Acts, by Guy Prentiss Waters (published by Evangelical Press), is the latest contribution to the popular EP Study Commentary series. Before offering comments on the substance of the book, though, I must first express my own disappointment with the publisher’s decision to publish this and other recent volumes in this series in a paperback format. Previous contributions (including, for example, John Currid’s excellent series of commentaries on the Pentateuch) were published in beautiful hardcover volumes, often with eye-catching images on the front of the dust jackets. Those are attractive, durable volumes and – of course – when aligned on a bookshelf together, they look rather terrific!
Now, however, the publisher seems intent on publishing the remaining volumes in a nice, but rather generic, paperback cover. Obviously, this aims to save some money for both the publisher and the purchaser (which is always appreciated), but since hardcover editions aren’t even being produced for these volumes, it will likely appear to some book buyers that an entirely new series has been started and will be less likely that they will quickly associate these volumes with the numerous hardcover volumes that have already been published in the series. Furthermore, since frequently used paperbacks are more likely to develop cracks and creases and to have pages come loose from the spine, some buyers may (unfortunately) opt for other Bible commentaries simply because they’re available in hardcover editions.
Of course, personal opinions vary about these things – and growing numbers of pastors and teachers would prefer electronic versions of books, anyway. I only hope that the publisher’s decision to begin publishing this series in a cheaper format does not reflect any thinking on their part that the new volumes are less significant contributions to the series! From what I know of Evangelical Press, I trust that this is not the case.
Personal gripes aside, though, this book is in every other way an excellent contribution to this commentary series! In his previous published works, Dr. Waters has consistently demonstrated both his vast knowledge of God’s Word and his pastoral skill in applying Scripture and helping others to understand it. In this book, those same qualities are on full display, presenting a text which is both extremely well-informed and accessible to all mature readers.
The author explains up front the three distinctive features of this commentary. First, it is “relatively brief” (8). Second, it “strives to offer exegesis in the service of exposition,” meaning simply that the primary goal of the commentary is to “elucidate the text” (9). Third, it is “Reformed in its orientation” (9). Though written more for “the person in the pew” than for scholars, all of the most urgent questions about the book of Acts are answered convincingly and succinctly, with ample space given in footnotes for further references to larger, more scholarly works.
In the introduction (of just over 11 pages), the author makes it clear that Luke was the author of both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts (13), that Luke is “the only viable candidate for authorship of Luke-Acts” (15), and that Acts was written sometime between AD 61-100 (16). In discussing the title of the book, he explains that “the apostles are not technically the chief actors of this book. The chief actor is the exalted and reigning Jesus Christ, who has sent his Holy Spirit in power upon the church. The apostles are servants of, witnesses to, and instruments of the Lord Jesus” (17). Waters considers the various suggestions regarding the possible purpose of Luke – Acts, concluding that “Luke has authored both books primarily to edify Christian audiences…” (21). Finally, the author briefly considers the overall flow of Acts, explaining that “there are at least three legitimate and complementary outlines to the book” (21-22), each of which is directly drawn from the biblical text and helps us learn more about Luke’s chief priorities throughout the book.
Throughout the rest of the commentary, the text is divided into brief sections and then studied almost verse-by-verse (considering between one and approximately five verses at a time). Yet, every verse is viewed – as it should be – in light of the surrounding context of the entire book. At the end of each section, brief but stimulating thoughts regarding application of the biblical text are also provided, reminding readers that God’s Word is meant to be not only learned, but also obeyed and lived out on a daily basis.
Rich theological insights may be found on virtually every page of this book – even in regard to topics that might not have previously captured our attention. For example, in his comments on Acts 1:1, Dr. Waters calls attention to the fact that Luke is introducing this book – his second canonical work – by explaining that the first book (the Gospel of Luke) concerns “all the things that Jesus began to do and to teach” (emphasis added). It is clear that Luke intends his readers to recognize that, while the beginning of the teaching and miracles of Jesus were recorded in Luke’s Gospel, the miracles and teaching of Jesus will now be continued for readers in the book of Acts.
However, as we move through the book of Acts, we notice that it is not our risen Savior who is seen doing most of the teaching and healing, but rather his apostles who are increasingly governed and guided by the Holy Spirit. Dr. Waters explains: “Jesus continues to teach and work through the ministry of the apostles and by the Holy Spirit. We are to understand, then, the ministry of the apostles and of the Holy Spirit in this book to be the ministry of the risen, glorified Saviour in heaven” (27). How it should enrich our reading of the book of Acts to simply remember that as the apostles faithfully served Jesus and fulfilled his purposes, it is the very ministry of Jesus being exhibited through their work! In a similar way, of course, our Lord intends that those of us who belong to him should continue to serve as living witnesses of our risen Savior!
Undoubtedly, this excellent book will serve as a fine and very thorough introduction to the book of Acts for generations of believers, and will prove especially useful for teachers and pastors who desire a deeper understanding of this biblical book so that they will be better equipped to then teach it to others. Though this commentary is not really aimed at scholars, I imagine that even biblical scholars would be sure to find some profound and inspiring insights throughout the pages of this book. I offer it my highest recommendation to any who want to become more familiar with the book of Acts – and better equipped to live out the gospel truths which the book proclaims!
NOTE: I received this book for free from Evangelical Press (via Cross-Focused Reviews) in exchange for my preparation of this honest review of the book. I was not required to write a positive review of the book.