Category Archives: Commentary

Why Everything Matters by Philip G. Ryken

Why Everything MattersRyken, Philip G. Why Everything Matters: The Gospel in Ecclesiastes. Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2015. 160 pp. $14.99. Purchase at Westminster books for less or on Kindle.

Introduction

I reviewed Philip’s work King Solomon a few years ago and found it to be very informational and an excellent read. He currently serves as the President of Wheaton College. Before this, he was Senior Minister of the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He has written a number of books and commentaries as well as contributing to many more. You can find many of those here.

Summary

Divided into ten chapters over 141 pages of text, Dr. Ryken delves into arguably the most philosophical book found in the Bible. He begins by asking, and answering, the question, Why Bother? and then works his way through the text of Ecclesiastes.

Other chapters include a look at the ultimate quest and meaningful hedonism. He takes from the Puritan Thomas Boston with a chapter entitled The Crook in the Lot in which he seeks to answer the problem of personal pain and suffering.

The last chapter sums up the entire book as only the Holy Spirit could do. Ryken unpacks for us Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil,” in a chapter entitled The Final Analysis.

Review

For many the book of Ecclesiastes is one of those difficult books that we tend to shy away from while reading and studying Scripture. This is to our detriment since the Lord’s Holy Spirit saw fit to include it in the canon. Philip Ryken does a masterful job of unpacking the essence of this extremely important book found in the Old Testament.

Heavily footnoted, one can build a commentary and study library based on the footnotes alone. This also shows that Ryken is not leaning on his own understanding. Rather, he is seeking the thoughts of others who have gone before him. Personally, I find this more and more refreshing as I read and review books.

What is more, he shows how the entire book, chapter by chapter, points us to the necessity of faith in Christ. This, in turn, shows today’s reader not only the importance of the Old Testament, but its authority and practicality for the Christian today. Reading more like an exposition of the text, this work will serve both laymen and pastors at varying levels.

Recommendation

I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn more about Ecclesiastes. It will serve both the pastor in his study and the laymen in theirs. Reading Why Everything Matters and seeing how Ecclesiastes points us to Christ is a gift from Philip Ryken to the Christian church.

Reformation Commentary on Scripture VII Psalms 1-72 Edited by Herman J. Selderhuis

RCS Psalms 1-72Reformation Commentary on Scripture New Testament III – Luke. Edited by Beth Kreitzer. General Editor, Timothy George, Associate General Editor, Scott M. Manetsch. Downer’s Grove: IVP Academic, 2015. 566 pp. $50.00. Purchase at Westminster for less or on Kindle.

Introduction

I have reviewed a few other commentaries in this series. You can find those reviews here.

Herman J. Selderhuis is professor of church history and church polity at the Theological University Apeldoorn (Netherlands) and director of Refo500, the international platform for knowledge, expertise and ideas related to the sixteenth-century Reformation. He has written John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life and Calvin’s Theology of the Psalms.

Summary

The best way to summarize a commentary (more than simply saying this is a commentary on the first seventy-two Psalms) is to quote the summary on the back:

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:1-2, ESV)

The book of Psalms has been the subject of daily and nightly meditation throughout the history of the church, and has been a significant resource for Christian belief and practice, often serving as the church’s prayer book and hymnal. Like generations of Christians before them, the Protestant Reformers turned often to the book of Psalms, but they did so during a time of significant spiritual renewal, theological debate and ecclesiological reform.

In the Psalms the Reformers found comfort, guidance and wisdom from God that applied to their context as much as it did to David’s. As John Calvin explained, the Psalms demonstrate every emotion that people have experienced: “The Holy Spirit has presented in a living image all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the emotions with which human minds are often disturbed.” Moreover, as Martin Luther proclaimed, the Reformers also heard in the Psalms a resounding affirmation of the good news of Jesus Christ: “The Psalter ought to be a precious and beloved book because it promises Christ’s death and resurrection so clearly.”

In this volume, Herman Selderhuis guides readers through the diversity of Reformation commentary on the first half of the Psalter. Here are both familiar voices and lesser-known figures from a variety of theological traditions, including Lutherans, Reformed, Radicals, Anglicans and Roman Catholics, many of whose comments appear here for the first time in English. By drawing on a variety of resources—including commentaries, sermons, treatises and confessions—this volume will enable scholars to better understand the depth and breadth of Reformation commentary, provide resources for contemporary preachers, and aid all those who seek to meditate upon God’s Word day and night.

