The Apollos Old Testament Commentary (10 vols.) is distinguished by its devotedly Christian approach to scripture while at the same time being thoroughly conversant with the broader field of biblical scholarship. This is what I love about it. To compare it to other commentary series, it is more like the Word Biblical Comentary than Anchor Bible, Zondervan Exegetical, or Crossway Expositional Commentary. It is more IBR and less TGC.
Authors & Volumes
Here is a list of the ten volumes currently available:
- Exodus, T. Desmond Alexander (2017)
- Leviticus, Nobuyoshi Kiuchi (2007)
- Deuteronomy, J. G. McConville (2002)
- Joshua, Pekka M. A. Pitkänen (2010)
- Ruth, L. Daniel Hawk (2015)
- 1 & 2 Samuel, David G. Firth (2009)
- 1 & 2 Kings, Lissa M. Wray Beal (2014)
- Ecclesiastes & Song of Songs, Daniel C. Fredericks and Daniel J. Estes (2010)
- Daniel, Ernest Lucas (2002)
- Haggai, Zechariah, & Malachi, Anthony R. Petterson (2015)
In what follows I will explain the way in which the authors of Apollos approach scripture and why it is one of my favorite commentary series.
The author of the Exodus volume is T. Desmond, an established scholar who has published academic and popular work focused on the Pentateuch and bibilcal theology. The introduction to this commentary is concise and readable and illustrates well the author’s intention to explain how Exodus fits within the broader biblical portrait of God and his work in the world, while at the same time interacting with and integrating bilical scholarship.
Alexander is clear about his goal and his Christian presuppositions:
Amid the welter of opinions expressed on Exodus, this commentary gives priority to explaining its theological significance … I write from a position of believing that the book of Exodus carries an authority that is of divine origin, being more than simply the product of a human author. This conviction arises out of my Christian faith, and it undoubtedly influences how I approach Exodus.p. xi
Regarding Exodus biblical theology and literary context, Alexander writes,
YHWH’s coming to live among the Israelites brings to an apt conclusion a book that is dominated by the theme of knowing God personally. Through both actions and words YHWH makes himself known, from first appearing as a flame of fire to Moses (3:2) to his fire-and-cloud glory descending upon the newly erected tent-sanctuary (40:34–38). From start to finish Exodus explores how YHWH takes the initiative in order that the Israelites and others may know him more fully. The Exodus story is a multifaceted diamond that witnesses to God’s compassion, faithfulness, glory, holiness, justice, majesty, mercy and power … What happened in Egypt becomes a paradigm for what God will do in the future. ‘Isaiah saw a day when Israel would again return from Egyptian (and Assyrian) exile akin to the exodus of old (Isa. 27:12–13; 40:3–5; 43:1–7, 14–21; 44:21–23; 48:20–22; 49:8–13; 51:9–11).’pp. 2–6
Some scholars with similar convictions and concerns, however, do their work with little attention to the broader field of biblical scholarship. This is not the case with the Apollos series. I appreciate Alexander’s cautious statement regarding the authorship of the Pentateuch:
Almost nothing can be said with any certainty about the authorship and date of composition of Exodus. The book itself does not identify the author responsible for organizing and shaping its contents, although it is implied that he is omniscient and reliable. A few explicit statements credit Moses with recording in writing specific parts of Exodus, but the narrator does not claim that Moses is the author of this material (24:4; 34:27–28). Other statements attribute the composition of important sections of Exodus to God (e.g. 20:1–18; 20:21–24:2; 25:1–31:18). Miriam might have composed the song in 15:1–18 (see comment on 15:21).p. 10
Scholars study Exodus for a variety of reasons, and these reasons affect how they understand authorship. Some approach the text primarily interested in the literary sources behind the book. Some focus more on literary readings that are heavily reliant on a particular reconstruction of the composition process, while others focus on literary readings without giving any attention to the composite nature of the text. Alexander briefly surveys the perspectives and brings his section on authorship to a close with this very reasonable conclusion,
The idea of Israel’s coming out of Egypt and entering into a covenant relationship with YHWH at Mount Sinai has every appearance of being a long-standing tradition. As regards the dating of these traditions, in the light of the limited evidence available, scholars ought to be exceptionally restrained about making absolute claims (Sommer 2011: 85–108). This leaves open a wide range of possibilities regarding the dating of Exodus.p. 11
How does Alexander himself approach the text?
