Is there a real future for publishing new biblical commentaries???

Is there a real future for publishing new biblical commentaries??? November 1, 2008

I am currently reviewing two new commentaries (one on 1 Corinthians and one on Colossians).  Though some new insights are interesting on one verse or another, most of the time the comments are similar to conclusions and discussions previously reached in similar commentaries.  For instance, a commentary on any of Paul’s letters has to treat his ‘grace and peace to you…’ intro comment.  All modern commentaries will say the same thing.  What choice do they have?  They can’t just skip verses.  After all, each commentary has to try and stand on its own, right?  Well, that is what I find a bit tedious.  I think what may make the future of biblical commentating more palatable is a new genre.  Instead of commentaries being written that go verse-by-verse and make many or most of the same conclusions as previous ones, we perhaps should evolve the next generation of ‘commentaries’ into ‘Commentary Supplements’.

A ‘Commentary Supplement’ would not need to comment on each and every verse, since some verses are either quite easy to interpret as they stand, or the ground of interpretation has been well-worked by others.  This Supplement would only comment where the author feels that he or she is making a new contribution, or is reflecting on the state of scholarly discussion is a helpful way that moves interpretation forward.  Such Supplements could still have lengthy introductions, because some of the best information is given in such places where the author says: ‘Ok, this letter or gospel is written for this reason and reacts against these issues…now let’s see it unfold’.  The difference is, we only read about verses and sections that are really worth commenting on.  The interesting thing is, scholars who write these will disagree on what is important to add more input on, and what is already pretty well covered.  This will be advantageous to all involved for the following reasons:

1. It will be cheaper for the purchasers (because it will be shorter)

2. It will be a bit easier to read – in that you don’t have to struggle so hard to skip sections with perfunctory discussions.

3. It could be easier to write – though the researcher will not be able to just go into the project already knowing which sections need more attention.  But, when it comes to ‘writing up’, the shortness of the supplement style will make for less work (hopefully).

Now, having said all this, I think there is still room for some verse-by-verse commentaries.  These, I think, are known as ‘niche’ commentaries which approach the book from a special angle which has not yet been done (e.g. Social-science, rhetoric, feminism, etc…).

Finally, I think there needs to be a bit more openness to the stand-alone commentary – one that is not in a series (like Keener’s on Matthew and John).  That is because for some NT books we have a serious need for good commentaries, while other books are really well covered.  For instance, 2 Corinthians needs a good commentary.  I like Harris and Matera, but we need more (someone like Lou Martyn or Richard Hays would be good on this in a stand-alone large volume).  Also, I think Acts needs more attention – perhaps a 3 volume commentary (which shouldn’t seem so strange since 3 volumes were allotted to David Aune for Revelation in the WBC).

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