The Bible Commentary For People in the Pew


For many years I’ve been working on the ‘Person in the Pew’ commentary series. It is nearly complete now, with only Samuel and Kings remaining, so I believe I’m at the place where, along with individual volumes being made available in print and pdf that I’m also willing to provide the entire series as a zipped file of pdf’s.

Individual books can still be obtained by the usual route but the entire series in pdf can only be acquired directly from me. And the procedure is simple:

1- Drop me an email at telling me you’d like it.
2- Paypal the cost of the volumes.
3- I will then send them to you without delay.
4- When Samuel and Kings are done, the pdfs will be sent to all who have obtained the series.

But do please note, the purchase entitles you to make use of the volumes for your personal use but they may not be shared or given or sold to second parties under any circumstances.  Of course there’s no way to monitor your honesty in this matter, but you’ll know.  And so will God.

Mind you, I’m not a marketer and I know nothing about business or the business of selling things. I’ve never been in biblical studies for the money and I’m not aiming to make a fortune with the complete series in pdf.

But, that said, all the hours put into these volumes are worth something, so I’m selling the lot for $199. That’s authentically inexpensive considering the thousands of pages written. And it’s a good commentary. But don’t take my word for it:

Saint Paul knew more than I can ever imagine about Christians living in tension with the Gospel and with each other, and his several letters to the Church in Corinth are pivotal to the entire New Testament. Which is why I am so pleased to mention here some recent commentaries by a friend of mine, Jim West, on I and II Corinthians.

Subtitled ‘for the Person in the Pew’, and published by Quartz Hill Publishing House of Quartz Hill School of Theology, California, these two commentaries are in fact part of a much larger project by West to write similar commentaries on every book of the Bible, and to make them available in print and electronically for everyone to read. That project is now nearly completed and the results are tremendous.

I think there are three main reasons why these commentaries are so successful. First, West is a first-class Biblical scholar, one who makes the intelligent critical study of the text central to his theological interpretation. That commitment is rarer than one might imagine and to have it realized across the entire Bible is an astonishing feat that gives us now a unique resource.

Second, and delightfully, Jim West is a great writer: his pages fizz with sharp words and phrases and he appears incapable of saying anything boring about these texts. This ability keeps us reading along with him and, more importantly, reading along with Saint Paul. I have rarely come across any Christian writing project, aimed at ‘the person in the pew’, that has succeeded so brilliantly in bringing alive its subject matter.

Third, West couldn’t dodge an issue if his life depended on it, which can be an uncomfortable position for a Christian theologian. Corinth, as with most churches in most places, had some strange people believing and practising some odd things. The knack, as West points out, is to engage them endlessly with love and grace rather than self-righteous anger, but to engage them: ‘Paul lived with a purpose. And he urges the Corinthians to do the same. As we all who name the name of Christ must’ (West on I Cor. 9:27, p.60).

I am going to be talking to Jim about making these commentaries available through Ming Hua’s website, but inspect them for yourselves if you have the time: you will find them a superb companion to your own reading of the Bible and, as importantly, a great reminder of just how much the early Church struggled with some of the same problems we face now.

Gareth Jones, Principle
Ming Hua Theological College
Honk Kong

Several weeks ago, Jim West sent me a copy of his commentary on Deuteronomy, part of his series entitled “For the Person in the Pew“. Dr. West is well known among biblical scholars and those interested in the role of the Bible in modern intellectual history and culture, and his blog “Zwinglius Redivivus” is among the most widely read of those dealing with the history, reception, and PER-ception of the biblical materials. It was thus with great excitement that I set about reading his commentary on a book that has been so central to my own research as an historian and, I should add, to my own self-understanding as a Jew and my place in the long history of Judaism.

West’s commentary is not meant to be a “Critical Commentary” insofar as that genre of commentary is primarily geared for the critical, academic study of biblical texts. Rather, as the title of the series implies, his commentary is meant for someone who encounters the text in a devotional setting. The orientation of the work is primarily for Christian audiences, but West takes the ancient Jewish dimensions of the text seriously. He also gives the reader great intellectual credit, and assumes that he or she will approach the biblical text carefully…including aspects of the text in its ancient context.

