Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Jesus, New Testament Scholarship, and Second Editions

Aug 30, 2016

Yes, admittedly, another cryptic title – but it does in fact cover all the bases. Recent scholarship on Jesus, the Gospels and the New Testament continues to be a growth industry, with new material appearing all the time. Some four years ago I wrote about one excellent series of reference books which every serious student of Scripture should possess.

I refer to the eight theological and biblical dictionaries of the entire Bible put out by IVP from 1992 to 2012. All up over 8000 pages of the best biblical, theological, Old Testament and New Testament scholarship from a conservative/evangelical viewpoint is contained therein. I sang its praises here;

I still urge all serious students of the Word to get these volumes. They are hefty, they are heavy, and they are costly, but they cover just about everything you need if you want the best and latest scholarship on the Bible and all things biblical.

Since writing my piece in 2012 some revisions in the series have started to appear. If you are like me, you tend to be a bit wary of updated and revised volumes, as they are often little more than a very slight updating, with bibliographies perhaps updated or a few new bits and corrections added.

Unless you are a theology and biblical studies fan who also happens to be a millionaire, you tend to be rather cautious about shelling out more money for such updated works. Of course some updates are the real deal however. Consider for example the 1983 commentary on Joshua in the Word Biblical Commentary series by Trent Butler.

The original volume of 300 pages was replaced in 2014 by a two-volume work totalling nearly 950 pages. Now that is a major revision and addition. So something like that I am willing to dig deep into the wallet for. Learning to discern which revised volumes are worth getting and which ones should be passed on is part of the game here.

When I learned that the first volume of the IVP series, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels was revised, I paid little attention to it. These are not cheap volumes as I mentioned, and I assumed the revisions would not be that substantial to justify further breaking the bank.

But when I finally got around to looking at the second edition more closely I was pleasantly surprised. I turned to see what the preface to the second edition would tell me but there was none. Disappointing. But then I found what I was looking for in the back inside dust jacket. It says in part:

Those who have enjoyed and benefitted from the wealth in the first edition will find the second edition an equally indispensable companion to study and research. Over ninety percent of the articles have been completely rewritten, and the rest thoroughly revised and updated. Here is the doorway into a reliable and comprehensive summary and appraisal of the last twenty years of Jesus scholarship. A new generation of scholars has opened the way to make this a Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels for the twenty-first century.

And it certainly is a major revision and updating. The volume itself is larger, with the 1992 volume of 934 pages expanded to 1088 pages in the 2013 edition. One can almost just go through the pages at random to see what sort of changes have been made between the two editions.

For example, the article on “Kingdom of God/Heaven” in the first edition by C. C. Caragounis taking up 14 pages is replaced in the newer version by Joel Green’s article, also consisting of 14 pages. Both articles are very good indeed, and both cover much similar territory, but the main difference is in all the new scholarship which has been produced on this topic in the past two decades. This is reflected in the bibliographies: the one in the first edition is just a third of a page, while the one in the second is a full page and a half.

Consider also the “Gospel of John” entry. The original 14-page article by M. M. Thompson is replaced by a 17-page piece by C. S. Keener. Again, of necessity, much common ground is found between the two articles, but two decades of new Johannine scholarship is reflected in the enlarged bibliographies: a half page worth of bibliographic material in the original edition is replaced with a page and a third in the second.

Some of the entries in the older edition have been deleted while a number of new topics are featured in the second edition. And some of the authors found in the earlier edition are no longer there. An earlier generation of NT scholars including G. R. Beasley-Murray and F. F. Bruce have given way to relatively up and coming experts such as Michael Bird from Ridley College in Melbourne, who has four key entries: Christ; Sin; Sinner; Synoptics and John; and Rikk Watts of Regent College in Vancouver (“Triumphal Entry”).

All in all this is a superb reference work, and of course it does not so much replace the previous volume as handsomely supplement it. Both are well worth having. If you own neither, you should of course grab the latest edition, but if your funds and bookshelf space permit, you should grab both (if you can still get a hold of the first edition).

They will serve you well for a lifetime of Christian ministry and scholarship. Even if your calling is not an academic one, the information contained here will serve you well throughout your ministry career. And if your budget and library are both large enough, make sure you get all eight volumes in this superb series.

And keep some extra money and space for any new replacement volumes that may appear as well!

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