Genesis: A Commentary Hardcover – Aug 2 2001
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From the Back Cover
This landmark commentary marshals the vast experience and brilliant insights of one of today's most revered Old Testament scholars. To those familiar with the work of Bruce K. Waltke, the significance and value of Genesis will be instantly apparent. Others who are unfamiliar with Waltke have only to read the first few chapters to understand why he has earned the reputation of a scholar's scholar, and why this masterful volume stands like a monolith among Old Testament commentaries.
Exploring the first book of the Bible as "theological literature," Waltke illuminates its meanings and methods for the pastor, scholar, teacher, student, and Bible-lover. Genesis strikes an unusual balance by emphasizing the theology of the Scripture text while also paying particular attention to the flow and development of the plot and literary techniques--inclusion, irony, chiasm, and concentric patterning--that shape the message of the "book of beginnings.L
Genesis Models the way to read and interpret the narratives of the book of Genesis Provides helpful exegetical notes that address key issues and debates surrounding the text Includes theological reflections on how the message addresses our contemporary theological and social issues, such as ecology, homosexuality, temperance, evil, prayer, and obedience Addresses critical interpretive issues, such as authenticity, date, and authorship
For all the author's formidable intellect and meticulous research, Genesis is amazingly accessible. This is no mere study tool. Lucidly and eloquently written, it is a work of the heart that helps us not only to understand deeply God's Word in its context, but also to consider how it applies to us today.
About the Author
Bruce K. Waltke (PhD, Dallas Theological Seminary; PhD, Harvard Divinity School), acknowledged to be one of the outstanding contemporary Old Testament scholars, is professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida, and professor emeritus of biblical studies at Regent College in Vancouver. He has authored and coauthored numerous books, commentaries, and articles, and contributed to dictionaries and encyclopedias.
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First of all, Waltke's command of Hebrew and the decision to bring out certain aspects of the Hebrew text is selective, not exhaustive. For example, he does not cover every nuance of the Hebrew text in a verse, but does cover significant issues especially with an eye towards exegetical work (so it's a great tool for pastors-cutting through the chaff and getting to the kernel of the issue). Let me illustrate by looking at Waltke's coverage of 'Book 1 of 10 in Genesis'. In Genesis 2:4a (pg 83) he says : "This the account" [toledot] (sorry I cannot make the Hebrew transliteration look like his typesetting). This word is the signal marker for the beginning of each of the ten books of Genesis. Toledot, from the root yld, meaning "to bear children" here signifies "what is produced or brought into being by someone." It is the nominal form of the root, meaning "descendants." The account pertains to what the cosmos has generated, not the generation of the cosmos.
If you desire more on this, you will have to read someone like Victor Hamilton's NICOT or any number of fuller technical works on Genesis. But for the pastor preparing a sermon, he boils it down to the essentials without TMI (too much information).
For each book in Genesis (he sees 10) Waltke follows a pattern that I find refreshing to read in comparison to fuller commentaries. He starts out with a section called "Theme of Book 1" or 2 and so on. It is a short summary in normal language of that part of Genesis. Then he gives an outline of the book. He breaks it down into Acts, Scenes and Epilogues. This is very logical and consistent and brings out the literary structure of Genesis in a way that really connects well with everyone I've been teaching so far. That's very helpful from a pastors point of view.
Then he does a broad segment called 'Literary Analysis of Book 1'. He covers a bit on Genre, structure and plot, escalation, characters, conflict, irony and innertextuality. After all of this he gives a segment called 'Exegetical Notes to Book 1' In this he gives cogent comments for each part of each verse, sometimes focusing on significant words, such as 'Adam' in Genesis 2:7 with quick overview of the play on words in the Hebrew text and some well polished phrases to sum it up in English (a lot of his stuff is ready made for preaching). The format is pleasant to read for any regular person, not packed with lots of parenthetical phrases or Hebrew, Greek, Latin fonts. Everything is transliterated and smoothly presented.
