Regularly we receive queries about best resources from pastors as they approach a new series on a biblical book. The questions are good: despite so many commentaries being published, the best resources for listening to the Bible and preaching it for all its worth are not always obvious. The best preaching operates at the intersection of the telos of the passage/book being preached and the life of the particular congregation (see Craig Bartholomew, Excellent Preaching). Good preaching must therefore engage in what John Stott called “double listening”: one ear to Scripture, one ear to contemporary life and culture, with the sermon building a bridge between the two. This series, which will eventually cover the whole Bible, aims to provide preachers – and thinking non-preachers – with some of the best resources. We are assuming readers will understand that neither we nor you will or should agree with everything these sources say.
Hearing the Old Testament: Listening for God’s Address, ed. Craig G. Bartholomew and David Beldman (Eerdmans), is full of excellent material from leading scholars, helping readers and preachers to leverage the best scholarship in the service of hearing what God is saying.
On preaching the Old Testament see Chris Wright, Sweeter Than Honey: Preaching the Old Testament (Langham Preaching Resources), co-published (exactly the same text) by Zondervan, with the title How to Preach and Teach the Old Testament For All Its Worth!
For a sense of the recent history of New Testament interpretation see Stephen Neill and Tom Wright’s excellent, The Interpretation of the New Testament, 1861-1986 (OUP, 1988). Wright’s multivolume Christian Origins and the Question of God series is magisterial.
At its best, the renaissance of so-called theological interpretation of the Bible is a great boon for the preacher, since it aims to read the Bible for the church. Two important sources are Vanhoozer, et al, eds. A Dictionary of Theological Interpretation of the Bible (Baker Academic, 2005) and Bartholomew and Thomas, eds., A Manifesto for Theological Interpretation (Baker Academic, 2016). The latter was an initiative of the Scripture and Hermeneutics Seminar.
We are delighted that Baker Academic has given us permission to make the manifesto itself available for download on our website. This is a short document that the student, seminarian, pastor, scholar can carry with them and refer to as they engage with the Bible.
Gareth Lee Cockerill’s Hebrews (New International Commentary on the New Testament, Eerdmans, 2012) is both scholarly and pastoral. Grant Osborne called this commentary “a first-rate work that is both readable and very deep” and claimed that those who read it would “gain a fine understanding of this incredibly important epistle and its place in the life of the church.” Cockerill’s commentary makes a special contribution to our understanding of the shape and pastoral purpose of Hebrews and to the relevance of the author’s Old Testament interpretation for the contemporary people of God. “Anyone planning to study, teach, or preach through Hebrews should have this commentary at their side” (Denver Journal).
Jon C. Laansma’s The Letter to the Hebrews: A Commentary for Preaching, Teaching, and Bible Study (Cascade Books, 2017) is characterized by the balanced judgment that we have come to expect from its author. Laansma’s interpretation of Hebrews is thorough, fresh, and pastoral without being idiosyncratic or superficial. This book may not address all the technical issues of the Greek text or interact with every competing interpretation, but it fulfils its title as A Commentary for Preaching, Teaching, and Bible Study. “Dr. Laansma has an intuitive grasp of the epistle’s missional context and homiletical structure” (Philip Ryken).
Thomas R. Schreiner’s Commentary on Hebrews (Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation, Holman, 2015) is an accessible interpretation of Hebrews by a well-known evangelical biblical scholar. Its unique contribution is the way in which Schreiner begins by showing how Hebrews fits into the larger biblical story. His development of various theological themes at the end is also helpful. This commentary “manages to bridge the gap between the academy and the church in such a way that it is at home in both” (from a review by Alan S. Bandy, Shawnee).
David G. Peterson’s Hebrews (IVP, 2020) is a worthy addition to the Tyndale New Testament Commentary series. This volume provides us with a reliable interpretation of the text of Hebrews by a mature scholar known, among many other things, for his work on “perfection” in Hebrews. Each passage begins with a discussion of context and concludes with theological reflection. This is a solid meat, bread and potatoes commentary.
