Wednesday, March 10, 2010

On The Need for Commentaries

Frank Matera has an interesting comment regarding the writing of his II Corinthians commentary and the writing of commentaries in general:

The writing of a commentary is an intensely personal endeavor. It requires concentration, discipline, and most of all, long periods of uninterrupted time. Somewhere in the midst of such a project, one begins to feel as though he or she has become a monk or a hermit, cut off from the familiar social world of family and friends who are about the business of earning their daily bread. At such moments the noonday devil appears and interrogates the would-be author: 'Why are you composing yet another commentary when there are so many, most of which are better than what you will write?' But if the temptation to abandon the task is resisted, and if the work is completed, the commentator finally receives his or her answer: the privilege of studying the sacred page, of asking it questions and being questioned by it, is itself sufficient reason to write yet another commentary. Thus every commentator eventually learns that even if the work falls short of one's expectations, as inevitably it will, the effort has not been in vain (Preface ix; italics mine).

These comments are timely as this question about the proliferation of commentary writing has been asked with increasing frequency over the past few years. It is also a good reminder of what biblical scholarship should be about on every level, namely, the privilege of wrestling with Scripture. Originality has its place in commentary writing, as it does within biblical scholarship in general, but it should not be the main goal. This ties in with the quote Joel Willitts provided recently of one George B. Stevens, a 19th century NT scholar who states:

"Originality does not consist of thinking new things but of thinking for ourselves."


Unknown said...

Matthew, as someone who currently is writing a commentary on 2 Cor. (and using Matera), this comment is wonderfully pertinent. Thanks for posting it. George Guthrie

Matthew D. Montonini said...


Thanks so much for stopping by! I hope things are going well with your writing of the BECNT commentary on 2 Corinthians and look forward to seeing it in print.