The New Interpreter's Bible, Volume VIII+IX

  • Leander E. Keck
  • Jan 1, 1998
  • Series: Volume 1 - 1998

The venerable The Interpreter's Bible, produced in the 1950s (supplemented in the mid- 70s) and based on the Authorized King James version of the Bible, has served generations of preachers and teachers. A replacement has long been due and is now appearing, like its predecessor, in twelve volumes. The NIB volumes include general articles (e.g., on the Bible or on the New Testament) and specific articles (e.g., Introduction to Narrative Literature or to Apocalyptic Literature; Reading the Bible as African Americans), and an introduction, commentary and reflections for each book of the Bible_including the apocryphal / deuterocanonical books. The editorial board for the entire project includes biblical scholars and professors of preaching / homiletics. Many pastors were recruited to serve as "consultants" demonstrating the goal that the NIB serve practitioners well. The authors and commentators themselves reflect a wide diversity of scholars including Catholics, Protestants of various affiliations, and some scholars with no identified church connections. The authors are dominantly male, North American, and mainline, though there is a sizable minority of women, very few Brits and Canadians, and fewer evangelicals to round out the picture.

The layout of the volumes is very pleasing and readable. There are clear and precise maps, use of shading in boxes to highlight the biblical texts, clear graphics and charts, occasional use of a green font to make text locations and headings stand out. Greek words are included in parentheses and transliterated so those who know Greek can follow the discussions more precisely.

Volume eight contains six general articles on the New Testament considering such issues as the text and versions of the NT, the Greco-Roman and Jewish cultures into which the NT was birthed, the ecclesiastical context, the gospels and narrative literature, and Jesus and the Gospels. These authors are mostly recognized names within the field of NT studies and provide useful overviews of the issues. Someone needing a quick refresher, e.g., on the nature and the manuscript traditions and how textual critics do their work, will find the essential facts, clearly written. The articles have footnotes for major issues and conclude with a brief but useful bibliography of the key sources. The articles on the gospels assume the approach of form criticism, and provide readers with a lucid explanation of the narrative phenomena in the gospels. One detects a telling perspective of Tannehill who writes: "Nature itself was understood differently by those who told the Gospel wonder stories, for it was widely assumed at that time that the physical world was open to the operation of divine and demonic powers" (p. 62). Evangelicals will have many questions about the approach in Tannehill's and Tuckett's articles on the formation of the gospels.

The bulk of volume 8 is given to commentaries on Matthew and Mark. Volume 9 contains Luke and John. The NIB structures each chapter as follows: (1) introduction to the gospel: where applicable they include such entries as history, text, sources, place of origin, audience, date (author E. Boring dates Matthew between ad 80 and 100; P. Perkins dates Mark about ad 70; R. A. Culpepper dates Luke in the mid-80s; G. O'Day dates John contemporaneous with Matthew, probably between 80 and 100_except for John, all dates that are typically later than most evangelicals determine), themes, literary analyses or genre, and theological perspectives; (2) Bibliography; (3) detailed outline of the book; and (4) commentary itself.

The commentary section is divided by pericopes (gospel sections). Each section includes in parallel columns the translations from the NIV and NRSV, followed by a commentary on that section. Finally each author provides a section of reflections on the text. For example, Boring asks, "What does this text ask us to believe?" and follows with four points (VIII: 131-33). In other places readers are asked to reflect on personal responses to the texts' themes. These sections are given due space in the overall plan of the books and they help readers wrestle with implications and reactions to what the gospels present. The reflections may strike some readers as too bland (e.g., "We must be willing to give up something in order to bring the good news to others"; VIII: 540). Evangelicals will also bristle at the apparent naturalistic presuppositions in places (e.g., "Although Christians today rarely attribute mental illnesses or epilepsy to demonic possession or other diseases to divine anger, they are aware of the spiritual dimensions of healing" (VIII: 546). They must remember that the intended readership for the NIB includes a wide range of denominations and commitments and the authors are largely liberal and non-evangelical.

What of the commentaries? The authors in these two volumes provide wise and informed comments on their respective Gospels. The footnotes and bibliographies show they are conversant with the major issues and sources. Evangelical readers, however, will want to read them alongside their more conservative peers, if only to compare evidence for various interpretations. Where liberal or conservative biases are at work, we ought to identify and acknowledge them as such. Whether one believes in demons or not will influence what one makes of a pericope alleging their presence. Convictions about the historical reliability of the gospels will impact decisions about alleged discrepancies (errors) in the accounts. For access to the broad range of modern critical scholarship in accessible, readable form, these volumes are a treat. As a sole or primary guide to the gospels' meaning, these would not be suitable.

Dr. Bill Klein
Professor of New Testament
Denver Seminary