Thursday, February 26, 2009

How Many Commentaries?

I recently read a pastor who said part of his reading is twenty commentaries as he prepares for preaching. That’s a lot.

It raises the question, how much is enough? My answer: It depends. It depends on your congregation, on your study habits, and on your choice of commentaries. I will address only the last in this post.

I think if you choose commentaries wisely, you will not need nearly twenty for normal weekly preaching. (And I mean no reflection the pastor who made the above comment.) In my experience, commentaries tend to become fairly repetitive. Usually by the third or fourth technical commentary (see below), there is little if any new ground being broken. The arguments may be worded slightly differently, but the content is basically the same, with the author advocating for his particular position.

I think if you choose from among recent commentaries, you will likely gain the best of all the older commentaries, sifted down and condensed.

I generally divide my commentary use into three sections.

The first category is what I call “simple basic commentaries.” This includes commentaries like the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, the Bible Knowledge Commentary, and the New Bible Commentary. These are brief, but give enough information to get started.* Using these first, you are not spending hours in your first commentary. You can breeze through it fairly quickly and get a grasp on a few things. They typically will not bring a lot of credibility to academic papers, but they are not intended to.

The second category is what I call “technical commentaries.” These are commentaries like the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the NT, the New International Commentary on the New Testament, The New International Greek Testament Commentary, the New American Commentary, the Pillar Commentary, or the Word Biblical Commentary. These typically deal with more technical matters (such as original language issues, complex arguments about exegetical choices, historical theology, etc.). In these volumes, you will see frequent references to each other, and frequent references to older works. If you are confused about what someone is saying in their commentary, you can often be helped by how the others talk about that commentary.

(A series like the Tyndale Series (TNTC/TOTC) seems to fit right in between simple and technical. They are more exegetically oriented than Expositor’s or the Bible Knowledge Commentary, but not nearly as complete as commentaries such as the Baker Exegetical or the New International Commentaries.)

The third category is what I call “homiletical/applicational commentaries.” These include commentaries such as the New International Version Application Commentary, the Preach the Word Commentary, Wiersbe’s “Be” Series, and the Holman Commentary Series. In these volumes you will not glean as much technical data about exegesis, but you will find some helpful insights for making the text understood and applied to life.

In any given week in 1 Peter, I consult seven or eight commentaries, and some articles if there are more difficult exegetical issues. I usually start with the Bible Knowledge Commentary and Blum in the Expositor’s. I then use Jobes (BEGNT), Davids (NICNT), Schreiner (NAC), and Michaels (WBC, to look for clarity on technical matters), and Grudem (TNTC). I then finish off with McKnight (NIVAC).

Of course there are other good ones. As Solomon said, “the writing of many books is endless” (Ecc 12:12). But these are the ones that I find helpful.

*By “started,” I don’t mean started in the study process. You should have a lot of work done long before you pick up a commentary.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Job of Spiritual Leaders

Aren’t these verses very similar?

Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you; but I will instruct you in the good and right way (1 Samuel 12:23).

But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4).

In both verses you have spiritual leaders setting out their primary duties: prayer and instruction in truth.

Two thoughts for consideration (unrelated to each other):

First, it is interesting that Samuel sees failure to pray for those in his spiritual charge as sin.

Second, as pastors, we are typically disposed to think of the “ministry of the word” in terms of our public preaching. It is how we justify spending hours upon hours in preparation for our Sunday morning message. It is perhaps also how we justify limited contact with people.

Perhaps that is too narrow. We should think of “ministry of the word” as something that goes on in virtually every encounter with people. This does not minimize preaching and study. I think we should devote ourselves to careful study.

I would argue it maximizes the need to know the Word so that we can bring it to bear in every encounter. Studying to preach is good and necessary. Studying to converse with our neighbor, or a hurting church member, is just as necessary.

Monday, February 16, 2009

FYI – Dates of Authorship of the Minor Prophets

Here is a chart of commonly accepted dates for the authorship of the Minor Prophets.

