Biblical studies: October 2006 Archives

Commentaries on Numbers

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This is part of a larger project reviewing commentaries on each book of the Bible. Follow the links from that post for more information on the series, including explanations of what I mean by some of the terms and abbreviations in this post.

Timothy Ashley's NICOT (1993) is an excellent commentary by a fairly conservative evangelical. It has more detail than some of the older commentaries in this series (e.g. Wenham on Leviticus, Craigie on Deuteronomy), though not quite as much as some of the massive two-volume works in the series (such as Waltke on Proverbs, Block on Ezekiel, or Hamilton on Genesis). I have read this commentary in its entirety, and I enjoyed it very much. The most unfortunate thing about it is that it was published just after Milgrom's JPS commentary (see immediately below) came out. Ashley had access to Milgrom's published papers on Numbers but not the commentary itself. He had enough time after its publication to mention his regrets about this in the introduction but not enough time for it to affect the body of the work. Still, Ashley handles well the historical, theological, and linguistic issues that arise in this book. He tends to avoid authorship issues but treats the book as a unity.

The NAC by R. Dennis Cole (2000) is more recent than Ashley's, but I've heard more mixed reviews. Cole interacts with the scholarship a little more than some volumes in this series, giving plenty of citations of other authors. He argues that Moses is largely responsible for the book. Cole has received favorable comments from reviewers on his handling of theological issues and his analysis of the unified structure of Numbers despite the variety of material in the book. Some of his critics find him somewhat less helpful in biblical theology and narrative criticism. He sometimes spends time on literary observations without making any connection to the interpretation of the book or its theology. Some reviewers consider Cole a better first-choice evangelical commentary than Ashley. Cole does have some stronger points than Ashley, but Ashley is a bit more detailed (although some might prefer a little less detail). What clinches it for me is that I haven't seen the kinds of complaints about Ashley that I've seen about Cole, and thus Ashley gets the nod for my first choice.

For those who pay attention to my recommendations for commentaries on biblical books, I have been updating my list of recommendations over the last month. I'd almost finished several weeks ago up through I Corinthians in my advanced commentaries list. A discussion on another blog reminded me to finish that list, which I finally did earlier today. I've also updated my recommended forthcoming commentaries list from that series (as opposed to my more comprehensive forthcoming commentaries list, which I have been updating regularly) to take into account the much larger information base I now have, to remove commentaries that have been published, and to add indications of what level of detail I expect each forthcoming commentary in the list to be. I've also added in links to each post from the first one, so you don't have to scroll to the bottom of each post to get to the next one.

I am in the process of working on an entry on Numbers to my series of posts of more in-depth reviews of commentaries on each book of the Bible. My congregation is about to finish our sermon series on I Peter this Sunday, and I'm expecting to do that after Numbers.

Linda Belleville's II Corinthians commentary in the IVP New Testament Commentary series is one of the best of the briefer treatements of this important but often underemphasized letter. I would say that the only close rival at this level of detail is Scott Hafemann's NIVAC, which has the advantage of being a little later (and thus could benefit from Belleville's work and the scholarship since) and with more emphasis on applicational issues, whereas Belleville has a little more focus on the exegesis itself.

I like Belleville's approach for the most part. She seems to me to be much more balanced than some of the more detailed academic commentaries. She argues for Pauline authorship of the entire letter. She tends to favor seeing the letter as a unity, with some caution that certainty is impossible. She finds no absolutely convincing explanation about why the last few chapters seem very different, but she nonetheless does not take the differences to demonstrate their being taken from some other letter, and we should give the letter in its current form the benefit of the doubt in the absence of clear evidence. Overall, her exposition captures well the basic themes of this letter and how it ties in with I Corinthians and demonstrates both a familiarity with the literature on the epistle and an eye for how to interpret and apply its message in our contemporary setting.

Her goal seems to be to provide enough information from the best scholarship on the book to understand what Paul is up to in this letter without getting too bogged down in some of the more thorny problems. Sometimes she just refers to other scholarship when the details are tricky and the importance of the disagreement is less significant. She does give exegetical and text-critical notes at the bottom of the page, with a running exposition (not always verse by verse) taking up most of the space on most pages. It's hard to read both in order, however, since she does not use the notes at the bottom as footnotes. Since the commentary proper is not always verse-by-verse, it's difficult to figure out when to read the notes at the bottom. Other than that, the commentary does not seem like a scholarly reference work but feels like a book you can read.

For detailed scholarly work on this book on the level of the Greek text, try Murray J. Harris' NIGTC, and for a more detailed exegetical work without the detailed Greek I recommend the NAC by David Garland. But for this level of detail Belleville is excellent.

What is a Church?

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Mark Roberts is doing a series called What is a Church? Biblical Basics for Christian Community. I especially like the four posts he's written so far under the title "When a Church is not a Church?" These look at the Greek word usually translated as "church" in the New Testament, 'ekklesia', which means "assembly" or "gathering" (and not "called out ones", as many erroneously claim because of some bad arguments from etymology).

The fourth post in that series within the series raises a point very much worth emphasizing. It makes no sense to say that you're part of a gathering that you don't show up for. In a sense any Christian is a member of the gathering around the throne of God in heaven, but we also speak of ourselves as members of local congregations. The average congregation has about 60-70% of its membership regularly attending. Does it make sense to call the others members of a gathering that they don't ever gather with? Treating a church like an organization with a membership list does have this particularly unfortunate consequence, even if there are legal reasons (and perhaps other reasons) to do so.

There's lots of other good stuff in Mark's series, but that struck me as a pointed observation about this attitude about what the church is among a large enough population in contemporary evangelicalism.

Chronological Hermeneia

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As I've done with several other of my lists of commentary series, I've put together a chronological listing of the Hermeneia commentaries. For the canonical order and a brief review of the series, see here.



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