Book Review: Galatians (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) by Thomas R. Schreiner

Zondervan have continued their impressive service to the Biblical Studies community with a new series titled the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (ZECNT). Volumes have already appeared on the books of Matthew and James and several more are expected over the next few years. (I patiently await Moo on Hebrews and Thielman on Romans.)

The name of the series is perhaps a little misleading because these commentaries are not as technical or expansive as the name implies. By way of comparison, the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (BECNT) is significantly more technical/exegetical and unlike the ZECNT, offers no sections on practical application.

Indeed, in terms of equivalent series, the ZECNT is probably closer to the NIV Application Commentary (NIVAC) or the later volumes in the New American Commentary (NAC). In terms of audience, this series is primarily aimed at pastors and serious students who need assistance in exegeting and understanding the text. Although some Greek is expected, it is probably not necessary for understanding the bulk of the discussion points: the more advanced matters are relegated to footnotes.

The ZECNT takes a novel approach in presenting its analysis of each Biblical passage under seven distinct sections: literary context, main idea, translation and graphical layout, structure, exegetical outline, and explanation of the text. Most of these should be self-explanatory except for “translation and graphical layout”. This is difficult to explain in words but involves breaking down each clause or phrase into units and displaying them with a series of interpretative labels thereby helping to bridge the gap between translation and exegesis. Readers may want to take a look at some of the images available at in order to see what this looks like.

One of the associate editors of this series, Thomas Schreiner, has provided this 420 page entry on Galatians (the series editor is Clinton E. Arnold). In this interpretation, the apostle Paul is understood as engaging in a battle for the gospel and accordingly, justification by faith and the centrality of Christ and the cross are seen as essential themes in the Epistle. Thus, Galatians is recognised as “intensely theological” (p. 387) with Paul responding to his Judaizing opponents’ demands for Gentile converts to be circumcised.

Readers interested in understanding the theological response of Paul will be delighted by the 24 page exploration of themes that comes at the end of the commentary, covering such topics as God, Christ, the Plight of Humanity, the Truth of the Gospel, Justification by Faith, The Centrality of the Cross, The Gift of the Spirit, Already-Not Eschatology, The Law and the Covenant, Oneness of Jews and Gentiles, The Freedom in Christ to Obey, and the Danger of Apostasy.

Theology is covered in detail throughout the commentary proper, with notable highlights including the section 2:15-21 where Schreiner deals with “the meaning of Justification in Paul” and “the meaning of works of law” (he takes a traditional, Reformation view against that of the New Perspective). Reading through the commentary sections titled ‘Main Idea’ will also give users an excellent summary of the theological flow of thought in the letter.

Further excellent theological exploration can be found in sections devoted to practical Christian life (“Theology in Application”). Here, there is good but brief material that should prove useful for Bible study leaders or preachers preparing messages. Excellent sections include those on sanctification (p. 187), righteousness and salvation (p. 196-198) and apostasy (p. 318-320). The amount of space devoted to practical application may disappoint those who are looking for a decent amount of homiletical discussion.

Those familiar with the exegetical capabilities of Schreiner will not be disappointed. The exploration and examination of texts is of the same high standard exhibited in his other New Testament commentaries: they are accessible yet detailed and thoroughly up-to-date in scholarly interaction. As with the theological excursuses, there are separate sections devoted to in depth analysis including such difficult matters as the debate over “faith in/of Jesus Christ” in Galatians 2:16; the thorny question over the structure of Galatians 4:21-5:1; and a very useful excursus on the puzzling citation of Leviticus 18:5 at Galatians 3:12.

More advanced students will be delighted with the bibliographic research, with excellent points added in the footnotes. The one disappointment may be that the “Select bibliography” is too selected, covering just eight pages (and in a relatively large font size).

Finally, on matters of introductory concern, Schreiner favours a South Galatian destination for the letter and tentatively dates it to the early 50s. Regarding Paul’s opponents, he takes the view that the opponents were Judaizers who professed faith in Christ but unlike Paul, believed that circumcision and Old Testament law were necessary additions to the gospel.

Overall, this is an outstanding commentary, well written and beautifully presented. The wide paged, hardback design means that the book can be laid flat on a desk, while the clear use of outlines, structural analyses, as well as different font sizes and styles make the commentary an easy to use resource. This is currently the best all round commentary on Galatians from a semi-technical perspective.

Galatians (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
Hardcover: 432 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (November 2, 2010)
ISBN-10: 0310243726
ISBN-13: 978-0310243724

Andy Cheung teaches at King’s Evangelical Divinity School, an accredited, distance education Bible College and Seminary in the UK.

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