Review

I was beyond thrilled to receive this particular commentary for review. As a pastor, I am always looking for solid commentaries, especially in the Old Testament. After recently being completely disappointed in the NICOT Commentary on the Book of Psalms, I was a bit hesitant to even open this commentary. I’m glad I did eventually scan through this volume.

To be able to read the thoughts of those men who instigated and fought for the Reformation on what amounts to the greatest prayer book ever written is a gift to the church. I appreciated the pastoral reflections of Martin Bucer as well as the devotional style of Matthew Henry.

Perhaps the one negative is the wide availability of the likes of Calvin and Henry free online might steer the reader to the Internet. I personally own both Calvin and Henry in print and digital format and yet I find this style of the commentary to be extremely helpful. To be able to see their thoughts on various passages and the wide variety of applications one can draw from their perspectives is worth the cost of the book. This helps the one studying to not become so myopic in their study and application. It also opens up their imagination to the infinite applications that an infinite God has given us through His inspired Word.

(Thanks to Ethan, see comment below, for correcting an error on my part. Matthew Henry was not involved in the Reformation.)

Recommendation

If you enjoy Reformation history and theology or you are one who will use a commentary set, I highly recommend this series. It is both accessible and theologically rich. Particularly, this commentary on Psalms is of immense value as the Book of Psalms may be the most wide read book of the entire Bible.

Faith of Our Father by Dale Ralph Davis

Faith of our FathersDavis, Dale Ralph. Faith of Our Father: Expositions of Genesis 12-25. Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2015. 176 pp. $14.99. Purchase at Westminster for less.

Introduction

Dale Ralph Davis is Minister in Residence at First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, SC. He has written a number of books – most of which are commentaries or a compilation of sermons. You can find many of them here.

Summary

You can judge this book by it’s cover…or at least its title. This is a book of seventeen sermons preached by Rev. Davis on Sunday evenings at the First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, SC. These sermons look at the life of Abraham in the book of Genesis.

Review

One must always take into consideration the context of a book that is comprised of sermons by one pastor to a particular congregation. There is always going to be a foreign element to an outsider reading these sermons as they are often shaped by the congregation and her needs at the time. That being said, this book of Sunday evening sermons is an excellent introduction to the life of Abraham.

Rev. Davis offers practical application with his excellent exegesis as he he looks at the highlights of Abraham’s life.  While I personally felt some of his stories overshadowed the text, I did find them to be entertaining and, ultimately, helpful in bringing the main point he was striving after home to the reader.

Reading a chapter a day, Faith of Our Father, will serve as a devotional that is more meat and potatoes than it is sweets and desserts (as many devotionals are!).

Recommendation

This is one of those easy reads that will have a large impact on the reader for years to come. I recommend this book to anyone looking to better understand the importance of Abraham’s life for our lives today.

 

Joel & Obadiah by Iwan Rhys Jones

Joel and ObadiahJones, Rhys Iwan. Joel & Obadiah – Disaster and Deliverance. Scotland: Cross Focus Publications, 2015. 128 pp. $14.99. Purchase at Amazon for less.

Introduction

Iwan Rhys Jones is Director of Postgraduate Studies and Lecturer in Hebrew and Old Testament Studies at Wales Evangelical School of Theology in Bridgend, Wales. He also serves as an elder in his congregation.

The Focus on the Bible commentary series  “are popular level commentaries especially useful for pastors and small group leaders. They are useful for personal devotions and spiritual growth. Many of the authors of the commentaries are leading expositors of God’s Word on their speciality subjects. The series holds to the inerrancy of scripture and the uniqueness of Christ in salvation.”

Summary

Quite simply, this book is a commentary on the Old Testament books of Joel and Obadiah. As such, it is organized in chapter and verse format offering somewhat extensive introductions to both books.

From the back of the book:

Disaster and Deliverance, these two words sum up something of the message of both Joel and Obadiah. In Joel, the prophet begins by announcing a disaster in terms of a locust invasion, which has affected Judah. This, however, is but the pretext for warning of an even greater disaster on the horizon for Judah. Nevertheless, the prophet holds out the prospect of deliverance. In the case of Obadiah, the focus is on Edom. Edom’s pride and longstanding hostility against the people of God has led her to be party to an attack upon them, and as a result, she is threatened with disaster. The people of God, meanwhile, are assured of better things at the hand of the LORD.These two prophets and their message of disaster and deliverance will both challenge and reassure all who have ears to hear.

