This will be an atypical review of an odd editorial choice. Anyone familiar with John Walton would find it questionable that he would be selected to write a commentary focused upon application, as the title of this series suggests. His theories of creation have been thoroughly discussed within the scholarly community, but for typical Bible readers, he is an acquired taste. And I don't know anyone who would describe his writing as practical. For him to have attempted such an endeavor is quite noble. But the results have been predictable, as evidenced by the wide range of reviews on this site.
I love this work. Walton is unique in insight and gifted in presentation. For me, this is a five star book.
But to ask him to focus on applicational opportunities is akin to forcing the round peg into the square hole. He gives it a go, but he is what/who he is. Those disappointed with his effort have unmet expectations based upon the stated purpose of the series. Hopefully the publishers have taken this to heart.
So, a five for the material and a one for meeting the expectations of the readers adds up to a three.
I've had this commentary on my shelf for about 9 years now. Of all the commentaries I use in sermon preparation and study of Genesis, this is frankly my least favorite and least helpful resource. Here's why:
1) The format is NOT user-friendly. If one is looking for a verse-by-verse exposition of Genesis, this commentary is not for you. That's because the NIVAC tries to be all things to all people with its "original meaning," "bridging contexts" and "contemporary significance" sections, and as a result ends up being weak on all three, especially original meaning. A pastor would be far better off going with the 2-volume New American Commentary on Genesis by Kenneth Matthews, along with "Creation & Blessing: A Guide to the Exposition of Genesis" by Allen P. Ross and "The Pentateuch as Narrative" by John Sailhamer.
2) Walton does NOT follow the text of Genesis very well. He's far too busy delving into ANE backgrounds and hypothesizing how he thinks ancients understood their world. Walton pushes his unique view that the seven days of Genesis 1 have nothing to do with the development of the material world (that happened long, long, long before). Rather, Genesis 1 describes the inauguration of the world as a fully-functioning "cosmic temple." So, for example, Genesis 1:9 is not about dry land appearing for the first time in the material world, but God causing the dry land that already existed to "function" as a room within His cosmic temple. This artificial dichotomy between the material and functional world continues at great length, often at the expense of getting to the point of the passage under review.
3) The endorsement by Billy Graham on the back cover was NOT for this commentary. It was for the NIVAC on Philippians by Frank Thielman whom Billy Graham has known since childhood. I point this out because I find it bothersome that the publisher would use snippets out of context to make buyers think this volume in the NIVAC is on equal footing with the likes of Wilson (Psalms), Bock (Luke) and Blomberg (1 Corinthians). It is not.
As a pastor, I have not found John Walton's commentary the "indispensible tool" it claims to be. Rather, it is a soapbox for novel interpretations that essentially reduces the book of Genesis to another form of ANE mythology. In my opinion, Walton's commentary on Genesis is a source of confusion that will not prove helpful or useful to most pastors and expositors.
I have Genesis commentaries by Wenham (WBC) and Hamilton (NICOT). Both are excellent. Walton provides much more information to help understand the Ancient Near Eastern Background of the book of Genesis. He provides sensible interpretations to some of the trickier portions of Genesis, particularly in the earlier chapters.
This is my first volume in this series, and I read it cover to cover. I found the "Original Meaning" sections EXTREMELY helpful. The "Bridging Contexts" sections were mixed, sometimes bringing out more significance of the original meaning, and for this reason, I'd recommend not skipping these sections. However, the "Contemporary Significance" section, while intelligently written, seemed quite remote from the text.
HOWEVER, because the Original Meaning and (often) the Bridging Contexts sections are so valuable, I recommend this commentary highly, even if you don't read the "Contemporary Significance" parts.
I thoroughly read this book and found it to be the most authoritative and well written research I have ever read on the ancient world of Genesis. John Walton brings that prehistoric world and its practices into focus revealing what people may have understood in that era, and thereby shining light on the significance of what God was doing - for example regarding the Tower of Babel. With my comfortable chair in the highly privileged western world, I am led on a pilgrimage into another time, far removed from what I could even consider until reading this. Many seem to prefer a Sunday School approach that simply relates to and highlights the wonderfully familiar stories of the patriarchs that my parents and teachers taught me in early childhood. I am grateful to those faithful ones who gave me a basic understanding, even though that led me to many questions about meanings and practices of those early times. This book is not for those who simply want comments and expansion on that with which they are already familiar. This one-of-a-kind book reveals significant research and findings that I would not otherwise have at my disposal. If it's a Sunday School commentary you want that simply expands upon your favorite characters and happenings, buy some of the other plentiful volumes out there. If you want a valuable journey into ancient realities that lie beyond anything we may have imagined, buy this priceless commentary and enjoy what is revealed through the sacred research of a true scholar.