What is it like to write a commentary?

Earlier this month, I gave a paper at the annual meeting of the British New Testament Society, in the Revelation seminar group, on my experience of writing a commentary. This is what I said.

The Task

I was contracted to write the Tyndale commentary on the Book of Revelation published by IVP as part of their rapid revision of the whole Old and New Testament series, which had been delayed by the production of a previous revision to the OT series. The previous volume in this series had been the slightly revised version of the original 1968 edition by Leon Morris, so it had been very out of date and was written by a non-Revelation-specialist.

The task was quite a challenge, in that it was a medium sized commentary (planned at 135,000 words, nearly twice the previous one, but which came out at 144,000 words!) but was designed to be for general use, so needed mostly to avoid footnotes and technical discussion. I felt the weight of this task, in being aware that the intended readership could have a diverse range of views on Revelation, and that resolving different views often relied on making reference to quite technical issues. I also wanted to ensure that, for academic readers, my engagement with the text would stand up to scrutiny.

The Process

As is my wont, I was well behind on the contract date for delivery, and so had to write to a deadline of July 2017. Although I have continued to be research active, and had been doing preparatory work over the previous two years, the main writing period was from November 2016 to July 2017. The final text was published in April 2018 in the UK, and July 2018 in the US.

One major advantage of writing a commentary, in contrast to other research projects, is that the structure is more or less a given. IVP had a very specific structure that they required for this new version of the series, which involved breaking the text into book chapters, including an introductory contextual comment to each section, and concluding with theological reflection. This structure did not work very well with Revelation, since the narrative flow and structuring of the text does not always work well with Stephen Langton’s 1227 chapter divisions. This meant that I had to make some significant revisions in November 2017 in response to the series editor’s feedback.

I wanted to give even attention to the different parts of the text, since I think that the evidence of the text itself is that it is highly recursive and intratextual, so no one portion should be given significantly greater attention than any other. ‘Doing the math’ meant that the overall length, minus the introduction of around 24,000 words, allowed me an average of 274 words per verse, and this functioned as a practical guide to my planning and writing. On my allocated writing days, I needed to write commentary on 8 verses, totalling around 2,200 words. This looked achievable, given some online discussion about the pace at which Biblical Studies academics worked (most agreed that around 1,000 words was manageable in a full day, though Craig Keener once wrote a 7,000 word academic article in a day!).

I found the most fruitful way to write was to start early, and I usually aimed to get to my desk by 6.30 or 7.00 am, and complete 1,000 words of writing before breakfast and walking the dog at 9 am. From personal conversation, I knew that Scot McKnight plans his writing days to run from 7 am to 2 pm, after which he stops work. If I managed to complete the other 1,000 words by lunch time, it was both liberating and highly motivating—despite the fact that for most of my life up until 2013 I had been more of a ‘night owl’!


Come and join us for the Third Festival of Theology on Tuesday 8th October!


In engaging with the text, I had a small group of key conversation partners, and a second group of more occasional sources that I consulted.

David Mathewson, Baylor Handbook to the Greek Text of Revelation This was an invaluable aid to making my own translation of the text, which I used about 50% of the time in the commentary (in slight breach of IVP’s guidelines!), and in particular thinking about the grammatical anomalies in the text.
Craig Koester Anchor Bible: Revelation I think this is now probably the best long commentary on the text; Koester consistently sets out the range of possible options for reading difficult texts, and gives reasons why he takes the option that he does. There were three major points where I disagreed with him (see below)
Gordon Fee New Covenant Commentary An interesting narrative commentary writing in a theological tradition close to mine, but without very close attention to the details of the text
Craig Keener NIV Application Commentary This is quite an unusual commentary that combines close attention to the text, a wealth of historical background material, and contemporary application and illustration. Craig told me that he was only able to include about half of his research material in the final text!
Grant Osborne Baker Exegetical Commentary Close attention to the text, though pushed out of shape by Osborne’s theological concerns and context.

