Thursday, October 27, 2016

Lutheran Book Review: Concordia Commentary


Middendorf, Michael P. Romans 9-16 (Concordia Commentary). St. Louis: Concordia, 2016. 836 Pages. Cloth. $54.99.

Lessing, Reed. Isaiah 56-66 (Concordia Commentary). St. Louis, Concordia, 2014. 600 Pages. Cloth. $54.99.  

Two volumes of Concordia Commentary greet us today.

Back in 2012, we reviewed this author's commentary on Isaiah 40-55.

Isaiah 56–66 is the culmination of the prophet's message condemning humanity's sin and promising the Suffering Servant, who atones for that sin, rises in majesty, and prepares an eternal city, the new Jerusalem, for all the redeemed. Among its well-known oracles are "arise, shine, because your light is coming" (60:1); "the Spirit of the Lord Yahweh is upon me" (61:1); and "behold, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth" (65:17). These chapters answer the questions, Do people enjoy Yahweh's grace by birthright or by faith? Who is the true Israel? And what will happen to the Suffering Servant's offspring, the church? God's restoration of Zion's glory is our future!

About the Author
R. Reed Lessing currently serves as senior pastor at St. Michael Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, Ind. He was born and raised in Denver, Colo, and received the B.A. in pre-seminary studies from St. John's College, Winfield, Kans., in 1981. He earned his M.Div. (1985), S.T.M. (1989), and Ph.D. (2001) degrees from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri. He was ordained into the office of the holy ministry on June 29, 1986. From 1986 to 1999, he served pastorates in West Monroe, La., and Broken Arrow, Okla. Dr. Lessing was also a professor of exegetical theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, from 1999 to 2013.

Dr. Lessing has written Interpreting Discontinuity: Isaiah's Tyre Oracle (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2004), and along with Dr. Andrew Steinmann, he co-authored an introduction to the Old Testament titled Prepare the Way of the Lord (St. Louis: Concordia, 2014). Dr. Lessing is also the author of the volumes on Jonah, Amos, and Isaiah 40–55 as well as the forthcoming volume on Zechariah in the Concordia Commentary series. He has published articles and book reviews in Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Concordia Journal, and Concordia Theological Quarterly, as well as sermon studies in Concordia Pulpit Resources and enrichment magazine articles in the LifeLight Foundations series of Bible studies from Concordia Publishing House.

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About the Series

The Concordia Commentary Series: 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, demon possession and the arrival of the kingdom of God in Christ. Careful attention is given to the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek. Further light is shed on the text from archaeology, history, and extra-biblical 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.
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(Publisher's website)

Dr. Lessing was the guest speaker at the Wyoming District Spring Pastoral Conference in 2013. The topic was Isaiah 56-66. Over four sessions, he covered 1) Reading these chapters contextually and theologically, 2) Outlining these chapters and key texts, 3) and 4) Good and Perfect Gifts: A Lenten Sermon Series on Isaiah 56-66. This commentary delivers on what he covered then.

This volume alone will help you with no less than eighteen sermons over the Three-Year Lectionary and seven each year you use the One-Year Lectionary. 

Lessing will help you understand why there are thee volumes/divisions in modern commentaries on Isaiah (4ff) and will help you refute the assumptions of textual criticism in that regard, defending divine authorship (10) through one Isaiah. Regarding chapters 56-66, he shows their clear structure (329ff), demonstrates unity of themes (160, 193, 195) and language (33, passim) within these chapters and the need for these chapters (56ff, 57-lower half) as well as the unity of all sixty-six chapters as a whole (193, 258ff, 455, et al). 

I found it helpful that "The translation in this commentary indicates parallel lines by indenting them equally" (42, passim).

The author will educate you about pagan child sacrifice (110ff), the new covenant (204ff), the theme of salvation in chapters 60-62 (211ff), gives regular sermon ideas through his Reflections (e.g., 256-7, 270-paragraph 2, 424ff), "angelomorphic Christology" (368), Yahweh's rejection of syncretism (459ff), the truths about hell (5), and the creation of new heavens and a new earth (319ff).

This prolific Concordia Commentary author will be back with Zechariah!

We reviewed the other volume of CC: Romans back in 2014.


Romans conveys the timeless truths of the Gospel to all people of all times and places. That very fact explains the tremendous impact the letter has had ever since it was first written. In this letter, Paul conveys the essence of the Christian faith in a universal manner that has been cherished by believers—and challenged by unbelievers—perhaps more so than any other biblical book.

In Romans 1–8, Paul discloses the righteousness of God and our life in and through our Lord Jesus Christ. But he is only half done! Romans 9–16 continues Paul's comprehensive exposition of the theme articulated in 1:16–17. We find some of Paul's richest theology in his analysis of Israel and the church in Romans 9–11. And his appeals for Christian living in chapters 12–15 are supported and strengthened by the theological foundations of the Gospel. Finally, it is not until Romans 14–16 that we receive vital clues for identifying the original audience and for discerning the overall purposes behind his most magnificent treatise.

