Book Review–The Message of Ephesians (John Stott)

This is my second reading of this volume in the Bible Speaks Today series, and it was just as enjoyable as I remembered it being first time round. All of John Stott’s contributions are excellent, and this is one of his best.

Published originally in 1979, this volume is slightly different from others in that there is no introduction. I actually think this is a good move, as Stott deals with issues of authorship, dating, recipients in his comments on the opening verses and draws out key themes of the letter as he goes along.

Perhaps the biggest eye-opener for me (the first time through anyway) was recognising the theme of “God’s new society”. We have become so accustomed to reading the Bible individualistically that we can miss the implications for the church community. Instead of interpreting the blessings and commands in an entirely personal way (“what do I get, how should I behave”), Stott does a brilliant job of highlighting the corporate emphasis running through the letter.

The one place I found myself disagreeing with Stott (or at least wanting to say “yes, but…”) was in his discussion of the “Ephesians 4 ministries”, in which he made clear his reservations about the charismatic movement’s understanding of the need for ongoing “apostolic” and “prophetic” ministries. He makes clear that in his estimation, by far the most important gift is that of teaching. I agree with its great importance, but it seems to me that he undermines the very point he has just made so forcefully about the need for a diversity of gifts.

He devotes considerable space to the contentious issue of submission, arguing that there is indeed a creation principle of male ‘headship’, but is very careful to explain what is not meant by this.

“Certainly, ‘headship’ implies a degree of leadership and initiative, as when Christ came to woo and to win his bride. But more specifically it implies sacrifice, self-giving for the sake of the beloved, as when Christ Gave himself for his bride. If ‘headship’ means ‘power’ in any sense, then it is power to care not to crush, power to serve to not dominate, power to facilitate self-fulfilment, not to frustrate or destroy it.”

In fact if anything, Stott’s commentary on Eph 5:21-6:9 focuses more on what the text is not saying than what it is. For example, he includes a section explaining why the NT does not explicitly call for the abolition of slavery.

Though this is not an academic commentary, Stott is not afraid to get involved in exegetical debates where necessary. For example, he spends several pages surveying the history of the idea that the “powers and authorities” are not demons but socio-political structures. His thoughtful critique of the position (which is still popular) concludes that it is “ingenious” yet “contrived”.

“in reaffirming that the principalities and powers are personal supernatural agencies, I am not at all denying that they can use structures, traditions, institutions, etc. For good or ill; I am only wishing to avoid the confusion which comes from identifying them. … Advocates of the new theory warn us against deifying structures; I want to warn them against demonizing them.”

Stott also makes good use of the best quotes from other commentators, which makes this a rich treasure trove of source material for those preaching on Ephesians. It contains a marvellous combination of careful exegesis and pastoral wisdom, which makes it an excellent choice for anyone wanting to study the book of Ephesians in greater depth.

Commentary Reading 2010 and 2011

In December I usually take a look back at the books I’ve read in the previous year, and plan my reading for the next year. Readers of my blog will know that this year has mainly been one of commentary reviews (sorry, I know that for most of you that makes for very dull reading). This is because after a year of listening to the Bible in 2009, I am back to my usual morning routine of reading one chapter of the Bible and then reading the corresponding section of a commentary.

2010 Commentary Reading

In 2010 I focussed on three main goals for my commentary reading:

  • Fill in the gaps of some books I haven’t yet read a commentary on. I started the year working through the minor prophets using the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary.
  • I also decided to read a commentary on all the books beginning with E – Exodus, Ezra, Esther (and another), Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel, and Ephesians (not quite finished yet!), as they are nice spread throughout the various genres of Biblical literature.
  • Finally, I wanted to revisit some of the best volumes from the Bible Speaks Today series that I had previously read but not yet reviewed on this site.

In addition to my morning reading, I try to study a New Testament book in a bit more depth in my evenings where possible. This year I finally finished John (using Kostenberger and Carson) and got through Colossians and Philemon (using Moo and Wright) and James (using Moo and Blomberg & Kammell). I’ve written my own mini commentaries on 12 books of the New Testament so far, and have plans to publish them on this blog at some point (after getting a few friends to proof-read them first).

