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St. Paul, MN
5 Stars Out Of 5
Truly a Must-Read Commentary
May 28, 2011
St. Paul, MN
Bible commentaries abound today. Scores of commentaries confront the would-be expositor of any book of the Bible, and almost nobody blinks at a new series of commentaries anymore. It goes without saying that the relative value of a given commentary is all over the map, and here perhaps more than anywhere else, a discerning eye is called for.
You guessed it, I'm getting ready for the "but you have to check out this new commentary series" line. But I really mean it. The new Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (ZECNT) series will live up to any amount of hype one can dig up. I've reviewed several commentaries, I own bits and pieces of a score of commentary sets, and have examined others besides, yet this series promises to be a true must-have, when it comes to exegetical commentaries.
Like many other students of Scripture, I've been schooled in Greek, but that was some time ago. I also aim to fix an opinion on any passage I plan to teach. But with the amount of scholarly material one must evaluate, the task can be a bit daunting. Opening a commentary for answers can lead to far more questions than originally conceived. And some commentators stand out for their pious, know-it-all approach to informing us of their thoughts on the subject.
In sharp contrast, Thomas Schreiner in his ZECNT commentary on Galatians, excels at making the task of studying and making judgments easy. He provides all the relevant arguments on a given question, both the pros and cons. He defends positions that he ultimately rejects, all in the effort of explaining what is at stake and how to best see the big picture in a given exegetical question.
The clarity and candor on display in Schreiner's work is complemented by the brilliant (can I use that term of a commentary?) ordering of material conceived by the ZECNT editors. After allowing for an in-depth introduction to set the stage for the book, each unit of the text is addressed in such a way as to best help the teacher or preacher work through the material of the Text and see connections to the overall outline of the book, catching the flow of the larger argument. Greek is used throughout but never in an over the top way. Almost universally, the Greek follows the English, and the effect is to draw one into the Greek arguments more easily, encouraging and promoting the revival of long-forgotten Greek exegetical skills.
Each section begins with a literary context of the unit and a tie in to the over-arching outline of the book. Then the main idea is summarized in a few sentences. The English translation of the text is next given in a special graphical layout which highlights the relationship between the various clauses and phrases which make up the text. Following this, the structure of the textual unit is discussed and a more detailed exegetical outline is provided for the text just before a detailed explanation of the text (with footnotes) is offered. Finally, a pastoral application section concludes the discussion on the passage at hand. Theology is thus applied to life in a masterful way, which will help guide the teacher and pastor to make appropriate and relevant applications from the exegetical study he undertakes.
At the end of the commentary the major themes of the book are discussed, giving an overview, or summary of all that Galatians has covered. This section is a miniature biblical theology in a sense, and will be of great value to those seeking a bigger picture view of the book, before they dive into the separate pieces.
Now on top of all the positive things I've mentioned up to this point, Zondervan is to be commended for choosing a competent and careful scholar to pick up his pen for the Galatians commentary. Thomas Schreiner has written books on the question of Paul's use of the Law, and on the more practical side of how the OT Law relates to Christians. He also is one who's publicly disputed the New Pauline Perspective, standing for a conservative, Reformed view of justification by faith and imputation. The expertise and faithfulness Schreiner has shown over the years makes him eminently qualified to write this book. And furthermore, his attitude and style in writing remains irenic, open and fair-minded, even when he stands forcefully against a contemporary exegetical trend.
The problem passages are many in Galatians, and Schreiner succeeds in navigating them well. I'm particularly impressed by how the book maintains a pastoral perspective throughout. I shouldn't be surprised, however, since Schreiner himself is a preaching pastor even as he fills the roles of professor of NT and associate dean of Scripture and interpretation for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. A fine combination of learning and grace exude from the man himself and this book.
I can't recommend the work more highly, and I'm now interested in checking out other titles of this exceedingly useful commentary series. If the Galatians volume is truly representative of the larger series, then the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament series is truly a must-have resource for the exegetically minded pastor and teacher.
Disclaimer: This book was provided by Zondervan (via Koinonia blog) for review. The reviewer was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.
Zondervan has initiated the Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (ZECNT) series designed to assist the preacher and teacher with practical help from evangelical scholars in better comprehending the underlying the Greek text without being overly technical or detailed. Each scripture passage includes the author's translation and is broken into the following sections with descriptions edited from "Series Introduction" (10-12):
Literary Content -- Concise discussion of how the passage functions in the broader literary context of the book.
Main Idea -- A one- or two-sentence statement of the big idea or central thrust of the passage.
Translation and Graphical Layout -- A graphical layout of the commentator's translation with the purpose of helping the reader visualize the flow of thought within the text.
Structure The flow of thought in the passage and explanation concerning certain interpretive decisions regarding the relationship of clauses.
Exegetical Outline -- Detailed exegetical outline of the overall structure.
Explanation of the Text -- Using the Greek text to interpret the meaning of the text with an effort to make the commentary as readable and useful as possible even for the nonspecialist.
Theology in Application -- The theological message of the passage is summarized in terms of its place in terms of the book and the broader biblical-theological context.
In Schreiner's introduction he presents the background material for the book leading with the arguments regarding the long-disputed recipients and date (South Galatia, pre-Jerusalem council; North Galatia, post-council). The arguments are given fair treatment on both sounds with an acknowledging that the theological understanding of the book will be based partially on the decision, but leaning toward the early, southern view. Following this, various views are given concerning the source of opposition coming on the church of Galatia. The epistle's date has bearing here as well, since the regions were variously affected by Jews, Romans, and other pagan influences. The book's structure and outline are presented last with no real surprises and form the remaining commentary's chapters with the divisions.
The given outline of Galatians is given in three major divisions with a fourth as summary. The first and fourth are as expected (1:1-2:21 and 6:11-18 respectively). The unique break came between divisions two and three with the latter beginning at 4:12 with the change of language from chastisement for being led astray to beseeching of fellow brethren. The argument for placing the break here seems sound.
The book clarifies how Galatians was written not only to demonstrate that justification is by faith, but that sanctification also comes through the same way. Works are unnecessary, and even counter-productive, for a right standing before God whether initially at salvation or anytime thereafter. Works are a result of grace, not the vehicle for gaining it.
Schreiner's conservative understanding of the text manifests itself in his complementarian handling of the relationship between men and women in 3:28. He does so gracefully by showing how "Paul affirms the oneness of males and females in Christ, but he does not claim that maleness and femaleness are irrelevant in every respect" and "the equality of men and women in Christ does not cancel out, in Paul's mind, the distinct roles of men and women in marriage_or in ministry contexts" (259).
I found the commentary to be enjoyable with several good thoughts, the graphical layout of the translation being a particularly useful feature. Those who use Logos software know the value of the sentence diagramming offered in the exegetical tools. The book uses less technical language for diagramming and is more readable. Though it claims to be directed to someone with some Greek training, I found the explanatory sections to be sufficient in overcoming any lack of training one might have. I wholeheartedly recommend this book for the library of anyone desiring to teach in the local church.