On Friday we received The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary. The general editors are Gary M. Burge and Andrew E. Hill. Some of the contributors include Lynn Cohick, Gary Burge, Victor P. Hamilton, Walter C. Kaiser, Eckhard J. Schnabel, Tremper Longman III, Thomas R. Schreiner, Willem A. VanGemeren and Douglas Moo. I want to make just a couple of observations by way of first impressions.
1) It’s a beautiful book. There are photos, color maps, and charts generously placed throughout the volume. To those who have never been to Israel or the neighboring lands the illustrations are invaluable aids to the reader.
2) According to the Preface “The writers were encouraged to include material from their latest research when this would be helpful, so fresh material and ideas can be found for the reader’s interest and benefit.” (vii) This makes the volume one of the most up-to-date one volume commentaries available. Differences due to theological perspectives may occur between some of the authors. The editors saw this as a strength and made “no attempt . . . to impose an artificial unity on what is here.” (vii) “Charitable disagreement is common to our life as Christians and you may find such disagreements within these pages.” (vii)
3) This is a complete revision of the Evangelical Commentary on the Bible edited by Dr. Walter Elwell which was published almost twenty-five years ago. They note that “every commentary section that was retained has been revised and updated. But in addition we have made way for new scholars whose expertise in the Scriptures and vibrant faith in Christ is well known.” (viii)
4) When I’m selling a one-volume commentary I always tell my customers that it is a “hit-or-miss” game as to whether you will find help when you look up a passage. The shear bulk of material that is covered makes it prohibitive for a one-volume commentary to comment on every passage. This is no exception. The commentator must decide which passages warrant his or her attention. Knowing that going into it makes it less likely the customer will be disappointed if they don’t find a comment on a particular passage they look up. The second thing I point out is that should be generally aware of some of the distinctives of a one-volume commentary. I’ll mention two about this one.
- All the contributors of this volume are evangelical Christians and I would say, broadly speaking, conservative. Where there is a spectrum of opinion on, say the dating of Daniel, the evidence and problems for both an early date and a late date are given.
- This is not “left-behind” friendly. If a customer is looking for a commentary that will fall in line with thoughts of Tim LaHaye and company this is not it. I offer two passages to consider. The first is a section from Ezekiel. The contributor for this book is Victor Hamilton. The passage is Ezek. 38:1-39:29 and the issue is the identity of Gog. The second is from the book of Revelation. The contributor for this book is Max J. Lee. The section I’ve selected comes from the Introduction to the book.
“Gog is further identified as the chief prince of Meshek and Tubal (38:2). A footnote to verse 3 in the NIV notes that the phrase may be read as ‘Gog, prince of Rosh, Meshek, and Tubal.’ It is this particular rendition that has given rise to the notion, popular in some evangelical circles, that Rosh represents Russia, Meshek represents Moscow, and Tubal represents Tobolsk. Thus, it is claimed, here is an explicit prophecy in Scripture of the now defunct Soviet Union and its belligerence against Israel. This can hardly be the case. Russia may indeed turn its hostilities on Israel, but not because Ezekiel prophesied it over two thousand years ago. Modern ‘futurists’ are not alone in trying to equate Gog and Magog with some contemporary fierce and evil force. In the second century BC, Gog was thought to be Antiochus Epiphanes. Early Christians thought it was the Roman Empire. Luther thought Gog was the Turks of his day. Maybe they are all right. Any threatening, militaristic, self-aggrandizing nation of any era has the potential to be Gog. But in any showdown of God versus Gog we know who will be the victor and who will be the victim.” (775)
“Revelation is also one of the most controversial texts of the New Testament. Ever since the publication of Hal Lindsey and Carole Carlson’s Late Great Planet Earth (1970), Revelation has been wrongly read as a horoscope to the future. Lindsey popularized a (dispensationalist) way of reading Revelation in the twentieth century that continues to have a cultural influence on American evangelicalism today. Typically this method attempts to connect the narrative episodes in the biblical texts with the real-time events reported by the local news. Many, for instance, have tried to identify ‘the beast’ (Rev. 13:1-10) with the world leaders of their day. Their guesses have ranged from the pope to Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler to every modern US president. The ten horns of the beast have been likened to the United Nations and the European League (17:7-14), the number 666 to a barcode tattooed on the forehead or hand and used like a credit card (13:17-18), and the natural catastrophes of the seven seals, trumpets, and bowls to global warming (6:12-14; 8:7-12; 16:3-12). All these connections are fallacious. None are based on a historically informed reading of the biblical text. Yet these ideas endure and never seem to be left behind.” (1585)
Lee explains that in interpreting the book of Revelation we should follow the “golden rule” of interpretation. (1588) By this he means “Readers should look to the Old Testament and the historical setting of John’s churches for the source material of his visions.
“In the series of seven trumpet judgments, it is doubtful, for example, that John was given a glimpse into a dark future and, upon seeing unmanned air reconnaissance vehicles with machine guns, started to describe them as armored locusts with scorpion stingers (Rev. 9:1-12). John indeed saw locusts, but they appear as an intensified vision of the eighth Egyptian plague (Exod. 10:12-20). The locusts symbolize God’s judgment against idolatrous empires like Egypt and Rome. John expected his audience to recognize the exodus imagery and to use the entire Old Testament as a literary resource for interpreting the remaining visions. The author knew full well the Scriptures of Israel and presumed anyone reading his apocalypse would refer to them frequently.” (Emphasis his. 1589)
Based on my first impressions if someone is looking for a good one-volume commentary this is the place to start.
The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary is from Baker Books and is a hardcover with 1,648 pages. It sells for $39.99. That is a great price!! For an online sampler see here.