Deuteronomy. Apollos Old Testament Commentary

By J. G. McConville
Downers Grove, IL : InterVarsity (2002). 544 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Michael Grisanti
17.1 (Spring 2006) : 124-125

McConville is a British scholar who has distinguished himself in Deuteronomy studies. This volume is one of the first two offerings in the new Apollos Old Testament Commentary. The series “takes its name from the Alexandrian Jewish Christian who was able to impart his great learning fervently and powerfully through his teaching (Acts 18:24-25)” (9). The series hopes to work with one foot firmly planted in the universe of the original text as well as communicate the meaning and practical application of Deuteronomy to a modern audience.

In his introduction to the book, McConville proposes that the book consists largely of Moses’ speeches (19), which are surrounded by 3rd person narration. He suggests that in the context of the ancient world, Deuteronomy should be seen “as a radical blueprint for the life of a people, at the same time spiritual and political, and running counter to every other social-political-religious programme” (21). Though McConville critiques the critical consensus about the composition of Deuteronomy, he clearly affirms that his commentary “does not defend Mosaic authorship” (39). On the one hand, he does not discount the evidence cited by numerous conservative evangelical scholars that points to a 2nd millennium background for Deuteronomy. On the other hand, he affirms that this kind of evidence “broadly supports the relatively early date that I advocate” (40). The frustrating p art is that McConville has chosen “not to try to date the book exactly” (40) and offers no precise idea what “relatively early date” he refers to.

The commentary on Deuteronomy proceeds section by section through the book. Although McConville provides no over-arching outline of the book (which is a weakness), one can identify the major pericopes he identifies. Each pericope receives treatment under five headings. After McConville’s own translation of the text, he provides a section dealing with textual issues (“Notes on the Text”), sometimes relating to text criticism and others to morphology, syntax, or word meanings. After he deals with “Form and Structure” issues, he devotes the most pages on that pericope to his “Comment” section, generally arranged by smaller verse units. He concludes his treatment of a pericope with an “Explanation” section in which he summarizes the message of the verses discussed.

The volume concludes with a thorough bibliography (30 pages, single spaced) that is abreast of recent scholarship on Deuteronomy as well as a helpful set of indexes (Scripture references, authors, and subjects). These concluding features add to the value and potential impact of the volume on those interested in working in Deuteronomy studies.

The primary weakness of the volume, the absence of an analytical outline, does not erase the significance of McConville’s work. Such an outline would help the reader understand or recognize decisions McConville made about the flow of the book’s message. In spite of the few concerns cited above, the commentary deserves a place on the shelf of any student who desires to understand the message of Deuteronomy.