Canonical Order

Chronological Order
(Number is Canonical Order)

Dates (B.C.)


Obadiah (4)



Joel (2)



Jonah (5)



Hosea (1)



Amos (3)



Micah (6)



Nahum (7)



Zephaniah (9)



Habakkuk (8)



Haggai (10)



Zechariah (11)



Malachi (12)


As you can see the canonical order is not strictly chronological.  However, there is a general chronological arrangement in that Hosea through Micah occur during the Divided Kingdom, Nahum to Habakkuk during the period of the single Judean Kingdom, and Haggai to Malachi during postexilic period.

Some of the minor prophets are relatively easy to date since they give clues in the books, such as identifying the reign king or kings during whose reign the prophet ministered, or Amos’ dating his writing to “two years before the earthquake” (Amos 1:1; of course you have to figure out when the earthquake was, probably 760 B.C.). Haggai and Zechariah are the easiest to date since they give exact days (which work out to the autumn of 520 B.C.)

The dates of a few minor prophets are greatly disputed, such as Joel where even conservative scholars conclude differently on the date of authorship (Archer (SOTI), Feinberg, Freeman, and Garrett hold to the early date; Chisholm, Dillard, Hubbard holds to a post-exilic date, and there are others in between).

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

More on Facebook

Last week, I posted a link to an article by Al Mohler about Facebook. This week, it is the perspective of Steve Tuttle from Newsweek. He says,

Being on Facebook is like volunteering to receive spam, and the more successful you are at finding friends, the more spam you get! In the end, Facebook is really the emptiest, loneliest place on the whole World Wide Web. It's all static and white noise, and the steady streams of status updates start to look like ASDF, ASDF, ASDF after a while.

Here’s a few other links about the topic:

25 Things I Didn’t Want to Know About You from Time.

25 More Things I Didn’t Want to Know About You also from Time.

And Mark Galli from CT comments on insightfully here:

Yes, it's like church coffee hour, but the difference is that I keep running into new people to be trivial with, so it's all so very exciting. "Guess who I ran into on Facebook today?" I exclaim to my wife every so often. But I never go deeper with anyone there. And the few times I have tried, through messaging and e-mail, it's been an utter disaster.

That's because, as we are slowly learning in this techie age, electronic communication is a poor substitute for audible conversation and physical presence with another. There's a reason God created us with bodies, and why bodily presence is necessary to create and sustain truly meaningful human relationships.

HT: Brian Lowery at Preaching Today

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

National Geographic and Contextualization

The February 2009 edition of National Geographic Magazine has an article about escaping North Korea. The main part of the articles features two girls who were lured into a sex-on-the-internet ring and then escaped to South Korea with the help of a pastor.

The author encountered the two girls after they had been in South Korea for eight months. He asked one of the girls, “Do you have many friends?”

She replied, “How can I make friends if I can’t make sense of the society outside?” (p. 98).

It reminds me that part of ministry requires us making sense of the society “outside” the church, with the goal of helping them see that society outside the church doesn’t even make sense itself.

If we can’t make sense of the society outside, our ministry will probably be hampered to some degree. Understanding how people think and what they think helps us to communicate the Bible to them effectively, in ways that they can understand.

This is not as hard as some people make it. I doubt we need to be well versed in South Park (or whatever the newest cartoon is), Dangerous Housewives, Big Brother, or American Idol.

If we get out of the church, and listen and observe the people around us, we will probably start to make sense of their world, and can begin to figure out how to show them that their world doesn’t make sense.

Monday, February 09, 2009

This and That

Several people have already pointed out Russell Moore’s take on children and cell phones. It is excellent. And I agree.

For all you Hebrew readers, here is a site where you can read the Hebrew text in several different ways, including stripping out all the vowel pointing and reading simply a consonantal text. If you can read a consonantal text, you know Hebrew pretty well.

