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Chung-Kim, Esther and Todd R. Hains, editors. Acts. Reformation Commentary on Scripture: New Testament 6. Downers Grover, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2014.  430 pp. Hc; $40.00.  Link

This is the latest installment in the Reformation Commentary Series (RCS). Following in the footsteps of the popular Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture from InterVarsity, this commentary collects key sections from Reformation commentators and presents them in an accessible format for the modern reader. Esther Chung-Kim is a professor of Religious Studies at Claremont McKenna College specializing in the History of World Christianity and Todd Hains is a PhD candidate in historical theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity.

Timothy George’s General Introduction to the RCS is a good 23 page refresher on what constitutes the literature of the Reformation in terms of chronology and confession. There is far more to read from this period than just Luther and Calvin. This commentary therefore includes Erasmus as a biblical humanist as well as obvious examples from (Wittenberg, Luther; Strasbourg, Bucer; Zurich, Zwingli; Geneva, Calvin). There are also examples from the British reformation (including John Donne and William Perkins) and a few from the Anabaptist tradition.

RefCommentaryThe editors draw together a few key themes in their introduction to the commentary on Acts. First, the reformation commentators thought of themselves as “actors on the same stage” as the apostles in Acts. Acts was not history to a writer like John Donne, it is the story of what continues to happen in the present experience of the Church. In fact, Acts provided Reformation commentators an opportunity to discuss the “office of the Word,” or how one goes about preaching the Gospel. An additional interest of the Reformation commentators is baptism. This is not surprising given the variety of views sacrament during this period of history as well as the inconsistency of Acts in portraying the rite. In the body of this commentary, diverse opinions are included, so that from the text of Acts 2:42 Michael Sattler (a Swiss radical, 1490-1527) can argue circumcision is not a type of baptism, Peter Walpot (a Moravian radical, d. 1578) can dismiss infant baptism, and the Augsburg Confession (1530) argues in favor of efficacious infant baptism (p. 32-33). Luther can turn Paul’s baptism in Acts 9 into a defense of infant baptism, while Leonhard Schiemer (an Austrian martyr, d. 1528) uses the same text to argue for believer’s baptism (146-7).

Another interest of the Reformation commentaries on Acts is treatment of the poor. The church had to deal with the poor in a world that was rapidly changing. While Calvin and the Geneva reformers sought to create a kind of social welfare system to assist the poor, immigrants and others displaced by political turmoil, the radical reformers were abolishing personal property and living lives of voluntary poverty. Obviously the Munster radicals did not write commentaries on Acts, but the model of Acts 2:42-47 was taken seriously. Peter Walpot is included as a voice declaring personal property to be the source of all kinds of sin, while Calvin and others argue for the proper use of property from the same texts.

One of the most important themes of Acts which resonated with the Reformation commentators is suffering for the faith. As Chung-Kim and Hains state, the Reformation “caused a revolution in the Christian theology of suffering” (liv). Menno Simons, for example, describes Paul’s suffering at Lystra as an example of the “misery, tribulation, persecution, bonds, fear and death” that attests the Spirit of Liberty (198).

The body of the commentary begins with the ESV text of Acts followed by a brief overview of the pericope. The editors then collect brief extracts from Reformation commentaries in two columns, providing a short summarizing heading in bold type. The name of the writer appears first in small caps, followed by the extract. Latin is given in brackets when necessary. The entry concludes with the name of the work and a footnote provides the reader necessary bibliographic information on the entry. There are no sidebars or explanations of the details of the text of Acts (with the exception of a chart on the Herodian dynasty in Acts 12, p. 162). Since the purpose of the commentary is to report the interpretations of the Reformers, this is to be expected.

The book concludes with several appendices, including a map of Europe during the Reformation and a timeline for events in the Reformation countries for the years 1337-1691. There is a 23 page collection of biographical sketches of the Reformers collected in the commentary as well as short descriptions of key documents and confessions of the period. A bibliography of primary sources is included along with several indices. The bibliography lists online resources where available.

Conclusion. Like the Ancient Christian Commentary series, this book is not a commentary on the text Bible as much as a collection of observations Acts drawn from a narrow range of history. While some of these issues seem obtuse to the modern reader, many questions the Reformation raised when they read Acts are similar in nature to what Christians ask 500 years later. The editors of the volume are to be commended for culling through a massive literature in order to find salient points of contact over this long period of church history.

One contribution of the series is to provide English translations for some Reformers who have yet to be translated. By arranging these readings in a semi-topical fashion, the editors make it quite easy for the non-expert to read what might be an overwhelming and bewildering commentary. A good introduction to reading Reformation writers for those interested is Reading Scripture with the Reformers by the Reformed Commentary series editor Timothy George.


