THE PENTECOSTAL COMMENTARY ON 1 JOHN, 2 JOHN, 3 JOHN

Written by John Christopher Thomas Reviewed By Alistair I. Wilson

This review offers brief comments on a diverse selection of commentaries which have appeared in the last couple of years.

The Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible is a one-volume commentary on the whole Bible. It is, according to the editors, ‘the only one-volume Bible commentary to cover all the texts (including the Apocrypha and 1 Enoch) regarded by one or more Christian churches as canonical’ (ix). Although the theological perspectives represented are very diverse, there is a respectable representation of evangelical authors. Almost all of the 67 contributors work (or worked) in North America, Europe or Australia. Three contributors work (or worked) in South Africa. This is a useful one-volume commentary, not least because of the range of texts covered, the predominant emphasis on the final form of the biblical text, the helpful bibliographies and the opportunity for the reader to get a taste of the diversity of modern biblical scholarship. Those who already use a more conservative volume of this type, such as the New Bible Commentary, may find that this volume complements the other by giving a rather different perspective. Readers should note, however, that even a large volume like this suffers from the limitations of space which prevent thorough argumentation and there are a good number of assertions in the various commentaries which other writers would contest. Serious students who find this book a useful starting point will have to use more detailed commentaries as well in order to come to informed decisions.

Bruner’s remarkable two-volume commentary on Matthew’s Gospel is a revised and substantially expanded edition of a commentary originally published in 1987. It was designed to be an inductive study of Christian doctrine based on a significant biblical document and therefore, while it follows the text of Matthew, it also introduces various foundational doctrines along the way. Bruner engages continually with scholarship: not only biblical scholarship but theological scholarship (so Barth and Moltmann are cited as well as Luz and Davies and Allison); and not only modern scholarship, but significant writers through the ages (Chrysostom, Augustine, Calvin, Bengel and Schlatter, among others, are all cited frequently). The comment in this book is longer and more discursive than in a typical commentary and for that reason preachers may find it difficult to use as a reference resource. On the other hand, it is a hugely stimulating read and holds the readers attention better than many commentaries. Emphases on mission and the formation of Christian character also make this an important and valuable contribution to scholarship on Matthew’s Gospel.

Schnackenburg’s commentary is an English translation of a two-volume German commentary dating from the mid-1980s. It is quite brief but contains a considerable amount of helpful detail. He employs redaction criticism forcefully and, unfortunately, tends to ascribe quite a number of aspects of Matthew’s narrative to his creativity rather than to tradition concerning historical events. Schnackenburg’s exegesis is largely independent, with only occasional passing references to (mostly German) scholarship.

Moloney’s Commentary on Mark’s Gospel is a nicely written exposition of the biblical text which shows appreciation of the plot of Mark’s narrative and his theological purpose. It is based on the Greek text and untranslated Greek script appears here and there, but it should be quite possible for readers without Greek to use it. The footnotes contain a great deal of helpful discussion of recent scholarship while the main text is allowed to flow freely.

Johnson’s commentary is a readable contribution to an increasingly crowded field of commentaries on the Corinthian letters, but it may find its niche in being much shorter than most of the recent commentaries and so easily used by busy preachers and Bible study group leaders. It may provide some supplementary reading for students. Beale’s commentary in the same series feels considerably more dense, in terms of both exegetical detail and theological reflection. This may make it somewhat less attractive to the general reader, but it is very helpful to have a serious short exposition of these very demanding letters by an expert in apocalyptic and the relationship between the OT and the NT.

Krause’s commentary does not attempt to be a full scale commentary on this Pastoral Epistle; it is deliberately ‘a take’ on the letter (although I’m not sure if that justifies the fact that I looked in vain for any reference anywhere to the major exegetical commentaries recently written by evangelical authors: Knight [NIGTC], Marshall [ICC] and Mounce [WBC]). Her take is that it is pseudepigraphical and that the author ‘is pulling a power play. He demands that is true, and expects what is “right” while he proposes [sic. ‘purports’?] to be someone he is not’ (xii). Krause’s provocative reading of this letter will challenge evangelical readers to think seriously about their own view of this letter, but those looking for a sympathetic reading of Paul (or even just of a canonical document) will have to look elsewhere.

The next three commentaries all reflect a refreshing tendency towards brevity, clarity, spirituality and practicality, Brosend’s commentary on James and Jude is sensitive not only to the structure of the ancient documents, but also to homiletical issues. The test is written in lively style yet the author engages helpfully with recent scholarship. The two volumes in the Pentecostal Commentary series are clearly aimed at a particular ecclesiastical grouping, but other readers will find them helpful and stimulating. In particular the opportunities for ‘reflection’ and ‘response’ are valuable, even if not all will wish to follow, for example, Thomas’ suggestion that they participate in a footwashing service (92).


Alistair I. Wilson

Alistair I. Wilson
Highland Theological College UHI
Dingwall, Scotland, UK