Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Commentary Doubleheader

A couple weeks ago, my youth group and I finished a 58-week study in the gospel of John, the tail end of which you’ve been able to follow here on the blog. It was a great study, and my teaching preparation was greatly enhanced by the two commentaries that I used over the course of the study. I commend them to you.

The first is Arthur Pink’s Exposition of the Gospel of John. This thick volume contains Pink’s insights into the text, many of them drawing from the most miniscule details to produce great insight. That’s the primary reason I would recommend the commentary – Pink often sees meaning in the details of the text that I simply didn’t. I’ll never forget planning the first lesson in the study. I had intended to teach John 1:1-18 the first Wednesday night. I had my outline prepped and ready, only to have the Pink commentary arrive from Amazon on Tuesday. I sat down and began to read that evening, and very quickly realized that there was absolutely no way I could do justice to those 18 verses in one night. Pink challenged me to go deeper and to search familiar verses for truths that I had neglected, which is in effect the job of any Bible teacher. I ended up taking 5 weeks to tackle the passage, and never felt like I was stretching. However, the commentary’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. Sometimes, Pink draws out things from the text that I’m just not convinced are there. He is very apt to allegorize narrative passages, and there were several weeks (especially the accounts of Jesus’ miracles) where I didn’t find much of profit despite much reading. There were several occasions where I would ask a trusted friend their take on Pink’s interpretation when the water between profound exegesis and allegorical stretching became muddied. All in all, though, the good far outweighs the bad for a discerning reader.

The second is John Calvin’s commentary on the book from the Crossway Classics series. If Pink was my source for the minute details, Calvin was where I turned for the broader strokes of theme and application. I found his writing spot on and extremely useful, to the point where if I was crunched for reading time during a particular week and could only get through one commentary, it would more often than not be his. His pastoral heart shines through in the way that he applies the text, and often his application would inform my concluding thrust to my students (who says that dead French theologians have nothing to say to modern American teenagers?). In addition, the people at Crossway did a fantastic job of translating Calvin into a very accessible modern English without it ever having that dumbed-down, JV feel that such a translation can easily fall prey to. It was a great commentary on all fronts.

At the end of the day, if I could only buy one, I’d buy Calvin’s. However, both of them read quite differently and are incredibly useful in their own right. If you’re planning a study of John or would just like a commentary to aid you in your personal study, you won’t go wrong with either of these.

No comments: