I’ve been teaching, studying, and leading small groups and Bible studies for over a decade. One type of resource that I value, but that I think is often overlooked, is a simple commentary with serious scholarship behind it. I’m thinking especially of the Tyndale commentaries, although even they can get bogged down with some academic details. Commentaries that get straight to the point and provide a simple and accurate exposition of the text are useful for quick and engaging study.
There’s now a new series of New Testament commentaries that aim to provide such simple exposition. Senior NT scholar Grant Osborne is definitely respected academically. His textbook The Hermeneutical Spiral has been used by schools for decades (since 1991) as a comprehensive survey of issues involved in biblical interpretation. His Revelation commentary is respected as one of the best available. He has also authored the Romans volume in the IVPNTC series and the Matthew volume in the ZECNT series. His writings extent well beyond this brief list, and his teaching career is especially distinguished.
I’ve now had a chance to check out this series, specifically the Galatians volume. It’s definitely not for serious academic research. If you’re working on a paper or article, these are not the volumes to consult. But if you want to simulate a situation in which you’re having coffee with Osborne and have the opportunity to ask him questions about a text you’re preparing to teach on, this is the series for you.
Osborne cites no secondary sources. The commentaries therefore read like a conversation (albeit, a monologue), and move along at a decent pace. He gives only the essential background details and moves deftly through the academic debates, summarizing complex issues in a sentence or two in a way that only a senior scholar can. The downside to the lack of source citation is that many of the historical details he gives (e.g., the number of Jews living in Antioch around AD 50) are not verifiable – how do we know if his sources are up to date? But since the purpose of the commentaries is not academic, this problem isn’t too troubling. The readability of the text outweighs the scholar’s insatiable desire to check the source of one’s claims.
In his Galatians volume, Osborne approaches the text in a somewhat traditional manner, but he does not completely ignore recent scholarship such as the New Perspective on Paul. He summarizes the NPP in a paragraph of the introduction and notes that, while Sanders et al. have rightly pushed back against a rampant works righteousness in early Judaism, there were still distinct emphases on legalism. Such legalism is what Paul was combating with the Judaizers (p. 7). He then defines the δικαιοω word group as forensic in a traditional sense (using law court imagery), but includes within the concept 1) being declared righteous; 2) being sanctified by the Spirit; 3) living righteously before God (p. 70). The concept is not solely forensic, then, but includes actual righteousness in this life through a Spirit-empowered life.
A section that highlights the usefulness of these commentaries is the “allegory” (or whatever it is!) in Gal 4:21-31. Osborne explains it as a mixture of allegory and typology, briefly explaining what both are. He moves through the text swiftly, explaining what each symbol stands for, how the imagery is all connected, and how Paul is applying it. Positively, one is far more likely to understand the passage when reading Osborne’s eleven pages than if one were to read 30 pages in a technical commentary riddled with footnotes and rabbit trails. Negatively, without comparing other commentaries, one gets only Osborne’s views and does not hear about the opposing views that he omits (for brevity), which would not happen in a technical commentary. But this problem is easily remedied by reading one technical commentary alongside Osborne’s.
I could evaluate his exegesis more, but let me wrap up by suggesting the value of these commentaries. If I were on a mission trip, about to teach Galatians, and had little time to prepare and little space for resources, I would be happy to bring along Osborne’s Galatians Verse by Verse. Between me, the text, and Osborne as a conversation partner, I think I would be satisfied with my level of understanding. The same holds true for busy pastors who do not have the time to wade through four technical commentaries every week. For Galatians, start with your own exegesis; read Osborne; then read a technical commentary such as that by Das (Concordia), Bruce (NIGTC), Longenecker (Word), or Martyn (Anchor) over in the apocalyptic camp.
Learn more about this series from Osborne himself in the video below.