The twentieth century has been among the most productive and prolific periods in the history of the study of scripture. From the discovery of textual sources like the Dead Sea Scrolls to the development of contemporary translations — like the Revised Standard Version, New International Version, and New American Standard Version — it is hard to comprehend how differently we are able to study scripture than did our great-grandparents a century ago.
As the century draws to a close, it often appears that we have shifted from the age of scripture translation to an age of scripture marketing. “New and improved” versions of the Bible appear with growing regularity, often distinguished by little more than a more attractive binding or a new set of devotional notes by some popular Christian author. That is not to disparage such products, since they obviously meet a need in many lives; indeed, anything which helps people spend more time (and spend it more productively) in God’s Word is a worthy effort.
Nevertheless, the final years of our century will be noted more for “product extensions” than for profound new developments in Bible translation. Though several translation products are currently underway — no doubt to be released early in the next millennium — it appears that many are driven more by publishers’ needs for their own in-house versions (thus reducing licensing fees to rival publishers) than because of significant new developments in the study and translation of scripture.
So what has the last year of our century produced in the way of new Bibles and biblical reference works?
If you have to have an “Official Bible of the Millennium” (did that anointing come down from Sinai or Nashville?), at least you should have a poet/preacher like Calvin Miller involved. Holman Bible Publishers has issued The Celebrate Jesus Millennium Bible (with that “official” status in the subtitle). It’s actually a very handsome volume and contains some attractive features, such as 365 daily devotions (written by Miller) and prayers drawn from great Christian writers of the past and present.
This Bible contains a series of special articles introducing each biblical book (broken down under the thematic headings: The Salvation Theme, The Salvation Context, Salvation’s Special Moments, and Salvation and the Messiah). It also has a variety of delightful features, including beautifully-reproduced art of biblical scenes (from artists such as Rubens, Raphael, Vermeer, and many more); these are accompanied by excerpts from Miller’s books and poetry.
However, this is not a study Bible. The biblical text itself is provided with no notes or commentary (the version I saw was the KJV). So while you’re not likely to use this as a primary study Bible for preaching, you will spend many hours of inspiration and encouragement in its pages. (It would also be a very nice gift Bible this Christmas.) This is a quality publication, despite the somewhat tacky use of the “official Bible of the millennium” marketing ploy on the cover.
Oh, yes, one other thing I like about this Bible: it has two red ribbons for marking my place! Why hasn’t someone thought of this before!
Speaking of millennial editions, a company called Deuel Enterprises has published the Third Millennium Bible, which purports to provide “the complete and unabridged 1611 Authorized Version updated.” By updating, they mean that certain archaic terms like “kine” (cows) or “sith” (since) have been replaced by their modern equivalents, along with terms which have changed in meaning since 1611, such as “prevent” (precede) and “carriage” (baggage).
The TMB maintains the “Biblical English” for which the KJV is known (such as thee, thou, hast and others). It also prefers certain traditional terminology that is often found in more contemporary translations, such as mercy rather than love, and blessed rather than happy. The introduction to the TMB makes it clear that preference is given to the Greek manuscripts on which the KJV is based, in contrast to the earlier ones used by most contemporary translators. So the reader who wants to stay with the KJV, but with the most obsolete terms updated, will want to give the TMB a look.
Living Stream Ministry has produced the Holy Bible: Recovery Version. I thought this was going to refer to the recovery movement, but it apparently is a reference to a recovery of the original meaning of the text (in the eyes of the translators). Based on the work of Witness Lee, it comes in a full text version (OT and NT) and a New Testament only; the latter includes a variety of study notes.
The Access Bible from Oxford University Press uses the text of the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), and “is designed to provide study helps that enable the reader to engage the biblical text directly and not simply read about the Bible” (from the introduction). Those helps include lengthy essays, book introductions, and more brief “sectional comments.” Edited by Gail R. O’Day and David Peterson, one hint as to the theological approach of this volume is the use of BCE (“before common era”) and CE (“common era) in dating rather than the traditional BC (“before Christ”) and AD (anno domini, “in the year of the Lord”).
“Of commentaries there are no end.” Even if the Bible doesn’t put it quite that way, it is true nonetheless. Year after year, publishers provide an array of solid material that helps preachers better grapple with the meaning of the biblical text. If the past year has not produced any landmark developments in the area of biblical translation, the same cannot be said for the area of Bible reference material. Again this year, some outstanding commentaries found their way onto bookstore shelves and, we can hope, into the studies of preaching ministers.
One of my favorite series for preachers is the NIV Application Commentary. While providing useful exegetical and background material, this series also places a major emphasis on the contemporary meaning and significance of the biblical text. For preachers committed to building a bridge between the ancient and modern worlds, these volumes are essential tools.
