Leviticus. Vol. 3A of the New American Commentary

By Mark F. Rooker
Nashville : Broadman and Holman (2000). 352 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
12.1 (Spring 2001) : 123-124

Interestingly, The New American Commentary series consists of two different kinds of commentaries. Rooker’s Leviticus, Kenneth Mathew’s Genesis 1–11:26 (cf. TMSJ 8/2 [1997]:244-47), Eugene Merrill’s Deuteronomy (cf. TMSJ 9/2 [1998]:248-50), Robert Bergen’s 1, 2 Samuel (cf. TMSJ 11/1 [2000]:117-19), and Paul House’s 1, 2 Kings (cf. TMSJ 11/1 [2000]:128-30) tend to be more general and theological. When necessary, exegetical details of the Hebrew text appear in the footnotes, but not to the degree that they are incorporated in the more exegetical volumes (Daniel Block’s Judges, Ruth, and Kenneth Barker and Waylon Bailey’s Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah—both reviewed in this issue of TMSJ). In spite of this apparent dichotomy, the series makes a superb addition to the serious Bible student’s library.

Rooker’s areas of expertise include the Book of Ezekiel, linguistic dating of OT books, and Bible translation. He is currently professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and serves as editor of the Pentateuch for the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

The “Introduction” (21-77) alone is worth the price of this noteworthy commentary on Leviticus. Rooker’s lucid critique of the Documentary Hypothesis and liberal criticism in general (23-38) should be required reading for every course in Old Testament Introduction. He quotes C. S. Lewis’s incisive evaluation of critical scholarship: “These men ask me to believe they can read between the lines of the old texts; the evidence is their obvious inability to read (in any sense worth discussing) the lines themselves. T hey claim to see fernseed and can’t see an elephant ten yards away in broad daylight” (32, quoting C. S. Lewis, Christian Reflections [Eerdmans, 1967] 154). In view of the failure of critical scholarship to provide any viable alternative, Rooker takes a firm position supporting Mosaic authorship of Leviticus (38-39). His essays on “Theological Themes” (46-77) include outstanding studies of sacrifice and atonement (47-65) and the Law and the Christian (65-77). Unfortunately, one of the most significant contributions to this latter topic is omitted from the sources cited: Alva J. McClain, Law and Grace (Chicago: Moody, 1967). Rooker sees more continuity than discontinuity between the testaments, but is far from being a theonomist (cf. 72-75).

The commentary’s methodology consists of three steps: (1) a thorough examination of the text to determine its meaning for the original audience (43-44), (2) consideration of the relationship of the text to subsequent legal decisions elsewhere in Scripture (44), and (3) a typological treatment of the patterns and correspondences of the text when viewed alongside the NT (44).

The author provides information on Leviticus from a variety of sources and perspectives. In the commentary on 5:14–6:7, he briefly discusses the varying views of Philo, Josephus, Origen, and Augustine regarding the distinction between the sin offering and the guilt offering (122). He cites the Midrash concerning the casting of lots for ash removal duty (129 n 229). A range of theological observations is presented—from the evangelical homiletician Warren Wiersbe (47 n. 89) to tradition criticism’s primary theologian Gerhard von Rad (263 n. 168). In his commentary on the removal of the corpses of Nadab and Abihu, the author describes the present mortuary at Jerusalem’s Hadassah hospital with its special arrangement of doors to prevent priestly contamination (159 n. 87).

Rooker often presents major interpretive issues by specifying the various interpretive viewpoints and then eliminating them one by one until only one interpretation remains, the one that best resolves the problems. He illustrates this in his discussion of the “strange fire” in 10:1-7 (157-58) and his presentation of seven different explanations for the distinctions between clean and unclean animals (170- 75). Rooker’s comments on 9:24 are indicative of the commentary’s attention to theological significance: “When the glory of the Lord appeared, the people responded with joy and bowed down to worship the Lord. It is significant that the first occurrence of the word ‘joy’ in the Bible is in this context. . . . the highest mood of the Old Testament religion was one of joy” (155).