Exegetical Helps/Summaries

 For the last few years, I’ve been using the various volumes of the “Exegetical Summary” series.  It’s a set of books that provide an exegetical commentary on biblical texts.   These exegetical summaries are published by SIL (the Summer Institute of Language). I haven’t used all of them, but I always appreciate them when I do use them.  If you’re wondering what they look like, here’s the section on one phrase from 1 John 4:4.  I was studying this earlier today:

becausea the-(one) inb you is greaterc than the-(one) in the world.d

a. ὅτι (LN 89.33): ‘because’ [HNTC, LN, Lns, WBC; all versions except NAB, NRSV], ‘for’ [AB; NAB, NRSV].
b. ἐν with dative object (LN 89.119): ‘in’ [AB, Lns, WBC; all versions except REB]. The phrase ‘to be in’ is translated ‘to inspire’ [HNTC; REB].
c. μέγας (LN 78.2) (BAGD 2.b.α. p. 498): ‘greater’ [AB, BAGD, HNTC, Lns; all versions], ‘more powerful’ [WBC].
d. κόσμος (LN 41.38) (BAGD 7. p. 446): ‘world’ [AB, BAGD, HNTC, LN, Lns, WBC; all versions].

QUESTION—What relationship is indicated by ὅτι ‘because’?
It indicates the reason they were able to overcome the false teachers [Alf, Brd, ICC, NIC, WBC, Ws]. God working in them has overcome the enemy [AB]. The victory is the product of being enabled by the one who was in them [Brd].

QUESTION—Who is the one in them?
1. He is God [Alf, Herm, HNTC, ICC, Lns, My, NIC, TH; TNT].2. He is the Holy Spirit [AB, Br, Brd, NTC, TNTC; TEV].
3. This refers to God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit [WBC].

QUESTION—Who is the one who is in the world?
1. He is the devil [Alf, Herm, HNTC, ICC, Lns, My, NIC, TH, TNTC, WBC, Ws].2. He is the spirit of the antichrist [AB, Br, Brd, NTC; TNT].

QUESTION—To whom or what does κόσμῳ ‘world’ refer?
It refers to all that is hostile to God [Herm, HNTC, NTC, TH, TNTC, WBC]. The word is used here in its moral sense rather than as a location [Brd]. It is the world of people who are hostile to God [NTC].

As you’ll see it doesn’t give you every exegetical insight of the text, but it does ask and answer some helpful questions.  And it gives references in the answers (references that are linked if you use these volumes in Logos Bible Software).  If you’re looking for an exegetical resource like this, I do recommend these!

The above quote is found in John Anderson, An Exegetical Summary of 1, 2, and 3 John, 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2008), 142.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI


Logos 7: A Review

I’ve been using Logos Bible software for Bible study and sermon preparation since June 2014.  Though I wouldn’t say it has changed my life, I would say that it has seriously improved my studies.  I realize Bible study software can become a crutch that hinders thinking, since it is tempting to let the software do things the brain should do.  But used rightly, like a good tool, I’ve found Logos to be a great asset in devotional reading and serious textual study and sermon writing.

Recently the Logos team generously sent me an upgrade – from Logos 6 to Logos 7 – for review purposes.  I’ve used it quite extensively now, so I’m ready to give some thoughts on it.  To be sure, there are too many new and updated features for me to comment upon here, but you can check this list for more details.

One thing I like in Logos 7 is the fact that there are more screen layouts to choose from (Bible journaling, word studies, topic studies, and of course you can save and name your own screen layouts).  Right now since I’m preaching from Luke and Numbers, I have those two layouts saved so they’re ready to go when I am.

Logos 7 also has a Bible browser that lets you do a search using your own types of filters.  For example, I wanted to find all the instances of someone seeking God in the Bible.  The filter was “People: A Seeker of the Lord” and it gave 34 results in the NIV.  I can now further narrow that search down to a sense of the word like seeking refuge or seeking good, for two examples.

There are also some video courses included in Logos 7.  In my library I have “Preaching the Psalms” by Mark Futato, “Introducing the Gospels and Acts” by Darrell Bock, and a few others on ethics, the resurrection, and so forth.  I’ve only watched a few of the Psalms videos, but so far they are very well done.

