Zondervan has just released the opening volumes of its new commentary series, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, and I was offered the opportunity to review the volume on Ephesians. The general editor for the series is Clinton E. Arnold, and he also penned this particular volume.

Now the first and most obvious question is, who needs another commentary, right? They seem to emerge with a startling rapidity and with an alarming degree of disagreement. There are certain times where, having consulted more than one commentary, I have been left wondering why I did it at all, being as I am now stuck with a head full of competing, scholarly sounding ideas. Opening up the ZECNT:Ephesians, I was happy to find ample reason to add this and future volumes to my collection (especially if they get published in Logos Bible Software).

The commentary series has a common layout, beginning with a lengthy introduction to the context, history, purpose, literary style, authorship and a proposed structural breakdown for overview. Arnold writes engagingly, particularly on the history of the Ephesian people and their religion of magic and folklore. Providing a solid foundation from which to understand this epistle is vital, and this is both and admirable contribution and, most importantly, not the majority of the book. Many commentaries seem packed with introduction then fall short on delivering actual commentary on the text. Not so with this series. After 60 pages of introduction (from a 538 page volume), we get into the commentary.

For me, the killer feature of this commentary is its use of discourse analysis. Taking the underlying greek, and following the grammatical flow, the text is understood in terms of its flow of ideas and interrelating. This is extremely helpful in identifying the main point of the author’s writing. Within the book, this is represented graphically for each chapter.

Chapters take sections of Ephesians (e.g. Chapter 1 is Ephesians 1:1-2) and for each chapter there are the following sections:

  • Literary Context
  • Main Idea
  • Translation
  • Structure
  • Exegetical Outline
  • Explanation of the Text
  • Theology in Application

It is in the translation section that the discourse analysis is most obvious, as the text of the Scriptures is laid out in three columns. The first column references the verse and subsection of verse. The next column gives us the discourse analysis and the third column offsets the text to help visually represent the flow of the argument. For me, this is an excellent place to begin exegetical work and to check my own findings on a particular passage.

The other two sections I wish to draw attention to are the Explanation of the Text and Theology in Application. The former represents the more traditional form of commentaries as it takes us through sections of the passage, looking at the greek (which is included), referencing technical aspects where useful, discussing various opinions and presenting the commentator’s opinion on the passage. Arnold strikes a good balance, not getting so technical as to lose pastoral use, but not being so distant from scholarly work as to lack a sense of authority.

The Theology in Application section is an absolute goldmine for those about the work of preaching and teaching, or for people looking for an aid in their own Bible studies. Rather than leaving loose ends after exegeting the passage, this series presents a view on actually applying what has been learned to real life. To find such a rigorously academic resource providing this type of work is refreshing, and of great use to me and other pastors and teachers.

Finally, there are occasional essays marked “In Depth” that are scattered throughout the volume, dealing with certain issues that require a little more room for discussion, for example the role of men and women and the function of the household. These, too, are clearly written and helpful to the overall understanding and application of the text.

I’m very glad to have had the opportunity to review this volume. I may have just passed it by as yet another commentary to add to the overflowing library of them. As such, I’m very excited to see this series grow from the current four (Matthew, Galatian, Ephesians, James) and hopefully see it enter the digital realm too!

A review copy was provided to me at no charge by the publisher. No attempt was made to gain a favorable review, and all opinions and recommendations expressed are the author’s own.