The ‘Person in the Pew’ commentary series is the only series of Commentaries written by a single person on the entire Bible and aimed at layfolk in modern history.
The books are all available from Quartz Hill Publishing House in print format; or in PDF format from yours truly for a paltry $199 by clicking my PayPal Link. It’s a good commentary. But don’t take my word for it:
The commentary on the Bible by Jim West, a theologian who is lecturer in Biblical and Reformation Studies at Ming Hua Theological College in Hong Kong and is also Pastor of a Baptist Church in Petros, Tennessee, explains every chapter from Genesis to Revelation to “the person in the pew”: the ordinary member of a church, who, when reading the Bible, encounters a desperately foreign culture and therefore needs some guidance to understand it.
West’s approach is straightforward: he offers the Bible in a translation (American Standard Version) and interrupts the narrative every now and then to explain a couple of verses. His comments are aimed “at English speaking and reading members of the community of faith”: in other words, he makes the ancient texts accessible for believers.
As a pastor, West has an additional task: he needs to present the text in such a way that the faithful can use the Bible as a guideline. As I said, West’s approach is straightforward. The fact that he succeeds is encouraging for everyone who thinks that the study of ancient texts is meaningful.
I am no theologian and cannot judge the theological merits, but I can say that it is a pleasant read. I am currently reading a text I know quite well, Daniel, and West has pointed out many aspects I had not recognized before. The PDFs of West’s Commentary for the Person in the Pew are on my tablet, allowing me to go through the entire Bible when my train is delayed or has been cancelled. Given the quality of Dutch public transport I expect to have renewed my encounter with the Bible within a few months. – Jona Lendering
This commentary set is written and designed exactly for the average person. The person who hasn’t spent years in book learning and writing papers. Rather, it’s for a person who feels a yearning to know a bit more so they can grow spiritually and intellectually in the faith. The average person might not know where to start on the journey. This set does it beautifully. – Doug Iverson
“Seriously, … It is a really great commentary, and I’m enjoying and learning quite a bit from it.” – Ken Leonard.
I am a Christian and a Bible Study Teacher at my church. I have been in church all of my life, but I found it difficult to take on the teaching responsibilities of a Senior Adult Ladies Class. Although I have read the Bible, there are many things that I do not understand. I also was worried because the ladies in my class are “Studiers” of the Bible and the thought crossed my mind “What can I teach these ladies that they do not already know?” As you can see from my comments, I was wondering how “I was going to do it” instead of wondering how “God would do it”!
But when you teach it, you have to go deeper than just reading. I believe that God wants us to continue to go deeper each time we open the Bible. One of the references I use for my studies are the books written by Jim West “For The Person in The Pew”. Jim can take a complicated set of scriptures and bring the meaning into clear view. Every time that I start a new Bible study, I order one of his books. We just finished the book of Revelation and his book was helpful in taking the complicated and making it simple.
Jim has a way of wording his explanations of the scripture in such a way that it makes you want to read deeper and then just watch and see what God can do! Jim is a gifted person and I am glad that God has blessed his life so that he could in turn bless mine.
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, Principal
Ming Hua Theological College
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
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:
[I] wanted to thank you for your commentary set I recently acquired. My daughter Chloe (age 11) and I are using the one on Mark as we read through and discuss the gospel every second evening. It helps shed light on the text without being academically burdensome for us to work through. .. [Y]our comments are pitched wonderfully for anyone wanting to begin serious engagement with the text. It also complements the more ‘scholarly’ works.
Blessings, David Booth
Jim West (ThD; Professor of Biblical Studies at the Quartz Hill School of Theology) has written an easily read commentary on the entirety of the Old Testament of which I have reviewed his commentary on 1 Kings. West has proven himself to be a capable scholar of the ancient Near East, but more importantly of the texts of Scripture and as a preacher of said texts. He has written extensively on Scripture (including this commentary series covering the entirety of the Bible) and is perhaps one of the foremost and most prolific of bibliobloggers today. West shows considerable concern for the average church goer in his writing of this commentary both in the use of language, brevity and pastoral injunctions.
West here offers some of the most concise and on-point comments of any commentary I’ve read on 1 Kings. He writes with the skill of an artisan even as he limits his own comments to a minimum. Where he becomes prosaic is in the quoting of other commentaries (sometimes at length), but even more so in his not to be missed excurses (on such topics as suicide and theodicy) which offer delectables neatly prepared for consumption to those wanting more.
Assistant Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at Trinity Bible College