Archives For Commentaries

Writing Commentaries as a Ministry

Greg Strand – September 26, 2013 Leave a comment

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 MinistryTabletalk 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.


Church History

Greg Strand – September 23, 2013 Leave a comment

A second volume of a new work on church history has recently been published completing the two-volume set. This set is one of the best treatments of church history now available. It should prove to be a standard for many years.

Everett Ferguson, Church History, Volume One: From Christ to Pre-Reformation: The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 2005), wrote the first volume. John D. Woodbridge and Frank A. James III, Church History, Volume 2: From Pre-Reformation to the Present Day: The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), have co-authored the second.

Volume Two is described as follows:

A companion to Everett Ferguson’s Church History: Volume One, which covered the history of Christianity from the Early Church through the Patristic Period and Middle Ages, this story picks up just prior to the Protestant Reformation and extends to the present day. The combined academic expertise of authors James and Woodbridge, their engaging writing style, and their broad ecumenical approach will secure the place of Church History, Volume Two in many undergraduate programs, Bible colleges, and seminary classrooms.

When asked about Volume One written by Ferguson, Woodbridge notes two strengths:

First, it is genuinely comprehensive in coverage – much more than many other texts. Second, Dr. Ferguson’s expertise is poured into the text. Dr. Ferguson is one of the best Patristic scholars in the United States. The context of his volume reflect first-rate scholarship. . . . I believe Church History, Volume One is one of the best texts available in the English language.

When Volume Two was released, Woodbridge and James were interviewed about this new textbook. One of the questions addressed the uniqueness of this book over against other church history texts that cover the same period. In reply, Woodbridge notes four key traits (which I summarize in their main points).

First, Dr. James and I included various interpretations of different topics.

Second, Dr. James and I placed a premium upon writing clearly and in an interesting manner.

Third, Dr. James and I emphasized the relationship that exists between social, economic and political factors and the history of the Christian churches and doctrine. Readers should gain a good understanding of the historical contexts in which doctrine and church life has developed. At the same time, our study does not squeeze the divine out of causative factors that impacted the history of the Christian churches.

Fourth, Dr. James and I included the treatment of many subjects that are not covered in other texts.

James’ response includes the following distinguishing features not found in other evangelical writings.

First . . . to provide an honest engagement with the facts of history as best we can determine whether those facts comport with personal convictions or not.

Second, this volume endeavors to provide a global perspective.

Third, we intend this volume to be contemporary and relevant to the church today.

Fourth, we have not avoided the controversial issues of the past or the present.

Fifth, we are keenly aware that church history like all history, is culturally conditioned.

Sixth, we have written this volume with a special sensitivity to the evangelical world, which is our primary audience.

Finally, we have embraced a broad ecumenical stance; that is to say, we have endeavored to be respectful of all Christian traditions and indeed, to give a thoughtful and faithful treatment to other religions.

One of the significant differences is that most church history books are written by a single author and are limited to that author’s expertise. These two volumes expand this by including three authors that include a broader spectrum of expertise. The interviewer notes that this two-volume work

brings deep seated academic expertise to virtually the entire range of church history – Ferguson on early church and middle ages, James on late medieval and reformation, Woodbridge on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and both James and Woodbridge on contemporary American and global Christianity. Furthermore, all three authors are not just historians who understand the social and political dynamics, but practicing theologians as well who understand the power of religious ideas.

Woodbridge states that this book is designed to be used “as a textbook in colleges, Bible schools, and seminaries throughout the world.” But he also is hopeful, prayerful, that this book will also be included in every church. He writes,

It is an amazingly up-to-date, almost encyclopedic resource for the study of the history of the Christian churches. If its reputation grows, I would think that pastors will want to purchase it and recommend it to members of their congregations as a resource and an inspiring read concerning God’s amazing grace to humankind.

When asked about the importance of church history for students, pastors and all Christians, Woodbridge gives an extended response summarized in this way:

Not to know church history is to lapse into a kind of cultural amnesia. Moreover, we rob ourselves of a rich source of guidance and inspiration to help us live more informed and fruitful lives in our won day. Church history, stuffy and irrelevant? By no means!

