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James

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The Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series is aimed at pastors and teachers who are looking for a commentary based on the Greek text. In addition, it aims to provide “expert guidance from solid evangelical scholars� (Series Introduction, 9). These are just two of the seven possible reasons you might be interested in this commentary listed on the same page, but I think they place the commentary well in terms of two major questions: 1) What is the theological position of the commentary authors and editors and 2) What is the educational level of the audience for which it is written.

I would say that the person who could make the best use of this commentary would be someone with a little bit of Greek, but who is not expert in the language. At the same time, there is much here of value to someone who does not know Greek at all. I would place it between something like the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, which is written for a less biblically educated audience and the Hermeneia series, which assumes a much greater level of knowledge of the biblical languages.

Key features–those that stand out to me–are:

* Translation with outline (or phrasing) in a graphical layout
This makes it easy to follow the flow of the text, at least as understood by the authors.
* Greek text included with the translation in the commentary
Both the Greek text and the authors’ English translation is included in the Explanation of Text section
* A Theology in Application section
* A discussion of the structure
* A substantial, though select, bibliography
* Solid scripture, subject, and author indexes

(Note that these do not occur in that order in the text.)

There are also a number of excurses throughout the commentary. I didn’t count them, and unfortunately they are not included in the table of contents or any other list that I could find. These dig deeper into specific issues in interpretation. For example, in the section on James 1:1-11 [Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)] there is a discussion titled In Depth: Are the Rich in 1:1-11 Christians?, which digs more into detail on this thorny question (57-58).

Excluding indexes and front matter, the commentary occupies 242 pages. The print is clear and easy to read, and the page layout is attractive. There is a good deal of white space for people like me who cannot keep from “adding to the words … of this book.� Fortunately, unlike John the Revelator, the authors failed to provide a curse on those who do this!

While the target audience would have at least some acquaintance with Greek, this commentary should be quite usable by those who do not know any Greek at all. There are some sections that would be a bit obscure, particularly in the explanation of the text, as Greek words are not transliterated. At the same time, the theological insights are generally written in such a way as to be accessible to the biblically aware layperson.

I was happily surprised by the breadth of the audience that is potentially addressed. Usually I find myself thinking that commentary writers miss the mark when aiming for the educated layperson. In this case, I think the authors and editors did even better than they claimed. At the same time, they provided material for those who do have some deeper knowledge.

I would emphasize, however, that I think this book largely addresses those with a small amount of Greek rather than going into depth for the more advanced student. Seminary graduates with one or more semesters, always assuming they haven’t forgotten all of it, should find it very helpful.

I found the discussion of critical issues and methodologies, whether textual criticism or any historical-critical methodologies rather light. This isn’t necessarily a criticism. This commentary aims at pastors and teachers, and it is rare that such details are going to find their way even into the background of Sunday sermons. I want them, but then I’m not at the center of the target audience.

These days it’s not enough just to say that someone is evangelical. There are so many differences in perspective within the evangelical community. Let’s look at a few specific issues to get a feel for the authors.

Authorship and Date. The authors accept James the brother of Jesus as the author and propose an early date for its writing. They even say it’s “…probably the first NT document written and the first existing Christian writing of any kind of which we know� (35). I’m not going to go over their arguments for this position, but pages 27-35 are occupied with discussing the circumstances of writing.

Gender Inclusive Language. The authors both use it and argue for it in the footnotes. This includes both anthrôpos and anêr (1:8), where note 53 states that “Tellingly, Poythress and Grudem (The Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy) include no discussion of this verse (53). They carry this further regarding the translation of adelphoi in 3:1, including an excursus title In Depth: Were the Teachers Only Men?, which concludes they were not. While not challenging a fundamentally complementarian position on teaching, they simply note that 1 Timothy 2:12 [Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)] should not be read as prohibiting women from all teaching activities that involve men (154-155).

In James 5:13-16, the authors do an excellent job of summarizing the various elements of the prayer for the sick and the associated anointing with oil. While one may disagree, I don’t think anyone would regard the discussion as unfair with regard to any view on these verses. I may not be the best judge of this, because they conclude that the prayer is for physical healing, that the anointing is symbolic rather than medicinal, and that this is not an instance of the gift of healing–all positions with which I agree.

Finally, the authors emphasize that there is no tension between orthodoxy and orthopraxy, noting that “…faith in action, especially in social action, remains central…� for James, and that he “…sees no tension between … orthodoxy and orthopraxy. This final note comes into play in discussing faith and works in James 2, where, not surprisingly, the authors do not see substantial theological tension with the teaching of Paul on the same subject.

I commend this commentary to anyone who needs to teach on the book of James in the church, whether from the pulpit or in Sunday School. If you have a little bit of Greek, you will get more from it, but you will benefit from its insights even if you do not.

*I received a free copy of this volume from the good folks at Zondervan in order to review it as part of their blog tour for the series. This review is adapted from that one.

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Description

Designed for the pastor and Bible teacher, the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament examines the biblical text in its original environment. Notable evangelical scholars carefully attend to grammatical detail, literary context, rhetorical flow, theological nuance, and historical setting in their interpretation. Critical scholarship informs each step, but does not dominate the commentary, allowing readers to concentrate on the biblical author s message as it unfolds. While primarily designed for those with a basic knowledge of biblical Greek, all who strive to understand and teach the New Testament will find this series beneficial. The general editor for this enterprising series is Clinton E. Arnold The following focused sections help readers understand the text: Literary Context: Explains how each passage functions within the book Main Idea: Summarizes the central message of the passage Translation in Graphic Layout: Presents a translation through a diagram that helps readers visualize the flow of thought within the text Exegetical Outline: Gives the overall structure of the passage Explanation of the Text: Provides interpretive insights into the background and meaning of the text Theology in Application: Discusses how the message of the text fits within the book itself and in a broader biblical-theological context, suggesting applications for the church today”

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