Let me begin this review by saying that I had a bias against this commentary series before it came in the mail for a couple of reasons. I had a hard time taking seriously a commentary that covered 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus AND Hebrews in only 476 pages. I have commentaries larger than this just covering the book of Hebrews. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT) on Hebrews is about the same amount of pages. So I did not believe that the Cornerstone Biblical Commentaries could do an adequate job in dealing with the issues of these books of the Bible. I had seen these commentaries in Christian bookstores and had thumbed through them quickly. But they simply looked too small to be valuable. I was also concerned about a commentary series relying on the NLT as its text. While I am growing to appreciate the NLT, I had a hard time thinking that using a very dynamic translation like the NLT as the basis for a commentary was a good idea.
But I am in the midst of preaching through the book of Hebrews and I was given the offer by Laura Bartlett at Tyndale (thanks Laura!) to review the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary on 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, and Hebrews. So this proved to be a great opportunity to see how the commentary does, especially since I am already using NICNT and Hendriksen and Kistemaker’s New Testament Commentary for my studies.
Each section begins with a portion of scripture using the New Living Translation (NLT). The next section is called “Notes.” The general editor’s preface states that the purpose of the notes section is how “the commentator helps the reader understand the Hebrew or Greek behind the English of the NLT, interacts with other scholars on important interpretative issues, and points the reader to significant textual and contextual matters.” One thing that I think is very important is the willingness of the commentator to correct any places where he or she feels that the NLT misses the point of the text.
For example, in Hebrews 8:7-13 one of the notes reads for verse 8:
The day is coming. Rather, “days are coming.” The text is not looking at one catastrophic “day of the Lord” but at a new era, a new order of society, and a new way of worship.
Therefore, a teacher who has reservations about a commentary built upon the NLT can rest assured that the commentator will point out places where a more literal rendering is more useful or required. Much of the technical arguments are contained in the notes section and do not find their way into the commentary section. Even those who are not very familiar with Greek or Hebrew will find the notes section useful because these notes are not overly technical. All Greek and Hebrew words are placed next to the English word or phrase so those without Greek and Hebrew knowledge are able to follow along quite easily. The notes are not overly deep. If someone is looking for all the interpretative possibilities over a given Greek or Hebrew word, one will not find such material in the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary. But the notes are quite useful and will give the student what he or she needs to know in a quick and concise way. For me, I found the notes section to be quite refreshing. As an evangelist, I need books to get to the point. I do not have the time (and not always the interest) to go into all of the details of a Greek or Hebrew word. If I need that, I will go to another resource. Just give me what I need to know about these words. The Cornerstone Biblical Commentary does a great job at doing such.
After the notes section comes the commentary section. The general editor’s preface says that the commentary section is where “each scholar presents a lucid interpretation of the passage, giving special attention to context and major theological themes.” This is not a verse by verse commentary. Rather, the commentary takes each section of scripture and gives the key points and themes from that text. The commentary is very well done. For me, I have found this to be very helpful. First, the commentary section is easy to read. Many commentaries can bore one to sleep quite quickly. The Cornerstone Biblical Commentary is well written and very engaging. It is not a drag or a chore to read. Further, and very important, the commentary does not zero in on the details of each verse so closely that one loses sight of the overall message of the text and the book. Many commentaries fail by giving so much attention and detail to the Greek and Hebrew that by the time one is done reading, the student does not know what the text means. The student knows what each word means, but not how those words relate to the context and the overall point of the writer. But that is not to say the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary skims the surface and does not dig deep. The commentary does go deeper when needed and helps the student understand the text in light of the overall context.
I have been pleasantly surprised at how good the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary is. I began with a bias against it and, after using it, I have been won over. The Cornerstone Biblical Commentary is very helpful. I am now using this volume on 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, and Hebrews as my main resource as I preach through the book of Hebrews. It is that good. I have even put my money where my mouth is and ordered the Romans/Galatians commentary since I am teaching Galatians in Bible class. I strongly recommend this commentary series to all who are interested in learning more about the meaning of the original message of a book in the Bible. I believe that this is a great resource to recommend to Christians who are looking for a commentary to help them in their studies. This commentary series will also be useful to all preachers and teachers giving them helpful aids and meanings in the text in a useful and concise way. You will get the answers you are looking for quickly and the answers given will be tied to the overall message, helping you understand the message better. I would not recommend this commentary to Greek and Hebrew junkies who want to spend endless time studying the original language. But for everyone else, you should buy these commentaries.