Psalms. Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary

By Geoffrey W. Grogan
Grand Rapids : Eerdmans (2008). xi + 490 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
21.2 (Fall 2010) : 239-241

Geoffrey W. Grogan served as Principal Emeritus of Glasgow Bible College before it became International Christian College, Glasgow. Prior to that, he lectured full time for fourteen years at London Bible College. He is now retired, ministers as a part-time pastor in a Baptist Church and continues to teach part-time (International Christian College and Scottish Baptist College). His published books include The Christ of the Bible and The Church’s Faith (1998) and Prayer, Praise and Prophecy: A Theology of the Book of Psalms (2001) in Christian Focus’s Mentor series and two commentaries in the same publisher’s Focus on the Bible Commentaries (Mark: Good News from Jerusalem, 2003; and 2 Corinthians: The Glories and Responsibilities of Christian Service, 2007). In The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Zondervan 1986, 2nd ed. 2008) he contributed “Isaiah.” In September of 2010 InterVarsity Press will publish The Faith Once Entrusted to the Saints: Engaging with Issues and Trends in Evangelical Theology.

The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary series (J. Gordon McConville and Craig Bartholomew, eds.) combines theological exegesis and theological reflection in a paragraph-by-paragraph commentary on the biblical text. The Psalms commentary by Grogan apportions the material in the usual distribution characteristic for the series: “Introduction” (1-39), “Exegesis” (41-229), “Theological Horizons of Psalms” (231-430), “Bibliography” (436-47), “Index of Names” (448-51), “Index of Subjects” (452-59), and “Index of Scripture References” (460- 90). For Psalms, the author adds an appendix titled “Preparing a Sermon on a Psalm (Using Psalm 8 as an Example)” (431-35). Commentators engaged in this series represent a variety of theological traditions and perceptions regarding the work of theology and theological hermeneutics. The series focuses primarily on students, pastors, and other Christian leaders who are engaged in theological interpretation of Scripture.

In his “Introduction,” Grogan briefly discusses the world of the Psalms (1- 2) and affirms that George Adam Smith’s Historical Geography of the Holy Land “has never been bettered” for understanding the geographic background (2). In his treatment of textual criticism (3-4) he expresses confidence in the Masoretic Text. Poetry and parallelism form the topics in “Sense Rhythms of the Psalms” (4-6). A series of sections deal with the variety of critical methodologies employed by scholars for the study of the Psalter: “Historical and Source Criticism” (6-10), “Psalm Genres and Form Criticism” (10-19), “Redaction Criticism” (19-21), “Canonical Criticism” (21-29), “Rhetorical or Literary Criticism” (29-31), and “Reader-Oriented Criticism” (31-32). Within the section on historical and source criticism, Grogan includes an examination of the psalm superscriptions (8-10). He concludes that the superscriptions “belong to the biblical text” (8), but fails to mention the work of James Thirtle (The Titles of the Psalms: Their Nature and Meaning Explained, Henry Frowde, 1904) and omits any reference in the entire volume to Bruce K. Waltke’s “Superscripts, Postscripts, or Both,” Journal of Biblical Literature 110/4 (1991):583-96. The author returns to the issue of the superscriptions in an insightful excursus on “The Davidic Psalms” (34-39), in which he supports the concept that David himself “updated” his psalms for use in Temple worship (37). Grogan maintains Davidic authorship for the Davidic psalms as a whole (39). Under the topic of “Rhetorical or Literary Criticism,” he proposes a succinct topical summary of each of the five books of the Psalter (31) that many readers will find welcome and useful. Cautioning against getting swept up too much in the various critical methodologies, the author reminds readers that “the higher our view of biblical authority is, the more tentative we should be, lest we elevate some particular system of literary study to a position above the biblical text itself” (33).

The exegetical section of this volume bears some semblance to the type of commentary offered by Robert Davidson in The Vitality of Worship: A Commentary on the Book of Psalms (Eerdmans, 1998), a work which Grogan cites frequently. Grogan spends but a page or two on most individual psalms and sometimes three or four pages for the longer psalms (including Psalm 119). His comments cite the Hebrew text (see 62 concerning 16:2-4 and 209 concerning 132:1-9) and his footnotes demonstrate the extent of his research (see 42 n. 2, 65 n. 94, 99-100 n. 16, and 135 n. 12). Contrary to current practice in many commentaries on Psalms, he does not ignore the superscriptions in his comments. He often comments on interpretive or translational problems (e.g., 49 n. 30 regarding 5:3, 73 n. 136 regarding 22:16, and 131 n. 167 regarding 71:15). Speaking to the governing tone of his commentary, he identifies one’s desire for the living God as “an essential, indeed, the essential, ingredient” (42, emphasis his) in the reader’s approach to the biblical text of the Psalter.

The primary contribution of Psalms comes in the theological portion of the volume. Grogan begins with “The Psalter’s Key Theological Themes” (231-95) including “The Basic Convictions of the Psalmists” (232-73), “The Covenants and the Theological Significance of the Exile” (273-88), and “Yahweh as the God of the Future, the God Who Plans, the God of the Messiah and His Kingdom” (288-95). Then he moves to “The Contribution of the Psalter to Biblical Theology” (295-359). Here he examines the Psalter’s “Warm Doctrine of God” (301-8), “Firm and Confident Doctrine of Historical Revelation” (308-19), “Heartfelt and Expanding Sense of Community” (319-26), “Profound Doctrine of Sin” (326-35), “Realistic Doctrine of Suffering” (335-41), “Responsive Doctrine of Prayer and Worship” (341-48), and “Unshakeable Doctrine of the Messiah” (348-59). Lastly, Grogan takes his readers on a survey of “The Psalter’s Relevance to Present-Day Theological and Other Issues” (359-430), taking into account “God and Creation” (360-76), “Humanity and Sin” (376-87), “Christ’s Person and Work” (387-96), “The Grace of God, the Work of the Holy Spirit, and the Christian Life” (396-406), “The Church” (406-17), “The Last Things” (417-24), and “Holy Scripture” (424-30). He demonstrates a full awareness of the issues of continuity and discontinuity between the biblical testaments and recognizes the role of intertextuality (OT use of the OT and NT use of the OT).

Throughout this commentary the author exhibits an affinity to conservative, evangelical commentators and theologians. His views are thoroughly evangelical. Both of these factors produce a volume that replaces the liberal theological product of Hans-Joachim Kraus’s classic work, Theology of the Psalms (Augsburg, 1986). Grogan’s theological treatise finds many similarities to Michael E. Travers, Encountering God in the Psalms (Kregel, 2003; see the review in MSJ 18/1 (Spring 2007):138-39) and James Luther Mays, The Lord Reigns: A Theological Handbook to the Psalms (Westminster John Knox, 2004), who share the same conservative and evangelical stance.

Grogan’s commentary on Psalms provides an excellent resource for students, informed laymen, pastors, and teachers. Everyone who teaches or preaches from the Psalter will benefit from referring to this volume quickly and often. For this reviewer, Psalms is Grogan’s best work yet.