23 May 2014

Preaching Proverbs 6 — commentaries (#3)

by Dan Phillips

As I am working through preaching Proverbs, here are some of my friends, with their level of trust and value:

(Best Friends Forever — Lifesavers)
Derek Kidner. For what it is, this is a remarkably valuable volume. Kidner is a wonderful writer, very insightful. Fight your first impression, which would be to dismiss the book as too brief to be of any use. Kidner has Solomon's own knack for saying a great deal in a very few words. He supplements the verse-by-verse comments with his very fine subject-studies ("God and man," "Wisdom," "The Fool," etc.), and often refers to the latter from the former.

Even Kidner's titles for the sections and verses, apart from any commentary, can help head a reader in the right direction. He titles chapter 7 "Simpleton and seductress," breaking it down to prologue (vv. 1-5), drama (vv. 6-23), and epilogue (vv. 24-27). "The obedient and the opinionated" is 10:8; "Nothing to hide, nothing to fear" is 10:9; "Mischief sooner made than mended" is 10:10 — and on it goes. My biggest gripe: I wish the volume were five times as long, allowing Kidner to go into greater depth.

Bruce Waltke. Need I explain? This 2-volume NICOT set (vol 1vol 2) from the dean of evangelical OT theologians is a monument to decades of fruitful writing and thought on this subject. When I wrote my Master's thesis on Proverbs in 1983, Waltke's Bibliotheca Sacra articles were cutting-edge for believing scholarly thought, in putting Proverbs back into its canonical setting where it belongs. Now Waltke has developed the mature fruit of his thought and research into this massive 2-volume work.

This is not to say I agree with every word or conclusion. Anyone who knows Waltke much knows that he's a puzzle, a conundrum. Very conservative this minute, what-the-heck-were-you-thinking?! the next. For instance, Waltke acknowledges that no version or manuscript omits Proverbs 8:11 — yet he rejects it because it doesn't fit his view of the structure. So confident is Waltke of his view, in the face of all textual evidence, that he does not even bother to translate it!

Perhaps this explains why I write of Waltke with both the deepest of respect and even affection, and the deepest of bafflement.

Despite that and other peculiarities (Waltke's rationalization for using "LORD" instead of Yahweh will make your brain itch), the overall value of the work is immense. Waltke is particularly helpful in analyzing the borders and shape of a section — the very issues I broached in the previous post. Waltke is very attentive to catchwords and phrases, inclusios, and other devices by which Solomon reveals his mental topography. He'll comment on word-meaning, syntax, variant readings, and even Hebrew accents, as well as relating it to the revelation of the Bible as a whole. He's an in-depth preacher's best friend, and he'll be in use for years and years.

Andrew SteinmannI bet even the better-read of you are saying "Who?" It's a pity, but Steinmann is not as well-known in our circles as he deserves. I "met" Steinmann while researching and writing my book, as the Bibliography reflects, for his thoroughly-scholarly and thoroughly-believing work on the authorship of Proverbs.

This is a terrific book, written from a thoroughly Bible-affirming perspective. Steinmann provides his own translation, with detailed notes on etymology, syntax, and textual issues. After that comes his commentary, which is actually illustrated with interpretive graphics in the margin. Steinmann puts the whole book under the law/grace template, which sometimes gives the impressions that they are the Proverbs of Paul, not of Solomon. He defends at length the reading of Proverbs 8 as being about Jesus Christ, period, end of story. On the theological spectrum of Bible-reading, from over-segmentation to over-flattening, Steinmann definitely is in the latter field.

That said, I highly recommend his commentary, and refer to it without fail, constantly and closely.

(Best Friends With a Flag)
Michael V. Fox. This two-volume Anchor Bible set is another absolute must-have for in-depth preachers, though clearly his view of Scripture is not ours. That said, Fox is a respectful, exhaustive, close and invaluable reader of the details of the text. He has a great sensitivity to the shape of Proverbs, as well as the terms and grammar. His mature and deep knowledge of Biblical Hebrew helps a lot both in translation and in interpretation. Invaluable. So glad Logos finally got the rights to it, after I'd used my hard-copy for for some time.

Richard J. Clifford. This book surprised me, given the publisher and series. Apart from difference in theological perspective, I would compare this favorably with Kidner. Clifford jams an immense amount of helpful material into a relatively very small volume. He does provides his own translation, with notes on issues of translation or text. Clifford often detects and helps with the shape and flow of the text. I make constant use of him. As a Jesuit, Clifford doesn't affirm inerrancy, and that does sometimes affect his handling of the text...but not nearly as much as one would anticipate.

Raymond VanLeeuwen. It's a drag to have to buy a whole volume of which I'll probably only ever use this part — but I got it used (still relatively pricey), and it's worth it. Also not from the view of Scripture I hold, but of the newer school that is more respectful of and attentive to the text as it stands, and its theology. Many useful insights.

Franz Delitzsch. What a brilliant scholar, Delitzsch was: faithful, deep, very attentive to the text in all its details. Usefulness is only decreased due to its age, but still worth consulting.

(Good Friends)
John KitchenSee my review here. My complaint about the editor's disinterest in larger outlines particularly affects my use of the commentary on chapters 1—9, in which I don't find the help I look for in planning or shaping my preaching. Having said that, what Clifford and Fox lack in terms of reverence for the text as God's inerrant Word, Kitchen has in abundance. Kitchen clearly loves the text as the word of God, and gives attention to each word as inspired. Kitchen's a preacher, and I wish the editors would contract a second edition incorporating these suggestions.

Peter A. Steveson. Here's another useful resource that I would wager that few of you have heard of. This is from Bob Jones University Press, and it's quite good. Though Steveson's own baseline is the KJV, he constantly and competently deals with the Hebrew text. Where others reach quickly for textual emendations (even Waltke!), Steveson rarely does, which is helpful. Solid material, quite useful. Steveson's strength as a rule is his commentary on individual verses, rather than in discerning shapes and outlines; there, Waltke, Fox, Clifford and others shine. In fact, Steveson seldom does outlines. However, when I prepared to preach Proverbs 8, Steveson's outline seemed to flow with the text better than the those of the more scholarly volumes I consult, and I ended up adapting it to use as my own.

Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr. I have only used this in the first seven chapters thus far, and have been helped a number of times. As the series-title suggests ("Preaching the Word"), Ortlund's focus is on proclaiming the text. He's very readable, there's the sense of attentive reading of the Hebrew text underneath what he writes, but he processes it into a very positive, Gospel-oriented form for preaching. Ortlund has often pointed out perspectives I hadn't thought of, and that's always valuable. For instance, his passage on usury (Prov. 6:1-5) was among the most helpful I read.

However (as I'll develop in this series of posts), like all of us Ortlund can miss the ten-ring. For instance, I think he does so when he lumps together Proverbs 6:20—7:27 as if it were simply about sexuality. Then, once he finishes his thoughts on chapter 9, Ortlund falls to seven chapters of subject study, rather than any attempt at consecutive preaching or exposition. Thus, the written for men preaching through all of Proverbs has yet to be written. Also, chapter 17 is titled Family and keyed to 22:6, but there is no real exposition of that verse. Readers of my book will know that this skates over some fairly serious issues.

I do recommend Ortlund heartily for preachers and teachers going through chapters 1 through 9, it is immensely helpful. Regrettably, Crossway insults and disserves the reader by removing all of Ortlund's footnotes to endnotes.

Charles BridgesYou'll get no help here with Hebrew or any scholarly developments within the last couple of centuries. However, you will get a Puritanical (— used as a compliment) blossom of some fragrance. Bridges cares nothing for Hebrew or inclusios or chiasms or parallelism, but he is constantly mining Scripture itself for examples and illustrations of what Solomon is commending or warning against. Personally edifying, and helpful for preaching.

Otto Zöckler. From Lange's. Dated, but useful, with preaching tips.

(Cordial Acquaintances)
Duane Garrett. When he's useful, Garrett can be very useful...but that's the case far less often than one would wish. I just have to say candidly (particularly after chapter 9) that I am far more often disappointed when I go to Garrett for help, than not. He has a good conservative introduction to the book, and believes it to be God's Word; but his comments are far too brief and notional as a rule, and he's a bit fonder of emendations than I'm comfortable with.

Paul Koptak. The NIV Application commentary format makes for a bit more wordiness than is most useful to me, but Koptak does occasionally offer helpful comments on translation and shape — though not enough yet (in my use) to put him in the reach-for-first list.

Tremper Longmann III. Reviewed here.

(These Also Exist)
Roland MurphyMost Disappointing Commentary Ever? Ronald Youngblood (who actually believes in the Bible) had been contracted to write this volume in the Word series, and was going to incorporate my thesis... but for some reason that fell through, and the assignment went to Roman Catholic priest and OT writer Murphy. I've wondered ever since: Why? Murphy has some Hebrew chops, but shows very little interest in Proverbs. His work seems dutiful and shallow, phoned-in, showing a tin-ear to Solomon's theology and thought. I look at it to broaden my scope, but it's very seldom of any real use to me.

Crawford H. Toy. Old ICC volume. I love the series layout and thoroughness, and really wish they'd assigned Proverbs to some scholar who actually believed the self-witness of Scripture in general, and of Proverbs in particular. Toy is liberal, ridiculously so sometimes, and disrespectful of the text. Can give helpful syntactical and even sometimes etymological help, and on very rare occasion even interpretive help. But if you're simply a preacher or on a short budget, this is not a must-have.

Allen P. Ross. Very disappointing. This is in the Expositor's Bible series, and simply does not get into the text with any depth or insight. I look at it frequently, yet virtually never am helped by it.

This way to the next (fourth) post.

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Unknown said...

FWIW, Delitzsch, Bridges and Toy are all freely available as PDF files from archive.org.

DJP said...

Toy is, ethically? I thought the others were public domain... but Toy?

Unknown said...



Unknown said...

I have Kidner for Psalms and it is as you say, so concise that it first appears dismissible. But then again, pithy packs a lot into a little. I appreciate his insights.

DJP said...

One of my regrets: when I was in seminary (80s) somewhere I saw tapes of Kidner preaching available. Didn't get them, have looked for them since. Judging by his writing, I bet he was a terrific preacher. At any rate, he certainly writes like one.

Mon Harvard said...

Thanks for the review of Andrew Steinmann's Proverbs Commentary. I've been considering getting it when my money situation improves.
I already liked his work.
His commentary of Daniel is one of the best I've ever read, so I suspected the Proverbs edition would be good.

DJP said...

I'm sure I wouldn't agree with his interpretation of prophecy, but then I profited much in years past from Leupold and Young on Daniel, whose perspectives I also don't share.

You won't regret it. Apart from the reservation I note, it's a really good commentary, and I'm glad to alert our readers to it.

Unknown said...

Hi Dan,

Thank you so much for your insightful comments on commentaries on Proverbs.
However, just wondering (interested), have you gone through Koptak's commentary NOW to be able to recommend it to a preacher as a helpful tool?

DJP said...

To date, he still hasn't made an impression on me.

Unknown said...

Thanks Dan, very helpful. Never in all my dreams did I ever thought something good could come from Richard J. Clifford. Thanks for your comments Dan, helpful as I think about preaching through Proverbs in future ... on a tight budget.