Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pulpit Review: A Notable Commentary Series and Commentator

Steinmann, Andrew E. Proverbs (Concordia Commentary). St. Louis, Concordia, 2009. 719 Pages. Cloth. $42.99. (P)

It seems that commentaries on Scripture are a dime-a-dozen. Visit any major publishing house and they have their own series. Once sets are completed, some are sold complete at a discount. Other sets have hard-to-find essential volumes. Commenting on Scripture is nothing new. In the last centuries, even non-Christians have written their own commentaries!

A commentary is only as good as the commentator. Good publishers know this. No, not everyone is qualified from an academic perspective. Nor is every academic qualified based on how clearly they write. In addition, daring to comment on Divine Scripture takes a unique qualification: faith.

Faith helps over come the so-called "ivory tower syndrome. Faith in Christ for salvation is something that some conservative Christians have never seen in an academic "pontificator," hence the widespread distrust of scholarship, academia, what I once heard called "monk books," and especially commentaries.

The Concordia Commentary series confesses Christ clearly. Commentators demonstrate high scholarship informed by faith and communicated winsomely.

Concordia Commentary: A Theological Exposition of Sacred Scripture is written to enable pastors and teachers of the Word to proclaim the Gospel with greater insight, clarity, and faithfulness to the divine intent of the biblical text.

This landmark work will cover all the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments, interpreting Scripture as a harmonious unity centered in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Every passage bears witness to the Good News that God has reconciled the world to Himself through our Lord's life, death, and resurrection.
The commentary fully affirms the divine inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of Scripture as it emphasizes "that which promotes Christ" in each pericope.

Authors are sensitive to the rich treasury of language, imagery, and themes found throughout Scripture, including such dialectics as Law and Gospel, sin and grace, death and new life, folly and wisdom, this fallen world and the new creation in Christ. Careful attention is given to the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek. Further light is shed on the text from archaeology, history, and extrabiblical literature. Finally, Scripture's message is applied to the ongoing life of the church in terms of ministry, worship, proclamation of the Word, Baptism, the Lord's Supper, confession of the faith—all in joyful anticipation of the life of the world to come. (publisher's website, emphasis added)
Andrew E. Steinmann, author of Daniel in the Concordia Commentary series, succeeds with his Proverbs commentary where so many fall short: he shows a structure for the Proverbs instead of describing the book as a mere collection of disparate wisdom sayings (493ff, et al).

"Wisdom comes from God to protect you" (88). So says the headline before 2:1-15. It's not that God wants to spoil our "fun." He wants to protect us from the devil, the world, and even ourselves when it comes to sin.

"The Fear of Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge" (1:7, 51, 27, et al, cf. "faith"). "We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things" (Small Catechism).

This commentary expounds Proverbs as an Old Testament Wisdom book that reveals Jesus Christ, who is the agent of creation and the wisdom of God incarnate. Proverbs inculcates God's wisdom through didactic sayings that teach prudence and discretion for the life of faith, which is contrasted to the ways of the world. This commentary explains both the larger features of the book and the individual proverbs that comprise this treasury of divine wisdom. (publisher's website)
Studying a commentary that so clearly and deeply uses and explains the original Hebrew (or Greek) is a great blessing and a guard against sectarianism and heresy (like that of Arius, 228-9).

What of the relationship between Law and Gospel in Proverbs? "In Proverbs sayings that apply the Law are far more frequent than sayings that bring the comfort of the Gospel. Yet the Gospel predominates in this book, for the sole source of its comfort for those who have fallen short of God's expectations is the Good News of God's forgiveness and free salvation. The Gospel is what empowers them to live as God's forgiven and reconciled people and therefore to grow in wisdom and righteous living" (42, cf. 56, 61ff, et al).

The following deserve your special attention:
  • Note how the book of Proverbs "grew" (19, 493ff)
  • See "The Spectrum of Advice" (37)
  • What are the differences between the MT and LXX in Proverbs? (47)
  • Wisdom as "path" (255ff)5
  • Wisdom for rulers (especially just after an election (361ff)
  • A footnote connecting 18:22 to Song 5:1, an insight to share in (pre)marital counseling (396)
  • Background for the "inwardly digest" prayer of LSB 308 and TLH 14 (456)
  • Learn a better way to translate my Confirmation verse, 22:6, " Consecrate a child according to the way he should go, and even when he becomes old, he will not turn from it" (436, 437-8, 441-3)
  • Luther on Proverbs: 499ff
  • Chiasm (26:1-12, 524)
  • A Christian view of alcohol (622-624)
  • 31:1-31, "An Acrostic Poem about a Godly Wife," 627-645
Steinmann's commentary on Proverbs will better equip the pastor to preach and teach the deeper structure and meaning of this book of wisdom to the praise and glory of Jesus Christ.

