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Question and Answer with Jerry Sumney on the Book of Colossians

Learn more about Colossians in the New Testament Library Series

Jerry Sumney Colossians commentary

Jerry L. Sumney (Ph.D., Southern Methodist University, 1987) is the Professor of Biblical Studies at Lexington Theological Seminary.

Dr. Sumney is a member of the Society of Biblical Literature and is past president for the Southeastern Region of the Society. At the national level, he also served as the chair of the steering committee for the Theology of the Disputed Paulines Group from 1996-2001 and as the chair of the steering committee for the Disputed Paulines Section from 2004-2012. He also chaired the Pauline Epistles and Literature Section of the International Meeting of the SBL 2003-2008. He was elected to membership in the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas (SNTS) in 2005.

He has written seven books: Paul: Apostle and Fellow Traveler (2014); The Bible: An Introduction (2010; 2nd edition, 2014); Colossians; A Commentary, New Testament Library Series (2008, link below); Philippians, A Handbook for Second-Year Greek Students (2007); Servants of Satan, False Brothers, and Other Pauline Opponents (1999); Preaching Apocalyptic Texts (co-authored with Larry Paul Jones; 1999) and Identifying Paul’s Opponents (1990). He is editor of Reading Paul’s Letter to Romans (2012); The Order of the Ministry; Equipping the Saints (2002) and co-editor of Theology and Ethics in Paul and His Interpreters (1996) and Paul and Pathos (2001). He also has written over 30 articles in journals and books.

1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on Colossians?

I first became interested in Colossians through working on the identity of the teachers it opposes. Unlike many other interpreters, I came to the conclusion that they were urging people to worship like the angels they saw in their visions rather than calling people to worship angels. As I looked around, there were no commentaries written from this perspective. That led me to want to write one and the editors of the New Testament Library gave me the opportunity.

2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

This commentary is intended to be accessible to seminary students and pastors. I interact with the various ways that scholars interpret each part of the text, but not in a way that expects readers to be familiar with the issues or arguments. But the focus remains on the text rather than on the arguments about it. I take opportunity to reflect on the theological significance of the text, but do not make direct applications to current issues. Since I do interact with various viewpoints and give reasons for the positions I take, I think that other professors can also benefit from this commentary.

3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of Colossians?

Every commentary in the NTL series has the author’s own translation of the text with an explanation of why the author translated it the ways he or she did. So readers get to see why I translated the text as I did. I also work to show how the argument works in Colossians. That is, I try to show how the writer supports the theological and ethics statements he wants the readers to adopt. This means that I see the poetic material of 1:15-20 as a supporting argument rather than as the main point. The readers already know and believe the Christology of this passage, so the writer uses it to convince them that he is right about how people are rightly related to God. The passage has still clearly important for the church as it has discussed Christology, but Colossians does not include it to convince the original readers to adopt its Christology because they already believed it. As I mentioned above, this is also the only full commentary that works from the understanding of the false teaching I bring to the text. Other interpreters hold this view, but none had written a commentary. This perspective opens some new possibilities for understanding some important texts in Colossians. Finally, this is the first commentary to give a post-colonial reading to the household of Colossians. As I read it, it acknowledges that the readers must conform to certain socio-cultural expectations, but also helps them remember that those demands sometimes violate their real identity in Christ.

4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?

The section on the household code stands out because I was not only learning how to read from a new interpretive lens, but also seeing how this text has been misunderstood. The household codes in New Testament texts are often seen among scholars as a sign that the church was backing away from an earlier more egalitarian outlook. My reading of the Colossians code shows that Colossians continues to reject the hierarchical structure of the first century household. This makes this code consistent with broader assertions in the church about the oneness of all believers (Gal 3:26-28) and the descriptions of virtues that are for both men and women in Colossians. So this earliest of the household codes is not rejecting the church’s egalitarian teaching.

5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

One of the most edifying things was the constant insistence on the certainty of forgiveness and relationship with God that we have in Christ. The poetic material in 1:15-20 gives its vision of the exalted place of Christ as assurance that we have forgiveness and that any decree against us is removed because of the work of Christ. Just as the Colossians were being taught that they needed other experiences for that full relationship with God, so we sometimes feel that we need something more. One of the central themes of Colossians is that we fully have life with God, beginning now, because of and in Christ.

6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on Colossians?

For those interested in very detailed study of the Greek text, the New International Greek Testament Commentary by James Dunn, and the International Critical Commentary volume by R. McL. Wilson are helpful. Still quite detailed is the Anchor Bible commentary by Markus Barth and Helmut Blanke. Also good and more accessible is the Sacra Pagina series commentary by Margaret MacDonald. Still more accessible is Marrianne Meye Thompson’s contribution to the Two Horizons series. Bryan Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat’s Colossians Remixed, is not a typical commentary, but in a dialogical format they work through the implications of the book for the present.

7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

I have just finished a book on the ways Paul uses traditions that the church formulated before he was a leader and outside his influence. Just as Colossians uses the Christological liturgy, there are many places where Paul does similar things. It is entitled, Steward of God’s Mysteries (Eerdmans). I am currently writing a commentary on 2 Corinthians for the Readings series (Smyth and Helwys). Then I am committed to a commentary on 1 Corinthians for the Illuminations series (Eerdmans).


