Layered Bible Evolves Again with Jonah.

I am not sure if I have mentioned this before, but Layered Bible is not a project simply for future use, but something which I am already using at Calvary Community Church of Penndel. At the beginning of this year we began reading through the Bible together as a church and have thus far finished the Letter by James and the Good News According to Matthew. We are now beginning the Prophet Jonah.

So, each day and each week I have the opportunity not only to struggle through the text and write commentary upon it, but also to see practically how this is working (or failing) in a local church context.

Sometimes I would like to be an academic, uninvolved with practical ministry. It seems easier to me. On the other hand, I find that practical ministry informs and forms my scholarship (whatever minute claim I may have to it). I see them almost as necessarily going hand-in-hand. What seems to work well in theory oftentimes falls flat in practice – and the challenges of practice oftentimes drive me back to scholarship – to study, theorize, and design.

As we were concluding Matthew, practical experience pushed me to evolve my approach yet again. I realized that while Utley’s commentaries are excellent they also weren’t quite fitting the needs of the congregation even with my minor tweaks here and there to remove technical and textual discussions and clarify certain terms. I do not mean to criticize Utley’s commentaries in any form – they are and remain a great source of information for me and for many others – but in this context I realized I needed something different…

So…I decided to write the commentary myself…and by write I mean compile, condense, and expound the ideas of wise and capable scholars. So, rather than beginning with Utley’s text I am beginning with a blank page and reading Bob Utley, Thomas Constable, the New American Commentary, the Bible Knowledge Commentary, the NLT Study Bible, the Daily Study Bible commentary, and so on on a given passage – taking extensive notes on what I consider to be the most salient points from each and compiling them by verse order. I then create a new document and bring all of this together (along with any insights I might have) into a single commentary.

You can see the results of this approach with my first try with Matthew 28 and then with the fresh start with Jonah (Introduction and Chapter 1).

What differs from the commentaries I am reading and the resulting commentary I am compiling? I would consider these to be the salient features:

  1. Removal of textual considerations relating to the choice of word order and so on in a passage based on varying manuscripts. I believe this discussion is important, but I also see (in most instances) the changes in meaning as being insubstantial and the larger meaning of the text maintained. I am beginning with the assumption that modern translations are a reasonably accurate portrayal of the original text, though perhaps containing some minor corruptions. If someone is interested in learning about textual variations, I will point them to my sources – rather than attempt to include such a conversation within this commentary.
  2. I remove the use of Greek and Hebrew characters and use transliterations instead, as most of my readership (and myself when it comes to Hebrew) do not read Hebrew or Greek.
  3. I remove the discussion of underlying original language words except when it seems to have a substantial effect upon the text – e.g. when the underlying word is an idiom, uses a tense in a significant manner, or is repeated multiple times in the original text but translated with different words in the translation.
  4. I remove significant amounts of interpretation and application. My desire is to provide mainly grammatical, historical, literary, and cross-textual insights and explanations which provide a framework within which an individual can interpret and apply…though, I must admit, that when I find something extremely exciting within the text I cannot resist the temptation to share my interpretation and application.
  5. I attempt to provide insight into the individual trees while maintaining a brevity that allows one to see the entire forest. Most commentaries allow one to easily become lost within a single word, phrase, verse, or paragraph – I desire to highlight the salient features of each tree but not at the expense of the forest.
  6. Most of the commentaries I am relying upon are fairly evangelical, but where they are not (e.g. Daily Study Bible series) I am adopting a standard evangelical interpretation of the text in almost all cases.
  7. I am not nearly as interested in establishing synoptic interpretations of events, I prefer to interpret each book (generally) within its own context, rather than across contexts (especially with the gospels), as I see each author as providing unique insights into God and humanity and the integration of multiple texts oftentimes weakens the perspective each author is attempting to provide.

I do not mean any of this to be a criticism of the sources upon which I rely. No, these are excellent sources and I am most thankful for what they have accomplished. Without them Layered Bible would not be possible.

The purpose of these source commentaries are different from that of Layered Bible. The audiences are different. The times are different. Each has there place and I hope that those who utilize Layered Bible will find themselves not feeling satiated with this commentary but rather driven to dive deeper – looking to commentaries such as the sources I am using to enter into more technical discussions.

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