He has everything organized by Book, Act, Scene. If that is confusing, matching scripture references are retained next to those, and there is a contents table at the front of the book for anyone who is a bit confused by that arrangement. I found it very helpful to use.
Anyhow, after his section on Exegetical Notes, then he has a major segment that I believe will tempt some pastors to skip to this part immediately. It is his segment called Theological Reflections on Book 1 (or 2 or whatever book he is on). He takes crucial theological concepts like 'Second Adam' and gives the major cross links with enough food for thought to get any Bible teacher moving into a major spiritual treasure trove.
After all of his Theological Reflections (which I never find in regular commentaries), then he also offers a segment called Excursus. On Book 1 it is Genesis Genealogies.
I think some of the criticisms of this commentary that are on this website, reflect the hopes and needs of a more scholarly approach than the target of this commentary is intended to assist. This book is a Gold Medallion Award Winning book. The back cover attempts to posit the book as a good tool for everyone from pastor, to scholar, to student, to Bible-lover. I'm not sure scholars or Graduate students will like this tool as much as the heavier duty commentaries out there. But I absolutely love this commentary. I'm very glad that I decided to purchase a copy, and I urge pastors and Bible teachers who have an eye for bringing the text into the hearts of people everywhere to use this commentary in your research of the text.
Overall Waltke gives about 30 pages of information for Genesis 2:4 through the end of chapter 4. Comparing this to Victor Hamilton's NICOT with 92 pages for the same text, and you can see why I call this a 'shorter commentary'. However, Waltke is extremely helpful, particularly for busy pastors and teachers who have to prepare messages week in and week out and draw out not only accurate exegetical thought, but relevant theological and practical application from the text.
Other resources: I would also suggest Hamilton's two volume set NICOT or Wenham's Word Biblical Commentary (2 volumes) on Genesis for the fuller treatment that is sometimes needed on parts of the text. I really love Sidney Greidanus on "Preaching Christ from Genesis" for developing exegetical sermons from Genesis.
Waltke makes good use of David Dorsey's structural outlines (usually chiastic) (from The literary structure of the Old Testament, which are helpful in pointing the reader to compare and contrast one section of the text with another, possibly non-obvious section of text.
For each portion of Genesis Waltke covers includes literary analysis, exegetical details, and theological reflections, which are generally Reformed in tenor. I liked how Waltke referenced God changing his mind about humanity in the flood: "The unchanging God is always pained by sin. Moreover, because he is immutable, he will always change his plans to do good if people persist in their sin: "If it [a nation] does evil in my sight, and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good that I had intended to do for it" (Jer 18:10, ...) God's change of mind about the human race at the time of the flood, is entirely consistent with his unchanging character. God is not fickle, he does not change his mind, including his mind to reconsider. People can count on God always to reconsider his original intention to do good or evil according to the human response."
Waltke follows the usual "majority report" on the impropriety of deception in Genesis, seeing Abraham and Jacob as solely negative examples. Interestingly, and in a very well-argued section, he shows how Tamar is a model of gentile faithfulness in her actions to gain her rightful offspring from fallen Judah.
Waltke's commentary doesn't deal in any great detail with archaeological or scientific difficulties that Genesis presents, though he has reflections (tending to support historical validity) for some of them, such as the alleged anachronism of camels, or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire.
A unique contribution is his highlighting of areas of the narrative that contain "blanks" or "gaps". For Waltke, "blanks" are inconsequential omissions from what we might think we would like to know for a full account of a story, and "gaps" are intentional omissions that have narrative weight. Waltke frequently draws attention to these aspects of the text. Waltke cites the lack of a "these are the generations of Isaac" sectional head as another aspect of the narratives criticism of the character of Isaac.
Waltke's commentary is a fine addition or even starting point for anyone dealing with a detailed or literary study of Genesis, and will find good theological insight as well.
As a final note, I can see the point of one of the 2 star reviewers, that the book reads like class notes, which is what they developed from. I didn't find that as offputting, but I can see it as a flaw in some respects. I'm also not as perturbed by the kinds of literary analysis that seems "from left field", though I can see that someone new to it would need some hand-holding. James B. Jordan's Through New Eyes would be excellent in that regard.
