Book Review – BEC John (Andreas Köstenberger)

The Series

The Baker Exegetical Commentary series is one of my favourites in terms of layout, with very nice typesetting which sets it apart from series like the Word Biblical Commentary or even the Pillar New Testament Commentary series. It is good to see newer series following suit. The full text of the book is included in blocks at the start of each new section, usually the author’s translation. Comments are on groups of verses, sometimes up to six at a time. The commentary does use Greek characters, usually transliterated and translated (except in the footnotes).


The introduction is surprisingly concise given the size of this commentary, although it touches on the subjects you will expect. He does include a table where he attempts to date all the incidents in the gospel. He breaks the book into two halves, the first as the book of signs, and the second the book of glory. In the first part there are seven “signs”, seven “I AM statements”, and quite possibly seven “witnesses” too.


I read through this commentary in parallel with Don Carson’s commentary on John in the Pillar Commentary Series, and the similarities were striking. Not only are the same conclusions reached, but often the structure of the argument is extremely close. Disagreements between the two are rare, and usually only minor in any case. In many ways, these could be called “synoptic commentaries” – Köstenberger and Carson approach John from very similar points of view, unsurprisingly so, since Köstenberger refers to Carson as his mentor. He also highly rates the commentary of Herman Ridderbos.

Carson interacts with other commentators to disagree with them, whereas Köstenberger prefers to highlight the best of their comments. Carson says almost everything in the main text, while Köstenberger utilises footnotes a lot more. Sometimes well over half the page is taken up with footnotes. However, lists of references to other commentators whose views he is quoting or summarising do not get relegated to footnotes, which means that some sentences can get swamped amidst a mass of attributions. This means that, despite the two books having roughly the same size, reading through Köstenberger will be much quicker. Carson is happy to go off on excursuses teasing out the meaning of difficult phrases, while Köstenberger is much more concise (e.g. Carson spends 5 pages on “water and spirit” in 3:5, Köstenberger a paragraph or so).

In some ways, this functions as a digest of other commentaries on John, as he often selects good quotes from other commentators or summarises their arguments, without the need for him to add additional comments of his own (except in the footnotes).

There are a couple of features that make Köstenberger unique though. He has more interest than Carson in things like geography and historical details (for example, he fills us in on the types of lanterns and torches in 18:3). He is also very interested in placing events in the year they happened (it seems to be a couple of years later than others I have read – he has Jesus starting his ministry aged 33). One surprising feature, perhaps, is his choice not to translate or provide commentary on the story of the woman caught in adultery (though he does include an excursus on it). Clearly, he feels strongly that this should not be considered part of the canon of Scripture.


I guess the trouble with this commentary is that it is difficult to recommend it instead of Carson’s and it is also difficult to recommend it as well as Carson’s due to their close agreement on so many matters. His key advantage is his succinctness in the main text, allowing him to make very direct points that in Carson’s commentary are spread out over several pages of interaction with other views. This does not mean though that Köstenberger’s commentary is shallow. The copious footnotes allow you to choose the points at which you want to go deeper.

Book Review – BEC Philippians (Moises Silva)


This deserves credit for having one of the most engaging introductions of a commentary I have read. In 36 pages, he tackles the book from a wide variety of angles.

He is less certain than most that the Philippian church was in a good state of health. He in particular thinks that there may be some looming danger from the Judaizers – in fact, he thinks that most, if not all, of Paul’s “opponents” can be viewed as heterodox Jewish believers. Quite fascinating was his roundup of other commentaries. Since this is a revision of a commentary originally published in 1988, he deals with some of the new works that have come out since. Whilst there is high praise for O’Brien and Blockmeuhl, his opinion of Fee’s commentary is equivocal. He feels Fee misrepresented his opinions in a few places, and often when Fee is referenced in the footnotes it is to firmly reject his exegesis.


