Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Review: The Expositor's Bible Commentary

I have been eye-balling the Expositor's Bible Commentary, Revised Edition. This set is an update of an earlier edition that has been condensed (abridged) down to two fairly thick volumes. As I have consulted the abridged edition I have found the writing to be very good and the insight of the writers quite keen. As I have been researching the offering of the Revised Edition, it has come to my attention that I am more interested in some volumes than I am in others; so I went out and bought volume 4 which covers 1 Chronicles to Job. That volume covers a block of Scripture that I have not hit as hard as I would like and that I intend to visit in the near future.

I have read "at" this volume--checking out some comments on key verses that I know are discussed among lay-scholars. Here are my overall initial impressions:

First off, the entire NIV text is included within the commentary. I am not real thrilled about that feature. It probably increases the price of the volume to include a copyrighted Bible translation within the commentary. On the other hand, Zondervan owns the copyright and they also publish this commentary; so what am I complaining about? Probably not price. It certainly makes the volume more thick. I very rarely read a commentary without having my own favorite Bible translation open in front of me. The only time I can think of when I like having the Bible text within the commentary is when I am a passenger in a car and I am reading. My lap is too unaccommodating to hold two books open at the same time. In general, I think including the Bible text, especially from a main-stream translation, to be a waste of space.

I like how the commentary features textual notes; but not on every other word (like the Anchor and the Word commentaries). What notes are included are only those of major interest to an average reader.

The quality of writing is outstanding all through this commentary and from each commentator. The readability, clarity and conciseness of thought are what I see as the most attractive features of this series. As I mentioned above, I found the writing in the Abridged edition of the older set to be far above the crowd. The aim of the comments are to help the reader understand the Bible text. Commentators very rarely, if ever, insist upon a particular slant, of several, to understanding a passage. I found that the writers' main focus is to help readers understand the text. That makes a commentary truly useful.

I appreciate that the commentators are able to include a "Reflection" section after the Comments and Notes. In the Reflections section, the commentator is able to make personal applications and illustrations that are not necessarily originally intended by the inspired writers but are nevertheless appropriate applications to modern Christians.

I noticed there are many charts and diagrams interspersed throughout the volume. I found all of them to be attractively designed and equally helpful. Seeing something graphically presented means a lot to right-brained people like me.

All in all, if a commentator is able to be too detailed or too brief, the Expositor's Bible Commentary writers err on the side of being too brief. As an example, I will offer Job 1:21.

Naked I came from my mother's womb,
  and naked I will depart.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
  may the name of the LORD be praised. (NIV)

Commentator Elmer B. Smick (with moderate revisions of Tremper Longman III) observes some interesting technical detail about this verse. There is much theological discussion to be made about this verse. These were words of Job but we are not confident Job had a proper understanding of how reality works. Certainly, Job was unaware of the background story that led up to the terrible events that motivated Job's statement. Smick discusses as much in his commentary; but he does not recognize in writing that there are major theological questions over whether or not what Job said is even true! Here is what Smick (and/or Longman) says: "Here the attitude of Job... is one of supreme faith and total recognition to God's sovereign will. Job does not understand why but he believes that his trouble come [sic] from God." Sorry guys. That's too brief.

If we are truthful, in most of our personal Bible study, we are in a hurry. Rarely do we dive deeply into the Word and really experience it. The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Revised Edition, encourages us to slow down a little while still getting to the main point with very little delay. From my review of Volume 4 of this set, I am confident that all the volumes are very useful to any student of Scripture barring a scholar. The scholar will want more.

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