AUSTRALIAN BIBLICAL REVIEW
BOOK REVIEW Published in Volume 59, 2011
ROBERT H. GUNDRY, Commentary on the New Testament: Verse-by-Verse Explanations with a Literal Translation (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2010). Pp. x + 1072. Hardback. $US49.95.
The Commentary on the New Testament claims to be a “fresh, literal translation of the entire New Testament and a pastorally caring, reliable exposition of what is in our New Testament and what it means for us” (back cover). Robert H. Gundry’s commentary aims to provide a resource for pastors, study group leaders and serious lay students “either too busy or otherwise unable to plough through technical commentaries on individual books of the New Testament” (ix).
To this end, Gundry has deliberately omitted all scholarly documentation, such as discussions of author, date, historicity, redaction and sources, as well as external citations. Gundry’s commentary focuses on providing a resource for private and group study as well as preaching and teaching, although he suggests that even seasoned scholars may find ideas therein that are not found elsewhere and are worthwhile (ix).
Gundry’s translations of the Greek text are all his own, including the choice of manuscripts (although he acknowledges that they rarely stray from Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece (27th edition), and are indeed literal. He has “ … refused to sacrifice meaning for lightness of touch” (x), meaning that the English is at times ponderous and politically incorrect to modern sensibilities. For Gundry, a literal translation is key to the greatest understanding: he insists that the awkwardness of his literal translation emphasises how the text has been “obscured, eclipsed, or even contradicted by loose translations and paraphrases” (ix).
To counterbalance this awkwardness, Gundry provides detailed exposition on each passage, explaining its meaning and likely reception by the first century world (such as the account of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11–32 on pp. 300–302). Each biblical work is divided into pericopes and sections for ease of digestion and reference, and Gundry liberally employs reduplication and cross-referencing between sections on the logical basis that his work is meant to be read ‘as needed’ rather than cover to cover (x). Each book has a very short preamble (a paragraph, on average) summarising the main themes of the book, (e.g., Galatians on p. 731, and Hebrews on p. 872) and at times an outline as well as commentary on how it coheres with other New Testament works (e.g., 1 Corinthians on p. 631). For example, Gundry introduces John’s Gospel as representing Jesus as the pre-existent Son of God and agent of creation, who becomes human, carries out the will of God completely and takes charge of his own death and resurrection. Jesus thus demands and deserves belief in him (347). The length of the preamble varies according to the complexity and length of the book it introduces.
Though written more for the lay reader, Gundry nonetheless deals with nuances in the Greek text as well as excursus on many occasions. He observes when several translations of a verse are possible and which is most likely true to the text (e.g., John 1:9 on p. 348) and when terms such as ‘Lord’ change their emphasis in the text based on context (x, 403).
The biggest drawback of the work is the lack of reference to outside sources. Gundry insists he has “not neglected to canvass” other views in his re-search (x), though they are not marked in his text. This presumably plays out in his expositions of the text, although this is not clear, and one can only presume that all exegesis presented is Gundry’s own synthesis. Much of the richness of the history of the New Testament text is also excluded when there is little discussion of its compositional history—Gundry’s work would have been well served by at least pointing to texts that people could use for further exploration, although I recognise that this would have made an already dense volume lengthier.
The greatest strength of the work is Gundry’s style—it is lively, engaging and colloquial, succeeding masterfully in his mission to make the text more approachable to the reader without ‘dumbing down’ the vocabulary in translations or interpretations (x). The compactness of the volume is also useful—the entire New Testament in one volume.
Academics and those who desire a deeper engagement will perhaps find Gundry’s Commentary on the New Testament a good starting point, but will soon move on to more complex literature. For students, laity, and perhaps pastors, however, Gundry’s single volume commentary is lively, compact, portable and succinct, making it a valuable resource.
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