Posts Tagged ‘commentaries’

Thank you to Zondervan for a review copy of Grant Osborne’s commentary on Matthew and an opportunity to be a part of the ZECNT Blog Tour.  See also Part 1 and Part 2 of this review.

While my first post of this series looked mostly at the overview of the series and the introduction, and the second at specific features within the commentary proper, this post’s goal is to give my final thoughts on the commentary as a whole.  Given the fairly unique nature of the ZECNT series, I think it might be helpful to break my final thoughts down into two main sections: features and commentary.

Regarding the features, the ZECNT nails it pretty well.  Sure, maybe it didn’t need all 7 sections, and I would have loved the “sentence flow” to be in Greek rather than Osborne’s English translation.  But, as my second post details, the features aren’t wasted, and they actually fulfill their purpose.  The form helps facilitate the function.   The ZECNT team is to be commended for a creative approach to the commentary genre, one that hits the target “busy pastor” audience well and should help in sermon preparation.

But every commentary needs to be judged largely on the ability of the author to explain the biblical text and defend his conclusions.  As I’ve already said in the previous posts, because of the relatively short amount of time I’ve had with the commentary I have not been able to spend as much time as I would like in order to give my opinion on the matter.  It’s important to me that I need to get a strong grasp of the commentary before I begin recommending it over other trusted ones, and 1100+ pages is tough to wade through quickly.

My sense as I read through some of it is that Osborne is an excellent evangelical commentator.  His conclusions are in the mainstream evangelical camp; there is nothing world-rocking to be found in these pages.  He does survey the options, but is clear where he stands on each matter.  The Gospel of Matthew is well served in the commentary world, with Carson, France and Blomberg holding down the camp in the “intermediate category,” and Allison and Davies, Hagner, Turner, Nolland and Keener in the larger, more technical camp.  Given the prevalance of Greek in the commentary, Osborne’s would fit the “technical” category, though would be much more accessible than Allison and Davies or Hagner to the pastor whose Greek has slipped some.  For the pastor looking for a solid evangelical commentary, Osborne would be an excellent choice, especially given the creative and time-saving approach to the commentary layout.  His pastoral heart, in my opinion, also sets him apart, as it’s clear he has experienced the struggles of most pastors in sermon preparation and genuinely wants to help them.

The series editors are to be commended for an excellent concept and approach to the ZECNT series, and Grant Osborne is to be commended for executing it so well.

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I posted Part 1 of this review the other day, and I’ll post the third one next week.  All of these are a part of Zondervan’s ZECNT Blog Tour, with a review copy given by Zondervan.  In this post, I want to look briefly at some of the features of the commentary itself. 

Each pericope is dealt with in 7 main sections: Literary Context, Main Idea, Translation and Graphical Layout, Structure, Exegetical Outline, Explanation of the Text and Theology in Application.  I won’t comment on all of these, but simply make a few notes about how they are utilized in Osborne’s commentary.

Literary Context

I like the inclusion of a “literary context” section, which includes both a short paragraph or two explaining each pericope’s place in its literary context, as well as a visual outline.  For instance:

VIII. The Passion and Resurrection of Jesus (26:1-28:20)

A. The Passion Narrative (26:1-27:61)

1. Preliminary Events (26:1-16)

a. Introduction- Plot to Kill Jesus (26:1-5)

b. Anointing of Jesus (26:6-13)

c. Judas’s Betrayal (26:14-16)

So, if the pastor is preaching on 26:6-13, they not only see where it fits in the larger scheme of the Passion Narrative, but Osborne also points out that this story “is deliberately placed here by Mark and Matthew to supply a contrast with Judas’s betrayal” (p948, although I’d also argue it contrasts with the plot of kill Jesus in 26:1-5).  Such features are hardly revolutionary, but they help busy pastors grab some insight into a passage that will come in handy in sermon preparation.  While some pastors may have looked at these stories as disconnected episodes, they can see how Matthew structured his narrative to highlight certain features. 