I also consulted Aune, Beale, Boxall, Caird, Charles, Leithart, Mounce, Resseguie, Smalley, Swete, Thomas, and Witherington at different times on different issues. I drew on both my PhD thesis, and the 18 papers I have published and 36 articles written on my website. I have about 180 volumes on Revelation in my personal library—but use of other volumes was limited because of this being a non-technical commentary. There was also little scope to draw on journal articles, which would be essential in a more academically-oriented work.

The Approach

My approach to the commentary was to be relentlessly text focussed. This was in part because it would be the most appropriate approach given the constituency that the commentary was aimed at. But it was also because my own conviction about Revelation is that much commentary and interpretation takes insufficient account of the actual data of the text.

This meant that my reading was very different from an ideological reading, such as that of Stephen Moore (whom I have been re-reading recently). Moore approaches the text from an explicit Queer ideological standpoint, and the effect is to produce a neo-Freudian critique of what the text is ‘really’ saying, deploying a hermeneutic of intense suspicion which often interprets the text either in the absence of textual evidence or even against the evidence of the text. For example, in his essay ‘Hypermasculinity and Divinity’, Moore claims (against almost every other commentator) that Revelation’s depiction of the one seated on the throne is highly anthropomorphic, and indeed has a parallel in the static, posing musculature of modern body builders. The image of the New Jerusalem is a claustrophobic, mirrored training room, where the image of God is reflected back to the deity in an irredeemable exercise of cosmic narcissism. I am not convinced that the data of the text supports this reading.

But my commitment to the priority of the text also put me in tension with readings that have been quite common in the constituency which I was addressing. I am frequently asked, for example, whether my approach to the text in general is ‘futurist, church historical, idealist or preterist’, and whether I approach the millennium in chapter 20 from a premillenial, dispensationalist, postmillennial, or amillenial point of view. I obstinately insist in response that these understandings, if they do have merit, must emerge fromthe text, and not be taken as presuppositions prior toreading the text itself. I therefore resist (in the introduction) doing anything more than note these possible approaches, and the virtues and problems of each.

My commitment to the text also raised (and solved) a significant theological issue when the text was accepted for translation into French for the French Protestant church. The organisation overseeing the translation raised a concern with IVP UK that my reading of the judgement texts in the last chapters appeared to support what has been labelled an ‘annihilationist’ view of divine judgement. In response, I pointed out that I had simply taken a disciplined approach to how the text should be read in its historical, cultural and canonical context, and actually held back from drawing out too strongly a particular theological position that might arise. It seemed to me that, if the reasonably construed meaning of the text did not support the organisation’s theological position, so much the worse for the position! I was not willing to edit my comments without good reason.

Careful attention to the text has also yielded some interesting and novel observations. As part of my PhD, I noted that the grammatically unusual phrase οὐδὲτόπος εὑρέθη αὐτῶν ἔτι (Rev 12.8) is an almost exact citation of Dan 2.35 (LXX Theodotion) and Ps 36.36 LXX (Ps 37.36 MT), and thus follows a trajectory of interpretation also found in Qumran—something that has not been previously observed. In writing the commentary, I noted the odd presence of the ‘angel’ in the ‘chain of revelation’ in Rev 1.1 who is subsequently never referred to, and this contributes to the distinct function of the angels in the text who are self-effacing and function merely as literary supporters of the structure and communication of the message. To my knowledge, no extant commentator notices this mention of an angel or how odd it is.

Issues arising

One of the major challenges in writing a commentary is that you are forced to have a view on everyelement of the text, where an academic approach to research allows you to focus on areas of specialist interest and avoid issues that are unpleasant, uncomfortable or too complex! The sections I found most challenging to write about included chapter 9 and the vision of the creatures from the abyss, and the bowls sequence in chapter 16. I was persuaded of the importance of contemporary mythological imagery in making sense of chapter 9, and realised the importance not only of the Exodus plague imagery in chapter 16 (which is widely noted, and sets the bowls sequence apart from both the seals sequence in chapter 6 and the trumpet sequence in chapters 8 and 9) but also its strong literary connections with chapter 18, which is often given less prominence.

