Book Review: Acts of the Apostles: A Newly Discovered Commentary

22144310The discovery of new manuscripts from a well-known author is certain to perk the interest of any historical enthusiasts. The excitement quickly builds and the mystery continues to linger. This was the landscape of biblical scholarship in 2013 when news broke surrounding the discovery of previously unpublished J. B. Lightfoot manuscripts—several hundred pages of unpublished biblical commentary tucked away gathering dust in the Durham Cathedral Library. Pages upon pages of biblical exposition and exegetical studies on the Gospel of John, Acts, 2 Corinthians, and 1 Peter, written by one of nineteenth centuries most influential biblical scholars. It was exciting news for Lightfoot fans everywhere. Now, thanks to the effort of Ben Witherington III, Todd D. Still, Jeanette M. Hagen, and the entire team at IVP Academic, the world of biblical studies is able to once again sink fresh teeth into the judicious exegesis of Joseph Barber Lightfoot.

The Lightfoot Legacy Set is the outpouring of the publication of these previously unpublished Lightfoot discoveries in Durham. There are three volumes projected to release by 2016. At this present time the team has completed one volume, the present volume under review, The Acts of the Apostles: A Newly Discovered Commentary, with the Gospel of John docked for a December 2015 release. These are exciting times for both Lightfoot fans and biblical studies enthusiasts alike, and with the release of this first volume the future looks very bright.

The commentary opens with a fascinating firsthand account of the discovery of the manuscripts. The reader will find this brief section to be an enticing transition into the series as Ben Witherington III conveys the process with which the discovery occurred, including several photographs of the discovery itself. For the reader who may be somewhat unfamiliar with Lightfoot, the Editor’s Introduction provides a concise look into the person and work of J. B. Lightfoot as a Biblical Commentator. This is a great introduction for those faintly familiar with Lightfoot and a true highpoint to the commentary. The content of the commentary itself runs from Acts 1:1-21:39 and includes approximately twelve excursus sections and four additional articles in the appendix. Despite the fact that Lightfoot never completed the commentary, as reflected in the lack of the remaining verses of the book, the content included in this book is highly useful even by today’s standards.

Lightfoot was a master of numerous ancient and modern languages (German, French, Spanish, Italian, Latin, Classical Greek, Koine Greek, and the Greek of the Church Fathers) and this expertise is evident throughout the pages of this commentary. For the reader trained in the biblical languages, Lightfoot’s proficiency will encourage further mastery and devotion to the understanding the Scriptures. For the reader not trained in the biblical languages, the frequent use of Greek may be a bit overwhelming at first. But this should not persuade the novice reader away from The Acts of the Apostles. There is certainly still much to be gleaned from this work and there are a number of highpoints that the intimidated reader would, unfortunately, forgo having passed on the opportunity to sit alongside a man of Lightfoot’s stature. Personally, among other things, I found Lightfoot’s discussion on the textual basis for Acts interesting and his interaction with the account of Stephen’s speech and martyrdom (Acts 7) was nothing short of superb. Sure disagreements may arise here and there, but the engagement that Lightfoot provides in The Acts of the Apostles: A Newly Discovered Commentary is an opportunity only the naivest of readers are willing to dismiss.

The Acts of the Apostles: A Newly Discovered Commentary is an exciting window into the mind of one of the most brilliant Biblical Commentators of the past centuries. Readers of all backgrounds will benefit greatly from the wisdom and judicious exegetical care of J. B. Lightfoot. This was true for his previously published work, and evidently, it remains true for these newly discovered ones as well. I appreciate and commend the work of IVP Academic in assuming the task of publishing and producing these manuscripts, as well as Ben Witherington III, Todd D. Still, and Jeanette M. Hagen for the tedious work that takes place behind the scene in making a project like this possible. Your labor has truly become our reward.

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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