ACADEMIA

Reviews on Resources for Biblical and Theological Studies

Arrington. LIFE IN THE SPIRIT (1999)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jul• 05•08

Arrington, French L. and Roger Stronstad (eds), Life in the Spirit, New Testament Commentary  (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999)

Life in the Spirit, New Testament Commentary was previously published under the title, Full Life Bible Commentary to the New Testament. The publishers claim that this one-volume commentary offers distinct Spirit-filled perspective on the New Testament; in other words, this is meant for the Pentecostal, Charismatic or empowered evangelical. Seventeen scholars including the two editors have contributed to this volume. The authors stress the importance of the presence and gifts of the Holy Spirit in addition to their belief in the inerrancy and authority of the scripture.

Life in the Spirit, New Testament Commentary was previously published under the title, Full Life Bible Commentary to the New Testament. The publishers claim that this one-volume commentary offers distinct Spirit-filled perspective on the New Testament; in other words, this is meant for the Pentecostal, Charismatic or empowered evangelical. Seventeen scholars including the two editors have contributed to this volume. The authors stress the importance of the presence and gifts of the Holy Spirit in addition to their belief in the inerrancy and authority of the scripture. A unique feature of this one-volume commentary is the order in which the New Testament books are dealt with. The Gospel of John comes first followed by Mathew, Mark and Luke. This arrangement helps to connect the Lukan account of the life of Jesus with the Acts of Apostles for the sake of continuity.
Like any commentary, this volume too offers detailed introductions to each book of the New Testament, which includes purpose, background as well as outlines of contents. Introductory material also covers literary aspects, authorship, date, provenance, and theological themes. To give it a scholarly depth, the introductions also deal with certain critical questions: For example, the Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles, or a discussion of the synoptic problem in the introduction to the Gospel of Matthew are dealt with. Of interest is that the author seems to support why insights from critical studies (in the case of Gospels, Source Criticism) are important for the interpretation and understanding of this corpus (p. 121). Trying to earth critical scholarship with practical use is certainly welcome. Here is an implied welcome suggestion that Critical study of the Bible and spirit-filled interpretation need not be mutually exclusive!
Another very impressive aspect of this commentary (unusual in one volume commentaries) is the extensive bibliographies under each book. A sampler is the commentary on Luke, which has one full-page bibliography appended to it. Numerous maps, charts, photos and graphs scattered throughout in appropriate places is another distinct feature of this volume based on the New International Version. For example, you will find the photograph of a flat-roofed housing on the same page where Peter’s vision on the rooftop is commented up on (Acts 10:1-48). A map of the ancient world showing the countries represented in the crowd that gathered when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples is helpful and informative indeed.
Distinct Pentecostal perspectives are visible in the emphasis on passages of Pentecostal/Charismatic importance. Acts 2:1-4 takes up almost two pages. In a one-volume work, it is significant space devoted to mere four verses! However, the discussion takes the form of theological discussion and supersedes the text as it goes on to the fourfold significance of the event. It seems strange the commentator on this passage conclude that “As well as the initial evidence of Spirit-baptism, tongues may be a sign of God’s displeasure” (p. 543) but he doesn’t explain how. There are a number of such unwarranted claims throughout this work. Another important passage is the baptism of Jesus in Luke 3:21-22 two verses that get an extensive treatment. The focus shifts to the descent of the Holy Spirit rather than the baptism of Jesus. The author calls Jesus here “Pentecostal.” “His Jordan River experience means that he is Pentecostal, charismatic–a man of the Spirit par excellence” (p. 408).
The same Pentecostal fervour is not maintained throughout. An examination of passages where the Spririt-filled people are at loggerheads with the dispensationists for example reveals this. For example, 1 Cor 13:8 usually quoted by the cessationists is commented upon without any reference to the arguments of the opposite camp. The commentator at this point does not explain how the “perfect” is understood by others and no attempt is made to substantiate his position that it has to be understood eschatologically.
The authors seldom do engage in conversation with other scholars and schools of thought. For example, Luke 4:14-30, commonly known as the Nazareth manifesto among New Testament scholars is interpreted spiritually. Leave alone the fact that the author is not engaging in a dialogue with scholars who have pointed out the possibility of reading it from liberation perspective, he won’t even mention such alternative readings are in use. A person who has some exposure to such knowledge will find this unilateral treatment unprofitable. The word “poor” is completely glossed over; the author does think it is important to explain whether it should be understood in its spiritual sense or material sense.
Another observation is the unevenness that exists between different books. Most portions of the commentary addresses lay people without any prior theological training. However, at times the details are so elaborate and resplendent with technical details, which theologically trained mind cherish, but amateurs have an aversion to. The commentary on John pays attention to the theological intentions and hermeneutical characteristics of John so much so that laypersons may find it formidable.
As a commentary aimed at the Spirit-filled Christians, one is tempted to look at how the concept of Spirit-filled life is handled in this and naturally one turns the pages to Galatians 5. The comment on page 1014 on the commentary on Galatians 5:13-26 is remarkable: “As Pentecostals we have done a good job of emphasizing the gifts of the Spirit. The importance of the fruit of the Spirit deserves more attention.” I think this advice applies not only to this passage but also to all texts and hermeneutical traditions of Pentecostals. There is great need to re-examine, and re-read the so-called “Pentecostal texts.” At points, we see this trend exhibited by the commentators of this volume.

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