The Book of Deuternomy (NICOT) – Bill T. Arnold

The Book of Deuteronomy Bill Arnold
The Book of Deuteronomy, Chapters 1–11 by Bill T. Arnold
Series: New International Commentaries
Published by Eerdmans on November 1, 2022
Genres: Academic
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“The book of Deuteronomy can rightly be called a compendium of the most important ideas of the Old Testament.” So begins this commentary on the book of Deuteronomy, which Bill Arnold treats as the heart of the Torah and the fulcrum of the Old Testament—crystallizing the themes of the first four books of the Bible and establishing the theological foundation of the books that follow.
After a thorough introduction that explores these and other matters, Arnold provides an original translation of the first eleven chapters of Deuteronomy along with verse-by-verse commentary (with the translation and commentary of the remaining chapters following in a second volume). As with the other entries in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament, Arnold remains rooted in the book’s historical context while focusing on its meaning and use as Christian Scripture today. Ideal for pastors, students, scholars, and interested laypersons, this commentary is an authoritative yet accessible companion to the book of Deuteronomy.

For nearly fifty years, New International Commentaries have been the evangelical standard for a commentary set. Intended for clergy and biblical scholars, the NIC is an academic commentary that understands that not all of its readers will be fluent in Hebrew or Greek. Instead, the various authors provide their own translations of the text, use transliterated forms of biblical languages, and keep a balance between the academic and the applicational. The result is a versatile series that is beneficial for biblical scholars, but especially helpful to clergy. In my time as a pastor, it has become my first resource for studying any passage.

The Book of Deuteronomy Chapters 1–11 by Bill T. Arnold represents the half of a massive update and expansion on the original NICOT volume on Deuteronomy by Peter Craigie, released in 1976. The original volume was one of the first NICOT commentaries in the series and given the centrality of Deuteronomy to the Torah and the Tanakh as a whole, it was past due for an update. This first volume covers chapters 1-11, which is the first of three overarching parts of the book of Deuteronomy. The first eleven chapters comprise a bit of narrative about the people’s movements, but the majority is a speech from Moses commanding the Israelites to be faithful as they enter the Promised Land. Chapters 12-26 move into a collection of laws on worship, leadership, and civil life, while chapters 27-34 recount covenant blessings and curses. It’s a natural break point for what very obviously needed to be a two-volume work.

Bill T. Arnold is not only the author of this volume, he is one of the two series editors—along with Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. (who is also author of the recent volume on Ruth). Arnold stepped into co-editorship in 2020, likely while he was already well into the writing of this current volume. Arnold is the longtime professor of Old Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary and has served the seminary in a number of areas. He’s written a number of other commentaries and even penned an introduction to the Old Testament geared for secular classrooms. Further, one concern about Christian commentaries on Old Testament works is Christ-washing of Jewish literature. Arnold’s PhD comes from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem, the premier seminary for Reform Judaism. Arnold is more than qualified to write this commentary with a perspective that honors Deuteronomy as Jewish sacred literature.

For only covering eleven chapters, The Book of Deuteronomy Chapters 1–11 is massive, at just over 650 pages. Compare this to the volume it replaces, which is a svelte 420 pages and covers the entirety of Deuteronomy. The first 90 or so pages are devoted to an introduction that covers the background, composition, authorship/date, occasion, canonicity, and themes of the book of Deuteronomy. Arnold also includes a section on the text itself and his methodology for translating the book into English. It’s a short section, but very informative as to how the work of translation proceeds for a volume that has been relatively fixed in the canon for millennia.

From there, Arnold divides the text into four primary sections: the book’s superscription, a historical discourse, a sermonic discourse, and a Torah discourse. In typical fashion for NICOT and NICNT books, The Book of Deuteronomy Chapters 1–11 works methodically through the text to provide deep and accessible exegesis. Deuteronomy is a difficult book, particularly in the way it presents Yahweh, and my main curiosity with this volume would be how Arnold perceives Deuteronomy’s view of God as a conquering warrior. And if there was one area of the commentary I wish had been more expanded, it would be the section on warfare. Arnold acknowledges that the warfare imagery is challenging and asks that readers view the words in their ancient context. He suggests that us modern readers can interpret the warfare imagery as “a creative act of order against chaos” (81) and that “The picture of Israel in the book is that of a people with weapons in their hands, ready to inherit the promises of God, but learning (haltingly) to trust God alone in the face of overwhelming and terrifying obstacles” (81). While I wish this had been covered more deeply, that statement has very much helped me make sense of how to use and apply Deuteronomy pastorally.

Deuteronomy is not a common book for modern Christians to read or to hear preaching from, but Arnold insists that “This seriously undercuts and undervalues the continuity of divine revelation as a principle giving the Scripture its unique role in the life of the Church” (65). In other words, Arnold insists that although it Deuteronomy was written to the ancient Jew, it still holds value and applicability to the modern Christian. And then, Arnold proceeds to illuminate that for the reader throughout the book. Deuteronomy is difficult to understand and The Book of Deuteronomy Chapters 1–11 makes it accessible without making it simplistic. Deuteronomy retains its nuance and depth, as Arnold is able to rebuild the ancient context to allow readers to see the text in its ancient world, then build bridges of application and understanding to our modern one. I eagerly await the next volume!