Bible Commentary Survey

I will update this as I read more commentaries.  I will also make it a side page.

Rating: * – *****

Commentary Sets

Of course, I haven’t read every page of every set, so I am not giving singular judgments, but I think I can capture the overall tenor.

The Macarthur Bible Commentary.  I’m not a huge fan of Macarthur and you will find both strengths and weaknesses.  Each commentary is a glorified word-study. Still, the sections are well-divided.

Calvin’s Commentaries.  Harmonizes the Pentateuch, which is a huge weakness.  Still, Calvin paid attention to the original languages and his arguments, even where I think he is wrong, are always thoughtful.  I think his sermons are better.

Pentateuch as a Whole

Brueggeman and Kaiser.  Genesis to Exodus. New Interpreter’s Bible. Brueggeman has his insights from time to time, but his project is unstable.  Kaiser, of course, is outstanding. ***

Sailhamer, John.  Pentateuch as Narrative. Good in gaining an overall flow, hence the title.  Sailhamer doesn’t go into his views on creation in much detail. ***

Genesis

Bede.  Homilies on Genesis 1-3.  Ancient Christian Texts.  Great for historical value, but no exegesis.

Hamilton, Victor. New International Commentary on Genesis.  Eerdmans.  2 volumes. Good overall commentary.  Gently pushes back against Wellhausen.

North, Gary.  Genesis: The Dominion Covenant.  Zero exegesis but excellent suggestions on apologetics.

Exodus

Numbers

Wenham, Gordon.  Numbers.  Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries.  Excellent rebuttal to JEDP. Sound elsewhere.  *****

1 and 2 Samuel

Leithart, Peter.  A Son to Me. Canon Press.  Very good treatment on background and biblical theology. Light on exegesis.

1 and 2 Kings

Leithart, Peter.  1 and 2 Kings. Brazos Theological Commentaries.  Similar to his work on Samuel. Good for pastoral application but needs to be supplemented.

Job

Vanderwaal, Cornelis.  Job – Song of Solomon.  More of a survey than a commentary but excellent nonetheless.

Jeremiah

Brueggeman, Walter.  A Commentary on Jeremiah: Homecoming and Exile.  While I have problems with Brueggemann, he does a fine job in handling the textual issues.

Zechariah

Klein. Zechariah. New American Commentary. Good treatment on background and good exegesis. Takes a gently premillennial approach to chapter 14.

NEW TESTAMENT

Mark

Horne, Mark. The Victory According to Mark. Canon Press.  Excellent treatment on typology and biblical theology.  Not as heavy on exegesis.

Acts

Bruce, F. F.  New International Commentary on Acts.  Eerdmans.  A true classic.  Somewhat dry reading but I can’t think of a better commentary at the moment.  Keener’s will eclipse it in time.

Romans

Moo, Douglas.  New International Commentary on Romans. Replaced Murray.  Deals with the earlier treatments of the New Perspective on Paul.  Somewhat unique take on Romans 7, but otherwise outstanding.

Murray, John.  New International Commentary on Romans. The 20th century classic.  While it has been surpassed by Moo, it still should be consulted.  

Wright, N. T. Romans.  New Interpreter’s Bible. Marvelously well-written.  Somewhat hamstrung by his so-called New Perspective.  

Galatians

George, Timothy. Galatians. NAC. Sound Reformational approach.  Worth looking into but nothing earthshaking.

Silva, Moises. Interpreting Galatians.  Not strictly a commentary, but an excellent guidebook on some of the exegetical difficulties.

Revelation

Barclay, William.  Revelation.  Well-written and Barclay’s unbelieving presuppositions don’t play too big a role.  Good on history but fairly weak beyond that.

Beale, Gregory.  Revelation.  I haven’t read it, but by all accounts the best commentary on Revelation.

Caird, G. B. Romans.  International Critical Commentary.  Caird was the archetypal British scholar.  Very strong in argument but fairly limited and dated at points.

Keck, Leander (ed). Hebrews-Revelation New Interpreter’s Bible.  I don’t know if Keck was the actual contributor to Revelation.  The book wasn’t any good. Had a bizarre fixation with William Blake.  Get Beale or Mounce instead.

Keener, Craig. Revelation. Life Application Commentary. Very good on background issues. Sound treatment of the text.  Takes a mild historic premil approach. Some odd suggestions on applications.

 

Covenantal Relations in the Trinity

One of the Reformed Thomist criticisms of Kuyper, Vos, etc., is that they posited covenantal relations in the Trinity.  And this is bad because of Hegel or something.  I want to do two things: actually see what they say and see what Scripture says. And perhaps note why Reformed Thomists resist this point so much.

