Preaching’s Annual Survey Of The Year’s Best In Bibles And Bible Reference Works
In a 2002 interview with Christianity Today, influential Bible translator Eugene Nida talked about a conversation he once had with a Japanese translation committee. Challenging the group to seek the greatest clarity in translating the biblical text, he was asked, “If we made the Bible that clear, what would the preachers have to do?”
Nida responded, “They could preach.” He went on to explain, “Preaching is not exegeting the Greek or Hebrew text. Preaching is applying that message to life.”
If that is the case – and most good preachers I know would agree with Nida – then it requires that the preacher and congregation have access to the best Bible translations available, and it also requires availability of excellent tools for biblical study, so that the preacher can deal accurately with the text in the process of driving home its meaning.
That’s why for many years, Preaching magazine has taken time at the end of each year to recognize the Bibles and Bible reference tools that have become available in recent months.
The Christian marketplace today is overflowing with Bible translations, from old standards like the New International Version (NIV) and New American Standard Bible (NASB) to newer (and excellent) products like the New Living Translation (NLT) and English Standard Version (ESV). Given the availability of so many translations, one can legitimately question the need for an additional translation today.
That’s why the people at Lifeway Christian Resources (which relates to Southern Baptists) have gone to great lengths to explain the value of their new Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), which has been fully released in the past year.
In an article available at the Lifeway website (www.lifeway.com), Sam Gantt and Greg Webster point out that, “Traditionally, there have been two different approaches to translating the Bible. One, called ‘dynamic equivalent,’ bases the rendering of Scripture primarily on the meaning of a phrase or verse rather than on the individual words that make up the passage. The other, ‘formal equivalence,’ places a much higher priority on preserving the actual words of the original writings, but both have their limitations. Dynamic equivalence risks infusing the Scripture text with a translator’s interpretation of what a given passage means rather than what the original writer intended. Formal equivalence, on the other hand, struggles to make Scripture readable since the structure of ancient languages in word order, verb tenses, and the like differs so drastically from modern English.”
By contrast, they say, the HCSB “uses a third method that combines contemporary wording and grammar with an emphasis on reflecting the original words as closely as possible.” Calling this approach “optimal equivalence,” they argue that the HCSB seeks to strike a balance in order to provide the most accurate rendering of the passage in its original context.
In addition, the HCSB seeks to avoid what Gantt and Webster call “inappropriate simplification,” and thus includes theological terminology like “propitiation,” “redemption,” “justification,” and “sanctification.” Further, in contrast to some more recent approaches to include gender-inclusive language where possible, HCSB translators (who represent some 17 Protestant denominations) have left much of the gender-specific language of scripture in place, except where the context clearly indicates the reference is to men and women alike.
I’ve had a copy of the HCSB at my desk for much of the past year and have used it frequently. I find it to be a readable and useful text. It hasn’t yet replaced my NIV in preaching situations (old habits are hard to break), but it has become one of the two or three core translations I turn to when referencing a passage.
As the HCSB becomes the standard translation used in much Southern Baptist Sunday School curriculum, it will become a more and more commonly-used translation among evangelicals. Don’t be surprised if it enters the top five in Protestant usage within a decade.
In other Bible releases over the past year:
Kregel has published a new volume of James Moffatt’s 1935 translation of the Bible, which the publisher calls “the grandfather of the modern-language Bible in English.” While subsequent discoveries and study have made many of Moffatt’s higher critical textual decisions untenable since its publication, the work is nevertheless an interesting attempt to communicate the scripture in more contemporary English language.
Once a translation is released, subsequent years see the release of variations and re-packaging of the text for different audiences. One of those in 2004 was the Every Man’s Bible (Tyndale), which offers the New Living Translation along with a series of study and devotional helps aimed at men. In addition to co-creators Stephen Arterburn and Dean Merrill, the contributors include names like Chuck Swindoll, David Jeremiah, Henry Blackaby, and Stuart Briscoe.
One of the blessings of ministry in our era is the amazing availability of outstanding exegetical resources, both in print and on-line. (For more on Bible study software choices, check the survey in the September-October issue of Preaching.) Each year brings another assortment of useful commentaries.
For the pastor who can’t purchase a wide selection of commentaries and needs to get the most for the dollar invested, the new Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible is a worthwhile choice. Edited by British scholars James D.G. Dunn and John Rogerson, this one-volume work includes a relatively non-technical discussion of each book of the Bible (plus the 18 apocryphal works) as developed by a team of outstanding biblical scholars. And at nearly 1,700 pages, the $75.00 price tag doesn’t seem so onerous.
Another one-volume work that will be a valuable addition to any preacher’s library is Jon Courson’s Application Commentary – New Testament (Thomas Nelson). Courson is a pastor who understands communication – he led his Oregon church in 25 years from 20 persons to more than 7,000 attenders weekly. He now serves with Chuck Smith at Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa. This 1,800-page book is a devotional commentary with an emphasis on biblical application, drawn from Courson’s years of studies and radio messages. In addition to the commentary material itself, the book includes nearly 200 topical studies/sermons on various New Testament texts. This will be a valuable tool for pastors seeking application insights; it certainly will find a lasting place on my bookshelf.