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Question and Answer with Mariam Kovalishyn on James

Learn more about James in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament Series

Mariam Kovalishyn James commentaryMariam Kamell Kovalishyn (MA from Denver Seminary; PhD from University of St. Andrews) joined the faculty at Regent College in 2010, and was appointed Assistant Professor of New Testament in 2013.

The majority of Mariam’s research has centered on the epistle of James, Jewish literature of the Intertestamental period, and classical Graeco-Roman literature. Additionally, since coming to Regent, she has expanded to researching and writing across the epistles, Pauline and General.

Mariam has co-authored a commentary on James (Zondervan), has published a number of articles in books and journals. She is currently working on another commentary on James for the Story of God series, and a biblical theology of social justice for Zondervan, as well as a commentary on 1 and 2 Peter.

She has a diversity of interests including music (both making and listening), hiking, skiing, backpacking, art, and spending time with her family. She was on staff at Scum of the Earth Church in Denver, attended a Scottish Episcopal Church in St. Andrews, and now attends a local church in her neighborhood. She lives in Vancouver with her husband, Val, and son, Peter.

1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on James?

I have been drawn to the epistle of James since I memorized it with my small group in undergrad. On entering seminary and discovering I would have to write a thesis (!), Craig kindly helped me explore areas of James that could use more research and exploration, so I did my MA thesis on wisdom in James. I was still at that point, however, uncertain what I wanted “to do with my life,” so Denver Seminary offered me a year’s position to teach Greek as an adjunct, I worked at my church, the Scum of the Earth, as a teaching pastor, and Craig thought my exploration of future options might be broadened if I learned what academic writing would be like. He had already been offered to write the ZECNT on James, and he contacted Zondervan to see if they would be open to us co-authoring it. It proved to be exceptionally helpful to me: working my way verse by verse through the text with commentaries open on all sides was likely what gave me the motivation and confidence to apply to do a PhD in James, and it was while working on my dissertation in Scotland that Craig and I finished our final edits and the book came into being.

2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

This commentary is probably most aimed for pastors who need to see clearly where the text they are working on fits within the larger text, and also gain some ideas on the key exegetical questions and how to apply the text. That is not to say, however, that it would not benefit Christians of all levels. It is meant to be readable, but it deals with the Greek in the exegetical section. And Craig was phenomenal at slipping in scholarly footnotes that didn’t overwhelm the text. So there are what one Regent colleague called “cookies on every shelf” in this commentary. I have talked to people who have used it devotionally, and to people using it in their own dissertation work.

3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of James?

The many subsections of this commentary make it of particular use to the busy pastor. We intentionally chose to structure it around passages of preachable length, but guided by the structure and breaks of the text itself. Not many commentaries give not just a translation of the text, but also an outline of the section under discussion, a sense of the logical flow both of its place in the larger text as well as of the passage, and end with some sense of how to move from the ancient text to modern context. Somehow this commentary structure seems to me eminently practical, with so many approaches to the text. The discussion of the text uses the Greek and is fairly “academic” in nature, so it should also be of use to students and scholars. It contributes, therefore, in being a commentary with a remarkably wide use-level, whether for a research paper or a busy pastor. That kind of spread is not particularly common with commentaries!

4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?

Honestly, I had always avoided the end of the epistle. The community instructions were, well, challenging, the structure ambiguous (is there a conclusion to the epistle?), I had no idea how to tactfully talk about the various pieces of advice about prayer and anointing, and I really didn’t know why Elijah was plopped in there and described as he was (“a man like us”). You can hear me wrestle with that last question, asking why James hadn’t used a different example from Elijah’s life? But profoundly, the wrestling I did in writing this section has sparked a lot of further research interests: how do we talk about prayer in James? Is it all about how much faith you have — and what does that say about faith?? Following on the writing of the commentary, but pursuing these questions, I put the end of James together with the start (1:2-8) and it became clearer to me that James is concerned about who we have faith in, rather than individuals mustering up enough faith. This is something Elijah dramatically demonstrated as he called Israel back from their worship of Baal — and read in this light, the Elijah example helps us then understand how verses 19-20 fit as well. The whole epistle, as we argue in the theology section, seeks to make single-minded followers of God, faithful to him despite the trials and temptations that come our way and seek to lure us to waver — and we as a community are to call one another to that faithfulness in the good and giving God.

5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

Oh man, what didn’t?! Working through James verse by verse made me pay much more attention to specific details and arguments, but more than anything it made the character of God — as good, as generous, as unchangingly good and generous, as pursuing us, seeking us, desiring our love and a relationship with us, all of this came out. It floored me how James speaks of God — yes, as just judge, but as responsive and loving and generous, too. So often I’ve heard people speak of James as “too bossy,” but I fell in love with the giving God the epistle depicts, and everything else flows out of our response to him.

6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on James?

Obviously, Richard Bauckham’s James: Wisdom of James, Disciple of Jesus the Sage. That book has heavily influenced how I read what James is doing in his epistle. But I have also benefited significantly from Luke Cheung’s The Genre, Composition, and Hermeneutics of the Epistle of James, as well as Darian Lockett’s Purity and Worldview in the Epistle of James. For a sense of the background of James’s thought, I’d recommend David deSilva’s The Jewish Teachers of Jesus, James, and Jude: What Earliest Christianity Learned from the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. Dale Allison’s ICC commentary needs mention as probably the most thorough commentary out there and beautifully written, although I don’t agree with his choice of setting for the epistle. And finally, I can’t leave off David Gowler’s James Through the Centuries commentary, which is a history of reception commentary and introduces people to oft-forgotten voices.

