Proverbs (Concordia Commentary), by Andrew E. Steinmann. St. Louis: Concordia, 2009. 719 pages. 250 pages.
The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1‒15 (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), by Bruce K. Waltke. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004. 729 pages.
The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 16‒31 (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), by Bruce K. Waltke. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005. 624 pages.
Until the last few years, pastors have had no up-to-date, conservative exegetical commentaries on Proverbs to which they could turn.
Now two have appeared—one by Bruce Waltke, veteran Evangelical OT specialist (2004/2005, reviewed in WLQ 103:234 as “the best commentary for pastors working with the Hebrew text of Proverbs”) as two volumes in the well-known New International Commentary on the Old Testament set, and one by Andrew Steinmann, LC-MS OT professor at River Forest, Illinois, (2009, reviewed favorably in WLQ 108:157 as “the best commentary on Proverbs for Lutheran pastors’ libraries”) in the well-received Concordia Commentary set.
During the last four months of 2010, this reviewer used both commentaries on a weekly basis while preparing Sunday Bible classes on Proverbs. I found both to be quite valuable. A comparison of the two commentaries follows, as a follow-up to the previous reviews in WLQ.
Waltke’s work took 25 years to produce. By contrast, in 2009, Steinmann wrote a preface to his Proverbs commentary about 14 months after penning the preface to his Daniel commentary. In 2010, his commentary on Ezra and Nehemiah appeared— a blistering pace.
Steinmann cites Luther and the Lutheran confessions. Not surprisingly Waltke does not. Waltke supplies more word pictures for teaching and preaching, and tends to exhibit more Luther-like verve than Steinmann. For example, “To uncommitted youth [Proverbs] serves as a stumbling stone, but to committed youth it is a foundation stone. But, tragically, the church has practically discarded the book of Proverbs, which was written for young people as a compass by which to steer their ship of life” (vol. 1, xxi).
Though both works are comprehensive, Waltke’s longer commentary is more likely to answer a particular question you may have. His two volumes total 1,272 pages with far more footnotes than Steinmann. Steinmann’s work, in a larger font, extends to 714 pages.
There were times, even at that length, when this reviewer felt that Steinmann should have said more. In Waltke’s introduction (107–109), for instance, he gives a helpful multi-part answer to the vital application question, “Does Proverbs promise too much?” Steinmann takes up a specific instance of that topic at the end of his comments on Proverbs 22:6 (“Train up a child …”). He writes, “Does this proverb promise that every child who wanders away from faith in Christ will eventually return at some later point in life before he died, and so be saved eternally? Many parents pray that it would be so, and God hears such prayers (cf. Mt 9:18; 15:22)” (442–443).
Steinmann’s gospel emphasis in that comment is valid, if vague. He could have also pointed to the warnings in Proverbs 1 or Proverbs 19:27: “Stop listening to instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge.” Steinmann’s question needs a law-and-gospel answer. Waltke’s application notes on 22:6 are clearer and more thorough.
What about key interpretative matters in Proverbs, such as whether Jesus is directly in view in chapter 8, where Wisdom is personified? Waltke says no; Steinmann says yes. Contra Waltke, Steinmann also sees Jesus as Wisdom in Proverbs 3.
Such debates show why pastors must dig into Scripture prior to reading commentaries, read more than one author on challenging topics, and compare arguments. On this debate, too, I found Waltke more convincing than Steinmann, partly because Steinmann relies more on the testimony of the church fathers rather than internal clues and context. In this case, Steinmann surprised me by marshaling spurious evidence here. In a survey of church fathers’ views of Proverbs 8, he quotes two letters of Ignatius of Antioch, letters which are not found in the most recent edition of Michael Holmes’ The Apostolic Fathers. Anti-Nicene Fathers prints these letters, but refers to them as “spurious” (ANF 1:105; Steinmann’s citations from Epistle to Mary at Neapolis and Epistle to the Tarsians on 219 and 221 come from ANF 1:108 and 1:122).
Still, if you can only afford one, buy Steinmann’s Concordia Commentary volume of Proverbs.
There are several reasons why: 1) It costs less. 2) Unlike Waltke’s commentary, Steinmann’s Hebrew letters are not transliterated. 3) Steinmann, a confessional Lutheran, occasionally notes Waltke’s conclusions. 4) You can also read snatches of Waltke’s work online for free via Google book search or Amazon’s “Look Inside”. That is not the case with Steinmann’s commentary.
Far better—despite the cost—buy both. Why? They complement each other’s styles and make up for each other’s deficiencies. Compare them as you study individual verses, and weigh interpretative options. Good exegetical commentaries are not cheap. Nevertheless, a wealth of wisdom is waiting for you when you dig into Proverbs, and help others to do the same.