Gareth Lee Cockerill is professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. He has previously contributed to a book on the warning passages in Hebrews, as well as written numerous journal articles related to Hebrews. Now, he has gifted us with the newest installment in the NICNT series, which is an upgrade from F.F. Bruce’s original. I guess upgrade isn’t the word for it, but replacement doesn’t sound much better. Bruce’s volume is one of the best (83.7 on bestcommentaries.com), so Cockerill has some big shoes to fill.
Cockerill envisions the book of Hebrews as a sermon on the Old Testament in light of Christ. He sees this as helping to explain some of the rhetorical features, and also to use the title “pastor” instead of “the author of Hebrews.” He leans toward Apollos as author (10) but says, rightly, it cannot be confirmed. After exploring the pastor’s congregation and the pastor’s worldview, Cockerill digs into the sermon’s use of the Old Testament. As he says:
The OT is the “bone marrow” of Hebrews. From beginning to end this book is an expository “sermon” that rests on careful OT interpretation. The pastor quotes the OT, alludes to the OT, summarizes OT passages, recounts events from the lives of OT persons, and often echoes the idiom of the Greek OT. (41)
I was tacitly aware of this before reading Cockerill’s introductory matter, but I hadn’t really reckoned with the full extent. Cockerill does a masterful job of both expositing it in the commentary proper and giving a thorough overview in the introduction.
Once he has done that, he offers his take on the structure of Hebrews, drawing on his understanding of its rhetorical function. Here I think things get a bit confusing. Hebrews is notoriously difficult to structure, and Cockerill’s proposal is nothing if not interesting. It is semi-chiastic, and involves parallels within parallels, so naturally I’m drawn to its Inception-esque nature.
Once Cockerill has made you aware of these parallels, he then introduces his full outline that looks like a pretty normal outline and he breaks the book into four main parts (you can see three of the points in the picture above):
- 1:1 – 4:13 (A Very Short History of the Disobedient People of God)
- 4:14 -10:18 (The Son’s High Priesthood)
- 10:19 – 12:29 (A History of The Faithful People of God)
- 13:1-25 (Instructions for the Life of Gratitude and Godly Fear)
You can see there is a bit of an overarching chiasm if you disregard chapter 13 (which seems almost like a cover letter). With this “rhetorically effective” structure in place, the main commentary commences.
Like most NICNT volumes, the technical discussion abounds, but is pushed to the footnotes (and thank goodness they are footnotes!). You could say Cockerill’s work is pastorally sensitive, but is still more of a reference work than a NIVAC or TNTC volume. It is less technical than Lane’s two volume commentary in the WBC series, but more so than O’Brien’s in the Pillar series. I don’t think I can weigh in on whether it is better than Bruce’s original (bestcommentaries.com doesn’t think so), but it is definitely more detailed, more up-to-date in its research, and from a Wesleyan/Arminian perspective. That, I think makes it a valuable addition to a library like mine. I found in reading through passages for a short-lived Hebrews Bible study I led earlier this year, Cockerill and O’Brien agree on much, but things do get rather interesting in the warning passages. I think Cockerill’s work would have been stronger had he interacted with patristic interpretations of 6:4-8 since that has influenced the way I understand the passage. But, he still spends considerable time wrestling with the issues it presents.
All in all, this is another great volume in the NICNT series. From what I can tell, it is an indispensable resource for serious study of the book of Hebrews. The most original contribution is in the structuring, which can be a tad confusing, but is intriguing nonetheless. I also thought the emphasis on Hebrews as a sermon was helpful for the way I approached the book as a whole (even though not all commentators would agree that it is an appropriate designation). For those of us who are predominantly young, restless, and Reformed, Cockerill’s commentary is good balancing work that presents Wesleyan scholarship at its finest. Another recent Hebrews commentary (David Allen’s in the NAC series) is also from an Arminian perspective (which is not synonymous with Wesleyan), but I think Cockerill’s is a cut above. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the relevant secondary literature and is very well studied in the book of Hebrews (like every commentator should be). His commentary, while not suitable for introductory study of the book (don’t make this your first commentary purchase on Hebrews), is still highly readable and easy to track with (the rhetorical structure notwithstanding). If you’re looking to dig deeper into the book, I would put this volume high on your list maybe even in tandem with O’Brien’s to get two slightly different perspectives.
- Author: Gareth Lee Cockerill
- Title: The Epistle To The Hebrews
- Publisher: Eerdmans (April 12, 2012)
- Hardcover: 792pgs
- Reading Level: Bible School/Seminary
- Audience Appeal: Bible students and Pastors looking for an up to date commentary on Hebrews sensitive to rhetorical concerns
- Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of Eerdmans)