Accordance has a fantastic sale right now on the Old Testament and New Testament Library series (OTL and NTL) by Westminster John Knox Press. OTL and NTL are longstanding pillars in biblical scholarship, regularly appearing on best commentary lists like this one by Scot McKnight. The contributors are regularly insightful and helpful to anyone interested in better understanding the Bible.
The series is vast, covering every Old Testament book and all the New Testament with the exception of Matthew, Romans, 1 Corinthians, and James. Several companion volumes have been published dealing various biblical studies related themes (OT companion volumes / NT companion volumes). On the Accordance website, you can find a detailed listing of all the volumes offered. It’s worth noting that NTL volumes are still actively being published. Alan Culpepper’s Matthew commentary is scheduled for release at the end of this year.
In this post, I’ll demonstrate the type of commentary you can expect to find in the New Testament Library (on sale now for $199) and how you can use the commentary in Accordance.
Here a list of topics covered below:
- The structure of a commentary section with an example from Stephen Fowl on Ephesians
- Eugene Boring on Mark
- Luke Timothy Johnson on Hebrews
- Judith M. Lieu on 1–3 John
- Looking up primary references using the Text Browser
Structure of a section
One of my favorite aspects of the series is its straightforward, uncluttered format. Let’s take a look at a section from Stephen Fowl’s Ephesians commentary.
An entry begins with a scripture reference, title, and a short summary.
An original translation follows, including hyperlinked footnotes to concise notes on textual and translational issues.
The following portion is the commentary proper, the place where you find commentary on individual verses or smaller clusters of verses.
That’s it — summary, translation, commentary. No need to jump around to various sections on structure, form, background, etc. All the verse-by-verse or passage-by-passage commentary is in one place. This is what I’m looking for most of the time.
Now, let’s take a look at some individual volumes.
Eugene Boring on Mark
One of my first encounters with this series was Eugene Boring’s Mark commentary. It was his commentary on the first word of the Gospel that I found so striking.
Boring notes that the first word of the book, ἀρχή, not only means beginning but also authority, norm, or rule, and he translate this way:
“Beginning / Norm of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Mark’s first word archē means both “beginning” and “norm.” English unfortunately has no single word that combines both meanings, but either alone misses Mark’s point. (p. 30)
I was skeptical of this comment at first because it seemed like a classic word-study fallacy where someone tries to argue that an instance of a word means everything that it could possibly mean. By the end of the section, however, I was persuaded.
Boring is not making a naive claim based on some supposed magical power of the Greek language. He is simply stating that the Gospel of Mark is more than a starting point; it is also a norm for understanding who Jesus is. Listen to Boring explain:
By committing his story to writing and presenting the Christian community with a document to be read in the church’s worship, Mark composed a narrative that both portrayed the there–and–then event of salvation as it unfolded in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—the beginning of the story that continues into the readers’ present—and a norm by which later claims to present the gospel could be measured. “Beginning” thus does not mean “preliminary,” as though the later church would outgrow this beginning, which is also source and norm. (p. 32)
Reading ἀρχή this way is more impactful and significant that simply thinking of it as meaning “beginning.” It is, I think, similar to how Matthew uses genesis (γένεσις) in his opening verse. As I’ve written about before, I think Matthew means more (but not less) than birth record when he describes the opening portion of the book with Βίβλος γενέσεως. It’s a birth record, but it is in a sense a “new Genesis,” a new origin story for the people of God.
Luke Timothy Johnson on Hebrews
In 2010, I traveled for three weeks across various parts of the Middle East with a students from the Candler School of Theology. On multiple occasions during those weeks, I heard someone speak of how they admired and enjoyed Luke Timothy Johnson as a professor. At that time, I had not read much of his work, but the way his students talked about him — not just as a great teacher but also as genuinely good person — I knew wanted to. His Hebrews commentary was the first book I picked up.