A commentary that provides the author’s translation- unremarkable.  A commentary that provides the author’s translation in a modified “sentence flow” format- genius.  Throw in a few insights from the world of discourse analysis and you have what will be, in my opinion, the single most helpful aspect of the ZECNT series (perhaps moreso in the epistles, but still helpful in narrative literature as well).  By lining up the main clauses to the left of the translation, and indenting the subordinate clauses, the reader will be able to see exactly what Osborne thinks the main points are for each passage and how the passage as a whole flows (sorry, I wish I had an electronic shot to post here, and it’ll take too long for me to type up myself).

So, for example, the antithetical nature of Jesus’ teaching on prayer in Matthew 6:5-15 is easy to see in this section: hypocrites pray like this, and this is their reward; you should pray like this, and this will be your reward.  The “unexpected insertions” into the genealogy of Matthew 1 are even easier to spot because they’re indented under each main clause.  Like I said, I do think this feature is most useful in epistles, where the logical flow of a passage is perhaps more difficult to understand. 

The reason I said I think this will be the most useful feature of this series is simply from my experience in hearing thousands of sermons over the years.  One of the struggles in expository preaching, where a preacher focuses on one main text (usually) is that many preachers think in terms of bullet points rather than flow of thought.  Sermons are structured in a way that we want: 3 points, whether or not they flow together or demonstrate any progression is a relatively minor concern.  But this feature will help pastors see that they can still get “bullet points,” only now they can have a bit more confidence that their sermon points are the main points of the passage and that they do in fact fit together coherently.

Explanation of the Text

This is the section that is traditionally thought of when the word “commentary” is used, and it is the single most important feature of any commentary.  As I stated in Part 1 of this review, I was not able to spend as much time reading through this commentary as I would like for a review because of the time constraints.  But I’ve read enough to get an idea of how Osborne utilizes this section. 

The use of Greek is prevalant throughout, along with English transations of all Greek words and phrases, although I do think those without any Greek knowledge could still benefit from it.  Osborne comments on the text, one clause or sentence at a time, although even with all the Greek, I didn’t get a sense there’s much discussion in terms of syntax and more “upper level” grammar (but maybe a little more digging would prove me wrong). 

One helpful aspect of Osborne’s approach is that he will occasionally offer a list of options for a passage (as opposed to simply mentioning them in the text) with appropriate footnotes for the interested reader.  So if the reader wants to look into the four options (of many more) presented on the meaning of “fulfill” in 5:17 they can easily do so.  Osborne’s surveys are quick and he is always clear where he stands.

Theology in Application

At the end of each pericope, Osborne offers a handful of suggestions for how the teaching of this passage could be applied.  He only gives a paragraph or two to each point, but enough to spur on some thought.  This is always where I get a little worried about commentators, since they’re writing for a very general audience and their application ideas are not always connected to the text.  But Osborne’s comments are mostly preliminary, such as “foregoing rights” (on Matthew 17:24-27) or a couple paragraphs on the important of obedience to Christ (on 7:13-29).  Once in a while I ran across something that made me cringe, such as “In Third World situations, social concern is the best evangelistic tool” (p367), which strikes me as an awfully simplistic answer to an incredibly complex situation (not to mention a statement in desperate need of some nuance).  And more often than not it seems Osborne is assuming an audience of people just like him, as seen is his use of “we” without any clarification.  But overall, I appreciate the obvious pastoral heart of Grant Osborne.

In Part 3, I’ll give some brief, final thoughts on the commentary and how it fulfills the vision of the ZECNT.

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A few weeks back I snagged a review copy of Grant Osborne’s new (and monstrous) commentary on Matthew as part of the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament Blog Tour.  When I first saw their post, I thought there would be no way I’d read the entire 1100+ pages by December 15, especially given the new baby in the house.  However, they mentioned that the reviewer would not need to read it cover to cover but give it a “fair look” and review it.  My plan is to do this in 3 parts posted over the next week or so.

With the ZECNT series, Zondervan is trying to do something different with their commentaries.  There are more “bells and whistles” in this series than in most.  In ZECNT volumes, each passage is handled in 7 components: Literary Context, Main Idea, Translaton and Graphical Layout, Structure, Exegetical Outline, Explanation of the Text, Theology in Application.  I’ll comment on some of these features in my forthcoming posts; in this post I’ll comment on the “pre-commentary” matter.


