Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Commentaries on Galatians-Philemon (InterVarsity Press)

This is my second review in the Ancient Christian Texts (ACT) series available from InterVarsity Press. If you recall, at the beginning of March, I posted a review on Ambrosiaster's Commentaries on Romans and 1-2 Corinthians. This month I am reviewing his Commentaries on Galatians - Philemon. This is the second volume of his entire commentary on the Pauline Epistles. As a refresher, I am providing you with some similar information from the other review, in case you didn't get to read the first review or don't remember who Ambrosiaster is and don't feel like looking it up on your own.

Ambrosiaster ("Star of Ambrose") was an anonymous author of the earliest complete Latin commentary on St. Paul's thirteen epistles. The commentary was written during the reign of Pope Damasus, which occurred from 366-384. Originally, these commentaries were attributed to St. Ambrose. However, it was Erasmus who shed doubt on the author being St. Ambrose, and he was later proven right. The Latin text differs from the Vulgate and is probably taken from the Bible version known as the Itala. In fact, it seems he was opposed to St. Jerome's efforts to revise the old Latin version. Ambrosiaster's commentaries do not search for hidden or allegorical meanings, but instead focus on the plain and simple. He is more interested in logical or literal meaning of the text. Knowing this, it clearly distinguishes him from St. Ambrose who was very interested in a higher, mystical meaning of Scripture.

At approximately 190 pages, the Commentaries on Galatians - Philemon volume is a lot thinner than I expected it to be, especially since it's counterpart is approximately 300 pages. It's not like there is a significant difference in number of Biblical chapters 45 (Romans and 1-2 Corinthians) vs 42 (Galatians-Philemon). This is not something the publisher could help, but just an observation. Each book of the Bible contains a preface by the author that range from one paragraph to one page. The commentary is verse-by-verse, meaning that each verse is followed by an explanation from Ambrosiaster on what the text means. I personally like Ambrosiaster's style/attitude. He is not above calling a group of people stupid, i.e., the Galatians, for turning their back on the true Gospel and accepting a false gospel. As in my last review, here are a couple of quotes from key verses in these Pauline epistles.

Galatians 2:20 - I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Paul is nailed to the cross of Christ because by walking in his footsteps he is not bound by any desire of the world. By living to God he appears to be dead to the world. There is nothing unclear in saying that Christ lives in the person who has been delivered from death by faith. By granting pardon for sin to someone who is worthy of death, Christ dwells in him, for it is by his help that such a person has been rescued from death.

Ephesians 2:8-10 - For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God - not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

It is true that we must render all thanks to God who has given us his grace to recall sinner to live even when they are not looking for the true way. Therefore there is no reason for us to glory in ourselves, but rather in God, who has regenerated us to a heavenly birth through the faith of Christ, so that tested by the good works, which God has appointed for those who are already born again we may deserve to receive the things promised.

As one can see from these two quotes, Ambrosiaster is very intelligent and straightforward in his commentary. Though, I believe the price should be less than $60, given the size, I understand the price since it is an academic work. If you are a serious student of Biblical interpretation or interested in lesser known Latin commentaries on the works of St. Paul, this would make a great addition to your library.

This book was provided to me for free by InterVarsity Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!