Dr. William C. Varner is Professor of Bible and Greek at “The Master’s College” and has published books, many academic journal articles, book chapters, and has written commentaries on the Greek text of the New Testament. His latest work is a new edition of his earlier commentary on the New Testament book of James. This new edition improves the previous edition which is no longer available in print (Forward, xv). Some of the improvements of this edition are his treatments of the new NA28 variant readings as well as references to the text of the Society of Biblical Literature Greek New Testament (SBLGNT), the Greek text of the NIV2011, and the new Tyndale House Greek New Testament (THGNT). Varner also references the new “Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek” (GE), and, where relevant, the new Christian Standard Bible (CSB). For those who may own the earlier edition of his James commentary, these features, coupled with the affordable price, would alone justify purchasing this newly updated edition.
The main draw to this commentary is the originality of the work. Varner’s comments are focused and bolstered by a fresh examination of the Greek text in a top-down combination of the discourse level and sentence, phrase, and word syntax. Unlike some commentaries on the market, Varner’s work does not get bogged down in re-quoting, and re-treading the ground of previous commentaries (however useful this may be). The discussion revolves around the outline of James, which was determined by noting each place where a “cohesive device” was used. Varner wrote that James
“uses a cohesive device that cements his hortatory written discourse together much like a good preacher organizes and presents his material in a progressive manner by a coherent outline, sometimes with a repetitive device like alliteration. That cohesive device is his use of the direct address word “brothers” accompanied by either an imperative command or by a rhetorical question.” (pg. 38)
Each point on the outline is dealt with in the following manner. First the Greek text is quoted from the NA27 (cf. pg. 2). Then, if there are any textual issues these are discussed under the paragraph heading “Textual Notes.” Following this is a segment entitled “Sentence Flow and Translation” where a flowing translation is given and the text is indented to show sentence structure. Varner next gives any relevant historical background under the “Context” section. And finally, the bulk of the commentary is found under the heading of “Exegetical Comments,” where Varner brings a detailed discussion of each phrase and key word in the Greek. Throughout these subheadings Varner brings insight from the Old-Testament, Apostolic fathers, papyri, and other extra-biblical literature.
The only minor criticism that I have with the commentary has to do with some of the terminology used. Throughout the commentary Varner refers to “text-types,” such as “Alexandrian, Western, and ‘Majority,’ textual traditions” (pg. 3). The theory of text-types has largely been abandoned by most textual scholars, especially those at the INTF who produce the NA28 (see the relevant essays in the 2nd edition of “The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis”). However, this terminology is not prohibitive and may still be useful in referring to groups of similar manuscripts and does not detract from the excellent coverage of textual issues and transmission history of James.
Varner’s new commentary is an excellent resource for any scholar, pastor, student, or any others who may be working through the Greek text of James. And the cost of such a high quality work at only $19.95 means that “James: A Commentary on the Greek Text” is accessible to nearly everyone desiring a deeper understanding of James.