Osborne’s Introduction is relatively short, considering the size of the commentary in general.  I, for one, appreciate this, especially given the audience of this series- pastors and teachers who have studied some level of Greek but aren’t “experts.”  In other words, this series is geared towards the “busy pastor” type (is that term redundant?). 

As far as I can tell, Osborne gets this.  From the outset it is very clear that he has empathy for the pastor who preaches through a gospel and keeps this question in mind: “What would I want to know as a pastor preparing a sermon on this passage?” (p22).  To this end, Osborne gives a quick (5 page) overview on gospel hermeneutics- studying the plot, characters, etc.  It may seem elementary, but Osborne’s tips will help the pastor preach Matthew’s gospel well, rather than a “life of Jesus” style sermon, where the distinctives of the gospel account are minimized.

All the other details traditionally handled in a commentary are found here: authorship (where Osborne takes the traditional view), date (pre-70AD, with a comment about Mark beign written in the 50’s that I found interesting), audience (clearly influenced by Richard Bauckham and others against seeing a “Matthean community”) and so on.  He probably could have spent less time on sources, but that’s largely my own preference.

Osborne also includes a section on Matthew’s use of the OT, where he argues mainly for a typological understanding, which he defines as “analogous fulfillment” (p38).  Again, it may have been nice to see more here, but he does flesh out the details a bit more in his commentary proper; for example on Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15

Though not a direct messianic passage, this still constitutes fulfillment because Jesus as Messiah is corporately identified with Israel throughout its history… and so fulfills its experiences.  Jesus as Son is reliving the experiences of God’s children, Israel.

All in all, I liked Osborne’s simplified approach to the introduction.  Busy pastors don’t have all the time in the world to wade through the debates on authorship, audience, etc., and Osborne understands their plight.  He gives them an overview, cites sources for pastors to check for further information and gives his opinion.  You can’t ask for more than that given the intended audience.


Perhaps this is purely one of my idiosyncracies, but the “Contents” page has a major strike against it.  One of my pet peeves is when the commentary proper (the actual section of the book on the biblical text) is not broken down in the Table of Contents.  In this case, the reader sees this:

  • Commentary…………………..57

And that’s it.  For a commentary bent on being as user-friendly as this one, what logic would lead one not to lay out the commentary section more helpfully?  Osborne presents his structure of the Gospel of Matthew in detail at the end of the Introduction on pages 41-47; why couldn’t a simplified version of this outline make its way onto the contents page?  This would especially be helpful given the Contents page doesn’t even tell you what one can expect to find in the Introduction either.  Where would one find Osborne’s thoughts on authorship?  Somewhere between pages 21 (Introduction) and 49 (Select Bibliography). 

Related, but a lesser offense, is the non-mention of the excurses.  The Contents page would also be a wonderful place for the reader to find out about the occasional excursus that appear in the commentary.  But nary a word is mentioned about them.  I didn’t know, for instance, that an excursus (not actually labeled that, but set apart in a gray box) on the Son of Man occurs on pages 307-308 (on 8:22) until I was referred there as I was reading Osborne’s comments on 26:64.  If something is significant enough to warrant a special excursus, why wouldn’t it be included in a list of excurses?

Like I said, this may be my own little idiosyncracy.  But my opinion is that if you are trying to make your commentary user-friendly with various features to enhance the reading and learning experience, why would you miss something as simple and useful as a more detailed Contents page?  I promise that there is some college student in Grand Rapids who would love an internship at Zondervan who could take some time (and it really wouldn’t take much) to simplify and transfer Osborne’s outline to the Contents page with the appropriate page number.  Come on Zondervan- make a young Dutch boy’s dream and let him do it, maybe even give him a shout out on the acknowledgements page.

But let’s be clear about something- when your biggest gripe is the relative uselessness of the Table of Contents page, you know you’re dealing with a pretty good commentary.

More coming in Part 2, where I give a quick look at some of the features found in the commentary.

