[K:NWTS 9/1 (May 1994) 32-35]
Leon Morris. The Gospel According to Matthew. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1992, 781 pp., $39.95 cloth. ISBN: 0-85111-338-9.
This thick, pricey volume does not exhibit the Biblical Theological sensitivity one would hope for. Nor is it a very stimulating commentary in other ways. The author of this commentary appears to be preoccupied with questions of brute syntax and source criticism.
The thematic outlines are quite basic and do little to penetrate the structure of Matthew's gospel. This commentary uses many words to say little that hasn't already been said in the writings of others. Although footnotes and bibliographies show that the author has drawn material from sources like W.D. Davies and J.D. Kingsbury, one gets the impression that his familiarity with such is really only a passing acquaintance.
Still, among the stronger points of this volume "is" this wealth of bibliographic information that has been collected and is neatly arranged in more than one place. There are annotated footnotes at the bottom of each page; there is a table of bibliographic abbreviations near the front of the book, plus a complete author index at the back of the book. In reading this commentary a person gets the feeling that it is basically a compilation of the writings of others. To Morris's credit he includes a Scripture index—most handy!
The well organized bibliographic information and the skill and scrutiny with which Morris has handled certain syntactical aspects of the Greek language are not enough to justify spending forty dollars for this commentary. It may provide an antidote for insomnia, but sleeping pills would cost a lot less.
Prescott Presbyterian Church in America
Larry Woiwode. Acts. San Francisco: Harper, 1993, 244 pp., $17.00 Cloth. ISBN: 0-06-069404-1.
Another commentary on Acts? Well, yes and no. Yes, it has to do with the Acts of the Apostles. But no in that Mr. Woiwode approaches Acts in a somewhat un-commentary way. "The Acts of the Apostles is the most narrative book of the New Testament" (p. 8). And he places this biblical narrative into his own narrative of reflections on the Church and his own life as a writer. In this book, Mr. Woiwode is, as C.S. Lewis might have put it, 'looking along' Acts rather than merely looking at it. The result is novel.
Mr. Woiwode uses a traditional division of Acts into three sections, as suggested by Jesus in Acts 1:3. He thus follows the spread of God's redemptive acts from: (1) Jerusalem; (2) through all Judea and Samaria; (3) to the remotest parts of the earth. Along the way he stops now and then, to reflect on the Church today and upon his own life and upon writing. The result reads like a novel. But every once in awhile, you'll want to pause and remove your glasses or get up and pace the room.
I entered the public university system somewhere among the bottom third of my peers in language skills (according to a widely used national test). And I'm afraid my interest in the language arts did not exceed my ability. All of which isn't very interesting except, perhaps, for one thing. The Word of God came to me about that time. He came with words of life. And things changed. Not so much my ability, but certainly my interest.
My mother noticed this change. Her son was suddenly reading and even trying to write. To her this was a dramatic change. To me it was deeply disappointing. I had been told (and thoroughly believed) that the sort of change that the Spirit brings about has to do with ethics and attitudes. Others around me were supposed to see a certain something in my life that would make them want what I had. (Never mind the fact that the world crucified Jesus and that the more Christ-like we become the more they will hate us too, as Jesus told us). Couldn't my mother see something that she wanted?
Whether she saw anything else or not though, I now think that I too quickly dismissed her observation. I had not appreciated what it might mean for an articulating God to come into the heart of someone with so little regard for words. It ought to be a thing of wonder that God would have acted upon men to articulate his own revelation of himself. While it is true that the Holy Spirit must bring about our new birth, it is nonetheless true that the chief means of this grace is a premeditated, artistically crafted book. Mr. Woiwode stirs up something of that sense of wonder. (Oh he does more than this. But this is something rather un-commentary).
"Each prophet and poet and apostle had a designated portion of the canon to bring to the world; none was trying to outdo or overstep another. Those feet always travel in the way of Christ. No human mind could channel or arrange the structure and patterns that at certain moments in Acts step off through whole tracts of the old and new covenants while applying to a situation you noticed only this morning."
"For me, a writer aware of how much more complex each book becomes with each sentence added, it was the clarity of these patterns and structure in Scripture and their ability to intermesh with one another through as many levels as I could imagine that convinced me that the Bible couldn't be the creation of a man or any number of men, and was certainly not the product of separate men divided by centuries, but was of another world: supernatural. I was forced to admit, under no pressure but the pressure of the text itself, that it could be only what it claimed it was, the word of God" (pp. 81-82).
Those of you who appreciate what Kerux is doing will, I think, appreciate Mr. Woiwode's contribution to the Church's ongoing interaction with God's word. What sets Biblical Theology apart from Systematics is not so much our concern for the history of redemption as it is our concern for the way that history is articulated. One of us may, for example, pursue the image of "light" all through the Bible. We don't end up with a 'doctrine of light' as we might expect a systematician to. Rather, we end up with, we hope, a glimpse of the way God sees what he does, through the way he has chosen to articulate himself and his actions to us. It is a 'looking along' rather than a looking at.
This is a decidedly literary approach to Scripture. And probably explains why, on the whole, Biblical Theology stirs up so little interest. Besides general illiteracy, there is just too much suspicion that what we're doing is liberal because liberals long ago staked out the literary dimension of Scripture as their own. Of course, it is not their own. The words of God are nourishment for those who would be good servants of Christ Jesus. And with regard to the richness of that nourishment, I think you will appreciate Mr. Woiwode's Acts.