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Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Posted: Mon, Oct 17 2011 6:47 PM is listed as almost there. There are numerous reasons i think you should consider it. This commentary is not overly technical, has a devotional quality about it in it's reflections. it has some of the best scholars from all of Christianity, evangelical, liberal protestant, and catholic. It covers not only the Protestant Bible but the whole Alexandrian canon. YES I AM AWARE there is no pre pub price, but the good news about that is there is no penalization for cancelling it and placing it on a payment plan. However this can only happen after enough interest is showing in it to produce it. Please even if you think it is over priced but you want it consider ordering it and possibly putting it on a payment plan when it comes out.


Introduction to the New Interpreter's Bible

Leander E. Keck

The publication of The Interpreter’s Bible (IB), beginning in 1951, was a significant event in the history of Christian publishing in North America, for as its General Editor (George A. Buttrick) observed, no commentary on the whole Bible had appeared in English for fifty years. Understandably, the IB quickly established itself as the commentary that one expected to find in the libraries of pastors and professors of Bible, churches, colleges, and seminaries. The sale of nearly three million volumes implies that it met a real need. Four decades later, its successor appears in quite different circumstances, yet is guided by the same vision: to provide a commentary on Scripture whose scholarly treatment of the ancient texts is of the highest order and whose exposition is useful to those who interpret the Bible today. To do in our time what our predecessors did in theirs requires The New Interpreter’s Bible (NIB) to be a wholly new work for a largely new situation.

So much has changed in four decades that it is useful to recall the context in which the IB made its mark. To begin with, in some ways the circumstances in which the NIB appears are the reverse of those of its predecessor. In the 1950s, Americans, being recent victors in a titanic war, were confident that their future would be much better than their past if they but survived the threat of communism; in the 1990s, they have contempt for communism as a failed system, but many fear their own future. Then, Protestant Christianity was thriving but saw the Roman Catholic Church of Pius XII as a threat; today, after Vatican II, Protestants regard Catholics as colleagues, but some are anxious about the apparent stagnation of their own denominations. Then, neo-orthodoxy and Christian existentialism, which emphasized the deciding self, were ascendant, and it was widely assumed that real theologians were fluent in German; today, those theologies have been superseded by theologies of social change, and the drum beat of much theology has a Latin American rhythm. Further, in those days biblical theology insisted that whereas the Canaanite deities were nature gods, the God of Israel acts in history; nowadays, there is uncertainty about history but intense interest in ecology and God’s concern for the earth. Then, critical biblical study was dominated by liberal Protestants who viewed Catholic scholarship as pre-critical and ignored conservative Protestant biblical study as virtually fundamentalist; today, although the historical-critical method (which has become more complex in the intervening years) is taken for granted by Catholic and evangelical scholars too, it is being criticized not only by the right but also by the left-by those who insist that the text must be approached as a literary work, as a work of art, irrespective of the author’s intent or the circumstances in which he produced it.

In the 1950s, the newly translated Revised Standard Version created such fury that in some places it was burned ceremoniously, while in the 1990s the New Revised Standard Version creates hardly a ripple, being regarded by some as a rather cautious translation. In those days, Christians of all persuasions and ecclesial identities generally accorded the Bible normative status in matters of faith and ethics, and so looked to it for the answers to life’s problems; by the nineties, however, many have concluded that the Bible’s pervasive patriarchalism makes it the source more of the problem than of the solution.

Finally, when the IB appeared, the pool of potential contributors included very few women and African Americans, and no Asian Americans or Hispanic Americans. Because contributors to the IB included but one woman and one African American, it inevitably reflected the perspectives of white male liberal Protestants. The NIB, on the other hand, enlists the participation of a significant number of women and minority scholars. Given such changes, only a completely new commentary could relate perceptively the inherited Scripture to the unfolding present.

While the aim of the NIB is essentially the same as that of its predecessor, pursuing that aim effectively is now a much more complex task. In addition to the markedly changed situation in which the recent work is done, biblical study too has undergone important shifts. Indeed, it was not long before the limitations of the IB, especially of the commentary section as a whole, walled off from exposition, became apparent-not enough attention was given to the biblical text itself. More important, the commentary proper did not-and could not-lead naturally into the exposition, which, therefore, appeared as a parallel, independent interpretation. The IB intended to bridge the oft-lamented chasm between the investigation of the Bible in academe and the preaching and teaching of it in the churches, but its policy of assigning the commentary to a professional biblical scholar and the exposition to an accomplished preacher actually reinforced the gap between the professor’s lectern and the preacher’s pulpit. The most important difference between the IB and the NIB is apparent at just this point; the NIB has assigned both tasks to the same writer.