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5.5.  This post is dedicated to not throwing up.  Why do I take you for granted?

5. Great quote posted by Marcus from Blomberg and Kamell’s commentary on James, one that all students of the Bible would do well to read.

4. I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I didn’t read his post, but Trevin Wax’s title says it all: Why “Dawn Treader” Will Sink the Narnia Franchise.  I’m not a Lewis junkie, but many of the reviews I’ve seen (again, not reading them thoroughly to avoid spoilers) have been quite positive, so I’m interested in what you Lewis experts think of Wax’s review.

3. Is it wrong that I thought this was funny?  (HT)

2. I never knew the man, never studied under him and have read very few things by him, but at Gordon-Conwell many of the “old guard” had so much respect for him that I couldn’t help but note the passing of theologian Roger Nicole.

1. You haven’t seen much action around here lately because my wife and I (finally) have welcomed our second child and first son to the family (and, unrelated, the previously alluded to sickness).  And here is where I selfishly plug our family blog.  Posting will begin picking up tomorrow, as I’m taking part in the ZECNT blog tour (here for details).  I’ll probably post 3 times (12/15, 17 & 20- give or take a day or two) regarding Grant Osborne’s Matthew commentary.

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Westminster Bookstore is having a short (1 week) sale on Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner’s 1 Corinthians commentary in the Pillar series.  Ciampa, as some of you know, was one of my NT profs at Gordon-Conwell, and I’m sure this commentary is very good (along with the 12 million other very good commentary on 1 Corinthians).  I first read this at Nick’s blog, so click the link to his blog, then from there click the link to Westminster Bookstore.  If you purchase it after clicking on Nick’s link, he’ll get a kickback or something.  Help a brother out.

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5.5.  This post is dedicated to the handful of folks who used to read my old blog, where I’d post occasional “5.5 Random Things”, often with links on various topics which may or may not be related to Bible geekdom.  Generally these are items of interest (to me, at any rate) that I don’t want to write a full post about.  I’ve decided pull this idea off the shelf, dust it off and give it a whirl.  Call it a comeback.

5. Matthew Montonini has posted an interview with J Ramsey Michaels over at New Testament Perspectives, specifically dealing with Michaels’ new commentary on the Gospel of John.  While I often wonder if it’s really worth the time and effort on the part of publishers to keep pumping out new commentaries, when I know of a respectable scholar who has been working for a couple decades on one, I pay attention.  Michaels’ commentary replaces the well-known commentary by Leon Morris in the NICNT, which is, in my opinion, the best commentary Morris ever wrote (and he wrote many).  Anyway, Montonini’s interview is in three parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

4. My co-blogger, Brian, recently won a free book.  In related news, Brian’s a jerk.

3. Over at Parchment and Pen, Tim Kimberly recently finished a series on the “Top Ten Biblical Studies in Archaeology.”  Not all will be convinced by his interpreation of the data, but I found it interesting nonetheless. 

2. In case you’re wondering, Pierce Baby #2 is due in 29 days.  If you’re familiar with these things, you know it could be 40 days.  I’m praying for a less biblical number.

1. Obama is the leopard king.  You know, of Daniel 7.  This guy says so, here and here.  Consider yourself informed. 

Side note: I love the reasoning behind this correlation, especially the connection between a leopard’s spots (two colors, black and white) and Obama’s mixed race.  The other beasts?  Monochromatic (sort of).  Nearly flawless logic. 

Side note to the side note: The logic would be closer to flawless if he argued his case in terms of primary colors.  Bear=black (for the sake of argument), lion=yellow, leopard=mixed (I realize black isn’t considered a primary color, but work with me here).  If he argued this, I’d cosign it in a heartbeat! 

Side note to the other side notesCousin Jeremy– is it possible that you missed this in all your years of studying the philosophy of race on the doctoral level?   Seriously, bro, let’s work on this.  I bet your problem is methodological.  You need to get a Casio and a video camera, hang out by a quaint river and let it come.  Trust me.

