The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text [a review]
The work of a pastor is an exceedingly difficult one. Somehow a pastor must simultaneously be a theologian, a grief counselor, an expert on reading ancient texts, an arbitrator of intramural disputes, a voracious reader, a gifted orator, a fount of wisdom for the young, a charming wedding officiator, and more—all while being fully present in family life and personal relationships.
It is because of this impossible load that, when I hear sermons asserting absolutely absurd things about the grammar of the biblical text (Anyone ever heard the argument for the trinity from Genesis 1:27?), I heap grace upon that preacher. My assumption is that what I'm hearing is a good faith effort to teach the text and proclaim the glory of the gospel message, and that this can happen even in the face of missteps, mistakes, and errors with the text.
All that said, it's highly likely that you have heard a sermon in your life where the preacher has attempted to make a theological point solely from the Greek grammar of a New Testament text. That might sound something like this: "Paul's verb here is in the past tense, which means that this is a once-and-for-all action and that Christ's work is complete!" I give grace for this kind of mistake (it really is a difficult skill to take accurate scholarly work and make it accessible), but it still drives me bonkers. The solution, I think, is not only more rigor in seminaries and Bible colleges, but also better resources for pastors.
Stanley Porter's newest commentary on the pastorals is exactly this kind of resource. It is exacting in its attention to every textual detail, bringing the most cutting edge linguistic tools to bear upon the work of making sense of these three letters. His laser focus on grammar and semantics means that he rarely offers his opinion on what implications the text does or doesn't have for modern audiences. I find his use of Systemic Functional Linguistics to be particularly helpful in illuminating the contours of Paul's discourse and in foregrounding his emphases. It also means that he does not make much of historical-cultural data (except here and there where he claims that people use it to read too much into the text!). I'm not a scholar that I can rightly disagree with Porter, but suffice it to say that I find other readings of challenging verses such as Sandra Glahn's take on 1 Timothy 2:15-3:1 to be far more persuasive than his precisely because it weighs the linguistic data in balance with other relevant material.
That's not to say that this volume is unhelpful—quite the contrary! It's merely to say that it's worth it to pair his meticulous linguistic work with other scholarship in the work of understanding the text. I personally spend quite a bit of time in the pastorals, and I'm certain that I'll make good use of this commentary. I heartily recommend it!
DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of a fair, unbiased review.