NB: Thanks to InterVarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Logos Bible Software has a great deal on 24 “classic commentaries” on Mark. The current community price bid is $30 for all 24 volumes, so a lilttle more that a dollar a book.  Logos has produced a good number of these “classic” sets, providing a good value on resources that are not readily available. By getting in on the community price bid, you can get the books for far less than they will cost later.

By classic, they mean old (published between 1860–1954). Some of these are not particularly valuable; I am not sure I would purchase Arthur Ritchie’s Spiritual Studies in St. Mark’s Gospel even at a dollar a volume. (Ritchie was the rector at St. Ignatius’ Church in New York at the end of the 19th century and wrote several multi-volume “spiritual studies” sets.)  There are commentaries from Lyman Abbott and William Kelley; both were of interest when they were published but are quite dated. Some of the commentaries are of historical interest, however. Leicester Ambrose Sawyer’s First Gospel, Being the Gospel according to Mark (1864) is an interesting insight in to the state of Mark and Q studies int he mid-19th century.  Benjamin Bacon’s Is Mark a Roman Gospel? (Harvard University Press, 1919) is well worth a browse as well.

Marie-Joseph Lagrange

Marie-Joseph Lagrange

An added value for some scholars will be several foreign language commentaries. In French, the collection includes Marie-Joseph Lagrange (Évangile selon Saint Marc, 1935). Lagrange was the founder of the École Biblique in Jerusalem as well as the journal Revue Biblique in 1892.

There are three German commentaries as well. Reading these in the Logos format will be much easier since older German books were printed in the older letters (Fraktur). There are three German commentaries in the collection, including Julius Wellhausen’s Das Evangelium Marci übersetzt und erklärt,originally published in 1903. While Wellhausen is better known for his OT studies, this commentary on Mark is a significant contribution since he argues the priority of Mark against the hypothetical “Q” document. Another name associated with OT studies is included August Klostermann (Das Markusevangelium nach seinem Quellenwerthe für die evangelische Geschichte, 1867). Finally, the collection has a commentary by Bernard Weiss (Die Geschichtlichkeit des Markusevangelium, 1905).

Is the set worth $30? I think that it is, since I might have paid that for Lagrange and Wellhausen alone if I ran across them in a used book store. Head over to Logos, browse the list and decide for yourself.

Chisholm, Robert B. A Commentary on Judges and Ruth.  Kregel Exegetical Library; Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2014. 697 pp. Hb; $39.99. Link.

Long time Dallas Theological Seminary professor Robert Chisholm wrote Interpreting the Historical Books for Kregel’s Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis series. This new commentary on Judges and Ruth in the Kregel Exegetical Library offers a more detailed application of Chisholm’s method from that introduction. He describes this method as a “literary-theological” method (p. 14). By this he means that he attempts to track the author’s literary strategies in the canonical form of the book in order to identify the text’s theological message.

Chisholm, Judges & RuthThe introduction to Judges (88 pages) begins with an overview of the literary structure of the book. With respect to chronology, Chisholm is open to the idea that the three major judges overlap with earlier material (p.22), although this is not critical to a literary-theological reading of the book, although he makes an attempt to create a chronology of the period (p. 34-53). After surveying a number of options, he argues for the Exodus about 1260 B.C., the invasion of Canaan in 1220 B.C. with the completion about 7 years later. The chronology of Judges begins in 1190 (Judg 3:8) and ends with Samson’s 20-year leadership sometime between 1110 and 1070. This overlaps with Eli’s 40 years at Shiloh (1130-1090) in 1 Samuel; the anointing of Saul is about 1050. This chronology does not differ much from other conservative writers, although it will not please everyone.

Chisholm is inclined to date the book before David and he detects something of an anti-Benjamin/anti-Ephraimite agenda (p. 66). While Judges is not wholly “pro-Judah” it does seem to argue Israel needs a strong, godly king. Chisholm is content to see the book as in the context of an early Davidic dynasty, although it is entirely possible this message would have been of interest in the late Solomonic period or just after the split. For example, Dale DeWitt’s unpublished dissertation “The Jephthah Traditions: A Rhetorical and Literary Study in the Deuteronomistic History” argues for a post Solomonic context for Judges.

Of interest is Chisholm’s eleven page section entitled “What Role Do the Female Characters Play?” (69-80). There are indeed a large number of female characters in the book and many of them are portrayed in a very positive light (Deborah is a judge, Jael kills Sisera, Delilah gets the best of Samson), although others are tragic figures Sisera’s mother, Jephthah’s daughter, the Levite’s concubine). For Chisholm, the book portrays strong women as warriors and leaders in contrast to the weak spiritual leadership of men like Barak and Jephthah. Ultimately the “downward spiral of Judges” paves the way for Hannah, the woman who gives birth to Samuel at the darkest moment in the Judges period, who will anoint David as king.

