Fontes Press, softcover, 423 pp.
The Epistle of James is one of those Bible books that we like to proof-text out of, but it's sometimes a bit tough to digest it as a complete book. It is fairly easy to grab a verse or two and not deal with the content. However, in the process, we risk missing the beauty of the book as a whole. James did not write, after all, in just verses. He wrote an entire letter. How should we go about understanding the book as a whole?
Enter the new work from William Varner, James: A Commentary on the Greek Text. While it is not the only recent commentary on James (Dr. Varner has recently released a more devotional-type commentary himself), the newness of this volume allows it to take full advantage of newer resources in Greek studies. That includes access to the newest Greek lexicon and the recently published Greek New Testament from Tyndale House.
The text is focused on understanding James from the Greek text rather than from any specific English translation. Readers will need to recall their Greek skills to make the best use of Varner's work, although placing the commentary side-by-side with an English translation still brings many of the benefits. However, without a good understanding of Greek, the reader will not understand what is happening here.
Within the commentary, the reader will find the standard features one expects. There is an introduction which addresses authorship, date, and audience. There is excellent material here which addresses not only the identity of James but also his role in the early era of Christianity. Further introductory material speaks to the issues of text and language, with some notes on the textual basis for James.
From there, Varner moves into the standard commentary format of explaining the text portion by portion. His method makes this work stand out, though, as the text is in Greek (as mentioned above) and he starts with notes on the textual variances for each section. He offers a translation that illustrates sentence structure and works into some of the flows of discourse analysis. (I will admit to being a very basic student of that aspect of Greek study, and so cannot comment if he does it well or not.)
In all, Varner's commentary is helpful. He takes the approach of engaging all of James and showing how the pieces fit rather than breaking James up as if he had written a collection of 1st Century Christian tweets. He also draws from the well of the Apostolic Fathers to show how James influenced the early church.
I'm happy to have this on my shelf alongside other resources on James. It will help for both personal study and sermon preparation.