Grant R. Osborne with George H. Guthrie, Hebrews Verse by Verse (Osborne New Testament Commentaries, Lexham, 2021). This clearly written commentary is vintage Osborne. The theological significance and contemporary relevance of the text arise directly out of the author’s adequately thorough, though not overly technical, exposition. We are indebted to George Guthrie, Osborne’s former student, for completing this commentary after the author’s death.
George Guthrie’s Hebrews (NIV Application Commentary, Zondervan, 1998), though a bit older than most of the books mentioned in this article, is a valuable addition to the libraries of both pastors and scholars. The NIV Application Commentary has the stated purpose of explaining both the original meaning and contemporary significance of the biblical text. Guthrie’s explanations of the original meaning are adequately thorough, and his discussions of contemporary application are relevant without being faddish. Keep an eye out for his forthcoming Theology of Hebrews (Zondervan).
William L. Lane’s Hebrews 1–8 and Hebrews 9–13 (Word Biblical Commentary, Word, 1991) is another older work that deserves mention. Those with command of the original language will want to take advantage of Lane’s rich exposition of the Greek text. Everyone, however, can read his “Explanation” section at the end of each passage or consult his shorter work, Hebrews: A Call to Commitment (Hendrickson, 1985). This shorter volume is a concise but accurate and readable exposition of Hebrews directed to serious lay people and thus useful for pastors as well.
Some may like Herbert W. Bateman IV and Steven W. Smith’s Hebrews: A Commentary for Biblical Preaching and Teaching (Kregel, 2021). The Kerux Commentary series, of which this volume is a part, boasts the advantages of combining the skills of an exegete and a homiletician. This volume makes a point of explaining Hebrews within the context of Second Temple Judaism. However, the abundant reference to background material tends, at times, to overwhelm rather than elucidate the passage in question, and some of the suggestions for preaching are only superficially related to the text.
Dana M. Harris’ Hebrews (B&H Academic, 2019) in the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament is worth mentioning, although its focused dedication on a close reading of the Greek text distinguishes it from the other commentaries mentioned in this article. Harris, however, is not insensitive to theological issues and she provides an extensive bibliography on each passage. Nevertheless, this commentary is for those who want a close structural, syntactical, grammatical, linguistic (did I use enough adjectives?) reading of the Greek text.
Gareth Lee Cockerill’s Yesterday, Today, and Forever: Listening to Hebrews in the 21st Century (Cascade Books, forthcoming 2022). This seven-week (forty-nine-day) reading guide is an excellent foundation for preaching or teaching Hebrews because it immerses its reader in this profound biblical book. Each passage is clearly explained in light of the pastoral purpose and rhetorical structure of Hebrews as outlined in Cockerill’s NICNT commentary discussed above. This book helps us to see Hebrews as a living, breathing organism, rather than as an ancient artefact.
Herbert W. Bateman IV, editor, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews (Kregel, 2007). The way one understands the warning passages of Hebrews is closely tied to the way in which one understands the purpose and scope of the book as a whole. Thus, it is appropriate, in conclusion, to mention this volume that provides a clear presentation of the various options. Several of the contributors to this project (Bateman, Osborne, Guthrie, and Cockerill) have written books mentioned above. Buist Fanning is another contributor, whose position is fairly represented by both Schreiner and Peterson’s commentaries.
Three things that we often forget when reading Hebrews:
1. Salvation and revelation are intimately related in Hebrews. It is by becoming the “Source of eternal salvation” (Heb 5:9) that the Son, seated at God’s right hand, fulfils his role as the ultimate revelation of God.
2. Jesus’ humanity is never discussed abstractly in separation from his deity. When the author addresses Jesus’ humanity he is always talking about the eternal Son who has become human – about the incarnation. Thus, it is less than accurate to say that Hebrews 1:1-14 is about the Son’s deity and Hebrews 2:5-18 is about his humanity. Hebrews 1:1-14 is about the Son’s eternal deity and exaltation, while Hebrews 2:5–18 is about the incarnation of the eternal Son through which he has been exalted.
3. In Hebrews the earthly obedience of the Son of God has atoned for sin (5:7-9, 9:14, 10:5-10) and established a covenant that empowers the children of God for obedience. Consciences are “cleansed” (9:14) and God’s law is written on the heart (10:14-18) enabling God’s people to live faithful lives. Forgiveness is the door to obedient living.
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