Friday, June 04, 2010

The People's New Testament Commentary -- Review

THE PEOPLE’S NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY. By M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock. Louisville: WJK Press, 2009. x + 827 pp. (Paperback)

Back in the late nineteenth century Disciples preacher B.W. Johnson published an annotated edition of the New Testament (with King James and Revised Versions in parallel columns) that carried the name The People’s New Testament with Notes. Being that Disciples believe(d) that each person has the right and responsibility to interpret the scriptures for themselves, it is not surprising that a Disciple pastor/scholar would create a resource intended for a lay audience. Now, early in the 21st century two spiritual descendants of B.W. Johnson have produced a commentary on the New Testament intended for use by lay people that carries on the spirit of the original. Originally published in hardback, it is now available in a paperback edition.

The authors of this commentary are distinguished scholars with a heart for the church. Fred B. Craddock is best known as a preacher, but he is also a very well regarded biblical scholar, having taught both preaching and New Testament at Candler Seminary as well as having authored numerous commentaries on New Testament books. Gene Boring may not be as well known as Craddock, but he too is a highly regarded New Testament scholar who taught for many years at Brite Divinity School.  His previous works include a commentary on Revelation in the Interpretation series, a commentary on Mark for the New Testament Library,  as well as an important historical study of biblical scholarship within the Stone-Campbell movement, Disciples and the Bible (Chalice Press, 1997). While both men are critical scholars, who bring to the discussion their years of engagement with critical biblical scholarship, they understand that the New Testament is also a sacred text that has great meaning for the church and for individual Christians. Because of their scholarly background and their spiritual sensitivity, both are highly qualified to lead the serious reader of the Scriptures deeper into the text.

Unlike the nineteenth century original, this book doesn’t include the biblical text, though it is based on the New Revised Standard Version. In addition to providing commentary on each of the New Testament books, the authors (without delineating who wrote which part) off a brief introduction to the “New Testament as the Church’s Book,” by which they mean that everyone within the church has access to the text and may read it for themselves. They note as well that by church they don’t mean a specific tradition or denomination, but the church at large, a church that wrote, selected, edited, transmitted, translated, and interpreted the text. In regards to the latter, they write that they “have called [their] volume the ‘People’s Commentary’ because we believe the ‘common’ people of the church – the laity, the people of God – are able and authorized to study the Bible on their own” (p. 5). Beyond this general introduction, they provide introductions to the gospels and to the Pauline Epistles, and a series of excursuses on topics they believe are germane to the reader. These excursuses are scattered throughout the volume and cover such issues and the interpretation of the resurrection, reflections on doctrines such as predestination and the practice of the Lord’s Supper.

Special attention might be given to one specific excursus that originally appeared in Boring’s Disciples and the Bible. It is entitled “The Biblical Story as a Drama in Five Acts.” Although Boring doesn’t mention it here, the idea of a five-act drama borrowed from an evangelistic tool used by one of the Disciples founders, Walter Scott. Scott used what he called the five-fingered exercise to teach his version of the way of salvation. Boring borrowed the exercise and laid out a brief and memorable summary of the biblical story – Creation (Genesis 1-11) Covenant (Genesis 12-Malachi 4), Christ (Matthew-John), Church (Acts-Jude) and Consummation (Revelation). Boring created this little mnemonic device as a way of breaking the spell of biblical illiteracy that infects our churches. Using this little device, people have a basic outline upon which to hang the biblical story. Attending to this excursus, which the author’s placed within their Ephesians commentary will pay great dividends.

This is a text that should be in every church library, on the desk of every pastor, and of course sitting nearby one’s Bible – at home. The Protestant Reformation delivered the Bible to the people in the vernacular. It was believed that the people had the right and responsibility to deal with the text of Scripture. History and experience demonstrate that while the individual has this right, we all need good instructors and guides to the text. I can name no better or more up-to-date text than this. And, because it’s now in paperback, it is quite affordable.

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