With thanks once again to Adriana Wright (@adriannawright) and IVP (@IVPAcademic) for the review copy. Please see my previous post
for some background on the book itself.
This is in essence new commentary material from J.B. Lightfoot. And, as with Lightfoot's other known commentary material, this new material contains frequent reference to classical literature (Plutarch, Seneca, and scads of others). These factors alone make the material in the book worth consulting when one is working through material in Acts.
Reviewing a commentary is hard. Reading a commentary straight through, especially if you aren't already invested in the text itself, is a difficult proposition. Not impossible, but difficult. As such, this post is not a review. Instead, I'll mention a few things about one particular section of Acts with which I'm familiar (Acts 18:18–23, which I thoroughly in this paper presented at the 2007 ETS National Meeting and later published in the Global Journal of Classical Theology). This will be followed by some thoughts on the presentation of the volume as a whole.
Lightfoot on Acts 18:18–23
My particular take on this passage in the mentioned paper is an exploration based on one major plank of Richard Bauckham's argument in his 2006 book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Bauckham, based on earlier work by C.H. Turner (work that Lightfoot had no access to as it was published after his death) on something Bauckham calls the "plural to singular narrative device." This is when a nonspecific plural reference ("They") shifts to a nonspecific singular reference ("he" or "she") in conjunction with a locational shift, as in Acts 18:19. Turner & Bauckham note this may be a marker indicating that eyewitness testimony follows. I'm not sure if it does or doesn't, but this spot in Acts 18 is the only non-gospel instance of something that can be considered to be an instance of the device. And that's what the paper is about. For the purposes of discussion here, it just means I've really looked at this passage in some depth.
First off, notes the text-critical issue in Acts 18:19. The verb in NA/UBS (and Westcott-Hort, which Lightfoot would've been using post-1881) is in the plural. But the TR has it in the singular. Lightfoot simply notes the plural is "The right reading" and further mentions that Luke "disposes of the movement of Priscilla and Aquila" in his move to singular with the next verb to "give his whole attention to" Paul. This is true, the attention is focused on Paul from this point, which helps resolve some referent ambiguity in the text later on.
At this point, one notices most of Lightfoot's comments on this portion of the text are text-critical in nature. He also handles issues in vocabulary (noting topographical terms and nautical terms in vv. 22–23). This leads me to think the material for this passage anyway is a bit more preliminary and note-like than Lightfoot's other published commentary material. It is a good reminder that we are likely catching Lightfoot in the middle of his work at many points in this new material, and not reading a finished work. Despite this, the material is still of great value.
Thoughts on Presentation
Most who read this blog know I love books, particularly older books. I have a soft spot for the older NT commentaries of, say, 1850–1950. You know, the old MacMillian commentaries with volumes not only by Lightfoot (Galatians, Philippians, Colossians & Philemon) but also by Westcott, Swete, Mayor, and others. One feature of these volumes was the inclusion of the Greek New Testament (usually Westcott & Hort's edition, but also as a version from the author or a modified WH with the author's readings) at the top of the page, with commentary as running notes. I realize it is a bit more difficult typographically, but with the royalty-free availability of Westcott and Hort's text today, I'd hoped to see the IVP volume formatted like the old MacMillian volumes. Lightfoot directly references the Greek of the passage with frequency as if it is laid in front of the reader. Including the text would make the book more useable, especially for those who do not have the text of Acts readily accessible.
There are some excursuses in the commentary. These are awesome. However, it is sometimes hard to tell where the excursus ends and the commentary begins again. Setting the excursuses off in some typographic manner (top and bottom borders?) would help.
There are two indexes, an Author Index and a Scripture Index. A further reference index of ancient references (Fathers and classical references) would be welcomed. There is gold in those references, and including indexes of the mentions would be helpful for those interested in pursuing such material.
A last quibble: I can't understand why the subtitle "A Newly Discovered Commentary" is used. It is a temporal reference that will not stand the test of time. I'm sure there are reasons, but every time I see the subtitle I wish it wasn't there, because it won't always be true. When I pick the book up off the shelf in five years, it will not have been "newly discovered." This is good stuff for marketing and jacket copy, but it gives me pause as part of the formal title of a book because it will appear worn in the not too distant future.
Summary and Conclusion
This is Lightfoot. If you're working in Acts, you need to consult this volume. Despite the things I've said of presentation, which are hopefully received as constructive criticism from a fan, this is a useful commentary that will be consulted with frequency, and I look forward to the following volumes of the Lightfoot Legacy Set.