Saturday, August 20, 2011

Bible Commentary - Prologue

Here we go again. :) This time I've set my sights a little bit higher, and instead of reviewing the relatively modest Phantastes, I'm aiming for the relatively dense and lengthy Protestant Bible. :D As such, I am going to write a prologue here: post a table of contents (which I will update periodically throughout the study), some administrative remarks, and my personal thoughts on doing this study (which are unrelated to the actual analysis of the Bible).

Table of Contents:


My thoughts:

First off, I'm going to say that my target timeframe for completing this is somewhere between 3-8 years, so this is not going to be a quick project. Second, I plan on being thorough, in the sense that I will have a post for every one of the 1189 chapters of the standard NIV/NASB Bible. And on that note, I am going to probably use the NASB as my preferred translation, though I might use the NIV (uhh, 1989 edition I think?) as an alternative text.

Third, this is not meant to be an exhaustive commentary, if such a thing were even possible. My remarks will be general, covering anything from history to textual criticism to cultural references to theological analysis and exegesis, but limited in the sense that I'm only going to post my personal thoughts on each chapter and not seek to provide a comprehensive overview of different perspectives (though I will reference various perspectives as appropriate in certain places). I like to think that I can offer an alternative perspective, very different from what you find in many scholarly commentaries (not to say that such commentaries are of any lesser value), since I am not a professional theologian and therefore I will try to cover topics in more grounded terminology and philosophy. I don't seek to replace any other commentary, but if someone can derive value from my work here, then perhaps I will achieve my goal.

Fourth, while I will try to cover different viewpoints, I am myself a moderately conservative (theologically) Christian and it is inevitable that my personal opinions will predominate a lot of the discourse. If any reader is interested in (for example) a naturalistic viewpoint on the origination of the Bible, you will probably be disappointed. My reading of the bible is inherently supernatural, and I'm not going to hide it. I will try to write up major naturalistic theories, but if I start running out of space or time, these will be cut first.

Of course, my foremost goal is to organize my own thoughts and to spur myself in digging deeper into these 1189 chapters, so at the end of the day it doesn't even matter if anyone else reads this. But I nevertheless believe that others may find it profitable to do so.

From an initial perspective, I expect to write three, perhaps four different sections in this commentary, simply as thus: Introduction, analysis of each chapter, perhaps a section on inter-testamental period (~300 BCE to 0 CE), and then a brief conclusion. Upon further thought, it seems evident that I should write an introduction for each book, covering the basics of when it was written and by who, and any major points that don't belong to a single chapter. The chapter-by-chapter commentary will take up the vast bulk of my time and words, but it seems improper to write such a commentary without giving at least a brief context into the matters at hand. The initial introduction will contain general points about the Bible as a whole, about the particular doctrinal assumptions that I'm going to make, some broad comments about other systems of analysis, and the broad history and language of the Bible. Obviously people write books about this stuff alone, so I will keep it brief at first and expand this section later as necessary. The (possible) section on intertestamental times will simply describe the history of what happened in the 300 years between testaments, and the conclusion will be my personal thoughts on writing this commentary and any necessary parting words.

Lastly, just as with my prior book club, this commentary will not seek to summarize the contents of each chapter. I am providing this as companion material, to go along with others reading the Bible itself, and then reading my commentary for additional illumination. Simply reading the commentary may be interesting, but I will reference events/passages in the chapter at hand without prior explanation or synopsis. I will not, however, assume that the reader is familiar with the Bible as a whole or any particular theological doctrine, or anything apart from the prior chapters in the study, and will therefore try to explain any theological system I reference from the base texts. That will certainly require me to elaborate at length about theories that many people (especially Christians) are already familiar with, but I will do so for the sake of those who are not. It should be pretty simple for people not interested in those discussions to simply skip over them.

Oh yeah, and one last thing. If anyone reading this does not have access to a Bible, there are a couple great bible resources you can find online. For one, there is an online and searchable bible website that has every major translation: www.biblegateway.com. This is a great resource as you can cross-reference amongst all these different translations and it's all free. For offline access, you can download e-sword which is an extensible program that contains a couple free translations. This resource is more limited in terms of what translations you can get without paying money, but it's still good if you don't want to be connected to the internet. It also contains a lot of commentary resources as well as access to Strong's notes on word meaning and translation, and it also has original Greek and Hebrew scripts for looking at the originating manuscripts. This is at www.e-sword.net. Third, you can also find the original Greek NT at www.greekbible.com. For the Hebrew OT, I usually use e-sword.

[Edit]: I keep thinking of "last things" that I need to tell readers. This is because I know the Bible pretty well so it takes time for me to unravel all of the now-subconscious assumptions of knowledge that I make. What I forgot to mention is that my readers should understand the bible has 3 main layers of division: book, chapter, verse. And it's essentially hierarchical. Books are sets of chapters, chapters are sets of verses. You will commonly see me write annotations such as Gen[esis] 3:5. What this means is: Book of Genesis, Chapter 3, Verse 5. I will also commonly use ranges, such as Gen 1-5, or alternately Gen 3:14-20. Gen 1-5 means Book of Genesis, chapters 1-5 inclusive. Gen 3:14-20 means Book of Genesis, Chapter 3, Verses 14 through 20 inclusive.

I know from personal experience how utterly confusing it can be to navigate a bible when first reading it and how hard it is to find stuff, but in this sense you have two main guides. First, if you use a website like www.biblegateway.com, you can just type in the "book chapter:verse" and they will bring it up for you. You can even use ranges of chapters or verses and they are smart enough to figure it out, so that approach is dead-simple. If you have a physical bible, you can just find the table of contents which will list where to find the books, and then within the book all of the chapters and verses are listed in ascending sorted order, much like any other book. So it should be relatively straightforward to find a given chapter once you have the right book: you can just scan from left to right until you find it. [/edit]

Edit 2: One more "last thing".  I want to include links to helpful, free and online bible commentaries that I have read from other sources.  Ideally, I should have something unique to say that you won't find in other commentaries, but at the same time they make insights that I do not.  Either way, it is only proper that I should cite the commentaries that I myself read, in case any of my readers should find them useful.  There are a lot of verse-by-verse commentaries I know of and a few topical commentaries; mine will fall approximately between them, where I address some topics and address the bible itself on a chapter-by-chapter basis.  I will try to keep these links up to date, but I make no promises.

A great verse-by-verse commentary is Keil and Delitzsch.  These guys have a great breakdown on the meaning of specific words or phrases.  Old Testament only.

Another fabulous resource is the bible.org collection.  They have commentaries on tons of things organized every way you can imagine.  Their content tends to be a bit more fragmented because it's not one author studying the whole bible, but the sheer volume alone makes this a substantial resource.

For access to the Hebrew text and translations, I use e-sword with the free KJV and Strongs.  For Greek, I generally use greekbible.com.

I will put more here as I discover them.  I know that there are many great bible resources, but the ones listed above are what I have used in doing my own study for this blog.

Well, that's everything I can think of for this prologue. On to the introduction!

3 comments:

Who will catch me when I jump? said...

This is great, Daniel!! I'll follow this site for sure. Great planning, Mr. Beaver. :)

Who will catch me when I jump? said...

This is Ty.

Amonite said...

Scripturetext.com (Biblehub) is also a good source for many parallel translations, plus it has a lexicon and some of the greek variations.