There is also a sermon editor in Logos 7.  I’ve used it for sermon handouts (simple outlines), but in my opinion it isn’t as good as a regular word processor for writing full sermons.  I assume this editor will improve with time, just as other features in Logos have.

One very helpful addition to Logos 7 is the fact that when you do a passage/verse study using the “Passage Guide,” the search includes systematic theologies, biblical theologies, confessional documents, and more.  What is this?  Well, today I was looking up Jeremiah 29:13.  Using the Passage Guide I could find where this verse was mentioned in my systematic theology books, biblical theology books, and confessions/creeds.  Very nice!

One more feature worth mentioning is the concordance.  With this tool, you can make your own concordance of any section of Scripture.  This is great, for example, if you want to see which words Paul used the most (or the least!) in Philippians.  There are also some filters so you can find just the Greek (or English) words you’re looking for.

I could go on and list more new/updated features, but I want to keep this review relatively short.  To be honest, I only mentioned the tip of the Logos iceberg (for example, the iOS and Android Apps are very nice)!  There’s a lot more to Logos than what I mentioned (for another example, you can use it offline). Indeed, Logos 7 is a very powerful Bible study tool.  Like all tools, it can be used wrongly, but when one learns to use it rightly (which does take some time!), it is certainly a blessing for studying God’s holy word.

To be blunt, Logos isn’t cheap.  Right now if you use this link (HERE), you’ll get a discount on Logos Silver (total of $467.50) or Logos Gold (total of $935.00).  Even if you use a monthly payment plan, I realize this is quite a bit of money!  However, if you study the Word a lot, and are looking for powerful Bible software, I’m almost sure that after of using Logos for a year or so, you’ll say it is worth the price.  By the way, if your pastor doesn’t have Logos 7 and is interested, it may be worth having your church look into getting it for him.  It really is that good and I have no qualms in giving it my full recommendation.  Keep up the good work, Logos team!

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

One Text, One Meaning?

Is There a Meaning in This Text?: The Bible, the Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge I’m often amazed and even edified when several different preachers or commentators preach or comment on the same text and emphasize different themes, points, and applications.  It’s good for us as Christians to realize that Scripture is quite deep and rich; it’s not like one sermon or one commentary can say all there is to say about a verse or verses.  Kevin Vanhoozer makes this point quite well:

“…Particular interpretations may make valuable contributions without needing to make the further claim that they have said everything that needs to be said.  Just as many members make up one body, so many readings may make up the single correct interpretation.  Is it really the case that hermeneutic realists must kill off certain commentators in order to eliminate the variety of interpretations? …[Wayne] Booth reminds us that as we go about the business of interpretation, we should try to understand not only texts but their various readers too: ‘Seek critical truth – and incidentally, while you are at it, try to be fair, try not to kill off critics unnecessarily, try to understand them.”

I think this is a great insight, and this is why I try to get a few different commentaries from different authors and various periods in church history when working through Scripture.  In other words, it isn’t overly helpful to get 5 Reformed or evangelical commentaries on a Bible book only to ignore others from the past or from different backgrounds.  Vanhoozer continues:

“Diversity as such is not a curse but a gift.  Why else should we have four Gospels, four ‘interpretations’ of the one event of Jesus Christ?  We would be the poorer were we to have only one, two, or three rather than four.  It is nevertheless possible to assert both that there is a single correct meaning to the event of Jesus Christ and that it takes all four Gospels together to articulate it.”

“…A critical hermeneutic realism, highlighting as it does the multileveled nature of literary acts, should lead us to expect that the single correct meaning may be richer than any one interpretation of it.

Kevin Vanhoozer, Is There A Meaning In This Text?, p. 420.

shane lems

On Buying Commentaries

Luke [Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament] Having been a pastor for over seven years now (a brief time in the larger scheme of things), I’ve had to buy quite a few commentaries.  As some of you may know, it’s not overly easy to select commentaries when you’re beginning to study a book of the Bible.  Commentaries are quite expensive and there are so many of them out there.

