- The strengths (and weaknesses?) of the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series (henceforth “ZECNT”) in general and a few volumes in particular.
- The strengths (and weaknesses?) of choosing to invest in this particular series within the Accordance Bible Software platform rather than in print (follow this link for Part 2).
But before I get there, allow me a few paragraphs in laud of Accordance.
Abram from “Words on the Word” has provided this very helpful review comparing Accordance, Logos, and Bible Works. Keith Mathison reviewed the same three in a very helpful write-up to be found here. “Missionary Geek” has also helpfully assessed Accordance 10 on this blog post. Finally, “The Renewed Mind” also compares Accordance and Logos in two parts (part 1, part 2).
I will let you take a look at those rather than attempting to reinvent the wheel on these matters. Besides, I have not used Logos or Bible Works. But I have used Accordance for years and I can say that it has the potential to revolutionize your study of the Bible (and, based on the articles linked above, it seems to do so at higher speeds than the other Bible software platforms). Searches that take hours using print books can be done in seconds. Searches that are impossible for all but the most clever among us can be learned in the many available free tutorials and then executed in minutes. Resources can be amassed and then accessed at the click of a mouse (or the tap of a touch screen). An entire library of resources can be searched for one word as fast as you can type the word and hit “return”. Detailed maps and timelines can be customized, and museums worth of images and graphics archived. This is the speed and power of using advanced software to enhance your biblical research, and if you have any desire to deepen your Bible study, I recommend Accordance. Its a good time to buy now, as well, as they’ve just released Accordance 11, featuring better collection options as well as more helpful features than ever before. Originally a Mac-only program, Accordance is now available for both Mac and PC, though currently there are only iOS apps and nothing for Android. However, Android options will be forthcoming.
Here’s an introductory video from Accordance:
I used to think Accordance was more expensive than Logos, but as I have compared prices for products on each platform, I find that in some cases Logos is cheaper, but in other cases Accordance is cheaper. With Logos, as mentioned in some of the reviews I linked above, you often get more resources within a package. However, you will likely never use them all (nor even realize that you have them!). Why do you need a hard drive full of resources that you never set out to purchase and will likely never use?! I find Accordance to meet all my “resource” needs within a manageable price range. Could I find the books cheaper used on amazon.com? In some cases, sure. However, they couldn’t all fit in my pocket at once, and neither could I bring even a fraction of them with me when I travel (yes, the iOS apps are excellent). I will hopefully include more detailed discussion of various Accordance features in future posts.
Why the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament?
(Much of the content under this heading is repeated from a previous posting.)
The new-ish series, ZECNT, has loads of promise. I haven’t interacted with enough of the volumes yet to be sure, but my premonition is that it may “take the cake” for general usefulness of a commentary set, both for nonspecialists and specialists, parishioners, pastors, and scholars. All will find something unique and useful in this series. Approached from a different angle, one could argue that this general usefulness is also a liability. In attempting to be useful to broad audiences, the usefulness to more specific audiences (i.e. scholars) is slightly diminished. However, specialists who may or may not have their heads in the clouds need this kind of commentary to remind them about theology in application, and likewise nonspecialists also need healing from the all-too-common pragmatism and anti-intelletualism that is found lurking in our churches. So the ZECNT provides a helpful bridge between the poles of “sola-academia” and “anti-academia.”
ZECNT is unique in its format and general usefulness. As for where the ZECNT stands along the spectrum of modern evangelical NT commentaries, it is roughly comparable to such fantastic sets as the New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT), Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (BECNT) and Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC). The ZECNT, NICNT, BECNT, and PNTC are all rare birds in that nearly every volume in each set is highly praised. The ZECNT is typically more technical than the Tyndale New Testament Commentary (TNTC), New American Commentary (NAC), and Expositor’s Bible Commentary (EBC), though these are generally worthwhile. It is typically less technical than the Word Biblical Commentary (WBC) and the New International Greek Testament Commentary (NIGTC), both of which are often indispensible to the student of the NT.
