Anyone desiring to study the Bible in-depth will no doubt spend a significant amount of his or hers time in a commentary on Scripture. For the most part commentaries share the same basic outline and structure; they interact with the grammar, theology, social and historical concerns, and other relevant topics. Very rarely do commentaries stray from the norm and tackle the text in a whole new light. So, when an author ventures of the methodological prairie I take notice.
In his recently published commentary on the epistle of James, Dr. William Varner interacts with James through the discipline know as “discourse analysis.” Briefly defined, discourse analysis (DA) is the study of the text from the top down. Whereas traditional commentaries generally start by analyzing each individual word to gain an understanding of the text, DA begins by analyzing the discourse as a whole and from there works down to the level of the individual word. This reviewer finds this approach to the text of James to be a breath of exegetically fresh air. What Varner has been able to accomplish is not only a fresh way of interpreting a biblical text, he has also made commentary reading enjoyable and exciting. A note of caution should be included here. This commentary is not for the weak at heart or for one looking for a pithy exegetical nugget. Varner’s work takes serious time and effort to work through, mainly due to the almost exclusive interaction with the Greek text of the New Testament. Nevertheless, if one takes the time to carefully and prayerfully read through this commentary on James the payoff will far out weigh the effort and work put into reading it.
Much more can be said about this innovative and truly trailblazing commentary on James. His chapter on the methodology of DA and his appendix on James is worth the price of the book (with a price tag of $13.59 at Amazon, why have you not purchased it already?). Now, if one is looking for a more traditional commentary on James there is no shortage of good, solid exegetical works to be consulted. But if one is looking for a commentary that truly offers a fresh new understanding of James, this reviewer cannot recommend Varner’s work more highly.