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A Commentary on Hebrews (McClister)

A Commentary on Hebrews (David McClister)Looking for a quality commentary on the New Testament book of Hebrews? I highly recommend David McClister’s A Commentary on Hebrews

The Bible was not written in a vacuum. Although the essential message of Hebrews is timeless and universal, the language in which it is communicated in the New Testament is the product of the complex culture in which the early Christians lived. A serious study of Hebrews requires that we capture, to the extent that the ancient evidence allows, the sense that its words, expressions, and imagery had when they were first written, the historical and cultural contexts in which the message was penned, and the problem it addressed. To go back and hear that message in its original setting is to allow Hebrews to speak as it originally did. Such a procedure is neither a luxury nor a distraction; it is obligatory. It is only once we have understood it in its original context that we may then begin to grapple with how it applies to us today.

David McClister’s A Commentary on Hebrews approaches the text with an eye on the ancient context as the starting-point of interpretation. He writes primarily for those whose goal is simply to find out what Hebrews is about and what it says. In this commentary, McClister has aimed to present an interpretation consistent with both the historical context of the book and the belief that Hebrews is God-inspired literature that still has something to say to God’s people today.

This commentary strikes a great balance between being helpful on the plains of serious scholarship and entry-level curiosity. For those who are interested in the “Greek stuff,” McClister provides his own translation of the Greek into English, “with a view to getting the message of Hebrews across and giving the English reader a sense of [the Greek’s] nuances and emphases.” At the same time, McClister clearly states his aim of making the commentary of good service to those who teach Bible classes or who preach. The result is a substantial study of what the Greek text says, framed in terms that more novice students of the Bible can understand.

McClister acknowledges the direct relevance of the “New Perspective on Paul” (which is just as much a new perspective on ancient Judaism as it is a perspective on the apostle) to the study of Hebrews.

If we have to realign our understanding of Paul based on a better understanding of what Jews in the ancient world actually believed about themselves, then we have to make a similar realignment for Hebrews, for Hebrews is in direct dialogue with ancient Jewish self-understandings.

I also appreciate McClister’s approach to “application.”

I have long argued that application is primarily the business of the hearer, not of the preacher, and will probably continue to do so. A preacher can imagine or suggest how someone might apply the teaching of Scripture, but only an individual hearer can custom-tailor an application that fits his or her own life. As Haddon Robinson has opined, it is in the area of “application” that the grossest perversions of the Biblical text are usually produced. Furthermore, the business of application has historically come close to, if not actually become, an exercise in speaking where God himself did not speak, making rules for others that God himself did not make. I do not wish to engage in that enterprise. Of course, Jesus used “application” (“when you go to a banquet, …”), so there is a legitimate place for it, but (taking our cue from Jesus himself) its rightful place lies in the teaching process. Accordingly, along the way I have suggested how the text of Hebrews might be appropriated to our lives today, but only you, dear reader, can make the precise fit in your own life.

Also of worthy note is a substantial excursus on The Sabbath Rest.

Bottom line: if I’ve got a question on Hebrews, this is the first commentary I’m taking off the shelf. If you’re looking to buy a commentary on Hebrews and your budget only allows one, this is my first recommendation.

A Commentary on Hebrews was published in 2010 by Florida College Press. It’s available from One Stone Biblical Resources for $24.99.

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