Biblical studies: January 2006 Archives

When I took my first class in biblical studies, I was a little surprised to find that scholars generally don't call the Old Testament the Old Testament. My Jewish professor (Saul Olyan for those who care) preferred not to bring in the connotations Christians associate with that term and simply called it the Hebrew Bible. I was fine with this for the sake of that class, though I preferred to use the standard Christian term in most contexts. I didn't like the term 'Greek Bible' for the New Testament, though, because no one thinks of the New Testament as a whole Bible. It's not the Christian Bible either, because that's both testaments.

I did know that some Christians didn't like the standard 'Old Testament' and 'New Testament' descriptors because of things they seemed to convey that might not be accurate. I didn't know that anyone had proposed replacing them with 'First Testament' and 'Second Testament'. If anything I would have preferred 'Old Covenant' and 'New Covenant', since 'testament' is generally a mistranslation (in contemporary English anyway) of the term for covenant in the New Testament. But I'm generally the sort to prefer the names we have already, because once something becomes a name it's really ceased to be a description at all, as evidenced by the countless inaccurate titles we use all the time that nonetheless succeed in referring to their intended designee (e.g. 'driveway' and 'parkway' are not descriptions but names of categories that seem to have reversed their etymological meaning, and 'the United States of America' no longer refers to a collection of nation-states but a bunch of provinces that we inaccurately call states).

Anyway, Tyler Williams has a great post on this: Old Testament/First Testament/Hebrew Bible/Tanak: What's in a Name? Quite a Bit Actually! He summarizes the different terms and the reasons offered for and against all of them in a way that I think is pretty fair to all parties.

Questions from Bruce

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Bruce Meyer left the following comment:

Hi Jeremy (and others, is that right?). I was reading some parts of the Bible today that caught my eye, and I wondered what's going on here. Since you're the resident expert on All Things Commentaried, I thought I would run them by you.

Proverb 25:23 says, a backbiting tongue brings forth angry looks. My reaction is, ooh, I'm scared, not. What else is going on here? Maybe it's the Evil Eye, a virtually effective curse?

The other one is Revelation 3:18, Jesus says "I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich..." OK, it's not literal. Assuming it's not trivial, perhaps Christ is urging the comfortably lukewarm to dig deeper, and get the real thing, not the minimally acceptable qualities that a baptized Christian needs to not get kicked out. But is there more here, do you think? Thanks.

I responded in the same comment thread, but I've moved my response now to this post.

This is a list of the current and forthcoming commentaries in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (BECNT) series. For more series, see my post on commentary series.

This is one of my favorite series now. It's got a ways to go before it's complete, but what's out is mostly excellent. In some ways this is a technical series. They use Greek font and address most of the issues a full-scale commentary will deal with, offering plenty of detail. I think Darrell Bock's two volumes on Luke are now the most helpful commentary on that book, and Andreas Koestenberger on John almost rivals that of D.A. Carson, my personal favorite commentator on scripture.

At the same time, all Greek is transliterated and translated, so readers unfamiliar with the language won't be slowed down by the Greek font. Also, the format and organization of the series is one of the best I've ever seen. It looks like a cutting edge college textbook, something you never see in a serious academic work, but the content is exactly the latter. It's not of the kind of reference-work detail as some other series, so you can more easily actually read through a whole commentary in this series if you're the sort who likes to read the more scholarly commentaries (as I do). It's also thoroughly evangelical but with much higher standards for contributors than some evangelical series. The editors have by and large chosen extremely responsible biblical scholars for what will become one of the best detailed commentary series on the New Testament.

This is a list of the current and forthcoming commentaries in the Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC) series. For more series, see my post on commentary series. This series is one of my favorites. It started as a collection of independent commentaries with similar covers: Matthew and Romans by Leon Morris, John by D.A. Carson, and Revelation by Philip Edgcumbe Hughes. The Hughes volume was later discontinued, and Carson is planning to contribute his own Revelation commentary at some point to replace it. Morris' Romans is also scheduled for replacement by Colin Kruse. The covers have now drastically improved as well. I'll probably end up with at least 75% of the series by the time they're done.

I'd place the series generally around the upper-mid level. Some of them aren't quite as detailed as the NICNT series (though some of the older NICOT volumes are about the same level. A few are detailed enough for me to count as good enough for full academic commentaries, though they're much more readable than most and nowhere near as detailed as the most detailed academic works. Much of the more technical material will be in footnotes even in those volumes, and Greek fonts are used only in footnotes by the authors who insist on using them (which is probably a minority of those who contribute to the series so far). The perspective is solidly evangelical, and there's an insistence on real interaction with the best of scholarship, evangelical or not. Contributors are fairly conservative theologically, and most refuse to give theology short shrift as in many academic commentaries. Inerrancy is assumed, but in many cases interpretations inconsistent with inerrancy will be presented (and usually responded to) just because such interpretations are common.

As I was catching up on some old posts that I'd saved in my RSS reader to come back to later, I stumbled upon a fun and informative post by Tyler Williams called Dogs, Urine, and Bible Translations: On the Importance of Translating Connotative Meaning. It involves Jesus giving attitude to his mother, dentistry in Amos, and pissing in the KJV. See also his earlier post Going Potty in Ancient Times that isn't about language.

(For those unfamiliar with the reference, the title of this post comes straight out of the KJV. Read Tyler's post for the context and for what it amounts to. I have to wonder what KJV-onlies who think 'piss' is a dirty word think about this one. Or maybe they just aren't reading their Bibles.)

Psalms Commentaries

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This is part of a larger project reviewing commentaries on each book of the Bible. Follow the links from that post for more information on the series, including explanations of what I mean by some of the terms and abbreviations in this post. You can see my annotated Amazon Listmania! list of Psalms commentaries if you want a quick overview of what I think are the most important commentaries before looking more deeply at this more detailed review.

Gerald Wilson's NIVAC on Psalms 1-72 is my favorite of all the Psalms commentaries. It's technically a popular-level commentary, but it's a good deal more in-depth than most NIVAC volumes in the area of Original Meaning, and it's even got a fairly significant introduction, something very uncommon for this series. As with most of them it's very good in its Bridging Contexts and Contemporary Application sections. The main point is to move from the original setting to contemporary application through deriving the general principles behind what the text says in its original setting. Unfortunately, the commentary is incomplete. It really is the first place I look for anything on the first 72 psalms. This one seems to be especially good with theology, and it's got a much greater degree of exegetical detail than some other popular-audience commentaries. [Update: Wilson has died. I'm guessing that this volume will be reassigned (or perhaps completed by someone else as a co-author if Wilson has made enough progress for the publisher to want to use his work).]

The WBC on Psalms is in three volumes. Volume 1 on Psalms 1-50 is by Peter Craigie. It's recently been updated by Marvin Tate, who did the second volume on 51-100, but you can still get the original by Craigie. I haven't looked at the updated version yet, but I imagine it strengthened the weaknesses in Craigie's volume in ways that the series' later volumes tended to improve upon. Volume 3 on 101-150 by Leslie Allen is now in its second edition, with exactly the sort of improvements that I'm expecting Tate did for Craigie. These three commentaries as a set form my favorite detailed treatment of the Psalms. There's some variation among the contributors. Craigie tends to be more theological than the others and is my favorite of the three. He is also strong on comparative linguistics, especially Ugaritic, and practices a moderate form criticism. Tate offers the most detail and is the heftiest of the three volumes (even after the other two have been revised), but he's less theological. Allen is somewhere in between. None of them draw enough connections with the New Testament for my preferences. Craigie's work is also the most dated, though the update by Tate should remedy that. With that update and the revision to Allen, those two volumes are very recent in their current form, and Tate is only 15 years old. All three start with a strong text-critical section and conclude with a summary of the basic meaning, with detailed commentary on each verse in between. There's some contemporary significance in the last section. The original versions of volumes 1 and 3 had much less of that, but the revised versions have a lot more than the originals did. One distracting feature of some Psalms commentaries is over-speculation about which ritual settings each psalm might have originated in, and these volumes focus more on what scholars can say with some confidence.

This is just about the most recent, complete, in-depth commentary on this book. The longest book in the Bible doesn't draw many full-length commentaries very often. There's only one complete academic commentary on Psalms that I know of that's more recent (Terrien), and that's nowhere near as detailed in terms of actual commentary. All three authors stand within the evangelical tradition, somewhat broadly construed. All three of them take views that I'm not willing to endorse in terms of historicity (though I'm not sure I'd deny most of those statements either), but they're all more conservative than you'll find in any other recent academic commentary on the Psalms. Allen is probably the least conservative of the bunch. But this is as conservative as you'll get for now at this level of detail. The forthcoming NICOT by Rolf Jacobsen, Nancy deClaisse-Walford, and Beth LaNeel Tanner might remedy that, but I know very little about the theological perspectives of any of those authors.

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