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Blog / New Commentary Series for Modern Bible Teachers: An Interview with Mark Strauss and John Walton

New Commentary Series for Modern Bible Teachers: An Interview with Mark Strauss and John Walton

Most pastors spend 10-18 hours a week preparing for their Sunday sermon. A new Bible commentary series is designed to assist in that effort by offering Bible reference and background material in concise six-page units.

Dr. Mark StraussBible Gateway interviewed Dr. Mark Strauss and Dr. John Walton, the general editors of Teach the Text Commentary Series (website) (Baker Books, 2014).

For the average person in a worship service, explain what ‘biblical exegesis’ means in relation to the preacher’s sermon?

Dr. Strauss & Dr. Walton: “Biblical Exegesis” refers to the process of analyzing the text for the purposes of interpreting and understanding at every level.Dr. John Walton It includes language analysis (such as grammar and the meaning of words), literary analysis (how the passage is shaped literarily and used in the book), theological analysis (both in the context and in our theology today) and even extends to practical application. The exegesis of the text serves as the foundation for the sermon.

The Teach the Text Commentary Series is said to be “biblical scholarship that bridges the gap.” What gap?

Dr. Strauss & Dr. Walton: The gap we refer to is between academic scholarship and the lay people in the pew.Buy your copy of Teach the Text in the Bible Gateway Store Often commentaries stop after they have addressed the academic details of a text and may be neither understandable nor relevant to the person who wants to see the Bible’s relevance to their lives. This series is meant to help the preacher or teacher bridge that gap.

As Bible scholars and teachers yourselves, explain the difficulty pastors have of teaching originally non-English literature from an expanse of Middle East contexts that span centuries and continents to their congregations in the 21st century.

Dr. Strauss & Dr. Walton: This is one of the major challenges that any interpreter faces (whether academic, pastoral, or lay) because we’re interacting with a text that’s written for us but not written to us. It takes some work to recover what we can from the ancient world. The difficulty is that oftentimes that information is neither easily accessible nor put in a form in which its significance is evident. Tools at various levels have been developed and continue to be developed to aid that process, and we hope that this series will provide guidance in that process. It’s not immediately obvious to the modern reader why the people in Genesis 11 hoped to gain by building a tower, or what Joshua means in Joshua 10 when he requests that the sun and moon stand still. We need help from the ancient world. This is another gap that needs to be bridged: from the ancient world to the modern reader.

Describe the framework of each commentary’s preaching units.

Dr. Strauss & Dr. Walton: We begin with the “Big Idea” that identifies what should be the main point of focus when dealing with the text. “Key Themes” gives the reader the idea of the important content of the passage, and “Background Issues” highlight relevant material from the ancient world (manners and customs, archaeology, ancient literature, etc.). The “Text in Context” section is designed to help the reader put the passage in its literary context in the book in order to see how it relates to what’s around it and what contribution it makes. “Interpretive Insights” seek to explain or clarify issues in the text that will help the reader preach or teach the text. Here we seek to employ the academic expertise of the writer to serve the needs of the reader as they proclaim Scripture. “Theological Insights” seeks to highlight something that we can learn about God from this passage, and “Teaching the Text” offers guidance of what the text is intended to teach in the authority that God has vested in it. This section can help preachers or teachers focus on what the text is doing rather than launching into something that’s not really the concern or teaching of this text. Finally, in “Illustrating the Text,” a team of pastors suggests some ideas for illustrations that coincide with the Teaching that has been identified.

Why was it determined to limit each Bible passage preaching unit to only six pages? How difficult was it for the authors to keep to that limit? How do you respond to critics who might characterize the commentary series as being not deep enough due to the page limitation?

Dr. Strauss & Dr. Walton:: Most commentaries are written by scholars and for scholars. We wanted to make a commentary by scholars but for preachers and teachers, who have limited preparation time every week. With the Teach the Text series, the teacher knows that they have the same amount of reading material in preparation for each week.

It’s sometimes been difficult to keep authors to these limits, particularly in complex or theologically difficult passages. But we think it’s been a good exercise for our authors. After all, a pastor or teacher only has a limited amount of time to explain a difficult passage. The scholar-author has to go through this same discipline of preparation.

Since the commentaries are written by top–notch biblical scholars, we believe they’ll have enough depth for teachers and preachers. The scholars will be sure to cover what needs to be covered. But we also allow the authors to add Additional Information sections at the end of select passages. These provide more in-depth material for particularly complex passages. In this way, if the pastor wants to go deeper they can, but these sections are not essential for sermon or lesson prep.

What logistical procedures and scheduling need to be followed in order to publish a multi-volume series like Teach the Text, from nascent idea to retail market?

Dr. Strauss & Dr. Walton: A commentary like this has so many moving parts that production is definitely a complex process. This is especially so since we have separate editorial teams working on illustrations and graphics. Because illustrations tend to be so personal, this has probably been the most difficult part to coordinate with the rest of the commentary. But we now have a carefully developed process that’s working well.

Does a user of this series need to know the biblical languages of Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek?

Dr. Strauss & Dr. Walton: No. Though our authors are all experts in the biblical languages, all the Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic is transliterated and translations are provided.

What books of the Bible are already published in the series? When do you project the series will be completed?

Dr. Strauss & Dr. Walton: Published so far are

Nearing completion are

  • Psalms vol. 1
  • Daniel
  • Joshua
  • Leviticus/Numbers
  • Exodus
  • Judges/Ruth
  • Jeremiah
  • Matthew
  • Mark, and
  • Revelation.

We’re expecting the series to be completed around 2016.

Bios: Mark L. Strauss (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary, San Diego. He’s the author or editor of many books and articles, including How to Read the Bible in Changing Times; Four Portraits, One Jesus: An Introduction to Jesus and the Gospels; How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth; and Commentaries on Mark and Luke.

John H. Walton (PhD, Hebrew Union College) is professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College. He’s the author or editor of numerous books, including A Survey of the Old Testament; Old Testament Today; Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament; The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament; and Commentaries on Genesis and Job.

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