In approaching this commentary on Exodus I have deliberately sought to give due respect to the book’s author, the author being understood as the individual responsible for shaping the MT of Exodus as we now know it … Exodus may be helpfully compared to a literary collage … Rejecting the pursuit of novelty, the present commentary strives to honour the genius of the one who gave the book of Exodus its definitive form. In this regard it has more in common with the commentaries of Jacob (1992), Houtman (1993; 1996; 2000), Dohmen (2004; 2015) and Fischer and Markl (2009), than those of Scharbert (1989), Propp (1999; 2006), Dozeman (2009), Albertz (2012; 2015) and Utzschneider and Oswald 2015.p. 14
Some might think that because Alexander is reserved in his statements on authorship and composition this means that he believes Exodus is a work of fiction. He is very clear that this is not the case.
It is impossible to view Exodus as both fiction and divine revelation … Modern readers may harbour reservations about the historicity of what Exodus claims, but numerous references in the OT to the Israelites coming out of Egypt strongly suggest that ancient readers understood these events as having occurred.p. 17
Some will find that statement too conservative, others will find it unsatisfactory to assuage their concerns that the work isn’t conservative enough, but that’s my point. Apollos is helpful in that it avoids the extremes of a historical approach that refuses to treat the Bible as Scripture and the other extreme of reading the Bible with no concern for scholarship.
Alexander’s volume is a good example of how the authors in this series approach the text. Each author is conversant with scholarship and treats the text as Christian scripture.
A couple comments on a few other volumes:
Pekka Pitkänen’s work is my go-to volume for Joshua.
Enest Lucas’ work on Daniel is particularly interesting because much commentary on Daniel focuses either on identifying the book’s figurative language or on debates regarding authorship and date. Lucas focus on the theological meaning and significance of the text, and he saves much of what you might expect to find in the introduction for the epilogue. He intentionaly fronts the text and commentary. I love this move, and I appreciate his tempered conclusion regarding the date of authorship:
This brief survey shows that the evidence regarding the date of the book of Daniel is not clear-cut. It is possible to make a reasoned, and reasonable, defence of a late sixth-century or early fifth-century date for the book. However, in the characteristics of the language of the book, the literary forms used and the affinity with apocalypses, there are pointers to a later, even possibly second-century, date for the final form of the book. We have seen that acceptance of both a late sixth-century date and a second-century date are consonant with belief in the divine inspiration and authority of the book.p. 312
McConville’s work on Deuteronomy is one of the first commentaries I turn to (Tigay’s in JPS is fantastic as well). This is another example where the Apollos editors have chosen a true expert, a specialist, both with respect to Deuteronomy and Old Testament theology.
Some commentaries focus on issues of authorship, date, and audience to such an extent that their actual introductions take up half the work, leaving the treatment of the text itself to be somewhat shallow. I appreciate how the introductions to these works are readable and, on average, are only about thirty pages long. In one sitting, a pastor or teacher could sit down and read an introduction to understand where the scholarly converstaion is regarding a particular book.
The commentary sections follow a consistent pattern:
- the author’s translation
- notes on the translation
- the form and structure of the section
- commentary on each verse
- an explanation section that offers a synthesis of the comments in light of what the text has to say about God and humanity.
Here is one snippet from the final explanation section of Daniel Fredericks and Daniel Estes’ volume on Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs:
The end and summary, not only to Ecclesiastes, not only to the wisdom literature, but to all of revealed instruction, is to fear God by obeying him. This is not ‘changing the subject’; it is the subject of Ecclesiastes. If Qoheleth says anything, it is that one should fear the sovereignty of God and apply the Shepherd’s revealed principles of wisdom and righteousness (3:12).p. 251
The Accordance digital version is fantastic because it is extensively hyperlinked and searchable and integrates with the rest of your digital library. Here you can see the various ways the text has been tagged and can be searched even on mobile devices:
I especially appreciate the abilty to pull up the commentary in parallel to the text of Scripture while reading. I usualy read a print text, but I have Accordance open on my phone or iPad for reference.
On the Mac, commentaries are integrated with the info pane, which makes accessing all your reference resources extremely easy. Accordance has a helpful video on the info pane here.
Finally, Accordance makes it easy to cite page numbers. Here is a picture of the quotation cited above from Fredericks and Estes. You can see the page number on the first line of text in blue font:
The Apollos series provides thorough yet concise commentary. It is a fantastic example of scholarship that combines rigorous interaction with biblical scholarship and Christian devotion. I hope we are able to see more volumes in the near future. The Accordance digital version is the ideal way to read and reference the Apollos volumes.
Thanks to Accordance for the complimentary copy for review.