March 6th, 2012 – by Mark
Students who have had me as a professor within the last six years or so are probably aware that my very favorite commentary on any book of the Bible is Matthew: A Commentary, 2d ed. by Frederick Dale Bruner (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2004; paper 2007). This massive, two-volume commentary is, so I would argue, in a league of its own. Now, it should be said that I have a large set of commentaries and, in fact, have updated a bibliography of commentaries several times over the last decade. I know commentaries fairly well. And I know massive commentaries rather well. But Bruner’s is different. Unlike most commentaries of its size, it is not filled with minutiae, details that might interest lexicographers or historians but would bore many preachers.
Repeatedly Bruner’s rich spiritual reflections usher the reader not only deeply into the theological meat of the text, but also, to the attentive and prayerful reader, often into the very presence of God. He has a way, in almost every set of reflections, of bringing to life the clarion call and power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. At times he reminds me of Karl Barth, other times of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He has the passion for grace of a Luther and the commitment to serious discipleship of a Menno Simons. Or put differently, discerningly mining twenty centuries of a rich interpretive tradition, Bruner seeks again and again to hear the active voice of a living God speaking afresh through the text of Matthew’s Gospel—attempting with his considerable gifts to convey it to the reader.
One of the reasons I am posting this now is because I am going to use my blog to alert readers to important books. For any who have not heard me say it in class here: “buy Bruner’s commentary on Matthew.” It not only will enrich your preaching; it will enrich your soul. (And I should say—to those who use the lectionary—that I always see if there is serious overlap between, say, the Gospel of Mark and Matthew; if there is, with an awareness of the differences, I use Bruner as my commentary of choice even when preaching from Mark.)
However, I am writing this now because a significant event transpired last week. For over ten years I have been waiting for Bruner’s commentary on the Gospel of John, actively for more than a year. (Following a brief conversation with Bruner in the library of Fuller seminary well more than a year ago, he graciously sent me the pre-published version of his comments on John 13, so I could consult them as I revised an essay I had written for The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics on footwashing.) I now hold in my hands the long awaited 1281-page The Gospel of John: A Commentary by Frederick Dale Bruner (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2012). Though I have only read his comments on a couple of passages thus far, I still feel confident in saying: “buy it, BUY IT!”
And while I am celebrating commentary writing, I also wanted to celebrate another significant event. Ten years in the making, as of last October, N. T. Wright completed his “for everyone” series of popular commentaries on every book of the New Testament. In October his Early Christian Letters for Everyone and Revelation for Everyone were published, completing what I believe is an eighteen volume set. These can be purchased as a set from Westminster John Knox Press (or individually). Completing this set is a remarkable feat. Wright is a very clear and accessible writer. These volumes are by design relatively simple, but they are also filled with profound and helpful reflections on the biblical text. They can help inform preaching or serve to assist any Christian in living seriously with the Scriptures. For each volume Wright has offered his own translation of the Scriptures. More or less simultaneously with the completion of the “for everyone series” HarperOne publishing house released Wright’s The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation. Also, for someone who wants to use the “for everyone” series for a Bible study group, InterVarsity Press is selling “N. T. Wright for everyone study guides.” (I haven’t checked to see if they have yet completed the whole set.)
I hesitate to mention anything more about N. T. Wright just now. But maybe I will mention just a couple more items. For those who are interested, there are many audio (and some video) lectures and sermons available for download various places; the first place to check is the bottom of the “N. T. Wright page” in Google. One of the newest lectures available is a recent lecture with the same title as a book due out next week by Wright, “How God Became King.”
Happy reading and listening.