The Institute for Biblical Research meeting on Friday night featured Tremper Longman speaking on “Of the Making of Commentaries There Is No End: The Past, Present, and Future of a Genre.”
Of course, Tremper knows firsthand about commentaries since he has been an editor and a contributor to many.
“Why write new commentaries?” Tremper outlined seven reasons why commentaries should continue to be written.
- Advances in knowledge (e.g. language, “covenant” in light of ANE treaties, cognate literature discoveries).
- New methods and perspectives (i.e. canonical approach)
- Competing interpretations. There are many perspectives at the table.
- Human finitude. Each scholar brings a distinctive set of skills.
- Community. We come from different backgrounds and we need to read in community.
- Changing contexts. How the text bears on life today.
- Different readerships. Scholars, clergy and laypeople.
The second question Longman asked (and answered) was “Why keep old commentaries?”
- To read in community who have lived throughout history.
- To avoid modern hubris.
And finally Tremper answered, “What type of new commentaries do we need?” This question must address the issues of both content and delivery. Content must be tailored for the scholars, clergy, and popular audience. The popular commentaries should not be avoided or neglected. Scholars should not shun this type of commentary for fear of repercussions (for their career) from “simplifying” content. One difficulty for scholars in writing for clergy may be that it is hard for them to reflect about the modern world because they spend so much time absorbed in the ancient world. More emphasis must be placed on theological interpretation and reflection (two series were highlighted: Two Horizons series and the new Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible).
In particular, Tremper emphasized that there is a need for OT commentaries which have a Christological view to help clergy preach the OT in context of redemptive history.
The future shape of commentaries must include digital formats (even though Tremper said he will always prefer the hard copy himself). Digital delivery will allow wider dissemination, ability to address various levels of audience, and can be more easily updated.
Professor Choon-Leong Seow (Princeton Seminary) and Professor Daniel Treier (Wheaton College) were the respondents.
I agree with him. The biggest hole in commentaries is OT with Christological emphasis. Also, the day is coming when there will be few “paper” commentaries (too expensive and too hard to carry). Digital commentaries are the wave of the future. Of course, in the end, Solomon was correct: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” (Eccl 12:12 ESV)
Hey, I was there, too. I really like Tremper Longman, but I thought this topic didn’t allow him to shine. I would have preferred to hear him on some topic related to OT theology.
Tremper was a bit concerned about the approach of some theological commentaries, if I remember correctly. He agreed with a very strong negative quote about one of the theological commentary series.
Thanks for the post Karyn. A very helpful summary.
It was good to meet you, and hang out for a little bit. I look forward to hearing and seeing more on your intriguing research.
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