Review

This is a very readable commentary that is not dry nor insulting. There is much information to be gleaned from these books (as there is in all of the Bible!) that Jones does a phenomenal job of writing a commentary that offers an excellent introduction while also helping the reader to begin to plumb the depths of the riches of both.

This book can be used a simple commentary looking microscopically at the individual verses, but I believe there is something lost in using it only as such. The strength of this commentary is its devotional aspect. Jones tells the story with content and historical and theological insight lacking in many resource. He strikes a perfect balance of disaster and deliverance. Hence, the appropriate subtitle to the book.

As the name of the series is Focus on the Bible, you will want an open Bible next to you as you will want to know what the Word says and what Jones is saying about the Word. In the end, you will find that your focus will be entirely on the subject of the Bible…God.

Recommendation

If you are looking for a solid commentary that is both informational and not too academic, you will greatly appreciate Joel & Obadiah. If you are looking for an introductory academic commentary,  you will appreciate Joel & Obadiah. I highly commend this commentary to all Christians looking to engage the Bible with a more informed mind.

Introducing the Old Testament Books by Paul D. Weaver

Introducing the Old Testament BooksWeaver, Paul D. Introducing the Old Testament Books: A Thorough but Concise Introduction for Proper Interpretation. CreateSpace, 2015. 308 pp. $11.99. Purchase at Amazon or on Kindle for much less.

Introduction

Paul Weaver is the Director and Professor of Bible and Theology at the Word of Life Hungary Bible Institute as well as the the Associate Director of Word of Life Hungary Foundation. You can read more about him and support his missionary work at his webpage.

Summary

This is one of those books you can judge by its title. There are 39 chapters that introduce each individual book of the Bible. Each introduction includes a section for the title, the author,  who the original intended recipients were, the date and location of the writing, the purpose, and the central message.

Also included is a brief statement on the theology of the book as well as what archaeology has shown us regarding the historical nature of the book. Finally, each introduction concludes with a suggested outline of the book being considered.

Review

Quite honestly, I am impressed with the breadth and depth of these introduction. Weaver does not shy away from controversial aspects of the academic side of these introductions nor does he really seem to take a side so to speak. He simply presents the appropriate information needed to help the reader come to an informed view of the book of the OT they are studying.

Each chapter can easily be read in one sitting. This helps the reader to quickly ascertain the context of the book of the OT before they begin to read and study it. Obviously, this is only meant to be an introduction and is therefore limited by design. That being said, this is truly one of the nicer introductions to the books of the Old Testament I have read. It is neither too academic or too “dumbed-down” that it is over the head of the lay person or insulting to the pastor.

Recommendation

As far as introductions to the books of the Bible are concerned, there are many high profile names out there that written on the topic. Those books cost quite a bit more than Introducing the Old Testament Books. You can get quality information for a very inexpensive cost. I recommend this resource to all Christians and even pastors looking to better understand the world of the Old Testament one book at a time.

Commentary on Hebrews by Thomas R. Schreiner

Commentary on HebrewsBiblical Theology for Christian Proclamation – Commentary on Hebrews. Thomas R. Schreiner. General Editors, T. Desmond Alexander, Andreas J. Kostenberger, and Thomas R. Schreiner. Nashville, B&H Academic, 2015. 400 pp. $39.99. Purchase at Amazon for less.

Introduction

Thomas R. Schreiner is the James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation and Professor of Biblical Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY. He serves as Associated Dean of the School of Theology.

Dr. Schreiner joined the Southern faculty in 1997 after serving 11 years on the faculty at Bethel Theological Seminary. He also taught New Testament at Azusa Pacific University. Dr. Schreiner, a Pauline scholar, is the author or editor of several books and commentaries.

Introduction to the Series

The Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation Commentary series explores the theology of the Bible in considerable depth, spanning both Testaments. Authors come from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives, though all affirm the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture. United in their high view of Scripture, and in their belief in the underlying unity of Scripture, which is ultimately grounded in the unity of God himself, each author explores the contribution of a given book or group of books to the theology of Scripture as a whole. While conceived as stand-alone volumes, each volume thus also makes a contribution to the larger whole. All volumes provide a discussion of introductory matters, including the historical setting and the literary structure of a given book of Scripture. Also included is an exegetical treatment of all the relevant passages in succinct commentary-style format. The biblical theology approach of the series will also inform and play a role in the commentary proper. The commentator permits a discussion between the commentary proper and the biblical theology that it reflects by a series of cross-references.

