WJK’s New Testament Library: Philippians and Philemon by Charles B. Cousar

Philippians and Philemon: A Commentary.  The New Testament Library.
Author: Charles B. Cousar
Publisher:  Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 2009
ISBN-13: 9780664221225

First, I would like to thank for fine people at Presbyterian Publishing Corp for sending me this commentary to review.

When I first saw this commentary, the first thing I noticed was how brief the book was: 112 pages in length.  It is a compact introduction of Philippians covers the basic points of this epistle.  Well, given that fact that Philippians is not a long letter, I am amazed that some commentators can write 800 pages on this epistle.  However, given the nature of the NTL/OTL series of commentaries, it provides the necessary basics and does not aim to go too much into depth.  It is ideal for pastors and students who want a basic understanding of this epistle without too much detailed reading.  This is even shorter than the Pillar commentary.

For a detailed study, I would suggest the Anchor Bible (AB) by John Reumann, NICNT by Gordon Fee, or NIGTC by Peter O’Brien.  For an intermediate study, try Word (WBC) by Gerald Hawthrone, or Baker (BECNT) by Moises Silva.  If you have time to read and sift through all the details, then that’s fine.

Charles B. Cousar, Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary, provides readers with the traditional components expected of a commentary’s introduction—location, authorship and integrity, place and date of writing, character and structure of the writing, an outline, the opponents, its main message and theme.

The author starts off his introduction revealing the theme of Philippians as being joy.  This gives me a good impression about Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.  It tells the reader that the writer of this epistle was a person who will hope-filled rather than one who was burdened down with suffering.  Suffering in the midst of hope and joy is what the suffering church needs to hear—even today.

Cousar is not so much concerned about the literary structure of Philippians.  He seems more concerned about the theology and context of Philippians.  He believes the authorship is Pauline, which is the majority view.  The probable places of writing are Rome, Caesarea, and Ephesus; he leans toward Ephesus.

Cousar states: “Paul uses an inordinately high number of exhortations to encourage the Philippians in their task to remain faithful and steadfast” (p. 13).  This observation needs to be felt rather than seen.  It is a subjective opinion but I would agree with Cousar.  The epistle does have an exhortative feel to it.

The author also sites Robert Jewett’s proposal “that these preachers who compete with Paul were itinerants, who believe that valid apostles should exhibit extraordinary phenomena such as having ecstatic visions and working miracles” (p. 15).  This is only one of four traditional criteria of a genuine apostle.   Cousar lays out the basic characteristics of Paul’s opponents; however, he doesn’t go into the popular identities and philosophical details about them.  For this commentary series, it is enough.

I like the point that Cousar makes concerning the message of the Christ hymn.  He states:

The text does not ask that an extraordinary virtue, such as humility, be abstracted from the story and made a virtue to be emulated.  Rather the whole story, including the eschatological worship of Jesus as Lord, takes on a mind-shaping role.  To be sure, the Christ hymn serves a serves a parenetic function to exhort the readers to look not to their own interests but to the interests of others (p. 18, 19).

This is a good point.  It is easy to center on Paul’s obvious traits and point to them as if they were meant to be exemplary for us.  On the other hand, if humility is not held to be an exemplary model, it might, however, be one of many points for Christians to model after.  Paul’s point of being a model to imitate (3:17) may also refer to many other things, including his reliance on God’s grace.  However, I am tempted to include the trait of humility into the list to imitate anyway.

Regarding the subjective genitive phrase “through the faith of Christ,” as opposed to, the objective genitive “through faith in Christ” in 3:9, Cousar takes a safe neutral opinion and concludes that it is inconclusive.  For Christians of the Reformation, the tendency is to lean toward a reading of “through faith in Christ.”  Personally, this is my theological tendency.  However, after reading commentaries on Romans and Galatians regarding this same issue, I, too, remain inconclusive…maybe even more confused or uncertain, which can be a good thing sometimes.

The author briefly brings up the possibility of 3:20-21being a pre-Pauline hymn or creedal fragment.  Keeping this point brief is sufficient. Personally, I can’t see this being a hymn and would not even entertain this possibility.  Other commentaries cast doubt on 3:20-21 as being a hymn.

