May 13, 2011

A Review of William Varner's James Commentary


Some commentaries try to be like Walmart, a one-stop shop for everything. But very few commentaries are actually able to pull it off. Other commentaries are less ambitious in scope and focus more narrowly on certain emphases or approaches. Dr. William Varner’s new commentary on James falls into the second approach with a particular emphasis on applying discourse analysis to the book of James.

By way of introduction, this commentary contains five major elements. They include an introduction to the commentary, an introduction to the discourse method for James, the commentary proper, appendices, and a bibliography.

In the introduction Varner clearly identifies what he is seeking to do (examining James from a discourse analysis perspective and providing assistance on matters related to exposition) and what he has chosen not to do (deal extensively with matters of introduction or interact exhaustively with the commentary tradition). Ultimately, the commentary should be evaluated on its stated goals and not necessarily our expectations. If this is the case, I think that Varner’s work has succeeded in large measure. The author clearly discusses the methodology of discourse analysis (pp. 14–28) and how that relates to James in general (pp. 28–40). It is here that Varner proposes that James 3:13–18 is the discourse peak for the book (p. 28). In the commentary proper, one helpful feature, and maybe the most helpful feature, is the clausal analysis of every clause in James. The discussion of the passages are thorough but not exhaustive. If one is interested in a compendium of views, then this commentary will disappoint. But if one is looking for a judicious treatment of the major textual issues, then Varner’s work deserves a place on the study desk. The only minor drawback will be for readers who are unfamiliar with the methods and terminology of discourse analysis.

There are three brief appendices in the commentary. Appendix one addresses the person of James, and appendix two contains a homiletical outline. The third appendix consists of a sample exegetical outline. In the latter two appendices, Varner seems to address most clearly the matters of exposition. These appendices are helpful and should be of value to preachers and teachers. If I have one criticism it is that exposition is not only concerning with explanation of a text, but also with its theology and application. Additional appendices dealing with theology and application would bolster the usefulness of this work. Until and if these are added to a future revision, I commend the interested reader to the author’s blog which he has a whole series of posts dealing with devotional applications from James.
The commentary is rounded out with an eleven page, partially annotated bibliography. The bibliography is not meant to be exhaustive, but does seem to cover most of the major works related to James.

In summary, there is much to appreciate about this commentary. Its relative brevity is appealing to readers who have grown weary from the encyclopedic nature of many recent commentaries. It is affordable with a list price of only $19.99. But most of all, this commentary is helpful in leading the reader through the major exegetical issues in James.

Thanks to Kress Biblical Resources for this review copy.

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