Commentaries are an area of review I haven’t done much in work yet. I say yet since between today and tomorrow I’ll offer two commentary reviews, and hopefully in the future I’ll have a few more. Today we’ve got Daniel Treier’s Proverbs and Ecclesiastes from the Brazos Theological Commentary series. This was my first exposure to the series, and now that I’m exposed, I’d like to check out a few more titles. From what I can tell, the format and flow of each commentary differs, so what I say below on this volume may not apply equally to all, like it might in commentary series that follows a stricter format.
That being said, here’s what’s up with Treier’s book.
Proverbs and Ecclesiastes definitely fits the bill of “theological commentary.” This is both a strength and weakness of the book. It is a strength for someone who is looking for good theological reflections on the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. I would imagine this might make a good devotional read for someone with a decent background in theology who wants to meditate a little deeper on these wisdom books. It is a weakness however for someone who is looking for detailed exegetical work.
However, remember the four levels of biblical interpretation that Graham Cole outlined:
- Understanding the text exegetically within its historical and literary contexts
- Understanding the text within the whole of biblical theology (where it fits and what it contributes)
- Bringing theological structures in the text into harmony with other texts and their emphases
- Integrating the teachings of the text into a larger hermeneutical proposal
This commentary is explicitly not attempting to do detailed work at level 1, and Treier refers readers to the commentaries at that level that he thinks are the best (xxii). Instead, Treier wants to “serve busy pastors and laypeople by imitating them in accepting limitations,” which means that he is attempting to put forth his theological reflections without extensive exegetical treatments.
Toward that end, Treier’s book has an interesting layout. As you might guess, the book is split into two major parts: Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. However, each book is given roughly equal treatment, which means the theological reflections on Ecclesiastes are a bit more detailed. For the section on Proverbs, Treier uses three chapters: The Two Ways (Proverbs 1-9), The Virtues of Proverbs (10-29), and Final Words: Wisdom in Cosmic, Social, and Familial Context (Proverbs 30-31). About equal space is devoted to chapters 1-9 and 10-31, which to me made it unequally weighted, but given the nature of Treier’s goals, the first 9 chapters of Proverbs are more suited for theological reflection. When he does come to chapters 10-29, Treier treats them thematically, which is helpful for organizational purposes.
However, it makes it a bit harder to glean from this section if you’re working from a specific passage or couple of verses. For instance, in my preaching class at Dallas, I had to preach on Proverbs 23:4-5. This commentary wasn’t published when I was working on my sermons, but if it were, I would have needed to use the index to find any references to my passage. Doing that, there is one in the book, and that is only a quote from those verses with no direct comment. Assuming I would have already done the exegetical leg-work, Treier’s commentary helps set those verses in their thematic context in Proverbs, although his discussion of the nature of wealth and riches in Proverbs is brief. Looking back, I would have considered it semi-useful, but in terms of sermon prep, it doesn’t offer very much to work with.
Turning to Ecclesiastes, Treier is able to dive into a little more detail. He splits Ecclesiastes up into two main chapters: “A Quest for ‘Better‘” (1:12-6:9) and “Who Knows?” (7:1-12:7), with a brief transition between the two and short concluding chapter on 12:8-14. Under the two main chapters, Treier divides his discussion into headings that more or less follow the chapter divisions in Ecclesiastes. Because of this, the commentary on Ecclesiastes is better suited toward helping sermon prep than is the latter parts of the Proverbs commentary. Still, one has to keep in mind that Treier’s main focus is on unpacking theological significance of Ecclesiastes and not such on detailed exegetical work on the meaning of individual verses. This isn’t to say the work is devoid of the latter, just that Treier isn’t focused there.
In light of that, I think Treier’s work provides a good supplement to a more standard exegetical commentary on Proverbs or Ecclesiastes. He has several that he recommends, such as Waltke on Proverbs, Bartholomew on Ecclesiastes, and Longman on both Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. For people like me, Treier’s work needs to sit alongside these more exegetical commentaries. I would think its the same for most pastors who find themselves preaching through these books, having preached briefly on Proverbs myself.
For the average person looking for theological reflections on Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, Treier’s work succeeds in meeting that need. While not focusing explicitly on making applications (like a commentary in the NIVAC series might) Treier’s work does move toward more practical applications than a more exegetically minded commentary might. This is doubly fitting since he is dealing with two books in the wisdom literature and are meant to be read toward practical ends. The end result is a book that I think clearly meets its intended goals of theological supplement, and for many people will function as a good devotional read on the wisdom books.
- Author: Daniel J. Treier
- Title: Proverbs and Ecclesiastes
- Publisher: Brazos Press (July 1, 2011)
- Series: Brazos Theological Commentary
- Hardcover: 256pgs
- Reading Level: Bible School
- Audience Appeal: Prophets looking for theological reflections on the wisdom literature
- Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of Brazos Press)