A Guide to Biblical Commentaries and Reference Works, by John F. Evans, summarizes and briefly analyzes all recent and many older commentaries on each book of the Bible, giving insightful comments on the approach of each commentary and its interpretive usefulness especially for evangelical interpreters of the Bible.
A Guide to Biblical Commentaries and Reference Works is essentially an annotated bibliography of hundreds of commentators. More scholarly books receive a longer, more detailed treatment than do lay commentaries, and highly recommended commentaries have their author’s names in bold. The author keeps up on the publication of commentaries and intends to update this book every three to four years.
|Contributor(s)||John F. Evans|
|About the Contributor(s)||John F. Evans
Dr. John F. Evans (DTh, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa) formerly pastored in the USA and is now head of the Bible Department and Lecturer in Old Testament at Africa International University, Nairobi, Kenya (formerly called Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology).
|Publish Date||May 3, 2016|
- Review by Dustin
John F. Evans’s A Guide to Biblical Commentaries and Reference Works, now in its 10th edition, has set a new standard and benchmark for many years to come as the largest, most comprehensive, single-volume commentary and reference works survey that covers the entire Bible. To be more precise, Evans’s work is primarily an annotated bibliography of hundreds of commentators that covers several thousand titles. Both recent and more dated works are included and there are even remarks on certain forthcoming volumes (albeit with a disclosed understanding that some of the ‘promised’ works will, of course, perhaps never be published – see pg. 29). No changes have been made to the format of the current publication (as compared to previous editions) with respect to either the symbols employed or the standards for evaluating commentaries. Evans uses a simple seven-symbol key (including a stylized F for forthcoming volumes) to clearly distinguish the various types of books in the list and to whom specifically he is commending the commentary at-hand. To begin, an average of five or six works for each Bible book (Ezra-Nehemiah, 1-2 Thessalonians, the Pastoral Epistles, and the epistles of John are each dealt with as one book) are marked with a solid-colored star as suggestions for purchase. Evans notes that “in making recommendations for purchases, I have mainly had pastors in mind . . . more specifically, I have been thinking of studious pastors, who take seriously the life of the mind and the academic study of Scripture . . .” (pg. 28).
Not to be forgotten, however, are the “seminarians’ interests in philology, grammar, sophisticated hermeneutical methods, cutting-edge literary analysis, bibliographies, etc.” (pg. 28). Such volumes are marked in the text in bold face type. The star-outline symbol designates a valuable commentary or reference work that would be worth buying but a second priority while the checkmark (British “tick” symbol) designates an important scholarly work that could profitably be consulted for seminary papers, but is either difficult/expensive to obtain or of debatable value for a pastors library (see pg. 28–29). In addition, Evans notes and distinguishes between works that espouse a so-called critical theological position and those that adopt a “mediating” or mildly critical approach to biblical interpretation (pgs. 32–34 of Evan’s introduction delineate more specifically his criteria and definition of these terms).
Although Evans is an evangelical Christian and is generally reformed in his theology, he prudently states: “even as we recognize theological differences and their ramifications, we want to avoid “theological profiling” which excludes” (pg. 34). Indisputably, Evans took to heart his own admonition in his writing and is to be commended on the judiciousness of his comments. Neither too trenchant nor too bland, Evans’s snippets and annotations are quite tactful and becoming, even when they are addressing a given volume’s possible weaknesses, limitations, solecisms, or infelicities, including but not limited to, the length of the text (Evans’s critique is usually that the given work is “too thin” rather than being “too mammoth”), the cost of the title for purchase, the lack of a bibliography/author index, or, on occasion, the author’s particular stance or approach towards to Scripture. To be clear, however, Evans deals fairly with works from every perspective.
In addition to bibliographies covering distinct groupings of books or themes such as, Pentateuchal Studies, Decalogue, Reading Narrative & the Former Prophets, Poetry and Wisdom Literature, Prophets & Prophetic Literature, Apocalyptic Literature, Jesus & Gospels Research, Sermon on the Mount, The Parables of Jesus, and Pauline Studies, Evans also includes a four page list of other bibliographies/lists to consult in addition to twenty five page annotated bibliography on commentary series where he clarifies the aims and audience of the different series. There is also a fairly thorough, though, disappointingly not quite exhaustive, seventeen-page author index (something that the ninth edition of Evans was missing, much unfortunately. Do note, however, that the index is perhaps too thorough at times (see Kenton L. Sparks and Kent Sparks for example). Not to be forgotten is Evans’s list of “An Ideal Basic Library for the Pastor” which includes more general reference works for both the Old Testament and New Testament along with some suggested “Background Reading” that will orient the “fledgling student” on matters of Higher Criticism, History of Biblical Interpretation, and the like. Let it also be known that the introduction to the text includes a helpful orientation to the “use” and “abuses” of commentaries – something that is surely not to be missed by any user of this work.
