Monday, October 8, 2012

William Varner's James Commentary (EEC): A Brief Interview

Of the making of commentaries there is no end...

I am not one of those who bemoans this fact. I am convinced that new formats, contributors, can always contribute to this well-ploughed genre by making original contributions.

It seems that  William Varner, Professor of Bible and Greek at the Master's College, has made an original and stimulating contribution of his own in the new Evangelical Exegetical Commentary Series for Logos with his commentary on James. In fact, the endorsements for his work represent a veritable "who's who" in Jacobean scholarship and beyond. Check these impressive blurbs:

"Will Varner has provided a highly valuable and well-needed contribution to the exposition of the book of James in his new commentary on James for the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary series. His reasoning is clear, cogent and very welcome to the church's great heritage in this precious epistle."

F. David Farnell
Professor of New Testament
The Master's Seminary

“Varner's commentary is so complete one can get by with this commentary alone! It sketches the significance of the man James, sketches the exegetical options, sorts out primary evidence, examines each text in light of larger themes in biblical theology, draws even-handed and compelling conclusions, and so puts on the plate all we need to read, interpret, and live the message of James.” 

Scot McKnight
Professor of New Testament
Northern Seminary

"In this installment of a first-ever detailed exegetical commentary written first for digital publication, William Varner sets a high standard with his comments on James under numerous headings. After a thorough introduction highlighting the importance of James, the half-brother of Jesus, as the leader of the early Christian church in Jerusalem, the commentary expounds short sections of text with introductions, translations, textual-critical notes, biblical theology, devotional insights and potential sermon points often nicely alliterated, all sandwiched around detailed clause-by-clause explanation of the text. Particularly helpful are the grammatical categorizations, fully conversant with verbal aspect theory and discourse analysis, and the voluminous knowledge of and interaction with other scholars. Time and again Varner helps the reader sift through complex exegetical conundra clearly, always coming to plausible and usually to persuasive conclusions. A must for any serious scholar, preacher or teacher of this often neglected epistle!"

Craig L. Blomberg
Distinguished Professor of New Testament
Denver Seminary

Will Varner's James is marked by all the characteristics that make for an excellent commentary on Scripture: careful attention to the text, wide-ranging research, comparison with other ancient texts, and concern for theological and practical application.” 

Douglas Moo
Wessner Chair of Biblical Studies
Wheaton College
Chair, Committee on Bible Translation

“While the homily we know as James has not been neglected in recent NT scholarship, there is always room for another detailed interaction with this document written to Jewish Christians, not least because it may well be the earliest NT document we have.  William Varner presents us with an up-to-date, detailed, helpful analysis of James which interacts with a wide range of scholarship, ancient and current, and gives us a new reason to affirm once again that Luther, and James' other cultured detractors, were wrong to neglect, parody, or pit James over against Paul.” 

Dr. Ben Witherington, III
Amos Professor of NT for Doctoral Studies
Asbury Theological Seminary
Doctoral Faculty St. Mary's College, St. Andrews University, Scotland

I’m no Jacobean expert, but Varner has produced a fine commentary, with a very readable introduction and sober comments throughout. He seems very much on board with Hengel and Bauckham in attributing a significant role to James in the early church. Each section has an introduction, outline, original text, textual notes, ESV translation, commentary, biblical theology comments, and a devotional/application section. A fine commentary to add to your Logos collection!”
Dr. Michael Bird       
 Lecturer in Theology and New Testament
Crossway College     
Brisbane, Australia                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Recently, I was privileged to ask Dr. Varner a few questions on his James commentary.

1.      Talk about what attracted you to the opportunity of writing a commentary on James for the new Logos series the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary (EEC) series?
I had finished my discourse commentary on James and felt like I would like to delve even further into the text of James. I liked the proposed format of the EEC commentaries, and when I heard that they had not yet contracted for James, I threw my hat in the ring.

2.      What was your process in writing this commentary?

I had amassed a lot of articles from my first commentary so I started by reviewing them. I then took a fresh look at the intricate details of the Greek text in James and engaged in some more detailed lexical studies of individual words, especially how they were used in extra Biblical Greek literature like Philo, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and the Greek ethicist, Epictetus. I then explored some larger Biblical theological issues in each passage. I then further developed some homiletical suggestions for preaching each pericope.

3.      You have published a commentary on James before, The Book of James: A New Perspective (Kress). How did this commentary prepare you to write a much larger commentary for the EEC?
It was the best preparation I could ever do. The earlier commentary was based on the principles of discourse analysis and focused on a top-down analysis that resulted in examining the macro-theme/s of James. With that in hand, my work on this commentary focused on a bottom-up analysis, and to my great delight the results confirmed the “big picture” that I discovered earlier.

4.      Following up from the previous question, what does a “new perspective” on James look like, and what are the implications for the church?
I use that expression “new perspective,” not out of a desire to copy the New Perspective on Paul, but to alert readers to the importance of looking afresh at this book and its author. By a new perspective on James the man, I mean to convey my argument that the uterine brother of Jesus was not only the head of the Jerusalem believing community, but that he was the human head of the entire Jesus movement from the early 40’s to his death in 62 AD. I think that this recognition has implications for seeing Paul in a more historically accurate role – the one who called himself the “least of the apostles” and an apostle who acknowledged James’s leadership role described above. A new perspective on the James the letter revolves around my discovering what I believe is the “peak” of the letter that opens up a fresh understanding of its overall theme and structure. I do believe that I am suggesting a new way of looking at James and his letter that will free the church from a wrong idea that Paul is the uncrowned Pope of the Protestant faith.

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