ActsWritten by Eckhard J. Schnabel Reviewed By Benjamin R. Wilson
The Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the NT Series (ZECNT) is designed to provide pastors and bible teachers with a clear exposition of the Greek text of the NT, illuminating the main message of the biblical authors in a format that is easy to read and readily transferable into Bible lessons and sermons. Eckhard Schnabel's volume on the book of Acts admirably attends to the aims of the ZECNT series, and as such the work is sure to be a valuable resource for those seeking to preach and teach through the text of Acts.
The commentary begins with an introductory section in which Schnabel addresses standard issues pertaining to the authorship, dating, genre, historicity, and purpose of the book of Acts. Schnabel approaches such matters from a conservative-evangelical perspective, favoring an early date for the work (some time shortly after AD 62) and affirming the historical reliability of Luke's second volume. This introductory section closes with a chronology of early Christian history, an outline of the book of Acts, and a select bibliography.
Following the introduction, the commentary adopts a consistent structure as it proceeds through the text of Acts. A discussion of the literary context of each new passage is followed by a concise statement of the main idea of the passage. Then the translation of the passage is set within a graphical layout intended to reflect the grammatical and conceptual development of the unit of Scripture. Independent clauses are emboldened, subordinate clauses are indented, and interpretive labels are placed in the left margin to identify how each part of the passage contributes to the flow of thought. Following the graphical layout, Schnabel briefly discusses the structure of the passage and offers a detailed outline. The commentary then proceeds with a verse-by-verse exposition of the text, followed by a brief section entitled “Theology in Application,” in which Schnabel addresses the implications of the passage for the faith and practice of the contemporary church. “In Depth” sections appear within the verse-by-verse exposition of the commentary and offer useful topical discussions arising from the passage at hand. The clear and consistent format of the commentary makes Schnabel's work very accessible, and the author's prose is quite readable and devoid of technical jargon. The commentary concludes with a short section on the theology of Acts, and the work also includes indices for Scripture, ancient literature, subjects, and authors.
The graphical layout of each passage is perhaps the single most distinctive feature of the ZECNT series. This element of the commentary is intended to help readers visualize the flow of thought in the text, and this innovative approach is an improvement over a block text format for translations. Still, aspects of the graphical layout are puzzling. For example, the translation and shading of conjunctions throughout the commentary seems arbitrary. Some conjunctions from the Greek text are left out of the English translation (e.g., μὲν οὖν in Acts 1:6, 18; 2:41; 5:41; etc.). Other conjunctions are translated and shaded inconsistently in certain passages (e.g., καί in 1:13-14). At other points, the English translation adds a conjunction where none is present and shades the conjunction grey, giving the impression that it carries some special function in the text (e.g., “and” in 8:4; 23:17-18). Schnabel's translation and usage of conjunctions is certainly defensible, yet the shading of the text could potentially be misleading, and Schnabel does not provide much explanation for his translation decisions.
Indeed, even where the text is rather difficult and adaptable (e.g., 10:36; 13:27), Schnabel does not comment upon the Greek text, and his translation occasionally obscures features of the text that are readily apparent in the Greek (e.g., the repetition of ἀρνέομαι in Acts 3:13-14). Moreover, at times the graphical layout of the passage does not conform to the corresponding analysis in the commentary. In the verse-by-verse exposition on Acts 3:13-15, for instance, Schnabel identifies a chiasm contrasting divine and human action in the death and resurrection of Jesus (p. 205). The graphical layout of the passage does not reflect this chiasm because the chiasm is conceptual rather than grammatical, and the graphical layout generally follows the grammatical structure of the passage. On the other hand, at 3:9-10, the graphical layout does not match the grammatical structure of the Greek text, as two independent clauses are translated and formatted as though the first clause is a subordinate temporal clause. Here conceptual rather than grammatical factors have apparently determined the formatting and translation of the passage.
Thus, Schnabel is not always consistent in his translation, graphical layout, and verse-by-verse exposition, even within a single passage, as the above examples demonstrate. Printing a graphical layout of the Greek text rather than the English translation would address some of these concerns, but then the commentary would be less accessible for its target audience. On the whole, the graphical layout of the translation is a helpful innovation, yet readers of the commentary should critically evaluate the formatting and translation of each passage for themselves.
Critical scholarship informs Schnabel's analysis, yet the focus of the commentary is certainly upon Schnabel's understanding of the main message of the biblical author. Schnabel only occasionally interacts with the history of scholarship on Acts and spends little space arguing in support of his interpretations, though the preface mentions that the electronic version of this commentary contains more extensive interaction with alternative viewpoints. For the most part, readers of the print version of Schnabel's commentary are expected to take the author at his word. This is not necessarily a deficiency, for Schnabel's selectivity in scholarly engagement allows the commentary to convey a good sense of the pace and progression of the narrative in Acts.
Schnabel's interpretation of Acts is generally sensible and defensible, and pastors and Bible teachers are likely to appreciate the way in which the commentary offers helpful insights into the text of Acts without becoming bogged down in lengthy exegetical debates. A comparable work would be David Peterson's commentary on Acts for the Pillar NT Commentary Series. In fact, whereas Peterson's work is especially helpful for its literary and theological engagement, Schnabel's volume provides a wealth of historical insights that enrich one's reading of Acts. The two commentaries would therefore complement each other nicely on the desks of preachers and teachers in the church as they interpret and teach the text of Acts for their congregations.
Benjamin R. Wilson
Benjamin R. Wilson
Moody Bible Institute
Chicago, Illinois, USA
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