Expository Stimulant

The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Ned B. Stonehouse, General Editor. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids. 6 volumes in print of the 17-volume set. $3.50 to $6.00 each.

In 1946 Eerdmans Publishing Company announced its proposed 17-volume commentary entitled The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Scholars from Europe, South Africa and America were engaged to offer their contributions to this project. Dr. Ned B. Stonehouse, the worthy successor to J. Gresham Machen in the chair of New Testament in Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, was chosen as General Editor.

It is both the desire of the publisher and the ambition of the General Editor that these works he abreast of modern scholarship in every phase which touches the craft of the exegete and interpreter of Scripture. More than noticeable is also the strong feeling that these biblical reference works ought to be slanted mainly to the usefulness of the man in the pulpit.

But as essential as both of these characteristics are, they are but secondary to the supreme devotion of all parties involved in the project; that is, to ever remain loyal to the Scriptures—the Word of God written, tapping every resource possible in the attempt to reveal the original intent of God’s written revelation.

In view of the first six volumes published in this set, it is apparent that the commentators and the General Editor contend that the realization of this goal will best serve the serious work of the Christian church.

Even though there is a solid agreement among the contributors in their acceptance of a strong theory on the inspiration of Scripture, and an unanimity of thought in their acceptance of the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man as compromising their basic theological structure, each scholar reveals himself as an independent thinker and in no way shies away from textual, historical and doctrinal problems.

Occasionally, to be sure, there is a point where the author fails to do full justice to a knotty problem or glides quickly over some chafing text. An example of a rather brief and slightly dogmatic treatment is Grosheide’s comment on 1 Corinthians 7:14. The text reads, “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the believing wife and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in the believing brother, else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.” Rather than face the several problems involved in this text in the manner of Meyer, Alford and others, Grosheide works quickly to his own conclusions. Capping his remarks on the last phrase, “sanctified in Christ Jesus,” is his rather axiomatic statement, “This refers to the life within the covenant and to the right to baptism, hut does not imply that each of those holy children will go to heaven” (cf. Romans 11:13 f.).

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Another example of a rather hasty treatment is found in Jac. J. Muller’s work, The Epistles of Paul to the Philippians and to Philemon. The biblical text reads, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Phil. 4:8). Less than ten full lines are used to expose the truth of this salient verse.

Preachers attempting to bring to their people an exposition of this remarkable, homiletically-arranged verse will need more than a few suggestive synonyms for the virtues mentioned in the text. They will need to know something of the relationship which exists between the things honorable and the things just, things pure and things lovely and whether or not the order in which Paul records these virtues is of any consequence. They will also be concerned over the force intended in logizesthe (think). These considerations are the ingredients with which soul-feeding sermons are made. Besides the biblical text itself, commentaries are supposed to be the chief source of supply.

For the most part, the commentators in this series use a semi-technical style which is arranged in a similar semi-technical page format. The main copy includes a commentary on the text, cross references, related historical material and, in some instances, references to other source books which augment the particular discussions. The bulk of references to other sources, however, plus the technical discussions on the original language level are found in the footnotes. This arrangement allows for a wide and varied readership, the main copy providing the English reader with the burden of the argument, while the student able to use Greek and Hebrew has considerably more exegetical content at his disposal. Naturally, this being a New Testament commentary, a working knowledge of the Hebrew language in the line of scholarly equipment is not to be compared to that of the Greek. However, the references to Hebrew words and ideas are not infrequent, especially in Bruce’s work on the Acts. Aknowledge of these two languages, plus that of Latin, German and Dutch, would assure a full understanding of these suggestive footnotes.

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Of the six volumes now at hand, Bruce’s work on the book of Acts carries the torch of thorough research in the area of footnote enclosures. Geldenhuys’ work on Luke insofar as footnotes are concerned does not reach the standard attained by Bruce; it is, nevertheless, a work of some stature. Even though Geldenhuys offers some pertinent remarks on special subjects such as demon possession, fasting and like topics and acquaints his readers with portions of S. Greydanus’ Het Heilig Evangelic naar de Beschryning van Lukas, Plummer’s Gospel According to St. Luke, Strack and Billerbeck’s Das Evangelium nach Lukas and Zahn’s Einleitung in das Neue Testament, the body of the text and the footnotes are something less than classic in the field of Lukan research.

In the areas of textual criticism and introductory and historical references, Bruce’s contribution far excels those evidenced in the other five volumes. In the light of this footnote material alone, the Book of Acts is easily one of the worthiest commentaries to have rolled from the evangelical press within recent years.

Although none of the other volumes printed thus far equals the scholarly product produced by F. F. Bruce, each of the other entries is academically acceptable and includes some points of excellence. Jac. J. Muller’s Philippians offers about as fine a discussion in digest form on the Kenotic Theory as can be found. After pointing out flaws in the interpretations of Calvin, Augustine and others, Muller shows how the use of the aorist participle which denotes simultaneous action manifestly states that Christ emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant. Neither the preacher nor the professorial scholar needs more on this subject than that which Muller presents in this place.

Among the points of commendation revealed in the Commentary on the Epistles of James and John by Alexander Ross, is the thick supply of cross-reference material. A close examination of these references shows a keen awareness of not only the parallel passages and related verses, but a fine appreciation of contexts out of which these texts are culled. Readily noticed also in Ross’ work is his devotional passion. Especially is this conspicuous in his treatment of John’s First Epistle.