I have enjoyed using this compact commentary on Philippians because I get the important issues quickly without doing too much reading.  As a pastor with less time to spare than before, this commentary from the NTL series is perfect for pastors who want to save time.

New commentary on Romans by Prof. Craig Keener

It’s been a while but I need to get back to blogging. I’ve been busy since Christmas and finally have  some time to breath now.

Nijay Gupta posted his interview with Dr. Craig Keener, Professor of N.T. Theology at Palmer Theological Seminary (Pt.1 here and Pt.2 here) [Hat tip: Brian].   Prof. Craig Keener has a new commentary on Romans that I am considering adding to my list of future books to get.  Romans is my favorite book for study.  I currently have commentaries by Fitzmyer, and Schreiner and Dunn in electronic format.  I thought about getting the new one by Jewett but that’s on the pricy side.  However, I may consider getting Keener’s commentary because it’s concise.  These days, time is more valuable and getting the important points quickly is more important to me these days.

Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Mark by Robert H. Stein

MARK
Series: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
Author: Robert H. Stein
Publisher: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008.
ISBN: 0-8010-2682-2
ISBN13: 978-0-8010-2682-9

I would like to thank the fine people at Baker Publishing for sending me a review copy of Mark from the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.   The author, Professor Dr. Robert H. Stein, is Senior Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY.  He previously taught at Bethel Seminary and is a reknown scholar on the synoptic gospels.  He has authored other books including: An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus, The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings, Difficult Passages in the New Testament, Luke (New American Commentary), A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible, Studying the Synoptic Gospels: Origin and Interpretation and The Synoptic Problem: An Introduction. He was one of the N.T. consultants for the ESV Study Bible.

John Mark is traditionally known as the writer of the Gospel of Mark but Robert H. Stein is open to accrediting its authorship to another Mark.  Stein looks at the internal evidence, as well as, external evidence.  According to internal evidence, Stein says that “it fits well the tradition of the early church that it was written by John Mark.”  Stein also refers to external evidence: (Papias in Eusebius, Eusebius, the Anti-Marcionite Prologue, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, Jerome).  However, he also raised arguments against Markan authorship in looking at an alleged geographical error (Mk. 12:25-13:4) and the author’s ignorance of Jewish laws and customs (Mk. 7:3-4).  However, for me personally, it doesn’t matter if it was the John Mark of Acts 12:12 or another Mark.  I still regard the Gospel of Mark as holy scripture: inspired by the Spirit of God and authoritative for the church of Christ.

Stein believes the second gospel was directed to an audience of Greek-speaking Christians, likely living in Rome, who were familiar with the gospel traditions and very knowledgeable about the Jewish religion.  The date of the writing of the Gospel of Mark is still debated.  It was likely written around (AD) 70 CE but Stein is open to the possibility of some time shortly after 62 CE.  Internal evidence pointing to allusions of the Jewish War in Mark 13 “abomination of desolation” also makes sense.  I think some time around 68/69 CE after Nero’s death was likely.

Stein also believes that Mark was the first canonical Gospel written, and along with Q, served as a source for both the gospels of Matthew and Luke.  He is of the opinion that:

…a cautious use of redaction criticism in Mark is both possible and profitable….Traditional redaction criticism is nevertheless not as holistic a discipline as it first seems, for it is primarily concerned not with the evangelist’s theology as a whole but rather with his unique theological contribution (p. 18).

Stein sees Mark as an historical narrative but not a narrative in the fictional sense because of the historicity of its accounts.    The historical events surrounding Jesus’ life controlled what Mark could write or not write.  Stein seems to feel more comfortable describing the Gospel of Mark as an historical biography.  As a result, he wrote this commentary for the purpose of explaining what Mark was trying to teach through his sayings and the events in the gospel. He did not write this commentary to show exactly what Jesus said or explain the life  of Jesus.  So perhaps a biography rather than a narrative would be more accurate but both terms accurately describe this gospel.