This volume of the NTL series is listed among the top three Hebrews commentaries on bestcommentaries.com, and it is one of my favorite commentaries on any book. This isn’t a Keener-esque, 4-volume magnum opus, but even at just over 350 pages the work is thorough and insightful.
I want to quote a somewhat lengthy portion of his introduction to demonstrate one aspect of his thoroughness. LTJ highlights Hebrews’ use of metaphor through the book, but note the plethora of references and examples:
Hebrews is unusually rich in its use of metaphors, which are not simply verbal ornaments but ways of structuring thought. Hebrews uses metaphors drawn from the realm of law (2:3–4; 6:16; 7:12) and property (2:14; 3:1; 6:13–18; 7:4–10; 9:16–22; 10:34; 11:1), of agriculture (6:7–8; 12:11) and architecture (6:1; 11:10), of seafaring (6:19) and athletics (5:14; 12:1–3, 11–13), of cult (chaps. 9–10) and education (5:12–14; 12:7–11). With the exception of the cult, which is explicitly Jewish, all these metaphorical fields are familiar in Greco-Roman culture.
Perhaps the most powerful metaphor of Hebrews is one that is never fully expressed, but is conveyed in a number of ways: the metaphor of life as a journey toward a destination, or pilgrimage.11 Hebrews calls its readers to movement. Their danger is that they will drift away (2:1), fall (4:11), fall away (3:12), apostasize (6:6), be led away (13:9), abandon (10:25), be weighted (12:1), be weary or lame (12:12). Their hope lies in moving forward: they are to enter the rest (4:3, 6, 11), draw near to the throne of grace (4:16; 10:22), run the race after Jesus (12:1), make straight paths (12:12), come to Mount Zion (12:22). Jesus has gone before them as forerunner (6:20) and pioneer (2:10; 12:2). They are to “go to him” (13:13). All of these expressions powerfully support the sense of living life as a journey, a journey in which the here and now must be left in order to gain something greater: “for we do not have a permanent city here. We are seeking the city to come” (13:14; see esp. 11:8–16). (p.10)
I also appreciate how LTJ interacts with primary literature. In his 15 page commentary on Hebrews 4:14–5:10, he cites numerous NT and OT references, including 1–4 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, along with references to 1–3 Enoch, Dio Chrysostom, Lucian of Samosata, Philo, Xenophon, Aristeas, and Josephus.
Let’s take a look at quote from the commentary itself. What does it mean for Jesus to be “made perfect” through his suffering? How can people filled with weakness and prone to sin approach God? LTJ writes,
Because Christ shares all the weaknesses and temptations of humans yet because he has bent his will in obedience toward God, he “was made perfect” (5:9), and it is “through this will” that others are able to be sanctified, that is, also move into the realm of God’s own presence and power (10:10) … Those who approach his glorious throne with boldness, therefore, do so because they recognize in him a king utterly concerned for them. The very phrase thronos tēs charitos (“gracious throne”) can also be rendered “throne of grace”—he is a king who is the source of favor and gift, a king who is the “cause of eternal salvation” (5:9) …
I especially like this part, continuing the last quote:
… As people filled with weaknesses and temptations as well as sins, they appropriately approach the divine throne as petitioners, seeking “mercy” (eleos; see Gen 24:12; Pss 6:4; 12:5; 24:6; 30:16) and “favor” (charis; see Gen 30:27; 32:5; Exod 3:21; 33:12; 1 Sam 1:18), and as those approaching one like themselves now made Lord, they expect such a response, rather than rejection and punishment. (p. 141–142)
Judith M. Lieu on 1–3 John
I appreciate Judith Lieu’s approach to commentary writing. She describes her approach this way:
I have made the decision that detailed engagement with other interpreters, whether in agreement or debate, does not belong in a commentary of this kind; instead the task is to offer a coherent and sustained reading of the Letters, indicating how they are shaped both by events and ideas from outside, and by the purpose they are designed to fulfill. (p. x)
This approach to commentary writing stands in stark contrast to what you might find in some commentaries — an ICC Davies and Allison Matthew commentary, for example. And while I genuinely love the utterly exhaustive way they, especially Allison, approach commentary writing, often times I’m really just looking for something more like what I find in Lieu: a focused, coherent explanation of the text. But at almost 300 pages, Lieu’s commentary on these three little letters is not skimpy in any way. Let’s look at a few more passages.
