The folks at EP Books kindly sent me a review copy of Peter Naylor’s Ezekiel (EP Books, 2011), a commentary in the EP Study Commentary Series. Per FTC rules, I was not compelled to write a positive review.
The EP Study Commentary series has become a popular one, boasting solid OT and NT contributions by evangelical and reformed writers. The late Peter Naylor is well-known for his studies in English Calvinist Baptists in the 17th-19th centuries, and his EP Study Commentaries on First Corinthians and Second Corinthians. Thus those looking for a narrow volume focusing on issues only relevant to the secular OT academic guild need not consult. Naylor’s Ezekiel commentary is written from a theologically reformed and eminently pastoral perspective.
Naylor’s commentary, like others in the EP Study Commentary series, strikes me as most appropriate for Christian laymen and pastors. Laymen will find this volume perfectly suited for trying to better understand Ezekiel when a study Bible or one-volume commentary proves to be too sparse. Should one find Daniel Block’s NICOT commentaries too dense and Iain Duguid’s NIVAC commentary too unwieldy for verse-by-verse reference, he will find in Naylor a perfect balance of organization and detail. Pastors looking for a volume with a homiletical tone, pastoral sensitivities, and a Christ-centered focus in its exposition will find Naylor to be a useful companion to Duguid and Christopher J.H. Wright’s The Message of Ezekiel.
In light of the intended reader, Naylor’s Ezekiel seems to exhibit several strengths:
- It is sufficiently detailed. As noted already, the phrase-by-phrase analysis intended by the author makes this a very thorough reference tool for readers who have questions about what they are reading in this prophetical book.
- It is easy to read. Though weighing in at 800 pages (including endnotes), the commentary does not get bogged down in jargon or speculative issues. It pushes through the text at a moderate pace (not too fast, not too slow), making the details of the text accessible to the average reader.
- It contains pastorally sensitive application. The formatting guidelines for the series call for each significant unit of text to end with a section of application. Naylor’s application will not only give ideas to pastors preparing sermons, it will also guide ordinary readers who seek to hear how God’s word to the exiles through Ezekiel’s ministry also speaks to them. Most of the Christological application is found in the unit-concluding applications.
- It pays sufficient attention to theological issues raised by the text. Not only does Naylor consider some larger theological topics in the appendices, he regularly allows textual features to occasion theological and doctrinal questions and answers. When Ezekiel 18:2 says that it is not legitimate for the exiles to utter the proverb “The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge,” Naylor spends several pages discussing systematic-theological approaches to inherited guilt, and the relationship between individual accountability and collective responsibility (pgs. 255-258). Likewise, when God tells the people “make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezek 18:31), Naylor wards off autosoterism (cf. B.B. Warfield’s book The Plan of Salvation) and helps readers to understand how human responsibility and total depravity fit together (pg. 270). Examples like these are found throughout the volume.
A few drawbacks stood out to me:
- Many questions are left unanswered. For a volume of 800 pages which, as noted above, is sufficiently detailed, it is still a popular volume and attempts to focus on questions that are more likely to be asked by an average layperson. I did find, however, that turning to Block was inevitable when the text got tricky enough. Due to audience and space, Naylor has had to leave the longer discussions to others.
- Insufficient attention is paid to macro-structural issues. Though Naylor does divvy the text up into reasonable sense units, I felt he did not always parse out these units based on textual clues. Though David Dorsey’s The Literary Structure of the Old Testament is too brief (and a bit overly dependent upon an idiosyncratic Harvard dissertation from the 1970’s) and even though Marvin Sweeney’s Reading Ezekiel: A Literary and Theological Commentary is overly critical and progressive, these volumes will better help preachers to determine appropriate textual units for preaching and teaching.
- Too little attention is paid to critical commentaries. Though significant worldview differences exist between most critical commentators and believing commentators like Naylor, critics – simply because they read the text closely and slowly – draw regular attention to a host of important textual features often missed by those of us who are working primarily with our biblical-theological tools. Naylor does engage regularly with Walter Eichrodt’s OTL commentary, but Zimmerli, Greenberg, Blenkinsopp, and the like, are under-represented and under-utilized. Duguid provides a better model here for a judicious use of critical scholarship.
- Endnotes. The EP Study Commentary series is already notorious for endnotes, but in the case of Naylor’s Ezekiel volume, this is felt even more acutely. After all, most of Naylor’s footnotes are Scriptural citations. In addition to this, Naylor has many superb comments hidden in the endnotes, meaning that they must all be consulted so as to not miss something important! While reading, keep two bookmarks in this book: one for the page on which you left off, and one for the corresponding endnotes.
- Price. As I write this review (July 2015), Amazon is selling the book new for $49.99. There is a marketplace copy selling for $25.00, followed by one for $37.49. Christianbook.com (which has a preview available) seems to have the best price at $34.99, whereas wtsbooks.com is not far off from Amazon at $44.99. All this to say, Naylor’s Ezekiel is a spendy volume. I can imagine that there are some laypeople that would spend this kind of money for an Ezekiel commentary, but my hunch is that the price will turn many others away. Pastors who are likely already accumulating several commentaries of different slants and character will also feel the financial pinch.
In spite of these drawbacks, I nevertheless believe that Naylor’s volume plays a unique and useful role in studying the oft mysterious, yet always awe-inspiring book of Ezekiel. Indeed, I’ve found more often than not that adding an EP Study Commentary volume to my reading regimen in sermon preparation always pays dividends. While expensive, this is a gem of a book. Though Naylor died in Christ before his Ezekiel volume went to print, he continues to serve Christ’s church through this useful commentary.
R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)