Hebrews (Reformed Expository Commentary Series)

Article by   April 2007
When preparing to preach upon any given passage, along with the work of translating, mediating upon, and thoroughly studying the biblical text, commentary consultation is integral to the task. In our day, in God's kind providence, we have many commentaries at our fingertips, but with the multiplication of commentaries having various aims and diverse theological traditions, which commentaries are we to chose? The pastor, with his biblical responsibilities of sherpheding publicly and privately, does not have time to kill in wading through unprofitable commentaries. He needs to know which commentaries will yield robust exegetical fruit in helping him understand the theology of the text, which commentaries would aid the pursuit of necessary technical issues, as well as those commentaries that serve to be models of biblical exposition.

As we all know, there are many good evangelical commentaries available to help one understand the exegetical matters of the text. Such commentaries make writing an exegesis paper much easier; yet, a sermon is not an exegesis paper, and there are, sad to say, few helpful commentaries that aid the expositor in sermonizing. Normally they are either too brief or too "fluffy" (i.e. lacking in depth) to be of much benefit. I am delighted to say, however, that the Reformed Expositional Commentary Series could not be classified by either of the above descriptions.

It was a privilege for me to work through Richard D. Phillips's commentary in this series on Hebrews. The letter to the Hebrews is chiefly about considering Jesus (Heb 3:1), His Person, His Work, His Example, and Phillips' exposition of this letter caused the reader to do just that. Phillips proved to be an able handler of the text, helping the pastor, the lay teacher, or the devotional reader to understand both the theological substance of each section as well as the unified message of the whole. Phillips was able, even through 57 chapters of exposition, to keep the reader focused on the larger pastoral intent of this exhortation (Heb 13:22), so as not to lose the forest in the trees, as well as skillfully opening up each unit of thought to a level that was beneficial to the pastor.

With this being an expositional commentary, Phillips illustrations and applications were also instructive to stimulate the mind of the expositor as to how he might shed light on and ably apply the text, but more than that, they served to deal with the heart of the reader before he began thinking about pressing these truths to others. The value of a commentary like this cannot be overstated. The exposition wouldn't give you the dangerous "freedom" to just understand the text without being confronted by the text. It forced you to think about the message of the text intently while asking and often answering the "so what?"

The Reformed Expositional Commentary is said to have "four fundamental commitments" (p. xi Series Introduction). The series, firstly, aims to be "biblical, presenting a comprehensive exposition characterized by careful attention to the details of the text" (p. xi Series Introduction), i.e. a systematic treatment of the whole biblical text. Secondly the series intends to be "unashamedly doctrinal" (p. xi Series Introduction), consistent with the Westminster Standards. Thirdly, the commentaries are "redemptive-historical in their orientation" (p. xii Series Introduction), keeping Christ central while pointing to the examples in the Scriptures to follow in living by faith, and fourthly, "these commentaries are practical, applying the text of Scripture to contemporary challenges of life--both public and private--with appropriate illustrations" (p. xii Series Introduction).

It is my opinion that Richard Phillips commentary on Hebrews definitely meets the commitments of the series. He excels in showing the reader the intent of the text, being able to briefly and simply explain complex passages. He skillfully brings in points of doctrinal dispute, especially helpful in this letter known for its controversial warning passages. He exalts Christ while not shying away from demonstrating both Christ and His people to be examples of faith. How could one do anything less in Hebrews? And the exposition is quite practical, as already mentioned.

Another added benefit of Phillips work is his footnotes. He quotes from a variety of commentaries, giving the pastor more information in order to do exegetical work, and quite a number of good books, which would serve to expose the general reader to edifying Christian literature.

All in all, I would recommend the commentary on Hebrews in the REC series. Whether you're a pastor, a Sunday school teacher, or someone looking for devotional literature, this commentary would be of benefit to you. Thanks to Rick Phillips for his model of biblical exposition in a day of its dearth. May it inspire young expositors like myself to go and do likewise for the exaltation of Jesus Christ to the building up of His body!

Rick Phillips / Phillipsburg: P&R, 2006
Review by David Gilbert, Associate Minister of Second Presbyterian Church, Yazoo, MS


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