I just read a post in which James Pate defends his use of older Bible commentaries and in it he said a couple of things that got me thinking. He said:
E-Sword contains a number of commentaries that the scholarly community generally scorns: Albert Barnes, Adam Clarke, Matthew Henry, John Gill, and Jamiesson, Faussett, and Brown. These are old works, and they do not approach the Bible in a critical manner. They lack up-to-date knowledge of the ancient Near East and biblical languages.
And there have been times when I’ve also looked at modern commentaries, such as the Word Commentary (which is practically an encyclopedia of modern scholarship), the Anchor Bible commentaries, NICOT, and others. Maybe I’d be at the HUC library doing pieces of my daily quiet time during my study breaks. And, to be honest, those modern commentaries often say the same things as my E-Sword luminaries and Rashi.
So I tend not to throw out books just because they are old. Granted, I try to remember that older books have their limitations because much has been discovered since their times.
Now to be sure he said other interesting things but these few statements jumped out at me for various reasons.
For instance, in the first quote he said that these older resources “lack up-to-date knowledge of the ancient Near East and biblical languages.” Now from one angle this is true, they certainly knew less about these languages than scholarship knows presently. But from another angle the up-to-date knowledge is actually lacking as compared to the original culture in which these languages were set. In other words, for as much as we’ve learned since those commentaries were written, we’re still at a disadvantage.
In the second quote he mentions that a lot of modern commentaries really don’t differ that much from these older ones and I believe the reason for this is because the text says what it says and people of all stripes have understood it for what it says from the beginning. The old saying that history repeats itself comes to mind, but in light of Ecclesiastes 1:9: “the thing that has been is that which shall be, and that which has been done is that which shall be done, there is no new thing under the sun.” Trends tend to move in cycles. There was a time when bell-bottom jeans were in fashion and then they fell out of fashion, then they came back into fashion, and now they’re out again. Is Biblical studies really so different?
The last statement about older resources having their limitations because much has been discovered since their time jumped out at me because we haven’t really “discovered” anything (in the sense of making something known for the first time). We’ve recovered or uncovered this information. Again, all of this information was common knowledge to a certain people at a certain point in history. We’re only moving in cycles. Perhaps one day we’ll come to a point where we know and understand as much as the original audience. God I hope so!
In any event, these things just popped into my head and I thought I’d blog about it. Check out James’ post when you have a moment. Oh, and just let me say that any friend of e-Sword is a friend of mine. :)