Interestingly, in Genesis, you can see the text broken down into the various sources, which isn’t all that helpful since it has been thoroughly discounted. But it is interesting nonetheless.

And for you travelers out there, Wi-Fi is coming to the skies. The connectivity in our world is distressing. There is something strangely comforting about a long plane ride when you know there will be nothing else to do but read, think, pray, daydream, or catch a nap. Of course, it gets old after a couple of hours. If Wi-Fi was available, I would probably use it.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Diagnosing Sin in Your Life

When we face struggles in life, we must consider the possibility that it might be because of sin. After all, God does remove fellowship from those who are in sin (cf. Psalm 66:18; Isaiah 1:15, Isaiah 59:2; Proverbs 28:9; 1 Peter 3:7).

Here are some questions to help us explore sin in our lives.

  1. Is there known sin which you have not confessed?
  2. Are you living in consistent sin patterns without sensitivity and confession?
  3. Are you hardened to known sin in your life? Do you care about sin?
  4. Are there areas in which you are resisting accountability in dealing with known sin? This often indicates that you know something is wrong with what you are doing.
  5. Are you cutting yourself off from relationships with fellow believers because of the way you are living?
  6. Are you resistant to being challenged about areas in your life?
  7. Are you sinning against your conscience by doing things that you are not confident are godly?
  8. Are you daily examining your life and confessing known sin?
  9. Are you striving after holiness, however imperfect you may be?

Please help me out with this list. Are there other questions that should be here? Could some of these questions be refined?

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Freudian Slip?

Does anyone else notice how easy it is to type “martial” instead of “marital”? (I actually did it while typing ‘marital’ in the question.)

It reminds me of the guest card we received at church from a guest several years ago. She came for a few weeks of a series on marriage I was doing. She made a special note to thank me for the “martial classes.” I still have the card, and I have to smile every time I see it.

For those who haven’t caught on, or who don’t share my somewhat demented sense of humor, “martial” means “of, relating to, or suited for war or a warrior.”  

Too bad so many marriages are battlegrounds where surrender is no option.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Al Mohler on Facebook

Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, comments today on the phenomenon of Facebook and other social networking internet sites. He says,

Social networking sites offer unprecedented opportunities for communication and contact -- and that is both the promise and the peril of the technology.

He gives some excellent advice and guidelines for the use of these sites, including guarding ourselves and our family from the peril of technology and constant connectedness.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Political Interruption – Deficit Reduction Plan

Perhaps the new administration’s deficit reduction plan is to choose enough cabinet nominees who cheated the government in previous years, thus prompting them to pay their back taxes.

Interview with Ian Paisley

The Late Late Show in Ireland has a fascinating interview with Irish preacher and politician Dr. Ian Paisley.

See the interview here. It is about 30 minutes long, and concludes with a brief but clear presentation of the gospel.

Paisley is well known as a Protestant preacher and leader in the Free Presbyterian church in Northern Ireland. He is also a fixture in Northern Ireland’s political scene.

You can visit the website of the European Institute of Political Studies and the BBC's profile of Paisley.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

What is Better?

Question: What is better than living in a civil society that respects my Christian values and places no pressure on believers, such as they do in some countries of the world?

Question: What is better than working for a great employer who respects your Christian beliefs and honors you for them?

Question: What is better than being married to a spouse who makes it incredibly easy to be a Christian?

Answer: Suffering in the will of God for the sake of the gospel.

That is the point (in part) of 1 Peter 2:11-3:17. Peter uses all three of these examples (society, work, marriage), along with a "catch-all" of "all of you" in 1 Peter 3:8, to show that suffering because we live the gospel is better than being comfortable by denying the basis of the gospel, which is unjust suffering.

Christ suffered for us when he was not guilty, and he has left us an example that we should suffer for him.

In the midst of suffering, we must believe that at the end, whenever that comes, living the gospel will have been worth it. It may not seem like it now. But if our hope is firmly placed in Jesus, we know that he will make it worth our while to living the gospel, even when it brings suffering.