Q & A with Craig Keener on his Galatians commentary

Craig S. Keener is the author of Galatians: A Commentary (Baker Academic). He is the F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary. Dr. Keener has authored 24 books, five of which have won book awards in Christianity Today, of which altogether more than one million copies are in circulation. (Links below go to Amazon using each resource’s exact ISBN.)

His IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (1993), now in its 2nd revised edition (2014, links go to Amazon), has sold more than half a million copies (including editions in several languages, including more than fifty thousand copies in Korean).

The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, for which Craig authored most of the New Testament notes (and which John Walton and Craig edited), won Bible of the Year in the 2017 Christian Book Awards, and also won Book of the Year in the Religion: Christianity category of the International Book Awards.

His recent books include Galatians, New Cambridge Bible Commentary (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018); Spirit Hermeneutics (Eerdmans, 2016); The Mind of the Spirit: Paul’s Approach to Transformed Thinking (Baker Academic, 2016); Acts: A Exegetical Commentary (4 vols., 4559 pages; Baker Academic, 2012-2015); Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Baker Academic, 2011); The Historical Jesus of the Gospels (Eerdmans, 2009); The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Eerdmans, 2009); Romans (Cascade, 2009); 1-2 Corinthians (Cambridge, 2005); The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Hendrickson/Baker Academic, 2003).

Dr. Keener has written for various journals, both academic (e.g., Journal for the Study of the New Testament; Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus; Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism; Bulletin for Biblical Research; A.M.E. Church Review) and popular (e.g., Christianity Today; Charisma; Christian History; regularly, A.M.E. Zion Missionary Seer; Christian Trends).

He has published more than 70 academic articles and more than 170 popular ones. He wrote “2 Corinthians” in The New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary, the article on the Holy Spirit for The Oxford Handbook of Evangelical Theology, and has published other popular materials with Abingdon, InterVarsity, and Zondervan.

He is coeditor of the New Covenant Commentary Series and of Global Voices: Reading the Bible in the Majority World, is a consulting editor for the Africa Study Bible, and is the New Testament editor for The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (Zondervan, 2016). He is editor of The Bulletin for Biblical Research (2015-2019) and recently served as program chair for the Institute for Biblical Research (2010-12).

Dr. Keener is married to Médine Moussounga Keener, who holds a Ph.D. from University of Paris 7. She was a refugee for 18 months in her nation of Congo (their story together appears in the book Impossible Love, Chosen Books, 2016), and together Craig and Médine work for ethnic reconciliation in the U.S. and Africa.

Craig was ordained in an African-American denomination in 1991 and for roughly a decade before moving to Wilmore was one of the associate ministers in an African-American megachurch in Philadelphia. In recent years he has taught in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and in connection with various denominations.

7 Questions on Galatians: A Commentary with Craig S. Keener

Recently, Dr. Keener kindly answered my questions about his just-released Galatians commentary. Readers will learn how this commentary came to be, what is distinct about it among Galatians commentaries, how the project edified him personally, and much more.

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

Before I started my PhD work, I was going to focus especially on John and Paul. Most of my PhD course work focused on the Gospels, and I published a lot on them first, but always intending to get back to Paul. Whenever I researched ancient sources, I collected material for my future work in the rest of the New Testament, not just in the projects that I was writing at the time.

My Acts commentary was meant to transition me to Paul. I planned to do a major commentary on Romans (I have a short one with Cascade), but Cambridge invited me to write a Galatians commentary for them and I agreed.

They were gracious with space, but I had too much material (imagine that!) and so Cambridge published the short version but allowed me to publish the fuller version with Baker Academic. This version is much more complete (I think between double and triple the length).

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

Lay Christians, unless they read a lot in biblical studies, might prefer the shorter version with Cambridge. But certainly professors, seminarians, and pastors will benefit from this fuller version.

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

Because we shouldn’t expect everybody to have to spend decades studying the ancient world, I sought, as always in my work, to provide insights from ancient sources, often insights that are not as widely available. I engage a wide range of ancient sources.

I was also able to do more with history of interpretation in this commentary than in my own earlier ones, but that is thanks more to the secondary sources available today than to my own years of work.

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

It may be difficult to narrow down, but one passage that comes to mind is Paul’s treatment of the Sarah-Hagar allegory in Gal 4:24ff. I don’t think my approach to that passage is unique; I came to it after wrestling through a lot of secondary literature as well as the ancient sources I had collected. But I finally felt that I understood it after the research.

The same was true for Paul’s treatment of stoicheia (sometimes rendered “elements”), which are a bit different from the interpretations I was learning back as a student in the 1980s.

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

I have always loved Paul’s treatment of walking in the Spirit, being led by the Spirit, following the steps of the Spirit, and bearing the fruit of the Spirit, but these came together for me in a new way as I worked on this commentary. That’s the first example that comes to my mind.

The second is Paul’s deeply loving heart for his converts. The pathos in 4:12-20 highlights it, but it’s clear throughout, as often in his letters. Paul wasn’t writing theology for abstract reflection; he was in a life-and-death struggle for the spiritual destiny of people he loved.

And of course, thinking of Gal 2:20, Christ living in us, and how we can depend on him in our Christian lives because he’s always with us and working in us.

And if I hadn’t been struck by it so much when working on my earlier Mind of the Spirit book, Paul’s teaching of justification by faith might have come to my mind first; God’s sacrificially loving gift of life for us in Christ is incomparable!

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

Ah, this is hard to narrow down. I found many helpful, and off the top of my head risk leaving some out.

Obviously among large commentaries, Longenecker (links go to Amazon), Moo, Schreiner, De Boer, Witherington … the danger of starting is not knowing where to stop. (David deSilva’s, just out, is great; among old ones, Lightfoot already was brilliant in the 1800s …)

When my friend Ben Witherington invited me to write the Cambridge version, he gave one condition: first read John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift. It is magnificent and quite valuable for the discussion. 

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

In the editing pipeline now is Christobiography: Memories, History, and the Reliability of the Gospels (Eerdmans), on an academic level, exploring the historiographic implications of the Gospels’ genre.

Most scholars have agreed for a few decades now that the Gospels are or are at least closely related to ancient biographies, but only now are some scholars really beginning to explore the implications of that question for historical and literary implications.

Also, a replacement volume on John in Zondervan’s Bible Backgrounds Commentary, to be bundled with Clint Arnold’s Acts commentary. Within the next few months I need to finish a relatively short Acts commentary for Cambridge.

And, finally, Old Testament scholar Michael Brown and I coauthored a popular-level book on one aspect of eschatology: Why We’re Not Afraid of the Antichrist (Chosen). After that, I am supposed to start another commentary … but let me clear these off the plate before I think too much about that one! 🙂

If they want to follow, my website is craigkeener.com, mostly offering Bible studies and videos (I have been posting regularly for a few years now, but if I can’t keep up I might eventually need to do some reruns).

I’m on Facebook; my personal page has reached FB’s 5000-friend limit but it’s still possible to follow if anybody finds my personal travels, etc., of interest.

Own Craig S. Keener’s Galatians: A Commentary

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see his About page for details.

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