10 September 2021

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary.

Years ago my mom was taking a college course in bible, and one of her texts was The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Full 13-volume set; they didn’t want people getting the two-volume abridged edition. I don’t remember how much it was at the time, but it was way more than she was willing to spend. So she figured, “Well my son’s a big bible nerd,” and asked me, “Wanna go halves on a commentary set?” It was easy to talk her into the Accordance version, which was a lot cheaper, a lot easier to search… and I could stash it on a laptop instead of having it hog a whole shelf.

I’ve known pastors who had the whole 13-volume set in their offices. I don’t know how regularly they flipped through it for their sermon prep. From the many out-of-context scriptures they used, sounds like they really didn’t. But displaying full commentary sets in your office, preferably without a thick layer of dust on top, certainly makes you look like you study the bible in depth.

The EBC began as The Expositor’s Bible, produced in 1903 in Scotland by Sir William Robertson Nicoll of the Scottish Free Church. Many Scottish churches at the time were big on expository sermons and writing—in which you go through a passage and analyze each individual verse, one at a time. (And hopefully don’t go on wild tangents, or use them as jumping-off points for your own rants, like some “expositors” I could mention.) Bible commentaries usually do this very same thing, but not always; Nicholl’s commentary certainly did. Many of the volume authors are the same guys who helped produce the Scottish volumes of the Early Church Fathers.

Did you want a copy? StudyLight.org hosts the entire thing on their site. And here are links to every volume on Project Gutenberg. Yeah, they lack the past century of archaeological discoveries, and redevelopments in Christian thought, but they still have plenty to chew on. So here you go.

Three-quarters of a century later, Zondervan decided to update the commentary and tie it to their then-brand-new translation, the New International Version. They tapped Frank E. Gaebelein, the NIV’s style editor, to organize it. Gaebelein was a Darbyist, one of the editors of the New Scofield Reference Bible, and wanted the commentary to reflect both his Darybism and an inerrantist interpretation of the scriptures. A longtime editor and publisher, Gaebelein gathered a number of graduates from the dispensationalist Dallas Theological Seminary and got ’em to write volumes, and that’s the edition which came out in 1976. It’s been a mainstay of conservative Evangelicals since.

And that’s the version I bought. Still have my copy. But regular readers of my blog might notice: Whenever I quote it, it’s usually to show you how popular Christian culture has wrongly interpreted the scriptures. It regularly does this. If I ever need a perspective, widely taught in Amercan churches, which nonetheless misunderstands Jesus, the Holy Spirit, prophecy, miracles, covenant theology, good fruit, the Pharisees, the End Times, and perpetuates myths instead of truth, the 1976 EBC is my go-to.

So why on earth am I writing an article about it? Partly to warn you about the 1976 edition. Go back to the original, or go get the 2006 revised edition, which includes the contributions of much better scholars. The covers are brown and black, not blue and black. I didn’t link to the 1976 edition in this article; relax.

True, some of the commentators are still Darbyist, so buyer beware. And if you’re gonna use bible commentaries, remember to not just stick with one commentary, same as you don’t just stick with one bible translation. You’re looking for the interpretation which sounds most consistent with the text, with the biblical history, and with the character of Christ Jesus. Good commentators will strive for that. But some of ’em have lapses from time to time, so it doesn’t hurt to have other commentaries to draw from.