Review of Galations in African Bible Commentary Series
Ngewa, Samuel. Galatians. Africa Bible Commentary Series. Nairobi, Kenya: Hippo; Bukuru, Nigeria: Africa Christian Textbooks; Accra, Ghana: Step; Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2010. $19.99 pap. xii + 194 pp. ISBN 10: 9966-805-41-9 and 13: 978-9966-805-41-9.
It is not unusual, when reviewers of an inaugural volume of a new commentary series remark on the potential merits of that series overall, for their comments to be reproduced on the backs of subsequent volumes. Nor is it uncommon to find blurbs commending first editions of a book reproduced on later, revised editions. But it not normal, nor seemingly ethical, for publishers to take the commendation of one specific work of a given author and transfer it to a different publication by that same author. I was surprised, therefore, when I purchased this, the second volume in the Africa Bible Commentary Series, both of them by the professor of New Testament Studies at the Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology, to see on its back a statement taken without my knowledge from my Denver Journal review of his commentary on the Pastorals and applied to a manuscript I had never read: “There is little that Ngewa presents that cannot greatly illumine and challenge Christian living in any part of the world.” Needless to say, I fervently hoped that those remarks would indeed be true of this book now that they had been applied to it!
As in his previous volume, Ngewa intersperses excellent, even pointed application to African cultural contexts with solid, traditional exegesis of the text of Scripture itself. He understands Paul to be writing to Southern Galatia at an early date, perhaps A.D. 49, to counter the false “gospel” of the Judaizers who were adding Torah-obedience to faith in Christ as prerequisites for salvation.
Most of Ngewa’s exegetical positions reflect consensuses of the past few generations of evangelical scholars. At times, he adds his own thoughtful reconstructions or builds on others’ that are less well known. For example, the meeting in 2:1-10 may have begun as a general gathering of the Jerusalem church, during which it became clear that a smaller group was challenging Paul’s ministry. This group could have then gathered under the leadership of James, Peter and John, rejected the demands of the false believers, and endorsed Paul and company instead. Ngewa rightly highlights, where few commentators do, the importance of seeing the unity of the church in verse 10 on caring for the poor despite the different spheres of ministry otherwise allotted. He also aptly summarizes the significance of the paidagÅgos in 3:24 as the one “who was both the bodyguard and babysitter of any upper-class Greek boy. His job was to escort the boy wherever he needed to go, to discipline him when necessary, and to teach him manners and the difference between right and wrong” (p. 115). So also the Torah during the era in which it was in force. Excellent sidebars treat such topics as “what matters most” (on 3:23-29) or “balancing the burden and the load” (6:2 vs. 6:5).
Occasionally, there are exegetical options Ngewa does not consider. For example, the curse in 1:9 (“as we have already said. . .”) could be referring right back to verse 8. Receiving information about Jesus not communicated in the Damascus road revelation almost certainly refers to the oral tradition to which Paul would also have been privy (1 Cor. 15:3, discussed in the context of comments on Gal. 1:11), not to further supernatural revelations. Chapter 4:15 need not imply Paul’s problems were eye-related, since this could easily have been a metaphor, while 4:21-31 is better understood as typology than as allegorizing. The “Israel of God” in 6:16 might mean “the Jews who believe in Jesus” (p. 169), but Ngewa needs to consider the option that it is a label for all Christians as well.
It is probably not the case that the majority of scholars today think Paul used his time in Arabia to think and meditate rather than to minister. There is no explicit discussion of the new perspective on Paul, though it has been around now for thirty-four years. When Ngewa does touch on issues related to it, for example in 2:18, he alleges that it makes little difference whether Paul is talking about the whole law or just rituals like the dietary laws, thus disclosing his lack of awareness of the huge issues that do in fact surround this debate. Nor is it obvious why 6:1 should be applied only to those who accidentally slipped into sin rather than also to those who deliberately hid a sin.
Many of Ngewa’s most pointed applications target the so-called prosperity gospel in several African contexts, or corruption in the church and society more generally: “. . .leaders who work themselves into positions by manipulating other people or rigging elections through misrepresenting votes and ruthlessly eliminating rivals cannot claim to have been set apart for their ministry by the Lord” (pp. 33-34). “A preacher who performs miracles on Sunday but offers bribes on Monday has no credibility” (p. 34). “God does not reveal his will only to preachers. If a preacher gets a revelation concerning you, the best response is to ask the preacher to pray that God will affirm it through a revelation to you also” (p. 49). “Sadly, although many leaders in Africa pay lip service to good principles of leadership, in practice they are little less than dictators, ordering their subordinates to do things. . . . sadly, lions training their cubs to hunt and birds training their young to fly seem to do better than we do when it comes to watching over young ones while also training them to be in charge of their own destiny” (p. 65). A few applications highlight distinctively Western problems, such as no missionaries ever being put in the “sinners’ seat” used for church discipline. Others obviously transcend cultures: “It is said of many people groups that they are Americans, or Tutsi, or Yoruba, or Kikuyu before they are Christians. Such people find it very difficult to cross their ethnic and tribal boundaries and associate with others in sincere brotherhood or sisterhood in Christ” (p. 168).
Overall this volume continues the fine standard set by its predecessor. I am now relieved that my endorsement of the Pastorals commentary does apply to the one on Galatians as well. If Ngewa writes any more volumes in the series, however, it would be good if the publishers consulted with me before transferring the blurb. Who knows? I might even give them a better one!
Craig Blomberg, Ph.D.
Distinguished Professor of New Testament