Listen to My Dad: Read a Bible Commentary

On Monday afternoon I took a break from work to call my parents to find out how my mom was doing after a recent dental procedure. My dad picked up the phone too, and I asked him what he was doing. Working on a short meditation for the weekly devotional time at their retirement community, he said. This week’s Scripture texts were Revelation 21:1–8 and Isaiah 65:17–25.

Anyone who knows my dad knows that he loves nothing more than to study and meditate on the Bible, dive into the work of erudite theologians and biblical scholars, and then figure out a way to bring it all together to communicate the richness and depth of Scripture to others.

As a study resource, he had open on his desk John R. Yeatts’ commentary on Revelation, one of the volumes in the Believers Church Bible Commentary (BCBC) series. Herald Press publishes this series on behalf of Mennonite Church Canada, Mennonite Church USA, the Brethren in Christ Church, Brethren Church, Church of the Brethren, and Mennonite Brethren Church. It is the only commentary from an Anabaptist perspective available to readers.

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The BCBC commentary on Revelation by John R. Yeatts.

My dad went on for some minutes about how helpful the Revelation commentary has been in preparing this devotional; how excellent Yeatts’ analysis is, especially with regard to the nonviolent Lamb that stands against empire; and how good it is to have informed biblical exegesis from a perspective other than the dispensationalist view with which he grew up.

He had also pulled the Isaiah commentary off his shelf, and he was just getting into author Ivan D. Friesen’s work when I called. “I am amazed at the quality of the people who write these commentaries. These authors are real scholars!” my dad said. “I mean, I just don’t think the church is making enough of these commentaries.”

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The BCBC commentary on Isaiah by Ivan D. Friesen.

Honest: I did not put my dad up to this so I’d have something to write about for this blog post. I did, however, grab a piece of paper as he was talking to take notes. Frankly, I think he would have gushed about the BCBC series no matter who had called him at that moment.

Like my father, countless pastors and Sunday school teachers and professors have reached for BCBC commentaries since 1986, when the commentary series launched with Jeremiah, to help them prepare sermons and lessons and classes. Lay readers and scholars alike praise its unique features, including two sections entitled “The Text in Biblical Context” and “The Text in the Life of the Church,” which are especially helpful in connecting believers church perspectives to the biblical text.

Part of what sets this series apart is the fact that it is aimed not just at scholars and pastors but at anyone interested in serious Bible study. Even those of us who aren’t biblical scholars—and I can assure you that I am not one—can pick up a commentary in this series and not be intimidated by an author who assumes we know more than we do.

“I have noticed how other publishers are looking to build on the BCBC format,” one man in the United Kingdom wrote to Herald Press recently. “The fact that your vision is thirty years ahead is indicative of how I see the breaking down of walls between high-end academic work and the work of the church. These books have been very well thought out to help the believer/minister get to the meat of the text. It is high-end scholarship brought to a level that can provide depth to the ordinary believer.” (Case in point: the Joshua commentary by Gordon H. Matties starts with a quotation by Leonard Cohen. Now there is a Bible commentary that is breaking down walls!)

The BCBC commentary on Joshua by Gordon H. Matties.

Another distinctive feature of this series is its commitment to community interpretation of the Word. Next week I travel to San Diego for the annual BCBC editorial council meetings, in which representatives of the cooperating denominations meet to consider manuscripts for future commentaries. These scholars and teachers sit together for two days to consider writing samples, discuss new manuscripts, and craft responses to writers to help them revise their work. While each of the commentaries is written by an individual writer, in many ways they are the product of a community of believers interpreting the Scriptures together.

We’re excited to announce that the twenty-seventh volume in the series, Lamentations, Song of Songs by Wilma Ann Bailey and Christina Bucher, will be published in February 2015. Galatians by George R. Brunk III will appear in March. This week our marketing and sales director presented these books to a team of sales representatives, who are selling them to stores even before they are published. Both volumes are already receiving high praise.

“Wilma Ann Bailey and Christina Bucher have written clear, lyrical, and academically solid studies on Lamentations and the Song of Songs,” writes Kathleen M. O’Connor, professor emerita of the Old Testament, Columbia Theological Seminary. “I recommend this work for believers, for those seeking for God, and for those who love biblical literature.”

And of the Galatians commentary, Eastern Mennonite Seminary Professor Emeritus Paul Zehr writes, “Brunk’s theological commentary on Galatians offers new insights that challenge the common understanding of this early Christian letter. Utilizing insights from many years of teaching, this commentary challenges traditional Protestant understanding of justification by faith alone with a more holistic understanding of Christ-centered faith and life in the Holy Spirit.”

So if you’re leading Sunday school or preparing to preach or just doing some personal Bible study, you can remedy my dad’s sense that the church is not doing enough with this distinguished and distinctive Bible commentary series. You keep your eyes open for Lamentations, Song of Songs and Galatians in the spring, and I’ll let you know what Herald Press books my dad happens to be reading when I call him next.

In addition to our Bible commentary series, check out other Herald Press books. In gratitude for our customers, we’re running a Thanksgiving sale on several titles.

headshotValerie Weaver-Zercher is managing editor of Herald Press trade books.