7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

Mostly I’ve been busy in the years since, because I finished up my PhD and then took a job where I was supposed to be specializing in Paul… So there’s been a lot of reading in the last 10 years! But I still work in James whenever I can. Right now I’m working on another James commentary for the Story of God series, but I hope soon to also make progress on my long-delayed work on a theology of social justice for Zondervan’s theology for life series. Mostly, during the school year I’m pretty swamped with teaching and time with students at Regent College, and they would have any relevant news for me. Since I now have a 1-year-old, I don’t make time for blogging or anything extra social!


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Question and Answer with Andrew Spurgeon on the Book of 1 Corinthians

 

Learn more about 1 Corinthians in the India Commentary on the New Testament Series

Andrew Spurgeon Corinthians commentaryAndrew B. Spurgeon is a professor of biblical studies at East Asia School of Theology, Singapore. He has taught in seminaries in Asia since 1996. He has written multiple commentaries, edited a book on Christian service, and written several articles in theological journals. He serves as the Chairman of Publications for the Asia Theological Association and as a New Testament editor for the Asia Bible Commentary Series.

1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on 1 Corinthians?

One friend from seminary said to me, “India is the living example of polytheistic Ancient Rome.” Then when we were living in India, I heard preachers struggling with 1 Corinthians chapters 8–10 to apply it to the Indian context. As I was exploring these thoughts, the editors of India Commentary on New Testament approached me and asked if I would write a commentary on 1 Corinthians. I took the challenge and wrote the commentary with ICNT series (1 Corinthians: An Exegetical and Contextual Commentary, Bangalore: Primalogue, May 2012). Because of length restrictions, I couldn’t use much of my research and writing in that project. So, I approached Langham Publishers with this book idea.

2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

My intended audience are Christians who are interested in Indian culture and 1 Corinthians. The exegesis will certainly benefit the pastors. But the cultural nuances will help anyone who is serious about ministering among Indians, especially Hindus or baby-Christians.

3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of 1 Corinthians?

The uniqueness of this book is that I start by explaining cultural nuances of India; then I connect it with the biblical text of 1 Corinthians; finally, I reapply the biblical principle to Indian context. So instead of exegesis and application, my commentary is an explanation of a culture — exegesis — and application of the biblical passage to the culture. For example, in chapter 3, I explain how the Hindus view their gurus. Then I explain how Paul wanted the Corinthians to view the leaders like Paul and Apollos as workers in God’s field. I conclude by explaining the right attitude Indian Christians should have towards their Christian leaders.

4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?

Although I am an Indian and grew up in India until late-teens, I learned a great deal about the culture and Hinduism because of my study, which permeates throughout the books. So I explain sports Indians like, dots Indians wear on their forehead, marriage arrangements, and even Hindu philosophies. One of my reviewers said it well: “Anecdotes, snippets of Indian history, newspaper reports, observations on what Indians think, or do, or say, or are — these are the planks Andrew Spurgeon tosses together to build a crisscrossing walkway between ancient Corinth and present-day India. One minute the reader is in ancient Greece, taking in just the kind of detail needed to make sense of what Paul was saying then. The next minute the reader is in his home country, making sense of what Paul is saying now” (Havilah Dharamraj).

5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

Growing up in India, moving to USA for studies, and ministering in Asian countries like the Philippines, I’ve always felt like I was a person without a country (almost like a Third Cultured Adult). But writing this commentary helped me understand my own roots — how India has influenced my thinking. I came away with a renewed appreciation for my culture but at the same time a profound sadness for the lostness of my people. At the same time, I have great appreciation for the Lord Jesus Christ for saving me and my family.

6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on 1 Corinthians?

I used Dr. Gordon Fee’s commentary on 1 Corinthians (NICNT series) as my go-to commentary, and I’ll recommend that to anyone for starting his/her studies on 1 Corinthians.

7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

I am currently working on a similar project on Romans. Asia Biblical Commentary series plans to publish it, hopefully by 2019. At present, I only have a linkedin.com account.


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Question and Answer with Ben Merkle on the Book of Ephesians

 

Learn more about Ephesians in the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament Series

Ben Merkle Ephesians commentaryBenjamin L. Merkle is Professor of New Testament and Greek and the Editor of the Southeastern Theological Review at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Merkle studied at Kuyper College, Westminster Seminary California, and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He served as Professor of New Testament at Malaysia Baptist Theological Seminary before coming to SEBTS.Merkle specializes in the issue of eldership, and has written The Elder and Overseer: One Office in the Early Church (2003), 40 Questions about Elders and Deacons (2008), and Why Elders? A Biblical and Practical Guide for Church Members (2009).

1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on Ephesians?

Because a lot of my research is in Pauline studies, it was natural for me to write on Ephesians. Additionally, I had recently finished an Intermediate Greek Grammar (Going Deeper with NT Greek) and so the idea of writing a Greek-focused commentary was appealing to me.

2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors?students? lay Christians in the local church?

The intended audience is pastors who have taken Greek but need some help walking through the Greek text. I see the series (Exegetical Guide to the Greek NT) as sort of a pre-commentary commentary. In other words, after studying the Greek text yourself, this would be the first resource consulted before diving into a more traditional commentary.

3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of Ephesians?

Its uniqueness is that it focuses on the grammar and syntax of the text. Most commentaries seem to avoid discussion of the Greek and focus on meaning and application. My commentary also includes (1) a phrase diagram of each passage, (2) homiletical outlines of the text, and (3) suggested reading for further study.

4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?

The first chapter, especially verses 3–14 which form one long sentence in Greek (202 words). Not only is the sentence complex (and filled will multiple genitive constructions) but the content is profound. The structure of the Greek text demonstrates that the main idea is that God should be blessed/praised because he (1) chose us, (2) redeems us, (3) gives us an inheritance, and (4) seals us with the Holy Spirit.

5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

This is a hard question because there are so many things that could be mentioned: (1) the example of Paul’s prayers to God for the Ephesians (1:15–23; 2:14–20), (2) the reminder that it is God’s amazing grace that rescued us from spiritual death (2:1–10), (3) the profound unity that believers have in Christ in the midst of being wildly different (4:1–16), (4) the expectation that believers are to live distinct lives because of the transforming grace we’ve received (4:17–6:9), and the desperate need we have to rely on the strength that God provides through prayer and his Word (6:10–20). After spending so much time studying Ephesians I am not surprised that, after Romans, Ephesians is often considered the most significant book for the life of the church.

6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on Ephesians?

Commentaries: Clinton Arnold (ZECNT), Andrew Lincoln (WBC), and Frank Thielman (BECNT).

7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

I just recently finished a book entitled Exegetical Gems from Biblical Greek (or Exegetical Gems from the Greek New Testament) which provides 35 examples of how knowing Greek impacts our interpretation of the NT and, at the same time, provides a systematic overview of Greek syntax. I will also begin work on a prequel to Going Deeper with NT Greek titled Getting Started with NT Greek (B&H, coauthored with Robert Plummer).


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Question and Answer with Andrew Le Peau on the Gospel of Mark

 

Learn more about Mark in the Through Old Testament Eyes Commentary Series

Andrew Le Peau Mark commentary

Andrew T. Le Peau is a writer and editor living in the Chicago area. He was the long-time associate publisher for editorial at InterVarsity Press where he worked from 1975 to 2016. Before that he was a campus staff member for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, serving in the St. Louis area.

He is the coauthor of several Bible study guides including James and Ephesians in the LifeGuide Bible Study series, and author of Heart. Soul. Mind. Strength.

1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on Mark?

For fifteen years I have been teaching the gospel of Mark to college students and staff who have part of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Mark has been used for decades in InterVarsity as a foundational discipleship document and tool with students. So I was joining part of a long tradition of intense study of Mark.

What I discovered as I led discussions was how eye-opening Old Testament background could be. Students would ask questions and I’d say, “Remember that list of Old Testament passages I gave you for this section. Did anyone look those up?” I’d get blank stares. So I said, “OK, let’s look them up now and read them aloud.” So they’d do that and their eyes got big. Teachers love these “aha” moments, and I found they happened with great regularity when we went to the Old Testament. Soon I didn’t have to remind them to look these up. They would be doing it on their own.

2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

My target audience is the working pastor. I want to give them a resource to enrich their teaching and preaching. As a result, along the way I offer a repeating feature, “Going Deeper in . . .” which gives examples of preaching points pastors might offer, usually drawn from the insight the OT provides for the text.

I consider adult education teachers, students, and professors to be secondary audiences. The commentary is not technical and only occasionally employs transliterated Greek. Also I rarely rehearse the history of scholarly debates. So it is accessible to motivated readers who don’t have formal training.

Some professors might also find it a help to their students and benefit from the overall emphasis of the commentary which they might want to stress more in their own teaching. Much will be familiar, but I think they can still find some fresh insights.

3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of Mark?

Because I kept getting driven back into the Old Testament in my studies and teaching, I kept looking for books that opened up this dimension of the gospel. I found several that were tremendous, but they took up key themes and so looked only selectively at the text. What I wanted for my teaching, however, was a book that systematically went through the whole gospel, verse by verse, revealing these connections.

I never found such a book. So I decided I would need to put something like that together for my own reference. My wife thought if I was going to go through all that work I should try to publish it. But despite the immense amount of OT background in Mark, I wasn’t actually convinced it was there in every or nearly every verse. After all, if no one else had written such a book maybe there was good reason—it just couldn’t (or shouldn’t) be done. So I actually had to write several chapters before I convinced myself that this was possible and of unique valuable.

4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?

As I wrote, I already knew where I was headed in many sections but some parts surprised me. Mark 4 contains the well-known parable of the Sower and the Soils. It’s a long parable to which Jesus adds a long explanation. It therefore has a pivotal role in the whole gospel in explaining Jesus’s understanding of himself and his ministry.

This was familiar territory, but I then began to look at something I hadn’t before—how the Old Testament used the images of birds eating seed, rocky places, scorched plants, and thorns. What I found was that all of these were consistently used as images of judgment against Israel or the nations. Jesus was working with a set of images that were corporate in nature. The question (among others) that he was asking is—How was Israel as a nation responding? So often we interpret the parable individually—what kind of soil am I? Am I deep in Jesus or not? But in light of seeing this passage through Old Testament eyes, we should ask: What kind of soil are we? What about my church, my community, my nation? Are we superficial or shallow? Are we withdrawn and protective or do we reach out and give of ourselves to others? Or to raise the main questions the Old Testament prophets did regarding Israel and the nations when they used these images: Are we aligned with God’s heart for justice? What idols do we have? As a community, what is sacrosanct—money? sex? self-protection? violence? comfort? This is not the only thing going on in Mark 4. But it was, I thought, an important and neglected dimension. And I wouldn’t have found it if I hadn’t been asking the question, What insight on this passage can we get from the Old Testament?

