Friday, July 16, 2010

Robert Gundry's Commentary on the New Testament - Some Observations

Before I start I want to answer a question that came up on yesterday’s post. Andrew asked if Gundry’s commentary was more for laity or scholars. He suspected the former but saw I only put up endorsements from scholars. Well Andrew, you’re right, it is more for laity. The only endorsement I didn’t put up was from John Ortberg who said the following:
“This is a great resource in a great format for a great purpose from a great scholar. Bob Gundry has been a treasure for people who love the Bible for many years, and this is one of his richest gifts to us yet.”
I’ve spent the past couple of nights scanning parts of Gundry’s Commentary on the New Testament and I want to highlight just a few matters I found interesting. As a matter of fact I’m finding so much I'm going to break this up into two posts. One now and one in a couple of days.

I’ll start with what’s not in the commentary. There is no discussion of authorship, date or audience of the books. This isn’t really all that bad since most one-volume commentaries only list them in short order. Secondly, information like this is now readily available in any good study Bible or Bible handbook. But more importantly to me was his refusal to comment on noncanonical verses. For example, for the doxology in Matt. 6:13 (“For thine is the kingdom . . .”) Gundry says this is “a later liturgical addition, that’s unoriginal to the New Testament.” Gundry believes the longer ending of Mark is not authentic but that there was an authentic ending which is now lost. He does not comment on the longer ending. Finally, on the woman caught in adultery in John 7:53 – 8:12 Gundry provides some of the reasoning behind not commenting on these noncanonical passages. He says,
“The bottom line: John didn’t write this story in his Gospel. It may be historically true, but it’s not part of Scripture if you believe that Scripture consists only of what its Spirit-inspired authors originally wrote. After all, Jesus did and said many other things in history that aren’t recorded in Scripture (compare John 20:30-31; 21:25). And if we believe in addition that the later copyists who inserted this story at various points were inspired by the Holy Spirit, we should be consistent enough to think the hundreds and hundreds of other copyists’ insertions and revisions were equally inspired. But that’s a hard pill to swallow. So we’ll skip the story as noncanonical and go directly to 8:12-59, which in John’s original text followed directly on 7:1-52.”
I’ve seen many commentaries recognize a passage as noncanonical and then proceed to comment on it as if it were Scripture. This sends a mixed message. Not part of the original text but I’ll comment on it as if it were Scripture. I found Gundry’s comments, or lack thereof, refreshing. Accordingly, the textual variant in 1 John 5:8 doesn’t even warrant a mention. Bravo! (Gundry briefly notes that some believe 1 Cor. 14:35-35 as a copyist’s insert but he disagrees. It is precisely at times like these where advocates of a contrary view would like to see more argument on Gundry’s part. This is the problem with any one-volume commentary—due to space limitations there is only so much you can say.) (679)

In the Introduction Gundry says he doesn’t “try to square New Testament affirmations of divine sovereignty, as in the doctrine of election to salvation (though I prefer to call it selection), with indications of human responsibility, as in the commands to repent of sins and believe the gospel.” Nor does he try to do the same with eternal security. (x) He does, however, have a clear preference for complentarianism over egalitarianism. (See Eph. 5, 1Tim. 2 and 1 Cor. 11) And he does believe in baptism by immersion. (cf. Rom. 6:3-4)

Here are a few other passages of note:

John 21:15-17 - (on the alleged distinction between agape and phileo): “In this passage John uses different Greek verbs for loving, for knowing, and for tending (or shepherding), and different nouns for sheep. Because he commonly uses synonyms without distinguishing their meanings in any way, however the foregoing translation has stuck to one English equivalent in each case. (So far as John is concerned, then, forget the popular treatment of agapē-love as superior to philē-love.) (461)

1 Cor. 15:8 is translated “And last of all he appeared also to me just as if to a miscarriage.” Gundry comments, “Since a couple or so have passed since Paul saw the resurrected Christ, ‘last of all’ implies that no more appearances of Christ to prove his resurrection are to be expected. Otherwise Paul would have said to aspire after apostleship . . . ‘Just as to a miscarriage’ doesn’t connect with Christ’s appearing to Paul ‘last of all’; for a miscarriage occurs early, not late.” His continued comments on this are excellent.

Matt. 5:3 - “The traditional translation, “Blessed,” is sometimes updated to “Happy.” But “Happy” wouldn’t fit those who in 5:4 “mourn”; and Jesus is stating a matter of fact, not a matter of what should be, as though the poor in spirit should be happy whether or not they are.” (15) He also notes, “Here and following, italics indicate points of emphasis and implications: ‘theirs rather than others”,’ “they rather than others,” and so on.” (15) Those who follow the Koinonia blog may remember that Bill Mounce commented on this latter point in one of his Monday With Mounce posts.

Matt. 25:37-40 - to the extent that acted [charitably] toward one of these littlest brothers of mine, you acted [charitably] toward me.  "The 'little ones' are believers in Jesus (18:6) . . . So he isn't talking about general humanitarianism (for that, go to passages such as Luke 10:30-37).  He's talking about disciples' risking persecution of themselves by helping fellow disciples already under persecution.  Such charity demonstrates true discipleship."  (114)

Stay tuned for more!


Andrew said...

Louis, thanks for answering my question. I'm looking forward to your second post. I thought your comments about commentators sending mixed messages by commenting on non-canonical text is spot on.

Louis said...


You're welcome. I should have the next post ready by Thursday or Friday.