Steins view of Mark’s Christology is formed out of his miracles, words, actions and titles—typical things; but what intrigued me was his view of Jesus’ “messianic secret.”  I had never paid much attention to Mark’s Jesus who was reluctant to reveal his secret messianic identity, which was kept secret until the trial and crucifixion in Mark 14:61-64; 15:2-39.  He gives his reasons for this—for averting an immediate confrontation with Rome because Pilate would not tolerate a popular charismatic teacher who drew the attention of the masses.  This shows that Jesus was not killed as a political revolutionary.  Stein says he was killed because of the hostility of the religious leaders.  Second, Jesus’ messianic secrecy serves as a “literary device to highlight the greatness and glory of Jesus” (p. 25). Since Jesus is too great to be kept a secret, this inability to keep his messianic mission a secret, in itself, becomes the literary device.  This point is an interesting spin worth noting.

The commentary provides both Greek spellings and a transliteration of the original Greek.  Stein pays attention to the Greek.  Concerning Mark 9:31, he states:

The use of the iterative imperfect…indicates that the subject of Jesus’s future passion, death, and resurrection had been a constant theme of his teaching since 8:31…Thus the variation in the passion predictions could have a historical basis in Jesus’s having taught this “theme with variations.” The use of the futuristic present tense “will be delivered” … indicates the certainty of this future event” (p.439).

This is something that most readers and pastors do not pay attention to so I appreciate this attention.

Stein questions the authenticity of passages.  Regarding the disputed verse of Mark 10:45, he draws attention to its interpretation and authenticity.  He states:

The question of whether 10:45 is due to the theological reflection of the early church or came from Jesus himself tends ultimately to be answered according to one’s preconceptions concerning the historical Jesus.  If one assumes the historical Jesus was radically different from the Jesus of the Gospels, then one is predisposed, almost compelled, to deny the authenticity of this verse….It is much more likely that Jesus saw his mission along the lines of the suffering servant of Isaiah… (p. 487).

Given the approach of the BECNT series, Stein is allowed to challenge the status quo but he does not allow himself to get caught up in challenging the status quo for the sake of staking new ground in one’s research.   In liberal biblical theology, new discoveries for the sake of new research seems to be the ultimate goal, but it risks putting authenticity on the line which can actually lead to inauthentic scholarship.  Stein’s approach to theology is conservative but he takes into account the latest critical scholarship.  This gives me reason to remain confident in the new evangelical scholarship.

Stein also covers the important issues like historicity by mentioning various viewpoints.  Regarding the widow’s great gift in 12:41-44, Stein states:

The historicity of the account is often denied on the basis that Jesus could not have known how much the widow contributed to the treasury or that the widow had contributed all that she had (Haenchen 1966: 432-33).  In addition, some claim that the present account was originally a parable that has been transformed into a historical account (Dibelius 1934: 261; Nineham 1963: 334-35).  Yet Jesus might have known of the amount of the widow’s gift by overhearing the attending priest, who would have examined the widow’s offering and directed it to the appropriate receptacle.  All that transpired would have been spoken out loud (Gundry 1993: 731-34; J. Edwards 2002: 380-81).  The widow’s appearance may also have betrayed her situation (Evans 2001: 284) (p. 577).

The BECNT series doesn’t allow the reader to get lost in the forest of details (as some commentaries, e.g., WBC, ICC, may have a tendency to).  I like that because I can get the big picture and pick up on the pertinent issues of a text rather than wade through a sea of details.  Personally, I prefer a commentary that deals with the big picture of a pericope without getting bogged down with too many details.  Much of the details are useless to the heart and thrust of a sermon anyway.  What is the point of spending valuable time reading from commentaries and not be able to use the information one has learned?  Stein’s research is thorough and he references other scholars. He pays attention to existing scholarship, yet, he is able to keep the commentary in a succinct format that brings out the important points.

Robert H. Stein has written a fine commentary on the Gospel of Mark.  Stein leads the reader through the important points in detail while keeping the eye on the big picture.  I like this approach.  This is good for pastors who want to get the important and relevant information faster.  I am impressed with this commentary, and I am confident that as this series expands, BECNT will become established as one of the top premier commentary series in evangelical scholarship.  Another fine piece of work for Baker Academic!

Deuteronomy 17: How the government/governor should govern

Deuteronomy 17:14-20 gives some instructions for the government/governor. Maybe our governments should heed this biblical advice for today? It’s still relevant.

1/ The people must pray about who we choose to vote for. “be sure to appoint over you the king the Lord your God chooses.” (Deut. 17:15, TNIV)

2/ The national leader must be a citizen of the country. “One of your own community you may set as king over you; you are not permitted to put a foreigner over you, who is not of your own community.” (Deut. 17:15b, NRSV)

3/ The government should have limited state-control of assets, and limited powers. “The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself.” (Deut. 17:16a, TNIV)

4/ The government should not tax excessively. “He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.” (Deut.17:17b, TNIV)

5/ The government/governor must follow and enforce the laws of the land. “When he has taken the throne of his kingdom, he shall have a copy of this law written for him in the presence of the levitical priests. It shall remain with him and he shall read in it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, diligently observing all the words of this law and these statutes.” (Deut. 17:18-19, NRSV)

6/ The leader must be humble. “And not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites.” (Deut. 17:20, TNIV)

7/ The governor should be centrist, neither right-wing nor left-wing. “And not… turn from the law to the right or to the left.” (Deut. 17:20, TNIV). (Hahaha. Almost gotcha on this last one.) The full verse actually says: “and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.”

HT: GaryNorth.com

Building a biblical commentary library: commentary recommendations

One of the tools a pastor needs when preparing sermons is a biblical commentary. When I have enough money in my piggy bank, I would like to build a complete library of each book of the bible. My library of incomplete biblical commentaries is very loose and eclectic at this point. One option I’ve been contemplating on is whether to get one complete set of commentary from one publisher, or to build a collection of the best commentators from a variety of publishers. The drawback of the first option is that I would not get the best commentator on a specific book. If I did this, I would have to wait for years and years before investing in another complete set. These do not come cheap. Not many pastors even have a complete set of biblical commentaries in their own library. The advantage of doing this is that it will be the cheaper way to go. One can find complete sets on sale but rarely does one ever find single books on sale, especially the one you’re looking for. I’ve been debating whether to invest in the complete set of Word Biblical Commentary in the future since it has now been completed.

The second option of building a collection of the best commentators from a variety of publishers. This gives you the best of the best. However, the biggest drawback of doing it this way is price. It gets very expensive to purchase individual authors for each book of the bible. One might end up paying twice the amount of money than if one were to buy a complete set of the same publisher. Another disadvantage of doing this is that your library will end up looking very eclectic. I’ve been doing some research on commentary recommendations and this is what I’ve found. Perhaps, you may find this research below useful. If you know of any good recommendation lists out there, let me know.

Several seminaries have their own lists of New and Old Testament recommendations:

Also great resource webpage for biblical references is found at www.thepastorslibrary.com. I also found individuals with their personal recommendations. Tyler F. Williams , a professor at Taylor University College, has compiled a great list of recommended Old Testament commentaries. Ralph Klein, a Lutheran professor of Old Testament, who has his list of recommended commentaries for the O.T. And a conservative list New Testament commentaries can be found at Biblical Foundations. Desiring God also recommends certain commentaries. A Baptist pastor has his own list here.

[ added July 2008]: Other bloggers have posts on commentaries here. Blogger, Tim Challies, gives his list of recommended N.T. commentaries here. See also BibleTexts.com by the late Robert Nguyen Cramer. A seminarian, Andy Goodliff, has a post on commentaries here. And I’ll throw in an anonymous Amazon listmania here too.

And blogger Jeremy Pierce at Parableman has done a very good work putting together a comprehensive list of commetaries. He speaks on various series of commentaries here, and lists his favorites of each level from: advanced, intermediate, to basic, plus forthcoming commentaries (a more comprehensive list). ]

[ added Sept. 2010]: a recent, and a very good one, I found is at  BestCommentaries.com, a site developed by blogger John Dyer, who also blogs at Don’t Eat the Fruit.