For example, a quick look at Amazon reveals that there are well over 35 decent commentaries on the Gospel of Luke.  If one were to write up a full list that includes commentaries from the past, the number would probably exceed 50!  Books that summarize useful commentaries are out of date almost as soon as they are on the bookshelves since new commentaries are published so frequently.  How do we even begin to search for good commentaries to buy?   Here are a couple of things I think about before purchasing commentaries – things which save me money and time.

1) I don’t get commentaries that are similar; I don’t get three or four commentaries from an evangelical and/or Reformed perspective.  The first few times I purchased commentaries, I got a handful of Reformed and evangelical ones, and they all were pretty much the same.  For example, if you have Ryken on Luke, you probably don’t need Hughes’ commentary on it.  Or, if you have Derek Thomas’ commentary on Acts, you probably don’t need Sproul’s (etc.).  Quite possibly, the longer a Reformed preacher studies and preaches, the less he even needs Reformed commentaries!

2) I buy commentaries that differ in structure and style.  I always like at least one commentary that is somewhat technical in language/syntax discussions (i.e. Word Biblical Commentaries or perhaps NICOT/NICNT).  I’ll also get a commentary that is more thematic and less exegetical, like the NIV Application Commentaries or the Preach the Word series.  In other words, I get one or two technical commentaries and one or two that are not as technical but more practical.  Note: It is difficult to find technical commentaries on some books, so you may have to look hard!

3) I buy commentaries with which I might disagree.  Since many Reformed and/or evangelical commentaries sound the same, I also get commentaries from the Roman Catholic and the liberal perspectives.  For example, I like the Sacra Pagina commentaries as well as the Interpretation commentaries; I’ve also used WKJ and Abingdon commentaries (Concordia also publishes some helpful ones).  I have some Jewish commentaries on OT books and critical commentaries, which I’ve found quite helpful.  I always appreciate seeing how others look at the text, since it often makes me think and study harder.

4)  I like to round out my collection with older commentaries.  In other words, I don’t only use commentaries that have been written in the past 3o-40 years.  I like to use commentaries from the Reformers, the medieval doctors, and the church fathers.  It’s good to hear how God’s people interpreted texts before our modern era!  For example, I’ve come to appreciate commentaries by Lightfoot, Ellicott, Poole, Augustine, and Chrysostom (among others).

5) I try not to get too many commentaries.  I sometimes see pictures of a person’s shelves with ten or eleven commentaries on a certain book of the Bible.  My first thought is, “Do you have time to read all those and study the text and do pastoral visits/counseling?”  My second thought is, “Where do you get the money?”  (Thankfully, sometimes pastors receive commentaries as gifts or find used commentaries for great prices.) I’ve resisted the temptation to become a “commentary junkie,” getting every new commentary that publishing companies market so heavily.  Also, personally, I don’t feel like I *must* read every section of every commentary I using.  If my sermon studies are going well, I typically don’t read all my commentaries – else my sermons tend to get too full and detailed.

Doing the math, one might be able to benefit from five commentaries for one book of the Bible: one evangelical or Reformed commentary, one or two from another perspective, one exegetical/textual, and one or two from church history.  Granted, there is some overlap in those categories, but it may serve as a starting point – or at least something to think about!

I realize everyone is different when it comes to purchasing and using commentaries – and I could be wrong!  So feel free to disagree and/or add your own comments, suggestions, and lessons learned.

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

Resources on Ecclesiastes

Since I’ve been preaching Ecclesiastes for the last six weeks, I thought it might be helpful to share the list of commentaries I’ve been using.  Since it is nearly impossible to purchase and utilize every available commentary, I’m just going to comment on the ones I’ve used.  (If my count is right, there are around 25 commentaries on Ecclesiastes!)  Feel free to chime in if you have suggestions or comments.

Ecclesiastes (JPS Bible Commentary) Though not a Christian commentary, I’ve appreciated the exegetical/textual Jewish commentary on Ecclesiastes by Michael V. Fox.  The introduction is helpful and the book contains the entire Hebrew text of Ecclesiastes as well as Fox’s English translation and Hebrew notes.  It is rather brief, however; I often found myself wishing that Fox would have written more comments.

