The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Dec 6, 2018

Robert Yarbrough's new Pillar commentary on the pastoral epistles: a mini-review

My father and I have the privilege of co-teaching "Pastoral Epistles" to our preacher boys here at BCM. My father has 30+ years experience of pastoring and church-planting, while I took the PE as a doctoral course under NT scholar Benjamin Merkle and have since contributed two articles on the pastorals (published in Filologia Neotestamentaria and The Bible Translator). We have a lot of fun building off of each other and goofing around (believe me, it's a great privilege and pleasure to co-teach a class with one's father!). The class has been excellent so far, with a lot of discussion.

Now, a new commentary has just come out, the first major evangelical commentary on the pastorals in a long time: Robert W. Yarbrough, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2018). I'd like to offer a mini-review on this work. Bottom line: a very useful conservative evangelical commentary with some key, unique contributions that nonetheless will probably not replace the "big four" (Knight, Mounce, Marshall, and Towner) in usefulness. In other words, it definitely belongs in your library (individual or institutional) but will probably not be a textbook at either the college level or seminary level.

I am going to offer a brief analysis in four key areas that I feel are key to judging a commentary: 1. contribution, 2. general content and writing, 3. research, and 4. treatment of controversial issues. The first area is "mostly good," the second one is "very good", while #s 3 and 4 I feel are "good, but with some disappointments."

1. Contribution. Robert Yarbrough is a tier-1 New Testament scholar who teaches at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis (he has also taught at Trinity and Wheaton). His list of contributions to scholarship is massive, including especially the Baker Exegetical commentary on 1-3 John. Although he is not a specialist in the Pastoral Epistles, he has contributed broadly to New Testament scholarship and has some interesting things to say on the Pastorals. His section on "Paul as Working Pastor: Exposing an Open Ethical Secret," is excellent (though adapted from previous material). The strength here, then, is that Yarbrough is without a doubt a Pauline scholar, and this strength carries throughout the book. Thus the book is especially valuable when dealing with aspects of the PE that intersect especially with Pauline theology (e.g., his treatment of 1Tim 1:15 is excellent and very informed by the rest of Pauline theology). This is, of course, linked to Yarbrough's conservative treatment of the authorship of the PE, which I can appreciate (though, dear reader, do not go to this commentary for a robust defense of Pauline authorship; go to Robert Mounce's Word Biblical Commentary instead). However, since Yarbrough is not a PE specialist (to my knowledge none of his other books focused on the PE, and he seems to only have one journal article that deals specifically with something in the PE), his contribution to PE scholarship in the PNTC series is not as robust as it might have been, perhaps. 
[Note added 8/22/20. To be fair, however: my friend Chuck, in the comments section, notes where Dr. Yarbrough has contributed a significant number of professional papers on the PE. He's perhaps more of a specialist than my initial comments may lead one to believe]

As far as the introduction section of the book, this is lacking in some areas that other commentaries spend more time on (e.g., as noted above, see authorship). On the other hand, Yarbrough has some excellent material in the introduction that you won't see in other commentaries, such as his expansion on Thomas Oden's "eight thesis" on the PE. 

2. General Content and Writing. Overall, this book is a solid commentary to have an your shelf (whether pastoral or academic) and should definitely be in every seminary library. This is a consistent, solid, scholarly treatment of the pastoral epistles by an author who is broadly read and fairly well-versed in PE scholarship (though not as well as he could have been; see below for some mild critique).

The book is well-written. While both my father and I felt it was a bit too technical for a college class (so we're sticking with Donald Guthrie's Tyndale commentary for now), we are still requiring our students to read some small portions from his book. Once again, Yarbrough is an excellent writer, and for somebody at the seminary level this is a good read. Also, as appropriate for a commentary within the Pillar series, Yarbrough interacts very well with the Greek, though not in an overly-technical way (à la the WBC series).

3. Research. On the plus side, Yarbrough has a fairly good grasp of PE scholarship, and I felt his level of interaction with primary/ancient sources was excellent. On the downside, there are some lacuna. He never actually cites Ceslas Spicq (though he mentions him in passing, but he never cites him), which is a pity because Spicq is one of the essential scholars on the PE. Also, at times it appears Yarbrough is not quite as caught up on the most recent journal articles. For example, Southeastern Theological Review devoted an entire issue to the PE (Winter 2016, which should have been enough time to be noticed by Yarbrough) with articles by Swinson, Couser, Bumgardner, and Stiekes, plus an extremely helpful "literature review" by Charles J. Bumgardner. In addition, his commentary is not as "discourse sensitive" as I would have hoped, especially in this modern era. For example, the significant work by Ray Van Neste on "Cohesion and Structure in the Pastoral Epistles" is not cited, so far as I could tell. To that I would add that any exegetical commentary in this day and era should probably be citing Steven Runge's Discourse Grammar of the New Testament (a book I require for all my "Intro to NT Exegesis students") or similar works, but that's just my opinion.

I counted approximately 335 sources (including primary) in the bibliography. This is ok, but not really spectacular, in my opinion. As noted below, when it comes to the discussion of "saved through childbearing," Yarbrough's bibliography is not near as good as it should have been.

In a nutshell, Yarbrough's engagement with primary sources is better than his engagement with secondary sources in this commentary (based on what I was expecting).

4. Treatment of controversial issues. In many areas, I feel Yarbrough does an excellent job. For example, although he definitely trends towards the complementarian side in issues of women in ministry (as do I), he covers a lot of ground very effectively and I feel he is generally fair to egalitarian evangelicals, even while disagreeing with them (e.g., page 185; to be fair, egalitarian evangelicals might disagree). At the very least, he is very clear on what the positions and issues are.

Having said that, in some areas he glosses over complicated issues way to quickly. I have no wish to be overly negative, but his treatment of "saved through childbearing" is woefully inadequate (see especially page 187). First, he does not evidence knowledge of some important recent articles that grapple with this issue (e.g., Moyer Hubbard in JETS vol. 55.4 and Andrew Spurgeon in JETS vol. 56.3--both of these articles of are significant: Hubbard for his background study on maternal mortality in childbirth, and Spurgeon for his discussion of the theology of Genesis 2-3 in 1Tim 2; also worth noting, Sandra L. Glahn in BibSac vol. 172.687-688, dealing with the background of Artemis; Yarbrough does not cite any of these scholars). He does not deal at all with George W. Knight's (NIGTC) objections to the traditional reformed soteriological view, and dismisses with two sentences the idea that tēs teknogonias might refer to the Messiah. He mentions nobody that specifically holds that view (George Knight is one of its ablest defenders) and simply refers the reader to an essay by Thomas Schreiner to refute it. This falls far short of what I would have expected (indeed, what I was hoping for) from a scholar of Dr. Yarbrough's caliber. In addition, sometimes Yarbrough offers more of a survey of scholarship rather than a dialogue (e.g., page 262-3 left me wanting a bit more discussing), but some of that might be just the constraints of the commentary series.

In conclusion: this is a great commentary by a great scholar. Its strengths are: 1. Overall solid conservative treatment on the Pastorals (i.e., pastors, this is a commentary you want in your library), 2. Some excellent unique theological thoughts, and 3. Solid writing. Its weaknesses are: 1. Some surprising lacuna among secondary sources, some of them quite important; and 2. Inadequate treatment of some topics, especially "saved through child-bearing" (seriously, with all due respect to Dr. Yarbrough, I'm kind of miffed about this one since I make a point of lecturing on it in both Hermeneutics [time permitting] and Pastoral Epistles; it's arguably the most difficult passage in the New Testament, and deserves a more thorough and fair treatment).

Once again, however, my criticisms should not detract from the value of this book. While it would not be my primary textbook even at a graduate level, it has valuable material in it that students should be aware of.


  1. Thanks for the review! If I was reviewing your review, among the strengths would be 1) a very informed reviewer; 2) helpful comparison and contrast with other commentaries; a weakness would be it was bit long to be called a "mini" review. ;-)

    Seriously, thanks for your comments on this!

  2. Excellent review. There are too few informative reviews on blogs.

    I'm with Stephen Brown, however. Your one weakness is that you may need a refresher on the semantic range of the word mini. I think you left that behind rather early in the text!

  3. lol, let's just say I have a habit of getting carried away. My Revelation book would have been 5,000+ pages if my editor hadn't intervened . . . :)

  4. Hi, Paul! Nice review, and thank you. You are right that Yarbrough is not a specialist in the Pastorals, but he has a few more pertinent items in his background that I wanted to mention:

    Yarbrough, Robert W. “The Empowerment of Women in 1 Timothy 2.” Presentation at the ETS Annual Meeting, Atlanta, GA, 19 November 2010.

    ________. “Familiar Paths and a Fresh Matrix: The Hermeneutics of 1 Timothy 2:9–15.” Pages 227–78 in Women in the Church: An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9–15. Edited by Andreas J. Köstenberger and Thomas R. Schreiner. 3rd ed. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016.

    ________. “The Pastoral Epistles in New Testament Theologies from Tubingen to Thielman.” Presentation at the ETS Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA, 17 November 2011.

    ________. “Paul as Working Pastor: Exposing an Open Ethical Secret.” Pages 143–58 in Paul as Pastor. Edited by Brian S. Rosner, Andrew S. Malone, and Trevor J. Burke. New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2017. (this item is incorporated in the Pillar commentary)

    ________. “Schlatter on the Pastorals: Mission in the Academy.” Pages 295‒316 in New Testament Theology in Light of the Church’s Mission: Essays in Honor of I. Howard Marshall. Edited by J. C. Laansma, G. R. Osborne, and R. F. Van Neste. Eugene, OR: Cascade: 2011.

    1. A fair point! I've added a comment in the body of the paper to the regard that he has some professional papers on the PE that he's presented.