1 Timothy: Linda Belleville, MA, PhD, Professor of Greek and New Testament at Bethel College
2 Timothy, Titus: Jon C. Laansma, MDiv, PhD, Associate Professor of Ancient Languages and New Testament at Wheaton College
Hebrews: J. Ramsay Michaels, ThM, ThD, Professor of Religious Studies Emeritus at Missouri State University
Publisher: Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2009
I would like to thank Laura Bartlett at Tyndale for sending me this volume of the commentary.
The Cornerstone Biblical Commentary is based on the New Living Translation (2007) and is authored by nearly 100 biblical scholars; some of them were also participants in the NLT translation. This commentary series, published by Tyndale House, is new to me personally. It is quite good and readable biblical commentary. It seems to be aimed at a wider audience, and not just pastors who know how to read Greek or Hebrew. It uses transliteration of the original language, rather than, Greek or Hebrew. I know this will be a welcome addition on the bookshelves of pastors and students of the bible, who have never learned the original biblical languages. I would even suggest it is very useful and usable for the average layperson. Even though it is easy to read, it is not a commentary that is elementary; rather, it is a serious commentary aimed to provide biblical research and interpretation for pastors preparing sermons and studies.
First, on Hebrews. J. Ramsay Michaels does not rule out Pauline authorship but he does say that “the likelihood is that the real author was in fact one of Paul’s followers or associates,” which is why Hebrews is classified as “Deuteron-Pauline.” Michaels speculates toward Timothy as author because he briefly presents a case for Timothy as author or at least co-author. However, he is careful not to state his opinion as fact.
In Michaels’ opinion, the genre of Hebrews is a letter of exhortation. Actually, he says it is the only complete Christian sermon in the New Testament. “Possibly, it was preached in one setting and then transcribed for a different audience in another place, but more likely it was a literary creation composed specifically to be read aloud to a specific congregation,” says Michaels. He continues by saying:
“Hebrews is a written sermon, the earliest full-length Christian sermon that we possess, meant to be read aloud, probably to a congregation known to the author. It is written in elegant Hellenistic Greek, resembling some of the treatises of Philo of Alexandria and various speeches recorded in the writings of Josephus” (p. 314).
Others theorize that Apollos or Stephen might also be authors. Michaels has researched Hebrews and his background knowledge on this epistle conveys this.
Michaels recognizes the ambiguity of the epistle’s intended audience. Many believe that the audience were Jewish Christians, or even gentile converts to Judaism who then converted to Christianity. He does not make many claims but he does come through as a defender of the traditional notion of the suffering Messiah.
“Far from downplaying Jesus’ suffering on the cross, Hebrews accents it more than any other New Testament book but does it in a way that Jesus is presented not as a victim or passive sufferer but as High Priest and active Redeemer in shedding blood on the cross. This is the distinctive contribution of Hebrews to the New Testament theology of the Cross, and the author’s purpose may have been to respond to the danger that Christ might be seen as a weak or helpless Messiah, and therefore as no Messiah at all” (p.317).
This is my favorite line from Michaels, to which I give him kudos. He presents a good commentary on Hebrews and discusses the important issues in his commentary.
Belleville and Laansma seem to support Paul as the author of the Pastoral Epistles (First and Second Timothy, Titus). They indicate their support for Pauline authorship through internal support of autobiographical comments, structures, vocabulary, phraseology, historical, and other distinctive characteristics.
Belleville and Laansma identify the major themes in 1 Timothy as: God, Christ, Holy Spirit, salvation, righteousness, piety and wholesome teaching, and heresy. I have wondered why the pastoral epistles are called as such; I have found the answer to this question. They state that:
“One of the theological distinctive of the Pastorals lies in its pietistic language and creedal emphasis. The Greek word eusebaia (and its various forms), commonly translated “godliness” or “religious,” is found 13 times in the Pastorals” (p.19).
It was interesting to learn that canonical support for the Pastorals is extremely high (exceeded only by Romans and 1 Corinthians). They state:
“The Pastorals were known and used at the turn of the century by Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna (c. AD 156), Justin Martyr (c. 165), and Heracleon (second century)….All the church canons except for Marcion’s contain the Pastorals….The Pastorals are found among the 13 Pauline letters in the Canon of Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 350), the Cheltenham list (c. 360), the canon approved by the Synod of Laodiceans (363), Canon 85 of the Apostolic Constitutions (c. 380), the Canon of Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 380), and the Third Council of Carthage(397)” (p. 14).
I often hear of Romans and 1 Corinthians being the two most canonical letters of Paul but I will now add 1Timothy to my list of canonical epistles.
In chapter 3 of the 1 Timothy commentary, Belleville and Laansma view “bishop” as a mistranslation of episkopos. They say:
“What we do not find in the Pastorals is anything like the second-century monarchical episcopate, although this is often read into the roles of Timothy and Titus…Nor do we find anything like our modern concept of a bishop. The fluidity with which overseer and elder are mentioned in these letters speaks decisively against distinctive and official roles” (p. 5).
This challenges the commonly used “bishop” designation in many of our mainline churches. I agree that episkopos has a pastoral aspect, but I believe that our modern-day bishops also do the ergon (“work”) of an episocopate; they do not merely carry the office of an episcopate.
Belleville, Laansma and Michaels have done a very good job of the pastoral epistles and Hebrews in this volume. I like how the commentary leads the reader through the text in structured way, passage by passage. The commentary does not seem to deal with the form and structures in the text but it does provide more interpretation of the text. It seems to provide the reader with interpretation and discusses the meaning of the scriptural passage. Interpretation will benefit preachers and students of the bible who will be preparing sermons. I have been pleasantly surprised by this commentary. If this is indicative of the entire series, I can safely predict that Tyndale will do very well in producing a fine commentary series in the upcoming future volumes. Congratulations Tyndale!
General editor, Philip W. Comfort, states:
“The commentators represent a wide spectrum of theological positions within the evangelical community. We believe this is good because it reflects the rich variety in Christ’s church. All the commentators uphold the authority of God’s word and believe it is essential to heed the old adage: ‘Wholly apply yourself to the Scriptures and apply them wholly to you.”