Recovering Eden: The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes (Gospel According to the Old Testament) Perhaps my favorite commentary on Ecclesiastes is Recovering Eden by Zack Eswine.  I appreciate and agree with Eswine’s perspective on Ecclesiastes: “Proverbs focuses on the norms, Ecclesiastes focuses on the exceptions.”  “The preacher gives voice to true human angst.”  Eswine also does a nice job of bringing the themes of Ecclesiastes to Jesus and his redemptive work.  My main critique of the book is that it is a little tough to find where each passage of Ecclesiastes is discussed – the book mostly follows the chapters of Ecclesiastes, but not always.  Still, I highly recommend this book.

Ecclesiastes (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries)  Michael Eaton’s commentary in the TOTC series is a decent traditional commentary.  The introduction was helpful yet concise, and several times in the commentary Eaton makes some helpful observations.  But it is quite brief and quite often he didn’t answer the exegetical questions of the text that I was asking.   If you can get a copy for a good price, I’d say go for it; if not, you may want to pass.

Whybray’s NCBC on Ecclesiastes is a pretty good textual/exegetical commentary.  He also notes that “If he [Qoheleth] sometimes occilates between what appear to be irreconcilable poles, he is merely expressing the tension within his own mind.”  I appreciate that perspective.  One critique of this commentary I have is that there is not much application in it.  However, I believe it is worth having.

Message of Ecclesiastes: A Time to Mourn, and a Time to Dance (Bible Speaks Today) I find Kidner’s BST commentary on Ecclesiastes to be helpful, but far too brief.  I do appreciate though it because it is almost devotional at times, and it does capture the main themes of Ecclesiastes (i.e. “God meets us in this book [Ecc.] in three main aspects: as Creator, as Sovereign, and as Unsearchable Wisdom).  Though Kidner does go through Ecclesiastes in a textual way, this commentary isn’t as exegetical as some of the other commentaries, but I do still like it.

Where Wisdom is Found J. V. Fesko’s book, Where Wisdom is Found, is essentially a collection of sermons on Ecclesiastes – specifically, sermons that find Christ in Ecclesiastes.  Because it is a collection of 15 sermons, it isn’t really an exegetical resource.  It’s not my favorite resource on Ecclesiastes because it seemed to me Fesko didn’t deal with the text at hand long enough.  Also, Fesko didn’t draw out the “tension” in Ecclesiastes as well as some of the other commentaries did.  Finally, I wasn’t always convinced that he went from Ecclesiastes to Christ in the best way.  Anyway, if you have other commentaries on Ecclesiastes you might not need this one.

Pundit's Folly: Chronicles of an Empty Life Around 20 years ago, Sinclair Ferguson wrote a little book on Ecclesiastes called The Pundit’s Folly.  It’s not really a commentary on the book; rather, it is a discussion of the main themes and topics of Ecclesiastes.  It is brief (88 pages), so Ferguson doesn’t deal with every part of the book, but it is a helpful summary of some important themes in Qoheleth.  It is a bit hard to use as a commentary, though, since it isn’t in the order of the text.  But it sells at a good price, so it’s worth it.

Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs - NIV Application Commentary Iain Provan wrote the Ecclesiastes commentary in the NAC series.  This one is pretty good. The introduction is helpful, the layout makes it easy to use and read, and I appreciate Provan’s reflections and application as well as his cross references.  It is tough to use if you’re only preaching on a few verses of a chapter, but if you want a solid Christian commentary, I’d recommend this one.

Again, I realize there are more commentaries out there.  (For example, someone recently gifted me a copy of Ryken’s Ecclesiastes: Why Everything Matters, but I can’t comment on it because I just got it a few days ago.)  Hopefully the list I’ve given will help you decide which ones you may want – and which ones you may not want.

shane lems

A Brief Summary of Micah

Minor Prophets, The: An Exegetical and Expository Commentary I found this short summary of the prophet Micah’s message helpful.  It was written by Bruce Waltke and can be found in The Minor Prophets, a commentary series that T. McComiskey edited (a series worth owning by the way).  Here Waltke discusses the three cycles of prophecy in Micah (ch 1-2, 3-5, 6-7).

