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Inerrancy, patriarchs affirmed in B&H Genesis commentary

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–About 45 years ago Broadman Press published a commentary on Genesis which sparked a theological controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention that lasted several decades. The commentary by a Southern Baptist seminary professor denied that Adam and Eve were historical persons or that God really commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.

Much has changed in the SBC since 1961, especially regarding Genesis.

Broadman & Holman Publishers this year has released the final volume of a two-volume commentary on Genesis by Kenneth A. Mathews — the 35th volume in The New American Commentary series from the trade and academic books division of LifeWay Christian Resources since 1991.

Ray Clendenen, general editor of the series, said these volumes offer readers a different approach to the exposition of the Bible.

“The focus of The New American Commentary is a holistic approach, in that we look at a biblical book such as Genesis as a whole while commenting on individual verses,” said Clendenen, who has worked at Broadman & Holman for 13 years.

As the commentary writers worked on particular paragraphs or sections of their book, they aimed to explain how that section functions within the whole book and also what that book means in the context of the entire Bible.

Mathews also is the commentary series’ associate general editor and serves as professor of divinity in Old Testament and Hebrew at Alabama’s Beeson Divinity School and as Distinguished Professor of Old Testament Interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

Mathews explained that the Genesis volumes give detailed attention to the literary shape of the text because “it is essential for understanding the original theological message of the passage.”

The commentary, in its literary-theological analysis, moves toward understanding the message of Genesis in the wider context of the Christian proclamation, which Mathews, as a Christian interpreter, underscored as paramount.

“After establishing the meaning of the passage in its original setting, the commentary pursues how it contributed to the revelation of the Christian faith,” Mathews said.

Genesis is traditionally sectioned into two major parts, so the second volume picks up at Genesis 11:27, a natural division in the 50-chapter book.

“The theological message is divided like that because the first 11 chapters of the book are essentially a preamble to the rest of the Bible, explaining why humanity needs redemption,” Clendenen said. “You’ve got the problem at the Garden of Eden, the Flood, and the Tower of Babel. You finish reading the first 11 chapters and you come to the conclusion that we are really in a mess. We need some help.

“So God calls Abraham in Chapter 11 and the rest of the Bible is the story of God’s redemptive solution. From the beginning of Genesis, you get death in the Garden of Eden and then at the end of Genesis, you find Joseph in a coffin in Egypt. So it’s like a great episode of a story. You can’t help but say, ‘What’s going to happen next?’”

Clendenen explained that the 40 scholars serving as authors and editors of the NAC series are determined to produce volumes wholeheartedly committed to the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture.

“Biblical inerrancy is important not just because that’s what the Southern Baptist Convention has determined it believes. It is also what Christians through the centuries have believed,” Clendenen said, and more importantly, “If the Bible is the inspired Word of God as Jesus and the biblical writers affirm, then what it says is true in every sense -– it’s inerrant.”

Mathews added, “Since we are convinced of the full trustworthiness of Scripture for faith and practice, we focus on the finished form of the text, that is, as the text stands.”

In the past, the major critical issue in the second half of Genesis has been the reliability of the account of the patriarchs. Since 1961 biblical critics have questioned not only whether Abraham and his descendants acted as recorded in Genesis, but whether they existed at all except in the minds of storytellers a thousand years later. The commentary confirms the truth of the recorded patriarchal accounts, and Clendenen said the patriarchs do match what scholars know from other sources concerning the second millennium B.C. and what was happening at the time.

Mathews added that the patriarchal narratives are critical to understanding the salvation God has provided through Jesus Christ, noting that the New Testament begins with the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

“The identity of Jesus is tied to the ancestors of Israel, the father of the Hebrew people,” Matthews said. “When the Apostle Paul appeals to an exemplar of saving faith, he points to the faith of Abraham and explains that the promise of blessing intended for all peoples is fulfilled in the Christian church made up of Jews and Gentiles.”

The commentary presents the traditional evangelical view of the historicity of the patriarchs, and Mathews substantiates the case by using ancient Near Eastern evidence and textual work of Hebrew exegesis.

“The commentary strives to respect the text as the Word of God and to hear its voice first and foremost,” Mathews said. “The commentary is devoted to serving the wider church community through scholarship that will better equip Christian preaching and nurture the people of God.”

The New American Commentary on Exodus by Douglas Stuart will be available in May 2006.

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  • Kelly Davis