Note on commentaries: Timothy George on Galatians...

Generally, I'm no fan of modern commentaries. Sure, I own them. But it's entirely prophylactic, devoid of hope or joy. I tell young pastors that they need to own modern commentaries only to keep themselves from looking foolish. On any particular book of Scripture, purchase and read one or two of the big boys simply to keep abreast of "scholarly developments," whatever those are. But don't get your hopes up.

At Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, my own alma mater, the bookstore was the temple where we all worshipped. And in that temple no commentary had a higher reputation among the cognoscenti than I. Howard Marshall on Luke. So shortly before leaving seminary for my first call, I shelled out forty or so dollars to buy it. The gates to the city would be opened to me!

When I started preaching, I looked for opportunities to have a text in Luke so my congregation could benefit from my big expensive book. But Marshall never seemed to pan out the way I hoped...

Sure, he was valiant in the battle for God's Word. There was no scholarly issue, no attack on the text, that he didn't address. And his defense was about as good as any evangelical scholar could hope for. But preaching? Feeding the souls of God's people?

Fuggetaboutit! Marshall was dry as a bone. My time was wasted watching him defend the words of the Holy Spirit against the attacks of the faithless. Spurgeon put it well: "Defend the Bible? I'd rather defend a lion!"

So I went searching and discovered Calvin's commentaries, particularly the Torrance edition of his New Testament commentaries although I own the complete Calvin Translation Society set from the nineteenth century. My heart was warmed by J. C. Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels. When I started on the Ten Commandments, I was overwhelmed with the spiritual and pastoral wisdom of Thomas Watson.

Since then, many others have joined this list including Spurgeon himself on the Psalms (Treasury of David), Fairbairn on the Pastoral Epistles, Matthew Henry (the complete rather than the abridged version), and so on. I've found that the Geneva series of commentaries published by Banner of Truth--all old historic commentaries--are almost always excellent.

So now, when I start preaching through a book, I use Spurgeon's recommendations for my major purchases, I lean heavily on Calvin, and I make the obligatory two or three purchases of modern commentaries, reading them each week simply in order to avoid looking foolish.

But there are exceptions to the rule concerning the value of modern commentaries, and one exception for the book of Galatians is Timothy George's commentary in the The New American Commentary series published by Broadman and Holman.

George is excellent.

Time after time, the pastoral insight and wisdom he brings to the text makes it into my Sunday morning sermon. And he's up against some pretty stiff competition with Luther's full commentary (not the abridged), Calvin's commentary and sermons (published by Old Paths Publications), F. F. Bruce, Longenecker, Fung, and so on.

For a taste, here's one of his footnotes on Galatians 6:7-9:

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. (Galatians 6:7-9)
Earlier in this century R. Niebuhr warned against the prevalence of a domesticated theology that proclaimed "a God without wrath who brings men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross." Precisely this kind of attenuated eschatology is seen in B. Hebblethwaite's restatement of the last judgment: "We shall do well to play down the picture of God or Christ as Judge. A range of alternative models, the healer, the therapist [Oh yeah, hold me back!], the patient lover, the counselor, all seem more appropriate for bringing out the primary interest of divine judgment, namely, the restoration of the creature to integrity and the winning of his love, despite what he has done or made of himself in the past. (The Christian Hope [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984], 215). Such a perspective is utterly incompatible with the Pauline view of the God who is not mocked.

So by George, buy George.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and fifteen grandchildren.



Dear Tim:

I've owned Marshall for more than two decades and I'm not sure if I've ever used him. You're dead on correct on his work and on George.

Hi Tim

I have just finished the New American Commentary on Malachi by E. Ray Clendenon. It likewise seems to be very helpful, in fact, packs more information in the commentary than I can use, much of it very helpful and applicable to preaching. I wonder if you have had any experience with any of the rest of this series?

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

No, none other than I mentioned.


Thanks for the heads up. I had not purchased George et, for exactly the reason you mention about most moderns. I figured I had myself covered by F.F. Bruce, and Calvin, Henry, Poole (you forgot him!) and Luther would suffice. Now I may just get George tomorrow.

I would also suggest a couple of other commentary resources: "A Guide to the Puritans" by Robert P. Martin is excellent. He lists just about every Puritan or neo-Puritan (e.g. Edwards and Ryle are included) on every passage of Scripture and many topics. I also think Derek Thomas' "Essential Commentaries" is very valuable, especially at choosing which one or two modern to get. Much better (IMO) than Carson's guide.

I'm pleasantly surprised to hear the good word about George and some of the others in this series. The series came with the Logos package I bought, and I had found a couple of them helpful--though others were totally useless.

Have you used any of the Hendrickson / Kistmaker's New Testament Commentaries? I have several and have found them helpful. Hodge's Romans in the Banner of Truth series is outstanding.

Ok, let's have a retry at those spellings: Hendriksen / Kistemaker

For myself, I appreciate Hendriksen although he's stolid. And in some respects, that's good. No flakey innovations. But he rarely inspires this preacher. Can't speak to Kistemaker; I've not used him enough.

I've found Kistemaker's Acts very helpful. His pastoral comments are brief but helpful, too. He must have done the Reformation Study Bible comments for Acts, because many of them seem to be excerpts of his Acts tome.

