Thursday, December 6, 2018

Bernard of Clairvaux and an Expository Commentary for Preachers


Posset, Franz. Pater Bernhardus: Martin Luther and Bernard of Clairvaux (Collected Works Volume 2). Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2018. Paper. $47.00 (Discounts available.)

Duguid, Iain M., James M. Hamilton, Jr., and Jay Sklar, Editors. ESV Expository Commentary (Volume VII, Daniel-Malachi). Wheaton: Crossway, 2018. 795 Pages. Cloth. $50.00.

Duguid, Iain M., James M. Hamilton, Jr., and Jay Sklar, Editors. ESV Expository Commentary (Volume XI, Ephesians-Philemon). Wheaton: Crossway, 2018. 567 Pages. Cloth. $40.00.

Duguid, Iain M., James M. Hamilton, Jr., and Jay Sklar, Editors. ESV Expository Commentary (Volume XII, Hebrews-Revelation). Wheaton: Crossway, 2018. 784 Pages. Cloth. $45.00.

The resources presented in this review have in common a respect for the Word of God as the Word of God. 

Three volumes of the new ESV Expository Commentary equip a preacher to explain the Word in preaching and teaching. Pater Bernhardus demonstrates the connection between the Reformer himself and one viewed by some as a forerunner of the Reformation. Luther appreciated Bernard's writings, especially his sermons, which clearly present Christ.


The publication of the Christian Book of Concord in the 1580 German edition included an appendix, the Catalog of Testimonies, which was not a formal part of the Lutheran Confessions. It is important to Lutherans and has been widely used because it provides additional evidence for the Lutheran position on the doctrine of the two natures in Christ. Scripture passages and quotations from church fathers on the person of Christ are cited, with a special focus on the fact that because of the Incarnation the human nature of Christ shares in the qualities of divinity. Why share quotations from church fathers? It showed that the Lutheran positions on the two natures in Christ and the Sacrament of the Altar were not newly-invented or ahistorical, but Biblical, having been confessed by fathers faithful to the Scriptures centuries before. (Condensed and restated from

Bernhard of Clairvaux is not quoted in the Catalog of Testimonies, but he was well known to Martin Luther through his writings. One notes that Luther was quite familiar with Pater Bernhardus, a theologian Luther respected as he did Augustine.



Franz Posset is a German-American independent church historian and lay theologian in the Catholic Church. He is an internationally recognized ecumenist, specializing in the history and theology of the Renaissance and early Lutheran Reformation. Franz was born in 1945 in Glockelberg in the Bohemian Forest (Sudetenland), and between 1965 and 1970 he was a student of Hans Kung, Josef Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI emeritus), and Walter Kasper (Cardinal). He earned a diploma in Catholic theology at University of Tubingen, and received a PhD in Religious Studies, with his dissertation directed by the late Kenneth Hagen, at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. He was the associate editor of Luther Digest (1993-2012) and is a member of the International Luther Society. Franz is the author of numerous articles and books in English and German including award-winning articles and books: - The first annual Natalie Zemon Davis Prize (Canada) in 2006 for his ""Polyglot Humanism in Germany circa 1520 as Luther's Milieu and Matrix."" - Davidias Prize of the Association of Croatian Writers in 2014 for the book, Marcus Marulus and the Biblia Latina of 1489. - Franz-Delitzsch-Forderpreis (Germany) in 2015 for his ""In Search of an Explanation for the Suffering of the Jews: Johann Reuchlin's Open Letter of 1505."" - The Koenig Prize in Biography of the American Catholic Historical Association in 2016 for the book, Johann Reuchlin (1455-1522): A Theological Biography.(Publisher's Website)

This volume, now included as the second volume of the Collected Works of Franz Posset, was originally published in 1999 by Cistercian Publications. This 2018 Wipf & Stock edition features a new Introduction by the author and two pages of Corrigenda. Regarding the latter (4), perhaps the very first correction, "p. 6," should be corrected. It appears to refer to second page of the Table of Contents, giving the correct page numbers for 'On Consideration' (353) and 'Triple Feeding' (366) [not "Tripe"]. I do not wish one line in the book distract you from its overall importance. What is the connection between Bernard and Martin Luther? Consider this photo of my copy of the back cover of the 1999 edition:

The cover art of both editions features a photograph of a sculpture of Christ embracing both men.

This volume is significant in part because a lay Roman Catholic theologian was willing to fairly examine Martin Luther.  Posset is also the author of The Real Luther: A Friar at Erfurt and Wittenberg, published by Concordia, a Lutheran publishing house, that of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. His work has always reminded me of that of Fr. Frank Olivier, an Assumptionist Father, who was Professor of Lutheran studies at the Institut Superior d'Etudes Oecumeniques  at Paris when his book The Trial of Luther (Concordia, translated by John Tonkin) was published in 1978 and Professor of Theology at the Catholic University in Paris when Luther's Faith: The Cause of the Gospel in the Church (Concordia, translated by John Tonkin) was published in 1982. The latter was a seminary textbook for me. Finding the former was a quest. Both authors are fair-minded and scholarly. All these volumes deserve to share a shelf.

Posset notes that Martin Luther read and quoted Bernard of Clairvaux throughout his life. The "Cistercian Cicero" was a part of Luther's theological formation, homiletical formation, and pastoral formation. This is a book that deserves time to digest, ponder, and absorb as he makes his case that Bernard informed Luther's view of monasticism, grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, and what C. F. W. Walther would describe as a theology where the Gospel (in its narrow sense) predominates.

Luther will disagree with Father Bernard on "monastic stuff" (to borrow a phrase from Posset), the interpretation of Psalm 90, aspects of Bernard's teaching of Christ as Judge, and when he emphasizes the mother of our Lord more than our Lord.

This volume will introduce Lutherans to Bernard through Luther and Catholics to Luther via Bernard. Readers may be intrigued enough to read more, whether Luther's Works (American Edition), Some Letters of Saint Bernard, Sermons for Lent and the Easter Season, or Lane's Bernard of Clairvaux: Theologian of the Cross.

Recommended? Yes. We are also interested in the first and third volumes of the works of Franz Posset as published by Wipf & Stock, The Two-Fold Knowledge: Readings on the Knowledge of Self and the Knowledge of God Selected and Translated from the Works of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (Collected Works Volume 1) and Luther's Catholic Christology According to His Johannine Lectures of 1527 (Collected Works Volume 3).

Luther is the Bible commentator par excellence, largely because of his pastoral and homiletical approach. He wishes to present Christ. I appreciate good Bible commentaries, in part, because there are so many unhelpful ones from a confessional Lutheran perspective. Far too many push an agenda, practicing eisegesis rather than exegeting the Bible text. The ESV Expository Commentary is new. There are currently only three of the projected twelve volumes in print. They are our other subject in this review.

Designed to strengthen the global church with a widely accessible, theologically sound, and pastorally wise resource for understanding and applying the overarching storyline of the Bible, this commentary series features the full text of the ESV Bible passage by passage, with crisp and theologically rich exposition and application. Editors Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton, and Jay A. Sklar have gathered a team of experienced pastor-theologians to provide a new generation of pastors and other teachers of the Bible around the world with a globally minded commentary series rich in biblical theology and broadly Reformed doctrine, making the message of redemption found in all of Scripture clear and available to all.

Honestly, I cringed a little at the phrase "broadly Reformed doctrine" being a Lutheran, but I find the volumes I've seen so far to be fair and "rich in biblical theology." (Perhaps a small "r"? Either way, the word is preferable to how "protestant" is now (mis)used generally. My concern is more in the realm of future marketing than actual offense.) These three volumes are practical tools for preaching while also being substantive. I want to see the whole set!

ESV Expository Commentary: Daniel–Malachi

Volume 7

Series edited by Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton Jr., Jay Sklar

Thirteen contributors explain the shorter Prophetic Books of the Old Testament—Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi—with biblical insight and pastoral wisdom, showing readers the hope that is offered even amidst judgment.

Contributors include:
Mitchell L.  Chase
George Schwab
Allan M. Harman
Michael G. McKelvey
Max Rogland
Jay Sklar
Stephen J. Dempster
Daniel Timmer
David G. Firth
Jason S. DeRouchie
Michael Stead
Anthony R.  Petterson
Eric Ortlund

A Major Prophet joins the Twelve so-called Minor Prophets in Volume VII. It features an abundance of tables, a helpful teaching tool for Daniel primarily, but also for Hosea and Jonah. Daniel 12:1-3 was a recent Series B lectionary text. It is here helpfully combined with Daniel 11:2ff. The text is daunting to a preacher. The commentary is quite comprehensive, yet focused and helpful.

The end of the commentary on Jonah is pointed law: "if we are in any way selective in terms of the people to whom we show God's grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness, then we still do not get it. We remain disciples of Jonah, not disciples of Jesus" (421). 

Commentary on Habakkuk 2:2-4 highlights "by faith" as "a life lived in dependence on God" and "faithfulness," "a recognition of God's trustworthiness, even when circumstances are challenging" (545, cf. Hebrews). 

Commentary on Zechariah 6:13 highlights the "conceptual background" of Psalm 110 for interpretation of the Branch, Christ, as Priest. 

Commentary on Malachi 3:6-12 fairly shows the "stewardship" sermon of the prophet here, yet places it in the context of no "exact amount" for the NT church.

The goal I hope to see in any Old Testament commentary is that of preaching Christ. I was not disappointed. 

ESV Expository Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon

Volume 11

With contributions from a team of pastors and scholars, this commentary through 9 of Paul's letters helps students of the Bible to understand how each epistle fits in with the storyline of Scripture and applies today.

Contributors include:

Benjamin L. Merkle
Jason C. Meyer
Alistair I. Wilson
David W. Chapman
Denny Burk
Alistair I. Wilson

Highlights in this volume include exposition of Ephesians 2:8-10. It notes that the antecedent of "this" is the whole phrase before. "God not only saves us from our sin; he also saves us for good works. Paul is absolutely clear that good works do not save a person. However, he does maintaining that God calls all believers to a virtuous life" (47, italics original). 