The contents of the book:

  1. European Christianity in an Age of Adversity, Renaissance and Discover ( 1300 – 1500)
  2. The Renaissance and the Christian Faith
  3. Luther’s Reformation: A Conscience Unbound
  4. The Swiss Reformations: The Maturation of International Calvinism (16th Century)
  5. Radicals and Rome: Responses to the Magisterial Reformation (16th Century)
  6. Reformations in England: The Politics of Reform (16th Century)
  7. Refining the Reformation: Theological Currents in the Seventeenth Century
  8. Christianity in an Age of Fear, Crisis and Exploration (17th Century)
  9. Christianity and the Question of Authority (17th Century)
  10. Christianity under Duress: The Age of Lights (1680 – 1789)
  11. Christianity in the Age of Lights (1): The British Isles (1680 – 1789)
  12. Christianity in the Age of Lights (2): The Kingdom of France (1680 – 1789)
  13. Christianity in the Age of Lights (3): The Continent of Europe (1680 – 1789)
  14. Christianity in an Age of Revolutions (1770 – 1848)
  15. Adjusting to Modernization and Secularism: The Rise of Protestant Liberalism (1799 – 1919)
  16. Nineteenth-Century Christianity in the British Isles: Renewal, Missions and the Crisis of Faith
  17. The Christian Churches on the European Continent (1814 – 1914)
  18. Global Christianity: A Re-Centered Faith (20th and 21st Centuries)
  19. Modern Theological Trajectories: Spiraling into the Third Millennium (20th and 21st Centuries)
  20. Catholicism and Orthodoxy: Collision to Collegiality (20th and 21st Centuries)
  21. Contemporary American Evangelicalism: Permutations and Progressions (20th and 21st Centuries)
  22. Christianity and Islam: The Challenge of the Future (21st Century)

I give a strong recommendation to this book. I would recommend that all pastors purchase both volumes and read them. I would also encourage them to purchase a set for the church library. These works are not only informational, they are also edifying as you learn of the providence of God worked out in history in the midst of a fallen world.

I have great respect for Dr. Woodbridge, as a scholar, a fellow churchman and a friend. Everything I read that he has written results in being encouraged, edified and challenged to live more committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ, for God’s glory and the good of His people. Reading this book is more of the same!

Understanding and Preaching Daniel

Greg Strand – April 5, 2013 2 Comments

Continuing the focus on the Old Testament Scriptures and understanding, teaching and preaching those Scriptures as a Christian, i.e. its unity as one Book, the Scriptures, with its fulfillment in the Lord Jesus Christ, we look at a new commentary on Daniel.

Sidney Greidanus, professor emeritus of preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, MI, is the author of the Foundations for Expository Sermons series published by Eerdmans. Greidanus’ book Preaching Christ from Daniel is the most recent in this excellent series, and he was recently interviewed about understanding and preaching Daniel.

In response to the question about “common evangelical oversights or misunderstandings related to Daniel,” Greidanus noted that the major problem historically has been to apply the text specifically to a dating of the end of the world, and the most common contemporary problem is moralizing that is often divorced from the author’s intent in the text.

Historically, a major misunderstanding has been using Daniel’s apocalyptic chapters to predict the end of the world. . . . But the main evangelical misunderstanding today is that Daniel presents a series of moral tales. Even good evangelical commentaries nudge pastors into making moralizing applications. . . . Moralizing can spin the application in almost any direction. Although these applications aren’t necessarily unbiblical in themselves, they fail to respect the specific genre of the redemptive-historical narrative as well as the goal (purpose/intention) of the inspired biblical author.

Greidanus believes the primary theme of Daniel is God’s sovereign plan being worked out in history to establish His kingdom and Daniel’s chief goal is to comfort and encourage God’s people.

Daniel’s primary theme, then, is this: Our sovereign God controls events in this world, judging and protecting individuals as well as world empires, until He establishes His perfect kingdom on earth (cf. Dan. 2:44; 7:13-14, 27). Since Daniel originally addressed his messages to Israelites suffering exile in Babylon, his chief goal was to comfort and encourage God’s people with the news that, despite appearances to the contrary, God was still in control.

Greidanus’ definition of preaching Christ:

I define preaching Christ as “preaching sermons which authentically integrate the message of the text with the climax of God’s revelation in the person, work, and/or teaching of Jesus Christ as revealed in the New Testament.”

Regarding other themes in the book of Daniel, Greidanus lists six:

  1. the sovereign Lord guiding his faithful people, even in exile (Dan. 1; cf. Joseph in exile in Egypt);
  2. delivering his faithful children (Dan. 3, 6);
  3. giving earthly kingdoms to whomever he wills (Dan. 4, 5);
  4. in the end replacing all human kingdoms with his everlasting kingdom (Dan. 2, 7, 9);
  5. ultimately raising his people from the dead, exalting them in his kingdom (Dan. 10:1-12:4);
  6. and promising everlasting life to his people who persevere to the end (Dan. 12:5-13).

Some themes highlight the growing messianic expectation in the Old Testament.

