In today’s saturated market creating a truly unique commentary is a virtual impossibility. Yet, Zondervan’s ZECNT series is unique, not because its format is original, or its content new, but because the series is fundamentally based on the common sense needs of people who wish to work with the text.
In the truest sense of the word, the ZECNT is an exegetical tool. To push the metaphor, the ZECNT is not the tool that sits on the shelf unused, nor the expensive flashy tool built for NASCAR engines that, for some reason, you thought would help maintain the minivan. Rather, the ZECNT is the kind of tool that gets left out; that is used again and again and again; the one that gets paint on it and stays dirty; the one you simply can’t do without.
Broadly speaking, the ZECNT is specifically designed to encourage an active (and responsible!) engagement with the biblical text. Many commentaries (appropriately so) are designed to convey information about how scholars have viewed texts, work through sticky exegetical questions in detail, and/or address various other concerns. By contrast, the ZECNT invites readers to actively engage in the exegetical process, rather than simply presenting the results of the task. This is its biggest advantage: The ZECNT works with the reader in stimulating an original hermeneutical interplay between the biblical text, the commentator, and the interpreter.
The ZECNT does this by guiding its readers through the basic steps of exegesis learned in most seminary classrooms or undergraduate Bible programs (generally following Fee’s classic New Testament Exegesis) that first and foremost emphasize familiarity with the Greek language.
These exegetical steps include concisely identifying the literary context of the passage, explaining the literary flow of the passage and how structure influences interpretation of the given text. The structure then provides the basis for a visually displayed and detailed exegetical outline.
These elements are, of course, established on the lexical choices and syntactical flow of the passage. Whether you have received formal training in Greek or not, the ZECNT presents the text in a readily accessible way. With each section, the Greek text is presented alongside an original translation reflecting the interpretive decisions of the commentator. For easy reference, and to maximize the understanding of structural relationships in the passage, the ZECNT also provides a graphically displayed discourse analysis of each prericope of the biblical book under consideration. I have provided an example of the graphic discourse analysis directly below:
Discourse analysis, as any second year Greek student will tell you, is rigorous and tedious work. But its importance, as even a cursory review of this graphic shows, should be obvious. It allows the interpreter to understand the passage from the ground up, or to understand it in each of its component parts which, in turn, allows them to be understood more clearly as a collective unit.
The emphasis on language and structure as the basis for meaning make the ZECNT a truly evangelical exegetical commentary. It also delimits (in a good way) the need for engagement with scholarship. While the ZECNT certainly uses scholarship and is itself, scholarly, its interaction with the academy is necessarily by its stated scope to those items which directly bear on an exegetical reading of the text. For instance, in Galatians, Tom Schreiner addresses issues concerning the “New Perspective on Paul” as well as the relevance of Galatians 3.28 to the gender debates. Nevertheless, those looking for comprehensive/exhaustive engagement with scholarship will need to look elsewhere.
For those who are serious about their homiletics, and who follow in the tradition of identifying the “Big Idea” made famous by Haddon Robinson, the ZECNT also states, in one or two sentences, what the main idea of each pericpoe is at the outset. This is often helpful for structuring sermons, and I am sure will provide much for preachers and and other speakers much to consider.
We should also note that the ZECNT, like any other commentary, can be abused and simply copied by those who purport to teach the Bible. While accessible to anyone seeking information about the Bible, reader’s should (continue to) use the exegetical skills they have previously learned in
school. The ZECNT is an incredibly ideal commentary for those who have completed at least one year of Greek, and for anyone possessing an M.Div, or MA in New Testament. Again, others will find it accessible, but to make full use of it they will need to hone other skills beforehand.
For those who have completed formal exegetical training, I would recommend supplementing the ZECNT wit either the New International Commentary Series, the Pillar NT Commentary or the Baker Exegetical. For those without, you may want to pair it with the Tyndale Commentary series, or the NIV Application series.
All in all I think the ZECNT is an exceptional tool, that will prove useful for ministers in the VERY long-run. Furthermore, with its durable binding, and wide-margins it is ideal for note taking. I highly recommend this series, and have already added all of its current volumes to my own library.
Be sure to stop by the blog tomorrow for a short review of Tom Schreiner’s Galatians in the ZECNT series!