Commentaries: February 2006 Archives

Word Biblical Commentary

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This is a list of the current and forthcoming commentaries in the Word Biblical Commentary. For more series, see my post on commentary series.

The Word Biblical Commentaries (WBC) are an unusual commentary series. They're supposed to be combining an academic approach, based in the original languages in full original language fonts, with an evangelical approach. The reality is less clear. Some of the volumes are less detailed than others, though all do use the original language fonts. The evangelicalism of this series varies considerably depending on the author. Some are clearly theological conservatives who hold to some form of inerrancy. Others don't seem to me to be evangelicals even by a reasonable stretch of the term. They say each author needs to hold to evangelicalism by a fairly loose interpretation of the term, but I think the editors are so loose with it that it's ceased to have any meaning. Some of the volumes are accordingly far removed from what most evangelicals are looking for. Others are solidly conservative and consider the kinds of questions people of faith rather than historians and scholars will ask. I consider Wenham on Genesis, Williamson on Ezra-Nehemiah, O'Brien on Colossians and Philemon, and Lane on Hebrews as the best commentaries on those books, hands down, and Clines on Job, Craigie on Psalms 1-50, Stuart on Hosea-Jonah, Longenecker on Galatians, Lincoln on Ephesians, Mounce on the Pastoral Epistles, and Bauckham on II Peter and Jude are among the very best on those books. The series is nearing completion. Judges, Job 21-42, Acts, and I Corinthians remain vacant. A number of volumes have been contracted for replacements. Only a few such replacements have already appeared.

The format of the series gets mixed reviews. Some find it extremely helpful by separating different aspects of what a commentary does into different sections. Others find it incredibly annoying. I'm in the latter camp. It's hard to find anything, because you have to look at three or four different sections sometimes, only to find that it's not covered at all in some cases. In a normal commentary, you just look under the verse in question, and if it's not there you know fairly quickly. The bibliographies get the most credit from reviewers, because they're ridiculously comprehensive, but I think they're one of the biggest weaknesses of the series. They're so scattered. There's no central bibliography, and the author indexes aren't compiled very well. There are no footnotes, so every reference occurs in text, but the references are always author and date after the first reference, and it's usually very difficult to find the first reference to get the whole citation. I've tried to find references to certain authors, and a number of page references the index says to look at won't even discuss that author, or the first appearance of that author isn't in the index at all so I won't find the full bibliographic information. If they had real bibliographies instead of scatttered mini-biographies, it would be much more helpful. The reviewers constantly say the series is great for the bibliographies, but having such comprehensive bibliographies scattered throughout the book is pretty useless if the index doesn't tell you where the reference you're looking for is. Some of the volumes in this series are excellent, but they're good in spite of the absolutely horrendous format and not because of it.

After looking through the many volumes and replacements of NICOT and NICNT volumes, going back to 1951, I decided to put together a list of the whole series in order to date, including the next two announced volumes, which should be out this year.

In three of the years I have no idea which of two volumes released that year was first. Those years are 1953, 1954, 1959, and 1965. Twice I found that two volumes were released in the same month (Galatians and the Acts revision in 1988 and then Philippians and the John revision in 1995). I don't know for sure if they were released the same day, because Amazon just reports the month for these (not its usual practice). Other than those uncertainties, assuming Amazon is reporting the months accurately, the following is the order the NICNT and NICOT volumes have appeared, first for the whole series and then separately for the OT and NT.

This is a list of the current and forthcoming commentaries in the New International Commentaries on the New Testament (NICNT) and on the Old Testament (NICOT). For more series, see my post on commentary series. For the list of this series in the chronological order of their release, see this post.

This is another of my favorite series. Almost all the contributors are what I would consider conservative evangelicals, though occasionally some will take views that do seem only moderately conservative to some (e.g. Leslie Allen on Jonah argues that Jonah didn't happen historically but affirms inerrancy because he believes the book is a parable), but that's not standard for the series. I might consider some of the commentaries in this series to be the best out there on the book in question, e.g. Hubbard on Ruth, Waltke on Proverbs, Block on Ezekiel, Moo on Romans, and others are excellent as well, including Hamilton on Genesis, Wenham on Leviticus, and Fee on I Corinthians and Philippians. Some forthcoming volumes should also be outstanding.

This series isn't quite as detailed as the most academic series, but it's fairly detailed, at least in the newer volumes. You might call it semi-technical. The footnotes often have the kind of detail you'd find in a more exclusively academic commentary. They try to restrict the text to transliteration of Hebrew and Greek for the sake of readability, and I think someone sufficiently committed to learning a lot about one book of the Bible might read through these cover to cover. I've read the volumes on Leviticus, Numbers, and Isaiah 1-39 myself, and I've read half of the Ruth volume and large sections of others. Of course I'll also read even more technical commentaries straight through, but I think these are a lot easier to handle for those accustomed to reading commentaries who still wouldn't read through the more detailed ones of other series.

This review is adapted from my Amazon review.

This is an excellent book. Ashley is well-informed about what people of differing viewpoints have to say, and this is the most in-depth evangelical commentary on the book of Numbers. He doesn't accept all the conservative positions easily, but he is fairly conservative in the end.

He convincingly argues for the unity of the canonical book and undermines many source-critical "solutions" to some of the problems of interpretation. However, this doesn't mean he thinks the entire book was written by one person or during or immediately after the time of Moses (not least because the Pentateuch never suggests that it was wholly authored by Moses,and nor does any New Testament book, though Jesus does refer to them as the books of Moses the same way he refers to the Psalms as David, who clearly didn't write all of them). Ashley does think much of it goes back to Moses in some form, and he takes its own claims of its origins as genuine. He occasionally gives arguments for this about certain passages. He makes no bones about being an evangelical and seeing scripture as God's word, wholly inspired (and I assume without error in its original form, which we no longer have 100%, though he doesn't focus on the details of his views on inspiration). He doesn't take a view on problems related to large numbers in the Hebrew scriptures, but hardly anyone, evangelical or not, has a satisfying and all-encompassing view about that thorny problem.

Ashley doesn't constantly focus on theology and ties to the New Testament, but he does do a fair amount of excellent reflection on such matters in almost as much detail as his historical, linguistic, and sociological reflection.

For a more mainstream commentary, the best is Jacob Milgrom's JPS Torah commentary (which isn't just the old classic liberal viewpoint but has covered new ground, undermining lots of now-old-fashioned views still taught at the undergraduate level). Ashley had some access to Milgrom's work before revising his manuscript into the final draft, but he had little time to take into account Milgrom's whole commentary. Milgrom's thought has influenced Ashley's from his many papers and earlier books. Gordon Wenham's Tyndale volume is quite good but getting dated, and it's extremely short. Katherine Sakenfeld's International Theological Commentary and Dennis Olson's Interpretation are more recent popular level commentaries, but they're from a more critical direction. R. Dennis Cole's New American Commentary volume is more recent but isn't as detailed as Ashley's. I look forward to John Sailhamer's replacement of the Word Biblical Commentary volume by Philip Budd, but until then Ashley will be the standard for evangelicals at this level of detail. His is the most in-depth of the recent evangelical commentaries on this book, though that doesn't mean these other commentaries wouldn't complement it nicely.

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