Yet another one-volume commentary released this year is The People’s New Testament Commentary (Westminster John Knox), by M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock. Both Boring and Craddock are distinguished New Testament scholars, and Craddock is widely-known as a major influence in homiletics over the past generation. The authors write from the perspective of their central thesis that “the New Testament is the people’s book. The book and the community of faith belong together, and out of the conversation between the text and the people come the preaching, teaching, believing, and behaving of the church.” While both authors write from their mainline Protestent theological perspective – many evangelicals will have some bones to pick about authorship and some textual issues – the commentary will nevertheless prove helpful to preachers seeking exegetical insights on New Testament texts.
The IVP New Testament Commentary Series – edited by Grant Osborne and published by InterVarsity Press – is another excellent collection for evangelical pastors. The two most recent releases are 1-2 Thessalonians by G.K. Beale, and Romans by Osborne. All volumes in this series have in common a commitment to Biblical authority, solid exegetical insights in reader-friendly language, and helpful preaching and teaching insights. These commentaries are helpful tools for pastors and teachers.
Another series we have praised year after year is the Ancient Christian Commentary in Scripture (InterVarsity), for which Thomas Oden serves as general editor. The ACCS – which is about half-way to its ultimately goal of 28-volumes – is a patristic commentary which draws on seven centuries of early Christian writers, compiled so as to allow us to explore scripture through the eyes of the early church fathers. The most recent release we’ve seen is Volume XIV, The Twelve Prophets, edited by Alberto Ferreiro. The contemporary biblical expositor will profit greatly from the opportunity to counsel with our brothers of long ago, gaining intriguing insights into the meaning of scripture.
Another excellent series is the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, and the newest release in this series is I Corinthians by David E. Garland. Garland is an outstanding New Testament scholar and his work reflects careful exegesis written with a concern for those who preach and teach.
Look up the word “massive” in the dictionary and you’re likely to find a picture of the Concordia Commentary series (from Concordia Publishing House). These commentaries are written by outstanding Lutheran scholars, and offer a comprehensive treatment of their selected books. John G. Nordling’s Philemon offers nearly 400 pages of discussion of the small New Testament book – including almost 150 pages of introductory articles, including a helpful treatment of “Slavery in Ancient Society.” Discussion of the biblical text includes extended textual notes (for which familiarity with the original language will be helpful) as well as commentary discussing the meaning and implications of the text. Other recent releases in this series include Leviticus by John W. Kleinig (which comes in at 610 pages), and The Song of Songs by Christopher Mitchell (a back-breaking 1300 pages). I particularly appreciated Mitchell’s introductory chapter on “The Gospel Message and Pastoral Applications of the Song,” a helpful guide for expositors who wish to deal with this fascinating book.
Speaking of the Song of Songs (or the Song of Solomon for us old-fashioned types), Richard A. Norris is translator and editor of The Song of Songs (Eerdmans), the inaugural volume in a new series called The Church’s Bible. In a project which sounds similar to the ACCS, Norris draws on commentary, sermons and verse written during the first six centuries of Christian history, translates them into contemporary English, then arranges them into a verse-by-verse commentary on the biblical text. If you believe (as I do) that today’s church can benefit from the insights of early Christian interpreters, then you will find this volume helpful and refreshing.
The Apocalyptic Literature (Abingdon) by Stephen L. Cook is the latest release in the Interpreting Biblical Texts series. Cook provides a background on the nature and context of apocalyptic literature, then deals with selected texts in Isaiah and Ezekiel, Zechariah, Joel, Malachi, and Daniel in the Old Testament. He discusses apocalyptic in the teaching of Jesus and Paul, then gives special focus to the book of Revelation.
In last year’s survey I mentioned the re-release (by Thomas Nelson) of the helpful Communicator’s Commentary. Last year they re-released the entire New Testament collection in softcover under the new title The Preacher’s Commentary – New Testament. (I recently saw the boxed set on sale at Sam’s Club at an attractive price.) I have always found this to be a helpful series for preachers – perhaps because it was written by preachers rather than academics – and I mentioned in that survey that I looked forward to the release of the Old Testament works. That process has now begun with the release of Genesis by D. Stuart Briscoe (one of our Contributing Editors).
Also on the re-release front, Kregel has recently reissued two volumes of expository commentaries by H.A. Ironside, one of the premier evangelical expositors of the first-half of the 20th century. The Minor Prophets and Revelation both reflect the careful study and practical concern of this popular preacher and Bible teacher who served for many years as pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago.