In his 32-page introduction to Ruth Chisholm surveys the bewildering number of suggestions for the genre of Ruth. Since he does not care much for form-critical categories, he focuses on the literary and theological nuances of the book. He therefore highlights the fact that God is concerned for the needy and rewards those who demonstrate loving kindness (hesed) such as Ruth and Boaz. While he notices the canonical placement of the book of Ruth after Proverbs, Chisholm does not treat the book as wisdom literature. To me this is an important oversight since the book does illustrate via narrative the type of woman described in Prov 31:10-31 as well as the way a person of wisdom demonstrates hesed.

Each section of the commentary begins with a translation and narrative structure analysis. The translation is a “slightly revised version” of his contribution to the NET version. Chisholm breaks English verse into Hebrew phrases in order to visually demonstrate the flow of the original. He then assigns a narrative tag to these Hebrew phrases (initiatory, focusing, complementary, sequential, etc.) These categories are briefly described in the introduction (pp. 81-86) and Chisholm devoted the first chapter of Interpreting the Historical Books to reading narrative. The footnotes in this section of the commentary are concerned with narrative features of the Hebrew clauses and occasionally textual variants.

After a short comment on the literary structure of the pericope, Chisholm proceeds to the exposition of the text. This follows an outline developed from his narrative reading and covers sub-units rather than a phrase-by-phrase commentary.  Hebrew occasionally appears in this expositional section without transliteration, but a reader without knowledge of Hebrew will be able to follow the commentary. More technical details of Hebrew syntax appear in the footnotes. Chisholm occasionally interacts with other major commentaries on Judges and Ruth, although this usually appears in the footnotes. The result is a very reading exposition of the text which provides sufficient detail for pastors and teachers presenting sermons and lessons on Judges and Ruth.

Following the exposition of the text, Chisholm offers a section entitled “Message and Application.” First, he includes a few “thematic emphases” of the pericope. These are exegetical in nature and are closely connected to the text examined. Second, he gives some “theological principles” drawn from the section. These are broader than the thematic observations, connecting to theological themes of the whole book and to the rest of the Hebrew Bible. Not surprisingly, the theological teaching in Judges often centers on sin and its effects, while in Ruth God’s sovereignty is the main feature.  Third, Chisholm offers a few “homiletical trajectories” intended to give a preacher some hints at how they might present the text in a sermon. For each, Chisholm gives a short “exegetical idea,” “theological idea,” and “preaching idea” summarizing the section. For a busy pastor preparing a sermon on Judges or Ruth, these sections will be the most valuable.

Conclusion. Chisholm’s commentary on Judges and Ruth is an excellent exposition of the text from a conservative scholar. For the most part he assumes the historicity of the text and ignores any discussion of potential sources or anachronisms. He specifically eschews these methods in the introduction (p. 15), characterizing these as “creative scholarly conjecture” (p. 30).  He considers revisions of Noth’s Deuteronomisitc History to be a “debate going around in circles” (55). His exposition of the text is based on the assumption the book was intended to be read as a literary whole.

There is less historical background material in this commentary than might be expected. Major commentaries on Old Testament books can become bloated with material accessible in other resources (Bible Dictionaries for example). Since his interests are literary and theological, there is no need to offer descriptions of geographical locations or comments on archaeology (or the lack thereof) as background to the stories.

I would recommend the book to pastors and teachers who are preparing sermons on the often overlooked book of Judges.  Chisholm’s exposition is easy to read and provides excellent illumination of the text for the purpose of serving the Church today.



NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.




Keener ActsHere is a link to three reviews of Craig Keener’s Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, Volume 1 on Review of Biblical Literature.  Keener’s commentary is a a masterpiece, the introduction is at least three or four monographs worth of material.

Richard I. Pervo is quite complementary, despite a careful review of Keener’s view of the value of the history of Acts.  Even though Keener does not accept Pervo’s view on Acts as Novel, Pervo finds much in this commentary similar to his own thinking.  Pervo argues in this review that “every episode should be evaluated for historical worth on its own merits,” rather than resorting to literary  or historical theories in each case.  For the most part Keener does not interact with Pervo since his work was more or less finished by the time that Pervo’s commentary was released.

Joseph B. Tyson looks more closely at Keener’s approach to “Acts as an apologetic historiography.”  As he states, it is hard to judge how this will work out in the commentary since the only the first two chapters are included in the first volume.  But it is clear that Keener is willing to accept more as historical than most modern commentaries, especially miracles.  “to dismiss claims about miracles is a Western ethnocentric, largely academic, worldview and that an unbiased approach would consider their possibility,” writes Tyson.  This is not really a surprise since Keener has also written a lengthy defense of miracles.

Daniel L. Smith is a bit less complimentary, finding that the length of the book makes for difficult reading, with “occasional redundancies and repetitions.” The commentary is “cumbersome at times” yet still in many ways “fresh and appealing.”  Despite any misgivings, Smith still describes the commentary as “the result of the careful, balanced work of a senior scholar.”

All the more reason for you to invest in Keener’s first volume on Acts!

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