Regarding the unique nature of 1–3 John, Lieu highlights how 1 John is marked by a “thoroughgoing anonymity of author, recipients, and context” (p. 7). You can see here how she justifies that statement with a host of references.
All this means that 1 John cannot be treated in the same way as 1 Corinthians or Galatians might be, with careful reference to the context of the community, to the challenges they faced in society, or to Paul’s endeavors to integrate their personal and communal lives with his interpretation of the Christian message. (p. 7)
Regarding the purpose of 1 John,
… It will become evident that the whole strategy of the letter is to foster a tight communal identity, to create an imagined community whose distance from “the world” and whose adherence to all that the author represents is beyond question … (p. 7)
I appreciate how Lieu highlights the history of interpretation throughout her work. In her discussion of the reception of 1–3 John, she starts with the earliest extant references:
As already noted, the earliest explicit reference to any of the Johannine letters is made by Irenaeus, who quotes both 1 and 2 John, although as if both were from the same letter, and who unhesitatingly attributes them to the author of the Fourth Gospel, whom he identifies with the Beloved Disciple and with John the son of Zebedee. That Papias explicitly quoted the letter is doubtful; further, Polycarp’s warning, “Everyone who does not acknowledge that Jesus Christ has come in flesh is an antichrist and whoever does not acknowledge the testimony of the cross is of the devil,” certainly sounds Johannine; but whether it is a direct allusion to 1 John 4:2 or stems from a shared tradition may be debated (Phil. 7.1). (p. 26)
Finally, I wanted to point out her helpful comments on one of the most enigmatic portions of 1 John — the “I’m writing to you … / I have written to you …” statements in 2:12–14. Lieu points out how we find here a summary of themes appearing before and after this section of 1 John. She argues that the purpose of the section is to assure the readers (p. 85).
Finally, let’s take a look one of the benefits of using a series like this in Accordance.
Looking up references to primary literature in Accordance
Accordance’s Text Browser makes looking up references to primary literature so easy and fun. Check out this screenshot. I just clicked on a reference to Zechariah 3:1 in LTJ’s Hebrews commentary.
I mentioned earlier how Luke Timothy Johnson’s commentary was packed full of references to other scripture and other literature. If you have your Amplify settings set to automatically open a text browser, when you click a link you can see your favorite versions in parallel with all the tagging information and cross-highlighting available in a normal search tab. Here’s where to find that setting in preferences.
One of the coolest parts is that the Text Browser is not just for biblical references. When I click on a reference to the Letter of Aristeas, I immediately see both English and Greek:
When Raymond Collins discusses similarities between the way 1 Timothy describes the church and the language of 1QS, I can click once and see the Dead Sea Scrolls in English and Hebrew, as well:
Note here Judith Lieu’s reference to the conceptual similarity between “you have conquered the evil one” in 1 John 2:13 and the dominion of the “sons of light” in the War Scroll:
That took one click to open the biblical reference, one click to open the DSS reference, I dragged the DSS Text Browser down beneath the biblical one, and adjusted the width a little — less than ten seconds. For more information on the Text Browser, check out Accordance’s excellent documentation.
The New Testament Library is wonderful series that will prove helpful to anyone who wants to better understand scripture. Its straightforward format is easy to use, and the Accordance Text Browser is an ideal way to look up references to primary literature as you read.
For the next week, Accordance has these resources deeply discounted as a part of their Exciting & New Sale. You can check out the different bundles here: