AUGUST H. KONKEL. 1 & 2 Chronicles. Believers Church Bible Commentary. Harrisonburg, Virginia and Kitchener, Ontario: Herald Press, 2016. Pp. 517 $29.99 (USD)
August H. Konkel’s 1 & 2 Chronicles, in the Believers Church Bible Commentary series, begins with an introduction describing Chronicles as an approach to historiography, and the communities, composition, goals, message, and the connection with the New Testament of these books. He also discusses the methodology and translations used within this commentary.
The commentary is then divided into seven sections: Part 1: Nation of Promise, 1 Chronicles 1:1-9:34; Part 2: Founding the Kingdom, 1 Chronicles 9:35-20:8; Part 3: Preparations for the Temple, 1 Chronicles 21:1-29:30; Part 4: The Reign of Solomon, 2 Chronicles 1:1-9:31; Part 5: Israel until the Exile of the North, 2 Chronicles 10:1-28:27; Part 6: Healing under Hezekiah, 2 Chronicles 29:1-32:33; and Part 7: Humiliation and Hope, 2 Chronicles 33:1-36:23.
The volume ends with an outline of 1 and 2 Chronicles, explanatory essays, maps of Palestine and the Ancient Near East, bibliography, selected resources, and an index of ancient sources.
The aim of The Believers Church Bible Commentary series is to provide a “new tool for basic Bible study” (15) so that those using this tool will be able “more fully to understand the original message of Scripture and its meaning for today” (15) with the guidance of the Holy Spirit as God still speaks to “all who will listen” (15).
The writers chosen for this series come from within the tradition informed by “Anabaptism, evangelicalism, or pietism” (16), although they hope that this series will be used by all Christians seeking an understanding of the Word. In the person of August H. Konkel, the series picked a scholar known for his work in Chronicles, who grew up in the Mennonite culture and, before his academic career, pastored a Mennonite church.
Konkel frames his study of Chronicles in light of his own family’s history of exile from the Ukraine, moving to a new start in Canada. Their survival enlightens his understanding of the “Chronicler’s story as a survivor of exile” (18). For him, Chronicles is a study of faith in how history writing teaches us about the past as well as informs our theology to be able to see how God is working in the present.
One of the main themes of Chronicles is how the Chronicler, who probably lived in the later days of the Persian Empire, examined Israel’s past for lessons on how to live in their present circumstances and give hope for their future: “The Chronicler is teaching his people about God and the way they may find God at work in their lives” (35).
The analogy is made throughout the book that just as the Chronicler studied the history of his own people to learn how to live in their present-day circumstances, so too the Anabaptist-related churches can learn from a study of their own history how to live today.
Konkel explains that the Chronicler uses eschatological history, “a history as it should have happened, the history that God intended for his people” (251), the ideal Israel should have fulfilled (464). Konkel highlights throughout the book how New Testament themes align with Chronicles and calls Chronicles a micro Biblia which “contains more history than any other biblical book on how God worked amid his people through the centuries” (446).
Konkel does an excellent job of framing each chapter in the preview section using an analogy from today’s world to help the reader understand the scripture text, what it meant in its original context (covered in the “Explanatory Notes” and “The Text in Biblical Context” sections). In the closing section (“The Text in the Life of the Church”) he explains how the biblical text informs the life of the church today.
Throughout the commentary, I appreciated Konkel’s comparisons between Chronicles, and the books of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings, especially the theological differences between them.
Konkel gives me some new concepts to consider as well as raising questions. For example, he defines Sabbath rest of the seventh day as a world without conflict (219). Is the creation of the world simply making order/peace out of conflict or is there more to it than that? In his explanation of King Asa’s commitment to God, he makes the statement, “But no spiritual commitment is without failure” (328). What does that say about Jesus and his spiritual commitment? And is it credible that Ahaz’s transgression of passing children through fire did not indicate child sacrifice, but rather child dedication to a deity? (374)
In an early “Text in the Life of the Church” section, “The Church among the Nations” (60), Konkel makes the analogy that during the days of the Chronicler, Israel was not “a significant political, social or spiritual force” (60), much like the church today is “politically marginalized and has no realistic strategies or positions capable of changing societies and civilizations. The church has no significance whatever among the power of nations. . . .The goal of the church is not to change the world, but to be present among all nations, faithful to the values and truths that are to represent the presence of God in the world” (60-61). Does not that very presence change the world? Are Christians not called to be that presence, that salt, yeast, and light that affect/change and illuminate all that they touch?
One grammatical correction needed is on page 150: the second paragraph, second line, needs the word “of” added: “The failures of the Roman Church came to crisis with the protest of one (of [sic]) its own priests….”
On the whole, the objective of the commentary was met. Konkel’s explanations of the genealogies, history writing, and eschatological history for Chronicles are excellent as is his applying the themes of Chronicles to Anabaptist churches today. Although not the aim of this commentary series, I would appreciate seeing Konkel focus it further to help us understand what the Chronicler has to say to the personal struggles of Christians today.
Author: Deborah Winters
The Rev. Dr. Deborah Winters is an affiliate professor of Old Testament at Palmer Theological Seminary of Eastern University, served 24 years as a settled pastor in the United Church of Christ, and now serves as a transitional (interim) pastor specialist in the Pennsylvania area.