Citing the need for a translation and commentary of the Bible that “can speak not just to some people, but to everyone,” renowned biblical scholar N.T. “Tom” Wright translates his keen insights into a readily accessible set of New Testament commentaries.
Wright, the Anglican Bishop of Durham, England, and a prolific writer, set out to recover the New Testament’s original claim of a message “for everyone.” Wright offers a clear, informal translation of the scriptures followed by concise and practical commentary on the texts.
The Gospels of Mark and Luke join another 10 New Testament volumes released this spring in the U.S. by Westminster John Knox Press. Additional New Testament commentaries will be published during the next year.
Wright’s plain-spoken commentary is reminiscent of Scottish theologian William Barclay, whose Daily Study Bible commentaries introduced laity to the rich world of the Bible without overwhelming them with complex theological jargon.
In Luke for Everyone and Mark for Everyone, Wright divides the Gospel texts into short passages which he has translated from the original Greek. His translations are conversational and inviting, and occasionally capture some fresh nuances of the Greek.
“Then there came a voice, out of the heavens: ‘You are my wonderful son; you make me very glad'” (Mk 1:11).
“‘The time is fulfilled!’ he said; ‘God’s kingdom is arriving! Turn back, and believe the good news!’ As he went along the Sea of Galilee he saw Simon and his brother Andrew. They were fishermen, and were casting nets into the sea. ‘Follow me!’ said Jesus to them. ‘I’ll have you fishing for people!'” (Mk 1:15-17).
“‘My daughter,’ Jesus said to her, ‘your faith has rescued you…'” (Mk 5:34).
“A violent wind swept down on the lake, and the boat began to fill dangerously with water. ‘Master, Master!’ shouted the disciples, coming and waking him up. ‘Master, we’re lost!’ He got up and scolded the wind and the waves. They stopped, and there was a flat calm” (Lk 8:23-25).
“‘Simon, Simon, listen to this. The satan demanded to have you. He wanted to shake you into bits like wheat. But I have prayed for you; I prayed that you wouldn’t run out of faith” (Lk 22:31-33).
“Then Jesus shouted out at the top of his voice: ‘Here’s my spirit, Father! You can take care of it now!’ And with that he died” (Lk 23:46).
Through simple (though not simplistic) illustrations and comments, Wright zeroes in on key themes or issues found in the texts. He offers practical application of the text to everyday life.
In his comment on the story of the child Jesus raised from the dead (Mk 5:35-43), Wright ponders why the Aramaic phrase “Talitha koum” (translated by Wright as “Time to get up, little girl!”) would have been included in the re-telling of this story. He suggests that the scene had made such an impression on the witnesses that they couldn’t forget the original words. These ordinary words that would have been spoken to wake any sleeping child, adds Wright, help to make the Gospel point that “the life-giving power of God is breaking into, and working through, the ordinary details of life.”
In reflecting on the healing of the beggar Bartimaeus, Wright guides the reader through a series of prayer exercises from different points of view of characters in the story. His exercises effect the same outcome as Jesus’ actions: opening the eyes of the reader to see Jesus–and themselves–in a new light.
Wright’s style is clear and engaging; he packs much meaning into a few well-chosen words. His comments on Luke’s birth stories of Jesus add some fresh insights to an otherwise familiar story. His commentary on the Good Samaritan not only identifies the layers of meaning in the story, but ends with a challenge: “No church, no Christian, can remain content with easy definitions which allow us to watch most of the world lying half-dead in the road.”
A little later, Wright will make the point again, depositing the beggar Lazarus on our doorstep and turning Jesus’ ancient story into a modern-day test for our faith.
In noting the surprise of the resurrection, Wright offers a keen insight: “From the beginning, the gospel is good news not least because it dares to tell us thing we didn’t expect, weren’t included to believe, and couldn’t understand. Did we expect the gospel would be something obvious, something we have dreamed up for ourselves?”
Where complex theological words or issues arise, Wright offers definitions and explanations in a glossary of terms found in the back of each commentary. It allows him to explore key words and concepts in a bit more depth without them bogging down reflections on particular texts.
The …for Everyone series would be a welcome addition to church libraries and even preacher’s libraries–reminding those who proclaim the gospel to keep speaking their messages “for everyone.”
Michael Tutterow is senior pastor of Winter Park Baptist Church in Wilmington, N.C.