That being said, Waltke's analysis is sometimes not without its weak points. He can get preoccupied with interpretive theories that he sees suggested in the literary style of the story, but aren't necessarily supported by the content; sometimes ignoring elements of content altogether. Even in the literary analysis of works of fiction (where style is sometimes the main vehicle for ideas) style criticism is a highly subjective and speculative business. It is just too easy to project our own thoughts onto the author, and find any "hidden" meaning that we set out to find. When dealing with a work where historical accuracy is primary we have to be even more cautious. It is not that history cannot be crafted to convey ideas through style as well as content. It is simply that when weighing the merit of an interpretive theory, evidence based on content must be weighted much more heavily than evidence based on style. Surely someone as generally sound as Waltke should be fully aware of this, but there are times when he doesn't seem to be. For this I would have to give the work a 1 or 2 star rating.
One example from the book serves to illustrate the point. In interpreting the story of the stolen blessing in Gen 27, Waltke concludes that Isaac is spiritually dull and much more concerned with his physical appetites than his relationship with God. He comes to this conclusion from two pieces of stylistic "evidence". First, the story notes that Isaac is physically blind, which Waltke sees as intended to be a metaphor for spiritual blindness. Second, the words "savory food" (or the like) are repeated several times in the discourse. This Waltke interprets to mean that physical appetite was a dominant feature of Isaac's character. This in turn is the reason that Isaac intends to bless Esau rather than Jacob. If there were no other content-based explanation for these supposed stylistic elements, or better yet if there was specific content-based corroboration for this interpretation, Waltke would have a case, though not and open and shut one. However, viewing the narrative from its content tells a different story.
First, Gen 27:1 states that Isaac "called his eldest son Esau" to be blessed. This is a much more obvious "stylistic" clue to Isaac's reason for blessing Esau. Giving first place to the first born was a powerful custom, as well attested both inside and outside the Scripture. We really don't need to look further for veiled evidence of another motive. In the specific commentary on this verse Waltke makes no mention of the normal priority of the first born. He even omits the word "eldest" altogether, loosely quoting the verse to say only that Isaac "called his son". I hate to think that this was a deliberate omission to strengthen his point.
Second, the mention of Isaac's blindness and the repetition of the food references are more obviously explained as necessary for the reader to understand the story. Without these story of Jacob's deception would make no sense at all. Thus there no need to see these as stylistic elements rather than simply factual.
Third, there is specific evidence in the content that Isaac was far from spiritually blind. His blessing is clearly prophetic, not just a father's fond hopes for his favorite son. When the deception is revealed Isaac immediately affirms that the blessing still stands. Had it been based on his own intent, the blessing would have been nullified by the deception. But, Isaac knows that the blessing is from God, not himself, and God cannot be deceived. Finally the author of Hebrews makes it clear that "by faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even concerning things to come". Thus the evaluation of the event from the New Testament is that it was an act of faith, not spiritual blindness, on Isaac's part. (Notwithstanding that Isaac was unaware of God's election of Jacob at the time.)
In short Waltke is worth reading. I am not necessarily sorry I bought the book, and I would recommend it with one qualification. Sometimes we scratch our heads and ask, "why did the author include this in the story?" Analysis of stylistic elements can open up possible explanations that aren't immediately apparent. However, beware of interpretation, however elegant and well crafted, that is based on subjective analysis of stylistic elements, when a more apparent interpretation based on plain content is available.
Anyone teaching or preaching through Genesis will want this, but will also want to read a few others. Allen Ross is probably the most detailed and helpful. Victor Hamilton in the NICOT series is helpful, but I found theologically problematic at places. Boice is homiletical, careful, Reformed, bt tends to be more moralistic than Christ-centered. Indispensible are the two Iain Duguid volumes on select parts of Genesis. Kidner in TOT series is good.