For West, the ancient meaning, effects and understandings of the text among its original audiences have lasting importance for contemporary audiences. One’s obligation to the text as a defining feature of identity — both as an individual person of faith and as a member of a larger and dynamic community — is intimately connected to the past, the intricacies of ancient cultures, their suppositions and conceptual horizons.

Deuteronomy is a particular important text in this regard, for many scholars over the last several decades have drawn attention to its complex relationship to its own past. Deuteronomy negotiates the history of Israel’s covenantal traditions, countenancing different ideas but clearing the way for definitive and comprehensive attitudes that could endure and bind communities together. West’s careful explication of Deuteronomy’s verses show a deep awareness of this, and his commentary regularly delves into linguistic, geographical, and ritual details that, for many contemporary readers, remain hidden in the text’s sometimes hermetic rhetoric.

West’s discussion of Deuteronomy is ultimately rooted in an ethical commitment not only to the contents of the text but to the larger ideological cultures it helped create. It engages theological matters clearly and boldly, but also does not hesitate to draw attention to the complicated nature of those matters and the similarly complicated task of reconciling them with evolving contemporary needs. West also does a great service to his reader by making clear (through his discussions of critical details) that a host of other issues relating to ancient Israel and the communities who preserved this material in antiquity await those given to indulging their curiosities beyond the pew. As a Jew with great regard for the role that religious scripture plays in defining various communities of faith and setting them in conversation with each other, West’s commentary proved to be a rewarding and stimulating read, and bodes well for the rest of the volumes in his series as well.

Mark Leuchter, Temple University

Jim West’s commentary on Ezra-Nehemiah, aimed at “the person in the pew,” faces a rather difficult task. By that I don’t mean the perennial challenge of trying to make biblical texts relevant to modern believers, although that is certainly part of the challenge. West’s commentary is trying to make one of the less well-known and, frankly, less exciting of the biblical books applicable to readers, and it does a fine job at it.

Moving briskly through the text, West pauses to expound essential perplexities and occasionally to provide an informative excursus, e.g., on grieving in the Old Testament, or the origins of the Samaritans. Rather than bogging down the text, these excurses come at appropriate intervals, anticipate a reader’s questions, and offer a wealth of helpful information useful beyond the reading of Ezra-Nehemiah. As far as his exposition of the text, West does a fine job of “cultural equivalence” translation of principles at work in Ezra-Nehemiah.

These are hard books of the Bible: hard to work through, a story of hard times for the returning exiles, and ultimately, books with very hard lessons for those would follow the God of Israel. With the verve and occasional sting that regular readers of his blog will recognize, West concisely points out to that person in the pew just exactly how challenging the Bible remains to modern believers, and that even something as seemingly unrelated to the 21st century as 2500 year-old genealogies and group wall-building activities have something to say to those who will listen.

Thomas M. Bolin ن, Ph.D.
Professor of Religious Studies
St. Norbert College
Hebrew Bible Book Editor Marginalia Review of Books

As one of the earliest and most prominent of the “bibliobloggers,” Jim West has long endeavored to make the fruits of biblical and theological scholarship available to those outside the walls of academia. Additionally, he has produced his For the Person in the Pew commentary series. The intended audience of this series is neither fellow scholars nor students writing research papers, but it is designed to equip Christian laypersons to grasp the gist of each biblical book. For this reason, West describes his project as a no-frills commentary, without extensive outlines or footnotes, and featuring the biblical text in bold followed by West’s exposition.

West’s starting point in his commentary on Mark is that the text was likely the earliest extant Gospel narrative and was originally written for Roman Christ followers. It could be noted that, while the Roman provenance has the external patristic tradition from Clement of Alexandria onwards (cf. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.15.1-2; 6.14.6; Adumbrationes on 1 Peter 5:13) and some internal evidence (e.g., latinisms) in its favor, it is also the case that the text of the Gospel itself has no explicit address and Markan scholars are divided over whether to locate its author in Rome, Syria or Galilee.

