02 January 2009

catholic commentary on sacred scripture

George T. Montague, First and Second Timothy, Titus (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008).

Another of the purchases which returned with me from Boston is one of the two inaugural volumes of Baker's "Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture" (cf. also, The Gospel of Mark).  There are a handful of significant gaps within traditional evangelical theology, many of which could be addressed with the infusion of varied voices within the Christian tradition (I remember The Professor - I. H. Marshall - mentioning a few years ago that we needed to see a liberal commentary on the New Testament emerge).  Dialogue is the key to advancing our theology, and with the plethora of commentaries which are flooding the marketplace it is striking how few innovative or new perspectives are being given.  This leads to the dulling of our own biblical understanding.

Having said this, when I purchased this volume I was hopeful that I would have more points of healthy disagreement or differing perspective that I would be forced to work through some of the text in a new way.  In fact, I remember that my reasoning on the sales floor in Boston was that I would choose the volume on the Pastoral Epistles over Mark because of the role of church tradition and leadership which would be addressed in the application sections of the work.  Unfortunately for my expectation, this was definitely not the case - it took 188 pages for a piece of significant disagreement with what Montague has offered.  I will say, however, that when it finally came the dam burst with his assertion: "Hence, sola Scriptura is a nonbiblical teaching that is used to affirm a nonexistent biblical teaching" (188).

Aside from this (which might contain a caricature of the Protestant view if pressed), the commentary itself is a helpful introductory text to the Pastoral Epistles which would be appropriate for many who seek to teach or study Scripture.  There is no overt Roman Catholic teaching in the text, though it is by no means hidden in the woodwork.  The focus remains on the message which Paul (assumed author of the three) is offering to Timothy, Titus and their respective congregations so as to properly hear the message being inspired by the Spirit to the church today.  Many times while reading the work I felt as though Montague had a good way of phrasing and capturing various thoughts and presenting them to the reader.  I look forward to incorporating some of this into my work at the church.

From a scholarly perspective, there is nothing new found in this volume - it is intended to be introductory and devotional.  There are sidebar notes and insertions throughout which focus on the biblical background as well as some aspect of the historical tradition which has been preserved within the RCC (in fact, on strength is the presence of the voices from tradition whereas many evangelical commentaries would simply not have ventured).  My only other criticism is that the application sections to each portion sometimes come across as strained and/or hurried by the author.  In other words, these do not always feel at home in the text and occasionally reach the stage of afterthought.  With so much solid work being done on this level in other areas, Baker would have done well to safeguard this feature of the commentary against such pitfalls.

Perhaps the tone of the commentary can best be captured with a line from the commentary on 1 Timothy 1:13: "Changed lives are the seal of the gospel's authenticity, and no change is more remarkable in the New Testament than that of Paul" (42).  Standing on solid hermeneutical ground, Montague provides a good commentary on the devotional use of the text for those desiring to bear the fruit of their faith.

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