While I have been reading through the NICNT series the past couple of years (currently finishing Bruce on Hebrews), when it comes to Galatians, the most heart-warming, pastoral commentary I have encountered has been Galatians: Paul's Charter of Christian Freedom by the recently departed Leon Morris. It is very accessible to just about any level of reader, but it is packed full of dynamite. Here's a taste:

That the cross is absolutely central means that the keeping of the law cannot be imposed on Gentile believers. The teachers Paul was opposing apparently did not grasp this. They were insisting that all converts must keep the whole law. The law was part of revealed Scripture and they saw it as binding on all. The law was at the heart of God's purpose, they thought, and this for Gentile believers as for Jews. Paul does not denigrate the law. It was divinely given and it was regarded as a great treasure by the Israelites in general, and Paul in particular. Paul sees it as very important. But it is not the way of salvation. To see the law as divinely given and as an incomparable guide to the way we should live out our salvation is one thing, but it is quite another to affirm that anyone's salvation hangs on the way he or she keeps the law. (p. 27)

But I will certainly follow your recommendation and pick up George.

Yes, Patrick, that's the sort of pastoral emphasis that I really appreciate in a commentator.

I like Timothy George's work on Galatians and some MP3 presentations I've heard him make at the Chuck Colson Prison Fellowship website. As you say, he has always struck me as quite sound.

I was suprised to hear you liked him though when, after all, he's endorsed the TNIV and I would tend to think he's at Beeson because of a commitment to women in ministry.

I like him less, reading this about him just now here for the first time, but his commentary is sound and helpful, pastorally.

What is it with the tendency to "discern" any and every person(s) deficiency? I think Edwards called it censoriousness!

It would seem that a true gift of discernment is able to see grace and godliness and stop there. Who says discernment is primarily about weeding out error?

It seems shameful that as Tim identified an evidence of grace, his view has now been lessened in his words of his brother in Christ.

Paul seems to have dealt differently with the Corinthians, although he was not "buttering them up" when he was seeing the grace of God in them, flawed though they may have been and marred by sin, he recognized the evidences of grace in their lives.

Dear Alando,

The direct contradiction and disobedience of Scripture's doctrine of sexuality, including particularly its prohibitions against women exercising authority over men, is no minor matter, but the center of our culture's attack upon God our Father and His created order. It's not simply heterodoxy, but heresy, and were the Apostle Paul alive and apostling today, I'm sure it would be the major subject of one of his epistles.

Furthermore, sex permeates every aspect of life. It is the very heart of the bifurcation of the race of man/adam. So diobedience and false teaching here cannot help but exercise a significant corruptive influence in every area of doctrine and practice. Timothy George is a baptist, and therefore I disagree with him on a basic matter of biblical doctrine--whether or not infants should be baptized. Yet the doctrine of paedo (infant) baptism, which I believe in, is not nearly as clearly taught in Scripture as the doctrine of the authority man/adam exercises over woman by virtue of God's decree. That doctrine is absolutely clear all through Scripture and church history.

Infant baptism can be said to be more inference than explicit command in Scripture, whereas the duty of man/adam to protect and serve and lead woman is explicit. So this is why we are inclined to note those in rebellion against this doctrine. Their rebellion has no justification, Scripturally, and it destroys souls. The shepherd who doesn't note those who have aligned themselves with this rebellion and warn the sheep away from those men is an unfaithful shepherd. He sees the enemy coming, anticipates the destruction that enemy will cause, but remains silent.

As for whether faithful warnings are, actually, censoriousness, remember Allen Bloom's statement that the only absolute left in America is the duty to get along with each other. Yes, there is such a thing as censoriousness, and it is a sin, but in my experience most of those who think they've found it haven't, and are really simply demonstrating their undiscerning condition in seeking peace where there is none.

Finally, if my son puts his napkin in his lap before picking up his fork at the dinner table, chews with his mouth closed, passes the serving dishes after helping himself, waits to begin eating until his mother has taken the first bite, stymies his stomach gases so we hear no belches from him at the table, keeps his feet directly in front of his own place at the table instead of allowing them to sprawl on the legs and feet of everybody else at the table, allows others to help themselves to seconds before he finishes off the meat himself, uses his napkin to stifle any yawns that might come on during the meal, and yet at the end of the meal he gets up from the table when he's done rather than waiting until everyone else is done or asking his mother if he may be excused, I don't praise him for all the good manners he demonstrated and overlook this final rudeness.

No, I tell him to sit back down and ask his mother if he may be excused. And correcting him in this way is not censoriousness, but awareness that the job of preparing him for adulthood is not yet finished.

Thanks for your reply Tim!

I think you know as well as I do that the debate over credo/paedo baptism has not been a minor issue. It's explicit as well. May I recommend the debate between McArthur/Sproul, I think it was pretty much settled there.

You would not be allowed membership nor access to the communion table in many churches. IMHO that would not be considered a minor issue, nonetheless, it appears that Scripture does not prohibit women from ministry which is what the poster above mentioned, however, you "discerned" it to mean that Timothy George is promoting women exercising authority over men.

This is what happens when we have a wrong application of the doctrine of sin, which should lead us to hold ourselves in suspicion and assume others are not nearly as corrupt in motives as we are ourselves. This should then lead us to take our pride to task before the cross and exercise ourselves in seeing truth and grace as much as error and sin, not that we do not discern the latter. Our hearts are predisposed to suspicion of others motives.

You can clearly see this by the fact that without any grace extended, you immediately turned him into a heretic by what one poster in the blogosphere said.

No one has called George a "heretic" or referred to baptism as a "minor" issue other than yourself, Alando. As for MacArthur on paedobaptism, what can I say? Maybe just, "If you're the kind of person that likes that kind of thing, then I guess that's the kind of thing you like."

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