Buy Less, Borrow and Re-Read More

Another goal I have had for a few years, is to read more books than I buy. This is partially financially motivated – I can’t afford to buy as many books as I used to be able to. But also, I have become more concerned that even when buying things as apparently good and spiritual as Christian books, I can succumb to the temptations of greed, covetousness, and even pride at having a comprehensive book collection. In my library of Christian books (around 300 of them currently) there are at least 50 that I either haven’t read, or would be well worth a re-read. In 2010 I bought 11 books, and was given 5 more, but I have read just over 40 books, so feel I am moving in the right direction, and making the most out of the investment I have already made. I’m also trying to borrow more, rather than feeling I have to own every book I read (although it is very frustrating not being able to underline).

2011 Commentary Reading

Next year, I intend to continue my pattern of reading one chapter a day of the Bible with associated commentary. With our 5th child due in March, I’m expecting some sleep depravation to be coming my way, so I’m not going to be too ambitious with the commentaries I tackle, but God willing, here are my basic goals:

  • Read a commentary on 1 and 2 Kings. These are the only two books of the Bible I have yet to read a commentary on. I’m thinking of going for the volumes by Dale Ralph Davis in the Focus on the Bible series or Peter Leithart in the Brazos series, but I’m open to suggestions.
  • Re-read a few more of my favourite Bible Speaks Today commentaries. Romans, the Pastorals, Song of Songs, Chronicles and Isaiah are on the radar.
  • I’d also like to tackle Acts and Romans in Tom Wright’s For Everyone Series, and possibly Revelation in Phil Moore’s “Straight to the Heart” series, which looks excellent.
  • If I study a book in depth in the evenings, I am currently choosing between Acts (using Darrel Bock’s BEC commentary) or the Pastorals (using Philip Towner’s NICNT commentary)

Book Review–The Message of Nehemiah (Raymond Brown)

The volumes in the Bible Speaks Today series generally fall somewhere between being an expository sermon series and a commentary. This one definitely tends more towards the sermon side of things. With 260 pages at his disposal, Brown has time not only to give us a good explanation of what is going on in the book of Nehemiah, but to explore some of the related issues that each chapter raises. For example, he uses Neh 2:11 as a springboard to discuss the importance of taking rest.

Naturally, Brown picks up on the great leadership example of Nehemiah, but I was pleased to see that this was by no means the only or even primary message he draws out of the book. He draws just as much attention to Nehemiah’s prayer life, love for the Scriptures and commitment to holiness as to his leadership acumen.

Interestingly, Brown attempts to draw parallels between our present society (he is writing in 1998 in the UK) with that of Jerusalem at the time of the return from exile. Whilst this may seem a little far-fetched, he identifies forces of secularism, materialism and pluralism as being the common link between our contexts.

Brown is helpful in the way that he helps to put Nehemiah’s story in the context of biblical books of a similar era – Ezra, Haggai, Zechariah and especially Malachi, noting that the book of Nehemiah does not have a contrived “happy ending”, but shows the beginnings of spiritual decline that Malachi would have to address in the years to come.

He attempts to draw out principles from the various moral reforms that Nehemiah promoted, rather than arguing for either Christian adherence to Sabbath observance and tithing (for example), or for the irrelevance of these OT laws to believers under the New Covenant.

Overall I would recommend this to those wanting to explore the contemporary relevance of the book of Nehemiah for us today. Brown touches on a broad range of topics as he goes through the story, and there will be plenty of helpful ideas for those wanting to teach through the book of Nehemiah.

Book Review–ZEC James (Craig Blomberg & Mariam Kamell)

The Series

Since this is the first commentary in the brand new Zondervan Exegetical Commentary series, slated to cover the entire New Testament, let me take a moment to describe the series. It is bound in hardback, with the slightly squarer pages that Zondervan seem to be preferring these days.

The way the commentary is structured is reminiscent of the NIV Application Commentary, except for this one has more sections.

Literary Context deals with issues of structure, and the flow of argument throughout the book. Then Main Idea is a single paragraph summary of the main point of the passage under study. Then follows Translation which is actually presented in a chart form analysing the sentence structures. The translation itself is actually a bit cumbersome to read, as it is fairly literal in style. Next follows a section on Structure which essentially describes the findings of the chart. Following that we have Exegetical Outline which again reviews the structure, but rephrased as whole sentences (a bit like the main points from a sermon). In many ways, this was the most helpful section of the structure analysis.

As can be seen, with five sections devoted to structure and literary context, this is a strong focus of the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary series. Whilst it claims to be targeted at preachers, I couldn’t help wondering whether at least part of the goal was for them to become standard seminary textbooks for those studying their way through a book.

Having covered the structure and outline, the Explanation of Text is the main meat of the commentary. Each verse is presented in English first then Greek. What follows is primarily exegesis, although occasionally it strays into application. Greek words are often used, although always translated on their first use. There are plenty of quotes and insights from other commentators (especially Moo, Davids, Laws and Martin). There is also a generous amount of footnotes, again often interacting with other commentators.

Finally, Theology in Application attempts to apply the teaching of the passage to modern day life. Often this section takes the opportunity to briefly survey other passages of the Bible that teach on the same theme. The comments sometimes reference current events or movies, and deal with potential with misunderstandings or inappropriate applications of the text. Even this section is worded in a fairly academic way, so despite superficial similarities, the feel is very different to the NIV application commentary series.

Finally, in various places there are In Depth sections which are essentially excursuses taking on a particularly difficult exegetical issue.

The Introduction

Apparently long introductions are not intended to be a feature of the ZEC series, so this one covers the usual points in reasonably succinct style. For structure they state that James consists of about a dozen passages of preachable length, and go broadly with David’s approach, identifying three key themes of trials, wisdom, and riches & poverty. They argue that “the letter is heavily indebted to the Jesus tradition and is therefore fully Christian”.

"Faith in action, especially social action, remains central for this author … James sees no tension between orthodoxy and orthopraxy.”

Interestingly, an analysis of the theology of James is left out of the introduction in favour of a section at the end of the book, which highlights several key themes before selecting single-mindedness as the unifying theme of the book.

The Commentary

This particular commentary is co-authored by Craig Blomberg along with his research assistant Mariam Kammell. It would seem from the preface that Kammell was primarily responsible for drafting the “explanation of text” sections, with Blomberg doing the rest, although they make it clear that the whole volume is a joint effort.

I was reading this at the same time as reading Douglas Moo’s superb commentary on James in the Pillar series, so the question I had in my mind was, what added value did this volume give? Perhaps the main strength for me was the fruits of Blomberg’s prior work for Neither Poverty Nor Riches shining through. This commentary seems to pack more of a punch when dealing with the issues of money and poverty. It was brilliant on Jas 1:27 discussing care for the helpless.

James asks, in essence, “Did you in fact realize that the meeting of needs is not peripheral, nor optional, but central and obligatory to your faith?”

There are some helpful quotes in the section that works through the relationship between faith and works.

“Works” here are not the Pauline “works of the law” such as circumcision, but rather the works of love, such as caring for those who are in need, not showing favouritism, being humble, or being slow to speak.

Where Paul denies the need for pre-conversion works, James emphasizes the absolute necessity of post-conversion works.

One of the “in depth” sections deals with the question of whether the “teachers” in mind in James 3 were only men. They argue that 1 Tim 2:12 restricts the office of elder to men, but does not restrict women from teaching.

As I mentioned, the commentary on areas of the letter touching on wealth and poverty tends to be the most incisive and challenging. For example, on James 5:1-6 they comment:

How many upper- or middle-class Western Christians have so many extra, largely unused clothes, so that, were it not for mothballs or their equivalent, they would have become moth-eaten. How many have other needless possessions, even investments, that are not being used for much of anything…

How many churches think that the only realistic option when they outgrow one facility is to build a bigger, more upscale one, with perhaps millions of dollars diverted from truly helping the world’s destitute, physically and spiritually?

The explanation of the text is thorough but not exhaustive. For example, on Jas 5:16 I was hoping to read something on the meaning of δικαιου (righteous) but it was not touched on.

The theology in application section is a welcome addition, but should not be looked to as a source of a quick sermon outline. I appreciated the attempts to prophetically challenge the evangelical church, and their willingness to make potentially controversial statements, such as criticising church building projects, or a number of statements on the church’s attitude to gays and lesbians:

Many conservative Christians vote against equal rights for gays and lesbians without any balancing, positive actions to show them Christ’s love, making the legislation merely judgmental rather than fully scriptural.

The generous number of genuinely helpful footnotes is also a big strength of this volume (and hopefully the whole series). I found they were regularly worth consulting, unlike the more academic footnotes found in many other commentaries.

I would also say it is a series that I will watch with some interest, even though it is fighting for space in an already very crowded New Testament commentary market. The format seems well suited for working through an epistle. I will be interested to see how well it works for the gospels, with Grant Osbourne’s Matthew due to be published soon.

Book Review–The Letter of James (Douglas Moo)


Douglas Moo has a well-earned reputation for being one of the finest New Testament commentators, and this volume in the Pillar New Testament Commentary series is no exception to his usual high standard of work. It begins with a thorough introduction, which includes a defence of James the brother of Jesus as author. He dates it in the mid 40s, with the assumption that James was not yet familiar with what Paul meant by “justification by faith”, but had heard the phrase being used (or abused). He devotes several pages in the introduction to the topic of “faith, works and justification”, in which he compares James and Paul’s teaching. He does not see a fundamental contradiction, rather that they are bringing complementary teachings targeting different errors: “Paul strikes at legalism; James at quietism.”


The commentary itself is based on the NIV text and works through usually a verse at a time. He doesn’t assume the reader has knowledge of Greek, although some understanding will help. His interest as a Bible translator shines through as he often explores the semantic range of a word, and he likes to highlight good translations (and occasionally criticise – such as the use of “happy” instead of “blessed”).

He breaks the letter up into small chunks, while acknowledging that it is very hard to find a structure to James. He keeps the sermon-like feel to James by making his section headings read like sermon points.

Whilst the Pillar series is primarily focused on explaining the text, there is latitude to discuss the theological implications, which Moo often does, albeit succinctly. He is a cautious exegete, never making the text say more than it actually does. He is particularly helpful in the parts where James is accused of being at odds with Paul, by looking at the different ways they each use the words “faith”, “works”, and most importantly “justify”.

Moo believes that “the heart of the letter is a call to wholehearted commitment to Christ.” He is especially helpful in highlighting links to the teaching of Jesus, as well as how James understood the “law”. Having read a few commentaries on James now, I would say that Moo remains my favourite. Sometimes I wish he would be a bit more preachy, but it is an invaluable aid to any serious study of the book of James.

Book Review–The Message of Ezra and Haggai (Robert Fyall)

This is one of the most recent additions to the Bible Speaks Today series, and covers two books that fall into the post-exilic time-frame. Fyall recognizes that Ezra and Haggai are often neglected in favour of the slightly more accessible account of Nehemiah, and the more vivid prophecy of Zechariah. Nevertheless, he is determined to demonstrate to us that both books have a message for us today.

He identifies the main themes of Ezra as: God, the worship of God, the people of God, and Scripture and prayer. Its ongoing relevance is that it demonstrates that God never abandons his purpose or gives up on his people, but gives light for their guidance.

His approach is to work through the text, often making points of application along the way, but then a few pages at the end of each chapter are deliberately focused on what the contemporary message for the church is. Many of these points centre on the importance of the Word of God, the presence of God and the holiness of God.

The commentary on Haggai presents him as a prophet who had to confront a people like the church at Laodicea – tepid and complacent. Haggai’s style is blunt and succinct, with his prophecy a mixture of encouragement and rebuke. The temple for Haggai is the visible sign of God dwelling amongst his people by his Spirit. Fyall makes a point of showing how there is more going on here than simply a building project.

Overall I would say that I enjoyed working through this volume on two books of the Bible I don’t know particularly well. He gives enough background to help you piece together the timelines of the two books, but the focus throughout remains on finding what the Bible says today to our own situations.

Book Review: REBC Exodus (Walter Kaiser)

I have reviewed various other commentaries in this series (find them here) so I won’t repeat my comments on the layout of the series, which is very good.

226 pages are devoted to this volume on Exodus, which is bound with Sailhamer on Genesis and Hess on Leviticus. The introduction is brief. Kaiser says that Exodus was never intended to exist separately from the rest of the Pentateuch. He accepts Mosaic authorship and defends the historicity of the book:

we are left with no explanation for Israel’s appearance on the historical canvas at all when we try to explain the emergence of this nation and this time without the presence of a Moses or an Aaron.

Exodus is a book full of foundational theology – containing God’s revelation of his person, his redemption, his law and his worship. He broadly structures the book as follows:

  1. God’s plan for deliverance (chs 1-19)
  2. God’s plan for morality (chs 20-24)
  3. God’s plan for worship (chs 25-40)

His commentary on the first of those sections was I felt the best material. His analysis of the three-fold promise of Ex 6:6-8 is good, and he provides a helpful chart giving an overview of the plagues. His interest in linking the plagues to known natural phenomena of the time is fascinating (e.g. deducing what particular disease the cattle died of), but perhaps not altogether what I was looking for from this commentary. However, despite his willingness to see God working through non-miraculous means for many of the plagues, he is not anti-supernaturalist, and accepts several other miracles features in the account (e.g. the manna, after ruling out various naturalistic explanations).

