows the reader the psalmsÃ¢ÂÂ truly variegated nature. Following these chapters, Ross attends to other matters that are more broadly applicable, but important for understanding the psalms. These chapters cover the history of interpretation (which shows quite a diversity of approaches), biblical poetry (a notoriously untamable beast!), literary forms and functions in the psalms, theology of the psalms, and an exposition of the psalms. I wonÃ¢ÂÂt deal with these sections except to say they are helpful in equipping the reader with the appropriate tools necessary to begin the interpretive process in the psalter.
Though IÃ¢ÂÂve not read many commentaries on the psalter (and what I have read has been on particular psalms, never a whole volume), IÃ¢ÂÂve worked with them enough to know what I expect from the commentary in general and whether or not it will be helpful to the overall interpretive process. I can say that after my examination of RossÃ¢ÂÂs commentary I am assured that many will find great help in this volume (and presumably the coming volumes 2 and 3), even those whose training in Hebrew far exceed my own.
Perhaps the most commendable aspect of this commentary is its accessibility, a goal that many commentators either eschew or miss altogether. To benefit from RossÃ¢ÂÂ commentary one need not have advanced knowledge of Hebrew to work through the exegetical discussions. However, some facility in Hebrew will be beneficial, perhaps even necessary, to fully benefit from RossÃ¢ÂÂs work. Ross, whom I know primarily through his introductory Hebrew grammar, offers plenty in the way of grammatical analysis and categorization of usage. While for me this is helpful, it may not be to some, only because some of the categories require minor explanations (which are standard fare in Hebrew grammars). In fact, itÃ¢ÂÂs the one element that stands out about this volume in comparison to other commentaries on the same level, which is why I say some facility in Hebrew will help gain the fullest benefit from the commentary (just keep RossÃ¢ÂÂs grammar handy and youÃ¢ÂÂre good to go!).
Another feature that I appreciate is the absence of transliterations. I am no fan of them so I was glad to see that Ross does not employ it, but rather puts terms/phrases being discussed in quotes as a translation and provides the Hebrew in parentheses. I also appreciate the relegation of more technical discussion to the footnotes (and by implication the absence of endnotes!), which of course is the whole purpose of footnotes, thereby providing opportunities for deeper study for those interested. I must admit that at times I was a little frustrated that the information I was after was in the footnotes and didnÃ¢ÂÂt receive quite the attention I would have liked, but again this is in a way a commendation for Ross for keeping more technical points and discussions out of the main text.
One other interesting aspect of the commentary is its layoutÃ¢ÂÂeach psalm is arranged structurally according to the Hebrew text, yet Ross takes another step and arranges the discussion homiletically. For those teaching or preaching through the psalms, this could be a great help.
I did encounter a few minor annoyances while reading through the commentary. For one, there is the occasional use of rather esoteric vocabulary. Because of the nature of Hebrew poetry, some technical jargon is to be expected and thankfully Ross keeps it to a minimum; yet, the presence of words such as epizeuxis and tapeinosis arenÃ¢ÂÂt really necessary in a commentary written on this level, even with brief definitions provided. Second, there were a few instances in which I was hoping for a more helpful discussion in the footnotes (as I mentioned above). For example, in the discussion of Psalm 22, Ross claims that JesusÃ¢ÂÂ enemies knew Psalm 22 as a messianic psalm and thus quoted from it in order to mock and deride Jesus as he suffered (536). While I find it very likely that by the time of ChristÃ¢ÂÂs death this psalm was being read through a messianic lens, Ross only points to one example from Jewish literature that substantiates this idea. I only wish there were more discussion of this. Again, this is comparatively minor complaint, especially given the detail some Hebrew words/concepts are given, but I hoped for a little more here. Third and finally, I had hoped for a little more background to explain the figurative language that permeates many of the psalms. I am certainly not saying such was entirely absentÃ¢ÂÂhardly! The literal reality that stands behind figurative speech can really bring the text to life and such is the case when Ross fills us in, but itÃ¢ÂÂs not quite enough to satisfy me. Again, this is more a personal preference and not necessarily a critique of Ross.