I experienced some trepidation in dissenting from the view of Craig Koester at three important points, since in all other respects I found his approach to the text robust and convincing. First, commentators are generally divided quite evenly on the function of the ‘seven spirits before the throne’ introduced in Rev 1.4 (καὶἀπὸτῶν ἑπτὰπνευμάτων ἃἐνώπιον τοῦθρόνου αὐτοῦ) and I sided with Bauckham and others against Koester and others in believing this is a part of a proto-trinitarian formulation—though on textual rather dogmatic or theological grounds. Secondly, Koester argues that the ‘spewing out of my mouth’ (μέλλω σε ἐμέσαι ἐκ τοῦστόματός μου) in Rev 3.16 relates more to expectoration and vomiting as part of Roman meal practices than to the undrinkable, calcified water of Laodicea, but I think this arises from his misreading of Strabo’s Geographicaat this point. My disagreement here merited my longest single footnote in the whole commentary.

Thirdly, Koester argues that the trumpeting of the seventh trumpet in Rev 11.15 must be the coming the ‘third woe’, even though the text itself does not say so! I agreed with a small minority of commentators in noticing the next occurrence of the term ‘woe’, in Rev 12.12, but I was alone in also noting the wide numerological dynamic here: ‘woe’ occurs precisely 14 times in all in the whole text (and I don’t think there are any textual variants that would affect this); six of these occurrences come in chapter 18, where we have a triple occurrence of a slightly odd double woe (by each of the kings of the earth, the sea captains, and the merchants); and together this strongly argues for seeing the omission of and explicit reference to the third woe, and the inclusion of ‘woe’ in Rev 12.12, as a deliberate part of the narrative design by the author. As I have observed elsewhere, this offers insight bothinto the narrative use of disruption, where the author sets up a narrative expectation which is then either not fulfilled or seriously disrupted, andtells us something about Revelation’s construal of space and time, locating John and his readers theologically within the space between the sixth and seventh trumpets.

Related to these disagreements, I also propose in the commentary a unique reading of the citations of Zechariah and Daniel in Rev 1.7, in which the ‘coming on the clouds’ alludes to Jesus’ ascension and does not look ahead to his eschatological return. All commentators I have consulted assimilate this text to the only other allusion to these two OT texts, in Matt 24.30, and take it to be eschatological, without considering the argument of George Caird and Dick France that this Matthean text is actually about the ascension. In the commentary I only had space to summarise my argument, so whilst writing the commentary I set out the fuller case in a blog article ‘When is God “coming on the clouds”?’ at https://www.psephizo.com/revelation/when-is-god-coming-on-the-clouds/ Generally positive response to this argument online gave me confidence to include this in the commentary even without having the means to offer a more robust defence in the text. (IVP reluctantly conceded that I could reference the blog in the book!)

More generally, writing a commentary that seeks to bridge the world of academic engagement with more ‘devotional’ engagement offers a fascinating exercise in putting one’s approach to a text in a place of public scrutiny. I have had correspondence about both detailed and general aspects of my reading from across the spectrum of both theological views and varying levels of academic engagement. I am pleased to report that, so far, I haven’t had to confess to any major blunders!

The final distinctive that I sought to offer was in the Introduction. The intended constituency for the commentary has traditionally been very interested in questions of authorship and dating; whilst I offered plenty of information in relation to both of these, I also wanted to highlight how little such questions actually affected most elements of most reading strategies, and how often such arguments ended up being circular (‘notice this in the text, which points to date X; given the date X, this element of the text must mean this…’) When speaking about Revelation in non-academic contexts, one of the persistent questions relates to the nature of John’s revelatory experience, and assumptions about this experience in turn shape approaches to interpretation. And yet there is very little reflection on theses issues in most commentary introductions. I was therefore determined to include a section under the heading ‘Did John actually have a vision?’ which I think will surprise some of my readers!

I also included much more coverage of questions of material culture (influence by the work of Steven Friesen, Bruce Longenecker and Peter Oakes) which is missing from other commentary introductions but I think informs our reading of the text, and in particular its anthropology, and I also made exploration of numerology more prominent both in the introduction and in the body of the commentary itself.

In addition, my interest in the role and function of metaphor in the text, arising from my original PhD research, shaped my reading at every stage.