The commentary itself follows the usual pattern of the Baker Exegetical Series. First is a section overview, followed by the author’s own translation. Then there are the comments on the text, dealt with usually in groups of about three verses at a time. At the end of each section, Silva provides a large number of additional notes, mainly dealing with translation or manuscript issues (which he clearly has a great interest in), and occasionally interacting with other commentators. Silva’s translation of Philippians is particularly useful, as he inserts a number of clarifying clauses, so that the translation reflects the sense he argues for in the commentary.

While there is plenty of attention given to the Greek grammar and vocabulary, Silva is always careful to move on to theological reflection. Silva demonstrates out that several of the grammatical problems of Philippians are minimized by the fact that many of the possible translations do not substantively differ from one another. In other words, we can often determine the main point being made even if we cannot discern the exact meaning of every phrase.

Points of Interest

Silva argues strongly that the “deliverance” of Phil 1:19 is salvation, not merely release from prison, though he acknowledges there may be some calculated ambiguity. He has some good comments on perseverance, which he sees as a running theme through the letter. He has some helpful theological reflection on suffering in his comments on Phil 1:29 and Phil 3:10. “The stinging reality of Christian suffering is our reminder that we have been united with Christ”.

On Phil 2:1-4 he points out that the true obstacle to unity is not the presence of legitimate differences of opinion but self-centredness. The opposition the Philippians were facing calls for steadfastness on their part, but this is only possible if they have unity, which in turn calls for humility. In Phil 2:6, the phrase μορφη θεου is equivalent to “being equal with God”, though it cannot be pressed to explain exactly how. In the same verse, he acknowledges that while we may not be able to detect the exact meaning of αρπαγμον, the sense is clear – Jesus refused to make a selfish choice with regards to his divinity.

In Phil 2:10, Paul stunningly applies Isa 45:23 to Jesus. Phil 2:12-13 is one of several places in Philippians that express the paradox of human and divine activity in salvation, and Silva offers some good theological reflection on this. The grumbling of Phil 2:14 is likely to be an allusion to the Israelites complaining against Moses. The best commentary on Phil 2:15 is Jesus’ words in Matt 5:14-16: you are already the light of the world – therefore shine.

In Phil 3:2, Paul is ironically (rather than abusively) characterizing these Judaizers as “dogs”. A great spiritual reversal has taken place – these Judaizers are the new Gentiles, while the Christian believers are the new Jews. He effectively rebuts Stendahl’s notion that in Phil 3:6 Paul is referring to his subjective conscience.

In Phil 3:9-11 we see Paul’s doctrine of salvation compressed into just a few sentences – justification, sanctification, and glorification. Silva makes the point that union with Christ, rather than justification by faith is at the heart of Paul’s soteriology. When Paul speaks of experiencing the power of Christ’s resurrection in Phil 3:10, he has in mind our spiritual transformation into the image of Christ.

Silva makes the case that antinomian libertines may not be the opponents in view in 3:12-4:1, and that it makes good sense to read this section as being against the Judaizers. In Phil 3:15, Paul is referring not to differences they may have with him, but differences they have amongst themselves – he paraphrases: “If there continue to be some disagreements among you, I trust that God will soon bring unanimity in your midst.”

About Euodia and Syntyche (Phil 4:2), Silva says “most likely, what we have here is not a personal quarrel between cantankerous old ladies but rather a substantive division within the church leadership, which from the beginning consisted largely of faithful women.” On Phil 4:4-7 Silva notes that “genuine Christian joy is not inward looking. It is not by concentrating on our need for happiness, but on the needs of others that we learn to rejoice.”


Philippians is served by several highly-rated commentaries. I found Fee’s extremely helpful when I read through it about 10 years ago. O’Brien and Blockmeuhl also get consistently high praise for their work. But this one deserves its reputation too. As any good commentary should, it helps you get right to the heart of what is being said and how it fits into the overall flow of the argument, but also brings out the practical and doctrinal application of the text. So even if you already have Fee, it is well worth your money getting Silva as well (especially since they don’t always agree on the interpretation).