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Sometime ago, Brian, my fellow infrequent contributor to BBG, offered up a post on five resources to help people understand the Pentateuch in a posted titled “Five Books for the Five Books.”  I wholeheartedly agree that the resources he listed are helpful, and would even now agree (I didn’t then, as you can see in his original post) that T D Alexander’s book, From Paradise to Promised Land, is the best book I’ve read on the Pentateuch.  The person not interested in source criticism would do well to skip the first 100 pages or so, but otherwise it’s a fantastic overview of what the Pentateuch teaches.

A few years back I picked up a copy of another study on the Pentateuch at a CBD Warehouse Sale.  I bought it because I recognized the author’s name from my Exegesis in Genesis class with Duane Garrett (and I’ll explain why he stood out to me a in a minute), and because the sale price was $6.79 (normally priced $24.99).  The Pentateuch As Narrative was my first introduction to OT scholar John Sailhamer’s works.  It took me a while to sit down and read through it a bit, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time in it.  He has since gone on to write another book on the Pentateuch, The Meaning of the Pentateuch, which received a hearty endorsement from John Piper.

Sailhamer, who essentially gives a running commentary on the Pentateuch in this book, is at his best when he’s pointing out easy-to-miss connections throughout the Pentateuch.  For instance, Sailhamer shows verbal parallels between Noah and Abraham, demonstrating that they each “represent new beginnings in the course of events recorded in Genesis.  Both are marked by God’s promise of blessing and his gift of the covenant” (p128).  The same goes for parallels between the story of Abraham going in and out of Egypt (chapters 12-13) and the story of Israel doing the same (in the Joseph story and in Exodus 11-12).  “By shaping the account of Abraham’s sojourn in Egypt to parallel the events of the Exodus, the author permits the reader to see the implications of God’s past deeds with his chosen people” (p142). 

I could probably list off a couple dozen other examples (connections between the flood story and purification laws, brilliant!), not all of which are entirely convincing, in my opinion.  But the effect of all this is in demonstrating that there is a narrative unity to the Pentateuch.  Whatever else one wants to say about the sources behind the Pentateuch (safe to say that Sailhamer is hardly convinced by Documentary Hypothesis advocates), the final form of the text is intended to be seen as a unity.

That is not to say, however, that I always find Sailhamer’s analysis correct.  I’ll give one quick example to make my point.

I mentioned earlier that Sailhamer’s name rung a bell with me for a specific reason.  In my aforementioned Exegesis in Genesis class, Dr Garrett mentioned Sailhamer’s view of the “days of creation” in Genesis 1.  I was quite familiar with the 24-hour view and the indefinite-period-of-time view (or whatever it should be called), and even the framework hypothesis.  But I hadn’t heard Sailhamer’s view before.

In a nutshell, Sailhamer argues that the days of creation in Genesis 1 are not referring to the creation of our planet (he does see that in Genesis 1:1, just not what follows).  Instead, these days refer to God’s creation/preparation of the “land” (read: Promised Land) for Israel.  You can find a more detailed presentation of his argument summarized by Matt Perman (who is actually summarizing Sailhamer’s argument in Genesis Unbound– apparently one book making his point isn’t enough!) at the Desiring God website.  One of the alluring features of this view is the use of “land” (eretz, in Hebrew) in Genesis 1 and the rest of the Pentateuch.  “The Land” is a common thread in the Pentateuch.  God had promised it to Abraham and his descendents (Gen 12:7) and much of the rest of the Pentateuch is centered around the theme of God preparing them to live in the Land. 

My reaction, though, is that Sailhamer reads the evidence backwards.  While I appreciate the verbal and thematic connections between Genesis 1 and various other places in the Pentateuch (God separating the waters on Day 3 and with the Red Sea), I would argue that the Red Sea account points back to the creation of the world, rooting Israel’s story (the creation of Israel) in God’s total creative power.  I’m intrigued, but not convinced (but could be, I suppose).

So The Pentateuch as Narrative would not be my first book to recommend to someone on the first five books of the Bible.  From Paradise to Promised Land still holds the #1 slot for me.  But I think it’s good for me to have someone throw a few curveballs.  That someone is John Sailhamer.  He comes to the text with a different set of eyes, picking up on details that I never would have seen.  While I may disagree, I’m rarely disappointed.