Nonetheless, while it is appropriate to distinguish historical and literary explanation of the text as a work of the past from reflection on its import in various situations today, it is also necessary to ground the latter in the former. The fact that most writers of the NIB are professional Bible scholars reflects the conviction that what effective and imaginative interpretation needs most is solid grounding in an explanation of the text that engages the religious and moral content of Scripture.

The NIB, in other words, reflects the changed understanding of exegesis that has occurred in North America since the 1950s. Today, hardly anyone would regard it as “a series of comments . . . like the ‘notes’ appended to a Shakespearean text,” as George Buttrick explained in the IB. There is nothing mysterious about “exegesis.” It is simply the Greek word (exegesis), which means “bringing out”-hence, bringing out the meaning.

The contributors to the IB dealt with the text as was common at the time (Muilenberg’s commentary on Isaiah being an exception for its interest in rhetorical matters). Because historical criticism had not yet been accepted everywhere, college and seminary courses in Bible commonly devoted considerable time to demonstrating matters like the multiple sources of the Pentateuch or the existence of Q (a collection of Jesus’ sayings used, apparently, in Matthew and Luke), and were more concerned to expound the leading ideas in biblical writings-e.g., social justice in Amos, the Spirit in John-than in analyzing carefully the texts as texts. Courses in the teachings of Jesus were common, but not in exegesis of a Gospel. German biblical scholarship was often regarded as “radical”-enough to arouse suspicion and encourage neglect.

Ironically, largely through closer acquaintance with German scholarship in the 1950s and 1960s, the current view of exegesis developed, abetted by the rise of biblical theology in North America. American professors on sabbatical, as well as a stream of graduate students, found that German biblical study was made fruitful by combining close analysis of the text (its composition, its use of earlier sources and traditions, its ideas’ relation to comparable ones in the surrounding cultures) with engagement of theological issues, as posed by Karl Barth and Rudolf Bultmann in particular. Whereas Anglo-Saxon discussions of a biblical book often ended with a section on “The Permanent Religious Value of ________,” in German lecture halls the exegesis of a passage exposed theological issues throughout. Moreover, German scholarship’s attempt to recover the history of the traditions used by the biblical writers required careful attention to every detail in the text. Swiftly, such exegetical courses were introduced into theological education in America. The NIB, too, reflects the conviction that exegesis entails not only thorough literary and historical-critical analysis but also attention to the import of the theological and ethical content of the Bible for life and thought today.

Whereas the IB had the field to itself, the NIB appears at a time of numerous commentary series in English, each with its own character and focus, ranging from those intended to facilitate continuing research to those designed for group study and personal enrichment. The NIB is distinctive not only because it consistently attends to both critical exegesis and constructive interpretation, but also because it distinguishes the one from the other. The reader can, therefore, profit from seeing how careful attention to the text can open up possibilities for imaginative interpretation. Although the “Commentary” section is the larger part of the interpretive material, the “Reflections” section is by no means an appendage. For interpreters, the exegetical part is the essential means to the goal; at the same time, the reflections are more suggestive than definitive. In other words, the NIB regards exegesis and reflection as two foci in an ellipse.

This perspective is reflected not only in the selection of writers but also in the administrative structure created for the project. Of the eleven members of the Editorial Board, three have special responsibility for the “Reflections” parts of the NIB; one of them, as Senior Homiletics Editor, is also a member of the Executive Committee. This structure assures that at every level, from policy making to the selection of writers, to editorial oversight, the dual foci interact. Further, a Panel of Consultants has assisted the Editors by providing counsel with regard to general matters of style and readability, use of language, sensitivity to the understandings of those whose experiences have differed from that of white males, and the diverse needs of the anticipated range of the users of the NIB.