With Ezra and Nehemiah, commentator Steinmann clearly decodes the confusing post-exilic world of God's Old Testament people.

God raised up Ezra and Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem and prepare for the Messiah. Their books show how God works in His people and in Jesus Christ, who accomplished out salvation through His perfect life, atoning death, and glorious resurrection. (publisher's website)
Ezra and Nehemiah are quite often neglected and misunderstood (cf. xvii). This commentary volume is an attempt to overcome that negligence and ignorance. Christ is at the heart of the sacrifices (81, Leviticus, see also 87, Ezekiel 21-48, 189-98). The books belong together in the same commentary due to the subject matter, and more importantly, questions with regard to authorship, date, and structure.

Modern readers are often surprised at how important a wall was for protection, sovereignty, and pure worship. We live in days when "a thin blue line" protects us domestically and military strength abroad is not enough to defend our porous borders from numerous external threats. Perhaps current events will teach us again how "good fences make good neighbors." Nehemiah and the people had to wait a long time to legally rebuild the wall. And that was a necessary step to protect the rebuilt temple, which also had to wait for legal permission for reconstruction.

"....the gathering to read the Teaching of Moses and the diligence of the Levites to ensure that the people understood it (Neh 8:7-8) were part of preserving Israel's hope in the Messiah. They were also necessary steps to be taken before the wall was dedicated" (507). Here the commentator shows a proper focus of this Old Testament book on Christ, as well as answering scholarly theories about Nehemiah 8-9 being allegedly "out of sequence."

And now the "lightning round." Answer the following with the help of Dr. Steinmann:
  • Who wrote Ezra and Nehemiah? (2-12)
  • Are they one book or two? (12-21)
  • How would you explain the interrelation of Persian Kings, Jewish High Priests, and the content of Ezra and Nehemiah? (Words failed me. I need the chart on 66-67. Even Luther fell short: 149, 474)
  • Was the Ark of the Covenant available to be placed into the rebuilt temple? (No, 214)
  • Why does Ezra 9-10 spend so much time on exogamy (marrying outside one's group) and what is the true meaning behind its prohibition and the true theme of these chapters? (319ff)
  • When was the "Reformation" in Nehemiah? (Chapter 13, 478ff)
This commentary volume is unique in providing resources I had not seen elsewhere. Steinmann, based on the work of Tzafrir, reconstructs who built which sections of Jerusalem's wall under Nehemiah (425). I had no idea that Luther's German Bible was so influential in changing the chapter division point between Nehemiah 3 and 4, influencing subsequent English Bibles (442-3).

This gifted commentator is a prolific author, evidenced by his CPH biography below, but also by his extensive personal Bibliography contributions (Ezra and Nehemiah, xlviii). I would love to hear a presentation in person. Perhaps Andrew E Steinmann would be interested in a trip to Wyoming for an exegetical workshop...  

We at QBR are very grateful for Concordia Commentary and eagerly look forward to Ecclesiastes, Isaiah 40-55, and Matthew 11:2-20:34.

Andrew Steinmann holds a B.S. from the University of Cincinnati, an M. Div. from Concordia Theological Seminary (Ft. Wayne) and a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies from the University of Michigan. He has served as pastor of St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, Michigan (1981–86); taught at Concordia College, Ann Arbor (1986–91); served as editor at God’s Word to the Nations Bible Society (1991–94); served as staff pastor at Lutheran Home, Westlake, Ohio (1995–2000); and taught at Ashland University and Seminary (1996–2000). He is currently Professor of Theology and Hebrew at Concordia University Chicago, where he has served since 2000. Dr. Steinmann has published articles and essays in national and international journals including Bibliotheca Sacra, Concordia Journal, Concordia Pulpit Resources, Concordia Theological Quarterly, Hebrew Studies, Journal of Biblical Literature, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Logia: A Journal of Lutheran Theology, Lutheran Education, The Michigan Academician, Review of Biblical Literature, Revue de Qumran, TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, Vetus Testamentum and several reference works. He is the author of seven books including The Oracles of God: The Old Testament Canon (Concordia, 1999), Fundamental Biblical Aramaic (Concordia, 2004 with Andrew Bartelt’s Fundamental Biblical Hebrew), Is God Listening?: Making Prayer a Part of Your Life (Concordia, 2004), Proverbs in the Concordia Commentary series (forthcoming), and Daniel in the Concordia Commentary series (forthcoming). He is co-author with Andrew Bartelt of Workbook and Supplementary Exercises for Fundamental Biblical Hebrew and Fundamental Biblical Aramaic (Concordia, 2006). Dr. Steinmann is also contributing editor to the textbook Called to Be God’s People: An Introduction to the Old Testament (Wipf and Stock, 2006), as well as a consultant for The Lutheran Study Bible (publisher's website).

The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.