I would urge reading Colossians 2:12 in conjunction with Romans 6. The commentator's reference to "mode of baptism" notes his bias, yet in saying as much has he does connecting circumcision to baptism as Paul does is more than I have heard from many of his confession.

Regarding 1 Thessalonians 4:17, the commentator notes: "There are difficulties in 1 Thessalonians for the rapture theory" (301). Yes. This is a polite yet clear theological smackdown of a false idea originating in an 1830's Scottish fringe group.

Commentators support morality and ministry as presented in the pastoral epistles.

ESV Expository Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation

Volume 12

Six experienced Bible teachers walk through some of the richest but more challenging books of the New Testament, helping Bible readers understand what they say about Christians' hope for the future.

Contributors include:
Dennis E. Johnson
Robert L. Plummer
C. Samuel Storms
Ray Van Neste
Matthew S. Harmon
Thomas R. Schreiner

(Publisher's Website)

I received these three volumes in October. As expository commentaries, they are designed to prepare a pastor for preaching. And so they did. Given the readings in Series B of the Three-Year Lectionary from Lutheran Service Book, the bulk of my attention was given to volume XIII, covering Hebrews through Revelation.

I then read through the commentary focusing on pericopes past and present:

Hebrews 2:1-13 (14-18)

Hebrews 3:12-19

Hebrews 4:1-13 (14-16)

Revelation 14:6-7

Revelation 7: (2-8) 9-17

Hebrews 9: 24-28

Hebrews 10:11-25

Jude 20-25

Revelation 1:4b-8


I had the opportunity to evaluate recent sermons on the first texts on the list on the basis of the scholarship and homiletical insights of volume XIII. I then was able use the volume to better prepare for preaching on the rest.

When you serve in one congregation for multiple cycles through the lectionary (whether Three-Year or Historic One Year), preachers can feel stagnant or unappreciated. We don't preach for the sake of feedback or praise (Galatians 1), though genuine encouragement for the right reasons and authentic constructive criticism in the right spirit is helpful (Galatians 6:6). That said, since I've been preparing for sermons by reading these commentaries, I've received more positive feedback on my preaching, both those with manuscripts and those without. You're mileage may vary, but I am encouraged.

Historic One-Year Lectionary preachers and Three-Year Lectionary preachers will benefit from all projected volumes every year. Three-Year Lectionary preachers may also note the following:

  • VII, Daniel-Malachi: particularly helpful for Holy Week and the Easter Season
  • XI, Ephesians-Philemon: particularly helpful in Series C (Advent 2018, 2021, etc)
  • XII, Hebrews-Revelation: particularly helpful for feasts, festivals, and occasions

Individual authors do occasionally show their biases and those of their specific theological tradition. I find respectful presentation of views throughout, in a way that is an improvement upon the commentary of the original ESV Study Bible. (I have yet to see volumes covering Matthew 16 and 1 Corinthians 11, but call me optimistic for now.) The discussion of the Thousand Years (Revelation 20:1-6; pp. 723ff) is illustrative. The author, as do I, has the amillennial view, yet he fairly explains postmillenial and premillenial views. Such an approach allows all sides to deal with 1) the actual text, 2) actual theological positions instead of caricatures, and 3) be confronted with Biblical evidence explained honestly, clearly, and pastorally. Only the Holy Spirit can change hearts and minds. This approach helps get preference, opinion, and ego out of the way. 

References include Concordia Commentary in volume XIII. That is positive for me and our readers. There are no known Lutheran contributors to the series that we are aware of (yet). 

Six Old Testament volumes (I through VI) covering Genesis-Ezekiel will join VII, Daniel-Malachi. VIII, IX, and X will cover the New Testament, Matthew-Galatians. 

Keep up your Greek and Hebrew work, read Pieper and the Book of Concord, and your most reliable commentaries as you usually do. And then read about the pericope at hand in the ESV Expository Commentary.

Yes, this set would be worth the money to buy, the time to read and study, the shelf space to store, and would be very helpful in preaching and teaching. Recommended!

ESV Expository Commentary Series from Crossway on Vimeo.

Rev. Paul J Cain is Senior 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, Secretary of the Wyoming District of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and a member of its Board of Directors, Wyoming District Education Chairman/NLSA Commissioner, and Editor of Lutheran Book Review. He has served as an LCMS Circuit Visitor, District Worship Chairman and District Evangelism Chairman. A graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Rev. Cain is a contributor to Lutheran Service Book, Lutheranism 101, the forthcoming LSB Hymnal Companion volumes, and is the author of 5 Things You Can Do to Make Our Congregation a Caring Church. He is an occasional guest on KFUO radio. He has previously served Emmanuel, Green River, WY and Trinity, Morrill, NE. Rev. Cain is married to Ann and loves reading and listening to, composing, and making music. 

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