Given the remarkable variety of writings in the Bible, on the one hand, and the differing needs of readers, on the other, only a cadre of diverse writers can produce an appropriate commentary. Compared with the IB, the roster of writers in the NIB is far more diverse theologically (including evangelicals and moderates as well as liberals), confessionally (Roman Catholics as well as various Protestants participating), and demographically (African American, Asian American, Hispanic American, and Native American authors contributing). Of the ninety-seven contributors, twenty-two are women-a higher percentage than in the various guilds of Bible scholars. Each writer brings both professional competence and individual perspective, of which the theological, confessional, and demographic factors are a part. While writers have been encouraged to call attention to alternative interpretations as appropriate, they have not been expected to compile views or to forego their own freedom to use those methods and to advocate those construals of the text that they deem most sound and appropriate. In short, because each part of the NIB is written by an individual and not by a committee, the diversity and inclusiveness of the NIB appears in the work as a whole.

The most important reason for writing commentaries at all is that experience has shown that readers need help in understanding the biblical text. Precisely what is needed, however, depends partly on what is in the text and partly on what is in the reader, because both the Bible and its readers are conditioned by time and place. Since the writers of the NIB discuss the Bible’s involvement in time and place, here it is useful to reflect on the reader of the Bible and its commentaries. One’s time and place affect significantly what one sees and does not see in the text, the questions one brings to it, and what one expects from it. The needs of a pastor preparing to preach in a largely immigrant congregation, of a church school teacher in a barrio, and of a seminary student writing a term paper are not the same as those of a pastor getting ready to lead a Lenten Bible study in a suburban congregation. No commentary can do everything or meet the needs and expectations of everyone. While most commentary users will want information, exactly what information is desired varies greatly. Some readers will want help in understanding ancient ways of thinking, while others will look for aid in appreciating biblical ideas and assumptions they understand but find difficult to accept.

The need for information pertaining to the Bible-especially its religious and cultural contexts-has been ameliorated since the IB appeared, partly because of advances in research and partly because discoveries have enriched the fund of knowledge. For example, whereas an article in volume 12 of the IB informed the readers in a preliminary way about the Dead Sea Scrolls (discovered in 1947), today most of these texts have long been available in English. Moreover, today reference works such as The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible are readily available, as are various compilations of texts from the ancient Near East. Consequently, the general articles in the NIB that provide basic information have not only been kept to a minimum but are cast in a way that addresses the questions commentary users often ask.

Moreover, the NIB includes a number of articles that deal explicitly with matters of interpretation. The more inclusive the churches and other institutions become, on the one hand, and the more diversified the methods of biblical study become, on the other, the more important it is that interpreters of the Bible be alert to the inevitable pluralism in interpretation. While the historical-critical method remains foundational, the articles by Carl Holladay and Moisés Silva show that in recent years other ways of reading texts have come to supplement, and sometimes to compete with, the historical exegesis. By bringing such matters to the attention of the reader, the NIB helps the user to see his or her own interpretation in broader perspective, and tacitly invites one to expand the resources for understanding on which one relies. Above all, the articles dealing with aspects of interpretation encourage the user to see that “meaning” is a rich and complex experience, not simply a matter of finding the “right answer” to exegetical questions.

We would sell the Bible short were we to read it only to nourish what we already believe and think, or to support what we already do or avoid doing. The Bible also challenges us to alter our believing, thinking, and doing. Once this is granted, it becomes apparent that who, where, when, and what we are must not be allowed to govern our understanding of the Bible so effectively that the only challenge we experience from it is to be better at what we are already about. Alert readers have discovered repeatedly that the Bible has surprises for everyone. In the present context, this means that the one thing users of the NIB, however diverse they may be, have in common is the need to hear as accurately as possible what the text says (and does not say), and to grasp why it says it the way it says it. Otherwise, the commentary is not a window through which one sees into the text (not unlike a window in an aquarium or in a glass-bottom boat), but a mirror reflecting who we already are. The purpose of all the various methods employed by the contributors, even if used in their respective theological, confessional, and demographic perspectives, is to assist the reader in meeting the text itself, though no method or combination of methods can guarantee that one hears it either as did those who heard it first or without distortion today. Neither what the Bible originally “meant” nor what it now “means”-to use an oversimplified contrast-occurs in a vacuum.