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Oswalt on Isaiah 56-66

A     56:1-8 Foreign worshipers

        B     56:9-59:15a Ethical righteousness

                C     59:15b-21 Divine Warrior

                        D     60-62 Eschatological Hope

                C’    63:1-6 Divine Warrior

        B’    63:7-66:17 Ethical righteousness

A’    66:18-24 Foreign worshipers

John Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66, NICOT, p465

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I don’t highlight forthcoming books very often, but when a couple of my former professors are coming out with good ones, I feel the need to jump in (and when I’m having trouble coming up with other blogging ideas).

Brian Rosner and Roy Ciampa, the latter being one of my NT professors, are coming out with a commentary on 1 Corinthians in the Pillar series (Eerdmans) (Mark Heath already mentioned this one here).  These two already worked together on the 1 Corinthians portion of the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament.  Rosner has previously published in the area of Pauline ethics in 1 Corinthians 5-7, so I suspect we’ll get some good stuff here.  Ciampa’s doctoral work (under Rosner, I believe) was in the area of the use of the OT in Galatians, so I’m sure there’ll be helpful insights in that area in 1 Corinthians.  Ciampa also has done a lot of translation work in Portugal, and heads up Gordon-Conwell’s new DMin program on Bible Translation.  When I studied under him he utilized insights from linguistics, especially in the area of Semantic Structure Analysis.  The word on the street (where there’s always commentary buzz) is that this commentary will have a stronger focus on the Jewish background to the letter, which can be a weakness in other commentaries. 

I have no doubt this will be a fine commentary, I just wonder if it’ll be used as widely as it could, considering there are already many excellent 1 Corinthians commentaries out there (Fee, Thiselton, Garland, Hays- not to mention Witherington, Barrett, Fitzmyer, Blomberg, Keener, and probably more that I’m forgetting).  There are few biblical books with as many good options to choose from.  Nonetheless, people eat new commentaries up, and the Pillar series is one of the finest available, so I’m sure it’ll do well.

Another book I’m looking forward to is John Jefferson Davis’ (known as “Jack Davis” on campus) book on worship, Worship and the Reality of God (IVP).  Davis has been teaching Systematic Theology and Ethics at Gordon-Conwell (I took him for the latter) since the mid-70’s.  If there’s one thing I can say about him, it’s that he’s influenced by an interesting mix of traditions and theological persuasions.  He’s firmly Reformed.  Paedobaptist.  Ordained PCUSA, attended an Orthodox Presbyterian Church when I was at seminary, now serves at an Episcopalian church (which makes me want to have a discussion with him on ecclesiology).  He’s an Egalitarian regarding women’s roles in ministry.  Firmly believes in the continuation of the spiritual gifts.  He’s also a Postmillennialist.  He is a strong advocate for large families and vocal opponent of abortion.  He has also lamented evangelicals’ poor track record regarding their theology of creation and is ecological implications (see this essay [pdf] from the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society) and updated his popular book, Evangelical Ethics, to include a chapter on that subject.  He has a background in science (I want to say it was Physics, but my memory could be wrong), writing and lecturing extensively on the intersection of science and faith.

My point is this: you don’t really know what you’re going to get.  If I get a chance to read this (it’s due about the same time as Pierce Baby #2, so that’s a big if) I bet I’ll be pumping my fist in agreement (what, you don’t do that when you read?) in one chapter, and shaking my head in the next.  I like to read those kinds of books.  At any rate, I’m excited for it’s release.

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In the comments of a previous post, Marcus asked what books I’m using in my study of Ezekiel.  For those who know me, it doesn’t take much to get me talking about books, especially commentaries.  But I thought I’d use this as an opportunity to stress how I use commentaries and other resources in the process of studying a book of the Bible.  Obviously commentaries serve well as resevoirs for “quick answers,” but are even better used over a long period of study.

I want to put all of this in context.  Sometime in the fall, I decided to embark on a prolonged study in the Book of Ezekiel.  I picked Ezekiel for a few reasons: of the major prophets, it’s the one I know the least; I’ve often found it confusing; I wanted to justify my purchase of Daniel Block’s two volume commentary; and Ian Boxall’s commentary on Revelation convinced me that Ezekiel was important to John’s Revelation. 