Several themes especially reinforce the growing messianic expectation in the Old Testament. These include belief that the sovereign Lord will in the end replace all human kingdoms with his everlasting kingdom (Dan. 2, 7, 9) and give his kingdom to a divine son of man (Dan. 7:13-14) and to his people (Dan. 7:27) whom he will raise from the dead, exalting them and giving them everlasting life (Dan. 12:2-3).

Other books in the Foundations for Expository Sermons series are the following:

Preaching Christ from Genesis (2007)
Preaching Christ from Ecclesiastes (2010)
Preaching Christ from Daniel (2012)

Prior to these homiletical/expository commentaries, Greidanus laid the foundation for these works by writing these two important texts:

The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text: Interpreting and Preaching Biblical Literature (1989)
Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method (1999)

Greidanus has undertaken a great ministry/service to Christian preachers of the Word of God. I would encourage you to avail yourselves of these good works.

This is an interesting series of events, one that has led to a result that I have not seen previously.

Carl Trueman reviewed the book by G. R. Evans, The Roots of the Reformation: Tradition, Emergence, and Rupture (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2012). His review was appropriately critical in light of the many historical inaccuracies and some careless nuances of more complicated historical matters. Trueman concluded that though this book was intended to be used as a textbook, he could not recommend its use as a textbook. Read Trueman’s review.

It was a sufficient enough critique that IVP has pulled it from circulation, is in the process of updating the historical inaccuracies, and will publish it as a second edition this fall. Read the letter from IVP here.

Thabiti Anyabwile and Trueman have had a number of friendly exchanges over the past year about major conferences and celebrity pastors. When Anyabwile heard of this, he titles his post “That Makes Trueman (No First Name Needed) the Most Powerful Celebrity Pastor in the Western World” and refers to him as the “brother [who] has brought a heavyweight Evangelical publisher to their knees with an apology and a retraction of a new book on the Reformation.” He acknowledges it is in fun, but he does express gratitude for Trueman’s gifts and for the integrity and humility of IVP’s editors to make it right.

I confess that reading Trueman’s review makes one fearful about writing anything for public reading! Who has that kind of expertise in anything!

A Classic: Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible
—comments by Greg Strand, EFCA Director of Biblical Theology and Credentialing

Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible is a classic. It has been used profitably by many since the time it was written. What he accomplished is incredible. In the first installment, the Pentateuch, Henry began with a preface, written on October 2, 1706. In it he spells out six principles. In his final principle, Henry emphasizes the important role of ministers to assist and guide believers in the understanding of the Bible.

I include a quote from Spurgeon on his assessment of the importance of Henry’s Commentary. I also include a link to Henry’s complete Commentary.

Though it is most my concern, that I be able to give a good account to God and my own conscience, yet, perhaps, it will be expected that I give the world also some account of this bold undertaking; which I shall endeavour to do with all plainness, and as one who believes, that if men must be reckoned with in the great day, for every vain and idle word they speak, much more for every vain and idle line they write. And it may be of use, in the first place, to lay down those great and sacred principles which I go upon, and am governed by, in this endeavour to explain and improve these portions of holy writ; which endeavour I humbly offer to the service of those (and to those only I expect it will be acceptable) who agree with me in these six principles:

  1. That religion is the one thing useful; and to know, and love, and fear God our Maker, and in all the instances both of devout affection, and of good conversation, to keep his commandments, (Eccles. 12:13) is, without doubt, the whole of man; it is all in all to him.
  2. That divine revelation is necessary to true religion, to the being and support of it. That faith without which it is impossible to please God, cannot come to any perfection by seeing the works of God, but it must come by hearing the word of God, Rom. 10:17.
  3. That divine revelation is not now to be found nor expected any where but in the scriptures of the Old and New Testament; and there it is
  4. That the scriptures of the Old and New Testament were purposely designed for our learning.
  5. That the holy scriptures were not only designed for our learning, but are the settled standing rule of our faith and practice, by which we must be governed now and judged shortly: it is not only a book of general use (so the writings of good and wise men may be), but it is of sovereign and commanding authority, the statute-book of God’s kingdom, which our oath of allegiance to him, as our supreme Lord, binds us to the observance of.
  6. That therefore it is the duty of all Christians diligently to search the scriptures, and it is the office of ministers to guide and assist them therein.
  7. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1991), ix-x.

C. H. Spurgeon, Commenting and Commentaries (1876; repr. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1969), 2-3, wrote the following about Henry’s work:

He is the most pious and pithy, sound and sensible, suggestive and sober, terse and trustworthy. You will find him to be glittering with metaphors, rich in analogies, overflowing will illustrations, superabundant in reflections… Every minister ought to read Matthew Henry entirely and carefully through once at least.

By the way, the full text of Henry’s work is available at Christian Classics Ethereal Library: