Q&A with Willem VanGemeren on his Psalms Commentary

psalms bible commentary vangemeren cover

Willem VanGemeren is the author of the Psalms volume in the Revised Expositor’s Bible Commentary series.

Dr. VanGemeren (Ph.D, University of Wisconsin) taught at Geneva College and Reformed Theological Seminary for eighteen years. He has taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School since 1992. He is now Professor Emeritus of Old Testament and Semitic Languages (TEDS) and Distinguished Professor of Old Testament Theology at Chongshin University (Seoul).

Dr. VanGemeren was born in the Netherlands and immigrated to the U.S. for further education to serve the Lord. His studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem confirmed his interest to specialize in the Hebrew Old Testament.

Dr. VanGemeren’s areas of expertise include Old Testament theology, poetical and prophetical books, and the books of Psalms, Proverbs, and Isaiah. He has served as director of the PhD (Theological Studies) in the past.

Dr. VanGemeren’s publications include contributions to such works as The Bible Almanac, Expository Dictionary of the Old Testament, Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, Baker’s Encyclopedia of the Bible, Continuity and Discontinuity, and Layman’s Bible Handbook. More of Dr. VanGameren’s published books are mentioned in the interview below. (Links go to Amazon).

Dr. VanGemeren and his wife Evona have three married daughters and seven grandchildren, and find it to be a joy to be living close to two of their grandchildren and to watch their development.

7 Question on Psalms in the Revised Expositor’s Bible Commentary Series

Recently, Dr. VanGemeren graciously answered my questions about his Psalms commentary. Readers will learn how this commentary came to be, what is unique about it among Psalms commentaries, and how the project edified him personally.

Unless otherwise noted, the links provided lead to Amazon.com.

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

I had written The Progress of Redemption (Zondervan/Baker) and was completing Interpreting the Prophetic Word (Zondervan), when Zondervan approached me with an invitation to write a commentary on the Psalms for the Expositor’s Bible Commentary (EBC) series. (Links go to Amazon.)

I had been greatly stimulated by the work of Brevard S. Childs. He had argued for a more holistic approach to reading the Old Testament as Scripture in Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture of the Church (1979).

About the same time James Kugel had opened the door to a literary approach to biblical poetry inThe Idea of Biblical Poetry: Parallelism and its History (1981). By the time of the publication of the revised commentary in the REBC, I gained a clearer vision of the shaping of the book of Psalms and had benefited from the more recent studies by Robert Alter (The Art of Biblical Poetry, 1985) and of Adele Berlin (The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism1985).

I have written about these developments in “Entering the Textual World of the Psalms: Literary Analysis” (in The Psalms: Language for all Seasons of the Soul, ed. Andrew J. Schmutzer & David M. Howard, Jr. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2013, 29-48). Further, I was going through a period of eucatastrophe during which I experienced what John Calvin describes as a search for the knowledge of myself (who am I?) as I came to know God better.

This period of spiritual wrestling was not unlike that experienced by Martin Luther and John Calvin, as they, too, found themselves in the book of Psalms (see Willem A. VanGemeren, “The Reformation and the Appropriation of Scripture: Dwelling in the Psalms.” Plenary Address Korean Evangelical Theological Society. November 11, 2017).

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 the Church and has benefited many. More technical textual questions are treated in notes, but the issues raised by form criticism are intentionally sidelined. That my original concern was with the life of the Church was expressed in the Introduction to the commentary, (The Psalter is) God’s prescription for a complacent church.

It reveals how great, wonderful, magnificent, wise, and utterly awe-inspiring he is. If God’s people before the incarnation could have such faith in the Lord … how much more should this be true among twenty-first century Christians! The book of Psalms can revolutionize our devotional life, our family patterns, and the fellowship and witness of the church of Jesus Christ.

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

The EBC and its revision (REBC) were intentionally written for the Church. Originally Zondervan had restricted me to about 500 pages. When first published it was about 900 pages and when revised, it was well over 1000 pages. The commentary reflects my personal growth in Scripture, hermeneutics, and in interpretation.

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

I was taken by the movement from lament to praise, see especially Psalms 146-150. More recently, I was privileged to develop this in “God’s Faithfulness, Human Suffering, and the Concluding Hallel Psalms (146-150): A Canonical Study” (Building on the Foundations of Evangelical Theology: Essays in Honor of John S. Feinberg, Gregg R. Allison and Stephen J. Wellum [eds.], Wheaton: Crossway, 2015, 263-84).

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

The recognition of the depth of human depravity as David and other writers wrestle with their guilt before God, express their ultimate trust in him, grow in grace and wisdom, and rest in the promise of God’s ultimate fidelity.

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

Of the “Best Bible Commentaries on the Psalms” I particularly recommend the NICOT commentary, the Word Bible Commentary, the commentaries by C. Hassell Bullock, John Goldingay, Allen P. Ross, and Gerald H. Wilson, and, for those who want to probe deeper, the more technical Hermeneia commentaries by Frank-Lothar and Erich Zenger.

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

After my retirement from TEDS (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) in 2015, I have given myself more fully to a global ministry of teaching and preaching: the TEDS’ Korean DMin program (Seoul, SKorea), the Chongshin University and Theological Seminary (Seoul, SKorea), and in churches, schools, and seminaries in Brazil, Greece, Lithuania, the Netherlands, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, the USA, and wherever God calls me.

I regularly write articles on theological and exegetical topics and have begun writing a volume on seeking the face of God.

My wife (Evona) and I live on a farmette in central Illinois where we tend to many gardens and enjoy meeting with friends, family, and former students.

I suppose that the occasional updates to the Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willem_A._VanGemeren) will inform people as to my activities past and present.

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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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