5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

I found myself very moved at the end as I chronicled all the different ways Mark described Christ in the gospel based on the Old Testament. He portrays him as the New David, the New Moses, the New Exodus, the New Israel, the Divine Warrior, the Prophet, the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Messiah, the Righteous Sufferer, the King of Israel, the Lord of the Nations, the New Temple, the Embodiment of Israel’s God. I had a sense that Mark was saying, “I’m doing my best to describe the full scale, dimension, and character of Jesus. I’m using as many images and ways as I can of talking about him and what he did. Even so, this is only scratching the surface. Words fail.” I was moved by this immense yet necessarily partial portrait of the greatness and achievements of our Lord.

6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on Mark?

The books I found which do the best job uncovering the Old Testament in Mark include Rikki Watts’ Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark, Swartley’s Israel’s Scripture Tradition in the Synoptic Gospels, and Marcus’s The Way of the Lord. These are all excellent.

7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

As series editor for the Through Old Testament Eyes commentaries, I’m currently working with other contributors who are developing further volumes. Right now it looks like John Through Old Testament Eyes by senior scholar Karen Jobes will be out next. The approach I use with Mark is not unique to that book. As I say in the series preface, “The New Testament writers were Old Testament people.”

I am also writing a book for InterVarsity Press whose working title is Writing Better: The Craft, the Art, and the Spirituality of Writing Nonfiction. I’ve been an editor for over forty years, so I am trying to gather together some of the advice I’ve offered hundreds of writers. I have been motivated by a desire to help people express their ideas as clearly and powerfully as possible. That’s what’s behind this book. It may be out in 2019. I also continue to blog regularly at Andy Unedited (andyunedited.ivpress.com) where I review books and reflect on history, biblical studies, life, writing, publishing, and more.


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Question and Answer with Heath Thomas on the Book of Habakkuk

Learn more about Habakkuk in the Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary Series

Heath Thomas Habakkuk commentary

Heath Thomas (Ph.D., Old Testament, University of Gloucestershire, United Kingdom) has been the Dean of the Hobbs College for Theology and Ministry at Oklahoma Baptist University since December 2015. He also serves as Associate Vice President for Church Relations and Professor of Old Testament at OBU. Prior to arriving at Oklahoma Baptist University, Dr. Thomas served as Director of Ph.D. Studies and Associate Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

An OBU graduate (1998), Dr. Thomas also holds degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the University of Gloucestershire (UK). Dr. Thomas has served on staff at churches in Oklahoma, Texas, North Carolina, and in the United Kingdom. Passionate about opening up the Scriptures for today, he preaches and teaches regularly, and serves as interim pastor when he is able. Dr. Thomas is married to Jill and they have four children (Harrison, Isabelle, Simon, and Sophia). They reside in the Shawnee area with their magnificent Weimaraner, Smoky.

Professionally, Dr. Thomas sustains a recurring interest on the biblical books of Lamentations and the Minor Prophets, and he has published a number of works related to these. He also maintains research interests on lament literature in Scripture, a Christian theology of lament, and theological interpretation of Scripture. He is currently writing commentaries and monographs on the Minor Prophets, among some other projects.

1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on Habakkuk?

I have always had an extended interest in prayer, lament, and Christian spirituality. I have been working in that area since 2000 or so, which led me to the book of Lamentations. I did my research on Lamentations in the UK in 2003 and then arrived back in the USA in 2007. Around 2008, I believe, I began work on this commentary. The resonance between lament prayer and deep Christian faith came together in Habakkuk.

No one is prepared to pray like the prophet prayed. In fact, it is out of sheer bewilderment in present circumstances with a firm eye to the faithfulness of God that one prays like Habakkuk. One cannot be prepared for this…it can only be borne in the fires of faith.

I have found that Habakkuk reveals all of the deepest aspects of spiritual formation: waiting on God, suffering, prayer, confusion, trust, and faith. The book reveals in a radical way the uncompromising faithfulness of God.

2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

This commentary is written for many people. Its primary readership would be pastors, ministers, and students training for those fields. Alternatively, I have found that laypeople in local churches can identify with its subject matter and the presentation one finds within it. I have used this commentary to preach and teach through Habakkuk and will again in the next month.

3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of Habakkuk?

Habakkuk has an afterlife, and the Christian church has received the book as a source of guidance, hope, and faith for the past 2000 years. One of the distinctive features of this commentary (and the only commentary that does this, so far as I am aware) is that it presents the story of the reception of Habakkuk in the commentary tradition in the Christian Church since the apostolic fathers. As such, the commentators in the Christian tradition appear in my exegetical analysis.

Another feature of this commentary is extensive, intentional, thoughtful theological interpretation that engages the theological tradition whilst using the resources of original languages, poetics, and philology.

Finally, I attempt to provide theological reflection throughout the commentary so that we might reflect how Habakkuk opens up for us God, church, and world as well as, significantly, Jesus Christ. It presents reflections on spiritual formation, prayer, meditation, stillness before the Lord, and the power of memory in the Christian life. I think this is unique among Habakkuk studies.

4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?