The Bible is not simply the passive recipient of multiple modes of study and interpretation, but repeatedly has demonstrated its capacity to interpret its readers by providing images, concepts, and perspectives whose interpretive power often exceeds the (usually) controlled interpretations of the interpreter. Just as writers and artists sometimes convey more than they intend (and sometimes less), so readers and viewers discern more than they expected. In other words, on the road of interpretation, the traffic moves in both directions. The NIB formalizes this by distinguishing “Commentary” from “Reflections,” the former being the disciplined interrogation of the text, and the latter the opportunity for the text to talk back, so to speak. Of course, the reflection does not spring spontaneously or independently from either the text or the exegesis; it is no less the work of the commentator than the exegesis. Nonetheless, the two tasks, intimately related though they are, are distinguishable. As an exegete, the commentator’s task is to pin down as precisely as possible the historical meaning(s) of the text; in the reflection the writer’s task is to free the text so that it can assert itself, the reflection being an act of midwifery, which assists but does not control the birth of meaning. The reader who uses the NIB as a resource for his or her own interpretive work becomes a participant in the process and not a mere consumer of interpretations.

It was, of course, the church that, in a variety of ways and across considerable time, determined which writings are to be included and which are to be excluded. However, while all churches accept the same twenty-seven books as the New Testament (NT), the churches have not yet agreed on which ones constitute the Old Testament (OT). Many users of the NIB will, therefore, find Daniel Harrington’s article on the canon particularly instructive, for in telling the story of the making of the Bible it also shows that there are, in fact, different “OTs” that reflect the decisions of the various churches. The Bible is not only about a particular history, but itself has a history. Every interpreter benefits from knowing that history.

The OT part of the NIB includes those books (and parts of books) commonly called the Apocrypha. These writings were included in the Greek version of the OT, used by the Greek-speaking early church but not part of the Hebrew Scriptures. When Jerome, a fourth-century Christian scholar, translated the Hebrew OT into Latin (Vulgate), he omitted these books (except for additions to Daniel and Esther), calling them “Apocrypha.” Later, after Latin versions of these writings were added to the OT, the Council of Trent included them formally in the Roman Catholic canon. This was in response to Luther, who had assembled them into an “appendix” to the OT, commending them as useful, though not canonical. The Calvinist tradition went farther, omitting them altogether. The NIB, aiming to be useful to the whole Christian community, includes them. However, instead of sandwiching these books between the testaments-a practice that reflects no church’s canon-the NIB simply has them stand alongside the book in which they appear in the Roman Catholic canon. Thus all users of the NIB have access to an OT more nearly like that used by the early church. The “Apocryphal” literature is immensely important for understanding the historical and religious contexts in which both early Judaism and early Greek-using Christianity emerged.

There exists also a considerable body of early Christian gospels, acts of various apostles, and epistles, some of which were probably written in late NT times. None of them is included in the NIB for the simple reason that these writings, sometimes mislabeled “NT Apocrypha,” were never part of any church’s canon. There are no “lost books of the Bible.” The many writings from biblical times that were never included in the canons of either synagogue or church do not belong in a commentary on the Bible itself, despite their importance.

Evidence indicates that a significant percentage of the users of the original IB found it helpful to have two versions of the biblical text on the page before them. The NIB, therefore, continues this policy, but has replaced the RSV with the NRSV and the Authorized Version (“King James”) with the New International Version (NIV), which is widely used, particularly in evangelical circles, as a complement to the KJV. Readers unable to use Hebrew and Greek will often find that comparing translations is a good way to identify exegetical problems, because major differences in translation reflect diverging understandings of the Hebrew or Greek; all translation is interpretation-something that all bilingual readers understand first hand.

The commentators, of course, based their work on the Greek and Hebrew texts. From time to time, they also comment on the translations printed, and thereby help the reader understand better the limits of all translations. Likewise, they sometimes find it necessary to comment on the wording of the standard printed Hebrew and Greek texts as well, thereby alerting the reader to the sometimes problematic nature of the textual tradition-a phenomenon that can be pursued in the two articles on ancient texts and versions.

Every form of the biblical text that one can read today reflects someone’s (or some group’s) best judgment about the correct wording of the text; even the manuscripts themselves have copyists’ corrections. The assertion that the original manuscripts of the Bible (the “autographs”) were free of all error remains an assertion without evidence, since every original manuscript disappeared centuries ago. These observations do not imply that the wording of the Bible is unreliable; quite the opposite is the case, given our abundant data. The point, rather, is that the reliability of the Hebrew and Greek texts is the outcome of painstakingly careful work. In short, the NIB makes it possible for every serious interpreter of the Bible to have a basic knowledge of the sort of book the Bible is and how it came to be what it is.

