Highlights in Baker Exegetical Commentary on the NT (Stein, Jobes, Köstenberger)


I’ve long benefitted from the 15-volume Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (BECNT) series. Recently I’ve been able to use it in Logos Bible Software. In this post I introduced the commentary, layout, and setup in Logos on a computer. Then I wrote again here about navigating BECNT for Logos on iPad. Finally, I interacted at length with a passage in Luke from Darrell L. Bock. That third post is here. This post is a fourth part of my BECNT series of posts, concluding my review. Here I highlight some other volumes in the series: Mark (Robert H. Stein), 1 Peter (Karen H. Jobes), and John (Andreas J. Köstenberger).

Mark, by Robert H. Stein

Mark by Stein“Like the other canonical Gospels, the author Mark does not identify himself  and makes no claim to be an eyewitness,” so Robert Stein in his Mark volume provides a good overview of the case for Markan authorship of the second Gospel.  He cites external evidence (for example, Eusebius’s quotation of Papias, who has Mark as the apostle Peter’s “interpreter”) and internal evidence (“knowledge of Aramaic; the presence of numerous Latinisms; knowledge of Jewish customs,” etc.) for Mark’s authorship. Further, there is “universal and early tradition ascribing Markan authorship to the Second Gospel.” Stein posits (as do others) a “Greek-speaking audience that did not know Aramaic,” situated in the church of Rome.

Just a few verses in, Stein’s attention to detail and balanced presentation is evident. Regarding the locus of John the Baptist’s ministry in chapter 1, Mark seems not to be troubled (here or in his Gospel generally) by geographical precision, since geography is not always his primary concern. But Stein says that the mention of the Judean countryside and the inhabitants of Jerusalem in 1:5 “suggests that the main location of John’s ministry was probably the southern part of the Jordan River valley near the Dead Sea.” However, “Mark… has little interest in the exact geographical location(s) of John’s ministry.  For him, it was what John did and represented that was important, not where.”

1 Peter, by Karen H. Jobes

A highlight for me in not just 1 Peter, but in the whole BECNT series, is Karen Jobes’s Excursus, “The Syntax of 1 Peter: How Good is the Greek?” She begins:

1 Peter by JobesOne of the weightiest arguments against Peter’s authorship of 1 Peter is that the Greek of the epistle is just too good for an uneducated Galilean fisherman to have written. …

It thus appears that the quality of the Greek of 1 Peter is recognized by both sides of the authorship debate as being too good for Peter himself to have written. This opinion involves many assumptions that need to be critically reconsidered from time to time as more knowledge of the presence of Greek in Galilee becomes available.

Her critical reconsideration uses quantitative syntactical analysis to see whether linguistic interference is at play in 1 Peter. (I.e., based on the Greek, does the author seem to know Greek as a native language or as a second language?) Here is what one of her graphs looks like:

Jobes Syntax Graph

She writes, “The major conclusion drawn from this study is that the extent of Semitic interference in the Greek of 1 Peter indicates an author whose first language was not Greek. “

John, by Andreas J. Köstenberger

John by KöstenbergerOne thing that seems fairly consistent throughout the BECNT series is that the exegesis/exposition of each passage begins with a broader look at what’s going on in the book at the time. As a lectionary preacher I appreciate this. Köstenberger’s volume on John is a good example. John 8:31ff, which the NET Bible gives the heading, “Abraham’s Children and the Devil’s Children,” begins:

8:31 Then Jesus said to those Judeans who had believed him, “If you continue to follow my teaching, you are really my disciples 8:32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

Drawing on Herman Ridderboss, Köstenberger writes, “As on previous occasions, Jesus discerns the inadequate, shallow nature of people’s faith and issues an ominous warning to those who would later deny him.” This helps the reader situate herself or himself in the passage. Köstenberger then immediately provides lexical detail:

The Ἰουδαῖοι (Ioudaioi, Jews) addressed are neither “Judaizing Christians” (so, rightly, Carson 1991: 347) nor merely people from Jerusalem or Judea (contra R. Brown 1966: 355), but those Jews of 8:30 who had believed and who later turn out to be hostile to Jesus.

As with much of the series, the results of the exegesis have what is sometimes obvious and immediate import for preaching and teaching, as here:

The reference to being “truly” Jesus’ disciples (μαθηταί, mathētai) implies that there is in Johannine thought such a thing as false (or temporary) disciples, that is, people who follow a teaching only for a season….

Concluding Thoughts

Each of the above demonstrates that, in my view, BECNT accomplishes its aim successfully:

The chief concern of the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (BECNT) is to provide, within the framework of informed evangelical thought, commentaries that blend scholarly depth with readability, exegetical detail with sensitivity to the whole, and attention to critical problems with theological awareness.

The set isn’t perfect, of course, nor does any individual volume necessarily reflect the best commentary you could buy on a given biblical book. I would go to France on Mark first, for example, especially for studying the Greek. And I’d use Moo, Cranfield, Jewett, Dunn, and Stott on Romans before turning to Schreiner’s BECNT volume. Even so, Schreiner’s introduction on the “various purposes in Romans” is among the better introductory material I’ve read on the book.

I’ve not mentioned Silva’s Philippians volume and Osborn’s Revelation contribution, but both are highly-rated and good commentaries to have on the short list for working through those books. The complete set line-up is here:

On the balance, though the set is not yet complete, the Baker Exegetical Commentary is one of the best there is for in-depth study of the biblical text. Having everything hyperlinked, searchable, and customizable in Logos makes it even more valuable for research, preaching, teaching, and even personal devotional use.

Many thanks to Logos Bible Software for the review copy of the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, given to me for the purposes of review, but with no expectation as to the content of my review.

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