Request for Comments (RFC): Layered Bible Proposal.

Introduction:

I am a fan of William Barclay. He wrote commentaries on each book of the New Testament that combined several unique factors together to make them useful and endearing books not only to me but to many millions around the world and across several decades. These commentaries combine several interesting features:

  • Divided into daily devotional readings containing a portion of the text and then Barclay’s commentary on the text. This makes the volumes extremely readable as part of one’s daily devotions (thus the name for the series of Daily Study Bible).
  • Include manageable explanations of the text. Barclay somehow magnificently balances good biblical exegesis with lay readability. He manages to explain difficult theological concepts without being confusing and causes the reader to rejoice over original languages word studies.
  • Provides robust historical insight as well as (then) contemporary illustrations to bring the text to life.
  • Attempts to not only allow the reader to understand the original meaning of the passage but also applies that passage to one’s personal life.
  • Provides a robust discussion of the differing (unorthodox) viewpoints on a given text/idea without (generally) endorsing these ideas.

That said, I run into several dilemmas with William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible series:

  • Barclay was personally unorthodox in his beliefs (as reflected in his spiritual autobiography) and while he generally maintains a neutral tone on such topics, occasionally speaks out in a manner that would gravely concern most evangelicals (e.g. seriously advocating the denial of the virgin birth).
  • The books are only available in print (and the entire collection is somewhat expensive) and is still under copyright – making digital distribution and manipulation impossible.
  • The books have begun to suffer from aging illustrations.
  • The books do not contain significant resources for further exploration of any given passage (excluding a small bibliography at the end).

What I am considering is creating a new series of commentaries in the tradition of William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible. This post is a RFC to the Christian community requesting recommendations (a) of alternative resources similar to Barclay’s that might fill this observed need (I see no need to recreate something that already exists, and want to hear what other alternatives exist before embarking upon such a major task), (b) if no such alternative resources exist, recommendations of which commentaries/other books/papers would be must-read resources on each book of the bible, and (c) further ideas from the community on better ways to pursue this project, additional features that should be included in the works, etc.

Outline of the Layered Bible Project:

This outline tackles only the need for a daily/devotional, lay-oriented commentary series of an orthodox nature on the bible. It does not tackle the entire vision of the Layered Bible Project at this time, due to the fact that this initial phase could take many years to complete alone (but keep in the back of your mind that this is only the base of a much larger project).

  • A commentary series that is divided by book and includes the Scriptural text as part of the commentary. This commentary will be useful in daily devotional reading.
  • A commentary series that is orthodox in its overall tone. On controversial passages it will support what is considered the best orthodox position while also explicating other alternative positions and occasionally examining them.
  • A commentary that focuses on readability combined with significant biblical scholarship (word studies, historical context discussions, definition of theological terms). It will not shy away from technical discussions but must always do so in a way that can be understood by any reader who is willing to engage the text.
  • A commentary that is available freely via the internet (in addition to print) in its entirety.
  • A commentary that includes not only observations on the original text but also application of the text to life today.
  • A commentary that offers significant insight into additional resources for further examination of various scripture portions or ideas presented therein.

Who Am I?

I have pondered this project for perhaps two or three years. One obstacle that has constantly loomed in front of me is that I find myself unqualified for such an endeavor. I am merely twenty-five with a Bachelors in Biblical Studies from Philadelphia Biblical University. I work full-time in the Information Technology industry. I struggle with the Scriptural text enough on my own, how can I expect to teach it to others? At every juncture my only real consolation has been a quote from William Barclay, “I have a second-class mind. It is the simple truth that I never had an original idea in my life. . . . I don’t make the slightest claim to inspiration in preaching or writing.” Now, I am far less qualified than Barclay – so much so that even comparing myself in some sense too him is embarassing in itself…but the essence of his quote is what I hold onto. Is it possible that while I may not be qualified or capable of providing first-quality insight and commentary, that I would be able to aggregate and summarize the works of the great minds of both yesterday and today?

Conclusion:

This project is still in the formative stages. The first stage is to examine available alternative materials which may/are available to fill this need. If a suitable resource is found, then this project need go no further. However, if it is found that resources are lacking, the next endeavor would be to collect a representative sampling of the best commentaries across time on each book and to utilize these in conjunction with more knowledgable contemporary individuals to create an orthodox commentary on each book.

Misc.:

  • When I say orthodox I mean that position held by the majority of the church, particularly from a Protestant perspective. This will include attempting to provide a neutral explanation of a text even should such an interpretation vary from my own personal beliefs.
  • While advocating the orthodox position it is my intent to portray neutrally (as Barclay generally did) alternative positions.
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