Friday, August 22, 2008

Fridays with Craig Keener ... Part Two

This is the second installment of an eight-part interview with Dr. Craig Keener, Professor of New Testament at Palmer Theological Seminary. Part One can be read here.
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Palmer, just outside Philadelphia in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, is part of Eastern University.
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Craig is the author of a one-volume commentary on the background of the New Testament. And to date, four more of his commentaries (covering five NT Books) have been published.
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Four lectures that Craig gave in January at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary can be heard here.
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JR: In his New Testament Commentary Survey (Baker Academic), Donald Carson gives both the Matthew and John commentaries his prized, "Best Buy", designation. He says the Matthew commentary "in some respects sets new standards" and lauds your commentary on John because "the breadth of learning and the bibliographical richness combine to make the work indispenable for the serious student." However, he does note that in the Matthew commentary "Keener's focus on the socio-historical context comes at the expense of penetrating comment on structure, grammar, and sometimes theology." Was it simply the case that a commentary can only be so big?
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KEENER: I have answered some of this in question 1, but yes, keeping a commentary from getting too big is a major issue.
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I am very grateful to Don Carson for his kind comments about the commentaries. His criticism also is a fair one. I don't deal in detail with some of these other issues, especially the grammar and structure (I do deal with theology, but usually as concisely as possible. Sometimes, especially in the Matthew commentary, I was so concise that I was simply citing other passages where the theme recurs.) The reason is to keep the commentary from being too large, and because there are some things I trust that a reader can and should get on their own.
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If someone loves the Bible, they will read it in context and not take short-cuts. I deal with the passage in its context but I also assume that the reader will examine its context on their own, and come up with their own sermon from the biblical text, etc. If they don't love the Bible, a commentary can't really help them. (I could write sermons for them, but so could 100,000 other people, and there are other commentaries that can do that.)
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Likewise, regarding grammar: if you have a laptop with a good Bible program it can parse the Greek and Hebrew verbs for you and even tell you everywhere those terms occur in that tense elsewhere in Scripture. Plenty of commentaries do that, and there's no need for me to make the commentary longer (and make my publisher charge more for the cost of the paper) for something your computer can do for you even more conveniently.
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What I can give is background that you wouldn't get unless you spent a couple decades working through ancient texts. I didn't get it from using a concordance of ancient literature seeing where terms occurred. I got it from reading through ancient sources in context and looking for parallel ideas, not just parallel terms. No concordance can do that. So I wanted to focus on what people could not afford the time to dig out if I didn't make it available to them.
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My heart has been in ministry--in evangelism, in encouraging the hurting, and so on. I could not justify all the time spent in front of my computer if I didn't know I was providing something new. There are other resources providing other things and I would rather recommend them than reinvent the wheel.
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NEXT FRIDAY'S QUESTION: Hendrickson Publishers is getting ready to publish your commentary on the Acts of the Apostles --- another massive commentary. What should a 21st-century reader make of the speeches in the Book of Acts, especially an elongated one like Stephen's?

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