Three new volumes in the series have been released in the past year: 1 & 2 Timothy/Titus by Walter L. Liefeld, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; Esther by Karen H. Jobes, Assistant Professor of New Testament Studies at Westmont College; and Daniel by Tremper Longman III, Professor of Old Testament at Westmont College. As with others in this series, you’ll find yourself turning again and again to these commentaries as you preach from the biblical passages they explore.
A new series — which will eventually include twelve volumes — is the Holman New Testament Commentary from Broadman & Holman Publishers. Each volume in this series takes a New Testament book chapter by chapter and deals with an introduction to the key issues, a verse-by-verse commentary, an overview of the principles and applications in the chapter, a life application, a brief prayer, “deeper discoveries” (insights drawn from background or word studies), plus a teaching outline and some discussion questions for group study. Each is written from a conservative evangelical perspective, and each provides practical insights for preachers.
Four volumes in the series have appeared in the past year: Acts by Kenneth O. Gangel, professor at Toccoa Falls College; Hebrews & James by Thomas D. Lea (recently deceased), who at the time of the writing was dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Seminary; I & II Peter, I, II & III John, Jude by David Walls, senior pastor of Church of the Open Door in Elyria, OH, and Max Anders, senior pastor of Castleview Baptist Church in Indianapolis, and general editor of the series; and Revelation by Kendell H. Easley, professor of New Testament at Mid-America Baptist Seminary in Memphis, TN.
The New American Commentary (also produced by Broadman & Holman) has delivered some impressive volumes in recent years. In that spirit, preachers will welcome 2 Corinthians by David E. Garland, professor of Christian scriptures at Truett Seminary, Baylor University. Garland is an excellent New Testament scholar, and this commentary provides a superb tool for preachers who seek to interpret and proclaim the truths of this epistle. As one who preached a series of sermons from 2 Corinthians a few years ago, I wish Garland’s commentary had been available then!
Another recent release in the NAC series is Daniel I. Block’s commentary on Judges, Ruth. Block, who is Professor of Old Testament Interpretation at Southern Baptist Seminary, is at home with critical analysis as well as interpretive insights for those who preach. Block assists the preacher in mining the riches found in this oft-ignored area of the Old Testament.
A substantial commentary series is the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, which features significant volumes from some of the leading evangelical scholars of the day. Newly released in this series is Romans by Thomas R. Schreiner, Professor of New Testament at Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, KY. This is a serious work which will be well received by those who wish to dig deeply into the riches of the epistle to the Romans. Schreiner deals at length with the work of other commentators, and anticipates some basic knowledge of Greek on the part of the reader.
Expository preachers will find a welcome resource in the MacArthur New Testament Commentary, from the pen of John MacArthur, Jr. (pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA), published by Moody Press. Written from a conservative evangelical perspective, this commentary series reflects serious concern for the biblical text while also demonstrating sensitivity to the needs of preachers. The most recent volume in the series is Revelation 1-11, which reflects MacArthur’s premillenial viewpoint (including a pretribulation Rapture of the church).
Speaking of works by preachers, a favorite series of mine is the Preaching the Word volumes by R. Kent Hughes, senior pastor of the College Church in Wheaton, IL. The twelfth and most recent volume (published by Crossway Books) is John: That You May Believe. This is a homiletical, expository treatment of the fourth gospel which will be a valuable resource for any minister approaching these texts for preaching. The gospel is presented in 60 chapters (sermons?).
Also from the pen of a gifted expository preacher is The Gospel of John, a five-volume expositional commentary by James Montgomery Boice, senior pastor of Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church. These studies come directly from Boice’s preaching ministry, so they will be of great usefulness to the preacher who is approaching John’s gospel. Between Hughes and Boice, preachers could spend years camped in the gospel of John!
One of the most unique publishing projects of recent years — and a series of remarkable value to preachers and students alike — is the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, published by InterVarsity Press, for which Thomas C. Oden serves as general editor. Using computer technology, the compilers of this series have developed a biblical commentary which draws together the insights of the ancient church fathers. Two volumes in this young series were released in 1999: 1 & 2 Corinthians, edited by Gerald Bray, and Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, edited by Mark J. Edwards. These volumes will provide a useful supplement to your more contemporary commentaries and enable contemporary preachers to share in the wisdom and insights of the earliest generations of Christian scholars.