As pointed out in the Foreword by Editor Stonehouse, one of F. W. Grosheide’s more telling virtues in his commentary on First Corinthians is his attempt to show the main thread of thought which runs through the entire letter. To Grosheide, Paul’s thesis is that the Corinthian people had to be reminded in various ways and in strong but simple language that God’s redeemed ought to be a humble, God-fearing, neighbor-loving and serving people. After due allowance has been granted for “main-theme enthusiasm,” the contribution set forth here by Grosheide is of considerable worth and should he of some real value to the man in the pulpit.

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The Epistle of Paul to the Churches of Galatia by Herman N. Ridderbos, in some ways failing to meet the exegetes’ expectations, is a highly serviceable work. Perhaps the most glaring deficiency is the omission of contrasting views. A case in point already brought to the Christian public’s attention in other reviews is his one-page commentary on Galatians 3:20—one of the most stubborn problems in New Testament interpretation. The biblical text reads, “Now a mediator is not of one, but God is one.” Out of a few hundred interpretations offered during the span of Christian history, Ridderbos enlightens his readers on just two of these suggested interpretations. This commentary, however, as is true of the others, has many commendable features. If one of these features is to be singled out, it ought to be his discreet handling of the alleged contradictions which supposedly exist between the parallel texts of Acts and Galatians. Especially fine are his comments on the harmony of Galatians 2:1–10 and Acts 15.

In the light of what has been pointed out in this brief survey-review, it is apparent that each of these commentaries is a judicious work which ought to be something of an expository stimulant for the sermon-maker and ultimately a source of spiritual food for those who occupy the pew. Due basically to the conciseness of these volumes, they are judged as being something short of authoritative in the area of biblical reference works. Invariably the material circumscribed is of a high order, but not infrequently there is considerable room for expansion of thought and a fuller expression of existing interpretations. Yet, in spite of this defection, these theologically conservative commentaries stand among the very best biblical reference works coming from the evangelical press in our day. Students of the Scriptures who are serious in the things of Christ will be helped considerably with the constant use of this source material.


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Back To Sublime Truths

Doctrinal Preaching for Today, by Andrew W. Blackwood. Abingdon, New York, 1956. $3.00.

A long succession of able young men who came from Princeton Seminary to work with me as Assistant Ministers at the First Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, bore unanimous witness to the great help they had received from the instruction of Dr. Blackwood, then Professor of Homiletics at Princeton. An examination of the book by Dr. Blackwood, Doctrinal Preaching for Today, makes clear why those who sat under him at the Seminary valued the training they received.

Ministers who did not have the advantage of Dr. Blackwood’s instructions will find no little profit in this book; and other ministers who have been drawing their inspiration from such subjects as Ecumenicalism, United Nations and racial issues are finding that their wells have run dry, may be moved by a study of this book to turn back to the sublime truths of the Christian revelation and “with joy draw water out of the well of salvation.”

The great thing about doctrinal preaching is that it is not only for Today, but for Yesterday and Forever.


Conversation In Print

The Experiment of Faith, by Samuel M. Shoemaker, Harpers, New York. $1.50.

Among the writing ministers of the day, “Sam” Shoemaker must be rated as one of the most effectively articulate. Another Shoemaker book is the “expected” thing. Those who are familiar with his previous books will not look for a volume heavily weighted with scholarship or startlingly novel in its originality. They will look—without disappointment—for a kind of “conversation in print” on matters that are closely related to Christian experience and to the communication of Christian witness to others.

Something known as “The Pittsburgh Experiment” was called into being soon after the author became rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in “The Steel City” in 1953. This was a concrete venture in evangelism in which businessmen were challenged to Christian commitment in a way that would make their faith witness relevant to the problems of every-day living in a roaring industrial city such as Pittsburgh.

What happened to these men, many of whom are junior executives either in management or in labor, and what they in turn have caused to happen, by the grace of God, in the lives of others, will live for a long time in the annals of unconventional evangelism.

Starting with a “case history” that concerns an insurance manager, Dr. Shoemaker unfolds the story of what the Christian faith does when people are exposed to a virile and victorious expression of it, and when, being exposed, they respond to it. His knack of writing for the person who knows little or nothing of Christian theology was never put to better use than in the way he does it here. Take this from the first chapter as a sample: “Yet our first great need is not for a set of rules about how to be good; it is for something to bridge that yawning canyon between us and the God we dimly seem to remember but cannot entirely forget.”

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The chapters on “How To Keep Going Spiritually” and “How To Win People To Christ” are never nebulous. They are kept close to the one-two-three of specific steps, the relevant practicalities on which laymen can get their hands. Some words both frank and wise are written in reference to the danger of over-simplifying and mechanizing the procedures by which Christians seek to bring others, one by one, to the realization of the new life in Christ.

Incidentally, Dr. Shoemaker brands as a species of “snobbishness” the attempt by a well-known New York theologian to discredit—at least so far as the New York scene is concerned—the ministry of Dr. Billy Graham.

Some readers will feel, justifiably, I think, that more might have been made of the place and power of Scripture in the ministry of soul-winning.

The final chapter, “How To Work For Christ Through Your Job,” blows like a refreshing breeze through the stuffiness and sterility of much of our thinking in evangelical circles with respect to this inescapable area of Christian responsibility. “I am convinced,” says Dr. Shoemaker, at the end, “that God enters the business scene in two ways: first, through converted men and women whose hearts he has touched and changed and who carry his Spirit with them at all times; and second, in human relationships that are different because he has become the Third Party to them.”

Here, in 64 pages, is a gripping description of how one converted person can, under God, reproduce his kind!


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