Proverbs

By Jenkins, Jared C. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, March 2018 | Go to article overview

Proverbs


Jenkins, Jared C., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Proverbs. By Ryan P. O'Dowd. The Story of God Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017, 480 pp., $31.99.

Proverbs is the tenth and most recent volume published in The Story of God Bible Commentary Series (SGBC) based on the NIV 2011. This volume is a welcome addition to the series, which firmly roots Proverbs in the worldview of Israel that springs from the Pentateuch, and highlights the place of Proverbs within the biblical canon. O'Dowd is pastor of Bread of Life Anglican Church in Ithaca, New York, and Senior Fellow at Chesterton House, Cornell University.

In Proverbs, O'Dowd's central claim is that "the most natural source of material for a Hebrew writer in thinking practically about teaching wisdom to an audience would be the Old Testament" (p. 85). For O'Dowd, the primary source material for Proverbs is Deuteronomy; O'Dowd mentions verbal and theological parallels to Deuteronomy in almost every section of the commentary. Secondarily, the author finds abundant parallels in the wider Pentateuch, and the rest of the biblical canon. He critiques the approach of many more academic commentaries for attempting to find the meaning of the Bible "through the most objective method in vogue at any one time" (p. 145). Instead, O'Dowd encourages Christians to examine Scripture critically and with significant scholarly effort, yet believing that Scripture is inspired and has come to us in a canon where God can speak beyond what the human authors of any one section intended or understood (p.145). O'Dowd himself uses literary and canonical methodologies for his exemplary reading of Proverbs. Ulti- mately, he wants to show that Proverbs is not a secular work of wisdom but rather a sacred book that applies the worldview of Israel and its Scriptures to everyday life rooted in the fear of Yahweh.

The introduction to O'Dowd's commentary is short (only 32 pages compared to Bruce K. Waltke's 132 pages in The Book of Proverbs [NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004]), but is adequate and helpful for the target audience. In addition to the main introduction, the author includes a short introduction to chapters 10- 29 (p. 175-79), and brief introductory comments for other collections of sayings. As far as authorship, he believes the name of Solomon to most likely serve an honorific purpose with the final form of the book being shaped by editors (p. 18-19).

The commentary on chapters 1-9 is particularly engaging and the highlight of the work. In these chapters O'Dowd makes significant connections between the pedagogy of Deuteronomy, the worldview of Genesis, and type scenes in the wider OT that demonstrate wisdom concepts in Proverbs. Curiously, the commentary and application in chapters 10-29 is noticeably shorter than O'Dowd's work in chapters 1-9 and leaves something to be desired. In his discussion of chapters 10- 29, O'Dowd focuses on the proverb groupings and their relationship to the wider themes of Proverbs and the rest of the canon and not necessarily on the individual meaning of any one saying.

Proverbs has the usual layout of the SGBC series, which examines each passage from three angles; I will discuss each in turn. (1) Listen to the Story: The NIV 2011 text is printed for reading, and background biblical information and ANE parallels (a trademark of the SGBC series) are considered. O'Dowd engages the expected ANE comparables in the commentary carefully, including Amenemope, Kagemeni (Kagemni), Ptahhotep, Ani, Ludlul Bel Nemeqi, the Keret Epic, Enuma Elish, the Akkadian Myth of Nergal and Ereshkigal, and the Hittite Myth of Illuyankas. As O'Dowd comments, "Common content does not mean common origin," and he holds comparables loosely, without claiming dependency one way or another (p. 307). The author repeatedly shows how the common wisdom of life found in the ANE is for Israel always subsumed into a worldview that starts with Yahweh and is understood in light of Israel's scriptures. …

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