In this commentary, you'll find:

  • Clear exposition of the Law and Gospel theology in Paul's most comprehensive epistle.
  • Passage after passage of beneficial insight for preachers and biblical teachers who desire to be faithful to the text
  • An in-depth overview of the context, flow of Paul's argument, and commonly discussed issues in each passage
  • Detailed textual notes on the Greek, with a well-reasoned explanation of the apostle's message

About the Author

Michael P. Middendorf was born and raised in St. Paul, Minn. He received all of his education at Lutheran schools, including a B.A. in pre-seminary studies from Concordia University, St. Paul (1981), where he subsequently served for three years as an admissions counselor and guest instructor of Greek. After enrolling at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Mo., he earned his M.Div. (1987), S.T.M (1989), and Th.D. (1990) degrees. Dr. Middendorf served as a parish pastor in Jamestown, N.D., from 1990 to 1992 and then as a professor of religion and biblical languages at Concordia University Texas (in Austin) from 1992 to 2001. Since 2001, he has been a professor of theology in Christ College, at Concordia University Irvine, in California. He is also a pastoral assistant at Trinity Cristo Rey Lutheran Church, a bilingual congregation in Santa Ana, Calif.

(Publisher's Website)

I appreciated the author's humility in this volume's preface (xvi-xviii), especially by admitting, in retrospect, that "a glance backward reveals that occasionally a better or more accurate trajectory could have been followed (xvi). This only makes me respect him more. The teacher is also a student. He wants to improve himself and his scholarship for the sake of his readers/hearers out of respect for Christ and His Word. Those of us with volume 1 of this Romans commentary could and should annotate the necessary pages with these insights.

My interest piqued anew, the author kept on delivering, from reminding us of the specific-locatedness of the letter before its universal application (803-809), to an extended discussion of hardening, rejection of God, and election (894, 1052, 1069, 1080 note 113), clear, relevant, and regular citations from the Lutheran Confessions (e.g., 970, 1469, passim.), a passionate and necessary reminder that the cross and Resurrection go together (1015), an interesting vocabularly excursus on teach/preach words (1025), a sermon-worthy quote from Ambrosiaster on 11:19 (1123), his "Bow-Tie" and "Olive Tree" diagrams (1131, 1240ff, et al), and a comprehensive and clear rejection of a two-covenant interpretation of Romans with regard to the Jewish people (1163).

As we turn to the remainder of the volume, Romans 12-16 are explicitly connected to Romans 5-8. As a classical Lutheran educator, I appreciated the author's mention of analogia in the textual notes on 12:6 (1208). He expounds on the phrase "According to the Analogy of Faith" (1233) and the purpose of God's gifts to an individual. In the excursus on typology, he writes, "Typology says what needs to be said about Christ, but all too often interpreters stop short of saying all of what ought to be said" (1244). This is not the case in this pair of commentaries on Romans.

Middendorf has an ongoing conversation with other commentators throughout these volumes, including Moo. Take for example Moo's assertion that 12:9-21 has an "apparently haphazard arrangement." Our author proves that this statement is inaccurate, mopping up his sloppy research over pages 1248-1279. Romans 12:9-21 may prove to be an appropriate wedding sermon text. I see much there based on this translation (1252) that may teach Christian couples about persecution (1278), the challenges Christians face from the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh, and what authentic commitment love looks like in a fallen world. He continues the discussion well into Romans 13, notably saying, "The NT, however, does not envision government being responsible for carrying out broader roles typically referred to as 'social welfare' " (1313, italics original). Interesting words to hear right before Election Day 2016!

Further, we are taught/reminded about "the Ten Words" (1332-1333), an explanation of the so-called new perspective on Paul with rebuttal and a true exposition and application of Paul on the Law with examples (1359ff, 1371 note 45), hear "drinking" explained in context (1437), see detail with regard to translation of "justification" (1489 note 20), are given a chart on Paul's OT usage in Romans (1492ff), and are warned anew about false teachers (1572ff).

The two particular volumes of Concordia Commentary in this review are well-worth your time, money, study time, and shelf space and will be enormously helpful to you in your preaching and teaching.

We thank Concordia Publishing House for the opportunity to see and review these two titles. We would love to see the forthcoming volumes on 1 Samuel and Hebrews.

Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School and Immanuel Academy, a member of the Board of Directors of the Consortium for Classical Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Education Chairman and Editor of Lutheran Book Review. A graduate of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Rev. Cain is a contributor to Lutheran Service Book, Lutheranism 101, the forthcoming LSB Hymnal Companion, and is the author of 5 Things You Can Do to Make Our Congregation a Caring Church. He has previously served Emmanuel, Green River, WY and Trinity, Morrill, NE. He is married to Ann and loves reading and listening to, composing, and making music.

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