Category Archives: Commentaries

Witherington on 1 Corinthians 1 and Baptism

I was very disappointed with *Ben Witherington’s comments on 1 Corinthians 1:13-17 in his commentary A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1st and 2nd Corinthians. His comments are the best example of the problems with theology (specifically systematic theology). He seems to ignore the context in favor of his theology.

Systematic Theology is, basically, a reference to various systems of doctrine. I find it interesting that in the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms by Donald McKim, the definition for Systematic Theology says, “it MAY be based on scripture…” (emphasis mine). To boil it down, systematic theology is when you take your doctrines and beliefs and make a pair of glasses and then sit down and read the Bible through those glasses.

Back to Dr. Witherington – he says that Paul, in 1 Corinthians 1:13-17, is saying that baptism is obviously not that important (obviously I am summarizing). To argue that Paul is saying baptism is not important is to ignore completely the context. The Corinthians were attaching themselves to various teachers. It would make sense for some to attach themselves to the one who baptized them. Paul is saying that he is glad that he, that is Paul, did not baptize many of them himself (i.e. Paul did not dunk them in water). He is NOT saying that he is glad they were not baptized. David Garland’s commentary on 1 Corinthians understands this point! Garland says that Paul talks like he cannot remember if he baptized certain ones in order to make a point – it doesn’t matter if Paul baptized them or if Joe Schmoe baptized them.

If Dr. Witherington would like to argue against the necessity of baptism, he should really choose another passage from which to make his point, but I would find problems with those arguments as well.

I chose “In the context” as the name of this blog for a reason – a word or statement finds its correct meaning in the context. You can prove any doctrine you want when you ignore the context!

* Dr. Witherington has written some great material. His emphasis on Rhetoric, especially in Paul’s epistles, has shed some great light on New Testament studies. I have read and own many of Dr. Witherington’s books and commentaries. His commentary on Acts is magnificent. We are simply light-years apart on what we think the Bible teaches about certain subjects (especially baptism). My main problem is the manner in which he seems to ignore the context.


Tags: , , , , , , ,

On Purchasing a Commentary

I love commentaries. The information, the depth of knowledge, and their stoic look on my bookshelf make me love commentaries. I have had no formal training in the Hebrew language, but a commentary on the book of Psalms may help me understand a word play in the original Hebrew. As for the amount of knowledge that goes into a commentary, Daniel Block spent 14 years writing his two-volume commentary on Ezekiel (you bet it’s on my shelf). And as to their look, I love the look of books (I also read them occasionally). I cannot bring myself to purchase commentaries on CDs or any other electronic method (i.e. Logos) because I love the feel of a book in my hands and the look of a row of books on my shelf.

However, there are serious issues with commentaries of which anyone desiring to use them should be aware.

  1. The theological slant of the author – it is tiresome to see commentators dance around issues such as baptism, women’s roles, and homosexuality.
  2. The focus of the commentary series – various series have varies foci. For example, the NIV Application Commentary (NIVAC) focuses on application. Each section of scripture is discussed in its original setting, it is then discussed in “bridging contexts”, and it is discussed for modern application. Ben Witherington’s “Socio-rhetorical” commentaries focus on just that – the society of the day and the author’s rhetorical approach in the book/letter.
  3. The author’s focus – Ben Witherington has written a commentary on almost every book of the New Testament. His commentaries are very helpful (especially his work on Acts) but his commentary on John (random example) is not going to be as detailed and deep as one written by someone who has devoted their life to John’s writings.
  4. Systematic theology – This comes down to how we view the Bible. Do we allow the Bible to determine our theology or does our theology determine how we read the Bible? For example, if you are a Calvinist, this is going to affect how you read the text. However, this may not be the easiest fact to ascertain from a commentary (and should probably not be the determining factor in the decision to purchase).

If you know some of these things going in, then you will not be surprised (i.e. if you know that Witherington’s focus is rhetoric, you will not be surprised that he breaks every speech in Acts into the ancient parts of a quality speech).

My preferences:

I am careful with any commentary that claims to be full of theological insight. However, I have had to get over this (to an extent) because many of my views of scripture flow against the mainstream.

I like my commentaries to be rich in philology, linguistics, and the like. I am not a master of Greek and I know almost nothing of Hebrew. The more a commentary can help me understand the original language, the better I understand the book.

And similarly, I like a commentary that helps me understand the surrounding cultures of Israel and the people of the Bible. In reading of Jonah’s fear of going to Assyria and Nahum’s joy over the destruction of Assyria, it helps to know some of the horrible things the Assyrian’s did to their victims.

I am not concerned with a commentary’s suggested application. The NIV Application Commentary has an application section after each division of text and I have never read it. I love the series because of the authors who have contributed to the series. But I am not a big fan of THEIR application.

These are just a few things to think about when purchasing a commentary. Much of this information, you can find in the books and articles I referenced in the previous post.

Good luck and happy commentary buying!

1 Comment

Posted by on July 13, 2009 in Commentaries


Tags: , ,

Finding the Best Commentary

If you are a commentary connoisseur, as I am, you know that they can be very expensive. I do not have ¼ of the commentaries that I would like because they cost anywhere from $15 to $75 (sometimes more).  This post is not about finding good deals on commentaries (I usually purchase mine from Amazon), it is about saving money by buying the best commentary.

When I began a survey of the Old Testament over two years ago, I decided that I would purchase two commentaries for each book I taught (much of this was an effort to simply establish a usable library). At first, because I did not know what I was doing, I ended up with a couple of duds.

Finally, I heard about a couple of commentary guides. Then I came across a website that is devoted to finding the best commentary for each book of the Bible. And just recently, I found a couple of online journal articles listing high quality commentaries for each Bible book. If you are looking for commentaries to begin a study or to fill out a library, these will help you and keep you from wasting money. I know that budgets run tight and that books are expensive, and as the author of Ecclesiastes says, “There is no end to the writing of books.” So here are some links and titles that can help you weed through the plethora of poor to great commentaries. – this is a good website that rates various commentaries. The site also contains a number of reviews. The problem with the site is the complexity of its rating system and lack of general comments for the commentaries. – this is a good list of Old Testament commentaries from the Denver Seminary. The scholar of note who had a hand in this list is Richard S. Hess. – this is the New Testament commentary list from the Denver Seminary. Craig Blomberg is the most notable scholar behind this list. The list contains many other types of books; scroll about 2/5 of the way down to get to the commentaries.

The following two works are commentary surveys. Each is written by a leading scholar. The major commentaries are listed by book with comments.

Old Testament Commentary Survey, Tremper Longman III, Fourth Edition. The edition is important because older ones do not have the more recent commentaries. Longman gives great comments and rates each commentary from one to five stars. He also labels the commentary for the intended user. L – layperson. M – minister. S – scholar. In the back, Longman lists every commentary that received five stars.

New Testament Commentary Survey, D. A. Carson, Sixth Edition. This survey is not as accessible as Longman’s nor are the comments as thorough, but Carson includes more works. For the most part, if the work is listed towards the beginning of the section it is a better commentary. In the back of the book, he has a list of “best buys” – the most bang for your buck.

I do not know how often these surveys are updated. Both were last updated in 2007. These two works are very useful and are a better resource than the websites, but the websites are free.

I hope this is helpful. These sources have saved me serious time and money.


Posted by on July 5, 2009 in Commentaries


Tags: , , , , ,