HebrewsWritten by David L. Allen Reviewed By Barry Joslin
David L. Allen, dean of the School of Theology, professor of preaching, and director of the Center of Biblical preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth Texas, brings decades of study, teaching, and (especially) preaching to this recent contribution to the New American Commentary series. This volume is directed at those who preach and teach Hebrews; it purposes to help students, pastors, and professors, being written on an accessible level, while maintaining sufficient academic depth. At almost 700 pages, it is one of the more substantial recent contributions to this area of NT studies, and at over 3,380 footnotes, one could never accuse Allen of being light on research. Readers of this volume, as well as his Lukan Authorship of Hebrews (B&H, 2010), are rewarded with copious notes and detailed research. For that reason alone it will prove to be a helpful contribution to pastors and students alike.
Allen begins with a lengthy introduction. A substantial introduction is a welcomed departure from other volumes in the NAC series, with Allen’s introduction extending over seventy pages. (On a side note, why is the table of contents virtually nonexistent?) For those who have followed Allen’s research, it will be of no surprise to discover that the largest section of the introduction is given to matters of authorship, with a Lukan proposal taking up the lion’s share of the pages. Other matters of introduction include the letter’s recipients (perhaps converted Jewish priests), their location (Antioch?), date (pre-70), the purpose and theology of Hebrews, use of the OT (for an example, see pp. 204ff.), and the structure of Hebrews. Concerning the latter, Allen argues for a tripartite division that closely resembles Nauck and others (with a special emphasis on the exhortation of 10:19–13:21), and he suggests that each major section develops a particular aspect of this schema: Son in 1:5–4:13; High Priest in 4:14–10:18; and King in 10:19–13:21 (p. 11).
For Allen, Hebrews is a pastoral, sermonic letter that is essentially a christological interpretation of Ps 110:1, 4 (p. 12). The balance of OT texts in Hebrews are cited in support of these two OT texts. Allen summarizes, “Hebrews is about Jesus the Son who became our High Priest and then became king when he sat upon the throne of God in fulfillment of Ps 110:1, 4” (p. 11). Other than the proposal of Lukan authorship, one will not find new discoveries concerning introductory matters, but one does find a helpful synthesis of the major contributions relating to the central matters of introduction. As such, it is a helpful summary and resource.
Throughout the commentary Allen follows a helpful yet simple pattern. Each section is discussed in a verse-by-verse format, with a copious amount of detailed research in the footnotes, and concludes with a section on theological implications. For example, after discussing the prologue of Hebrews, the section on theological implications stretches over twenty pages. Not all such sections are as lengthy (some are a single page), but the theologically minded reader will appreciate Allen’s approach, namely, that exegesis drives theology. To be sure, readers may find themselves in disagreement with some of the theological conclusions at times. Such is to be expected.
Turning to matters of theology, one significant example must suffice. Allen’s approach is seen in how he deals with the warning passage of chapter 6. Given the volume of writing and interest in 6:4–8, it comes as no surprise that nearly fifty pages are dedicated to its interpretation and theology (pp. 344–93; cf. 10–11). Allen himself notes the importance of these verses when he writes, “Because so much of the interpretation of the warning passages as well as the entire epistle hinges on this paragraph, considerable attention to its exegetical, historical and theological aspects is mandated” (p. 344). Allen takes a nine step approach to this paragraph, succinctly explains the major interpretive options, and in the end argues that these verses are directed towards believers who will lose their eschatological rewards (pp. 383–86). However one views this passage, Allen’s commentary will prove beneficial by clearly summarizing the main interpretive voices. In other words, one need not agree with Allen in order to be served by his research. By contrast, the discussion of 10:26–31 is brief (pp. 520–27). There Allen concludes that the OT background is not soteriological (p. 524). He avers, “The warning passages are not addressing the danger of apostasy. They address the danger of willful disobedience to God on the part of a genuine believer and the serious consequences to that disobedience” (p. 537).
Many excellent commentaries do not attempt to strike such a balance between exegesis and theology. Some focus more on interpreting Hebrews within its historical milieu (such as Attridge); others are more focused on technical matters (such as Ellingworth and Moffatt); others have more of a non-technical pastoral bent to them (such as G. Guthrie and R. Phillips); and others focus on matters of theology and history (such as P. E. Hughes). F. F. Bruce’s 1990 revision was a boon for the theological interpreter, but given the amount of research and theological development within Hebrews’ studies over recent decades, Allen’s work builds upon and in many ways surpasses of Bruce. Further, while being similar in length to the recent and excellent verse-by-verse commentary of O’Brien (Pillar), Allen’s work may prove more advantageous to the pastor and theological student due to its theological focus. (O’Brien notes that he is saving his discussion of Hebrews’ theology for a separate volume [see his Hebrews, p. xiv].) The theologically-minded pastor, student, and layperson will find Allen’s work to be quite beneficial, and it deserves to find its way into the hands of anyone studying the Epistle to the Hebrews.
To be sure, linguists may say it is not linguistic enough; grammarians may say it is not grammatical enough; and theologians may say it is not theological enough. However, no single volume can be all things to everyone. Allen does not attempt to break much new ground in this commentary, and this reviewer asserts that is a good thing. It stands in the stream of commentaries by Bruce and O’Brien and is a highlight in the NAC series. For the pastor, teacher, and serious Bible student, Allen’s commentary will prove itself to be a thorough, clearly-written, and well-researched asset as they study, teach, and preach this “word of exhortation.”
Boyce College of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Louisville, Kentucky, USA
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