One last series deserves your attention: Tom (N.T.) Wright is the author of a delightful new popular series of devotional commentaries on New Testament books, published by Westminster John Knox Press. One of the top theologians in the world, Wright shows here that he can communicate with a popular audience without dumbing-down his discussion of the biblical text. In addition to an original translation and commentary, the books are packed with interesting illustrations of the truths found in scripture. Among the volumes recently released are Matthew for Everyone (parts 1 and 2), Mark for Everyone, Luke for Everyone, John for Everyone (parts 1 and 2), and Paul for Everyone (with separate volumes on 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians and Thessalonians, The Prison Letters, and The Pastoral Letters). Over the years, many pastors have benefited from William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible (DSB); Wright’s volumes may well become the DSB for a new generation.
Among the outstanding individual commentaries published in the past year:
In his new Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Eerdmans), Ben Witherington points out that “there really has never been, since the English Reformation, a major exegetical study of Romans which intentionally takes into account Arminian and Wesleyan readings as opposed to more Augustinian/Lutheran/Calvinist readings of Romans.” Witherington seeks to remedy that omission, and provides an excellent discussion of this key New Testament book. In addition to the extensive exegetical discussion and socio-rhetorical analysis, each major section includes a closing section of contemporary application, including some illustrative material. Any preacher who wishes to deal seriously with Romans will want to consult this excellent work for a perspective not provided in many traditional commentaries.
Another work on this important Pauline book is Romans: The Revelation of God’s Righteousness (Christian Focus) by Paul Barnett. Barnett brings to his task experience as both a pastor and a New Testament historian, and the result is a solid work that is nevertheless accessible to the ordinary reader.
Eerdmans has also released a revised and expanded edition of Frederick Dale Bruner’s excellent discussion of the gospel of Matthew. The two volumes include The Christbook: Matthew 1-12, and The Churchbook: Matthew 13-28. Bruner’s work grows out of his own missionary experience as well as his scholarly insights, and the result is a masterful treatment of Matthew’s gospel that will be of interest to any preacher or teacher seeking to communicate the truth of these texts. Of particular value for preachers are Bruner’s applicational observations.
Not many preachers turn quickly to work on Leviticus, but you may want to make an exception for Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus (Baker Academic) by Allen P. Ross. Ross offers us a guided tour through the legal and ceremonial maze of ancient Israel, and the practical implications found in that system. After reading this book, you may find yourself with a desire to preach sermons from Leviticus for the first time!
Pastors who use the lectionary in their preaching may find value in Preaching from the Lectionary: An Exegetical Commentary (Fortress) by Gerard S. Sloyan. Sloyan deals with all the passages/lections in the Revised Common Lectionary and the Lectionary for Mass, with the exception of the Psalms. The focus here is on exegesis, not homiletics. The volume includes a CD-ROM (based on the Libronix format) with fully searchable text and citations linked to the NRSV.
A very different kind of commentary is Genesis, The Movie (Eerdmans) by Robert Farrar Capon. The author believes we misread the creation story as a manual of religious instructions; instead, Capon here watches the first three chapters of Genesis as a movie – “as a tissue of images woven together by the Holy Spirit.” No one will accuse Capon of being a conservative interpreter – in true postmodern style, he prefers to lift the text out of any relationship to actual history and let it stand on its own as story – but it is an engaging approach to the first chapters of Genesis, and will provide a fresh look at a text that may seem all too familiar to many of us.
Other Biblical Reference Material
Each year brings a variety of interesting and helpful Bible study resources apart from commentaries. For example, the Kregel Bible Atlas (Kregel) by Tim Dowley is an attractive (though brief) collection of maps, photographs, and illustrations to help in the study of the lands of the Bible. Another offering from Kregel is a revised and updated edition of A.T. Robertson’s Word Pictures of the New Testament. The updates from the original (published more than 70 years ago) include a change to the New American Standard Bible and use of the Greek alphabet rather than transliteration. For those who don’t already have a copy of Robertson on their shelf, this will be a worthwhile investment.
On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans) by K.A. Kitchen draws on a wide range of historical data to argue for the historicity of the biblical texts and to effectively rebut the arguments of critics. Originally inspired by F.F. Bruce’s masterful Are the New Testament Documents Reliable?, Kitchen’s work is a solid contribution to contemporary Old Testament study and will be a useful tool for pastors and teachers who deal with the inevitable questions about the truthfulness of scripture.
Another helpful resource for students of the Old Testament will be the John Goldingay’s three-volume Old Testament Theology (InterVarsity). The first volume has been released under the subtitle Israel’s Gospel. Goldingay’s narrative theology traces God’s work among His people from creation to the coming of Jesus. He observes, “The First Testament story is Israel’s gospel story. It brings good news about the way Yhwh has been active in Israel’s story, keeping it going, severely chastising Israel, but never finally abandoning them.”
Finally, InterVarsity has produced a valuable tool for preachers and teachers in The IVP Dictionary of the New Testament. This one-volume work is a compilation of the most important articles from four previously-published New Testament dictionaries released by IVP. If your budget (or bookshelf) can’t carry the weight of all of these excellent volumes, this one-volume compendium will be worth your investment.
And now we get ready for another year and another outpouring of new resources for studying God’s Word.