Sunday, February 8, 2015

A Baptist's Bookshelf: A new commentary on Exodus

A Baptist minister’s bookshelf is sacred. It bears the weight of centuries of thought from people of all different backgrounds and faith traditions. A Baptist minister often relies on the recommendations of others when deciding what books to add to his library. That’s why I’ve decided to do periodic book reviews of new titles I’ve added to my library from the standpoint of being a Baptist in the SBC.

My most recent scholarly addition is A Commentary on Exodus from the Kregel Exegetical Library series. This is a relatively new commentary series, but the volumes that are already out by Allen P. Ross and Robert B. Chisholm, Jr. impressed me enough that I’ve committed to filling my shelves with future volumes. I was able to snag a review copy straight from the publisher, and after reading through much more of it than I had need to, I can say it’s a worthy addition to anyone’s bookshelf.

A Commentary on ExodusBackground Information
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The author, Duane A. Garrett, is a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and he’s written both a Hebrew grammar and a handful of commentaries on Old Testament books, including two volumes for the New American Commentary (NAC) series, published by Broadman and Holman, the SBC’s publishing arm. I have both the grammar and one of his NAC volumes, and he is definitely good at what he does.

ReviewThere are a lot of commentaries on Exodus available on the market, but many deny the historicity of the events and people contained in the book. Owning a commentary on Exodus written by a Bible-believing scholar is essential for any SBC pastor, which is why so many pastors I know look to the NAC as their default commentary series. Since Douglas Stuart wrote the NAC’s volume on Exodus in 2006, and since I own that commentary, I decided to compare the two. After reading through a couple hundred pages and skimming the rest of Garrett’s commentary, I opened it up next to Stuart’s. On the whole, I think that Garret’s volume is marginally better. Here’s why:

First off Garrett devotes much more space to introductory matters. Whereas Stuart gives a scant few paragraphs indicating his assumption of an early date for the Exodus and Jebel Musa in the southern Sinai Peninsula as the site of the biblical Mount Sinai, Garret spends a good 130 pages on introductory matters, delving much deeper into the arguments for various dates, an overview of Egyptian history and Pharaohs, various proposed locations for the Red Sea crossing, and the various sites proposed for the biblical Mount Sinai. Although Garrett does not settle on a specific date or Pharaoh, his treatment of these subjects was much better than what amounts to non-engagement on the part of Stuart: “In this commentary we have accepted the evidence, debated as it is, for a fifteenth-century exodus…” Both commentators have a number of “excursuses” into various topics throughout their commentaries, and Stuart’s excursuses may be more plentiful, but between the introductory material and the excursuses, Garrett comes out on top.

Second, Garrett provides his own translation, as well as copious footnotes, for the entire book of Exodus. Stuart relies on the NIV translation (1984), and although he does dedicate some space to discussing translation choices and the Hebrew text, pairing his commentary with the NET Bible translator’s notes still wouldn’t come close to what Garrett has done. Whether the reader is ultimately persuaded of each of Garrett’s translation decisions or not, he provides ample information regarding the underlying Hebrew text to help those of us without a Ph.D. in Biblical Hebrew better understand the book.

Third, although both commentaries offer an introduction to each passage of Scripture, an analysis of its structure, and expositional commentary on the verses, Garrett includes a concluding summary of the key theological points of each passage. The summary is useful for organizing thoughts and identifying the significance of the passage for believers today. Pastors and teachers who prefer to go verse by verse through a book of the Bible can use these summaries to organize their thoughts and make sure their teaching has a point rather than doing a run-on commentary on each verse of Scripture.

SummaryHaving compared the two commentaries, either would be a good addition to the pastor’s bookshelf. Garrett provides the most value in his analysis of the Hebrew text and his introductory materials. He also includes a useful summary of the theological points from each passage.

If you’re interested, there’s an interview with the author available online at the SBTS website as well as a brief book review.

If you have any questions about this commentary, or if you’d like to share your thoughts on your favorite commentary on Exodus, there’s space in the comments for you.

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