Book Review – Baker Exegetical Commentary on 1 Peter (Karen Jobes)

In this commentary on 1 Peter, Karen Jobes makes some important contributions to the academic study of this epistle, while at the same time providing an excellent resource for pastors and Bible students who want to wrestle with the meaning and application of the text. The introduction is comprehensive and defends traditional authorship of the letter (bolstered by a thorough appendix on the quality of the Greek which indicate an author whose first language was not Greek) and and early date (based largely on the observation that the letter does not address state-sponsored persecution). She also puts forward her thesis that the Christians to whom Peter writes had been recolonised by the Roman empire – literally exiled and living as resident aliens. She shows throughout the commentary how this makes many of Peter’s points particularly apt, but acknowledges that the main thrust of the argument does not depend on whether his readers are literal exiles or not.

The commentary itself is very thorough, and manages to deal with issues of Greek grammar and syntax without losing focus on the message of the book. Jobes seems to have a very good understanding of the types of questions that preachers will be asking of the text, and while this is not an exposition of 1 Peter, it is full of theological and pastoral observations. As with all volumes in the Baker Exegetical Commentary series, the layout is excellent, including the full text of the passage being commented on, and with regular summaries of argument. Technical notes are kept out of the way at the end of each section rather than as footnotes, and Greek is both transliterated and translated.

Peter quotes from and alludes to the Old Testament regularly in this letter, and whenever he does, Jobes highlights not just the passage quoted but similarities in the flow of argument and thought (especially with Psalm 34).

There is a substantial section devoted to dealing with the difficult passage at the end of chapter 3. She rejects the view that Christ preached through Noah to Noah’s generation, and also the descent into hell view, in favour of the modern consensus that views 1 Enoch as the background to the passage – the risen and ascended Christ has proclaimed victory over fallen angelic beings and powers. She differentiates between Paul’s use of ‘flesh’ (Greek sarx), which connotes our sinful human nature, to Peter’s which is merely referring to bodily life on earth (as opposed to the eternal spiritual state Jesus was in after his resurrection). This means that her interpretation of a number of verses does not fit well with the English translations, which use the word “body” as a translation (for example, in her view baptism in 3:25 is said not to morally transform the believer, rather than not physically wash the believer that most modern translations imply).

It is also of interest to see how a female commentator in a conservative evangelical commentary series approaches the injunctions of 3:1-6 concerning a wife’s submission to her husband. She (rightly in my view) interprets this section along with the preceding section addressed to slaves as being motivated by Peter’s concern for the vulnerable situation that wives and slaves find themselves in if they convert to Christianity. Slaves and wives found themselves right at the bottom of the social ladder of their day, and so Peter writes pastorally, and should therefore not be criticised for failing to undermine these social structures. She defends Peter against modern critics by claiming that he dignifies slaves and wives by affirming their rights to their own religious beliefs.

She notes that Peter leaves the details of how submission is to be worked out to the wives and husbands themselves (for example, would an unbelieving husband allow his wife to worship with the Christian community). She also contrasts Peter’s teaching on wives and husbands with Paul’s, which is targetted at believing couples. While she indicates a moderately complementarian leaning by affirming that the NT does envisage some form of “submission” from wives to husbands, she stresses the freedom that is given to the married couple to work this out between themselves, without specifying the exact details of how this works out in practice. The implication is that in a Christian marriage, this “submission” should have a very different dynamic to that found in other marriages of Peter’s day. She quotes approvingly an unamed evangelical who states that while the NT teaches a wife to submit, it does not ever give the husband the right to demand it.

I found this an excellent commentary to consult as I studied my way through 1 Peter recently. It provides answers not just for exegetical questions, but pointers for application, and discussion of theological implications. Her thesis concerning the recipients of the letter and her appendix assessing whether the quality of the Greek rules out Petrine authorship will probably be of more use to academics than Bible teachers, but these are kept separate from the main commentary so they do not get in the way for those not requiring such information.