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.

Personal Thoughts About Commentaries (6): Ephesians

It’s about time I returned to this series recommending commentaries.  There are also lists on John, Romans, Matthew, and Genesis, plus my Introduction.  

1. Harold Hoehner – A massive book with an impressive argument for Pauline authorship and extremely detailed in the exegesis department.  There is room for him to survey all the options and argue for his choices.  One of the best commentaries on any Book.

2. Clinton Arnold (ZECNT)– A very good commentary, pitched just below the technical but with real attention to the text.  Arnold is well known for his book Ephesians: Power & Magic, which is a superb background study of how pagans in Ephesus understood the concept of spirits and power, including using magical papyri and amulets.

3. F.F. Bruce (NINCNT) – Paired with Colossians & Philemon, this work gives the pith and substance of Paul’s letter.

4. Markus Barth (Anchor) – Huge treatment, hard to read, but very suggestive.  Two volumes with impressive theological reflection based on minute exegesis.  Surprisingly for a German he argues for Paul as the author.

5. A. T. Lincoln (Word) – Lincoln sometimes reads like an evangelical; sometimes like a liberal.  He rejects Pauline authorship (for no good reason that I can see).  I like this work because one gets the sense of the forward-looking strain in the epistles.  Shame he doesn’t write on Philippians!. Continue reading “Personal Thoughts About Commentaries (6): Ephesians”

Personal Thoughts about Commentaries (5): GENESIS

Commentaries on the Book of Genesis are ten-a-penny.  But some of them are too concerned with ANE parallels that they forget to teach the Book itself.  Some are over speculative, while others too critical and unbelieving.  The pastor who wants to get at the meat without spitting out too many bones might do worse than study the following:

1.  Kenneth A. Mathews (NAC) – These two volumes are the best thing I have read on the text of Genesis.  They are up to date, readable, and conservative.  The writer pays attention to the NT uses and deals fairly with the literature.  The book has a refreshing quality about it that makes it interesting to read.

2. Gordon J. Wenham (WBC) – This is the one most commentary lists will put first for Genesis, and with good reason.  It is written by an expert, and it is clear that he is at home in the details.  The style is terse and clear.  Some critical stances bring this two volume work down a notch to second spot.

3. Victor Hamilton (NICOT) – Another two volume work at about the same level as Mathews and Wenham.  I like Mathews better on the first chapters, but this is an excellent commentary.  It provides a lot of background and linguistic material. Continue reading “Personal Thoughts about Commentaries (5): GENESIS”

Personal Thoughts about Commentaries (4): MATTHEW

Here are my personal picks for the most profitable commentaries on Matthew.  I favor a modified ‘Dispensational’ approach to the book which takes seriously the way Matthew provides lines of continuity and discontinuity with the Old Testament.  But I have little problem with including studies which do not handle eschatological issues as satisfactorily as I would like.  There is, after all, more to Matthew than eschatology:

1. Donald A. Hagner (WBC) – This was a hard choice as I don’t hold to ‘Q’.  But there is so much great exegetical, historical, and practical material in these two volumes that I cannot think of being without it.  Eat the meat and spit out the critical bones!

2. Grant Osborne (ZECNT) – A top drawer commentary by a seasoned scholar at his best.

3. D. A. Carson (EBC) – I rarely find Carson as helpful or as clear as Hagner, but this is a first-rate work.  More tentative on ‘Q’s’ influence than Hagner though.  The revised work in this set is sure to keep Carson at or near the top of everyone’s list. Continue reading “Personal Thoughts about Commentaries (4): MATTHEW”

Personal Thoughts about Commentaries (3): ROMANS

The Best Commentaries on Romans:

Remember, this list has preachers primarily in mind:

1. Douglas Moo (NICNT) – Somewhat dense, which may hinder readers somewhat, but interaction with the text and the literature is very impressive.  Deals well with the ‘new perspective’, and even manages some applications (but see Moo’s contribution to the NIVAC series).  His Introduction is on the short side, but there are numerous excurses.  Not all will like his treatment of Chapter 7.

2. Thomas Schreiner (BECNT) – I might have put this first because of its accuracy and usability.  Still a big book, but not as intimidating as Moo.  Pastors should purchase both works. Continue reading “Personal Thoughts about Commentaries (3): ROMANS”

Personal Thoughts about Commentaries (2): JOHN

I said in my first post in this series that I am not primarily interested in writing commentary lists for would-be scholars.  The audience I have in mind are pastors and Bible teachers who are concerned about what these books mean and how their meaning can be brought to bear on contemporary living.  The question I am concerned to answer is, “How will these people be most helped?” For this reason some will not agree with my recommendations.  Most Christians cannot afford to purchase more than a few commentaries upon any book of Scripture they wish to study.  Therefore, an expensive commentary, while desirable, would need to be essential, in the true sense of the word, to make it high on my list.   Continue reading “Personal Thoughts about Commentaries (2): JOHN”

Personal Thoughts about Commentaries (1)

There are many commentary booklists around nowadays. Some are very useful, others less so. This series of posts will contain my personal appraisals of Bible commentaries on individual books, beginning in the next installment with the Gospel of John. I have in view the God-called preacher, not the would-be scholar. For this reason my opinions will at times cross those of such luminaries as D.A. Carson and Craig A. Evans. I could not hold a candle to these men as a scholar, but, for all that, and since it has been requested of me, I shall give my halfpenny’s worth.


What Kind of Commentaries Should I Use and How Many?

If a preacher is going to study a book of the Bible seriously he needs good commentaries. Assuming his familiarity with Scripture and his prior study of a book or passage, he will need two different kinds of commentaries: exegetical, and expositional/theological. Continue reading “Personal Thoughts about Commentaries (1)”