Proverbs. NIV Application Commentary

By Paul E. Koptak
Grand Rapids : Zondervan (2003). 712 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
19.2 (Fall 2008) : 268-269

The NIV Application Commentary’s primary aim is to provide biblical expositors with a tool that will help them bring the message of Scripture into a modern context (7). To expedite the series’ aim, the authors divide each commentary into three sections: “Original Meaning” (traditional exegetical material), “Bridging Contexts” (explanation of the text’s timeless truths that move readers closer to present-day application), and “Contemporary Significance” (modern application). The last two sections of each passage studied are the obvious focus of this volume and are extremely helpful as guides to application for the devotional reader as well as the teacher and preacher.

Up front, Koptak warns readers not to think of the Book of Proverbs “as the kind of success handbook we find in the self-help section” (19). Throughout the commentary he remains cautious in making application of Proverbs to modern readers. In doing so, he makes the reader aware of the similarities and differences between the world of Proverbs and today (20; cp. 76-81). For Koptak, the purpose of Proverbs is “to foster wisdom,” (24) and it “sets out for its readers three pursuits under the banner of wisdom: knowledge, character, and piety” (63). By looking at both the rhetorical elements of Proverbs (25-27, 33-35) and its relationship to ancient Near Eastern wisdom literature (27-30), he prepares readers for both interpretation and application. At key junctures he focuses on the importance of literary context (e.g., 152-54, 284-87). Koptak addresses many comments directly to the preacher and teacher to offer suggestions on how to preach difficult passages within Proverbs (e.g., 216-17). Repeatedly, he points out catchwords, clusters, strings, themes, and structures that provide a literary context even for the collections of individual proverbs (337, 354-55, 381, 393-94).

Rather than adopting the viewpoint that Proverbs prepares civil servants for service in the Israelite royal court (cf. 30-31), Koptak adheres to a family orientation in the book. In his first words dealing with Prov 1:8-19, he writes, “The literary setting for the instruction in chapters 1–9 is the home schooling of a young man coming of age” (71). This approach presents lessons for young people and parents alike. Indeed, the commentator claims that the text “urges parents to take seriously the task of wisdom education in the home” (110). Parents will find this commentary supportive of their educational role with their children, as well as challenging them to avoid the mistake of applying the truths of Proverbs to the young alone (112).

An examination of some of the key interpretive issues within Proverbs presents a picture of Koptak’s interpretive conclusions. On the personification of Wisdom in Proverbs 8, Koptak identifies a NT development of an analogy between Wisdom and Christ without taking the passage as prophetic (42, 243, 258-61). Without getting bogged down in the various views of 11:30, the commentator works through the text to demonstrate that the meaning is that “the wise promote life, they do not take it away” (325). In regard to the rod in 13:24 and 23:13, he denies that the text supports corporal punishment (362, 547). Presenting four views of 22:6 (and a fifth in a footnote), he concludes that the proverb speaks primarily of “the initiation into adulthood and the teaching of its expectations and responsibilities” (518). He identifies the “son” in 30:4 as “any person who learns wisdom” (657).

A work of this size covering the entire book of Proverbs must be limited in depth and detail. Such constraints force an incomplete discussion of some key topics (such as the meaning of peti, “simple”; 59-60). Even though this volume was published prior to Waltke’s two volumes on Proverbs in NICOT (Eerdmans, 2004, 2005), Koptak lists the work in his helpful “Select Bibliography on Proverbs” (51- 56).

In conclusion, this volume does not replace the need for exegetical works like Waltke’s (NICOT). Koptak’s contributions exegetically and expositionally are comparable to those of Duane A. Garrett’s Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (NAC; Broadman, 1993 ) and Tremper Longman’s Proverbs (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms; Baker Academic, 2006). Expositors, however, will find that Koptak’s commentary provides greater guidance in applying the text of the book of Proverbs— its greatest contribution.