By John Frye, The Commentary Niche
Pastors usually have commentaries of various types. The Story of God Bible Commentary series aims to fill a niche that seeks to understand and live particular texts within the greater Story of God that the Bible presents. Let’s consider three commentaries I possess on the Book of 1 Peter.
A Critical Commentary. I have a dated commentary (first edition 1946) by Edward Gordon Selwyn titled The First Epistle of St. Peter: The Greek Text with Introduction, Notes, and Essays. At the time I bought it, I’m sure that someone said, “Oh, John, you’ve got to get Selwyn on 1 Peter.” I have used it, but, frankly, it is laborious reading. Selwyn presents me with more classical Greek than I can ever appreciate or use. I meet the early Church Fathers as Selwyn makes numerous quotes, and there are references to non-canonical early church letters, e.g., 1 Clement. As a pastor, I machete my way through the dense scholarship in Selwyn’s work on the hunt for his “commentary” on the verses at hand for a sermon or teaching. “Thar’s gold in them thar hills,” I keep telling myself. And there is. Any pastor who wants the historical, patristic background for the views of 1 Peter 3:18-4:6, she must grab a strong cup of coffee and read Selwyn’s “Essay I- On 1 Peter iii:18- iv:6.” The Word Biblical Commentary series is a more current critical commentary series. I have James D. G. Dunn’s on Romans. Critical commentaries celebrate textual, exegetical minutia (and I don’t mean that pejoratively).
An Application Commentary. As I noted in the last post, I have Scot McKnight’s The NIV Application Commentary: 1 Peter. The niche of this commentary series is right in the title—application—at the far end from a critical commentary. The text, of course, is explained based on thoughtful evangelical scholarship but it moves to its goal in the section called “Contemporary Relevance.” The ancient text is commented on, followed by a section called “Bridging Contexts,” i.e., from the biblical world context to our world. Followed by application, i.e., relevance. I like this series because the scholars have insights into our culture and offer suggestions for relevance that I would not know or think of. It’s a handy series for preaching, hear me, as long as you credit the author from whom you get that amazing homiletical idea. So, what does Scot offer in terms of “contemporary relevance” for 1 Peter 3:18-22? Having determined that the text is about the vindication of Jesus and justice being established, Scot writes, “We must attempt to regain a belief in justice, but we must transfer our hope away from governmental officials to God, to his actions both in this world and especially in the next. … What I argue here is that I can cope more readily with this kind of limitation and chaos [a child abuser released back to the streets on a legal technicality] in society because I know that someday all will be rectified, the guilty will be fairly punished, and the innocent victims will be vindicated to enjoy the life that God wants for them” (220, Scot’s emphasis).