Conclusion

Writing the commentary was both a demanding and an exhilarating experience, both academically and, for me, spiritually. I would love to write a longer volume on Revelation or write commentary on other biblical texts. A central part of my vocation is to try and bridge the worlds of the academy and devotional approaches to reading the Bible, and writing a commentary is an excellent way of doing that.

From a personal point of view, the whole process was a remarkable spiritual experience. To spend such an extended time immersed so deeply in a text of Scripture was a wonderful experience, and a number of my writing weeks offered me a profound sense of being in the presence of God. I hope to repeat the experience in future commentary writing.

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15 thoughts on “What is it like to write a commentary?”

  1. Ian, I particularly liked your Introduction. And I certainly noticed and was grateful for your commitment to the text. Strangely, even in an evangelical academic commentary, this is not always the case and reception history/a prior ideology pushes its way in.

  2. To keep to the text requires us to be aware of our paradigms. Unfortunately the strongest held are often those that we are unaware of! Also in the writing of it I think it is a help being an independent researcher. You were not constrained by any expectation of your employer? Although I note there were concerns raised by your publisher. This can be an ethical problem for a commercial publishing house within the Christian community? There is a pressure to keep their readership on board with their brand. I have had two text based commentaries on sections of the NT text turned down by publishing houses on the basis that “we cannot go there.”

  3. Thank you – a very interesting read, especially on the discipline of actually getting down to writing! Did you work from a large desk with multiple volumes arrayed around your computer screen(s)?
    Maybe in the coming year I will try to get my head around some of the issues you raise, in particular on Rev 1.8. Until I do, may I ask these quick questions for a quick repsonse?
    – When do you date the book?
    – Where do you think it first ‘surfaced’?
    – Do you link it to any immediate crisis?

    (It looks like the Greek text in citations of Rev 12.8, 1.4, 3.16 has run some words together.)

    • It looks like the Greek text in citations of Rev 12.8, 1.4, 3.16 has run some words together.

      like in the original?

      (Last year I saw the Codex Sinaiticus in the British Library, and it was beautiful.)

      • No, not like the original (yes, I have the autograph of Revelation but I have sealed it up – with seven seals and a one walrus – on a little island in the Aegean) and not like Codex Sinaiticus, which has no gaps and no accents.

  4. If I am allowed a third consecutive comment … another problem in the Christian publishing industry is to choose a ‘big name’ to write a commentary or book on a subject matter even though they have not specialised in the area – simply because they know that name will sell the book. (I sometimes wonder why they accept – do they think they can gain the expertise in the timeframe of the publishers schedule?) I might be mistaken but I imagine Ian that your name is not as widely known in wider evangelical circles as Carson or Moo or Blomberg? So it is a testimony to IVP in this matter that they invited you to write it on the simple basis that you are a leading academic expert on Revelation.

  5. From Ian, above:
    “From a personal point of view, the whole process was a remarkable spiritual experience. To spend such an extended time immersed so deeply in a text of Scripture was a wonderful experience, and a number of my writing weeks offered me a profound sense of being in the presence of God. I hope to repeat the experience in future commentary writing.”
    Marvellous, the awe, wonder of the study and impartation of “living and active/powerful” word of God: worship in Word/truth and Spirit. Soaked, drenched in the presence of God – knowing him, as perhaps never before, in your life, in a quality of spread and depth, personally.
    Ought sermon preparation and delivery not replicate this- the presence of God, in so far as it is possible, in a a sort of revivalist way, thereby giving more frequent opportunity, than comes from the writing of a Commentary – not that you should be dissuaded from writing more of them?

  6. “A central part of my vocation is to try and bridge the worlds of the academy and devotional approaches to reading the Bible, and writing a commentary is an excellent way of doing that.”

    That’s wonderful, Ian. There are few things more lovely than living out your vocation, and in a way the intimacy with God that may accompany that giving of yourself. If this is a profound part of your vocation (and I can well believe that it is) I think it is a really valuable calling. We need communicators who can bridge that gap between academia and the wider realm of Christians trying to live their lives day-to-day in the world beyond.