“In the first cycle, Israel is threatened with exile on account of their sin (1:2-2:11).  The Lord, however, will gather his elect remnant into Jerusalem to survive the Assyrian siege and will become their King( 2:12-13).”

“In the second cycle, after threatening to dismantle Jerusalem for its failed leadership (3:1-12), the Lord promises to exalt Jerusalem high above the nations (4:1-5) and there reassemble the afflicted remnant, who will restore God’s dominion over the earth (4:6-8).  That prophecy finds fulfillment today in Jesus Christ who rules human hearts from heavenly Mount Zion (Acts 2:32-36; Heb. 12:22).  Moreover, while in Micah’s time, Israel with its failed leadership could not save itself from the invaders and exile in Babylon (4:9-14), God promised the birth and reign of Messiah who would regather the purged remnant and lead them to victory (5:1-14).  This too is fulfilled in Christ’s church (see 2 Cor. 2:14-16).”

“In the third cycle, from the spiritually depraved (6:1-16) and disintegrating nation (7:1-7), an elect remnant of the chosen people will be forgiven and saved by God (7:8-20).  That remnant now constitutes a part of Christ’s church (Rom. 11).  No matter how stained and tattered the world becomes, God’s purposes to triumph over Satan and his minions through his elect people will prevail (Rom. 16:20).

Bruce Waltke, in The Minor Prophets, p. 594-5.

shane lems

Resources on Acts

Sacra Pagina - The Gospel of Luke (Hardcover) Earlier this week I mentioned that I was preaching/teaching through the book of Acts.  Here is a list of resources that I’ve found helpful.  You might notice I don’t have any online resources to suggest; you’ll have to do that work on your own.  I have to admit I do very little online research since I don’t have time to research much beyond my own library.  And, it’s easy to waste time on internet rabbit trails.  If you get a handful of commentaries you won’t need to go online much (unless you use scholarly journals there).  Anyway, here is a list of the main resources I’m using/recommending for Acts.  (Note: you’ll also want a good Bible atlas to keep track of all the cities and regions found in Acts.)

Luke Timothy Johnson’s The Acts of the Apostles in the “Sacra Pagina” series.  This is probably my favorite.  He gives a translation, talks about exegesis, and then comments on each section.

Dennis Johnson’s The Message of Acts. You’ll need this one to get a great redemptive historical focus on Acts – how the OT is found all over in Acts.  Johnson also focuses well on the gospel and how the apostles preached the good news.

William Willimon’s Acts in the “Interpretation” series.  This commentary is an exciting read.  I don’t always agree, but Willimon pushes and prods and pokes.  Get this one.

F. F. Bruce’s The Book of Acts in the NICNT series.  This is a standard commentary.  It is pretty dry, but a good starting point.

Zondervan’s “Acts” Biblical Backgrounds Commentary.  I really like this to get a cultural/historical background of the 1st century.  If you don’t get this background commentary, I’d suggest getting something to help consider the 1st century culture.

J. Fitzmyer’s The Acts of the Apostles in the Anchor Bible Commentary series.  I haven’t used this as much as I would like, but it is good.

John Calvin’s Commentary on Acts. It’s Calvin!

Clinton Arnold’s Powers of Darkness. This is a helpful resource for those stories in Acts where the apostles face sorcery and magic.

There are tons of commentaries on Acts.  I had a tough time choosing!  Here’s my advice: don’t get more than one or two Reformed/evangelical commentaries. In my experience they all sound roughly the same.  Instead, save some of your money to get commentaries from other traditions (even liberal and critical)this will really force you to engage the text itself.  Don’t stress out about the commentaries you could have, just get what you can afford and use them well.

Finally, don’t put too much hope in commentaries.  They are very helpful sometimes; other times they are quite disappointing.  Treat them like a tool.  Of course, study the Greek and consult other resources like Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology.  Pray much and do the hard work yourself!

Feel free to comment on Acts resources that you’ve found helpful.

shane lems