Of course, Hab. 2:2-5 was central and transformative for me. I am not sure if I could in any way capture the magnitude or complexity of these verses. But any reflection on the faithfulness of God, the One who brings life out of death is nothing short of breathtaking. It is fascinating to me that these verses took on a new significance (and several surprises) that I was not anticipating in my study. I gained a deeper appreciation on the immensity of God and the supremacy of God revealed in Jesus Christ.

5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

I think I was challenged with the primacy of prayer in the Christian life. As I say in the commentary, from Habakkuk we discover that prayer is the first and best reflex of the Church. When confronted with the terrors of this world, we are invited into communion with our God through prayer. And in prayer, we discover the magnitude of Jesus, who is God’s response to bring all broken things back to himself, including the brokenness that we face.

6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on Habakkuk?

I think [Martin] Luther’s commentary on Habakkuk is a must read. So is [John] Calvin’s. Jerome’s commentary (now in English!) is not to be missed. Finally, Theodoret of Cyrus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and Cyril of Alexandria have a theological, practical and pastoral dimension that is still relevant today. I was surprised by these. I would also say that Donald Gowan’s monograph The Triumph of Faith in Habakkuk is a classic.

7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

I am currently serving as an interim at a local church and will be for some time. I love serving in the local church! In terms of publication, I am now working on Habakkuk (again!) and the other 5 of the final six Minor Prophets for an extensive exegetical commentary for Baker Academic. I am also completing a work on a theological introduction to the Minor Prophets with Craig Bartholomew for InterVarsity Press Academic. After these, I will complete an introduction to the Old Testament with Baker Academic and begin working on another project which I cannot mention at this stage.

I am also very excited to note that I am editing a series called the Hobbs College Library, a 21-volume library designed as an on-ramp to the full theological curriculum. This is a partnership between B&H Academic and Oklahoma Baptist University. Each volume is written by experts in the world. Its authorship is multi-generational, multiethnic, global, and ecumenical. It is designed to provide the basics of Bible (5 volumes), Theology (7 volumes), and Ministry (9 volumes) in 100 pages or so. That’s why I say it is an on-ramp. It provides access to the theological curriculum to a wide readership that would otherwise not have access to the full curriculum. Two volumes have already appeared (Matthew Emerson’s The Story of Scripture and Scott Pace’s Preaching by the Book), and we will see 3 each year until 2025, I believe. We are grateful for this partnership and excited to see how it will serve the church.

It is easy to see what I am up to on my website (https://www.okbu.edu/directory/heath-thomas.html), or my Amazon Page.


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Question and Answer with John Byron on the Books of 1 and 2 Thessalonians

 

Learn more about 1 and 2 Thessalonians in the The Story of God Bible Commentary Series

John Byron Thessalonians commentary

John Byron (Phd. Theology, University of Durham) is the Professor of New Testament at Ashland Theological Seminary. He is the author of Slavery Metaphors in Early Judaism and Pauline Christianity (Mohr Siebeck, 2003), Recent Research on Paul and Slavery (Sheffield Phoenix, 2008), as well as a number of scholarly articles. His more recent work has focuses on Jewish and Christian interpretations of the Cain and Abel story (Brill, 2011).

Dr. Byron is a sought-after teacher and enjoys using that gift at churches and seminars outside of his seminary position. He didn’t always aspire to become a teacher, however. In fact, if you had told him as a high schooler that he would become a professor, he would have run as fast as possible in the opposite direction. He considers it a blessing that God doesn’t let us see our future too early in the game!

Dr. Byron is an experienced traveler, counting Europe and the Middle East among his favorite destinations. By their 10th wedding anniversary, he and his wife, Lori, had already lived in three states and three countries. Adding to his travels, Dr. Byron participates in Ashland Theological Seminary’s Tel-Gezer project, through which groups from ATS tour Israel and excavate ancient sites.

1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians?

1 & 2 Thessalonians are the first two books I translated after learning Greek. After translating them I put together a notebook of exegetical observations based on the Greek text, which was the final project of my Greek exegesis course in seminary. When I began teaching Greek 15 years ago, I decided to continue the tradition. So when I went to write for the Story of God Bible Commentary (SGBC), the Thessalonian correspondence was a natural choice for me since I had already read and researched what quite a bit about the letters.

2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

The SGBC series is aimed at pastors, students and the interested laity. Each section of the Thessalonian letters is broken into a 60/40 split. I spend 60% of each section explaining the background and exegesis of a passage and the other 40% explaining how the passage can be understood and applied in our current context. Although it does not focus on the Greek text, it does mention important aspects of Greek language when necessary. I require the book for my Greek students, along with a number of other standard works on 1 & 2 Thessalonians. The layout and presentation makes the book accessible and useful for those in ministry and seminary.

3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of 1 and 2 Thessalonians?

One aspect of the series is the desire to place the various books of the New Testament into the greater context of the biblical narrative. At the beginning of each section we work hard to demonstrate how the passage connects with the Old Testament and what God has done in the life of Israel and the Church throughout history. In reality, what we are doing is following a paradigm laid down by the early church known in Latin as the regula fidei, or the “Rule of Faith.” This way of reading and interpreting the scriptures insisted on understanding each portion of scripture within the wider context of all scripture. Thus with the SGBC, we are striving to do the same. Originally, the series was to be called Regula Fidei, but it soon became clear that many people are not familiar with the concept. So the series went with its current name.

4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?

