Barry J. Beitzel, ed., Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through Revelation (Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2019), 762 pages, $39.99 (hardcover). Reviewed by Gerald A. Klingbeil, Adventist Review.
Real estate agents tell their clients that location is key to selling well. The Lexham Geographic Commentary offers a unique take on the commentary genre, focusing on geography and location as a crucial element for understanding the texts of the New Testament. Following the publication of the first volume on the Gospels in 2016, Beitzel and his team of 18 well-known and highly qualified biblical scholars discuss the biblical text thematically, not verse by verse.
The volume is divided into 53 chapters, ranging from “The Topography of Jerusalem in the Book of Acts,” via “Paul’s Early Ministry in Syria and Cilicia: The Silent Years,” to “The Social and Geographical World of Ephesus,” and “Peter’s Christian Communities in Asia Minor.” A large portion of relevant texts from the New Testament commented upon comes from the book of Acts and its narrative detailing the geographical and numerical growth of the nascent fellowship of the followers of Jesus and its transformation into the early Christian church. While there are individual chapters on the different churches addressed in Revelation 1-3, there is no discussion of the last 19 chapters of this apocalyptic book—something to be expected in a commentary focusing on geography.
Each chapter with a box containing the key points of the chapter, followed by the discussion of significant issues and theories associated with the section under consideration. Explicit geographical descriptions and clear sequences were not always the most important information the biblical authors wanted to communicate, thus requiring careful consideration and, at times, informed guestimates based on known geographical realities. All chapters include at least one map, indicating locations and possible routes discussed in the chapter, together with a number of relevant color images of specific locations or pertinent objects.
The commentary represents a great resource for getting “closer” to the biblical places discussed in it. Each chapter concludes with an extensive bibliography of articles and monographs that offers help to readers who want to dig deeper. The volume also includes a helpful subject index, as well as Scripture and nonbiblical textual sources indexes.
The emphasis on geography and location offers unique angles to well-known biblical texts. Readers are reminded that God’s Word was revealed in real time about real people in real places. Those eager to see God’s handiwork in history will find the vantage point of this volume refreshing, faith-affirming, and relevant for their study of Scripture.
In the introduction Beitzel summarizes: “If the Christian gospel were simply a matter of otherworldliness, or if it were concerned only with applying spiritual or moral values, gaining an appreciation of the spatial dimension of the Bible would hardly matter, and seminal events in the Bible would hardly have been geographically encoded in the text by inspired biblical writers. But it is neither of these! Central to the kerygma [message] of the New Testament is the foundational claim that God became a man at a definite moment in time and at a precise point in space.”
For people anxiously awaiting the physical coming of their Lord this reference tool will engage both their minds and their hearts as they follow in the footsteps of the apostles and marvel at the breadth of mission of the early church.