Twentieth-century scholarship has exposed the many ways in which the Bible as we have it, as well as the individual writings themselves and the materials they used, are deeply embedded in Israelite/early Jewish and early Christian communities. Likewise, it has become evident how much these communities owed to the cultures of which they were a part. Consequently, a historical understanding of the Bible requires attention to the cultural and religious history of Mediterranean and Near Eastern antiquity, as the relevant articles make clear. While there is a profound sense in which the Bible is its own interpreter (often traceable by the influence of one writing on another, technically called “inter-textuality”), understanding the biblical literature in its original contexts entails attending also to the growing mass of nonbiblical materials, both literary (texts such as the book of Enoch or the Dead Sea Scrolls), and nonliterary (inscriptions, coins, archaeological evidence). No other book, when studied historically, opens so many doors to cultures and religions other than our own. This is not surprising, since the books of the Bible were written during a span of a thousand years and in a part of the world that was home to a succession of cultures. Again and again, the NIB makes the fruits of such study accessible to the interpreter where it matters most: understanding a biblical book or a passage in it.

Even though only a fraction of antiquity has been preserved and discovered, the amount of material deemed pertinent for biblical study has become so vast that one can easily be intimidated by the scope of historical-critical investigation. The scholarly study of the Bible has become complex, especially when literary and sociological/anthropological approaches are used in addition to the various dimensions of historical criticism. What must not be lost sight of, though, is this: Exegesis is really a matter of asking appropriate and fruitful questions in an orderly way. For example, it is helpful to ask at the outset what one needs to know in order to understand the passage (or book). In the case of stories about events, it is important to understand the story-its emphasis, point of view, etc.-before trying to understand the events it reports. It is even more important to remember that because the questions themselves are quite straightforward, everyone can ask them! This is why the readers of the NIB can develop their own exegetical skills by attending not only to what the commentator says but also to how he or she goes about the task.

The Bible, while enjoying a unique status in the church, does not belong to the church alone. In diverse ways it has become the key to a good deal of Western culture: art, music, political theory, and energies for social change. It has also been an important factor in resisting change and in legitimating patterns of power, wars, and ignorance posing as knowledge. Either way, the Bible accomplished these things only through its interpreters. Which is to say that even today-or perhaps particularly today-interpretation matters because it has consequences; it is not simply a matter of taste. Indeed, the more authoritative the text, the more important its interpretation.

If the Christian community (all churches) has not agreed completely on which books are in the OT, it has not agreed on the nature and source of the Bible’s authority either, and often there are wider differences among Protestants than between them and Roman Catholics on this subject. In order to express the unique authority of the Bible, most Christians continue to relate it to “the Word of God,” many saying that the Bible is the Word of God, while others regard it as the instrument of God’s Word, or the place where that Word is heard most penetratingly. Neither formulation is problem-free. If the former tends to objectify “the Word of God” (regarding the Word as a thing) in order to emphasize what one encounters in the Bible, the latter tends to subjectivize the Word in order to accent the encounter experience (regarding the Word as an event). Indeed, each way of putting the matter appears to be formulated with the dangers of the other in view. In any case, once one says that the Bible is God’s Word, it is difficult not to say also that it is God’s words; conversely, by differentiating the Word from its bearer, it becomes difficult to avoid absorbing the Word into the experience itself.

Given the diverse ways of understanding the relation of the Bible to God’s Word, contributors to the NIB probably reflect as wide a range of views as its users. What deserves remembering is that exegetical questions cannot be settled by conclusions drawn from any view of the Bible’s relation to God’s Word, but only on the basis of public evidence and inferences from that evidence. The same must be said about the Bible’s source of authority-its being inspired.

Fortunately, the most important thing to be said is also the most obvious-namely, that it is not what anyone says about the Bible that makes it authoritative but what the Bible says about God and human life before God. The Bible has its own way of commending itself to those whose careful reading opens understanding. The NIB will have fulfilled its purpose when it helps that happen.

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