The New Interpreter's Bible

By Lemke, Werner E. | Interpretation, July 1996 | Go to article overview
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The New Interpreter's Bible


Lemke, Werner E., Interpretation


THE PUBLICATION of the Interpreter's Bible (IB) in 1952 marked a significant event in the history of Christian publication in North America. At the time it was the only commentary on the whole English Bible to have appeared in fifty years, and it quickly established itself as a major resource in the libraries of interpreters of scripture. The publication of The New Interpreter's Bible (NIB) four decades later marks another important milestone in the history of Christian publication. Because of significant improvements over its predecessor, the long-range impact of the NIB may be even greater than that of the IB, and this in spite of the fact that the field of English commentaries on the whole Bible is now much more crowded than when the IB first appeared.

Besides the name, the NIB shares with its predecessor a common purpose, namely to provide a commentary on scripture which offers exegetical work that reflects the best of contemporary scholarship, but also theological exposition that makes it eminently useful for those who interpret the Bible for Christian faith communities today. Other than that, the NIB is essentially a new work, produced by a new team of editors, consultants, and contributors, and not simply a revision or updating of the old IB. Unlike the latter, the NIB also includes the deutero-canonical writings, interspersed at appropriate points throughout the Old Testament. Other distinctive features of the NIB are detailed in an editorial preface and in the "Introduction to the New Interpreter's Bible," by senior editor Leander E. Keck.

Volume 1 of the NIB additionally contains the following: twenty-one general articles on the Bible and the Old Testament; an "Introduction to the Pentateuch," by Joseph Blenkinsopp; commentaries on Genesis (Terence E. Fretheim), Exodus (Walter Brueggemann), and Leviticus (Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.). A transliteration schema, an index of ten maps, charts, and illustrations, and a list of abbreviations round out this volume. The range of topics covered in the general articles includes traditional subjects as well as newer ones reflective of recent hermeneutical developments (notably, a set of essays "Reading the Bible From Particular Social Locations"). The article by Carl A. Holladay on "Contemporary Methods of Reading the Bible" deserves to be singled out for special commendation. Into the bewildering proliferation of ways of reading the Bible, Holladay brings clarity and order by defining and classifying all the different "biblical criticisms" under a threefold typology of paradigms: the "Divine Oracle," "Historical," and "Literary" paradigms. Broadly speaking, he correlates these three paradigms respectively with a "pre-modernist," "modernist," and "post-modernist" outlook on scripture, while allowing that all three approaches continue to exist side by side as alternative options in the present.

We must now turn briefly to a consideration of the three specific commentaries in the volume under review. Each biblical book is provided with a concise introduction, including a basic bibliography and detailed outline of the contents of the book. The smallest "primary units" or individual pericopes provide the basic units of interpretation in the commentary that follows. Each primary unit begins with a reproduction of the biblical text in two English translations arranged in parallel columns against a green tinted background, which is pleasing to the eye and clearly sets off the text from the interpretation that follows.

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