West further emphasizes that Mark wishes to impress upon the Roman audience an image of Jesus’ overwhelming power and authority, which reminded me of the similar theses put forward by scholars such as Robert Gundry or Adam Winn. Finally, West’s note on the parenthetical aside in Mark 13:14 indicates that he places the Gospel in the immediate aftermath of 70 CE as he argues that the reader would have connected the abomination of desolation to the Romans who defiled the temple.

West’s pastoral heart is evident in how his exposition generally seeks a direct application for the reader on topics such as faith or obedience. In many cases he offers suggestions for the reader on how to deal with the more challenging passages in Mark such as the meaning of blasphemy against the Spirit (Mark 3:28-29), the distance the demonically-possessed pigs had to run from Gerasa to the Sea of Galilee (5:1), the choice of the diminutive kynarion in reference to the Syrophoenician woman (7:27), the use of spittle in healing (7:33; 8:23), the question about the flattering address to Jesus as “good teacher” (10:17-18), the extreme difficulty of salvation for the rich (10:23-26), or the predictions that some still living would witness the kingdom in power or that the eschatological signs would happen in this generation (9:1; 13:30) with varying degrees of persuasiveness.

He occasionally calls upon the other New Testament Gospels to clarify a point in Mark’s text such as the identification of the tax collector Levi with the apostle Matthew (cf. Matt 9:9; 10:3) or the accusation that Judas was an untrustworthy handler of the group’s money purse (cf. John 12:6). West also helpfully includes various diagrams or maps as well as excursuses taken from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE) on baptism, exorcism, crucifixion, burial practices, and so on.

At times some articles appear to me a bit dated, especially the excerpts on the Jewish parties or the anachronistic view of Jesus’ debates with the Pharisees as prioritizing the “spiritual” over “ritual,” and I would have liked more discussion on Mark’s intertextuality or the social and political implications of the Markan Jesus’ eschatological proclamation of the kingdom in the context of Roman imperial rule of Judea and Galilee in terms a lay audience could follow.

Nevertheless, West accomplishes his goal of communicating the basic theological messages of Mark to a lay audience and a small group Bible study or Sunday School class may use his commentary with profit.

Mik Kok, PhD
University of Sheffield

Dr Jim West has undertaken the phenomenal task of writing a commentary on every book of the Bible! And what strikes this reader most forcefully is its faithfulness to what it says on the tin: West’s efforts have been expended “for the person in the pew”.

In other words, one should not expect the usual exhaustive analysis of syntax, interpretive options, history of scholarship and such like. These commentaries are written so that the reader needs no theological education, and West presupposes no ability to read Greek or Hebrew. Anyone can read and understand these.

The result is like going through the biblical texts, with a scholarly pastor, who pauses to make a number of bite-sized observations on the way. And whatever one thinks of those annotations, anyone can follow and digest them. West writes with a heart for the church, and his unique character and love for scripture are obvious in these pages.

Dr. Chris Tilling
New Testament Tutor,
St Mellitus College & St Paul’s Theological Centre

For several years now Jim West has been posting from time to time about progress with his huge project as he knocks off book after book of his For the Person in the Pew Bible commentary series. This began in 2006 with the ambitious Jeremiah: for the person in the pew, the Pastoral Epistles, Matthew and Micah were finished that same year and the flow continues. In recent months Jim has been (uncharacteristically?) indulging in self-promotion as authors without commercial publishers must, and also asking others to help him in this task by posting a notice of his work.

I am happy to do this, and agreed to prepare a notice (less than a formal review but more than a mere puff) of his “Ruth” from the volume Ruth and Lamentations: For the Person in the Pew (Quartz Hill Publishing House, 2007). This task was less easy than I expected. Here is what I wrote:

Tim Bulkeley

11 thoughts on “The Bible Commentary For People in the Pew

  1. Jim, the reviews of your work on the commentaries are impressive. I’ve followed your online work for many years and utilized many of the links to my benefit. Thanks and good luck with the reception of your efforts.


  2. Wow… thank you for the generous offer of the complete set. Will be sending through Paypal and contact details. David 🙂


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