The IVP Women's Bible Commentary. Edited by Catherine Clark Kroeger and Mary J. Evans. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2002, xxxvii + 874 pp, $30.00.
The IVP Women's Bible Commentary asks the question, "What happens when we look at Scripture through women's eyes?" Unlike traditional commentaries, this volume highlights women's concerns and perspectives on Scripture. In this way, it is a "complement" as opposed to an "alternative" commentary. As the editors state, "Many insights into the text are never revealed simply because the questions that might have revealed them have never been asked" (p. xiii). While drawing upon some of the positive contributions of feminist criticism, the work stands as an evangelical option to The Women's Bible Commentary edited by Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1992).
There are 90 contributors, mostly women, to this over-900-page volume. The contributors exhibit a variety of qualifications and backgrounds. The majority have Ph.D.s, a lesser number Master's degrees, and a couple list B.A.s as their terminal degree. The majority teach at theological colleges or universities, while others work in church ministries or parachurch organizations.
Each commentary begins with a short introduction, including an outline of the book, and some end with helpful conclusions. Each has a brief bibliography. There are cross-references to Scripture and related articles cited in the text. Almost 80 supplementary articles are interspersed throughout the book. Most are embedded in the text of the commentaries themselves, a format which can at times make it difficult to distinguish an article from the text of a commentary. The articles, which vary greatly in length and depth of scholarship, are informative for the most part. The volume is sprinkled with illustrations, tables, and diagrams, though some tables are presented in a size font that will test one's visual acuity.
The editors state that they have given the contributors a "great deal of freedom" (p. xiv), and this proves to be the case. The individual commentaries vary widely in terms of form and style. Some move methodically through the text (Exodus). Others focus on specific passages that pertain to women and pass over the rest of the text (Genesis). Still others are organized thematically (most of Isaiah) or according to an overarching framework (conversations between men and women in John). Some are almost exclusively focused upon exegesis, while others concentrate on relevance to contemporary women. While it is interesting to see the various approaches to the text, the lack of predictability could make the volume harder for readers to use as a reference tool. Furthermore, while some inconsistency is inevitable in a multi-author work, it goes beyond what one would expect in a one-volume commentary. The wide variety seems to reflect a deeper problem, which is the need for a consistent, well-developed understanding of what it means to read Scripture "through women's eyes."
This problem is especially apparent in the various ways in which the authors treat the text hermeneutically. The editors state,
[The commentary] unashamedly approaches the text from a particular and identified perspective, seeking to provide a resource for the whole church-both women and men-that will allow the readers to notice and identify issues within Scripture that relate to women and reflect their unique perspective. It seeks deliberately to ask women's questions. It is not written simply "for" women as opposed to men; it is rather written "from" women. In other words, this commentary doesn't just look at passages about women, it looks at all of Scripture from a woman's perspective (p. xiii).
However, the lack of a consistently applied hermeneutic makes it difficult to get a firm grasp on exactly what it means to approach Scripture from this "particular and identified perspective." We agree this is a significant goal, but the commentary would be much more effective if approached with a uniform methodology, as well as form. …