MASTER'S SEMINARY JOURNAL

BOOK REVIEW

Genesis. Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible


By R. R. Reno
Grand Rapids : Brazos Press (2010). 304 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
21.2 (Fall 2010) : 256-258

Russell R. Reno is professor of theological ethics at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. He authored In the Ruins of the Church: Sustaining Faith in an Age of Diminished Christianity (Brazos Press, 2002) and co-authored Heroism and the Christian Life: Reclaiming Excellence with Brian S. Hook (Westminster John Knox, 2000) and Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible with John J. O’Keefe (Johns Hopkins, 2005). He also serves as the features editor for the magazine First Things (available online at http://www.firstthings.com), and the general editor for the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (BTCB) to which this volume belongs.

BTCB enlists systematic, historical, and moral theologians to provide guidance for pastors and academics in reading the Bible doctrinally. Authors for the volumes adhere to the presupposition that “dogma clarifies rather than obscures” (11). According to Reno, “the Nicene tradition, in all its diversity and controversy provides the proper basis for the interpretation of the Bible as Christian Scripture” (11-12). In an attempt to provide a more balanced perspective, Reno asks that readers not gain an erroneous impression, since the “Nicene tradition does not provide a set formula for the solution of exegetical problems” (12). The editors do not hold commentators for BTCB “to any particular hermeneutical theory that specifies how to define the plain sense of Scripture—or the role this plain sense should play in interpretation” (13). Reno decries the current state of affairs in seminaries and churches providing “theology without exegesis and exegesis without theology” (13). The series employs a range of Bible translations, because “Philological precision and stability is a consequence of, not a basis for, exegesis. Judgments about the meaning of a text fix its literal sense, not the other way around” (14).

With the purpose, nature, and assumptions of BTCB in mind, Reno proceeds to explain his approach in this commentary on Genesis. His method identifies “some of the telling verses in Genesis” and then focuses his comments on those verses (21). He divides his comments into five main portions that demonstrate the promise-driven nature of the text: (1) Creation: Genesis 1–2 (29-76), (2) Fall: Genesis 3–4 (77-110), (3) Dead ends: Genesis 5–11 (111-35), (4) Scandal of particularity: Genesis 12–33 (137-251), and (5) Need for atonement: Genesis 34–50 (253-91). Within the first of these divisions, Reno comments on 1:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 10, 11, 26a, 26b, 28, 31; 2:2, 5, 7, 15, 17, 18, 20, 22, and 24. In the second he selects 3:1a, 1b, 2, 4, 6a, 6b, 7, 14, 21, 24; 4:3, 7, 8, 10, 12, 15, and 23. In the third he speaks to 5:1, 24; 6:2, 6, 8, 13, 14; 7:5, 9, 12; 8:16; 9:1, 9, 20, 22; 10:1; 11:4, 5, 10, and 31. Then, in the fourth he identifies and comments on 99 verses, portions of verses, or groups of verses.[1] In the fifth portion Reno comments 1 on only 35 verses.[2] Comments vary in length. For example, the comment on 1:1 extends for about ten pages (29-39), whereas the note on 11:31 comprises a mere four lines (135).

Reno not only recognizes the fundamental significance of biblical teaching concerning creation (32-33), but indicates that the tension between science and theology has existed since the time of Augustine, who feared that scientists would laugh at his biblical view of creation (33). One cannot help but think that science in Augustine’s day would be laughed at by modern scientists and, meanwhile, the Bible has not changed—indicating the fallacy of adapting biblical interpretation to current science. In 1:3 and 4, Reno adopts an allegorical interpretive approach to the text (46-48) and at 1:5 he denies any temporal meaning for either “the beginning” or “day” (48). His treatment of 2:15 moves too quickly to spiritualization (68-69). Providing a concise summary of the various approaches to the translation of the divine title YHWH, the commentator discusses the theological plusses and minuses to modern translations of the title (64-67). He warns that “changes in traditions of translations, changes supposedly made to achieve greater clarity, can actually generate new forms of obscurity” (66). At 2:18 Reno departs from the chronological flow of the creation account to declare that “the scriptural witness is structured by a movement from very good to better still” (73). However, the error of his approach resides in his drawing an excessive dichotomy between “very good” and “not good.” In point of fact, the “very good” actually follows the “not good” chronologically. Interestingly, although the chosen texts and discussions provide plenty of opportunity to discuss the issue of homosexuality (cf. 56 and 74-76), Reno ignores the implications of the text and fails to offer even a mention of the issue.

Within this theological commentary, readers will find a number of worthy discussions. For example, in his development of 3:1a Reno’s discussion of free will proves thought-provoking and insightful (77-85). From time to time, the commentator notes parallelisms or repetitions in regard to significant themes—e.g., Abraham hearkening to the voice of Sarah just as Adam had listened to Eve (165). Readers will find an engaging discourse on fearing God in the treatment of 22:12 (200-205). On the other hand, many comments tend to be shallow, or at least incomplete, theologically. Commenting that the fall of mankind allows God to begin formulating a redemptive strategy (97), Reno ignores the biblical witness that indicates the existence of a redemptive strategy in God’s mind and purpose even before He created the world (Eph 1:4; 1 Pet 1:17-20). The commentator also omits any potential for divine revelation to Abel about sacrifice, assuming that “the impulse to sacrifice seems to follow from the sheer humanity of Cain and Abel” (97).

This reviewer read this commentary with interest and with benefit. It fails, however, to provide anything like an evangelical stance theologically, being heavily influenced by more liberal theologians. The volume presents a less than biblical theology approach due to its emphasis on philosophizing and human rationale. In addition, numerous typos and misspellings distract the reader—especially the nearly omnipresent “descendent” instead of “descendant.” Hopefully, future volumes will present a cleaner text in this regard.



[1]12:1a, 1b, 1-2, 3, 4, 7, 10, 13; 13:7, 10, 14, 16, 17; 14:2, 14a, 14b, 18, 24; 15:1, 4, 6, 8, 18; 16:1, 2a, 2b, 4, 6, 11; 17:2, 4, 5, 7, 11a, 11b, 13, 15; 18:1, 2, 4, 8, 12, 17-19, 23, 32; 19:2, 16, 24, 26, 31, 36; 20:2; 21:2, 10, 14, 27; 22:1, 2, 8, 9-10, 12, 14, 17; 23:2, 3, 6, 9; 24:1, 2, 6, 58, 67; 25:1, 9, 22, 23, 34; 26:5, 18; 27:5, 27, 38; 28:2, 12; 29:1, 11, 26; 30:1, 14, 25, 32; 31:13, 19; 32:7, 20, 24, 28, 32; and 33:4.

[2]34:1; 35:2; 36:1; 37:1, 2, 9, 23, 27; 38:6; 39:2; 40:8; 41:14, 57; 42:3, 8, 9, 28; 43:1, 14, 18, 30; 44:2, 33; 45:2, 7, 13; 46:4, 8, 34; 47:21; 48:5; 49:2, 8; 50:15, and 25.