I can’t say that any one section stands out since each section brought new insights to me. Although I had read and studied these letters for more than 20 years, that act of writing a commentary caused me to look at everything afresh and to become acquainted with Paul and the Thessalonians in new ways. But what I did enjoy, in particular, was thinking about and writing the applications sections, what we call “Living the Story.” When you know your audience, as in a church you preach at regularly or even in a seminary class, it’s a little easier to connect the dots between exegesis and application. But when you have no idea who will read your work and you want your work to be useful and edifying for many years, it can be both challenging and satisfying to find ways to apply the text for a contemporary setting.

5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

I think the one point that I was reminded of was the centrality of the resurrection for Paul and the early church. Paul highlights it in 1 Thess 1:10 and again in 4:14. I was reminded that without the resurrection of Jesus we, as Paul says in 1 Cor 15, deserve to be pitied. There is much theology in the New Testament and all of it important. But it all hangs on the proclamation of who Jesus is and what God has done for us through Jesus.

6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on 1 and 2 Thessalonians?

There is so many I could choose from. For the Thessalonian letters I suggest Gordon Fee’s commentary (The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians, Eerdmans, 2009).

I just recently finished reading Michael J. Kruger’s Christianity at the Crossroads: How the Second Century Shaped the Future of the Church (IVP, 2018) and would highly recommend it. I would also recommend Larry Hurtado’s Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World (Baylor, 2016). I am doing some work on second and third century Christianity and these are both excellent resources.

7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

As I mentioned above, I am doing some work on second and third century Christianity. This is because I am writing a commentary on the Apostles Creed for Smyth & Helwys. I am excited about the opportunity because it will allow me to bring together biblical scholarship with early church history. I am planning to help readers understand what stands behind each of the statements in the creed while helping them think about how they can apply the creed to their life.


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Question and Answer with O. Wesley Allen on the Gospel of Matthew

 

Learn more about Matthew in the Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries Series

O Wesley Matthews commentaryO. Wesley Allen, Jr. (Ph.D., Emory Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, 1996) is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor of Homiletics at SMU Perkins School of Theology. His teaching specialties include introduction to preaching, preaching the New Testament; exegesis for preaching; preaching in postmodernism; preaching through the liturgical year; theology in preaching; prophetic preaching; preaching in the context of worship. His research interests include preaching in postmodernity; conversational homiletics; cumulative approaches to preaching; preaching and the Synoptic Gospels; preaching and the human condition.

His books include Preaching and the Human Condition (Abingdon, forthcoming in 2016) and The Sermon without End: A Conversational Approach to Preaching, co-authored with Ronald J. Allen (Abingdon, 2015).

Dr. Allen is an ordained elder, The United Methodist Church, Indiana Annual Conference.

1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on Matthew?

I focused my doctoral work on the Synoptic Gospels and have maintained that interest even as I have shifted my scholarly work more toward homiletics.

2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

The book is intended for pastors. While the commentary follows the flow of Matthew, it also functions as a lectionary commentary, primarily focusing on the passages that appear in Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary.

3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of Matthew?

The uniqueness of the commentary lies in part in the previous answer. But I also think I made some original exegetical observations along the way. Two examples. 1) I propose a geographical outline to Matthew. 2) My reading of the eschatological discourse and the parables embedded in it focus on an experiential interpretation of Mt’s eschatology and argues one of the primary rewards Matthew sees for being a part of the eschatological community of God’s already/not yet God’s reign is the vocation of higher responsibility.

4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?

I struggles most with the Sermon on the Mount. While I am pleased with the exegetical observations I offer in that section, I was quite overwhelmed for a while by the thought of adding my voices to the thousands of years of interpreting this beloved and controversial section.

5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

As a homiletician, it was a great joy to return to a writing project with such a deep focus on the biblical text. I truly believe at the heart of Protestantism’s spiritual disciplines is biblical study. One cannot spend a few years working on the story of Christ and not be drawn closer to Christ in the process. To be honest, I have always thought of Mark as my favorite gospel (and hope to write a commentary on it one day); but my appreciation of the artistry and theological depth of Matthew’s portrait of Jesus increased exponentially through this project.

6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on Matthew?

Two great commentaries on Matthew are the multivolume set by Ulrich Luz [Hermeneia] and by Allison and Davies [International Critical Commentary].

7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

Most of my writing focuses on preaching and people can find my various homiletical books online. Two continuing threads of interest for me are the difficulty of preaching of preaching in postmodernism and a cumulative homiletic. I also have done some works with theological and social justice emphases. I am currently wrapping a project that has taken a number of years and pushing me into new territory. It is a digital ebook that will be an Introduction to Protestant Worship with Abingdon Press. To supplement the text, the books will include videos, audio files, and interactive elements.


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Question and Answer with Tiberius Rata on the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah

 

Learn more about Ezra and Nehemiah in the Mentor Bible Commentary Series

Tiberius Rata Ezra Nehemiah commentary

A native of Romania, Tiberius Rata, B.S., M.Div., Ph.D., is the chair of the Biblical Studies Department and professor of Old Testament Studies at Grace College and Theological Seminary, Winona Lake, Indiana. He is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and the Institute for Biblical Research and has presented papers at the national conventions of the Evangelical Theological Society. He is married to Carmen and they have two sons.

1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on Ezra and Nehemiah?

When I was teaching at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama, a representative from Christian Focus came to speak to faculty about research interests. I asked them if they had any openings for any of their commentary series and they said they needed someone to do Ezra/Nehemiah. I said I would love to do it, so here we are : )

2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

The commentary is written for pastors and serious Bible students. It’s outlined in a preachable (2-4 points per chapter) format. So, pastors, students, and lay Christians can benefit. The commentary can be used as a textbook for Bible courses. I will be using it for our Old Testament Bible Exposition course.

