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Book Review: The First Four Books of BYUS’s New Testament Commentary Series

By Karen Austin

BYU Studies New Testament Commentary Series

BYU Studies has published four print books so far as part of their New Testament Commentary series.

This series draws on an array of academic tools from fields such as archaeology, biblical studies, linguistics, and literary theory. Nevertheless, the interpretations stay anchored in LDS doctrine.

Derek Gurr from BYU Studies explains the relationship between the ebooks versions and print versions of these commentaries. Gurr also describes one of the free features of this series:

“Each of the authors have worked to create a new rendition of the text to try to shed new light on the scriptures. These new renditions are published for free through the ebooks. The commentaries are available for purchase and are generally released simultaneously in both print and ebook formats. The commentaries contain the new rendition and insights from the authors.”

More about this project from the editors at BYU Studies:

“A team of Latter-day Saint scholars has joined forces to produce a multi-volume commentary on the New Testament with a new rendition of the Greek texts of the New Testament books. Planned to take several years to complete, this multi-volume series will combine the best of ancient linguistic and historical scholarship with Latter-day Saint doctrinal perspectives. The BYU New Testament Commentary will make extensive use of primary source materials in ancient languages as well as a broad array of modern studies in biblical scholarship, but the final product will be accessible to a general readership.”

Even though these books all belong to the same series, each author gathers his or her own scholarly tools and applies these tools in their own way. Consequently, readers will need to adjust how they read these commentaries as they move from author to author.

Here are very brief introductions for the first four books in the series.

Smith, Julie K. The Gospel According to Mark. Published January 29, 2019.  

With a master’s in Biblical Studies from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, Smith brings a number of scholarly tools to the study of the Book of Mark. She looks at the Greek, KJV, and the New Rendition version. She consults a number of commentaries. And she looks at language, history, culture, as well as literary devices, doctrine and application. Even though Mark’s account of Jesus is seen as the most “low” or human of the four gospels, Smith brings to light many aspects that testify of Christ’s divinity.

Brown, S. Kent. The Testimony of Luke.  Published July 1, 2015.  

During his nearly four decades as a professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University, Brown not only taught an array of religion classes. He also served as a one of the directors of the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies. His approach does draw on scholarly commentary to the Book of Luke as well as examining the language through other translations and transliterations of Greek and Hebrew terms. However, his focus is to draw on the standard works of the LDS canon of scripture as well as the Joseph Smith Translation as he moves line by line through the Book of Luke. Brown also seeks to foreground Lucan themes such as home, family, women, compassion towards the outcast, doing good, discipleship and more. Brown’s discussion is clear, direct, and accessible to the lay reader.

Draper, Richard D. & Michael D. Rhodes. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. Published August 28, 2017

Draper has a Ph.D. from Brigham Young University in history that focuses on ancient Near Eastern, Roman and Early Christian history. He also studied Greek philosophy and literature. Rhodes is an Emeritus Associate Research Professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU and has published in Egyptology, astronomy, and LDS scriptural topics. Their commentary on Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians includes a close look at Greek culture (with particular emphasis on the city of Corinth) language and literature, and includes the full Greek text alongside the KJV. But the authors’ tools are not limited to those from the field of history. As the authors move from verse to verse, they bring in commentary from scholars within and beyond the LDS faith and the words of General Authorities on Paul’s topics, which include (but are not limited to) the atonement, baptism for the dead, the three degrees of glory, and the administration of the sacrament.

Draper, Richard D. & Michael D. Rhodes. The Revelation of John the Apostle. Published September 27, 2016.

Draper and Rhodes also authored the volume on the Book of Revelation. John’s prophetic book has puzzled many readers in that it refers, on the one hand, to very specific times and places familiar to John.  On the other hand, the book contains a number of visions and prophecies that refer to people, places, and things well beyond the readers’ experience. Instead of speculating about the end times, the authors focus on the text and its historical setting and acknowledge the use of figurative language. Draper and Brown have pored over the canon of LDS scripture and the writings of church leaders to note how the Book of Revelation is used to discuss Christ’s role, the fulness of the priesthood, work for the dead, and other LDS practices, prophecies, and doctrine.

Because these are reference books and not novels, I have only read the often extensive prefaces and introductions. And I have dipped in and out of these volumes to examine a few dozen passages of scripture and to write a couple of posts about this year’s Gospel Doctrine lessons. My husband, my son (a young adult and returned missionary), and I are all eager to continue drawing on these books in order to enrich our understanding of the New Testament and to accept invitations to become latter-day disciples. I look forward to adding the forthcoming volumes to my scripture study as well.

About Karen Austin

After living in UT, HI, CA, VA, DC, WI, WV & KS, Karen now lives in Newburgh, IN with her husband and two children. She's been a BYU writing tutor, an English teacher, technical writer, director of academic support services, and aging studies adjunct. She's reinventing herself--again. New role still pending, but mature athlete, thrift store fashionista, and court jester are strong candidates. She maintains the blog The Generation Above Me.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: The First Four Books of BYUS’s New Testament Commentary Series”

  1. "Draper and Brown have poured over the canon . . ." I was wondering what they poured over the canon. I think you mean "pored."

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  2. Wally: Thanks for your editorial eye! Fixed. Plus I included a link about the usage for the (not so) commonly confused pair / word origin. Those pesky homonyms ambush me every thyme.

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  3. Thanks, Karen! This was very interesting. I have heard Julie speak about her studies. She's very impressive – as is her research. I also knew Kent Brown way back in the day when he was a graduate student at Brown University (we're talking the 1970's!). It's good to have scholars who know their stuff!

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  4. There's almost nothing I like better than a good Bible commentary. Thank you for spotlighting this series. We need such works that address our concerns — not necessarily that reinterpret to suit or that have a hyperfocus on LDS doctrine, but that ask the questions that Mormons care about or that point to ithoughts that illuminate (or are illuminated by) Restoration scripture.

    Julie Smith's _Mark_ is the one I have so far found most helpful and readable.

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