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Monday, March 30, 2015

"Acts - EP Study Commentaries" (Guy Prentiss Waters)

TITLE: Acts (EP Study Commentaries)
AUTHOR: Guy Prentiss Waters
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: EP Books, 2015, (600 pages).

There are already many commentaries on the book of Acts. Is there room for another? According to Guy Prentiss Waters, Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, in Jackson, Mississippi who counted no fewer than four exegetical commentaries since 2009, the answer is a definite YES! In fact, Waters gives us three reasons why he wrote this commentary. First, he aims at "clarity and brevity." Second, each exegetical effort is done for the objective of exposition, for teaching, and for preaching. Third, the commentary is "Reformed" in which it follows the "hermeneutical footsteps of Geerhardus Vos, Herman Ridderbos, and Richard B. Gaffin." This means appreciating Acts in being both historically respectful as well as modern relevance and redemption. Based on his own sermons and lessons from 2009-11, this commentary covers a lot of ground.

He spends less than 5% of the book on the introductory matters like the authorship, the date, the title, the purpose, and the outline of the book. I appreciate his three outlines and note that the first is most often used by many.

  1. Acts 1:8 where the focus is on the Pentecost, the witness, and the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing salvation through the gospel from the Jews to the Gentiles.
  2. Various summary outlines that highlight the Jewish and Gentile missions; the Church as the people of God; and the persecuted Church.
  3. Peter and Paul's ministry.

Waters's contribution is basically to use the first outline as his main emphasis, and use the other two outlines as subsets of the work of the Holy Spirit.  With careful scholarship, he plumbs the research of various reformed scholars to get at the exegetical meaning of the text. This is crucial when it comes to historical contexts and actual grammar used. Aware of the different perspectives offered by others, he offers them to readers without necessarily committing himself to agree to them. He is persuasive when it comes to connecting the thoughts and flow of Luke's narrative. In Acts 2:2-47, he transports readers to experience the actual Pentecost event through the eyes of various people then. The disciples testified of Christ's resurrection (Acts 2:11). The crowd were generally of mixed opinions, some skeptical, others amazed, yet many others perplexed with what was going on. Then there is also Luke who records the whole event with an astonishment that is true-to-life then and also mind-boggling now. Filled with ample applications and examples, the book is very suitable for pulpit use. Waters would spend time explaining key texts such as the sermons of Peter and the persecution of the Church. I appreciate the reminder that when we read Acts, we must not see the events recorded as mere sequential, that the gospel is only moving in sequence, as if the gospel is only preached like a relay from Stephen to Peter to Paul. No! The witness is very much concurrent as witnessing is being done at various times by various people not sequentially but often concurrently. For example, just because the text shows Paul preaching does not mean Peter is sitting down somewhere doing nothing.   The main figure is the Holy Spirit, which is why the book of Acts is sometimes referred to as the "Acts of the Holy Spirit." Let me offer five thoughts on this commentary.

First, from a scholarship standpoint, though this book is written with the purpose of homiletics, it is grounded in exegesis and scholarship. This is crucial as good commentaries must have sound exegesis. Waters takes effort to footnote different views and expansion of the texts concerned, giving readers an assurance that he is taking the best Reformed scholarship out there and conveniently put together for our reference. This gives the commentary a fair amount of credibility.

Second, I think this commentary is one of the clearest and easiest to follow works on the book of Acts. Some commentaries tend to be heavily loaded up front with weighty introductory material like the authorship, authorial intent, archaeological facts, and detailed information about the people, culture, and contexts. Waters cut a lot of these away to give readers a brief summary of the more salient details. This helps readers not to be overly bogged down by the details up front, so that more attention can be spent on the actual texts.

Third, I am always wary of how the titles and sub-headings can shape one's reading of the Bible right from the start. From an Inductive Bible Study perspective, where readers ought to practise discipline to let the Scripture speak first, instead of letting another opinion lead the way, there is a temptation to let the titles of this commentary do our interpretation. No doubt, it is clear and helps readers to keep to the outline, I still think readers ought to take time to read the actual texts before using commentaries like this. This is not to say that Waters had done us a disservice. Rather, it is a reminded that we need to do our own homework first before consulting works like this.

Fourth, having said the above about pre-disposed interpretive titles, I still find them a useful guide to reading the book of Acts. For the busy person living in a fast-paced society, some help is better than no help. The titles are clear and aids our study in a good way. For example, in his commentary on Paul's missionary campaigns, because modern readers are usually not familiar with the ancient cities in Philippi, Macedonia, Athens, Corinth, Neapolis, and many others, Waters gives us a map of the missionary travels. This is especially helpful for those of us who had never visited the actual places today.

Finally, from a preacher's point of view, I appreciate the Application section as it brings to life how the book of Acts can relate to modern society.  They can double up as illustrations or examples to help congregations appreciate the place of Scripture in modern life. Hopefully, it can inspire preachers and teachers to come up with their own illustrations and applications.

All in all, at 600 pages, this commentary is still fairly large. It is unavoidable as clarity often requires a lengthier discourse. Just like computer programming. Very efficient programs are written with less code but greater complexity. Very reader-friendly programs need more code and written instructions in order to increase ease of understanding and flow. A compromise is often needed. This commentary is a good balance.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Evangelical Press and Cross-Focused-Reviews in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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