So here are the steps I am taking in my study of Ezekiel.  Mind you, I’m actually only 7 chapters in; I’m moving intentionally slow (and I took a bit of a break when my computer died).  I also don’t want to give the impression that I really think of studying the Bible in a mechanical, step-by-step process.  The crucial thing about these steps is that I never jump forward, but I may move backward.  That is, just because I move on to a new step doesn’t mean I won’t go back and redo a previous one.  But I try not to get ahead in the process, for reasons I’ll explain as I go. 

The one step I’m leaving out of the list is actually the most important.  I pray a lot as I’m studying, through every step.  Not only do I pray the words of Scripture (which can be difficult in a book like Ezekiel), but I pray that the Spirit of God give me wisdom as I go.  If, after all, He inspired the book, I’d rather seek His insight than anyone else’s.

Read the Text

Sounds obvious, huh?  It doesn’t get any more basic and necessary than this.  I try to read the entire book every now and then.  I read large sections at a time, then narrow down to smaller sections as I see them (chapter divisions in Ezekiel are generally pretty good, though chapters can be grouped together, more on that in a second).  I’ve been using the TNIV, though when I start to look at smaller chunks of verses, I compare other translations.  For this study, I’ve opted not to do my own translation work, or at least not the entire book.  I’ve done that before for other books, and will continue to do so.  But, honestly, it would take me far too long to study Ezekiel if I tried to translate the entire thing. 

Break Off Natural Sections

As I noted above, chapters can be grouped together to form units.  For instance, chapters 1-3 go together, with chapter 1 and chapters 2-3 forming subunits.  Chapters 8-11 all go together.  And so on.  This is something I may adjust as I spend more time in the text, if needed.  These sections are the ones I study, so on my computer, there are separate documents for Ezekiel 1-3, 4-7 (4-5 & 6-7 go together), 8-11, etc.

Make a Rough Outline

My outlines are never super detailed, just enough to give me an idea of the flow of a passage.  When I broke down the vision of chapter 1 into 3 main parts (Vision of the 4 Living Creatures vv4-14, Vision of the 4 Wheels vv15-21, Vision of the Glory of YHWH vv22-28), it helped me make sense of what was otherwise a mess in my mind.  Again, I’m always willing to correct this outline, but I find it a good place to start.

Taking Notes & Asking Questions

Using my outline, I begin to take notes on what I think is important.  For example, in chapters 2-3 there is some ambuguity as to the identity of ruach, which can mean breath, wind or S/spirit.  I look at the text and come up with my own thoughts, and try to see if there is anything significant to it.  I note repeated phrases, of which there are many in Ezekiel (e.g., “then they will know that I am YHWH”).  I also write out any questions I have that I may not be able to answer myself, or that I’m unsure of the answer.  I was a bit confused by the 390 and 40 day periods in Ezekiel 4, so I made a note to check it out when I hit the commentaries (again, after I tried to come up with possible answers myself).  This step can take quite a while.

Theological Reflection

After I do the above (which would be termed “exegesis”), I begin writing out some of my thoughts on what the text teaches about God.  There may be a particular phrase that sticks out, an important action, etc.  I’m already thinking about this stuff as I’m taking notes, but now I spend more time thinking on it.  This is important for two reasons: the Bible teaches us about God (duh) and, in my opinion, the theology of the text is the key to hermeneutics.  In other words, if I can determine what a passage is teaching about the unchanging God, I will have a much better shot at faithfully applying a text that is written in a foreign language, to a foreign people living in a foreign world.

Application Ideas

This is where I write out some thoughts on how a text might be preached or taught.  I’m consistently going back to this, sometimes weeks after I’ve finished a section.  This area is a struggle, especially on the personal level, because I seek to apply it to my life before I go tell anyone else how they should live.  The first 3 chapters of Ezekiel really kicked my butt.  I was so powerfully struck by the immensity of what Ezekiel experienced, I couldn’t get it off my mind.  I remember going out for a run (don’t laugh) and realizing that I had actually been walking around aimlessly for 30 minutes, thinking about Ezekiel’s call.  Needless to say, I’ve had the tendency to become consumed with the book. 