Now that we have placed the ZECNT in its place on the spectrum, I’d like to briefly outline what makes it unique from any other set, and what makes it useful to people of all stripes. Aside from the general excellence among the contributors to this set (all-stars in the field of NT), I see the format, which includes discussion of seven areas for each passage, as its greatest asset. In each commentary in the ZECNT, and for each section of the biblical book under consideration, the authors provide discussion of:
- Literary Context. This refers to the function of a passage within the greater context of the book of which it is a part. One of the most important questions for understanding the Bible is, “What comes before and after this passage?” And when you fail to ask these context questions, you will almost invariably misinterpret the text. And any commentary that fails here fails significantly. I love how prominent and easy-to-find this feature is in ZECNT!
- Main Idea. Whenever I read a passage, I try to distill it down to a one- or two-sentence summary. This is often difficult to do, and it helps you wrestle with the meaning like few other exercises. The ZECNT provides such a statement for every passage, which is a wonderful aid in personal study or sermon/lesson preparation. However, this feature, as any feature in a commentary, can be a liability if you simply rely on the study of the commentator in lieu of your own, personal study.
- Translation and Graphical Layout. In this section, the commentator presents his or her own translation of the text in a graphical layout. This is something my graduate school professors would often require us to do in the process of interpreting a passage because doing so raises many syntactical questions (i.e. questions about the flow of a passage and how the parts relate to one another) and helps you come up with tentative answers to those questions. I have seen very few such layouts in commentaries, and I think this feature makes the ZECNT worth its weight in gold! Just don’t let it replace your own efforts at diagramming.
- Structure and Literary Form. This section seems to offer a brief summary of the structure and thought-flow, including the rational for some of the decisions made in the Graphical Layout section. This will especially help those who get lost in the Graphical Layout!
- Exegetical Outline. Here we have the kind of outline you often find in study Bibles and commentaries. This is particularly helpful when you are trying to explain the flow of the text in the context of teaching or preaching.
- Explanation of the Text. Here we have what is the sum total of many commentaries, the actual verse-by-verse commentary on the text itself. The quality of this section varies based on the author and the care of his research, but all the authors for this set are of high caliber. This section is highly useful for prolonged engagement as well as quick reference. And while some commentaries include convoluted vocabulary and loads of prior knowledge, my sense is that the ZEC seeks to be clear “even for the nonspecialist.” (Note: While the ZECNT features Greek words, and while familiarity with the Greek language is helpful when reading the commentary, such familiarity is in no way mandatory. There are very few places where you will miss out significantly if you don’t know Greek, and English transliteration and translation is always included.)
- Theology in Application. Most commentaries leave you with #5 and #6. And even those that feature #1-4 often leave out #7. Interpretation is not complete before you answer, “What theological contribution does this text make at the book level, the whole-Bible level, and for the church today?” The ZEC executes this well.
If you are a Christian, I hope you are a student of the Bible. And to that end, I hope you will consider picking up a volume from the ZECNT to enhance your reading of whatever NT book you are currently in.currently in. And if you’re keen on investing in a Bible software platform, I hope you’ll consider ZECNT in Accordance!
Here’s the product page for ZECNT in Accordance. To date, the series includes volumes on Matthew (Grant Osbourne), Luke (David Garland), Acts (Eckhard Schnabel), Galations (Thomas Schreiner), Ephesians (Clinton Arnold), Colossians and Philemon (David Pao), 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Gary Shogren), James (Craig Blomberg and Mariam Kamell) and 1-3 John (Karen Jobes, not yet available in Accordance). The set will eventually feature volumes on every NT book, Lord willing. I eventually aim to treat each volume more specifically, Lord willing!
So that, in sum, is what I have to say in praise of (a) Accordance, and (b) the ZECNT. In this case, combine two great things and you have an even greater thing. To find out why, read Part 2 of this review by clicking here.