Galatians 1 & 2: Exposition, Commentary, Application. By Laurence Vance. Pensacola, FL: Vance Publications, 2010. 154 pp. Paper, $12.95.
It is a bit unusual to have a commentary of just the first two chapters of any book, let alone Galatians. However, Vance indicates in the Introduction that he started this work nine years ago and he now realizes he may not be able to finish the commentary on all of Galatians (p. xi). So his reason for this selection is sound. And he does point out that others have written on just these two chapters (footnotes 2 and 3 on p. xii).
The commentary discussion is helpful for the most part. For example, his comments on Gal 1:6-9 are very helpful in part and confusing in part. Helpful: The false gospel of the Judaizers “was not the denial of the historical facts of the gospel that is here termed ‘another gospel,’ for that would never have been accepted by the Galatians, but rather additions to it” (p. 18). He goes on to suggest that the false gospel of the Judaizers was adding works to faith as co-conditions of justification. He cites modern examples such as “believe and be baptized,” “believe and keep the Sabbath,” and “believe and endure to the end” (p. 19). Confusing: He says of the anathema of Gal 1:8-9, “To be ‘accursed’ is to be devoted to divine instruction. This is because the consequences of trusting in a false gospel are eternal…It should be noted that Paul reserves these solemn words, not for atheists, agnostics, or infidels, but for professing Christians who pervert the gospel of Christ. Specifically, however, this curse applies only to those who ‘preach any other gospel,’ not to every Christian who mistakenly believes some false doctrine” (p. 23). It sounds like he is saying that if a “professing Christian” preaches a works salvation gospel, then he will go to hell. Whatever he means, this is not as clear as JOTGES readers would like.
Another example of the helpful and confusing is his discussion of Gal 2:16. (Vance devotes a whopping 13 pages to that one verse.) Helpful: “Here we have the first mention in Galatians (and therefore the first chronologically in the New Testament) of that great doctrine of justification by faith…[First] The doctrine of justification by faith without works [is] articulated in this verse. Second, to bring up the doctrine of justification by faith in such a casual manner, while at the same time maintaining that saved Jews know it to be true, indicates that it had to have been a regular object of Paul’s preaching and teaching” (p. 107). Confusing: “Just because a man knows these things to be true does not mean that he is saved. The gospel must be received, as James says: ‘Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only’ (Jas 1:22)” (p. 115). That is very confusing. But then he adds these words that help a bit, “Multitudes of people know of and believe in the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, and the resurrection, but this does not make them Christians.” However, he then follows that with these words, which, taken out of context, are confusing: “It is ‘as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God’ (John 1:12).” Surprisingly he leaves off the end of John 1:12 which tells the reader what John means by “as many as received Him.” A bit later he makes this confusing statement: “The issue is, and always has been, Jesus Christ, for ‘the devils also believe’ (Jas 2:19) in God” (p. 117). Vance in a number of places selects difficult texts to quote (e.g., Jas 1:22; 2:19) in order to clarify his point. But the effect is confusion, for difficult texts need explanation, not mere quoting.
There is a very extensive (20 page) Bibliography in the back that is helpful (pp. 135-54).
A bit cumbersome is the author’s practice of quoting the entire verse under discussion at the top of each page. I do not mean merely putting something like Gal 2:16 at the top of the page. I mean that he writes out the entire verse, in the case of Gal 2:16 he puts all 57 words of that verse at the top of each page. He thus has a double header at the top of each page. I found this distracting, and a waste of a lot of space on each page.
I am torn on this commentary. In my estimation it is somewhat uneven in terms of the clarity and helpfulness of the comments to recommend it for a new believer or any believer who is not well versed in Free Grace theology. However, for the one who is well grounded and who already has several strong commentaries on Galatians (e.g., Longenecker, Ridderbos, Cole, Vos, Kent), this is a helpful addition to his commentary library.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society