    I empathise with the challenges of framing your days to get books planned and completed. To create a habit and routine can be very satisfying, and having a regular daily framework somehow helps one get down to things.

    I found your shared experience of writing your commentary very interesting and thought-provoking. It must be hard to be predominantly text-focussed on a verse by verse basis, when a lot of what Revelation appears to ‘do’ is thematic and suggestive of underlying objectives and narratives. This must have constantly tempted you to wander from individual verses/passages to consider possible themes and concerns of the author that the text suggests.

    To me, the critiquing and unveiling of empire seems to be a huge theme in Revelation – and arguably essential to give space to in any commentary, not least because it speaks to power and empires today. If Revelation is indeed concerned with unveiling power, then it follows that the reader may have a moral duty to respond by considering how that speaks today, in a world where economic power creates huge life discrepancies (though too often we are complicit ourselves), and where justice is crying out for such an ‘unveiling’ and crying out for *resistance* to the status quo. And in resisting in the world today, I think apocalypse can function as a lens, offering methodology for making the invisible injustices visible, and stripping off the veneers of power, exposing lies and championing truth: fundamentally the truth we tell about Jesus Christ, the truth and the alternative ground we stand on.

    In this sense apocalypse may be read as much as an unveiling of the present as a vision of the future and the end of the world. How an author somehow accommodates potentially very important themes and readings in the context of a text-level verse-by-verse commentary must be pretty much a constant struggle: I guess that’s where Introductions come in?

    The importance is in the reception, understanding and application of the text. A profound privilege and responsibility. I love that you felt so alive, which I think is what can happen when a person is truly immersed in, and living out, their vocation. Because then you’re using your special and unique gifts, and accepting the invitation to walk deep in the person God has made you to be. I know I disagree with you at times, but I do value your gift, and believe that your quite unusual path offers gift to the Church.

    Susannah

  7. I’ve just begun reading about the apocalyptic “genre” and having just finished Nicklesburg’s Jewish Literature between the OT and the Mishnah (I read it as a primer for John C Collins’ book), I wondered why you didn’t place the text in conversation with earlier apocalyptic writings. Your third to the last paragraph seems to nod in this direction, but is it only a nod? Of course, I’ve also been reading David Bentley Hart’s new book and in it he suggests that the Apocalypse of John would be better left aside because the misreadings have often done more harm than good to the larger Christian community–I think that much of these misreadings stem from what you mention in your third paragraph in the Approach section.

  8. How refreshing to have such a strong emphasis on the text. Of course, when you do not know what interpretative conclusions you will come to (and who can know such a thing?), interpretation is a wonderful adventure.

    The commentary is historical critical (hurrah) but takes account of many more dimensions than that (extra hurrah).

    The good thing, I think, about many authorship and dating factors being circular is that this throws into sharp relief those factors that are non-circular – and of course these are bound to exist too.

    A few thoughts on the angel mentioned at the start.

    I do think it’s unlikely that John’s wording is imprecise. This would apply to any writer of a work for publication, but particularly one as meticulous as John. Moreover, there is an inclusio at the end (22.6-8) which also mentions ‘his angel’. At both ends of the inclusio, all 7 chain-links (and no others) are mentioned in close proximity. And this (ch22) in turn has been held to be a fairly major inclusio with ch19 (angel worship), as 17.3, 21.10 clearly double each other. So structurally this angelus interpres is fundamental.

    10 reasons to treat ‘angel’ as parallel to ‘Spirit’:

    (1) Only 4 times is John ‘in the Spirit’. But those 4 times comprise 2 pairs: 2x being in the Spirit, and 2x being carried in the Spirit (as in Ezekiel). The first 2 are accompanied by the only 2 mentions of the initial ‘voice’, which is best taken to be the angel and is clearly distinguished from Christ; the second 2 are accompanied by the only 2 mentions of ‘one of the angels who had the 7 bowls’.

    (2) In apocalypses of this kind of date, the revealer and source of prophecy can typically be ‘the angel of the Holy Spirit’ (appears in AscIsa; Hermas).

