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Reformation Commentary on Scripture – Galatians, Ephesians (Gerald Bray ed.)

Gerald L. Bray, ed. Galatians, Ephesians (Reformation Commentary on Scripture). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011. 446 pp. $50.00.

GalEphThough IVP Academic’s Reformation Commentary on Scripture (RCS) series is relatively new (with seven volumes published so far out of a projected 28 volumes), it has already garnered much praise. As a sequel to the highly acclaimed Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (ACCS) series, it shares an overall concept, method, format, and target audience with its predecessor. “The serious study of Scripture requires more than the latest Bible translation in one hand and the latest commentary (or niche study Bible) in the other” (xiv). As such, the ACCS and RCS series make available the finest exegetical works of their respective eras (Patristic and Reformation, respectively) for the sake of renewal through retrieval.

Each volume in the RCS series begins with a general introduction that provides an overview of the context and process of biblical interpretation of the Protestant Reformation era (including the historical context and the various schools of exegesis). Next, each volume contains a guide to using the commentary. Subsequently, the volume introduction places “that portion of the canon within the historical context of the Protestant Reformation and presents a summary of the theological themes, interpretive issues and reception of the particular book(s)” (xvii). The commentary itself proceeds by pericope, with a pericope heading, biblical text in the English Standard Version, an overview of the reformers’ comments that follow, and then excerpts from Reformation writers. In addition to typical backmatter, each volume of the RCS contains a map of the Reformation, a timeline of the Reformation, and biographical sketches of Reformation-era figures.

In the volume introduction to Galatians, Ephesians volume editor Gerald Bray provides a brief overview of the Pauline Epistles in the Reformation era, noting the central role of Pauline theology as well as the influence of Paul on the reformers as a model for pastor, for suffering persecution for gospel ministry, and for what God can do with the worst sinners. Bray also notes that whereas most modern scholars believe Paul wrote Galatians before Romans, the reformers accepted ancient tradition that Paul abridged what he had written to the Romans in his letter to the Galatians. As a result, often Reformation exposition of texts in Galatians is often shorter than it would otherwise be because commentators refer their readers to their comments on relevant sections of Romans. Another significant difference in scholarship that Bray notes is that sixteenth-century interpreters didn’t know anything about the life of Paul beyond the NT and patristic writings. However, this did not bother them because in their minds it made little difference in Paul’s theological message.

Bray then provides an overview of the influence of the church fathers on Reformation writers, followed by overviews of Reformation era commentary on Galatians and then Ephesians. In relation to Galatians, of course quite a few pages are dedicated to Luther. But later interpreters such as Bullinger, Erasmus, Johannes Brenz, John Calvin, Georg Major, Wolfgang Musculus, Kaspar Olevianus, Rudolf Gwalther, Johannes Wigand, Daniel Toussain, John Prime, William Perkins, Robert Rollock, Jean Diodati, and David Dickson are all introduced. Concerning Ephesians, Bray contends that the most important thing to note is that Luther did not write on it. This left the field wide open, and others quickly took advantage. Bray briefly notes some of the early commentaries that did not amount to much (e.g. those by Bucer, Bullinger, Erasmus, etc.) before devoting a bit more attention to the substantial works by Lancelot Ridley, John Calvin, Wolfgang Musculus,

Despite the substance and importance of the writings of Luther and Calvin on Ephesians and Galatians, they are not treated very extensively in this commentary because of their wide availability and accessibility in modern English translations. Instead, more attention is given to lesser-known commentators and many selections appear for the first time in English in this volume from commentators such as Martin Bucer, Heinrich Bullinger, Jiovannni Diodati, Georg Maior, and Johannes Wigand. This is what makes this particular commentary as well as the whole Reformation Commentary on Scripture series so valuable – it makes available works previously untranslated and works by (relatively) unknown Reformers, broadening both our understanding of the Reformation as well as the Scriptures themselves. And perhaps there is no better place to start in this series than with the volume on Galatians and Ephesians, for the pivotal influence of Galatians on the Reformation is undeniable; furthermore, many of the Reformers saw Ephesians as just as clear of an exposition of the gospel as Galatians and Romans.

One last note on this particular volume is that despite the diversity of voices presented, they are almost exclusively from the magisterial Reformation. Bray notes that Roman Catholics writings on Galatians and Ephesians  were not included because “almost all of them avoided theological controversy and concentrated on philological points of grammar, literary style, and so on. There is therefore little to distinguish them from Protestant commentaries of a similar nature” (lvi). Radical reformers were not included because they too sola scriptura “to such an extent that they avoided commentary writing for the most part” (lvii). This is a caveat lector for those who would charge this commentary for not accurately representing the variegated nature of Reformation thought.

Galatians, Ephesians in the Reformation Commentary on Scripture series is a must-own for those with an appreciation for Reformation theology, and especially for laypeople and pastors. Obviously the comments in this volume cannot compare with modern commentaries in terms of scholarship and technical, academic matters; but the pastoral and practical insight herein are unparalleled today and provide an invaluable resource for personal devotional study of these Scriptures as well as for those preparing to teach and preach on these texts.

Thanks to IVP Academic for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review!

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