The major contribution of each volume, however, is a thorough discussion of the most important themes of the biblical book in relation to the canon as a whole. This format allows each contributor to ground Biblical Theology, as is proper, in an appropriate appraisal of the relevant historical and literary features of a particular book in Scripture while at the same time focusing on its major theological contribution to the entire Christian canon in the context of the larger salvation-historical metanarrative of Scripture. Within this overall format, there will be room for each individual contributor to explore the major themes of his or her particular corpus in the way he or she sees most appropriate for the material under consideration.

This format, in itself, would already be a valuable contribution to Biblical Theology. But there are other series that try to accomplish a survey of the Bible’s theology as well. What distinguishes the present series is its orientation toward Christian proclamation. This is the Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation commentary series! As a result, the ultimate purpose of this set of volumes is not exclusively, or even primarily, academic. Rather, we seek to relate Biblical Theology to our own lives and to the life of the church. Our desire is to equip those in Christian ministry who are called by God to preach and teach the precious truths of Scripture to their congregations, both in North America and in a global context.

It is our hope and our prayer that the 40 volumes of this series, once completed, will bear witness to the unity in diversity of the canon of Scripture as they probe the individual contributions of each of its 66 books. The authors and editors are united in their desire that in so doing the series will magnify the name of Christ and bring glory to the triune God who revealed himself in Scripture so that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved—to the glory of God the Father and his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, under the illumination of the Holy Spirit, and for the good of his church. To God alone be the glory: soli Deo gloria.

Summary of this Commentary

In his volume on Hebrews, Thomas R. Schreiner says, “The words of Jesus on the cross, ‘it is finished’ (John 19:30) capture the theology of Hebrews.

“My aim in this commentary is to focus on the biblical theology of the letter. The emphasis on biblical theology shows up especially in the introduction and conclusion where theological structures and themes are considered. In the introduction I will examine four different structures that are woven into the entire letter: 1) promise/fulfillment; 2) eschatology; 3) typology; and 4) spatial orientation (which can also be described as the relationship between heaven and earth in the letter). The commentary will conclude, after presenting an exegesis of each chapter, with a discussion of some major theological themes in Hebrews.”

Review

As with any commentary, you have your front matter to the book of the Bible being considered (author, date of writing, genre, purpose, etc.). You also have your exposition of the text of the particular book. What sets this commentary apart is it emphasis on the biblical and theological themes found within the text. Furthermore, the Introduction looks at the book of Hebrews and where it fits in with the story line of the Bible as a whole.

The strength lies in the focus. Whereas other commentaries look at the books largely from a single unit perspective, Schreiner here strives, and succeeds, in showing how (negatively) the Bible would not be complete with the omission of the book of Hebrews. Positively, he shows how the book of Hebrews not only fits well in the Bible and largely explains how the Old Testament ought to be interpreted in light of Christ but how the book of Hebrews is necessary for our understanding of Christ.

Recommendation

What better commentary to begin a series on biblical theology than the book of Hebrews? Schreiner nails it with this commentary and whets the appetite for pastors and Christians devoted to studying the Word of God. If Schreiner writes it, it is worth reading. This commentary is no exception. I highly commend this to all Christians.

 

Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary Edited by Ronald F. Youngblood

Nelson's Illustrated Bible DictionaryNelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary: New and Enhanced Edition. Ronald F. Youngblood, General Editor. Consulting Editors, F.F. Bruce and R.K. Harrison. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2014. 1,280 pp. $49.99. Purchase at Amazon for less.

Introduction

The Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary was first published in 1986 with Herbert Lockyer , Sr. serving as the first general editor. This enormous resource was revised and updated in 1995 with R.K. Harrison serving as general editor and now again in 2014 with Ronald F. Youngblood as general editor. The reason for the massive update is so that Christian teachers, leaders, and laymen can have the “most current, dependable findings and insights” literally at their fingertips.

This is a fairly exhaustive Bible dictionary that can double as a teaching planning and resource guide.

Summary

With well over 1,200 pages this resource is full of information. The Table of Contents indicates one way in which this resource can be used first glean a solid and thorough overview of the Bible in merely the front matter! They begin with 5 easy steps to study the Bible better (perhaps the only criticism I have with this resource since it relies heavily on the resource as its selling point for this particular method of study). The editor then offers an approximate 40 page visual survey of the Bible complete with an introduction and overview. They next give a history of the early world and then move into a study on the history of Israel, the poetic books and the prophetic books.