    (3) The Holy Spirit would be expected to be no.3 in the chain of revelation. But this is not just Trinitarian hindsight, but also something one would expect from John’s initial somewhat Trinitarian formulation (Was-Is-ToCome – 7Spirits – Jesus Christ) – why should any of these 3 fail to play a role in the chain?

    (4) If the Trumpet angels are said to stand directly before the throne of God yet are unmentioned in the layout given in chs 4-5, it seems likely that Rev (who does not invent these 7 angels nor did he initiate Isa 11) is equating them with the 7 spirits – who are remarkable not least for springing up in various guises. Same applies to the formulation ‘his angel’ – this implies a status that can certainly not be absent from the throne-room layout.

    (5) Heb 1 has in mind ‘who maketh his angels spirits’, and shares with Rev a background in angel-worship controversy.

    (6) The name/identity of the angelus interpres is ‘the Spirit of prophecy’. The two constant adjuncts to the chain of revelation are ‘The Word of God’ and ‘The Testimony of Jesus’. But the former is (19.13) a name of Jesus (and the means by which we get from link 1 to 2 in the chain) and the latter, just 3 verses apart in 19.10, is a name of the angelus interpres (and the means whereby we get from link 2 to link 3: so these 2 links link the entire Trinity).

    (7) The Isa 11 sevenfold Spirit, whose influence Ian’s commentary rightly (in my view) emphasises, comprises an initial Spirit who is simply ‘of the Lord’ (hence, ‘*his* angel’?) followed by 6 Spirits of attributes. No attribute is given for the initial Spirit (who may therefore be seen as supreme and overarching) – but John cannot abide an incomplete 7 and coins ‘the Spirit of prophecy’. Thus placing that concept central to what the Spirit is and does (as does Max Turner on Luke), and confirming that the Spirit who visits biblical prophets including John (John’s prophetic brethren apparently have their own spirits: ‘the spirits of the prophets’) is equivalent to The Holy Spirit tout simple.

    (8) Isa 6 is prominent in John 12, 17, 20-1. E.g. ‘holy-holy-holy’ hidden and embedded in 17.17-19 – but there are tons of examples. It is possible that John’s juxtaposed 1+1 pairs here in Jn 17 (his uses of ‘hen’: 17.21, 17.22, together with his heis/eis, hen/en interplay that climaxes in an echo of Gen 2.24 ‘einai eis hen’ in 17.23) not only reflect the 3 pairs of wings covering 3 body parts in Isa 6 but also remind us of the 3 pairs of Spirit attributes in Isa 11. Spirit and angel concepts conflated again. (The Paraclete, likewise, is more of an ‘individual’, so more quasi-angelic, than in other writers, and gains His title from Gen. 2 creation-of-Eve-context again: ‘Helper’). As in Isa 11, so in John 17: the 3 pairs are preceded by a single unpartnered ‘hen’ (Jn 17.11).

    (9) If one is writing pictorially and also all of the links in the chain of revelation are individuals, singular or collective, a somewhat individual sharply-defined, and so angel-like, Spirit is also required.

    (10) For angel of HS in early Trinitarian conception, see D Hannah JTS 1999 on AscIsaiah.

    I could go on and explore the importance of Rev 10 angel here; the idea that this too is the angelus interpres gives some continuity to the initial idea that all the revelation comes through that angel. Worth bearing in mind that the initial scroll is handed from God’s right hand to Jesus (nos 1-2 in the chain) and the second of 2 scrolls from no. 3 in the chain to no.4.

    Moreover, this would mean that the angel’s appearances punctuate the text into sections of what was, is, and is to come (cf. the programmatic 1.19?), with the central Rev 10 appearance marking the ‘is’ section (the woes, which seem to be being ticked off in the present day: 9.12, 11.14), and Rev 17 marking the start of prophecies about the future. Chs 9-16 have certainly proven by far the most fruitful for preterist writers, whereas subsequent chapters are more to do with predicted ultimate cosmic denouements. (And there is a case for seeing the 7 seals as an emperor-by-emperor apocalyptic review of history, of the past.)