Kaiser shows an Arminian bias in his comments on the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, explaining God’s announcement in Ex 7:3 as the “occasion” but not the “cause” of his hardening. He makes an interesting point on Ex 12:3-11 and Ex 19:5-6, that God’s original intention was for the whole nation (i.e. not just the Levites) to be a nation of priests. Rather curiously this leads him to suggest that the “priests” of Ex 19:22 means everyone. He considers the “pillar of fire” to be the same as the “angel of the Lord”, which is also to be identified with the “shekinah glory”, which is Christ himself.

He sees the tabernacle as embodying the theology of worship – it signifies that God has come to dwell in the midst of Israel as he would one day come in the incarnation and will again in the second advent. He offers a few brief and tentative suggestions as to the symbolic significance of various items in the tabernacle. The commentary on this latter part of the book seems to speed up, to the point where chapters 36-39 are handled in one brief chunk, which mainly refers you back to his comments on the same topics earlier.

Since this commentary series has limited space, it is only reasonable to recognise that not every exegetical, historical and theological issue can be covered. But Kaiser’s interest in certain historical matters, such as whether crocodiles are to be found in the Nile, or what similarities the law might have with the Eshnunna Law, often meant that more pressing matters for expositors (which is who this series is aimed at) were left untouched. For example, preachers will probably want to wrestle with why some of the laws can seem unfair to us. Sadly, he opts to refer us to other works he has written on OT ethics without summarising his conclusions.

Overall then, I would say that this commentary on Exodus, while having some interesting insights here and there, didn’t quite scratch where I was itching, and I don’t think it fulfils the goal of being a commentary ideally suited to “expositors” (unless they are willing to supplement it with further reading). I’m going to try out Enns (NIVAC) or Stuart (NAC) next time I go through Exodus, as both those commentaries seem to be highly regarded.

Book Review – The Message of Judges (Michael Wilcock)

This volume in the Bible Speaks Today series contains a brief introduction and the full text of Judges from the RSV. As with many commentators on Judges, Wilcock highlights the recurring pattern of rebellion, retribution, repentance and rescue. However, he is also eager to point out that there are many things in the book that don’t fit neatly into that pattern. In fact, he argues that rather than having a cyclic structure, the book of Judges portrays a downward spiral.

His comments on Ehud are interesting. Ehud is the story of the unexpected. Wilcock considers it more likely that he was disabled in his right hand rather than left-handed per se. Ehud is in fact the first of a whole series of unlikely heroes that characterise the book of Judges. The rescuers God sends so often come from the places we least expect (as was true of Jesus).

God repeatedly allows his people to get their fingers burned in order that they come to see that ‘Canaan’ is in fact the great enemy. With each rotation of the cycle (or spiral), we see how shallow Israel’s repentance is.

Another interesting section is on Jephthah – another unlikely hero, “despised and rejected by men”. He discusses how come Jephthah comes to get a mention in Heb 11:32 for being a man of faith, despite doing what seems a shockingly immoral act. Jephthah had not “heard” many of God’s commands, but he had at least heard the command to keep your word.

The final judge, Samson, was a man who had the Spirit, but not wisdom, or a “clean heart and a right spirit”. But even in the story of Samson, Wilcock points out parallels with the story of Jesus – handed over to death by his own people, and winning a great victory in his death.

Judges ends with a shocking account of just how far Israelite society had fallen morally, with God virtually absent in the closing chapters. But yet he declares that the book of Judges is ultimately a story of grace. God doesn’t abandon his people, though they richly deserve it, but ensures they don’t completely destroy themselves by their own wilful folly.

Although the commentaries of Dale Ralph Davies on the Old Testament Historical books remain firm favourites of mine, I have to say that I enjoyed Wilcock’s approach to Judges, particularly his attention to how each judge’s story contributes to the overall message of the book.

Forthcoming Commentaries 2010

There haven’t been many commentaries published so far this year that have really got me excited (Peter O’Brien on Hebrews being the notable exception). But all that is set to change with a bumper crop of commentaries set to come out just in time for Christmas. Here’s my pick of the bunch.

New Testament Bonanza

One of the newest series, the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary (which covers the New Testament) has three new volumes scheduled for later this year. Matthew by Grant Osbourne, Galatians by Thomas Schreiner and Ephesians by Clinton Arnold. All three are exciting, although Galatians is probably the one I will prioritise getting as I am looking forward to Schreiner’s take on the New Perspective. I have the ZEC commentary on James and it looks to be a very nice format.

We’re treated to another significant Ephesians commentary this year as Frank Thielman’s Ephesians in the Baker Exegetical Commentary series is due out in November. The BEC volumes I have read have all been excellent and are usually very competitively priced.