Next they look at the remnant before jumping right into the life of Christ and the history of the early church in Acts. Staying with the Scripture they look at the epistles (1 Corinthians – Revelation) and then the themes of the individual letters of the New Testament. Finally, they close out the “front matter” with a chart of Bible history.

They then include a Table of Contents articles and teaching outlines on the books of the Bible according to canonical order. One will quickly note that these are not in numerical page order in the body of the book.  The body of the book is arranged in alphabetical order with a “Fan-Tab” clearly indicating the about where the reader is in the alphabet.

Review

Let me first say, “Whoa!” This is an amazing resource.  For only $50 (less on-line), one can have as complete a resource for general Bible study ever.  Everything, and I mean everything, is cross-referenced either to a text in Scripture or within the dictionary itself.

There are numerous outlines that are extremely helpful to arrange one’s thoughts and even kick into gear one’s thinking on a topic.  Hardly a page goes by without a full color photograph. Furthermore, they intentionally set the type at a large enough font that one does not have to strain at reading the text.

One example of how this works: let’s say you want to look up Job. So, you flip to the J’s and find Job. You will then see “JOB[jobe]” and some information on two men in the Old Testament. After that entry, in bold, offsetting font, you will see “JOB, BOOK OF-” followed by subheadings that give you its structure, authorship, date of writing, historical setting, theological contribution, and special considerations.

One can use this resource in a myriad of different ways.  It can serve as a Bible commentary (though it does not go into exegesis). It can serve as a supplement to Bible study. It can actually be used to design a Bible study. In the end, this resource easily becomes a “must-have” for any student of the Bible.

Recommendation

At $50, one may think this resource too expensive. As a pastor and teacher and father and husband, I honestly believe $50 is a steal of a deal.  Do not hesitate to purchase this resource as it will quickly become one of your primary resources in your theological library.

Reformation Commentary on Scripture New Testament IV – John 1-12 edited by Craig S. Farmer

RCS Vol. IVReformation Commentary on Scripture New Testament IV – John 1-12.  Timothy George, General Editor Farmer.  Craig S. Farmer, Editor.  Downer’s Grove: IVP Academic, 2014. 599 pp.  $50.00. Purchase at Amazon and on Kindle for less.

Introduction

I have reviewed another commentary in this series – Ezekiel and Daniel – and found it to be extremely informational.  Craig S. Farmer is associate professor of history and humanities and Joe O. and Mabel Stephens Chair of the Bible at Milligan College near Elizabethton, TN.

Summary

The “commentators” are adapted from the sermons and writings of 16th century preachers, scholars, and reformers.  They come from across all denominational stripes and seek to show the modern reader the rich heritage and the foundation from which

The editors seek to introduce readers to the depth and richness of the minds of the Reformation era. The four goals are, 1) enrichment of contemporary biblical interpretation through exposure to Reformation-era biblical exegesis, 2) a renewal of contemporary preaching and 3) a renewal of biblical interpretation through exposure to Reformation-era exegesis, and finally 4) a deeper understanding of the Reformation itself.

Review

This work is a treasure trove of information.  For example, John 3:16 has subheadings like “A Pledge of God’s Mercy to Those Who Fear God’s Wrath” by Caspar Cruciger, “Justification Originates in God’s Love” by Johannes Brenz, “God’s Universal and Particular Love” by Wolfgang Musculus and “No Greater Love” by Menno Simons.  In other words, one of the most oft-quoted verses today is shown to be understood quite a bit differently at the time of the Reformation.  Not that we are wrong to use it, but the application has not always been what it is now.

Further, this commentary is more than a commentary.  It includes biographical sketches of the people and their works during the time period.  It even includes a timeline of the Reformation which is invaluable as you seek to understand the context of when these sermons were preached or the books were written.  The timeline extends from 1337 to 1649 and includes the Reformers and the Puritans who continued the fight for the faith after the Reformers.

By reading this commentary, it can be read devotionally, the reader will glean much more insight into the thought processes of the Reformers and their adherents.  Farmer did a great job wading through the countless sermons found in the gospel of John and compiling an excellent representation of the thinking of the time.  In offering such a wide variety of authors, he introduces many new names to the plethora of common names from the time to today’s readers.

Recommendation

As I stated in the other review, $50 per book is a bit steep for most.  If, however, you seek to be a serious student of the history of the interpretation and application of the Word of God, especially as Protestants, this is an invaluable resource.  For pastors, I highly recommend this series as it will offer insight into your own understanding of the Word of God as you seek apply the timeless truths of God’s Word to your congregation today.