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We always come back to him for some reason

By way of prep reading I recommend Ralph Smith’s website.

First of all, what is a covenant?  Answering this question is a nightmare, but we can give it a try:

 

 

 

 

From the beginning of God’s disclosures to men in terms of covenant we find a unity of conception which is to the effect that a divine covenant is a sovereign administration of grace and of promise. It is not compact or contract or agreement that provides the constitutive or governing idea but that of dispensation in the sense of disposition…. And when we remember that covenant is not only bestowment of grace, not only oath-bound promise, but also relationship with God in that which is the crown and goal of the whole process of religion, namely, union and communion with God, we discover again that the new covenant brings this relationship also to the highest level of achievement. At the centre of covenant revelation as its constant refrain is the assurance ‘I will be your God, and ye shall be my people’. The new covenant does not differ from the earlier covenants because it inaugurates this peculiar intimacy. It differs simply because it brings to the ripest and richest fruition the relationship epitomized in that promise. [Emphasis added.]

So we can at least get the term “relationship” derived from it.  Following Van Til I argue (Or posit) that the relationships between the persons of the Trinity is covenantal:

The three persons of the Trinity have exhaustively personal relationship with one another. And the idea of exhaustive personal relationship is the idea of the covenant (“Covenant Theology” in The New Twentieth Century Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge).

Let’s take Jesus’s words in John 17: “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (This is often taken to prove the divine oneness of the Trinity, but I don’t think that is the point of this passage).  That Jesus is using covenantal relation language is evident from verse 11:  that they may be one even as We are.  Jesus isn’t asking the Father that we have the same divine nature as they do.  Rather, it is that we have the same covenantal relation in unity.

Kuyper on Covenant:

If the idea of the covenant with regard to man and among men can only occur in its  ectypical form, and if its archetypical original is found in the divine economy, then it
cannot have its deepest ground in the pactum salutis that has its motive in the fall of
man. For in that case it would not belong to the divine economy as such, but would be introduced in it rather incidentally and change the essential relations of the Three
Persons in the divine Essence (quoted in Hoeksema 295).

I think Kuyper is saying something like the following:

  1. If the covenant is ectypal, then it isn’t part of God in se (if you want to use those categories).
  2. Therefore, it is accidental to the being of God.
  3. Therefore, it would call into question the Pactum Salutis, which must refer ontologically and not economically.

Ralph Smith concludes and sums up Kuyper’s position:

If Father, Son, and Spirit do not relate to one another in covenant essentially in their fundamental intratrinitarian fellowship, why should the contemplation of man’s fall and redemption introduce something new and different in their relationship? And how should we think of God as the unchangeable God, if intratrinitarian relationships have been fundamentally and essentially changed in the pactum salutis? (Smith 23).

Mutual Exhaustion in the Covenant

Van Til said the members of the covenant mutually exhaust the scheme.  Granted, there probably is a better way to say it, but I think it is worth unpacking.  Smith writes,

First, the covenant idea, he says, is nothing but the representative principle applied to all of reality. This makes the whole creation covenantal in the nature of the case. God does not enter into a covenant with man after creating him, for man is created as God’s image. Man is God’s representative and therefore a covenantal being from the first. The same is true in a general way for the rest of creation, since all the creation is a revelation of God, representing Him in a secondary sense. As Van Til says, the representative idea must be applied to all reality.

I think what CVT is saying is that when God creates, he creates covenantally.  It is a representational principle, but who is representing what?  CVT doesn’t specifically state it, but the covenantal relation in the Trinity is being represented. Smith again,

Second, Van Til sees the source of this representative, which is to say, covenantal
principle in the eternal relations of the persons of the Trinity. The covenant in God is not merely a covenant between Father and Son, nor is it merely an agreement entered into for the sake of the salvation of the world. To quote again one sentence from the previous paragraph: “the Trinity exists in the form of a mutually exhaustive representation of the three Persons that constitute it.”

In this sentence Van Til clearly defines the eternal, internal relations of the Persons of the Trinity as representational and therefore covenantal.

In conclusion, Van Til:

In the Trinity there is completely personal relationship without residue. And for that reason it may be said that man’s actions are all personal too. Man’s surroundings are shot through with personality because all things are related to the infinitely personal God. But when we have said that the surroundings of man are really completely personalized, we have also established the fact of the representational principle. All of man’s acts must be representational of the acts of God. Even the persons of the Trinity are mutually representational. They are exhaustively representational of one another (Survey of Christian Epistemology. 52-53).

