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John M Kight
5 Stars Out Of 5
A First Stop Commentary!!
October 25, 2015
John M Kight
Murray J. Harris is professor emeritus of New Testament exegesis and theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and formerly served as warden of Tyndale House at Cambridge University in England. Harris has a Ph.D. from the University of Manchester, where he studied under F. F. Bruce, and is the author of numerous books, including, Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus, Slave of Christ: A New Testament Metaphor for Total Devotion to Christ, and The Second Epistle to the Corinthians from the acclaimed New International Greek Testament Commentary (NIGTC) series. Harris is also the mastermind behind the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (EGGNT) series. The first edition of the inaugural volume of the EGGNT, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: Colossians and Philemon, was published by W.B. Eerdmans in 1991. No subsequent volumes were then published. Now revived under the direction of B&H Academic, Colossians and Philemon has received the needed updates to set the series afloat.
Colossians and Philemon opens with a brief introduction on Pauls letter to the Colossians and includes discussion surrounding authorship (Harris argues for Pauline authorship rather than the deuteron-Pauline theory), date, occasion, and purpose. A similar introduction is provided for Philemon, again Harris affirms Pauline authorship and devoting a good deal of space to the issues at stake behind the purpose of the letter. Both introductions close with an outline of the letter and a Recommended Commentaries section. As the reader enters into the discussion of the letters themselves they are met by block diagrammed Greek text (with occasional English parallels), followed by a phrase-by-phrase interaction with the text itself. Harris shines brightly in this section as a master exegete with seasoned insight. He carefully guides the reader through the text hand-in-hand explaining various grammatical issues, exegetical interpretations, and textual critical analyses. Each unit of text concludes with a For Further Study section that includes a topically organized bibliography, as well as a section dedicated to Homiletical Suggestions for preaching and teaching. Both sections are helpful and welcomed, but the lack of an annotated bibliography may disappoint some reader. Nevertheless, it is an appropriate conclusion to a unit of text and really functions to catapults the reader to other areas of investigation.
Harris has provided the pastor, teacher, and student with a necessary tool for the task of exegesis and interpretation. He has brought together some of the best and most widely used resources relating to the letters of Colossians and Philemon and thoroughly surveyed the depths of the Greek text behind both. There are a number of highpoints within this resource that I found indispensable and I am sure others will as well. First, following the commentary of each book, Harris has provided an original translation and an expanded paraphrase of both Colossians and Philemon. I personally found this helpful after just digesting scores upon scores of grammatical and exegetical information. It helped to take the training wheels off the two-wheeler. It is a little disappointing that this tradition didnt get carried over to the subsequent volumes in the series. On that note, another highlight that didnt get carried over to the subsequent volumes is the Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms. This was a pleasant surprise and I think it would be a welcomed addition across all volumes for the novice reader. Lastly, while the reader is welcome to disagree, I found Harris treatment of the Colossian 1:15-20 to be among the best in the book. The analysis of the text was superb and the For Further Study is rich in interpretive rabbit trails. But this could also be said of the entire volume.
In 1985, when the vision of the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament series first came to the mind of Murray J. Harris, I wonder if he was able to foresee the level of benefit this series would bring to the serious student of Scripture. Having read all the available volumes, it would seem faintly possible. This is an excellent inaugural volume on two very significant Pauline epistles. Sure it may not a commentary in the traditional sense, but it will certainly better position the reader to enter into the conversations therein. If you are a pastor, teacher, student, or well-informed laymen, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: Colossians and Philemon is a resource that should not be overlooked. The Church is truly indebted to Murray J. Harris for his contribution to the inception of such a series, and to B&H Academic for making sure that his vision came to fruition and made available to all. The labor of these two parties and all involved has become our reward.
I received a review copy of this book in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.
Getting from participles to preaching, from grammar to good news proclamation, can be a challenge to preachers and teachers when working with the biblical text. But if there is theology in those prepositions, as seminary professors have often noted, careful attention to the morphology and syntax of the text can be key in preparing to expound God's Word with God's people.
