New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition

By D .A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, and G. J. Weham, eds.
Downers Grove, IL : InterVarsity (1994). xiii + 1455 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Keith Essex
7.1 (Spring 1996) : 118-120

For over forty years, The New Bible Commentary has been a standard, one-volume, evangelical commentary on the Scriptures. This is the fourth edition and the third major writing of the commentary. The first edition appeared in 1953 and was followed by a second edition with minor revisions a year later. The Authorized (King James) Version was the translation used as the basis for the first two editions. In 1970, a third edition, a major rewriting of the commentary, appeared with the Revised Standard Version replacing the Authorized Version. Now, for this new edition the New International Version serves as the English base. It contains a rewriting or thorough revision of every article in the 1970 edition. The only contributors involved from 1953 to 1994 are Leon Morris and George Beasley-Murray. The 1994 work employed only eleven of the forty-six authors involved in the 1970 work. This is truly a new Bible commentary.

The commentaries on the biblical books are consistently well done. Each begins with an introduction, usually including authorship and date, structure, theology, and resources for further reading. The commentaries proper proceed through a book, section by section, paragraph by paragraph. As the preface notes, "we have chosen to concentrate on the `flow' of books and passages" (vii). The comments reflect this purpose. A major distinction of this edition is its emphasis on the literary structure of the biblical texts. This is not surprising, given contemporary concern in biblical studies for the literary form of the text. Though affirming source criticism in the Pentateuch—i.e., none of the writers on the Pentateuchal books affirm Mosaic authorship of the present form of the text—and the synoptic Gospels, the commentators unite in seeing the final form of the scriptural text as the Word of God. As Gordon Wenham states, "While the critical debate has continued, it has been widely accepted that the commentator's first job is to explain the present form of the text. . . . So what this commentary focuses on is the present final form of the text" (55). The commentaries also deal more in depth with significant passages where diversity of interpretation within evangelicalism exists.

The theological tone of the commentaries is decidedly orthodox. For instance, R. T. France comments on Matt 28:19, "The trinitarian `formula' is striking" (945), and Donald Guthrie remarks concerning John 1:1, "John must be affirming the Godhead of the Word" (1025). Moreover, the work consistently affirms the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Jesus Christ. The commentators have a common bent in emphasizing the continuity between Israel and the church. As David Wheaton writes in the introduction to 1 Peter, "Whether his readers were Jewish or Gentile Christians, Peter is keen to encourage them to believe that they are the `new Israel'" (1371). However, within the continuity perspective, the volume states both amillennial and premillennial positions. For example, Sinclair Ferguson interprets Daniel amil-lennially, while Beasley-Murray states of Revelation, "The `binding' of Satan for a thousand years coincides with the `reign' of Christ for a thousand years. . . . The kingdom over which the Messiah rules is typically represented [in the OT] as a kingdom of this world, centred in Jerusalem" (1451).

Seven introductory articles augment the commentaries. The first, "Approaching the Bible" by D. A. Carson, is a cogent introduction to bibliology and biblical hermeneutics. The article "Biblical History" by Gordon McConville assumes a late date for the Exodus (22); however, Bruce Waltke gives arguments for the early date in his introduction to Joshua (234). The other articles introduce the Pentateuch, biblical poetry, Jewish intertestamental literature, the Gospels, and the Epistles.

This volume benefits the reader in a number of ways. First, and foremost, its purpose is to lead the reader to know, love, and submit to the Bible as the Word of God. Second, it gives insight into contemporary, mainstream Anglo-American evangelical biblical scholarship. Third, this commentary is foundational to the more detailed evangelical commentaries on the individual biblical books. It will be a valuable addition to the library of a biblical expositor.