Besides being one of the administrators to a number of “nerdy” Facebook groups (I should add that they are wonderful groups which have helpful discussions on biblical languages and theology), William Varner is a Professor of Bible & Greek at The Master’s College and Seminary (where John MacArthur serves as President).
In the EEC series, “Each of the authors affirms historic, orthodox Christianity and the inspiration and inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures” (xi). The EEC series is also the first series to be produced in electronic form. Besides being linked up with your other Logos resources, the benefit with this is that the authors can add and change their insights when they gain new insights (even 20 years from now).
Though highly neglected for much of church history, the “last forty years . . . have witnessed both James and the writing attributed to him emerging into the brightness of a new day for Jacobean scholarship” (1). There have been at least thirty major commentaries since the 1970s. Why do we need another commentary on such a small letter? To quote Varner, “I can only say that there will always be a need for good commentaries on a biblical text, because ‘God yet has light to spring forth from His word,’” and “the application of fresh linguistic methods to exegetical analysis demands an occasional fresh look at familiar biblical passages” (1, fn 4).
Varner believes James to have been both the brother of Jesus and the leader of the church, the Jerusalem church and of the entire Jesus movement. The letter was written in Jerusalem in the mid-to-late 40s AD for Jewish-Christian congregations “in or around Syria” (18). Some of James’ main themes are God, the Messiah, the Holy Spirit, faith, wisdom, and eschatology. Both a kingdom and a judgment are waiting for us in the future, but also a part of that future kingdom is here now. We have the King’s “royal law” (2.8) now, and we experience the “new birth” (1.18) now too.
The layout of the series works pretty much the same for all volumes (for more detail, check out my review on the Ephesians volume). Generally, each section is separated into 9 different sections.
- Original Text
- Textual Notes
- Biblical Theology Comments
- Application and Devotional Implications
- Selected Bibliography
There are also 3 excursuses at the end of the commentary.
- Scot McKnight’s Treatment of James 2.18
- James 3.1-12: Can the Tongue Really Be Controlled?
- Wisdom in James
Sometimes when I review a commentary, knowing that a commentary can’t do everything, I try to suggest at least one other commentary to pair the reviewed copy with. I’m not really sure who I should suggest here. Moo’s PNTC volume is a wise choice, and Blomberg’s ZECNT volume will likely have great practical points. But when I really compared them to Varner, I found Varner to have more clarity and better application.
And really, the biggest difference was something small, simple, and often overlooked in a commentary: his outline. It’s not just the outline itself that is impressive, but his argument for it. Varner believes that 3.13-18 is the “thematic peak” of James (where it brings all of the themes together), and 4.1-10 is the “hortatory peak,” a section filled with exhortations, commands, loving rebuke, and encouragement to James’ readers to cut off their friendship with the world, to stop their selfish bickering, and to humble themselves before the majestic King of glory.
Martin Luther accused James of borrowing “a few ideas from the apostles” and then afterwards he “‘threw them on paper.’ Luther thought that the organization of the book was as bad as its doctrine” (62). Many others have found James’ structure to be equally elusive. Varner shows that the leader of the Church did know what he was talking about, and it sets this commentary apart from the rest as Varner guides through the commentary, showing us the word-signs that point backwards and forwards to reveal and to herald what has been and what is to come.
Varner’s commentary is technical, but in the Grammarian Desert you will also find equally refreshing pools of theology, theology that is biblically practical. He follows the flow of James’ river of wisdom and smoothes out gnarled passages (e.g., James 4.5). This should be on your shelf. Better yet, this should be open on your desk.
- Author: William Varner
- Series: Evangelical Exegetical Commentary
- Hardcover: 656 pages
- Publisher: Lexham Press (April 9, 2014)
[Special thanks to Lexham Press for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book].