Douglas J. Moo, Kenneth T. Wessner Professor of New Testament, Wheaton, and former professor of New Testament at TEDS, has written about twelve commentaries. The most recent being his commentary on Galatians (BECNT) due out this November. Moo has used this gift to serve both the academy and the church.
Recently Moo wrote a brief article on “Commentaries as a Ministry” Tabletalk 37/6 (June 2013). Though he loves writing commentaries and considers it a great privilege that this task is one of the responsibilities of his job/ministry, there is a much more significant reason why he gives himself to this discipline:
I write them because I am convinced that, as flawed as they are, they help God’s people understand God’s Word and teach and preach it faithfully. The Christian faith, while centered on the Living Word, Jesus Christ, is defined by the written Word, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. God addresses His people through these writings. When we read or hear Scripture, we read or hear God speaking to us. His words, however, come to us in the form of human words. Scripture is the product of what theologians call “concurrence”: God and human beings together producing the words of life. Good commentaries help people grapple with God’s Word as this fully divine yet fully human product.
Moo reminds readers that commentaries illuminate the human element of the Scriptures. Those human writers God used to record His divine word wrote in their own unique style, from within their own context. Different than translations which use a single word or short phrase, commentaries can explain words or phrases in a paragraph or page. However, good commentaries are not content with only the human element. There is, importantly, a divine element to God’s Word as well, which encompasses not only the specific details but also the big picture of the whole Bible. Moo highlights this truth:
Ultimately, however, a commentary that fails fully to engage both the divine and the human side of Scripture cannot do justice to Scripture—simply because it is, indeed, a divine-human product. The best commentaries, therefore, move from explanation of the linguistic and historical dimensions of the text to engagement with its theological message. We must understand the ancient context in which the Bible was written to appreciate fully its meaning. But we also have to hear the Bible as a Word from God addressed to His people today. Good commentators, therefore, not only explain the ancient situation of the text but the meaning of the text today. To do this well, the commentator must especially be keen to set any particular text in the context of all of Scripture. We call the Scriptures “the Bible” (singular) because the church sees these sixty-six books as ultimately a single book with God as its author. Commentaries usually explain how a particular verse or paragraph fits within the message of the Bible as a whole.
Commentaries, notes Moo, are important for the church, not only the academy. For those of us who use commentaries Moo concludes by giving four responses to the question, “which commentaries should we use?”
First, use more than one. The very best commentator who has ever written made all kinds of mistakes. Comparing commentaries reveals these errors.
Second, use commentaries from different times and cultures. John Chrysostom in the ancient church and John Calvin at the time of the Reformation still have a lot to teach us. And we are blessed to live in a time when more and more commentaries are being written by scholars from different parts of the world. Reading commentaries distant from us in time or culture can help reveal our own biases.
Third, read commentaries from different theological traditions. We may not agree with everything such commentators say, but they help us think better about the text and why we believe what we do about it.
Finally, use different levels of commentaries. Commentaries vary from massive scholarly tomes that require a lot of dedication to plow through to brief, often superficial reflections on the text. Our tendency is to be content to read the easy ones. But it is good to challenge ourselves sometimes with more detailed commentaries. It pays rich dividends in getting us to think more deeply about Scripture.
What Moo has helpfully and rightly written reminds me of how John Stott described the appropriate manner in which we ought to approach the Word of God. Because it is a word written by men, we approach it with all of our faculties, seeking to determine the historical, cultural, literary and theological setting and significance. But because it is a word of/from God, we approach it humbly on our knees. This approach includes both head and heart, faith seeking understanding.
We are thankful that God has gifted Douglas Moo to serve pastors, professors, the church and the academy through the writing of commentaries.