Anyway, all that to say, applying a text is much harder than many assume, which is probably why Ezekiel doesn’t get preached on very often (unless you opt for “what’s the vision by the Kebar River in your life?”).   Maybe somewhere down the road I’ll dive into this even more, but this is already getting long enough.

Using Outside Resources

You’ll notice that this is the last item on this list (yes, we’re at the end).  When I was in school, I would always try to do my own exegetical work before I looked at anything else.  I would translate, diagram, work on syntax, etc, without looking at BibleWorks (only cheaters use it) or commentaries (or at least I tried, sometimes I’d get stuck and look something up, only to realize I probably could have figured it out myself).  In my experience, commentaries work best when you have already thought through a text yourself and are looking for specific insights.  Very few commentaries are so well written that you can just pick them up and start reading, gaining incredible wisdom.  Doing that virtually guarantees you’ll learn next-to-nothing.  But if you know what you’re looking for when you start, you’ll glean much that is useful.  I also check out a few other resources, which I’ll give below.


The two Ezekiel commentaries that I am using are Daniel Block’s previously mentioned two volume commentary in the NICOT series and Iain Duguid’s volume in the NIV Application series.  Both are outstanding.  I was already familiar with Block’s, and had heard good things about Duguid’s.  I have to be honest, I was skeptical at first, but am now a huge fan (so is my wife, for what it’s worth).  Although his space is limited, especially in comparison to the ginormous Block, he makes the most out of it, even including things missed by Block.  Once in a while his practical insights are a bit of a stretch, but I think they’re designed to get the reader thinking rather than suggesting sermon bullet points.  If you can’t afford Block, then I strongly recommend Duguid.  Even if you can afford Block, I’d strongly recommend Duguid.

Block has pretty much everything you’d want in a commentary.  He doesn’t just comment on the text, he interacts well with other writers, brings in helpful historical background and, best of all, takes time to discuss the theological implications of the text.  This commentary is worth the hype.

I also own John Taylor’s commentary in the Tyndale series, but haven’t looked at it much.  I go back and look through it every so often, but there’s little in there that isn’t already covered by the other two.  My wife was using this one until I got Duguid for Christmas.  If I were living near a library that carried commentaries, I’d probably look at Allen, Zimmerli and Greenberg, but I don’t so I don’t.

Other Books

Every so often I consult a book that isn’t a commentary.  I would probably take a look at an OT introduction if I liked any.  I’ve poked around Bruce Waltke’s OT Theology to see what he says about Ezekiel, but for the most part, I stick to the commentaries. 

Online Classes

Another helpful resource is BiblicalTraining.org, which we’ve plugged multiple times.  Douglas Stuart has a lecture on Ezekiel, but it’s only 19 minutes, which is too short for anything more than a basic orientation.  On iTunesU, there is an entire prophets class for free taught by John Goldingay at Fuller Seminary.  His lecture on Ezekiel comes in close to 80 minutes, so naturally he covers more ground than Stuart.  Goldingay is left of where I am, but often has much that is helpful.


I’ve mentioned before that Ezekiel is rarely preached on, at least in my circles.  I’ve found a few online; you can check out The Gospel Coaliton site for some examples.  Like commentaries, I won’t listen to anything until I’m done doing my own work.


So there you have it, far more than you ever wanted to know about my process of studying a book of the Bible.  This process is always subject to revision, so if you have anything to add, I’d be happy to hear it out.  Let me end with this:

The more time I spend in Scripture, the more amazed I am at the treasures contained within.  I’ve spent years now studying the Word (and I have the school debt to prove it!), but on a consistent basis I find myself feeling like a novice.  It’s humbling to jump back on the bunny slopes, but humility’s definitely a good thing.  I had no idea Ezekiel, the book and the prophet, could be so compelling, challenging and God-exalting.  Lord help me (literally) if I ever lose the excitement I feel today.

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