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Thanks again to Laura Bartlett and the blogger review program at Tyndale House Publishers, I've been looking at a copy of 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Hebrews (Cornerstone Biblical Commentary) over the past few weeks. This is part of a projected 18 volume series (not all volumes are available yet) covering the entire Bible, using the New Living Translation (NLT) as its basis.

When offering the review copy, Laura wanted to make sure I kept in mind the "intent, audience, and level of the series: it's an exegetical, theological, and translation commentary for students, pastors, and laypeople, not requiring knowledge of Greek." As a layperson (with essentially no knowledge of Greek) who teaches, I'm always looking for good commentaries and wanted a chance to check this one out. Currently, my commentary library consists of a few broad single-volume commentaries that I usually go to when preparing my lessons. They're great, but because their scope is so broad, they don't have the time to dig very deep on any given passage. I was excited to have the chance to explore a more detailed commentary.

I think the most interesting way to review my experience with this commentary is to simply describe how I got familiar with it. The first thing I did was thumb through it to see if how quickly I could figure out how it was organized. I was extremely impressed (and somewhat surprised, actually) with how easy it was to figure out how the book was laid out, without consulting the table of contents. The top of the each page indicates what passage of scripture is being discussed. The main portion includes the scripture text (NLT), followed by several brief notes, followed by the commentary. Additionally, there are two good introductory articles: one for the pastoral epistles (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus) and one for Hebrews. These articles are similar to introductions to books you find in many study Bibles, but with much more depth. All in all, the layout of this book is great -- it's very easy to find a passage you want to look at.

After getting a good overview of how this commentary was laid out, I settled in to look more closely at the content. Immediately, I enjoyed one of the advantages of using a multi-volume commentary: the scripture text is in the same book as the commentary. I also appreciated the way it is presented. Normally, I am not a fan of double-column text, so when I noticed that the scripture was double-column (the notes and commentary are single-column), I was a little put off. However, I have changed my mind on that point in this instance. Because the amount of scripture presented at any given instance is fairly small (4-10 verses seems to be the norm), it doesn't get tiring to read the double-column format. Combined with the fact that the scripture is in bold text, it also has the advantage of visually breaking up the page, making it easier to separate the scripture from the notes and commentary.

After the scripture, there is a section of notes. These notes are about the text itself: words, phrases, grammar, etc. They often include key numbers for words being discussed so that you can use a key numbering system to link the translation back to the original Greek. I especially like how the notes provide more detail to the particular language used in the original scripture. For example, the NLT translates 2 Timothy 4:1 as "I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will someday judge the living and the dead when he appears to set up his Kingdom". There is a note on "will someday": The Greek phrasing... can mean that something is going to happen (without implying how soon), is about to happen (implying imminency), or is destined to happen (inevitability)." If you are looking for a better understanding of the original language behind the translation, these notes appear to be a great resource.

Finally, after the notes, comes the commentary. Each section typically runs between 3 to 10 pages. This is in-depth discussion of the style, content, theme, etc. The commentary is extremely readable and accessible, without sacrificing scholarly discussion. The commentary also strives to be relevant to modern life. E.g., when I looked at the commentary for 2 Timothy 2:16 ("Avoid worthless, foolish talk that only leads to more godless behavior."), I found a discussion on how a command to avoid certain kinds of talk is a difficult command to hear in a society that prides itself on "free speech and the unrestricted exchange of ideas." If you are teaching or preaching on a passage, the commentary in the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary offers a wealth of information and ideas on how to shape your message, while remaining accurate and true to the scripture.

All told, I'm impressed with this commentary. After spending some time with this one, I wanted to start preparing a teaching series on 1 and 2 Timothy, so I'd have a good excuse to really dig deep into the commentary. If you preach or teach, you will probably find this commentary a valuable addition to your library. For someone like me, with essentially no knowledge of Greek, it's a great resource for linking the translation back to the original language in a way that is understandable. Next time I teach a class based on one the books of the Bible, I will probably get a copy of the relevant volume of the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary to use while preparing the lessons.

For more information, check out amazon.com.

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