Written by Ernest C. Lucas Reviewed By Wyatt Graham

As a biblical scholar and a former research biochemist, Ernest Lucas brings a unique perspective to his interpretation of Proverbs. This volume is part of The Two Horizons Commentary series, which features theological exegesis and theological reflection. This series aims to uncover the theological meaning of biblical books, and to reflect on relevant theological issues within the context of the canon of Scripture. Lucas’s commentary thus contributes to the burgeoning field of Theological Interpretation of Scripture.

This commentary divides into three parts: introduction, commentary, and the theological horizons of Proverbs. The introduction summarizes key topics concerning the book of Proverbs. These include defining wisdom, individual proverbs, the book’s structure, authorship, date, as well as defining the various literary forms that are found within the book of Proverbs. The introduction also covers ancient Near Eastern wisdom literature, the origin of Proverbs, and a discussion of texts and versions.

In the second part (commentary), Lucas exegetes the text of Proverbs. He conservatively interprets the text, focusing on grammatical and historical observations. His occasional discussion of individual proverbs in relation to the New Testament shows that his work also engages the book of Proverbs within the canon of Scripture. For example, Lucas draws a connection between Proverbs 4, which speaks of light and darkness, and the New Testament, which contrasts light with darkness (pp. 67–68).

The third part (theological horizons) is the core of Lucas’s work (pp. 199–382), and the section that specifically accomplishes the purpose of The Two Horizons series. This section discusses topics found within Proverbs. The topics are: (1) “acts and consequences in Proverbs,” (2) “characters in Proverbs,” (3) “family, friends, and neighbours in Proverbs,” (4) “God and Proverbs,” (5) “the personification of wisdom in Proverbs,” (6) “the spirituality of Proverbs,” (7) “wealth and poverty in Proverbs,” (8) “wisdom and Christology,” (9) “wisdom and creation,” and (10) “words in Proverbs and the New Testament.”

Lucas provides a thorough analysis of Proverbs, but his work contains certain weaknesses. For example, Lucas’s commentary (part two) tends to exclude pre-modern or early Christian readings of Proverbs. As an illustration, his discussion of Proverbs 8 does not cite early Christian texts, nor does he discuss the Christological implications of the text. In fact, Lucas seems critical of early Christian exegesis (p. 320). He discusses the theological debates surrounding Proverbs 8 later in his commentary (pp. 335–38), but it is more of a historical reflection on the reception history of Proverbs 8 than an engagement with early Christian interpretation of the chapter.

His non-reliance on early Christian interpretation is confirmed by the sources he uses. Within the commentary section (part two), he primarily cites other contemporary commentaries (e.g., Michael V. Fox, Proverbs 1–9: A New Translation, AB 18A [New York: Doubleday, 2000]; Proverbs 10–31: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, AB 18B [New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009]; William McKane, Proverbs: A Commentary, OTL [Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1970]) or dictionaries (e.g., NIDOTTE). For a self-consciously theological commentary, it seems odd that Lucas relies so much on contemporary exegetical and theological sources. Because he excludes pre-modern exegesis and theological judgments, his commentary lacks important theological voices.  

Lucas nevertheless skillfully summarizes the commentaries on the book of Proverbs and provides a high-level overview. His introduction (part one) and commentary (part two) generally do not add anything new to the field of Proverbs studies because they focus on summary rather than arguing for a particular position. The effect is that his commentary is a valuable reference work; he rarely presents original arguments (one exception, however, is his proposal for a conscious editorial strategy in Proverbs; pp. 21–22).

The strongest contribution that Lucas makes is his theological horizons essays (part three). For example, Lucas provides helpful insight into how Proverbs understands both acts and consequences. He shows how many of the proverbs communicate general truths, which nevertheless are not absolute. For instance, Prov 17:17–18 says that a “friend loves at all times” but finishes by saying that you cannot trust some friends (v. 18). The sages thus knew that proverbial wisdom was only that—proverbial. The seemingly contradictory nature of certain proverbs actually proves that sages understood the difficulties of the human experience: “The fact that the sages created or collected such ‘contradictory’ proverbs shows that they were well aware of the complexities of life” (p. 206).

Teachers and preachers will find Lucas’s theological essays to be helpful guides as they prepare lessons or sermons. He excels in clearly summarizing and presenting what others have said. His theological essays, consequently, represent well-reasoned and safe conclusions for those who minister the Word. The exclusion of pre-modern interpretation, however, unfortunately weakens the theological value of this book. I would recommend it to those who do not own a commentary on the book of Proverbs, and to those who desire to read contemporary theological reflections on the text.

Wyatt Graham

Wyatt Graham
The Gospel Coalition Canada
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

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