B&H Academic's Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament "aims to close that gap between stranded student (or former student) and daunting text and to bridge that gulf between morphological analysis and exegesis." As a volume in a projected set of 20 volumes, Murray J. Harris's Colossians and Philemon "seeks to provide in a single volume all the necessary information for basic understanding of the Greek text and to afford suggestions for more detailed study." Similar to the Baylor Handbook series, the Exegetical Guide is not a "full-scale" commentary. This affords the author more opportunity to comment on the original language of the biblical text.
Both Colossians and Philemon in this volume contain a brief but sufficient Introduction. It treats authorship (Harris defends Pauline authorship based on Colossians' similarity to Philemon, which is more generally accepted as Pauline); date (he puts the two letters at 60-61); occasion and purpose; includes an outline of the letter; and makes commentary recommendations.
Each paragraph of the biblical text has the following features in the commentary:
*A structural analysis of the Greek.
*This is in sentence flow style--not sentence diagramming; Harris says the former is "a simple exercise in literary physiology--showing how the grammatical and conceptual parts of a paragraph are arranged and related"
*Commentary on each phrase in the Greek, which ranges from morphological analysis to syntax to lexical analysis (great helps for word studies in this book!) to textual variants. Much of the Greek ends up translated into English in each passage of the commentary
*"For Further Study," a bibliography arranged by topic, e.g., "Prayer in Paul" (1:9-12), "The Will of God" (1:9), etc.
*"Homiletical Suggestions," not uncommonly more than one for a given passage
In addition, at the end of each letter there is a full English translation of that letter and an "expanded paraphrase" of the Greek. Colossians 3:12-14 in Harris's translation, for example, reads: "Therefore, as God's chosen people, who are holy and loved by him, put on heartfelt compassion [ÏƒÏ€Î»Î¬Î³Ï‡Î½Î± Î¿á¼°ÎºÏ„Î¹ÏÎ¼Î¿á¿¦], kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. You are to bear with one another, and if anyone has a grievance against someone else, you are to forgive one another. Just as the Lord forgave you, so you also must forgive."
The expanded paraphrase reads, "So, then, since you are God's chosen people, his elect, dedicated to his service and the objects of his special love...."
The structural analysis, in my view, is the best feature of this densely packed and rich commentary. For example, in his analysis of Colossians 3:1-4, Harris visually shows "Christ" (in Greek) lined up in five different instances, so that he can easily show, "Christ is a central theme of the paragraph (there are five explicit references to him in the four verses)." Just reading the Greek straight through, this may not be as obvious as it is when Harris shows it visually and comments on it.
Harris gives great attention to individual words and phrases within verses. He mentions the major Greek grammars: "Blass-Debrunner-Funk, Robertson, Turner, and Zerwick," as well as BDAG, the Anchor Bible Dictionary, and other such standard references. Just to give one example, on 1:15 Harris writes: "The 'firstborn' was either the eldest child in a family or a person of preeminent rank. The use of this term to describe the Davidic king in Ps 88:28 (LXX) (=Ps 89:27 EVV), 'I will also appoint him my firstborn (Ï€ÏÏ‰Ï„ÏŒÏ„Î¿ÎºÎ¿Î½), the most exalted of the kings of the earth,' indicates that it can denote supremacy in rank as well as priority in time."
The sermon suggestions are really just suggestions for the body of a sermon; though they are in outline form, they are not complete sermon outlines. And some of the included outlines ("Wrestling in Prayer" from 2:1-2) will preach better than others ("Introductory Greeting" from Philemon 1-3). Yet anything homiletical like this is more than some Greek-focused, exegetical series offer, and the homiletical suggestions--if not always sufficient in themselves--still make for a good point of departure for the preacher. In fact, Harris only intends "to provide some of the raw materials for sermon preparation."
The "Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms" is one of the best such glossaries I've seen in a book like this. It occasionally uses examples from Colossians and Philemon themselves, which is a nice touch.
This Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament is a great companion to the Greek text. Harris is sensitive yet incisive, and always thorough. It's hard to imagine a better guide for the grammatical analysis of Colossians and Philemon in Greek. I look forward to future volumes in this series. (A James volume is coming soon.)
Thanks to B&H Academic for the free review copy of the book. I was under no obligation to provide a positive review.