Eerdmans have announced a new commentary on Hebrews. It's a new entry to the New International Commentary on the New Testament and it will replace the commentary of F F Bruce which anyone interested in evangelical New Testament scholarship reveres as a fine combination of historical exposition, textual exposition and theological exegesis. At a time when others were defensively negative about historical critical study of the New Testament, F F Bruce personified the confessional integrity of a man of thoughtful and committed Christian faith, unafraid of critical questions and warmly responsive to the spiritual message of the New Testament.
There are several reasons why Bruce was an ideal commentator on Hebrews for a commentary series launching into the market unsure of its credibility beyond evangelicalism. Bruce was a member of the Christian Brethren, a moderately conservative evangelical (how he tired of these carefully worded theological categories), and there are few traditions more theologically sympathetic to the rich symbolism and typology and the book of Hebrews. He was also a first rate historian, an erudite and meticulous scholar, and with an intellect weighted with both intelligence and integrity.
His commentary was commissioned in 1954, published in 1963 and revised in 1990, the year of his death. From the start Bruce on Hebrews was recognised as a lucid, historically thoughtful and theologically sensitive commentary which has enabled generations of readers to make sense of a book that is enigmatic, mysterious and for some downright perplexing in places. Melchizedek was as puzzling to readers in the 1960's as any complex theory of Derridean postmodern hermeneutics!
The replacement volume will be twice the length of Bruce, and will reflect current approaches to hermeneutics and literary social approaches to the text, majoring on chiasmus as the hermeneutic key. It will have to sit alongside strong competition from Peter O'Brien's Pillar commentary which is becoming the preferred treatment for evangelicals, not forgetting Paul Ellingworth's NICGT volume which is a massive treatment now showing its own age, and the even more comprehensive and richly informed Word commentary by W Lane. Then there is L T Johnson's fine commentary in the New Testament Library series, and Craig Koester's Anchor volume, and Fred Craddocks elegant exegesis in the New Interpreter's Bible.
So it's interesting that Bruce's volume will remain in print as a stand alone treatment of Hebrews. Much of his exposition is not significantly qualified by more recent scholarship and it remains a responsible and spiritually rewarding companion. Old fashioned it may be, but fashions of hermeneutic theory and practice are not the only criteria for exegesis that is faithful to the text because arising from within the faith tradition of the documents that are that same faith's foundation charters. Anyway, Bruce's commentary has no use by date, and in my view no expiry date.
I mention the replacement of a commentary for two reasons. First I own two copies of this commentary. It was one of the first commentaries I bought as a student minister and I read it through. my second copy was a gift from the library of the late Dr Eleanor Walker who died over a decade ago, before she could complete her studies for the Church of Scotland ministry.
Second, I have all the commentaries mentioned above, and I still go back to this veteran commentary by a veteran scholar who changed the opinion of the academy about the seriousness, creativity and integrity of evangelical critical scholarship. Bruce almost singlehandedly demonstrated the possibility that those three words could sit together without threatening oxymoron.