Book Review: James (EGGNT)

13212720Chris A. Vlachos is the Ph.D. program administrator and adjunct assistant professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. Prior to joining the staff and teaching at Wheaton College in 2007, Vlachos served in Utah for thirty years, twenty-two years of which as an instructor and professor of Greek and New Testament at Salt Lake Theological Seminary. Vlachos earned an M.A. in New Testament from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and a Ph.D. in Biblical Theology of the New Testament from Wheaton College. Vlachos is the author (with Marvin R. Wilson) of A Workbook for New Testament Greek: Grammar and Exegesis in First John (Baker Academic, 2010) and The Law and the Knowledge of Good and Evil: The Edenic Background of the Catalytic Operation of the Law in Paul (Wipf & Stock, 2009). Most recently, Vlachos has authored a welcomed commentary in the EGGNT series, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: James (B&H Academic, 2013).

The Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament series seeks to function as a bridge to narrow the gap between the text of the Greek New Testament (UBS4) and the available lexical and grammatical resources being utilized by pastors and teachers today. The book begins with a brief introduction, discussing issues of authorship, date, occasion and purpose. If you are looking for extensive introductory material on the epistle you will need to look elsewhere, but Vlachos will provide you with a good survey of the need-to-know introductory information. As the commentary opens the reader is met by diagramed Greek text that functions as the roadmap for the commentary that follows. This is helpful for understanding the flow of the epistle and the overall thought of James as his pen hit the page. The commentary is discussed at the clausal level, as Vlachos explains and surveys the grammatical and exegetical discussion amongst biblical scholarship. Overall, I think Vlachos was objective in his evaluation, presenting the evidence in a responsible way in which cultivates contemplation on the part of the reader. Each unit in the commentary closes with a “For Further Study” section that includes a topically organized bibliography, as well as a “Homiletical Suggestions” segment which provides the reader with a number of text-derived preaching and teaching proposals.

The highlights of this commentary are numerous. First, Vlachos is clear, concise, and careful in his treatment of the text. If you are looking for a commentary that delivers sprinkles and frosting to decorate the cake, then you will want to look elsewhere. Vlachos is going to give you the cake alone. But the cake that Vlachos delivers is going to be some of the best cake you have ever tasted. It will be refreshing, enjoyable, and bursting with flavor. In other words, at under 200 pages, Vlachos will give you what you to know rather than what you may want to know. Second, as someone who seeks to engage in conversation with Mormon’s often, and given Vlachos’ prior position in Salt Lake City, I found his interaction on James 2:14-26 incredibly insightful. This is also testimony to the text-centered objectivity of Vlachos’ approach as he seeks to provide you with what the text says (and could say) without diverting into theological name-calling. Lastly, I found the grammatical index at the back of the book to extremely helpful for consulting the grammatical ideas flow across the letter. Not to mention, I seem to remember grammatical phraseology well, and thus can find the section I need quickly.

It is certainly no easy task to follow up the inaugural volume of what has come to be recognized as one of the best exegetically oriented series on the Greek New Testament. But if that wasn’t enough pressure on Vlachos, the introductory volume was written by one of the world’s foremost respected biblical exegetes Murray J. Harris. Still, despite these mental challenges that inevitably entered into his mind, Vlachos has produced a clear and concise compilation of some of the best work on the letter of James and did so while walking the reader through the grammatical and exegetical forest of one of the most important New Testament writings. If you are a pastor, teacher, student, or trained laymen, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: James is a resource you will not want to see missing from your bookshelf. It follows closely in the footsteps of Harris’ work and has become the first book off my shelf when studying the letter of James.

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.

Book Review: Colossians and Philemon (EGGNT)

EGGNT_Col_Phile_revcvr2_InD5.inddMurray J. Harris is professor emeritus of New Testament exegesis and theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity
School and formerly served as warden of Tyndale House at Cambridge University in England. Harris has a Ph.D. from the University of Manchester, where he studied under F. F. Bruce, and is the author of numerous books, including, Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus,
Slave of Christ: A New Testament Metaphor for Total Devotion to Christ, and The Second Epistle to the Corinthians from the acclaimed New International Greek Testament Commentary (NIGTC) series. Harris is also the mastermind behind the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (EGGNT) series. The first edition of the inaugural volume of the EGGNT, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: Colossians and Philemon, was published by W.B. Eerdmans in 1991. No subsequent volumes were then published. Now
revived under the direction of B&H Academic, Colossians and Philemon has received the needed updates to set the series afloat.

Colossians and Philemon opens with a brief introduction on Paul’s letter to the Colossians and includes discussion surrounding authorship (Harris argues for Pauline authorship rather than the “deuteron-Pauline” theory), date, occasion, and purpose. A similar introduction is provided for Philemon, again Harris affirms Pauline authorship and devoting a good deal of space to the issues at stake behind the purpose of the letter. Both introductions close with an outline of the letter and a “Recommended Commentaries” section. As the reader enters into the discussion of the letters themselves they are met by block diagrammed Greek text (with occasional English parallels), followed by a phrase-by-phrase interaction with the text itself. Harris shines brightly in this section as a master exegete with seasoned insight. He carefully guides the reader through the text hand-in-hand explaining various grammatical issues, exegetical interpretations, and textual critical analyses. Each unit of text concludes with a “For Further Study” section that includes a topically organized bibliography, as well as a section dedicated to “Homiletical Suggestions” for preaching and teaching. Both sections are helpful and welcomed, but the lack of an annotated bibliography may disappoint some reader. Nevertheless, it is an appropriate conclusion to a unit of text and really functions to catapults the reader to other areas of investigation.

Harris has provided the pastor, teacher, and student with a necessary tool for the task of exegesis and
interpretation. He has brought together some of the best and most widely used resources relating to the letters of Colossians and Philemon and thoroughly surveyed the depths of the Greek text behind both. There are a number of highpoints within this resource that I found indispensable and I am sure others will as well. First, following the commentary of each book, Harris has provided an original translation and an expanded paraphrase of both Colossians and Philemon. I personally found this helpful after just digesting scores upon scores of grammatical and exegetical information. It helped to take the training wheels off the two-wheeler. It is a little disappointing that this tradition didn’t get carried over to the subsequent volumes in the series. On that note, another highlight that didn’t get carried over to the subsequent volumes is the Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms. This was a pleasant surprise and I think it would be a welcomed addition across all volumes for the novice reader. Lastly, while the reader is welcome to disagree, I found Harris’ treatment of the Colossian 1:15-20 to be among the best in the book. The analysis of the text was superb and the “For Further Study” is rich in interpretive rabbit trails. But this could also be said of the entire volume.

In 1985, when the vision of the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament series first came to the mind of Murray J. Harris, I wonder if he was able to foresee the level of benefit this series would bring to the serious student of Scripture. Having read all the available volumes, it would seem faintly possible. This is an excellent inaugural volume on two very significant Pauline epistles. Sure it may not a commentary in the traditional sense, but it will certainly better position the reader to enter into the conversations therein. If you are a pastor, teacher, student, or well-informed laymen, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: Colossians and Philemon is a resource that should not be overlooked. The Church is truly indebted to Murray J. Harris for his contribution to the inception of such a series, and to B&H Academic for making sure that his vision came to fruition and made available to all. The labor of these two parties and all involved has 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.