Galatians (ZECNT)

Thomas R. Schreiner, Galatians (ZECNT). Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic November, 2010. 432 pp. Hardcover, $34.99.

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Thomas Schreiner is James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament and associate dean of Scripture and interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is rather prolific on the writing front, having written commentaries on 1-2 Peter & Jude and Romans, a Pauline theology, a New Testament theology, and most recently a whole Bible biblical theology (among other books of course, it’s not like he only writes giant tomes).

A couple of years back he wrote the volume on Galatians for Zondervan’s Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series. For Schreiner this kind of represents the pre-eminent hat trick (that’s a hockey term) in New Testament studies: Romans commentary + Galatians commentary + Pauline theology.

Though Schreiner is writing as a Reformed Baptist, he still takes the time to interact with recent proposals for re-reading Paul’s letter to the Galatians against a differently reconstructed historical backdrop. I speak of course of the New Perspective on Paul (NPP), and specifically the work of James Dunn and N. T. Wright. Schreiner ultimately takes the more or less traditional position on many issues, but he does so after a fair evaluation of many alternative proposals.

As he puts it in the introduction,

I am not suggesting that we must read Galatians in defense of the Reformation, nor am I denying that the Reformation may be askew in some of its emphases. But it must be acknowledged that none of us can read Galatians as if the Reformation never occurred. Such a reading is five hundred years too late. Nor can we read Galatians as if the twentieth century never happened or apart from the works of Ignatius, Irenaeus, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, and the like. We can consider whether Reformation emphases were wrong (I will argue that they were not), but what we cannot do is read Galatians as if we were the first readers (21).

This gives you a bit of perspective where Schreiner is coming from in his commentary. I would say he is quickly become one of my favorite commentators/interpreters, and much like other volumes in this series, I find this commentary to be a useful resource.

In terms of format, Schreiner follows the other volumes, although there is a glaring error in the table of contents. The section that should be “Commentary” (on p. 71ff) is instead labelled “Theology of Galatians,” while the actual “Theology of Galatians” section is mis-titled “Themes in Galatians.” When you turn to the page in question (387), it is headed “Themes in Galatians,” and this heading title follows throughout the pages of the section. However, you can tell Schreiner is talking about not just the themes of Galatians, but the theology of the book and he more or less moves in systematic theological categories. Also, in every other commentary in this series, this section is called the “Theology of…”  An unfortunate editorial lapse, but not a devastating issue with the book itself. 1

Apart from that though, each section follows the standard outline (which you should be familiar with if you’ve seen my other ZECNT reviews). Particular interpretive sidebars Schreiner takes include the following:

  • The Cities on Paul’s First Missionary Journey (30-31)
  • What is the Role of the Empire in Galatians? (35-37)
  • Is the Background in Galatians Pelagianism? (37-39)
  • Did the Galatian Opponents Believe Jesus Was the Christ? (51-52)
  • Eating With Gentiles (141-142)
  • The Meaning of Justification in Paul (155-157)
  • The Meaning of “Works of Law” (157-161)
  • What Does Paul Mean by the “Faith of Jesus Christ” (163-166)
  • The Meaning of Leviticus 18:5 (212-214)
  • The Law of Christ (359-360)
  • Israel of God (381-383)

As you can see, Schreiner is not afraid of the hot-button issues and hits pretty much all the points of contention in recent discussion of Galatians. The first four listed above are a part of the introduction, and Schreiner spends considerable time in the introduction proper discussion who the opponents are. He lands alongside Bruce more or less and identifies the opponents as Judaizers, similar to the Pharisaic opposition in Acts 15 (49). He nuances this traditional view somewhat, and lands there in light of NPP views to the contrary. That remains somewhat of a theme throughout, and I think the commentary is stronger for it.

Now that Moo’s commentary in the BECNT series released, I’ll be interested to compare it to this. That series is more in-depth exegetical (generally speaking), but because Schreiner’s is in this series, I think it is more suited for sermon and teaching prep. Both scholars are eminent Pauline scholars who more or less follow traditional thought on Paul, but from what I hear, in both cases, their commentaries on Galatians were produced in light of recent scholarship and in conversation with it. That doesn’t mean it will convince people who think differently, but no one could accuse them of ignoring the trends.

That being said, if you’re looking for a quality commentary on Galatians at a quality price, and value it being current, this is the volume to pick up.Those with traditional views on Paul will find this commentary more valuable, but anyone who is teaching or preaching through the book will benefit from the structure of this series and Schreiner’s particular attention to relevant background details.

Notes:

  1. There is also an odd typo on p. 174 where the typical two column layout of the commentary proper switches to the single column layout of the “Theology in Application” section, but does so a half-sentence before that section actually starts.

Author: Nate

I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

2 thoughts on “Galatians (ZECNT)”

  1. Hi,
    Yes its a very solid commentary, good theological discussions on the text. However I found it lacked some of the background historical cultural stuff that witherington has. Also when looking at his discussion on the fruits of the spirit he has very little detail on the background of the words. I even found the old NICNT series elaborate more on the fruit of the spirit. I also found it a bit dry.
    Cheers
    Steve

    1. I could see that, he seems mostly focused on defending certain aspects of traditional understandings of Galatians. I’d agree with the dryness, I didn’t find it too bad, but it wasn’t as riveting read.

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