Short Review: Robert Gundry’s ‘Commentary on the New Testament’

A brief review of Robert H. Gundry, Commentary on the New Testament: Verse-by-verse explanations with a Literal Translation, Peabody, Massachussetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010, hdbk, 1072 pages. 

There is not much of Robert Gundry’s literary output that I would recommend.  Up till now the one exception has been his excellent little book, Jesus the Word According to John the Sectarian, which is a very stimulating and edifying study of the Logos theme which runs throughout John.  So when I saw that Gundry had published a large one-volume Commentary on the entire New Testament I had to ask myself some discerning questions.

The first question that popped into my mind was, “how much of Gundry’s exegesis will be tainted with form-critical analysis and mishnaic diversion?” (or something like that).  Gundry’s big commentaries on Mark and Matthew are considered as departures from usual evangelical practice.  I would not recommend them, although, in fairness, the way evangelical scholarship has drifted closer in sympathy with historical criticism of late, Gundry isn’t quite so radical as he used to be.

I consider Gundry’s position on inerrancy far easier to deal with than someone like K. Vanhoozer, who rejects propositional revelation (although he tends to caricature it).  It’s just easier for me to pinpoint Gundry and his tendencies.

Anyway, I purchased the Commentary and have read a good bit of it and I have come away with a favorable impression of it.  Gundry is not concerned at all with introductory matters.  This work is exactly what it says it is; a commentary on the text of the New Testament.  And taken this way it is a successful project, regardless of one’s disagreements with some of the author’s interpretations.

This big book is arranged in helpful double-column format, which makes it easy to use.  The biblical text is in bold type to offset it from his comments.  Gundry provides his own nuanced translation, plenty of relevant background material, and clear and usually helpful comments on each passage.  He is concerned with the logical flow of thought and the way he sees Scripture interpreting Scripture.  He is premillennial (the “resurrection” of Jn. 5:25 and Rev. 20 is “bodily resurrection,” not the spiritual – read “spiritualized” – resurrection of the amillennials).  His soteriology is definitely Calvinistic, and although he identifies the Israel of Rom. 11:23-28 as “biological Israelites, he believes the end time salvation of Israelites brings them into the Church and not into covenanted promises to Israel as a distinct new covenant community as per the OT.  Yes, there are many places where I would disagree.  Another would be his equating the 144,000 from the twelve tribes of Israel in Rev. 7 with the worldwide throng later in the chapter.  Still another his belief that the “temple” in 2 Thess. 2 is the Church.

But having disagreements with commentators is fine, so long as they have fairly set out their views so as not to mislead readers into thinking there is only one way to view certain passages.  Gundry sets out his views, but he usually does so in a way where one can get his point while not feeling compelled to agree with him.  That, to my mind, is a strength and not a weakness.

I have been impressed by the evident amount of mature reflection on the text which Gundry serves up.  For instance, in commenting on Jn. 21:15-17 he says: “So long as John is concerned,…forget the popular treatment of agape-love as superior to phileo-love.”  And in identifying the “Israel of God” in Gal. 6:16 his reasoning that Paul is referring to actual Israel and not Gentiles is very clear.  Similarly, with the Warning Passages of Hebrews the author does not let theology overwhelm the plain threat in the verses.

What I want in a commentary is solid reflection grounded in solid exegesis.  I want to think through the text, even while taking leave of the commentators opinions when I feel compelled to do so.  Gundry has provided an impressive tool for readers of the NT to do just that.  On that basis it constitutes a good acquisition.

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