3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of Ezra and Nehemiah?

I try to write wholistically, in the sense that besides dealing with the text, I try to include relevant archaeological discoveries. Also, I do biblical theology (not pure OT theology) by looking at the text Christologically. Also, I try to have an application point or two.

4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?

You hear a lot about the lost 10 tribes of Israel. Ezra-Nehemiah is clear that all tribes were represented at the return from exile.

5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

A quote from Derek Kidner regarding Ezra 7:10, ” With study, conduct, and teaching put deliberately in this right order, each was able to function properly and at its best: study was preserved from unreality, conduct from uncertainty, and teaching from insincerity and shallowness.”

6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on Ezra and Nehemiah?

Any commentary by Derek Kidner I found very useful.

7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

I’ve written commentaries on Jeremiah (with Walter Kaiser) and Ecclesiastes (interdisciplinary commentary with Kevin Roberts). I am starting two interdisciplinary commentaries (theology/psychology) on Job and Proverbs. There is a chance that I’ll be writing another one with Christian Focus for the same Mentor series, but we don’t have signed contract yet.


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Question and Answer with Peter H. Davids on the Book of James

 

Learn more about James in the New International Greek Testament Commentary Series

Peter Davids James commentaryPeter H. Davids (Phd, Victoria University of Manchester, 1974) is biblical scholar with professional focus on the Catholic Epistles. Dr. Davids is a professor of Christianity at Houston Baptist University and part-time professor at Houston Graduate School of Theology. He has taught biblical studies at Regent College (Vancouver, British Columbia) and Canadian Theological Seminary (Regina, Saskatchewan), and he continues to teach in theological schools in Europe.

Dr. Davids has written several books, including some of the best-reviewed New Testament commentaries. Other than his commentaries on James (see below), he has written commentaries on The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude in the Pillar series, II Peter and Jude in A Handbook on the Greek Text series, and The Epistle of First Peter in the NICNT series.

1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on James?

The NIGTC commentary was based on my doctoral research. One of the editors, who knew me, was staying in our home in Germany overnight and asked to borrow my thesis. What he read was apparently enough to convince him suggest to the other editor offering me a contract for James. And since the research was “in hand,” they wanted that commentary relatively quickly. The thesis itself started with a paper I wrote in seminary, which made clear to me that James was a book needing research.

2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

The intended audience are those who are interested in James and can read at least some Greek. At the time of its writing, most seminary-trained pastors had taken Greek, so that was the biggest audience, but since the commentary engages the scholarly discussion going on about James, professors and other scholars were certainly in view. Some students in seminaries would have found it useful, as would a few lay Christians, but I would later write a commentary on James published by Hendrickson (1989) and later taken over by Baker for those who did not know Greek and finally A Biblical Theology of James, 1 and 2 Peter, and Jude (BTNT: Zondervan, 2014), which would update the commentary and develop the theology for lay Christians, pastors, students, and professors.

3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of James?

The NIGTC commentary was a state-of-the-art scholarly commentary on James that was based on extensive background research. It used tools such as discourse analysis that were just being developed. I was aware of the latest developments in Jewish studies and Greek linguistics. At the time, there was no scholarly commentary on James like it, certainly not in English.

4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?

I found working on James 5:13-16 as particularly influential, for as I was finishing the commentary I was ordained, and God spoke clearly to me through that passage about my duty as a presbyter to pray for the sick. But in doing the research behind the commentary, passages such as James 1:13-18 and its echoes later in James were significant for I found the issue of the origin of sin in the person fascinating.

5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

At the time of the writing, God was developing me into a pastor. I had always loved the church and thought I was pastoral, but during the work on the book I developed more of a heart for pastoral care. Thus understanding where God is in trials, how God gives good and not evil, where the sin in people (including me) came from, God’s role in giving life and providing the solution to our sinful tendencies, God’s great grace in receiving us back when we wander into spiritual adultery, and God’s provision of healing and forgiveness through the pastoral care of his presbyters were all significant for me. I realize how much Christ/God loved his church.

6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on James?

I would obviously include Peter H. Davids, A Biblical Theology of James, 1 and 2 Peter, and Jude (BTNT: Zondervan, 2014), for that updates and extends ideas rooted in the original commentary. When it comes to other scholars, Dale C. Allison has written the most extensive commentary on James (ICC; T&T Clark): he has the data, even if I disagree with some of his positions. You cannot do extensive research on James without it. In German the best works are those of Hubert Frankenmölle (2 volumes) and Wiard Popkes. But for English readers Scot McKnight has a fine recent volume in the NICNT. Of course, there are specialized studies on various topics in James, especially in the journal literature, but they would be too many to list.

7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

I have written at least two commentaries for each of the non-Johannine Catholic Letters, and out of that has come a continuing fascination, based on pastoral care, in the passions as the root of sin on a person’s life, how these passions were a concern for both Jewish and Stoic thought before James and the other Catholic Letters were written, the theological response in the New Testament, and how this was developed in the Patristic writers. Add in my interest in contemporary spiritual direction and family emotional systems, and one has the outline for what I hope will be my next book.

As for following me, I do have a website (www.davidsnet.ws/biblical) and a blog I sometimes write in (phdavids.com or www.phdavids.wordpress.com) and am on Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter.


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