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Excellence in Theological Commentary

Phil has posted a good quote from Brevard Childs on what makes for a good commentary:

  1. Does the commentator do justice to the coercion of the biblical text, or does the author’s private agenda overshadow the text itself?
  2. Does the creative imagination of the commentator lead the reader back to the biblical text or away from it?
  3. Does the interpretation reflect the needed patience and empathy to wrestle with the elements of the Bible that at first seem strange, distant, and even offensive to modern sensibilities?
  4. Has the commentator learned enough from the history of interpretation to retain a sense of modesty regarding his or her efforts and a critical respect for those who have illuminated the way in the past?


  1. Phil Sumpter wrote:

    I would add: has the commentator soaked himself within the dogmatic tradition of the church in order to enable the text to become a transparency to its true theological subject matter, a reality which explodes the literal sense of the text.

    This is my own formulation, but I got the general idea from reading a lot of Childs. I wonder why it wasn’t included this quote? It was published in ’97. Perhaps his move towards allegory wasn’t in full gear yet.

    I’ve yet to listen to the Jenson lecutures to see what he would say on this.

    Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 2:37 am | Permalink
  2. Phil Sumpter wrote:

    I have a follow up post: Why do we need commentaries?

    Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 8:00 am | Permalink
  3. Mike Bull wrote:

    Point 2 is spot on.

    I think something also ought to be said about analysis of literary structure. So many commentaries ignore this, and thus often miss the fundamental purpose of a passage.

    Friday, April 24, 2009 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

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