A Book Review
Herb Bateman and Will Varner have written James: An Exegetical Guide for Preaching and Teaching as part of Kregel’s “Big Greek Idea Series.” It’s a commentary that emphasizes Greek grammar, but does not ignore textual exposition. In other words, you can expect both detailed grammatical explanations along with broader explanations on the meaning of each verse. Its attention to expository material is what separates this series from the much more solely grammar-focused EGGNT and Baylor Handbook series. And, so far as this commentary on James is representative of the Big Greek Idea Series, it’s a valuable contribution that in no way feels like a redundancy.
So how is the material presented? Bateman and Varner divide the text of James into eight segments. For each of these segments, they provide the “Big Greek Idea,” summarizing the theme or exegetical thrust followed by a concise structural overview and outline. Each of the eight segments are then subdivided and outlined clause by clause. The NA28 Greek text is presented with an original English translation. The syntactical explanations then offer substantive comments on the text of James along with many “nuggets” on lexical, semantical, grammatical, theological, text-critical, interpretative, and historical matters. Note that the syntactical labels are those found in Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics.
The clausal outlines, for which there is a lengthy introduction in the frontmatter, will help readers trace the argument of James. This component of the commentary plays a starring role. A system of indentation shows how dependent clauses are linked and subordinated to independent clauses. Each word or phrase in the clausal outline that is underlined is the subject of further explanation. Verbs are in bold. The clausal outline provides a helpful visual for tracing the book’s development. It also provides the basis for the author’s claims on how best to structure the arguments of James.
The explanations are extremely helpful. Just while studying James 1:12–18, I benefitted from discussions on the semantics of the Greek word μακάριος (“blessed, happy”, the unknown origin of God’s promise of a crown of life, the meaning behind the choice of ἀπὸ opposed to ὑπό in v. 13, the rhetorical balance of the two independent clauses in v. 15, along with several other important details about this passage. The book is filled with thorough analysis, presented in a user-friendly form. I only wish the series could have found a better word than nugget to describe the “expostional-like commentary” on select issues. The authors’ careful presentation of scholarly material should not be associated with the “golden nuggets” of Kenneth Wuest.
In addition to the main body of this work, there are also several pages on James’s style and vocabulary, a consolidated English translation, an appendix on figures of speech in James, a bibliography, and nugget index. Two physical features of the book are also most welcome. First, it’s actually big—measuring right around 10 ½” tall. This translates to larger print for easy reading. Second, it’s hardcover. It feels sturdy and looks nice on the bookshelf.
Packed with rich explanations and genuinely big, this work would be useful for pastors, professors, and any Greek student who wants to understand Scripture better. Kregel currently lists books on Ephesians, Philippians, James, and John’s Letters in their “Big Greek Idea Series.” I look forward to adding more volumes to my library for frequent consultation.
Special thanks to Kregel Academic for providing a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.