01 December 2008

New Testament Books for Pastors and Teachers - V


by Ralph Martin
published: 2001-04-18
© 2001 Theologybooks.com, Wipf and Stock.
John's Gospel is by common consent a treasure trove for preachers and teachers of the word. Yet it poses a set of problems that every generation must seemingly wrestle with on its own. In particular, the issues of historical value and the meaning of John's symbolism are the two interlocking questions that honest preachers must look squarely in the eye before they announce a text from the Fourth Gospel. Books that elucidate John's background and thought world are good; but even better are the commentaries that help us unpack John's message as part of the diversity of New Testament truth. And that means the best commentators will be those who write with a concern to explore John's theological dimension at some depth, to do for our day what William Temple's two volumes (Readings in St. John's Gospel) did for his time. One representative example of this in-depth exegesis is Robert H. Lightfoot's commentary volume St. John's Gospel; and from the Barthian standpoint Edwyn C. Hoskyns and Francis Noel Davey have put together a stimulating-if sometimes wayward-book, exegetically weak, but facing the theological questions head-on.
For thorough exegesis there is no substitute for C. K. Barrett on the Greek text. His volume should be our first resource, as we are able to use it, before we move on. Rudolf Schnackenburg's contribution to the Herder commentary series has now been translated in three volumes, which are repositories of learning and information. A close partner to these leaders in the field is Raymond E. Brown (two volumes in AB), easier to use because there is no Greek language barrier, and full of exegetical perception.
Rudolf Bultmann's massive work contains much data as background material, but he is so erudite as to leave the reader who has concerns other than discovering religious-historical parallels rather breathless.
Both literary analysis and historical learning are worn lightly by Barnabas Lindars (NCB), whose fat volume in a series otherwise lean and sleek should be within arm's reach. Another large volume, this one in the NICNT, is contributed by Leon Morris, replacing an unsatisfactory title in the same series by Merrill C. Tenney. To a lesser extent R. H. Strachan, John Marsh (Pelican), R. V. G. Tasker (Tyndale), and Joseph N. Sanders (Harper-Black) have their place, and occasionally offer insights. Among older works, that of F. Godet (three volumes) has a rich vein of spiritual worth, with practical applications. B. F. Westcott's two titles (one based on the Greek and one on the English text) can be relied on for sober and scholarly, if not overly stimulating, research.
For genuine excitement in Johannine studies we need to turn to individual contributions that are not commentaries in the proper sense, except that the first named in our roster does offer a commentary-like approach throughout his book. I refer to C. H. Dodd's later work Historical Tradition in the Fourth Gospel. This book admirably supplements-as it completes-his earlier and pioneering study The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel. Both books by Dodd are milestone works, and they cannot be neglected.
Modern individual monographs are virtually legion, and we mention only some representative samples. J. Louis Martyn's History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel broke new ground when it first appeared, and it has now been revised. Robert T. Fortna's literary criticism has some positive things to offer the exegete; it is titled The Gospel of Signs. The more recent studies of R. Alan Culpepper, The Johannine School (on the Johannine community of faith), and John Painter, John:Witness and Theologian (on the teaching of John concerning the Christian life), are both important. There is a lot of valuable discussion of past and recent research in Johannine studies in Stephen S. Smalley's John: Evangelist and Interpreter. A. M. Hunter's According to John is a popular survey of recent trends, useful for catching up on what the scholars are saying, though Robert A. Kysar's book The Fourth Evangelist and His Gospel is more comprehensive, if less readable.
RECOMMENDATION: The choice turns firmly on whether the Greek text presents a problem. If it does, Brown is preferable; but if not, Barrett stands out, especially in its second edition.
For users of the Greek New Testament-or for those who wish to brush up on their Greek-F. F. Bruce's first commentary (in chronological order) on Acts may be recommended as a good exercise in linguistic study. His second volume (in NICNT) virtually made the contents of his first book available to a wider public, but still lacked-on his own admission-much of a theological dimension.
For that we turn to Ernst Haenchen's massive work, translated from his MeyerK contribution, and surprisingly for so technical a work of scholarship, it is rich in preaching suggestions that alert readers will not be slow to appropriate. For a succinct overview of theological issues in the study of Acts, note Robert J. Karris, What Are They Saying About Luke and Acts? A Theology of the Faithful God.
On the historical side, there is nothing to supersede the five volumes of The Beginnings of Christianity, edited by F. J. Foakes-Jackson and Kirsopp Lake, happily available in a Baker reprint at a bargain price. Volume 4 is commentary, and with some excellent exegetical notes it is still valuable. All later commentators pay tribute to Kirsopp Lake, Henry J. Cadbury (whose contributions to the five-volume work are of first importance), and F. J. Foakes-Jackson as a trio whose work has stimulated their labors. A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament, brings the story up to date on the side of the early church's setting in the Roman world.
What subsequent commentators have done with the mass of scholarly data is, of course, an individual matter. Richard P. C. Hanson (New Clarendon) and William Neil (NCB) represent the best in sober, dependable, British scholarship, but with little flair. C. S. C. Williams (Harper-Black) has a more attractive presentation, and this may be classed as the preacher's best standby. The older book of R. B. Rackham (Westminster) is written from the "high" Episcopalian viewpoint but will greatly help the preacher, as will Everett F. Harrison's volume and that of I. Howard Marshall (Tyndale), who exegetes Acts within an evangelical context, but with a sharp eye for theological motifs.
I have been helped by a lesser-known title, the commentary by J. Alexander Findlay. Now dated in many respects (it appeared in 1934; second edition 1936), it still gets to the heart of the story of the early church, and in pericope after pericope the writer's ability to expound the meaning of the text in a set of broad strokes makes this work remarkably fresh and relevant today. In fact, hard-pressed preachers needing exegetical help fast are recommended to seek out this title (available only in libraries and possibly in used book stores) and use it alongside Gerhard Krodel's equally attractive and up-to-date contribution to the Proclamation Commentaries series, valuable for its literary analysis of Acts.
Not much good is done by Johannes Munck's Anchor Bible volume, sad to say. There is some compensation, however, in what is offered by a fellow Scandinavian, Jacob Jervell, in Luke and the People of God: A New Look at Luke-Acts, even if this book promotes a thesis (Luke's purpose is governed by Jewish connections and his desire to keep the church and the synagogue together) that lacks cogency. Robert Maddox's The Purpose of Luke-Acts, mentioned earlier, should be consulted to get one's bearings on current options for interpreting the purpose of Acts. And no understanding of where scholars are today is really possible without a knowledge of where they have come from. For that reason W. Ward Gasque's A History of the Criticism of the Acts of the Apostles fills an important gap.
Studies on special themes in Acts are legion; and we may content ourselves with mentioning only a few, selected by the criterion that they are related to pastoral problems: Schuyler Brown, Apostasy and Perseverance in the Theology of Luke; James D. G. Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit (first-class for an exegetical treatment of problem passages such as Acts 8 and 19); Martin Hengel, Acts and the History of Earliest Christianity (a robust essay in apologetics defending Luke's role as an ancient historian); John C. O'Neill, The Theology of Acts in Its Historical Setting (on Luke as an evangelist par excellence); and Stephen G. Wilson, The Gentiles and the Gentile Mission in Luke-Acts (valuable for some thoughts on the church's mission in every age).
RECOMMENDATION: As a commentary to set one thinking, Haenchen is unrivalled; a different historical perspective will be found in Williams.

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