Several other fine commentary series continue to develop. One is the Westminster Bible Companion from Westminster John Knox Press. These books are aimed more at lay Bible study leaders than at pastors, but nevertheless contain useful ideas for ministers, particularly in a mainline setting. The two most recent releases are job by James A. Wharton, professor emeritus of homiletics at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University; and First and Second Kings by Terence E. Fretheim, professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN. Also from Westminster John Knox Press is Ruth by Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, a relatively brief treatment (just 88 pages) of the Old Testament book that is the most recent release in the Interpretation series. Sakenfeld is Professor of Old Testament Literature and Exegesis at Princeton Seminary. While the Interpretation series is aimed at the preacher/teacher, Westminster John Knox also publishes The Old Testament Library, a commentary series with a more critical and scholarly focus. The latest release in this series is Proverbs by Richard J. Clifford, Professor of Old Testament at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, MA.
The Interpretation Bible Studies series is related to the Interpretation commentaries but adapted to those who teach Bible studies. Geneva Press has recently issued five volumes in this new series: Genesis by Celia Brewer Marshall, Lecturer in Religious Studies at University of North Carolina at Charlotte; Exodus by James D. Newsome, Professor Emeritus of Old Testament at Columbia Seminary; Psalms by Jerome ED. Creach, Professor of Religion at Barton College; Matthew by Alyce M. McKenzie, Visiting Lecturer in Homiletics at Princeton Seminary; and Romans by Art Ross and Martha Stevenson, pastor and church educator at White Memorial Presbyterian Church, Raleigh, NC.
Though most major commentaries published in the past year were part of a series, one major volume which was not is A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew by Craig S. Keener, Professor of New Testament at Eastern Seminary in Wynnewood, PA. This substantial volume (1,040 pages) puts a major focus on the socio-historical context of Matthew’s gospel and how it would have been presented and understood in the first-century context in which the gospel was written.
Zondervan has been the source this year for one-volume biblical commentaries. Their Full-Life Bible Commentary to the New Testament, edited by French Arrington and Roger Stronstad, places a special interpretive focus on the Spirit-filled life. Drawing on the work of Pentecostal and Charismatic scholars, this unique volume will be of particular interest to preachers in those traditions. Arrington teaches at the Church of God School of Theology, Cleveland, TN; Stronstad teaches at Western Pentecostal Bible College in Clayburn, British Columbia.
Zondervan has also released what it calls the Premier Reference Series in a handsomely-bound set. The works are not new but are now packaged in a coordinated series. Of interest here is the two-volume Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, first issued in 1994 as an abridgment of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. For the pastor or teacher seeking a one or two-volume commentary for quick reference, this will be a worthy addition to his or her library. Additional volumes in the Premier series include the NIV Matthew Henry Commentary. NIV Nave’s Topical Bible, NIV Exhaustive Concordance, and the Zondervan Atlas of the Bible, a particularly attractive volume.
Other Biblical Resources
One of the most interesting volumes of recent years is the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, published by InterVarsity Press. Preachers will turn again and again to this fascinating reference work which explains the wealth of biblical images, symbols, metaphors and more to be found in scripture. As Will Willimon has observed, this volume “has immediate application for preaching and teaching within the church… On almost every page, with every entry, the imagination is sparked, creative juices begin to flow, and we preachers will be led not only to faithful and biblically informed preaching but also to preaching which is interesting.” This is a book preachers need on their shelves.
As a counterpart to Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, which preachers have used to great effect for many years, Wm. B. Eerdmans continues to issue translations of the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. This reference work offers in-depth discussions of key Hebrew and Aramaic terms found in the Old Testament. Helpful insights are to be found even for those (like me) whose seminary training in Hebrew is long since lost in the mists of time.
A Bible Handbook to the Acts of the Apostles, edited by Mai Crouch, is not exactly a commentary — more of a commentary meets a theology text. Published by Kregel Publications, this volume addresses major theological themes in Acts, has a major section on the Holy Spirit, and then provides a brief commentary on the book. The book includes work by several scholars (also writing from a dispensational perspective); Crouch is president of Tyndale Theological Seminary and Biblical Institute.
One of the great preachers of this millennium (that’s a hint in advance of the feature in the next issue) was Charles Haddon Spurgeon. In Spurgeon’s Commentary on Great Chapters of the Bible, Tom Carter has pulled together from Spurgeon’s writings a commentary on 31 favorite chapters of the Bible, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22.
Finally, Zondervan has issued a revised and expanded edition of the Zondervan Handbook to the Bible (which sold 3 million copies over 25 years in its previous incarnation as the Eerdman’s Handbook to the Bible). This excellent reference work contains a treasury of beautiful full-color photography and illustrations, along with a variety of helpful articles. This will be a useful reference guide for preachers and teachers for another quarter- century.

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About The Author

Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

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