Review – Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, vols 1&2

KeenerActsCraig Keener’s Acts: An Exegetical Commentary is a vast and incomplete piece of scholarship.  It is vast because in print form it is over 2100 pages.  It is incomplete because these two volumes only cover up to Acts 14:28.  For the purpose of this review, I am looking at the digital version on my Logos software.  I have not read every page, of course, so this is not a full scholarly review.

Keener is meticulous.  Anyone who has used his previous commentaries on Matthew, John and Revelation will know that.  This can be highly beneficial, or at times, frustrating.  Almost two-thirds of the complete first volume is introductory material covering such issues as genre (zeroing in on Acts as a work of ancient historiography), historical interpretation of Acts, Acts and Paul, the speeches, the author, audience, Luke’s perspective on women and gender, etc.

Once you get into the commentary proper, you start to see the fruit of his socio-historical approach.  The format and layout is relatively straightforward (i.e. no complicated internal structures that require skipping around to find what you need, but at the same time not much in the way of helpful textual layouts as some of the more modern commentaries are offering – such as Schnabel’s on Acts, for instance).  As well as relatively straightforward, it is also long.  Keener appears to have a meticulous tendency that leads to a massive project like this one.  Every detail is engaged and discussed.  Other scholarship is engaged and discussed.  At times it feels like everything is engaged and discussed.

This is where my having the works on Logos makes a difference to me.  Rather than flipping page after page and scanning tons of text, I can find what I want to access very quickly on Logos.  For instance, I can right click on the commentary and then select “search this resource.”  Then I can search in just this commentary with something as simple as “Stephen’s speech” and immediately have access to the 71 occasions Keener refers specifically to Stephen’s speech.

Equally, with a work of this magnitude, I find it helpful to have the table of contents showing on the screen.  Thus I can expand and contract sections to locate the specific section I want to see.  I can also get a sense of how long the section is before I just start reading (very useful in such a long piece of work).

I suggest that if you are preaching through a Bible book, then you should have access to a couple of the better commentaries on that book.  With Acts, I am putting Keener’s work into my top two or three resources to check (alongside Bock and Bruce, which are excellent and shorter!)

If you want to find out more, click here to go to the Logos page for this resource.

(Full disclosure: I am grateful to Logos Bible Software for providing the resource for this review.)

Rumors of Commentaries

When I get to listen to a sermon, I sometimes pick up on a commentary vibe.  That is, a sense that the preacher has been spending some time in the commentaries.  Sometimes it is overt references to “the commentators” or a specific commentary (I am describing what I hear, not affirming the practice of citing and quoting the commentaries).  Other times it is a series of background facts that feel like they’ve come from some time in the books.

On the positive side I am always glad to know the speaker has been working in preparation for the sermon.  I’d much rather have somebody who has prepared responsibly than someone who is “winging it” without humble reference to “experts” in the field.

On the negative side I sometimes get a feeling of concern.  It’s hard to pinpoint, but it’s a feeling of concern nonetheless.  I wonder whether the commentaries have been conversation partners in the personal study of the text, or crutches leant on to short-cut the process of exegesis.  I wonder whether the commentaries have simulated wrestling with the structure and flow of the text and consequently the sermon, or whether they have merely furnished a dissected structure on which to hang the broken pieces of a partial sermon.

I thank God for commentaries and good commentators.  We are so blessed today with access to these reference works.  I think it is either arrogance or stupidity that would lead us to ignore them in sermon preparation (provided we are blessed with access to them).  However, they are just one part of our preparation.  We have to wrestle with the text, with its flow of thought, its meaning, its purpose, its idea.  We have to wrestle with the sermon purpose, its idea, its strategy, its structure, its flow, etc.

Commentary study alone will provide a veritable pile of tidbits that can easily fill the sermon time.  But remember that as the preacher, our job is not to fill sermon time, but to prayerfully, carefully, and personally develop a sermon that faithfully explains and relevantly applies the text for our specific congregation.