Thursday, February 16, 2012

R.T. France's Philosophy on Commentary Writing II

I can count on one hand the amount of commentaries I have read cover-to-cover, or almost to that extent. One of these is R.T. France's magisterial commentary on Matthew (NICNT). France wrote with a style that was captivating and kept me turning page after page. This is no mean feat considering the commentary was 1,100 plus pages long! It takes a skillful communicator to make a commentary a good read, even more so, one of this length.

R.T. France (1938-2012)
The other day, I quoted from France's equally magisterial commentary on Mark's Gospel (NIGTC). Now I'd like to highlight some comments he makes in the Introduction (pp.1-2) of his Matthew commentary.

  • On potential reviewer's missing the boat
I have noticed that reviews of biblical commentaries often focus on the introduction rather than undertaking the more demanding task of reading and responding to the commentary itself. Potential reviewers of this commentary who hope to use that as a convenient shortcut will, I fear, be disappointed. If as a result this book receives only very short or superficial reviews, so be it. (France, The Gospel of Matthew, 1)
France felt no need to recapitulate what he had already written in his work Matthew:Evangelist and Teacher, and so comments:

...I am loath to reinvent the wheel by attempting another full introduction in which I would be simply repeating myself." (France, The Gospel of Matthew, 1)

  • The goal of France's present work:
This is intended to be an exegetical commentary which proceeds from the text outward rather than one which seeks confirmation in the text for a separately formulated position. It is intended for the use of those who are seeking help in understanding and appreciating the text rather than in locating my position within a constantly moving academic debate. (France, The Gospel of Matthew, 1; italics mine)
This text-centered driven-approach was the hallmark of France's work. I love the fact that he made no apologies for this! He realized that no matter the ever-shifting fads involved with scholarly work, the one constant was the text itself. May we who have benefited greatly from his work continue to keep these principles close to our hearts and minds when we encounter the text we are interpreting.

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