While it is relatively rare that Evans has not been able to review a book himself, personally, when such is the case he often provides at least some quotation or reference to another review article or related work that assists the reader as to the commentary’s value, orientation, etc . . . so as not to leave the reader “hanging.” Regrettably, however, some titles receive little to no comment to be truly useful. For example, Habel’s 1968 volume on Lamentations (in the Concord series) and Gould’s 1896 entry on Mark (in the ICC series) are both considered by Evan’s to be “safe to ignore” with no further comment or reason(s) given. Other annotations are also too brief to be of much real help. For example, concerning McKane’s Samuel Commentary (1963), Evans writes only: “quite critical.” Does not the inquisitive mind hunger for increased specificity and detail? The same may be said for Evan’s ‘review’ of Harrison’s and Guthrie’s sizable introductions. Suffice it to say that merely stating that each of these volumes has “information that is hard/difficult to find elsewhere” does not an effective annotation make, especially when the volumes at hand are being considered as part of an “ideal basic pastors’ library” collection!
Though it is not an understatement to say that there are truly few works that Evans has neglected to mention or review, some rather notable and unfortunate omissions (in this reviewers opinion, at least, others may disagree or find more volumes that they are persuaded ought to have been included but were not) may be found, including: Michael J. Gorman’s (2008) Elements of Biblical Exegesis, which contains a plethora of annotated bibliographies, and William Baird’s (1992, 2002, 2013) three-volume History of New Testament Research, a set comparable to Reventlow’s four volumes which Evans does mention.
Concerning the OT specifically, Evan’s neglects to mention at all Tov’s magisterial Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (2011), which is, in my opinion, a non-negotiable purchase even though many students would likely opt for either Wegner’s (2006), Brotzman/Tully (1993 and 2016), or Würthwein and Fischer’s (2014) more basic/intermediate works to bring them up to speed on the topic. Evan’s also fails to annotate Tremper Longman III’s (2009) How to Read Exodus volume or note Longman and Walton’s How to Read Job title which, I assume, appeared too late for review given its 2015 publication date or Walton/Hill’s OT Survey 3rd edition (2009), and, lastly John H. Sailhamer’s (1995) Introduction to Old Testament Theology: A Canonical Approach, which is, by far, in my opinion, the best seminal introduction to that specific topic, par none, and should have stood alongside Vos as one of Evan’s most recommended research tools for the whole Bible (albeit that it deals specifically with OT theology).
With respect to the NT, Porter’s Romans commentary (2015) was also presumably absent from Evan’s volume for the same reason as Longman and Walton’s volume noted above but the absence of his (1992) Idioms of the Greek New Testament (among many other great works by Porter) is particularly unfortunate as both the intermediate and advanced student would be well served by using it. With respect to LXX studies specifically, Evan’s neglects to mention Chamberlain’s (2011) The Greek of the Septuagint: A Supplemental Lexicon, Taylor’s (2009) Analytical Lexicon to the Septuagint, and Silva and Jobes’s Invitation to the Septuagint (2000 and 2015). Users of each of these volumes would be quick to affirm not only their accuracy, user-friendliness, and cost-effectiveness but also their indispensability with respect to doing scholarly Septuagint studies.
Lastly, one may perhaps also more than quibble with respect to Evan’s choice to highlight only the NIV Study Bible, ESV Study Bible, and the HarperCollins Study Bible to the neglect of other main-stream/popular, ‘solid’ translations such as the Holman Christian Standard Study Bible, Common English Study Bible, or the New Living Translation Study Bible, which is the only study Bible that I am aware of that includes a true dictionary and index for Hebrew and Greek word studies along with in-line citations and transliteration of the original languages in the margins – fully indexed. To this end, I believe that it would behoove Evans to include in future editions a nominal section that focuses on contemporary translations, translation theory, linguistics, etc . . . as it would indisputably allay any qualms the reader might have with respect to Evans’s competencies in these areas and greatly benefit the intended user of Evan’s work.
In closing, there is much, much, much to be gleaned within this guide and one should be reticent about dismissing the text based upon any of the above criticisms. Serious undergraduate/graduate students and studious pastors alike will be well served for many years to come by Evan’s painstaking assiduousness that has been undertaken in this volume and will consider it to be a boon that it is now, finally, in its tenth edition. Indeed, they are even most likely already waiting with eager anticipation for the eleventh.
(Posted on 6/17/2016)