Scenario: You are studying a passage of scripture, but you come to a verse that’s difficult to understand whether it be a confusing English translation or an unusual Greek/Hebrew clause structure that makes it difficult to decipher the meaning. In order to figure out what’s going on, you turn to the commentary.

Question: In such situations, do you ever feel as if the commentator is making up exegetical options that don’t actually exist?

7 thoughts on “Question:

  1. Nope. I’ve never read a commentary on any passage where I thought that. Of course the way my brain works I might never identify such an option. So… what commentary have you been reading that just prompted this? I must know.

  2. Not that I would be a good one to answer that question but now and then when I read something on a passage like this I wonder if it’s like a person looking at a modern painting in a gallery showing and talking about all the things that the painting conveys while the artist himself stands behind them thinking, “I just wanted to paint a pretty picture and I liked the shape and colors.” In other words I wonder if the commentator is reading more into the passage than what’s there or there are just some things we can’t understand. I like it when the commentator says the latter in those situations.

    On a broader scale, in Longenecker’s commentary on Galatians he says that Paul uses all kinds of rhetorical structures that have fancy latin names like probatio and stuff. The commentary was bogged down with these terms. In O’Brien’s commentary of Ephesians he refutes that regarding Paul’s letters (as you stated in your review) and even quotes Longenecker, disagreeing with him. O’Brien basically said it’s just a letter. ! Even though his letters do have some sort of structure.

  3. I had forgotten about that – though I should say now that I’m not in agreement with O’Brien as much as I was. I think that after reading Paul and First Century Letter Writing, I’ve moved a little toward the middle on the issue. I think Longenecker goes a bit overboard (from what I’ve heard about him), but I also think that O’Brien is a bit too reactionary in his approach.

  4. Making up an option, well, maybe I wouldn’t go quite that far. But I have sometimes wondered why the exegete is suggesting an option that seems to have rather thin support. Some exegetes that write commentaries seem to be guided by their own theological presuppositions.

    I have come to the conclusion that some commentators are quite honest with the data and exegetical options, and others are, well, not dishonest, but biased, perhaps is an appropriate label.

    As a Bible translator I have found that commentators often do not address exegetical questions that need to be answered to do adequate translation. Some of the better exegetical helps for Bible translation have to be written by people with Bible translation experience who may not be well known as exegetes.

    When I first started out as a Bible translator I spent $3000 per year for commentaries (esp. ones recommended by a fellow Bible translator and a guide to exegetical helps). I discovered over the years that I seldom used those commentaries. Often if I would consult them they would not answer the questions I needed to have answered to do better Bible translation.

  5. Yes, Wayne, I was being hyperbolic. This particular commentary is dealing with options that are thin, but he also seems to conflate one particular exegetical question into multiple “views” that seem to be exactly the same.

  6. In that light I usually have one of two problems with any given commentary. Either it doesn’t cover enough breadth on an issue and I’m left wanting more, or else the coverage of the various possibilities is skewed or biased. This usually means the author has put way too much emphasis on his own preference over the other options or else that he gives such brief coverage of the others that I’d have to go read them. I always love it when an author gives validity to other possibilities and then explains his own preference. It’s not that hard, or shouldn’t be.

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