You might think that a commentary that addresses 41 psalms in just over 700 pages (for the commentary proper) would be verbose, but not so. Part of this is due to the length of some of the psalms themselves and part is due to RossÃ¢ÂÂs extensive footnoting (as previously mentioned), but in general he provides rather concise discussion for each psalm. RossÃ¢ÂÂs style is easily read and never comes across as pedantic and that makes this particular volume quite handy. Again, this series is not going to be as helpful to some (those whose own scholarly pursuits intersect with the material presented), but there is more than enough insight and exposition to benefit the vast majority of those for whom it was written. I would recommend this volume to any who are studying the psalms, but especially for those whose training in Hebrew and OT is/has been minimal.
May 2, 2012
Great Exposition, Very Educational Introduction
I am a lay person who is a 'serious student of the Bible'. I read the exposition of Genesis by Ross entitled Creation and Blessing and became a fan of him and his style. That exposition was perfect for me and my level of development as is this commentary/exposition of the Psalms. According to Ross it's "for pastors, teachers and all serious students of the Bible." This commentary isn't quite as academic as Goldingay's, but is very beefy and didn't leave me wanting at all. In fact, he answers questions I didn't know I had. It would be a little much for a new Christian, especially the introduction. At nearly 900 pages for volume 1 of 3, it may also look a little intimidating.
I find introductions to commentaries extremely helpful. This one is fairly long and <em>extremely</em> informative, and even motivating. One of the most 'valuable' parts of the Introduction is The Value of the Psalms. He quotes quite a few people from different time periods, including Calvin, and writes about the importance of the Psalms, how this importance used to be realized, and how the church in general has lost the value and stopped using the Psalms as a model for prayer and use in worship, beyond a cursory reading here and there. This has inspired me to spend more time with the Psalms and this is the type of commentary that can be used in sort of a devotional way, for lack of a better term.
There are quite a few subjects dealt with using just the right amount of words, a few of them being Literary Forms, Theology of the Psalms and a guide to Exposition of the Psalms should you want to tackle one yourself if you're not up to that level.
Ross is experienced in teaching the exposition of the Psalms in the seminary classroom and expounding them in churches, and has gained a good sense of what needs to be explained in a concise way, which I think shows in this commentary.
As opposed to taking a verse or line from a Psalm for a message (or plaque?) Ross says, "the exposition should cover the entire psalm, and that it should not only explain the text verse-by-verse but also show how the message of the psalm unfolds section-by-section. After all, a psalm is a piece of literature and therefore has a unified theme and a progression of thoughts developing that theme." He has "not included views down the history of interpretation" but mainly sticks to his own exposition except for various quotes from others used sparingly. This is definitely not a 'commentary on commentaries'.
Some Hebrew words are shown and explained. There are no transliterations, which aren't helpful anyway. For those who don't know the language, he describes the words in a pretty understandable way. Footnotes deal further with Hebrew, Greek (Septuagint) and various English translations.
Each Psalm has his own fairly literal/formal translation along with textual variant issues dealt with in the footnotes. Then Composition and Context, Exegetical Analysis (an outline), Commentary in Expository Form, and Message and Application.
He seems to answer most or all of my questions as mentioned before. Ross explains many of the terms, phrases and Hebrew idioms that people like me can learn from. For pastors it can help in wording explanations. In Psalm 13 for example, Ross explains why it is a lament, how the text shows that the trouble is ongoing, what the significance of an asposiopesis is, and explains what 'remember' means in this context.
I have been given a copy of the book by Kregel Publications for an unbiased review. I'm afraid I sound like it's not very unbiased because the review is all so positive. The only possible negative thing I can find at this point is the typeface is a little on the large size for me. A bit smaller and the book wouldn't be so large and wouldn't have as much of a "rudimentary" look, because it's not. The quality of the paper is very good and the cover design bound to the hard cover (no need for a silly dust jacket) is very classy.
I think this commentary would be valuable for nearly anyone. I would only rule out new Christians as mentioned before because they might get lost with many of the theological terms and subjects, especially in the introduction, even though it isn't at a high academic or technical level. For those who are motivated though, I'm sure they would benefit in some way and it would be a good investment for the future.
Ross mentions that volume 3 will have a bibliography and writes about how important it is to have more than one source and emphasized that this isn't the only commentary one should own. If I can afford it, I plan on acquiring the other volumes if and when they come out, maybe by the time you read this.
May 1, 2012