Why do Reformed Thomists get up in arms about this?  My guess is that a covenantal ontology really doesn’t mesh with Thomism.  It’s hard to square covenant with the idea that relations = persons, for then the covenantal relations between the persons would also be persons.

Analytical Outline Geisler’s Ethics, pt 1

Begins with a survey of different ethical options, briefly noting their shortcomings (Geisler 17-22).

Christian View of Ethics

  1. Based on God’s Will
  2. Is absolute
  3. Based on God’s revelation
  4. Is prescriptive
  5. Is Deontological

Antinomianism

Not simply that there are no norms.  Also includes that norms aren’t real, but just in the mind.

Nominalism is a form of antinomianism.  If applied to ethics, it’s hard to see how there can be a concept of justice independent of the human knower.

Situationism

The situationist has the one law of love, the many general principles of wisdom, and the moment of decision (Geisler 45).  Fletcher repeatedly asserts that the rule of Christian ethics is “love.”  So what do I do in a specific situation?  The “what and why” are absolute and the how is relative.

Geisler does note a number of legitimate strengths of situationism, but nonetheless there are gaping inadequacies.  

  1. One norm is too general (57).  
    1. Unless there is advanced cognitive content to what “love” is, then one doesn’t really know what I am commanded to do!
  2. There can be many universal norms.
    1. Fletcher hasn’t given any substantial reason on why axioms deduced from other axioms can’t be universal.
  3. A different universal norm is possible.  
    1. Why do we privilege Christian love and not Buddhist compassion?
    2. On what basis do we choose one single norm as binding?

Generalism

Utilitarianism

Greatest good for greatest number.

Problems and ambiguities:

  1. who gets to determine what “good” means?
  2. Offers no protection to minority viewpoint, since by definition they will never been in the “greater” number.
  3. The definition of “end” is unclear.  Do we mean a few years? Lifetime? Eternity?  In that case, only God could be a utilitarian and he is not (77).

Unqualified Absolutism

premise:  all moral conflicts are only apparent; they are not real (79).  Held by Augustine, Kant, Charles Hodge, John Murray, and Puritanboard.

hypothetical problem:  Lie to the Nazis at the door?

Augustine: cannot gain eternal life by temporal evil.

John Murray: Sanctity of Truth and Truth is the essence of God. However, he does not believe every intentional deception is a lie (e.g., a general’s movements in war).  

Negative Aspects

Disputed premises:

  1. Are sins of the soul necessarily worse? Perhaps, but the Platonic premise here should at least by acknowledged.  On this view, a “white lie” is worse than rape.
  2. Can the lie to save lives be separated from mercy?  “God blessed the mercy but not the lie.”  But is this really coherent?
  3. Will God always save us from moral dilemmas?   1 Cor. 10:13 only promises victory from temptation, not deliverance from moral dilemmas.  In fact, the very fact of martyrdom means the martyr isn’t delivered from at least one bad consequence.

Fatal qualifications

  1. Even one exception to this rule kills Unqualified Absolutism–and Augustine allows for exceptions in the case of Abraham and Isaac/Jepthath and his daughter.
  2. John Murray doesn’t believe we should be truthful in all circumstances (Murray 145).

“Punting to Providence”

  1. God does not always spare his children from moral dilemmas.  In fact, obedience often puts the believer in dilemmas!

“Third Alternatives are not always available.”

  1. Tubal pregnancies

Inconsistencies

  1. We leave our lights on when we aren’t home to trick robbers.
  2. The unqualified absolutist often commits unmerciful acts.
  3. Tendency to legalism (e.g., Puritanboard).

Conflicting Absolutism

Premise: (1) Real moral conflicts do occur in this fallen world.

(1.1) Yet when faced with this conflict, man is morally accountable to both principles. In other words, sucks to be you.

(1.2) Yet, sin is conquerable through the cross.

Popularized as “Lesser-evil” approach.  Best seen in Lutheran Two-Kingdoms.  Also, Lutherans will (correctly) praise Bonhoeffer’s attempt to kill Hitler but also say it did violate a norm.  

Criticisms

As Geisler notes, this position is basically saying “we have moral duty to sin,” which is absurd (Geisler 103).  Another problem, whatever God commands is ipso facto good, so it can’t be a “lesser evil.”

Graded Absolutism (This is Geisler’s and my view)

Explained:  

  1. There are higher and lower moral laws.  
  2. There are unavoidable moral conflicts
  3. No guilt is imputed for the unavoidable.

Illustrated:

  1. Love for God is more important than love for man.
  2. Obey God over Government
  3. Mercy over veracity (Nazis at the door).