Reformation Commentary on Scripture (Gal/Eph) – a review

IVP’s Ancient Commentary on Scripture series has gained widespread praise for making Patristic reflections on Scripture accessible for academic, pastoral, and devotional use. Now, IVP has begun publishing a new series of a similar kind called the Reformation Commentary on Scripture with Gerald Bray as the editor of the first volume (and Timothy George and Scott Manetsch as “general editors” for the series).

The launch volume is actually “volume 10” on Galatians and Ephesians. It is a sizable volume of over 450 pages. There is a 50+ page introduction to the commentary itself, but also to the Reformation and Scriptural interpretation in that period (particularly the 16th century). Particular “schools of exegesis” are discussed here, including “Luther and the the Wittenberg School,” “The Strasbourg-Basel tradition,” and “The Zurich group.”

The commentary proper follows the same format as the ACCS with snippets from a variety of theologians/pastors topically titled, but following the flow of the text. Who are the Reformers represented in the commentary? For Galatians, you will find people like

Martin Luther (of course!)

Erasmus

Wolfgang Musculus

Heinrich Bullinger

John Calvin

David Dickson

Rudolf Gwalther

William Perkins

Georg Maior

Jean Diodati

For Ephesians, people like

John Calvin (of course!)

Martin Bucer

Erasmus Sarcerius

Lancelot Ridley

(as well as many of those listed under Galatians, except no Luther [as far as I could tell])

What kinds of things will you find in this commentary? How is it useful? For one, it serves excellently as a window into the world of the Reformation and the issues they were dealing with and how they thought Scripture “spoke” into these issues.

For example, you will find a number of statements against the Pope.

Regarding, Eph 1:21, Lancelot Ridley wrote

This place reproves the bishop of Rome and all his decrees that make him head of the church of Christ, for the head of the church of Christ is not the bishop of Rome but Christ, who makes all imperfect things perfect

Also, same verse, Georg Maior thinks that “principalities and powers” could refer to the angelic invisible powers, but must also address earthly ones.

In this verse…it must be understood that Paul is speaking about earthly principalities like emperors and kings who have been established in the highest offices of dignity and power.

You will also see much reflection on “faith and works.” As in Henrich Bullinger’s statement on Eph 2:10. Though “works” was largely seen as negative by some Reformers, Bullinger takes Eph 2:10 as a cue to find a sense of balance.

Two errors are refuted here. The first is the error of those who attribute righteousness to our works and the second is the error of those who separate works from faith when they preach one thing and do another. We must stick to the middle way and not turn to the right or to the left.

Lancelot Ridley and Martin Bucer, with an eye on Eph 2:18, criticize praying to dead saints in view of the democratization of access to God through the Spirit.

Calvin takes a “shot” at the ritual of kneeling during prayer, which is mentioned by Paul in Eph 3:14:

Prayer does not always require kneeling, but this sign of reverence is common, particularly when the prayer in question is serious and not just perfunctory.

Calvin, in respect to Eph 4:7, underscores the importance of believers having equal access to Scripture and the sacraments.

So, as you can see, so much interesting history and engagement between “Christ and culture” in these pages from the Reformation theologians. But, to be honest, my appreciation is primarily just to glean from their wisdom as it pertains to Christian formation. I will probably read this series devotionally, as I sometimes do with the ACCS. What a gift! I thank the editors as well as IVP for offering this treasure store of history, theology, and devotional inspiration to us.

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Eerdmans Companion to the Bible recently released

With Gordon Fee and Robert Hubbard at the editorial helm, I was anxiously looking forward to the release of The Eerdmans Companion to the Bible. At over 800 pages, it is definitely a “reference” resource, though it does contain a basic commentary on the whole Biblical text by Connie Gundry Tappy. A number of other scholars have contributed to this resource including

Desmond Alexander, Joel Green, Richard Longenecker, Tremper Longman, Marianne Meye Thompson, Bill Arnold, Daniel Block, Craig Blomberg, Craig Evans, Richard Hess, Craig Hill, Howard Marshall, Ralph Martin, Klyne Snodgrass, Frank Thielman, Rikki Watts, H.G.M. Williamson, and many more.

What kind of resource is this? I would say it is a cross between an introductory book for the Bible, a commentary, and a dictionary. Interspersed throughout Tappy’s commentary are various excurses that cover some related theme or issue. For example, under “Genesis” you will find excurses by various scholars on “Creation and Modern Science” as well as “Flood Stories in the Bible and the Ancient Near East.” In Joshua, you will find an excursus on “The Divine Warrior.”

I think one of the most attractive features is the pre- and post-commentary essays. On the introductory end, we have a Welcome to the Bible section that contains a number of preliminary essays such as “Why Are These Books in the Bible” and “How to Interpret the Bible” (the latter by Joel Green, a nice short introduction). At the end of the companion are two very useful essays: “The Guide for Christian Faith” and “The Guide for Christian Living.”

Who is this resource for and at what level is it pitched? It is not a graduate resource, so don’t expect to consult it for exegesis papers. Most essays are very short and, while authored by experts, written at a bottom-shelf level. I think this resource rivals what you will find at many “mom and pop” Christian bookstores as reference books for doing Bible study. I applaud Eerdmans for having a voice in this market. So much of what ends up in bookstores is outdated or “fluffy.” This is a consciously evangelical reference work, but they have collected highly respected scholars to make their contribution.

I think this would work well for young college students (I am toying around with using it myself!). It would work well for church Bible studies or Sunday schools. For pastors, it is a pretty good quick reference for issues in preaching and teaching (though IVP “black” dictionaries are the true standard, as well as the New Interpreter’s Dictionary set). The brevity of the excurses are the most attractive part for me as you can have students spend most of their “homework time” interacting with the Biblical text itself, but use the 1 or 2 page excurses to offer quick interactions with critical, hermeneutical, or application-related issues.