Reviews of Commentaries on Hebrews

The following reviewed commentaries I used in preparing my lessons on Hebrews. The commentaries I had for the duration of Hebrews were O’Brien’s (PNTC) and Bruce’s (NICNT). Shortly after beginning Hebrews, I acquired Lane’s commentary (WBC). As I was nearing completion of Hebrews, I bought Allen’s (NAC). Hebrews is a book rich in doctrine, not dissimilar from Romans. Though inexhaustible in the riches of Christ, Hebrews is a valuable book of the Bible that is worthy of all Christians’ study, discussion, and obeisance. If you seek the aid of commentaries in probing Hebrews’ depths, I hope that the following reviews will help you make a more informed decision.

Lane, William L. Hebrews, 2 Volumes, WBC (Thomas Nelson: 1990).

According to Bestcommentaries.com, the late Professor Lane’s 2-volume commentary on Hebrews for the Word Biblical Commentary is the best commentary on Hebrews. I heartily agree with that website’s opinion. Lane’s commentary is scholarly but readable. His original translation is readable and heavily defended by pages of notes. Lane also uses the WBC “Form/Structure/Setting” and “Explanation” sections well. Further, his passion for God and His Word shows in every hermeneutical decision Lane makes throughout his commentary. In his preface to this commentary, Lane writes that his work “has been an act of love and devotion to God and to the Church. May it serve the Church and the guild ewll by directing attention to the remarkable gift we possess in the discourse that we call Hebrews” (xiii). Having read this commentary, I can attest that Lane’s desire for his commentary’s usefulness has been met in at least one preacher and church. Doubtless it has served other churches well, too, as well as the “guild” of seminaries throughout the evangelical world. Though not infallible (no book but the Bible is), Lane’s commentary deserves the highest recommendation I can give. 5 out of 5 stars.

 

O’Brien, Peter T. The Letter to the Hebrews, PNTC (Eerdmans: 2010).

On Bestcommentaries.com, O’Brien’s commentary on Hebrews is not yet ranked, but this is no indication that O’Brien’s commentary is somehow inferior to other commentaries; it merely confirms that it takes time for commentaries to be ranked according to that website’s ranking system. As it is, O’Brien’s commentary is on par with Lane’s. O’Brien does not provide his own translation (as with other PNTC works, he uses the TNIV translation), but O’Brien is more readable than Lane. The one drawback to O’Brien’s commentary is his style of citation. Being an Australian professor, O’Brien’s formatting for citation differs from American English formatting in that O’Brien inevitably places the end punctuation after the end quotation. Other than this formatting difference, O’Brien’s commentary is excellent. I would not say that it is better than Lane’s, but I would say that it is Lane’s equal. 5 out of 5 stars.

Bruce, F. F. The Epistle to the Hebrews (Rev. Ed.), NICNT (Eerdmans: 1990).

Before Lane’s work, Bruce’s commentary was the premiere commentary on Hebrews. In 1990, Eerdmans released a revised edition of Bruce’s commentary on Hebrews (originally published in the 1960s) shortly before Bruce’s death. Much briefer than Lane’s commentary, Bruce’s work focuses on the message of each verse and passage and treats morphological and grammatical issues in passing and only as they pertain to the message of the verse(s) being exposited. This brevity is mostly a strength, but it does make Bruce’s work less useful at times than Lane’s or O’Brien’s more lengthy and thorough books.

I do not wish to impart a negative opinion of Bruce’s valuable commentary, though. I most readily profited from Bruce’s extensive knowledge of the Old Testament. During the expositional chapters of Hebrews (7:1-10:18), I often found Bruce to be more helpful than either Lane or O’Brien. Nevertheless, on the whole, Lane and O’Brien are more desirable than this one. If you can only purchase two commentaries on Hebrews, Lane and O’Brien would be my picks. 4 out of 5 stars.

Allen, David L. Hebrews, NAC (B&H Academic: 2010).

I had the privilege of using Allen’s commentary on Hebrews for the last three chapters of the epistle. In Hebrews 11, I found Allen to be very useful, but in Hebrews 12, some of Allen’s less helpful views began to break through. Chief among these views is his argument for a “loss of rewards” interpretation of the warning passages in Hebrews (377). In the process of defending his position, however, he criticizes other commentators who implicitly lack “considerable attention to [Hebrews 6:4-6’s] exegetical, historical and theological aspects” (344). Allen devotes 33 pages to these three verses (344-77), whereas with most other verses in Hebrews he is rather brief. This unique nit-pickiness annoyed me, as Allen needlessly disparaged other interpretations of the warning passages in Hebrews other than his loss of rewards interpretation.

Particularly concerning Hebrews 12:14-17, 25-29 does Allen’s view come to the forefront. I do not mean to demean the loss of rewards interpretation; my distaste with Allen’s commentary is due to what D. A. Carson calls “cavalier dismissal” (inExegetical Fallacies, Second Edition) of others’ views. On 12:15’s “fails to obtain the grace of God,” Allen writes: “Hughes, in light of 12:1-2, took it as meaning falling behind in the race and failing to finish. He, along with Lane, wrongly interpreted it as implying apostasy” (585). By not explaining why Hughes and Lane are wrong in their interpretation, Allen seems to dismiss their view rather rudely. “Often what is meant by such cavalier dismissal is that the opposing opinion emerges from a matrix of thought so different from a scholar’s own that he finds it strange,weird, and unacceptable (unless he changes his entire framework),” which I believe is the case with the above quote from Allen. “If so, something like that should be said, rather than resorting to the hasty dismissal which is simultaneously worthless as an argument and gratingly condescending” (Carson 118).

Later, on 12:16’s allusion to Esau, Allen rejects Lane’s insistence that “‘by descriptive analogy, he [Esau] is representative of apostate persons who are ready to turn their backs on God'” by insisting that Esau is not apostate but rather is God’s child “under the old covenant” (Allen 586-7). This claim that Esau is God’s child, though, does not seem to square with the Old Testament statement, “Esau I have hated” (Mal. 1:2-3) nor with its quotation in the New Testament concerning God’s sovereign grace through election (Rom. 9:13). Further, in Hebrews 12:16 Esau is characterized as “sexually immoral,” whom we know will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:19-21). Here in Hebrews 12:16, Allen seems to “fall into the trap of putting theology before exegesis,” which he accuses other commentators of falling into concerning Hebrews 6:4-6 (344).

I want to end on a note of commendation for this commentary, though. Elsewhere, Allen has written extensively of his theory that Luke wrote Hebrews (Lukan Authorship of Hebrews, B&H Academic: 2010). In this commentary, Allen summarizes his arguments on pp. 47-61. “When one considers the lexical, stylistic, and theological similarities between Luke-Acts and Hebrews coupled with the way in which a theory of Lukan authorship can be historically reconstructed from the texts themselves, there is impressive evidence that points to the Lukan authorship of Hebrews” (61).

Other than the occasional cavalier dismissal of other writers’ interpretations, Allen’s commentary on Hebrews is quite valuable. Its comparative brevity on each verse and interesting theory of Lukan authorship make it a worthwhile read. 3 out of 5 stars.

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: