Commentary Soup

give it time

give it time

So it is a funny thing.

I like to find the academic commentaries  from the UW library, which slice, dice and analyze the biblical text.   I don’t agree with the frequent theorizing about editors, redactors, schools and emendations that they do suggest.   Also there is very little of pastoral value – that is, what can help the people keep the word.  But for analyzing the text itself, these kinds of books, typified by the Anchor Bible series are very helpful.  My motto: take what I can, leave the rest.  This is for me the soup stock.

In the case of John’s gospel, the Anchor volumes are very helpful for the ebb and flow of the book. Raymond Brown suggests that the first 12 chapters really have to do with Jesus interactions with the major festivals of the Jewish calendar.   I found that the book Reading John, by Charles Talbert does a nice job of literary analysis.  Neither of these books are that helpful on connection to life.

I like to peruse the classic evangelical commentaries, but until recently, most of these are weak in the area where the academic texts ares strong   For example, Young’s commentary on Isaiah (3 volumes) is a classic, but it is mostly a series of verse by verse comments with lots of word meanings.   I much prefer Motyer’s Isaiah commentary, thought shorter, it gives the shape and flow of the book, and there re little sermonic nuggets in the text.   In John, Leon Morris’ work is a lot like Young’s in Isaiah – words discussed by verse, but not a lot of literary structure.   F. F. Bruce is helpful at a less analytic level.  These books are the diced carrots and potatoes.

Sometimes a historic commentary such as Luther’s Works or the like adds a bit of flavor to the sermonic soup.   Consider this the herbs and spices for the soup.

I like to read someone who is or was a pastor and who gives the word a work over from a sermonic standpoint.  Lot’s of books by John Stott fit in this category, I still think his commentary on I John is the most helpful on that book.  I don’t have a good book in this category to name.  This is the meat for the soup.

Finally, what is needed is time for the soup to simmer lowly on the back of the stove.   Don’t start your reading on Saturday.  Start ahead and let it simmer and stew.

As I go reading….

Some notes on reading commentaries on Revelation.

I am in chapters 2 and 3, the letters to the 7 churches.  What is mind numbing is reading the extensive background (was that available to the first readers) and then to detailed enumeration of speculations on the significance of symbols.  For example, is the open door, mentioned in the letter to Philadelphia, an open door to missions?  (Reference is made to Paul’s letters here, and the supposed strategic location Philadelphia has for missions.)  Or maybe it is to what the letter speaks of – the New Jerusalem.  the Lord is the one with the Key to David.  No key of David is mentioned before, and some speculate it is tied to Isaiah 22 (Isaiah 22, really?).

How about the idea that each introduction to the letter is keyed to the  first chapter.  There Jesus is said to heave the key to death and hades, verse 1:18.  Hmm, is it possible he has a key to the other location, New Jerusalem, also on his key ring?  Look the end of the letter speaks of entrance into the temple of God (the eternal heavenly one) and ones perpetual place in it.  When we look ahead to Chapter 22 (all the letters make reference to chapter 19-22 in one way or another) we find that there are 12 gates (doors?) that are always open.

The open door is final salvation and entrance into the City of God – as opposed to what that key in verse 1:17 opens, which is the other option described in the end of the book at 20:14.

Again, things are more clear if I read the text, first and repeatedly, and note INTERNAL connections before EXTERNAL ones.  And save the historically survey of speculation until you have a good handle on the text.

Did I mention, read the TEXT?  If nothing else, there is a blessing for reading this text (1:3) which can not be said for the stack of commentaries on my desk.