There is also a major new commentary on the gospel of John by Ramsey-Michaels in the NICNT series. At 1122 pages, this one will should prove an excellent companion to my current favourite on John by Don Carson in the Pillar Series.

Speaking of Don Carson, the revision of his commentary on Matthew in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary series is finally due out. The first edition published in 1984 was simply outstanding, and I look forward to reading his interaction with more recent commentators. The volume also includes a revision of Mark by Wessell and Strauss.

Carson is also the editor of the Pillar series, which has a new volume on 1 Corinthians coming out by Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner. I don’t know a lot about the authors, but it will be nice to get something else to complement my current favourite on 1 Corinthians in the NICNT series by Gordon Fee.

Which nicely links me to the rumour that Fee’s commentary on Revelation in the NCCS series is due out soon. Fee’s commentaries never disappoint, so I am sure it will be worth getting hold of.

Old Testament

On the Old Testament side of things I tend to focus on the more intermediate level commentaries and there is a good helping of those coming out soon.

The Bible Speaks Today series seems to have awoken from its slumber and is filling in some of the remaining gaps in its Old Testament coverage. Gordon Bridger has the task of bringing the somewhat gloomy books of Obadiah, Nahum and Zephaniah to life, while Robert Fyall tackles Ezra and Haggai.

The revision of the Expositor’s Bible Commentary takes another step towards completion with the release of a volume on 1 Chronicles – Job featuring several contributors including Tremper Longman III on Job. And the Cornerstone series, also nearing completion, has two new volumes. Ezekiel and Daniel by Thompson and Carpenter and Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther by Gary Smith.

On the slightly more technical side, the Apollos OT commentary series has a new volume on Joshua by Pekka Pitkanen. And there is an interesting looking commentary on the Psalms by Waltke and Houston, which is not part of any series.

As always, the definitive guide to what’s coming up is the forthcoming commentaries blog post by Jeremy Pierce (Parableman).

Book Review – The Message of 2 Corinthians (Paul Barnett)

Paul Barnett is also the author of the much larger volume on 2 Corinthians in the New International Commentary series, so this book is clearly his area of expertise. Having said that, I think that this contribution to the Bible Speaks Today series precedes his work for the NICNT.

2 Corinthians is a more personal and emotional letter than 1 Corinthians, but that does not mean it is without theological contributions. Barnett picks out several of these in his introduction including teaching on the new covenant, the death of Christ, and giving.

As he works through the early chapters, Barnett explains the nature of the opposition that Paul is facing from the “super-apostles”, who he sees as having an Old Covenant mentality. He highlights several places in which Paul’s Damascus road experience is behind what he says.

Perhaps some of the best material is the discussion of the relation of the Old to New Covenants, which he explains as “promise” and “fulfilment” – there is continuity between them. Paul opposes a “back to Moses” program, but is not anti-law. “Until the law had been internalised by the Spirit, it remained a letter, which kills.”

Barnett sees “God’s strength in weakness” as the chief theological theme that ties together the whole letter. The new ministers in Corinth, unlike Paul, had nothing to say about suffering, death and judgment – theirs was a superficial message. They were fixated on Israel, the temple, and the law – “things seen not unseen” (2 Cor 4:18).

He makes an interesting point on 2 Cor 5:11,14 that Paul’s two motivations were fear of the Lord and love – these two are not incompatible. He explains the teaching on the atonement in 2 Cor 5:21 by saying that Christ’s death is for us both as representation and as substitution.

Another strength is Barnett’s comments on the nature of true Christian leadership, which is sacrificial rather than boastful and triumphalist. “Sacrifice is at the heart of the gospel and also at the heart of ministry.”

The age of the book is betrayed as he discusses how Christians are to share their surplus, rather than indulge in luxuries such as microwaves and “videos”, though the point is just as timely:

Through our labours many of us have more than we need. But to what extend to we give to those in need? Instead, those who have one house buy a holiday home; those who have progressed from black and white to colour television add a video; those who have an ordinary oven want a microwave too. The surplus is for sharing; but few of us do so.

This is the only commentary on 2 Corinthians I have read so I have nothing to compare it to, but overall I would say it fulfils the goals of the Bible Speaks Today series admirably. It explains the meaning of the text clearly and brings out plenty of helpful doctrinal and practical application. 2 Corinthians can be a bit neglected since much of the material is directly about Paul and countering the “new ministers” in Corinth, but Barnett shows that the letter still has much to say to us today.