    It is also inescapable that John’s chief characters do a lot of morphing, which goes to strengthen the case that all of these are the same one angelus interpres. I put this down to his practice of giving fourfold identities to chief characters. The good thing about that is that it is easily falsifiable by finding threefolds and fivefolds. I do apologise if there seem gaps in the evidence given (this is the inevitable result of working on a large scale, nothing more, on the hypothesis that the writers’ own visions were to a great degree the large-scale ones) and the proof of the pudding lies in whether the evidence survives cross-questioning on a more minute level.

    Just like it is fruitful to read bedtime stories a section/chapter before bedtime, the same applies to commentaries. And good commentaries, like good stories, are an adventure of discovery yet governed and fruitfully constrained by the internal logic of the whole.

  9. Hi Ian,

    Your webpage link takes us to the Amazon website for purchasing your book. This posed me an ethical issue as they pay so little tax. Waterstones have a policy of paying UK tax in full. So I was surprised and delighted when I was able to order your book from my local Waterstones in a brief phone call and the price is the same as the Amazon price. I wonder if you would feel able to post a link to Waterstones website contact page in your right-hand column so as to encourage peopple to order the book in that way? https://www.waterstones.com/bookshops

    Thanks for considering this. I’m very much looking forward to working through the commentary when it arrives. 🙂

    • A good point John. I am also guilty of just clicking through with Amazon. Especially as many. Amazon employees seem to have almost slave -like terms and conditions – re the recent post on slavery.

  10. Fascinating, and well done!

    I was intrigued to read that you have 180 volumes in your personal library related to Revelation. It’s not a foolproof measure of course, but I guess I’d want someone writing a commentary to have a seriously well-stocked library on the topic. (As a pastor, not a scholar, I reckon I have 8 on Revelation, and I rely in part on those who can dig deep to help unearth the gold.) So thank you!

  11. What truths does the Bible give us? And what are the processes by which we each come to personal convictions on what those truths are?
    There was a review in a 2017 Churchman of a book ‘THE PASTOR THEOLOGIAN: Resurrecting an ancient vision’ which, according to the review, argues that ‘we have given in to the idea that the academy and the church are essentially two separate spheres, and the pastor’s job is merely to digest and disseminate the fruit of the work of the academic theologians. In contrast to that, they argue that the church today needs at least some of its pastors to embrace the vision of being actively engaged in theological research and writing for the sake of the local church’.
    Speaking as a layman, it does indeed feel like I am at the bottom of the pile. At the top are the academics, below them the pastors, and then me (us). The proposal of the ‘Pastor Theologian’ would remove one layer. But I have a better idea.
    By my count, in the NIV there are approximately 6000 words in the English translation of chapters 1-8 of Paul’s letter to the Romans. In some commentaries, the approximate number of words devoted to chapters 1-8 are as follows: Murray 130,000; Schreiner 170,000; Moo 240,000; Cranfield 160,000.
    To the layman like me, who believes that the God and Christ of the Bible are and who believes that the revelation they have given in the Bible is wholly trustworthy, what matters above all, both personally and what I say to others, is what are the true doctrines of salvation. The scholars mentioned (plus Lloyd-Jones in his published sermons) are quite close to one another theologically. Nevertheless they differ among themselves in some passages which have a vital bearing on the salvation doctrines. And that is without mentioning Tom Wright etc.
    To come to a considered, humble, first-hand, willing-to-be-proved-wrong (how traumatic that is!) private-judgment, conscience under God view, what all of us need, academy theologians, pastors and lay folk alike, are the strongest arguments and counter-arguments from all sides on what Paul meant. Sermons are just not an adequate way of arriving at these strongest arguments and counter-arguments. Neither are commentaries and scholarly articles, unless we have time to buy/borrow, read and analyse them all. The best way is open, serious debate on the internet where scholars and pastors can challenge and be challenged and non-scholars and non-ordained can participate, challenge and be challenged. Of course, this process depends on all of us seriously accepting Archbishop Peter Jensen’s challenge in his Summer 2019 Churchman editorial, ‘The Partnership of All Believers’. I surmise (am I wrong?) that academy theologians and pastors are, in general, not comfortable with accepting that challenge and entering into that partnership when it comes to serious open debates on the internet.

    Phil Almond.

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